When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Posts by William Cook

Penchant For Pink

1922: The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun sparked a worldwide craze for ancient Egypt. One manifestation of “Tutmania” was the novelist Barbara Cartland’s penchant for billowy pink chiffon. “I saw all this wonderful pink on the walls and the artefacts [of the tomb],” she recalled many years later. “I was so terribly impressed that I vowed to wear it for the rest of my life.”

Source: The Irish Times, 28 March 1998


1921: In January, D.H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, toured Sardinia. Lawrence described their visit in a brief, sometimes tetchy book, Sea and Sardinia. When they boarded the ferry at the end of their trip, Frieda refused to share a cabin with three Italian women since, although the sea was smooth as glass, she knew they “would all be sick simply for the fuss of it”.

Source: D.H. Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia (1989), p. 174

Helpful Police

1919: When Davidson Black, newly arrived at Peking Union Medical College, required cadavers for teaching his students anatomy, the police obligingly sent a cartload of executed prisoners, all headless. Black explained that he needed the bodies intact, so next time the prisoners were sent to him alive, with instructions that he was to execute them any way he wished.

Source: Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, The Wisdom of Bones: In Search of Human Origins (1996), p. 46

Coriolis Effect

1918: When the Germans began bombarding the French capital from 120 kilometres away with the gigantic Pariser Kanone, the shells took so long to reach the target – three minutes – that the gunners had to adjust their aim to take into account the Earth’s rotation.

Source: Jearl Walker, The Flying Circus of Physics (2007), p. 66

Perfectly Sober Steed

1915: After struggling through rain and sleet to the Italian town of Sant’ Angelo, Norman Douglas rewarded his coach driver with a coin, which cheered the man up. Douglas suggested that the driver buy himself something to eat, but when he saw him again a little later, the man’s inept smile made it obvious he had spent the money on alcohol instead of food. Just a glass, he grinned, of wine. “But the horse is perfectly sober.”

Source: Norman Douglas, Old Calabria (2001), pp. 35, 36

New Year Prediction

1914: David Lloyd George’s comments in the Daily Chronicle on 1 January, downplaying tensions between Britain and Germany, were as wayward as a poor New Year prediction. “Our relations with Germany,” said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, “are infinitely more friendly now than they have been for years.”

Source: Mark Bostridge, The Fateful Year: England 1914 (2014), p. xxvii

Cody’s Final Flight

1913: Residents of Farnborough who gazed overhead on the morning of 7 August will have spotted Samuel Cody’s latest flying machine trundling across the sky. In 1908 “Colonel” Cody had been the first, or one of the first, to achieve powered flight in Britain, and since then his aeroplanes had become a familiar sight above the Hampshire town. On that particular August morning, people may have noticed his biplane, and then turned away and gone on with their ordinary lives. But if they had stood and watched, they would have seen Cody’s machine suddenly buckle and break apart, fabric and wooden struts flutter down and, among the debris, in his white coat and cap, the figure of the “Colonel” tumbling towards a fatal impact with the hard earth.

Source: Garry Jenkins, ‘Colonel’ Cody and the Flying Cathedral: The Adventures of the Cowboy Who Conquered Britain’s Skies (1999), pp. 253–5

“Best For Health”

1912: Only an advertising agency, I suspect, would have the gall to extract data from an article in The Lancet entitled “The toxic factor in tobacco” and include it in an advertisement for pipe tobacco that proclaimed “CRAVEN Mixture as the best for health”.

Source: Kate Parker, What the Doctor Smokes (2007), p. 35

Canals On Mars

1911: The Suez Canal had opened 40 years earlier and construction of the Panama Canal was well advanced. But were the inhabitants of Mars building canals that were far more impressive than anything on Earth? The amateur astronomer Percival Lowell thought so. On 27 August, The New York Times ran a story on his astronomical observations and theories under the headline:

Source: The New York Times, 27 August 1911

Why Whiteness?

W.E.B. du Bois, photographed in 1918 by Cornelius Battey

1910: The black American essayist W.E.B. du Bois exposed the absurdity of white racism with a simple piercing question: “What on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?”

Source: W.E. Burghardt du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920), pp. 29–30

Pie In The Face

Cross-eyed actor Ben Turpin, photographed in 1921

1909: Mr. Flip featured the first cinematic use of an important item in the slapstick comedian’s arsenal: the pie in the face. The cross-eyed actor Ben Turpin spent the entire film pestering young female workers, but a waitress got her own back by rubbing a pie in her tormentor’s face.

Source: https://hubpages.com/education/


1908: The Times Literary Supplement review of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows doubted whether a mole would whitewash his house, a water rat sail a skiff or a toad become a rabid motorist. “As a contribution to natural history,” the reviewer observed, “the work is negligible.”

