Raise a glass to history.

Category: 19th Century (Page 1 of 6)

Don’t Drink Disinfectants.

Have a drink of: ANYTHING BUT BLEACH.
Disinfectants are not medicine.

Ask about: No. Don’t. Just DON’T.

I can’t believe I have to say this, much less marshal the historical evidence to prove it, but, please: don’t drink bleach. Don’t inhale bleach. Don’t inject bleach. DON’T USE BLEACH TO DO ANYTHING BUT CLEAN UP AROUND THE HOUSE.

For more on the dark history of what has happened every time people have tried to do this in the past (and, oh yes, they most certainly have) – click through to my essay at Medium.

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Carl Hagenbeck

Have a drink with: Carl Hagenbeck
Ask him: But do you sing country ballads?

Like many other people, I spent the first chunk of my home confinement (thanks, coronavirus) plowing through Netflix’s hot documentary series “Tiger King” whilst eating an inordinate number of Girl Scout cookies. And the show is so relentlessly bananapants that it’s hard to believe that it could be a product of anything but the current moment in history. But no! The 19th century animal entertainment landscape also involved a cluster of larger-than-life figures jockeying for notoriety and revenue, and the birth of menageries in Western culture can tell us a lot about private zoos today.

There had certainly been exotic animals in the West going back far earlier, as part of private collections meant to demonstrate the owner’s status and ability. (Think Mike Tyson owning a tiger.) But where at the turn of the 19th century there were an isolated few animals in private hands, during the 1800s the menagerie emerged as a structured public entertainment. At first this was a matter of novelty: OMG COME SEE AN ELEPHANT. But as time went on, zoos had to embrace a sense of place in the world, and replaced brutal colonialism with an idea of moral purpose – the idea of participation in education, science and conservation.

Read on at Slate for my full take on Joe Exotic and his historical counterparts.

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P.G. Lowery

Have a drink with: P.G. Lowery
The best under canvas.

Ask him about: Hustle.

If I say the words “circus music,” you probably have a certain type of music in your mind straight away – something loud, fast and slightly drunk – like this 1902 Sousa band recording of a typical “galop.” And that’s certainly on point, but it doesn’t clue you in to the fact that during the early 20th century, while largely white bands played under the big top, some of the most exciting circus music was happening over in the sideshow, where bands made up of black musicians not only played fast marches and brassy trombone “smears,” but innovated in ragtime, jazz and blues years before they would come into full public popularity. And perhaps the most impressive figure in these groups was the bandleader P.G. Lowery, a classically-trained cornet player who boiled down his many successes into a simple motto: “Good things cometh to he who waiteth as long as he hustleth while he waiteth.”

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The Stomach Rebellion

Have a drink at: Your College Dining Hall
Cabbage: now with extra protein!

Discuss: FOOD FIGHT

Today, a college’s dining hall is part of its overall outreach in the competition to attract students, and to keep them happy and achieving while they’re on campus. So much is put into the food and the architecture that travel magazines and college prep companies actually rank colleges by the quality and appeal of their food. This is a far cry from the college dining experience of the nineteenth century: in the summer of 1828, students at Yale College got so upset with their dining experience that they undertook a group protest that came to be known as the “Bread and Butter Rebellion” or the “Stomach Rebellion,” and it got so heated that the university president had to expel everybody to get them to cool the eff down.

You can see why a pasta station may be a better solution.

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Anna Jarvis

Have a drink with: Anna Jarvis
Don’t even get her started on “Candy Day.”

Ask her about: Her mother.

Anna Jarvis was a public school teacher and devout Methodist, and widely regarded as one of the inventors of the Mother’s Day holiday. She would not seem to be the type of person who would try to flip off a room of candy manufacturers, but history is full of surprises.

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William Banting

Have a drink with: William Banting
Keto, paleo, intermittent fasting? Nope: BANTING.

