When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1920s

Hint Of Glamour

1928: Picture palaces lured film-goers with their aura of glamour. According to Denis Norden, at the Empire Leicester Square in London, ushers lined up before opening time, lit Havana cigars and puffed smoke around the foyer.

Source: Enter the Dream-House: Memories of Cinemas in South London from the Twenties to the Sixties, ed. Margaret O’Brien and Allen Eyles (1993), p. 39

Gunned Down

1927: On 27 September, Police Constable George Gutteridge was murdered on a country road in Essex. In the small hours, Gutteridge flagged down a Morris Cowley, unaware that it had been stolen earlier that night. While he questioned the two men in the car, Frederick Browne and William Kennedy, one of them pulled a revolver and shot him in the side of the face. (Kennedy subsequently blamed Browne; Browne denied he was even there.) As the policeman lay badly injured in the road, the gunman approached and finished him off with two shots at close range – one in either eye.

Source: Christopher Berry-Dee and Robin Odell, The Long Drop: Two Were Hanged – One Was Innocent (1993)

Toronto “Stork Derby”

Charles Millar, instigator of Toronto’s “Stork Derby”

1926: The Toronto lawyer Charles Millar stipulated in his will that “at the expiration of ten years from my death” the bulk of the estate was to go to “the Mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children”. Millar, a bachelor, died on 31 October. Over the next decade, the media tracked progress in what was christened the “Stork Derby”. Illegitimate births and still births were discounted. The race ended in a tie. Four women showed that they had each given birth to nine children, and for their efforts, shared $500,000.

Source: www.snopes.com/fact-check/the-great-stork-derby/

Borrowed Verse

1923: In January 1927, a 12-year-old schoolboy from Swansea named Dylan Thomas made his first money from poetry. The Western Mail, which published “His Requiem”, paid 10 shillings for the work. Nobody else realised it at the time, but Thomas had plagiarised, more or less word for word, a poem by Lillian Gard that had appeared in the November 1923 issue of The Boy’s Own Paper.

Source: Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas (1978), pp. 7, 41

Dogs Of War

1922: Dog taxes rarely provoke armed clashes; tax evaders seldom have bombs dropped on them.

In 1917, South-West Africa introduced a tax on dogs in rural areas; in 1921, the tax was increased fourfold. The native population, which used dogs for hunting, deeply resented the new levy.

Around the same time, the authorities demanded that the Bondelswarts people surrender a number of wrongdoers. The Bondelswarts refused to pay the dog tax and refused to hand over the wanted men.

Continue reading

Improving On Dickens

1921: T.S. Eliot wrote in May that he had “a long poem in mind and partly on paper”. This was “He Do the Police in Different Voices”. Eliot juggled the words, enriched the meaning, shaped the rhythm. And replaced the original title – a quote from Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend – with another, better, title: “The Waste Land”.

Source: Marianne Thormählen, The Waste Land: A Fragmentary Wholeness (1978), pp. 28–31

Book Of The Month

1920: A best-seller from 1920: Theodore Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, which would surely have featured in the Ku Klux Klan’s book-of-the-month club, if there had been one.

Source: Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920)

Women At War

1929: A distinctive feature of the so-called Igbo women’s war was the way the women shoved the men aside to lead resistance to British rule in Nigeria.

The principal cause of the disturbances (“war” is an overstatement) was a clumsy attempt to conduct a census of women in the southeast of the country, provoking fears that the colonial authorities planned to impose a poll tax. “We women are like trees which bear fruit,” protested one woman. “You should tell us the reason why women who bear seeds should be counted.”

Women orchestrated and took a leading part in protest marches, the harassment of local officials, the burning of court buildings and the looting of European factories. They thought troops wouldn’t fire at them, but they were wrong; about 50 women were killed and a similar number wounded.

