When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Updated Euphemism

1971: The translators of the King James Bible retained the Hebrew euphemism “to cover one’s feet”. In chapter 24 of the first book of Samuel, for instance, when David was hiding from Saul in a cave: “Saul went in to cover his feet”. Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible updated this to: “Saul went into a cave to go to the bathroom”.

Source: Kenneth Taylor, The Living Bible (1971), p. 351

Defence Cuts

1970: How many divisions did the pope have? Not many, and even fewer after Paul VI disbanded the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, retaining only the Swiss Guard as his personal bodyguard.

Source: Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (1996), p. 18

Swiss Guards inside St. Peter's Basilica, photographed in 2006 by Alberto Luccaroni

Swiss Guards inside St Peter’s Basilica, photographed in 2006 by Alberto Luccaroni

Travelling Gourmets

1968: In the restaurant at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Noël Coward overheard one American globetrotter explain to another: “I found out what that white stuff was we had in Japan. It was rice.”

Source: Cole Lesley, The Life of Noël Coward (1976), p. 463

Orton Breezes In

1967: Returning from a holiday of sun, sea, sand and homosexual sex in Morocco, the playwright Joe Orton breezed through British customs without a hitch. His technique: “I simply chose the customs officer that, in an emergency, I wouldn’t mind sleeping with, and got through without having even to open my case.”

Source: Joe Orton, The Orton Diaries, ed. John Lahr (1986), p. 230

Petted And Pampered

1966: Elizabeth Arden (real name, Florence Nightingale Graham) was passionate about racehorses. Her pampered thoroughbreds were fed on special clover and massaged and rubbed down with Elizabeth Arden creams and lotions. When Arden died in October, The New York Times quipped that she “treated her women like horses and her horses like women”.

Source: The New York Times, 19 October 1966

“Curious Wild Animal”

Rudolf Nureyev, photographed in 1973 by Allan Warren

Rudolf Nureyev, photographed in 1973 by Allan Warren

1964: “A curious wild animal, very beguiling and fairly unpredictable,” was Noël Coward’s impression of Rudolf Nureyev when they met in Rome. At dinner, the ballet dancer bit his dining companion. “But it was only on the finger,” Coward noted, “and didn’t draw blood.”

Source: Noël Coward, The Noel Coward Diaries, ed. Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley (1982), p. 570

Milgram On Obedience To Authority

WE WILL PAY YOU $4.00 FOR
ONE HOUR OF YOUR TIME
Persons Needed for a Study of Memory

Those who responded to Yale University’s advertisement were told that they would be participating in a study of the relationship between punishment and learning. Each volunteer acted as a teacher, putting questions to a pupil. For each incorrect answer, the teacher was required to give the pupil an electric shock. The intensity of the shock was increased with each mistake, from a 15-volt tingle to a whacking 450 volts.

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Dirty Little Secret

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy photographed during a visit to India in 1962

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy photographed during a visit to India in 1962

1962: Psst! Wanna hear a dirty story about Jackie Kennedy? To cut costs at the White House, at the end of 1962 she instructed that half-empty glasses, abandoned at parties, should be refilled and passed round again, unless they had obvious lipstick marks.

Source: Sarah Bradford, America’s Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (2000), p. 280

Not-So-Fab Four

1961: By the mid-1960s, the Beatles were the most successful pop group in the world, playing to packed crowds of screaming fans. But that was in the future. On 9 December 1961 they performed at the Palais Ballroom in Aldershot to an audience of 18.

Source: www.triumphpc.com/mersey-beat/beatles/aldershot.shtml

Deadly Moonbeams

1960: On 5 October, radar at a missile early-warning station in Greenland showed enemy missiles heading towards the United States.

At North American Air Defense Command headquarters in Colorado, a “massive” Soviet ballistic missile attack appeared imminent, until someone realised that Nikita Khrushchev was actually visiting New York. It seemed very unlikely that the Soviet Union would launch missiles that might kill its own leader. Huge relief at NORAD headquarters, no doubt.