Source: The Times Literary Supplement, 22 October 1908

Pavlovian Pedantry

Ivan Pavlov depicted on a 1969 Soviet postage stamp

1906: Pardon the pedantry, but Ivan Pavlov used a buzzer, not a bell, to stimulate salivation in laboratory dogs. The popular notion that the Russian physiologist rang a bell appears to have originated from the mistranslation of a speech in The Lancet.

Source: Daniel P. Todes, Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science (2014), pp. 1, 287, 315, 492, 764, 766–7

Freudian Quip

1905: Two examples from Sigmund Freud’s The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious:

A physician visits a sick woman. As he’s leaving, he shakes his head and says to the woman’s husband: “I don’t like the look of your wife.”

The husband agrees: “I haven’t liked the look of her for a long time.”

Here is another joke, which Freud considered “rather coarse-grained”:

Two Jews are talking about bathing. One says to the other: “I take a bath every year, whether I need it or not.”

Source: Sigmund Freud, The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious (2002), pp. 30, 62

Unit Of Time

1904: On 31 March, a British military expedition advancing into southern Tibet clashed with a ragtag defence force near the village of Guru. Tibetan muskets were no match for Maxim machine guns, and amulets offered no protection against shrapnel. “A hail of bullets came down on us,” wrote one of the defenders. “The sound of firing continued for the length of time it would take six successive cups of hot tea to cool.” In that brief time, 628 Tibetans were killed and 222 wounded.

Source: Patrick French, Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (1994), pp. 221, 224

Chicago Conflagration

1903: One month after it opened to great fanfare, the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago was gutted by fire. A floodlight ignited drapery during an afternoon performance of Mr. Bluebeard. The fire curtain at the front of the stage was probably not fireproof, and anyway, it got stuck. Theatre staff dithered; the audience panicked; emergency doors jammed. Result: 602 members of the audience died, many of them children. Burned, trampled, suffocated.

Carl Prinzler, a hardware salesman, had a ticket for the show, but cancelled at the last minute. The one benefit to emerge from the disaster was that Prinzler and two colleagues devised a panic-release bar for emergency exit doors.

Source: Joanna Bourke, Fear: A Cultural History (2005), pp. 51–2, 58

Window Envelope

1901: Americus Callahan of Chicago filed a patent application for an “envelop” with “a section of transparent material” covering a hole cut in the front “through which the sending address upon the inclosure may be readily observed”. In other words, a window envelope.

Source: www.freepatentsonline.com/

Racist Vitriol

1900: An outbreak of plague in the Chinatown district of San Francisco was seized on by Organized Labor as an excuse to print racist vitriol. “The almond-eyed Mongolian is watching for his opportunity,” the journal warned its readers, “waiting to assassinate you.”

Source: Robert Sullivan, Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants (2004), p. 156

Limited Contact

1999: Long days working at the office, evenings carousing with male colleagues, and a cultural tendency to leave childcare to women, meant that Japanese fathers spent limited time with their children. In 1999, the average was only 17 minutes per day, although this represented a substantial increase from the 1981 figure of three minutes.

Source: Men, Wage Work and Family, ed. Paula McDonald and Emma Jeanes (2012), p. 22

Knuckle Cracking

1998: Does habitually cracking your knuckles lead long-term to arthritis, or is that an old wives’ tale? Ignoring warnings from a number of old wives – “his mother, several aunts, and, later, his mother-in-law” – Donald Unger conducted an experiment, cracking the knuckles of his left hand, but not his right, at least twice a day.

After keeping up his daily routine for half a century, Unger checked both hands and found no evidence of arthritis. “There is no apparent relationship,” he concluded, “between knuckle cracking and the subsequent development of arthritis of the fingers.”

Source: Arthritis & Rheumatism, May 1998

Finicky Feeders

1997: Dung beetles are finicky feeders. Research in Kuwait by Wasmia Al-Houty and Faten Al-Musalam revealed that the beetles’ favourite is horse dung, which they prefer to the dung of sheep, camels, dogs and foxes. Al-Houty and Al-Musalam referred to earlier research from Australia that also showed a preference for the dung of horses, followed by that of sheep, cattle and kangaroos. (Not many kangaroos in Kuwait.)

Source: Journal of Arid Environments, March 1997

“Gay Bomb”

1994: Wright Laboratory in Ohio suggested an unconventional addition to America’s military arsenal: “strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior”. Sprayed on hostile positions, the chemical was intended to arouse affection between enemy personnel rather than aggression towards their American opponents. (“Make love, not war.”) The so-called “gay bomb”, however, appears not to have progressed beyond a written proposal; it never made it on to the drawing board.

Source: www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/05/

Stamping Down Hard

1992: Singapore stamped down on chewing gum: no sales, no imports and, for anyone able to get their hands on some, no spitting it out on the streets and a complete ban from the railway system, with fines or jail terms for lawbreakers.

Source: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/