Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Category: 20th Century (page 1 of 3)

Election Day 2018

Have a drink with: The American Voter
A high and important duty to perform.

Ask: what’s your plan for voting?

Poster, “Don’t Talk Politics in Here if You Are Not Registered.” 1986.0534.23.

We’re not alone among the world’s democracies in this fact, but Americans don’t have a great record on voter turnout, particularly when midterm elections are involved. This is not unique to the modern era, either: back in 1803, when Connecticut was considering the sort of structural political change that would lead to the passage of our 1818 Constitution, fusty Federalist judge David Daggett, writing under a pseudonym in a political pamphlet called “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” (no kidding, dude) encouraged his readers to avoid Election Day laziness:

“[G]ive your suffrages for those whom your consciences approve. Let no federalist say my town will do right without me, or my vote will not oppose the triumph of democracy. Each freeman should feel that he has a high and important duty to perform, and that in neglecting it, he is inexcusable.”

But more to the point: a reminder from the past, courtesy the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of October 10, 1905, that there are lots of ways to remind yourself to go vote tomorrow:

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Presidential Hats

Have a drink with: Presidential Hats
Come at me, bro.

Ask them about: how buff was Teddy Roosevelt?

Hat in the Ring

With the collective American mind very much on upcoming midterm elections, and with a host of new and nontraditional contenders running for office, one phrase pops up perhaps a little more than usual: the announcement that one candidate or another has tossed his or her hat in the proverbial ring.

It’s a common, casual phrase in American English – but where does all this hat-throwing come from?

Perhaps the first public use of the phrase was on November 30, 1804, when the London Morning Post recapped a boxing match between fighters Tom Belcher and Bill Ryan. The sports reporter set the stage for the bout by writing:

“The parties arrived at Wilson Green, soon after ten o’clock, where a ring was formed by the spectators, who anxiously waited the event of the fight. Belcher appeared confident of success, and threw his hat into the ring, as an act of defiance to his antagonist, who entertained the same confidence of success, and received this bravado with a smile.”

(FYI: Belcher was favored in pre-fight betting with 6:4 odds, but went down in the 37th round on a knockout. )

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Sarah Winchester

Have a drink with: Sarah Winchester
40BR, 30BA; move-in ready!

Ask her about: Extreme Home Makeover, Spectral Edition

Winchester Mystery House

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the star of the recent suspense film Winchester is Helen Mirren. She is, after all, a certified badass; a superb actress; and well kitted out for the job in a dour stare and a dramatic swath of black Victorian lace.

In fact, though, the star of the film is a house, purportedly as haunted in reality as it is on film. The Winchester Mystery House, as it’s popularly known, is a 160-room Queen Anne-style mansion in modern-day Silicon Valley, created by the real-life version of Mirren’s character Sarah Winchester. And as a 1940s tourism brochure points out, “The World’s Largest, Oddest Dwelling” is not your typical real estate listing.

Clipping Winchester Mystery House

So why spend more than three decades building an ooky, nonsensical Queen Anne monstrosity, albeit one with very nice amenities? If you believe the legend, it’s because Sarah Winchester was trying to manage a tenant roster of very unhappy ghosts.

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The Winter Olympics

Have a drink with: The Winter Olympics
Faster, higher, stronger, colder.

Ask about: Being young and full of sin

Winter Snow

Although technically the Olympic Games have been going on since centuries B.C.E., the modern Games as we now know them began in 1896, with the competition of 241 athletes in traditional track-and-field events, wrestling, gymnastics, shooting and the like in Athens, Greece.

The Winter Games, however, are a comparatively recent addition, and did not first occur until very recently, historically speaking, in 1924 (there’s even film!). And there was at least one person who was not happy about it AT ALL, which you can read all about in an edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published ninety-four years ago today:

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Celebrity Death Hoaxes

Have a drink with: Tom Petty
Into the great wide open…

Ask him about: Not backing down.

Skeleton hand: celebrity death hoaxes

Tom Petty recently achieved the feat, as far as the press was concerned, of dying twice in a single day.

On Monday, October 2, news outlets began reporting in the afternoon that Petty had died following a cardiac incident at his California home, following a CBS News breaking news item declaring the singer dead. Only a few hours later, amidst a social media explosion of remorse and YouTube videos, did the news squeak out that announcements of Petty’s death may, in fact, have been premature. The Los Angeles Police Department, which had been CBS’ source in breaking the news, shortly clarified that it could not in fact confirm Mr. Petty’s death, noting on Twitter: “The LAPD has no investigative role in this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience in this reporting.”

It isn’t the first time death has seemed less than final in the realm of celebrity.

