When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1950s

Self-Mutilation

1959: During the three years he was incarcerated in Soviet prisons, Felix Yaroshevsky worked as a surgeon. He came across many cases of self-mutilation among his fellow inmates: veins slashed; fingers and toes lopped off; buttons sewn on bodies; and one instance of a youth who urinated on his feet and put them through a broken window to expose them to the freezing January air, resulting in severe frostbite.

Source: Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, October 1975

“Aromatic Osmosis”

Pope Pius XII, photographed by Michael Pitcarin

1958: Pius XII died on 9 October. Despite a lack of expertise, the papal physician Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi was entrusted with embalming the pope’s body. Galeazzi-Lisi resorted to “aromatic osmosis”, an embalming technique developed by the plastic surgeon Oreste Nuzzi, whereby pungent fluids were sprinkled on the clothing and absorbed by osmosis.

The Vatican’s trust in Galeazzi-Lisi and Galeazzi-Lisi’s trust in Nuzzi’s method were misplaced. If anything, Galeazzi-Lisi’s efforts speeded up the process of decomposition. The pontiff’s appearance visibly deteriorated while still lying in state, and those on vigil near the bier found that their eyes “smarted and watered”.

Source: Robert A. Ventresca, Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII (2013), pp. 300–3

Atomic Attractions

1957: Rather than fret about the mushroom clouds rising over the nearby Nevada Test Site, many businesses in Las Vegas hoped to cash in on the nuclear explosions.

The Chamber of Commerce printed special atomic calendars to promote the city. Newspapers carried photographs of “Miss Atomic Bomb”, a showgirl from the Sands Hotel, with a cotton mushroom cloud fixed to the front of her swimsuit. The Flamingo beauty parlour invented an “atomic hairdo”. Visitors to the city could stay at the Atomic View Motel; other motels provided “atomic box lunches” for guests who wanted to picnic closer to the test site.

Source: Barbara Land and Myrick Land, A Short History of Las Vegas (2004), pp. 113–14

National Calamity

Ravens at the Tower of London, photographed by Colin

1955: Ravens have probably stalked and flapped around the Tower of London for much of its history, but the earliest reference to the myth that their departure would portend a calamity for the British nation dates back only as far as 1955.

Source: History Today, January 2005

Lost In Translation

Sir Gerald Templer

1954: During the Malayan Emergency, the resettlement of a sizable part of the colony’s rural population in “new villages” was an important element in the government strategy to defeat the communist insurgency. The high commissioner, General Sir Gerald Templer, had harsh words for anyone opposed to the policy.

He berated one group of villagers: “You are all bastards.”

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Turning To Stone

1953: Jean Cocteau wrote in his diary on 10 January: “The young duke of Kent and his sisters, taken to see a famous illusionist in a London music hall. The number ends with some nudity, and the nanny doesn’t know what to do. As they leave she ventures to ask, ‘How did your Highness enjoy the performance?’ ‘I’m scared.’ ‘Why, Your Highness?’ ‘Mama told me if I looked at naked women I’d turn to stone – and it’s starting.’ ”

Source: Jean Cocteau, Past Tense (1990), vol. II, p. 4

Local Language

1952: From the 18th until the 20th century, the population of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, included a disproportionately large number of deaf people. Isolated farming and fishing communities, and consequent intermarriage, ensured that the defective gene passed from generation to generation.

In the 19th century, when the national average in the United States was one deaf person in roughly 6,000, the figure for Martha’s Vineyard was one in 155. The concentration of deaf people was greatest at the western end of the island, the up-Island; in Chilmark, one in 25 was deaf.

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Bilateral Trade

1950: The United States expected imports from postwar Japan would be limited to knick-knacks, quaint oriental goods and not much else. At a party in Tokyo, President Harry Truman’s special envoy John Foster Dulles suggested that there might be a market in the United States for Japanese-made shirts, pyjamas and cocktail napkins.

Source: John W. Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986), p. 312

Intermarriage

1958: South Korea codified the centuries-old ban on marriages between men and women with the same family name and from the same clan. In a country with only 300 or so family names, where Kims, Lees and Parks make up half the population, and where, for example, millions belong to the Kim clan from Gimhae, this affected a large number of couples. Article 809 of the Civil Code stated: “A marriage may not be allowed between blood relatives, if both surname and its origin are common to the parties.”

Source: Legal Reform in Korea, ed. Tom Ginsburg (2004), pp. 20, 32

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

1956: “Wants pawn term,” in Howard Chace’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, there was a “ladle gull” who wore a “putty ladle rat cluck” with a “ladle rat hut”. One morning, the little girl’s mother sent her to her grandmother’s cottage “honor udder site offer florist”. On her way through the forest, “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” met an enormous wolf and told him she was going to visit her “groin-murder”.

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Discordant Note

Caricature of William Somerset Maugham

1955: William Somerset Maugham’s affair with Syrie Wellcome and their subsequent marriage produced one child but little happiness. When they divorced in 1929, Maugham was obliged to agree to a costly settlement to secure Syrie’s silence regarding his homosexuality. As the years passed, Maugham deeply resented the misery of their marriage and the continuing financial burden of the settlement.

Syrie died in London on 25 July 1955. Maugham heard of her death while playing cards at the Villa Mauresque, his home in the south of France. He put down the pack and drummed his fingers triumphantly on the table. “Tra-la-la-la,” he sang. “No more alimony. Tra-la, tra-la.”

Source: Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (1966), p. 208

Toffees Rot Teeth

1954: Scandinavian dentists had for years puzzled over the abysmal dental health of the population. In the 1930s, for instance, 83 per cent of 3-year-olds had tooth decay. What were the causes? A deficiency disease? A poor diet? Excessive carbohydrate intake?

