Have a drink at: The White House Egg Roll
Mr. President, can we play in your yard?
Ask Rutherford B. Hayes about: Inviting 600 kids over for Easter
It was 1876. Congress was debating expenditures, and they were in a pickle over the Capitol grounds – every year at Easter, the place was swamped with kids and families rolling dyed eggs down the hills. This in and of itself was ok, but the overall ruckus made a mess of the lawn, and Congress’ landscaping budget was totally dry for the year. Plus, this was an age where cattle still routinely grazed in downtown D.C. and people were totally freaking out the cows.
So Congress, in its characteristic fun-loving spirit, proposed a solution in the form of “An act to protect the public property, turf and grass of the Capitol grounds from injury,” reading:
It shall be the duty of the Capitol police on and after April 29, 1876, to prevent any portion of the Capitol Grounds and terraces from being used as playgrounds or otherwise, so far as may be necessary to protect the public property, turf and grass from destruction or injury.
The President was on board, and the Capitol Building Turf Protection Act was enacted on April 21, 1876. You may now in your mind picture Ulysses S. Grant shaking his fist and shouting, “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!”
Have a drink with: Vinegar Valentines
You’re awful; I love you
Ask them about: Negging in the Victorian era
Is Valentine’s Day not for you? Are you sick to death of hearts and teddy bears? Can Starbucks shove its molten chocolate latte up its molten mermaid tail? Are you looking for something that more befits the holiday in our modern age, but maybe short of actually cheering for gangland murder?
Search no more, for here to the rescue is the heartless Internet troll of the 19th century: the insult comic valentine.
Have a drink with: P.T. Barnum
Ask him to bring Jumbo. That elephant could drink.
Ask him about: Picking your Powerball numbers
Last week I gave in to the siren song of Powerball and joined millions of other people in the giddy exercise of mentally spending the billion-plus dollars of my inevitable destiny (what would it cost for the local museum to let me ride the Brontosaurus skeleton, anyway?).
The unprecedented size of the recent jackpot may have created a real and novel sense of reward, but it doesn’t change the most fundamental truth about the lottery, which has remained unchanged over centuries: the real money isn’t in winning the lottery so much as it is in running it.
Have a drink with: Yankee Whalers
Amazon Wish List: a dead whale or a stove boat.
Ask them about: holiday shopping
Ron Howard’s new movie In the Heart of the Sea, a film adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book of the same name, tells the story of the Essex, a Nantucket whaler rammed and sunk by a whale in the Pacific Ocean, and of her crew grimly struggling for survival miles from anywhere.
So whaling is a hot topic right now, and I am all about that. I could talk to you about whether Melville aped the Essex tale when creating Moby-Dick, what it feels like to take a Nantucket sleigh ride, or even whether or not the Essex crew’s fear of fierce cannibal islanders was legitimate (short answers: a little; waterskiing on your face; not really).
But let’s face it, it’s the holidays, and you are no doubt wondering to yourself: what’s the perfect gift for that special person in my life? Wonder no more: the Yankee whaler’s gift guide knows exactly how to get your presents on-trend for 2015.
Have a drink of: homemade 19th century cold medicine
Ask your doctor if it’s right for you!
Side effects may include: vomiting, euphoria, dysphoria, poetry, death.
Getting the sniffles now that winter is upon us? For a fun holiday project, make like it’s the Victorian era and mix up some DIY cough syrup, as directed by the January 1842 issue of the New-York Visitor and Lady’s Album (basically: antebellum Cosmo, with more engravings and fewer sex tips):
Three pops of this each day, and your cough will be gone in no time! Withdrawal symptoms may take a while.
Have a drink with: The Thanksgiving Turkey
Our dinner, who art in oven…
Ask it about: Patriotism, Christology, stuffing.
On October 28, 1909, the Boston-based Journal of Education – the nation’s oldest continuously published educational journal – prepared its readers for Thanksgiving by printing a suggested script for a holiday-themed school play.