What the radar had in fact detected was a reflection from the moon, rising slowly over Norway.

Source: Eric Schlosser, Command and Control (2013), pp. 253–4

Planes Overtake Ships

1958: For the first time, the number of passengers crossing the north Atlantic by aircraft exceeded the number crossing by ship, signalling the beginning of the end for trans-Atlantic liners.

Source: David Beaty, The Water Jump: The Story of Transatlantic Flight (1976), pp. 241–2

Baffling Youth Craze

1957: The New York Times ran a story that tried to make head or tail of rock ’n’ roll, under the headline:
EXPERTS PROPOSE
STUDY OF ‘CRAZE’
Liken It to Medieval Lunacy,
‘Contagious Dance Furies’
and Bite of Tarantula

Source: The New York Times, 23 February 1957

Music On The Move

1956: Chrysler, the American car maker, marketed its 1956 models with the option of a record turntable mounted beneath the dashboard. A sales brochure boasted that Highway Hi-Fi was “the greatest motoring entertainment feature since the car radio”, but this downplayed fundamental problems – not least, how to safely change a record in a fast-moving vehicle. No surprise, then, that the system was a commercial flop.

Source: http://ookworld.com/high-tech-in-the-1950s-highway-hi-fi-where-the-vinyl-meets-the-road/

Atomic Appliances

1955: It was a time when nuclear power offered the promise of clean, cheap, versatile energy. Alex Lewyt of America’s Lewyt Corporation predicted that within 10 years vacuum cleaners would probably be powered by atomic energy.

Source: The New York Times, 11 June 1955

Tooth Care For Tigers

1954: Li Zhisui, Mao Zedong’s personal physician from 1954 onwards, disclosed in The Private Life of Chairman Mao that the Chinese leader never brushed his teeth. Like many Chinese peasants, Mao simply rinsed his mouth with tea when he woke, and then drank the liquid and ate the leaves. Mao’s explanation: “A tiger never brushes his teeth.”

Source: Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Inside Story of the Man Who Made Modern China (1994), pp. 99, 102

President Einstein

1952: David Ben-Gurion took up the suggestion of a Tel Aviv newspaper to offer the Israeli presidency to Albert Einstein. Einstein declined. “I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions,” he modestly explained. That was the official reason; unofficially, he told a friend, “Although many a rebel has become a bigwig, I couldn’t make myself do that.”

Source: Albrecht Fölsing, Albert Einstein: A Biography (1997), pp. 732–4

Albert Einstein, the president who never was, photographed in 1947 by Orren Jack Turner

Albert Einstein, the president who never was, photographed in 1947 by Orren Jack Turner

Nabokov’s Colourful Language

1951: Synaesthetes inhabit a world different from the rest of us; one where, for example, music or speech are not just heard, but seen in vivid colour.

The novelist and synaesthete Vladimir Nabokov described in detail the correspondence between letters and colours. The letter “n” was for him an oatmeal colour; “p”, the green of an unripe apple; “z”, like an “inky horizon”; and “a”, the “tint of weathered wood”. The yellow of “u” he could best describe as “brassy with an olive sheen”; while “m” was a “fold of pink flannel”; “h”, the brown of a “drab shoelace”; and “r” like “a sooty rag being ripped”.

Source: Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: A Memoir (1951), pp. 23–4

Change Of Career

Ernesto

Failed entrepreneur Ernesto “Che” Guevara, photographed in 1951

1949: Before he discovered his vocation as a revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara studied medicine in Buenos Aires. Like many university students, he was strapped for cash, which led him into a series of ingenious but impractical commercial ventures. The most spectacularly unsuccessful was a scheme to manufacture domestic cockroach killer by mixing locust insecticide with talcum powder. Guevara set up a “factory” at the family home, but a nauseous smell soon pervaded the house, he and his “commercial partners” fell ill, and the venture went belly up.

