When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1920s

“Paisley Snail”

1928: May Donoghue worked as a shop assistant in Glasgow. She was 30 years old. On the evening of 26 August, she visited the Wellmeadow Café in nearby Paisley with a friend, who treated her to an ice-cream float. The café owner brought a tumbler of ice cream and a bottle of ginger beer, which he poured over the ice cream. (Important detail: the bottle was made of dark, opaque glass.) Donoghue consumed some of the float. When her friend refilled the tumbler, a decomposed snail slid out of the bottle. Donoghue felt unwell.

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Charged As Freight

1927: After gold was discovered in the New Guinea province of Morobe, Cecil Levien set up Guinea Airways to link the remote inland goldfields to the coast. “Passenger fares,” it was announced, “will be A£25 for Europeans. Natives will be charged as freight.”

Source: Anthony Sampson, Empires of the Sky: The Politics, Contests and Cartels of World Airlines (1984), pp. 115–16

Retarded Youngsters

1926: Writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Florence Goodenough established a rough correlation between the amount of English spoken in immigrant households in the United States, and the intelligence of children from those households. Correlation and causation are not the same thing, however, and Goodenough cast doubt on the possibility that “the use of a foreign language in the home” might be “one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation as measured by intelligence tests”.

Source: Journal of Experimental Psychology, October 1926

Licking Like Dogs

1925: Shortly after immigrating to the United States, Inagaki Etsu witnessed something she had never seen in Japan – a man kissing a woman. In A Daughter of the Samurai, she described how her train had come to a halt, and a man had rushed on board, thrown his arms around a passenger and kissed her several times. “And she did not mind it, but blushed and laughed, and they went off together.” The young Japanese traveller, nonplussed, had recalled her mother’s words: “I have heard, my daughter, that it is the custom for foreign people to lick each other as dogs do.”

Source: Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, A Daughter of the Samurai (1933), p. 184

Blue With Cold

1924: Nguyen Ai Quoc was in Moscow when Lenin died in January. Nguyen had changed his name from Nguyen Tat Thanh; later he would change it again, to Ho Chi Minh. Nguyen still hadn’t fully adapted to European winters. He went to pay homage to the dead Soviet leader dressed only in light clothing. When he returned to his room after hours in the bitter Moscow cold, his “face was blue, and the ears, nose, and fingers on the hands were blue, too”.

Source: William J. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh: A Life (2000), pp. 96–7

Schoolgirl Jibe

1923: Sitting in the autumn sun in Berlin’s Botanical Garden, Franz Kafka was distracted from his Kafkaesque thoughts by a bunch of passing schoolgirls. One of them – blond, leggy, boyish – gave Kafka “a coquettish smile, turning up the corners of her little mouth and calling out something” to him. Kafka didn’t quite catch what she said. He smiled back at her. The pretty girl and her friends stared at him. Then he realised what she had said: “Jew.”

Source: Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Years of Insight (2013), pp. 544–5

Bathtub Gin

1922: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s recipe for bathtub gin: in a large container, mix two parts alcohol to three parts distilled water; in a second container, mix 80 drops of juniper berry oil, 40 drops of coriander oil and three drops of aniseed oil; place five drops of the oil mixture in 23 ounces of the alcohol–water mixture; add an ounce of sweetening – liquid rock candy syrup is best.

Source: Sarah Churchwell, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby (2013), p. 148

Abortifacient

1921: The author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, took her surname from her mother’s second husband. Mary’s first marriage had lasted only a year and a half; Patricia was born nine days after her parents divorced. Halfway through the pregnancy, Mary had tried unsuccessfully to induce a miscarriage. Years later, she remarked to her daughter, “It’s funny you adore the smell of turpentine” – funny because that was what she had drunk to abort the foetus.

Source: Andrew Wilson, Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (2010), pp. 20–2

Prince Charming

1920: At a small railway station on the Nullarbor Plain in southern Australia, aborigines put on a display of dancing and throwing spears and boomerangs for the visiting Prince of Wales. The prince, the future Edward VIII, was not amused. He wrote to his friend Freda Dudley Ward that the display was a “native stunt”, which he loathed, and that the aborigines were the “lowest known form of human beings & are the nearest thing to monkeys I’ve ever seen”. Prince Charming!

Source: Edward, Prince of Wales, Letters from a Prince: Edward, Prince of Wales to Mrs Freda Dudley Ward March 1918–January 1921, ed. Rupert Godfrey (1998), p. 348

Breast Reduction

1929: For almost a thousand years, women had been banned from the monastic communities on Mount Athos, in northern Greece. The French journalist Maryse Choisy, however, managed to sneak in and stay for a month. She claimed she had improved her disguise beforehand by having her breasts “appropriately trimmed” by a plastic surgeon.

Source: Maryse Choisy, A Month among the Men (1962), p. 11

“Kindly Firm”

1928: Treat your children as if they were young adults, the psychologist John Watson advised parents. “Always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. . . . Try it out.”

Source: John B. Watson, Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928), p. 73

Tea With Auden

1927: In his final year as an undergraduate at Oxford, Wystan Auden fell for an attractive newcomer named Gabriel Carritt. Auden became close friends with the Carritt family, even if they were initially startled by his bluntness. (“Mrs Carritt,” he said one day, “my tea tastes like tepid piss.”)

Source: Humphrey Carpenter, W.H. Auden: A Biography (1992), pp. 75–8

Rich Vein Of Humour

1926: Life and Laughter ’Midst the Cannibals was Clifford Collinson’s account of his adventures in the Solomon Islands and not, as the book’s title might imply, a hodge-podge of missionary-in-the-cooking-pot jokes.

Source: Clifford W. Collinson, Life and Laughter ’Midst the Cannibals (1926)

Plodding Past

1925: In his efforts to modernize Persia, Rezā Shāh Pahlavi took a dim view of anything that drew attention to the country’s backwardness. Camels, for example. Camels were an anachronism in a modernized, motorized nation. So Rezā Shāh prohibited photographs of camels.

Source: Christopher de Bellaigue, Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup (2012), pp. 78–9

Say It In Hausa

1924: A Hausa Phrase Book provided colonial officials in northern Nigeria with the language to deal with embarrassing situations (“I have been robbed of my trousers”) and domestic difficulties (“Rats have been in here, call the cat”); likewise, the linguistic skills to handle troublesome servants (“Quarrelling, loud talking, and wrangling women are all forbidden”), tiresome guests (“Relieve us of your presence for awhile”), reluctant taxpayers (“You have only brought in half the tax; where is the rest?”) and very reluctant taxpayers (“If you do not pay in one month, your house will be burned and you will be driven to the bush”).

Source: Allan C. Parsons and G.P. Bargery, A Hausa Phrase Book (1924), pp. 2, 4, 9, 11, 45, 49

Delayed Handover

1922: When the head of the Ireland’s Provisional Government arrived at Dublin Castle on 16 January to receive the handover of the building, a huffy British official remarked: “You’re seven minutes late, Mr Collins.” Michael Collins is supposed to have replied: “We’ve been waiting 700 years, you can have the seven minutes.”

Source: Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins: A Biography (1990), p. 310

Food Hygiene

1921: The Egyptologist William Flinders Petrie excavated at Abydos over four seasons at the turn of the century. Flinders Petrie was a penny pincher; at the end of each digging season he reputedly buried unused cans of food. These were dug up at the start of the next season and thrown against a wall; any that did not explode were considered fit to eat. Flinders Petrie spent another season at Abydos in 1921. After an absence of 20 years, his return must have been explosive.

Source: David O’Connor, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (2011), p. 27

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.

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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)