The Vipeholm dental caries study was intended to provide answers. Experimenters at the Vipeholm mental hospital in Sweden first tinkered with the vitamin intake of inmates, and when that produced no significant changes in levels of tooth decay, fed them each up to 24 sticky toffees a day. That produced a marked increase in cavities, demonstrating a clear link between sugar consumption and tooth decay.

Feeding exaggerated quantities of toffees to unwitting human beings resulted in lots of ruined teeth and, belatedly, lots of ethical questions, but it also produced much valuable evidence about the causes of tooth decay.

Source: Prevention of Oral Disease, ed. J.J. Murray (1996), pp. 11–13

“Keep Off The Grass”

1953: Stalin once pooh-poohed the possibility of a revolution in Germany – the citizens would be too obedient to step on the lawns, he said – but a strike by East Berlin construction workers on 16 June escalated, the next day, into a large-scale uprising against the government of the German Democratic Republic.

Source: Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin (1962), p. 76

Naughty Doggy

Albert Schweitzer, photographed in 1955 by Rolf Unterberg

1952: The 1952 Nobel Peace Prize was conferred on Albert Schweitzer for his efforts to promote “the Brotherhood of Nations”. Since 1913, Doctor Schweitzer had run a hospital in the jungle at Lambaréné, in French Equatorial Africa. He sometimes had problems keeping peace in his own back yard, let alone the world outside. Soon after the award, he had to scold a dog for chasing chickens around the hospital. “Stop that!” he roared. “Don’t you know this is a Peace Prize house? Be a Nobel dog, and quick.”

Source: News Chronicle, 8 December 1953

Nuclear Wasteland

1951: Congressman Albert Gore suggested that the United States might deter any southward advance of communist ground forces in Korea by creating a nuclear no man’s land. Gore proposed that American forces “dehumanize” a belt of land across the peninsula by deliberately contaminating it with radioactive waste.

Source: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (2013), pp. 6, 48–9

Clever Doggies

Konrad Lorenz, photographed in 1973 by the Nobel Foundation

1950: In Man Meets Dog, the animal behaviourist Konrad Lorenz drew attention to the ability of dogs to detect quite subtle variations in human speech. Victor Sarris’s three German shepherds, for example, understood who was who, despite their quirky trio of names: Aris, Harris and Paris.

Source: Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog (1994), p. 143

Clever Housewife

1964: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin for her “determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, notably penicillin and vitamin B12. The Daily Mail’s headline: “Nobel prize for British wife”.

Source: Daily Mail, 30 October 1964

Effing Remarks

1959: Kenneth Tynan’s effing remark on a late-night satire show on BBC television in 1965 had many viewers foaming at the mouth (moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse suggested Tynan should have his bottom smacked).

In contrast, similar language during a teatime magazine programme on Ulster Television six years earlier attracted little response. Perhaps the viewers of Roundabout were paying more attention to their tea than to the telly. Live on air, the man who painted the railings alongside the River Lagan in Belfast was asked whether he got bored doing the same job all year round. His reply: “Of course it’s fucking boring.”

Source: Joe Moran, Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV (2013), pp. 6–8

Drastic Diet

Maria Callas, as she appeared in a CBS television talk show in 1958

1957: Magazines and newspapers marvelled when Maria Callas managed to shed 28 kilograms in 11 months; they carried before-and-after photographs of her transformation from a frumpy 92 kilos to a slender 64.

Callas lost weight by strict adherence to a diet of one meal a day, small servings of fresh fruit and raw meat, no pasta, no bread and no alcohol. But when the opera singer later became infested with a tapeworm (probably consumed with the raw meat), gossip columnists gleefully suggested that she had deliberately swallowed it as part of a diet regimen.

Source: Anne Edwards, Callas: Her Life, Her Loves, Her Music (2001), pp. 115, 116, 160, 161

Shabby End To Career

Nina Hamnett, portrayed by Roger Fry in 1917

1956: In the 1920s, Nina Hamnett was a promising artist, but by the 1930s and ’40s she had become a shabby figure who spent too little time in the studio and far too much time in the pubs and clubs of London’s Fitzrovia and Soho. “She was dirty, smelt of stale bar-rooms, and very pathetic.” At the York Minster pub, she made her favourite seat indelibly hers by urinating on it; sometimes she would be sick into her handbag before staggering home at night. On 13 December 1956 she fell from the window of her upstairs flat in Paddington and was impaled on the railings below. She died a few days later.

Source: Denise Hooker, Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia (1986), pp. 184, 242, 250, 258

Blake Versus Parks

Rosa Parks, with Martin Luther King in the background, photographed in about 1955

1955: Driver Jim Blake must have thought he was simply enforcing regulations when he ordered four black passengers on his bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to give up their seats for a white man. Instead, Blake’s action on the afternoon of 1 December provoked the Montgomery bus boycott, a milestone in the American civil rights movement.

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Sensitive Stomach

1952: A severe case of amoebic dysentery earlier in his career meant that Sir Evelyn Baring, the new governor of Kenya, suffered from indifferent health. He was prone to bouts of exhaustion and debilitating intestinal pain and his stomach was “so sensitive that he would pick out the small slivers of orange peel from his marmalade before spreading it on his morning toast”.

Source: Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (2005), pp. 34, 381

Bump In The Road

1951: The National Safety Council reckoned that towards the end of the year the total number of deaths from traffic accidents in the United States since the advent of the automobile would reach 1 million. In December, the millionth death was reached and passed, like a bump in the road.

Source: The New York Times, 24 December 1951