This seems harmless enough – festive, even! – until you realize the whole exercise kicks off with a creepy read-aloud poem entitled “The Martyrdom of St. Turkey,” which no doubt traumatized any of the students so unlucky as to be assigned to read it.
Have a drink with: Spirit Photographers
Ray? When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes.
Ask them about: Selfies with your dead relatives
In 1848, two sisters from Hydesville, New York spread word that they heard mysterious rapping noises on the walls and furniture of their home, and could speak with spirits through tapped code. An enthralled public declared the girls spirit mediums, and over the years household seances, lectures, even Spiritualist “churches” formed a movement – one that survived and grew even after one of the Fox sisters admitted that their spiritual “conversations” were total fluff, the noises no more than dropped apples and cracking their toes under the table.
Just in time for Halloween I’ve been reading David Jaher’s new book The Witch of Lime Street, a detailed romp through the spiritualist revival of the 1920’s, starring Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini and a real-life parade of mediums, journalists and hucksters. Jaher talks about the movement’s surge in the post-WWI years, due in no small part to the inescapable impact of war and influenza on the populations of the Western world. With so many suddenly dead from violence or virus, the grieving were understandably receptive to the idea that they might contact their friends and family in the hereafter. Would the spirits speak to you? Could they?
That’s all well and good, but Jaher ignores a more pressing question: would they hold still for a selfie?
Have a drink with: The Gideons
Rocky Raccoon checked into his room, only to find…
Ask them about: Getting into your hotel room
Now Rocky Raccoon, he fell back in his room,
Only to find Gideon’s Bible.
Gideon checked out, and he left it, no doubt,
To help with good Rocky’s revival.
– The Beatles
The Bible and the hotel room seem the unlikeliest of bedfellows at first glance; the former is the core of spiritual life for Christian communities, and the latter a place of abject neutrality for secular America. Yet in millions of hotel rooms worldwide, the Bible is as natural an amenity as little bars of soap thanks to the efforts of the Gideons International, a Tennessee-based Christian association. Paul McCartney included the Gideon Bible in his lyrics to “Rocky Raccoon,” the odd story of a jilted lover written on the roof of a building in Rishikesh, India; and Hunter Thompson in his hotel-room musings was known to thank the Gideons for providing him easy access to Revelation imagery.
So how did the Bibles get there? Wisconsin. (Last place you look, right?)
Have a drink with: the Yale Bowl
Stadium, immovable earth beast, cradle of American football
Ask it about: what it wants for its 100th birthday.
In 1914, Yale University celebrated the completion of one of its largest and most famous construction projects, the Yale Bowl. More than a stadium, much more than an Ivy League niche item, the Bowl is a physical point on the continuum of football’s growth as a sport.
Yale was instrumental in starting, growing and formalizing the game we know and watch in America today. (No, really! Ivy League football!)
To understand why this is true, let’s take a crash course in American football:
Have a drink with: The Charles W. Morgan
Whaleship, world traveler, cultural ambassador, marine rendering plant
Ask her about: What it smells like to cart around a few dozen sailors in a wooden oil tub with limited cleaning facilities. For three years at a time.
The Charles W. Morgan is the last of the American wooden whaling ships, originally built in 1841 in New Bedford, Massachusetts and retired in the early 20th century after an active whaling career. Normally a floating exhibit at Mystic Seaport, the Morgan has undergone a multi-year, multi-million dollar restoration and is right now under sail around New England for the first time since the 1920’s. She’ll travel from Connecticut to Newport, New Bedford, Cape Cod and Boston before returning home in August, and you can follow the voyage on the Seaport’s various great online and social media streams (hashtag: #38thvoyage).
Now, I love history, but I REALLY love whaling history. To the point that I did a summer internship at a whaling museum while in law school. (Tax law memos or scrimshaw? Duh.) But if you are not me, and chances are you aren’t, what is this Morgan thing all about?
I thought you’d never ask.