Source: Harry A. Gailey, The Road to Aba: A Study of British Administrative Policy in Eastern Nigeria (1971), chaps. 4–6

Fixed Date

1928: After more than a thousand years of putting up with Easter chopping and changing between dates in March and April, Britain decided to pin it down. Parliament passed the Easter Act, under which the festival was fixed for “the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April” – between 9 and 15 April. Straightforward, except that the act included a proviso that “regard shall be had” of the opinions of churches and Christian bodies. Ninety years later, those opinions are still unclear and the law remains in limbo. Easter continues to fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon on or after the March equinox.

Source: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/
1928/35/pdfs/ukpga_19280035_en.pdf

Lindbergh’s Logic

Charles Lindbergh, standing in front of the plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis

1927: Charles Lindbergh’s inflight food for his trans-Atlantic trip consisted of five sandwiches. With dry logic he explained, “If I get to Paris, I won’t need any more, and if I don’t get to Paris, I won’t need any more either.”

Source: A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh, 1998, pp. 14–15

Keeping A Tally

1926: British road accident and casualty data, collected nationally for the first time, showed there were 124,000 accidents and 4,886 deaths during the year. The worst single year for road deaths came in 1941, when 9,196 died. Between 1951 and 1999, 15.6 million people were injured in accidents on Britain’s roads, and 285,752 killed.

Source: Road Casualties Great Britain 2006 (2007)

Working His Passage

1925: After graduating from college in Iowa, William Shirer made his way to Montreal, where he boarded a cattle ship that carried him to Europe and the start of a career in journalism. To save money, he worked his passage across the Atlantic by feeding and watering the cattle and shovelling their manure overboard.

Source: Steve Wick, The Long Night: William L. Shirer and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (2011), pp. 9–12

Risky Childbirth

1924: The women’s rights campaigner Dora Russell produced statistics to show that in Britain, it was four times as dangerous for a woman to give birth as it was for a man to work down a coal mine. The death rate for miners from fatal accidents was 1.1 per thousand miners; the death rate among mothers in childbirth was four or five per thousand births, on average, and as high as nine per thousand in heavily industrialized towns.

Source: Dora Russell, The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love (1975), p. 171

Blame The Immigrants

The Marunouchi district of Tokyo after the 1923 earthquake

1923: The massive earthquake that struck Tokyo, Yokohama and surrounding areas on 1 September killed as many as 140,000 people, injured 100,000 and damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 3 million. The tremors themselves destroyed less than 1 per cent of homes in the Japanese capital, but fires that raged for almost two days destroyed a further 62 per cent.

Stunned by the magnitude of the disaster, many Japanese believed rumours that Koreans were deliberately starting fires, looting shops and houses, and poisoning wells. Gangs of Japanese vigilantes, egged on by irresponsible government announcements, attacked Koreans. The police reported that 231 Koreans were killed and 43 injured.

Source: Michael Weiner, The Origins of the Korean Community in Japan 1910–1923 (1989), chap. 6

Angel Of Rome

Alessandro Moreschi, photographed in about 1900

1922: The last castrato singer from the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, Alessandro Moreschi, whose otherworldly voice had earned him the sobriquet l’angelo di Roma, died at the age of 63. “When his voice rose above the choir in a crescendo, it overpowered the accompanying boy sopranos as completely as a searchlight outshines a little candle.”

Source: Nicholas Clapton, Moreschi: The Last Castrato (2004), pp. 135, 137, quoting Franz Haböck

Level-Headed

1920: Montagu Norman, the governor of the Bank of England, once confided to a colleague that he could literally walk through walls – just the sort of level-headed individual the country needed to run its central bank.

Source: Andrew Boyle, Montagu Norman: A Biography (1967), p. 87

Engine Coolant

1928: A motor track was constructed from the Persian Gulf through the foothills of the Zagros to Gach Sārān, where, in that same year, oil was discovered in large quantities.