Source: Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (1997), pp. 57–8

Ambidextrous

1948: When a grenade shattered the right hand – the shooting hand – of Hungarian Takács Károly, it threatened to end his career as a pistol champion. Undeterred, he learned to shoot with his left hand and won gold in the rapid-fire pistol competitions at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.

Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), p. 959

Snails, Stamps And Potted Meats

1947: The death of Matthew Connolly was a major loss in the field of gastropod studies. He was the author of The Land Shells of British Somaliland and A Monographic Survey of South African Marine Molluscs, as well as learned papers on such arcane malacological matters as the giant snail from Ceylon that licked the paint off window frames. Connolly discovered about 30 snails,

snail-shells-65358_960_720

six of which were named after him and one after his son, the critic and writer Cyril Connolly. He was also a keen philatelist, hailed by Stamp Collector as “the greatest authority on Railway Parcels stamps”, and an acknowledged expert on potted meats and pâtés.

Source: Jeremy Lewis, Cyril Connolly: A Life (1997), pp. 7–8

Mother Knows Best

1946: For his 11th birthday, Elvis Presley’s mother bought him his first guitar. Elvis wanted a bicycle, but his mother was worried he might get run over, so she bought him a guitar instead.

Source: Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (1994), p. 19

When Writers Meet

1945: War correspondent George Orwell was delighted to find that Ernest Hemingway was staying at the same hotel in Paris. The two men had never met. Orwell went up to Hemingway’s room and knocked. A voice bellowed at him to come in. He opened the door and said sheepishly, “I’m Eric Blair.” The American was standing on the other side of the bed, packing suitcases. “Well, what the –ing hell do you want?” he shouted. Orwell spoke again. “I’m George Orwell.” Hemingway pushed the suitcases to the end of the bed. “Why the –ing hell didn’t you say so? Have a drink. Have a double.”

Source: Paul Potts, Dante Called You Beatrice (1960), p. 82

First Things First

1944: Able Seaman Ken Oakley’s job on D-Day was to organise the men and machines disgorged from landing craft at Sword beach. “More and more craft were coming in continuously, and I was directing them. The trouble was, when the soldiers came ashore, their first reaction was, ‘Let’s group up and have a little check, and then we’ll have a cup of tea.’ ”

Source: Max Arthur, Forgotten Voices of the Second World War (2004), pp. 314–15

“The Smallest Children Lay Like Fried Eels”

1943: Operation Gomorrah was the code name for British and American air raids that inflicted biblical destruction (“brimstone and fire from . . . out of heaven”) on Hamburg.

For 10 days the bombers returned again and again. In the early hours of 28 July, incendiary bombs unleashed a firestorm in the densely populated city. Many thousands of people perished in many hideous ways: sucked into blazing buildings by hurricane-force winds; torched by blizzards of sparks; trapped and suffocated in basement shelters; stuck fast in melted asphalt on the roads.

Their bodies, charred and shrivelled by the intense heat, piled up in the cellars and littered the streets. “How terribly must these people have died,” lamented one woman. “The smallest children lay like fried eels on the pavement.”

Source: Martin Middlebrook, The Battle of Hamburg: Allied Bomber Forces against a German City in 1943 (1980), chap. 15

Devastated residential and commercial buildings in the Eilbek district of Hamburg.

Devastated residential and commercial buildings in the Eilbek district of Hamburg, viewed by a Royal Air Force photographer

Mice Disable Panzers

1942: As the battle for Stalingrad reached its climax, both sides hurled men and machines into the fray. West of the city, though, the German 22nd Panzer Division didn’t budge; its tank engines wouldn’t start. Not because of harsh weather, or Soviet sabotage, but because field mice had sneaked into the tanks and nibbled through the electrical insulation.

Source: Henry Metelmann, Through Hell for Hitler (2003), p. 114