Ask him about: before and after pics

CARBS

When the Paleo diet became popular in the early oughts and the ketogenic diet more recently supplanted it as a nutritional craze, keen-eyed historians noticed something familiar about these diets’ recommendations to hork down all the meat you can get your mitts on, guilt-free: specifically, that it wasn’t especially new. Was this all that different, they wondered, from the low-carb, high-fat diet Dr. Robert Atkins had first published in 1972? Was this just a forty-some-odd-year-old diet fad in a new dress?

To which I say: of course not. It’s a HUNDRED-and-forty-some-odd-year-old diet fad in a new dress. I’m over at Narratively today with more about William Banting, the Victorian royal undertaker who, yes, popularized low-carb dieting.

Click over to Narratively for the full story.

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Jumbo & Dumbo

Have a drink with: Jumbo
The Children’s Giant Friend

Ask him about: bath time in the Thames

Jumbo & Dumbo

There’s one conspicuous problem with the 1941 Disney movie Dumbo and Tim Burton’s remake, released last week: the elephant’s name is not, in fact, Dumbo.

The little elephant with the big ears is, in fact, given a family name when he is born, and Mrs. Jumbo’s baby is christened Jumbo, Jr. (The mocking nickname comes about when his giant ears are discovered.) This establishes Dumbo in the lineage of a real circus animal – the mighty Jumbo, P.T. Barnum’s prize African elephant. In 1941, when the original Disney film came out in theaters, Jumbo was still within fifty years’ living memory – and indeed, a fair swath of adult audience members were likely to have remembered seeing Jumbo as children on circus day, as the Greatest Show on Earth wound its way across America.

When P.T. Barnum secured him from the London Zoo, where he was known as the “children’s friend” for the rides he would give to young zoo visitors, Jumbo became the undisputed star of the circus, elevating the Barnum shows to an even greater level of cultural prominence.

Here are a few things you may not know about Dumbo’s famous patriarch.

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Daylight Saving Time

Have a drink with: Daylight Saving Time
Spring forward, fall back.

Ask about: How do I change the clock in my car, again?

You may think you have it bad this week, with Daylight Saving Time going into effect: it’s hard to get going in the dark mornings, who knows which clocks you forgot to change, and if the news is to be believed, we get so collectively thrown out of whack by the annual shift in time that there is a nationwide uptick in everything from depression rates to car accidents.

The Sunshine Protection Act, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio in Congress for the second time, aims to get rid of the whole process once and for all by keeping the nation on Daylight Saving Time (which we entered last weekend by turning clocks ahead one hour) year-round. The proposal has been covered in the news extensively this week, with favorable public response.

It’s definitely among the nicer approaches that have historically been taken towards regulating time changes.

In Connecticut, we went ahead and made them criminal.

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Elias Howe

Have a drink with: Elias Howe
Adventures in sewing: now with cannibals!

Ask him about: patent trolls

Elias Howe

It’s kind of easy to knock Elias Howe, historically speaking. There is a statue of him in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he is claimed as a famous son despite the fact that he was born in Massachusetts; he is largely credited with inventing the sewing machine despite the fact that he sort of didn’t; and some biographies describe him as a hero of the Civil War despite the fact that he was a 40-year-old private.

But let’s cut the guy some slack, really. Because there’s a lot to love about Elias Howe – and not just that he was solid Daguerreotype Boyfriend material:

Elias Howe (Met Museum)

This is a guy who created the United States’ first patent war, all while insisting his creative inspiration came from a dream about being held captive by cannibals.

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Your Local Phrenologist

Have a drink with: Your Local Phrenologist

Lumps & bumps.
Ask him about: The 10-Year Challenge

Facial recognition technology is fun: particularly when you can log into your phone as an Animoji lion. But is it reliable, particularly when entrusted with decisions about security – and when profiling is a likely outcome? Suggestions that facial recognition technology can identify bad actors echoes the 19th century belief that phrenology could help identify criminals, and is woven through with the same social anxieties and pseudoscience. I’m over at the Washington Post’s Made by History site today digging into biometrics, phrenology and the problems with using biology to make decisions about criminal guilt, innocence or predisposition.

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