The rugged road and sizzling temperatures were too much for most vehicles. Engines overheated and took hours to cool. Only one lorry could overcome the terrain and the heat; while the others panted and wheezed, this particular vehicle barely raised a sweat as it climbed the steep slopes.

Continue reading

Fertile Imagination

1927: What’s on a man’s mind? In the case of Leoš Janáček, quite clearly, his lover’s breasts. They were a motif in the Moravian composer’s letters to Kamila Stösslová at the end of 1927. He imagined them rippling like little waves on the River Otava or swelling like the open sea, and fantasized once about covering them with sheets of music.

Source: Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, Intimate Letters: Leoš Janáček to Kamila Stösslová , ed. John Tyrrell (2005), pp. 140–1, 150, 156, 161–2

“In My Day . . .”

1926: John Daniell captained Somerset cricket team for the last time, and soon after, played his last first-class match for the county.

Some years later, Daniell was watching a match at Taunton, when the bowler bowled a delivery that struck Frank Lee, the batsman, in the box.

“The box, you say. What namby-pamby nonsense is that?” Daniell spluttered.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened again. “What does he need a so-called box for?” Daniell thundered. “In my day, we hit fours with our private parts.”

Source: The Guardian, 12 January 2007

Icing On The Cake

1925: Marian Arnold’s husband worked for the China Navigation Company and the Insurance Department of Butterfield & Swire. Years later, she reminisced about their time in China.

She remembered in particular a lunch party at a friend’s house. The friend’s Chinese cook was a talented cake maker. The lunch guests were so impressed by his beautifully decorated gâteau that he was summoned from the kitchen and warmly praised. The cook was very flattered. The hostess was very pleased. She asked whether he had iced the cake with the fancy icing set she had bought at a Shanghai department store.

Continue reading

Realpolitik

1924: Norway’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union was impelled, in part, by the need to find markets for the Norwegian herring catch. Twelve years later, herrings again played an unexpected role in bilateral relations. The Norwegian government, fearful that the Soviets would halt purchases of the fish, gagged the political exile Leon Trotsky, and then put him on board a ship to Mexico.

Source: Donald Rayfield, Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him (2004), pp. 259–60, 261, 271

Career Advice

Hollywood “It Girl” Clara Bow, photographed by Nicholas Murray

1923: Clara Bow, the “It Girl” of Hollywood silent movies, made her first screen appearance in Down to the Sea in Ships. Her mentally ill mother, who regarded heavily made-up actresses as no better than prostitutes, had threatened to kill her to keep her out of films. “You ain’t goin’ inta pictures,” she had ranted. “You ain’t gonna be no hoor.”

Source: David Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (1989), pp. 13, 22–3

Clinging To Life

1921: Famine killed an estimated 5 million people in the Volga region of Soviet Russia. Among the starving refugees at Samara, the British journalist Arthur Ransome came upon “a silently weeping little girl” with a “wizened dead face, pale green”, and on the east bank of the Volga, “an old woman cooking horsedung in a broken saucepan”.

Source: www.theguardian.com/century/
1920-1929/Story/0,,126591,00.html

Beauty Regime

1920: “Like every morning I have had my enema, in order to preserve a clear skin and sweet breath,” wrote Princess Ghika in her notebook on 11 January. “It is a family habit, approved of by Dr Pinard,” explained the princess, the former demi-mondaine Liane de Pougy. “One of Maman’s old great-aunts, the beautiful Madame Rhomès, died at the age of ninety and a half with a complexion of lilies and roses, skin like a child’s. She took her little enema, it seems, at five o’clock every evening, so that she would sleep very well. She did it cheerfully in public. She would simply stand in front of the fireplace; her servant would come in discreetly, armed with the loaded syringe; Madame Rhomès would lean forward gracefully so that her full skirts lifted, one two three, and it was done! Conversation was not interrupted. After a minute or two my beautiful ancestress would disappear briefly, soon to return with the satisfaction of a duty performed.”

Source: Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks (1979), p. 83