Modern media culture is full of conspiracy-laden, media friendly death theories: Babe Ruth and Frank Sinatra died on the same day in 1945! Why do you think Paul McCartney’s barefoot on the Abbey Road cover? Elvis faked his death and is living under witness protection! Abe Vigoda didn’t just miss a wrap party during the 1980s, he opted out ENTIRELY. (Sorry, that’s during the 90s.) (Oughts?) (Check the website.)

Are celebrity death hoaxes an unpleasant, if inevitable, modern consequence of the Internet’s viral credibility problem?

Nope. The gleeful anticipation of celebrity deaths as mass mourning events is a particularly tawdry offshoot of modern mass media culture. But the phenomenon isn’t new. Since the 1800s, death hoaxes and premature obituaries have punctuated American history (and yes, American – we seem to specialize in both death obsession and gullibility).

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Bathing Suit Lizards

Have a drink with: Bathing Suit Lizards
Stockingless bathers!

Ask them about: Beachy fun, pig roasts, union cosplay.

Summer Fun!

If you’re thinking about ways to enjoy your summer, rest assured: the past can help. As it turns out, just like you, people in the early 20th century spent plenty of time thinking about things like bathing suit fashions, picnic etiquette, kid-friendly outings and water safety.

Bring the Kids!

At the annual Asbury Park Baby Parade in 1919, 75,000 people attended the annual pageant, complete with carriages, floats, pony carts, a Tom Thumb wedding and, for the first time in the history of the parade, an official contribution by New Jersey itself: the state being officially represented by two floats courtesy of the Bureau of Child Hygiene, “one a symbolization of the mother State protecting the children, the other a humorous float depicting ‘A Strike in Babyland.”

Paternalism! Tiny Teamsters! Ponies!

So. On to barbecue?

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Agnes Rogers

Have a drink with: Agnes Rogers
The future is female.

Ask her about: Equality, dignity, good manners, mild snark.

The other day I was reading a lifestyle blog talking about the challenge of living a halfway sane female existence in the face of social pressures that demand women be simultaneously effortless, clean, intelligent, ambitious, authentic, confident and masterful. (Also pretty. Duh.)

Surely most could empathize with the featured image, and the look of quivering overwhelm on the woman’s face as she faces a swirl of demands:

“Spend more time with your children!”
“Leave your children alone!”
“Use herbs for gracious living.”
“Is your hair dull, stringy, lifeless?”
“How much do you really know about your candidate?”
“She’s thirty-five but men still turn around to look at her.”
“Are you letting your mind go to seed?”
“It’s up to the women of this town!”
“Learn Spanish in only five minutes a day!”

Oh. Did I say lifestyle blog? I meant 1940’s coffee table book.

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The Speed Limit

Skip drinks because it’s: The Speed Limit
You there, do you know how fast you were going?

Ask it about: Can it drive 55?

Most of us like to think that history is a parade of accomplishments, but when you get down to it somebody has to invent the everyday stuff, too – and as much as it pains me to say so, my home state has done more than most in making the world a duller place. Go ahead and thank Connecticut, pioneer of the boring, for we have given you: wooden nutmeg scandals, government paperwork, car taxes, the insurance industry, and the nation’s first law school.

And as if that weren’t enough, in 1901, my home state was first in the country to set a speed limit for motor vehicles.

No city driving over 12 MPH, now. In the burbs, you can punch it up to 15.

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Spike Jones

Have a drink with: Spike Jones
The best offense is a good fart joke.

Ask him about: firearms as percussion instruments

In 1942, New York radio DJ Martin Block sold war bonds on air – to an audience that was under wartime food and gasoline rationing – on the promise that he’d give a free record to any listener who bought a $50 bond. Every time the pledge total went up another $2,500 Block played the single in question on-air, to cheers and peals of laughter.

The song was “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, and Block sold $60,000 of bonds inside a week.

Because you can argue, you can petition; you can organize demonstrations and engage in politics; but sometimes the most effective piece of international policy dialogue is a Bronx cheer.

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Election Day

Have a drink with: The American Voter
On Tuesdays we wear white.

Ask her about: Her “citizen’s right, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens.”*

election_day_mg_2847

In case you need some historical comfort for your Election Day habits:

Compulsively clicking “refresh” on FiveThirtyEight? We get it. P.T. Barnum got it, too, which is why he offered a daily “Presidential Test Vote” at his American Museum (open to women as well as men!) and fed results to the daily papers:

Women as well as Men vote at BARNUM’S MUSEUM All this week. Now is the time, Ladies, to show your preference. The vote will be taken, and the curiosities and entertainments of the museum increased in proportion.”

ny-trib-9-16-56-test-vote-2

(While at the Museum, you could conveniently escape your polling anxiety with “Two LIVING ANACONDAS, a LIVING SKELETON, the DWARF LADY, a MODEL of the MALAKOFF, &c.”)

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