Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: Comic Relief

P.T. Barnum, again

Have a drink with: P.T. Barnum
The Greatest Showman on Earth

Ask him about: elephant agriculture

P.T. Barnum

Barnum month continues! With the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus performing its last shows yesterday in New York, and first-look pictures of Hugh Jackman’s Barnum musical The Greatest Showman breaking this week, it’s a good day to tip the top hat to Phineas T.

Here are ten things you may not have known about Barnum:

1. He never said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” P.T. Barnum never spoke his most famous words. In the late 1860’s, workers near Syracuse, New York dug up a ten-foot stone colossus, claiming it was archaeological evidence of Biblical giants having lived in the northeast United States. Really the “Cardiff Giant” was a hoax planted by skeptic George Hull, and as it drew thousands of people to see it, the statue made its owners money hand over fist. When the statue’s owners refused to sell to Barnum, the showman simply created his own “Giant,” and claimed the other guys were showing a fake. One version of the tale has angry owner David Hannum spitting out the famous phrase in the resulting legal dispute.

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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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Vinegar Valentines

Have a drink with: Vinegar Valentines
You’re awful; I love you

Ask them about: Negging in the Victorian era

Vinegar_Valentines_1649

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.

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Peanuts In Space

Have a drink with: Astronauts Charlie Brown & Snoopy
Just don’t ask about kicking a football in zero-G.

Ask them about: getting America in the mood to fly again

Peanuts_Space

I’ve got space on the brain.  There’s New Horizons doing its Pluto drive-by, and my toddler running around with a plastic pail on her head insisting she’s going into orbit, and a Discovery documentary on TV that convinces me of nothing so much as the plain audacity of the early space program: basically a handful of men trusting to fate whilst strapping themselves to a giant directional bomb.

I am perpetually amazed with spaceflight but also terrified, since I like many others of my age group watched Challenger explode on live television in my elementary-school classroom.  (This is not unlike my mother, who loves horses but cannot bear the thought of watching one injured, and who therefore only watches the Kentucky Derby on tape delay.)

In the Challenger accident, NASA lost astronauts for the first time since the Apollo 1 fire of the late 1960’s, in which three astronauts were killed in a launchpad test of their vehicle. In coping with the deep personal, social and institutional trauma of both accidents, NASA went through a very similar process of examination and rebuilding, but that isn’t where the similarities end.  In preparing for the return to manned spaceflight, NASA had some trusty allies: a boy and his beagle.

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Dr. Seuss

Have a drink with: Dr. Seuss
Would you, could you, fight the war?

Ask him about: why Yertle the Turtle just might be Hitler.

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We know Theodore Seuss Geisel as a children’s author, a playful champion of absurdity and literacy who gave us green eggs, cats in hats and an absolute lock on what to buy for the high-school graduate in your life.

Because the world seems to love nothing more than the seemingly illicit thrill of getting “secret” material from beloved authors (Harper Lee, what?), there’s been a lot of attention recently to the “new” Seuss book What Pet Should I Get?, produced from a completed manuscript and uncolored artwork found in Seuss’ personal papers.

And this is pretty exciting, particularly since the “inspired by” or “in the style of” children’s literature trend usually serves mostly to illustrate the achievement gap between authors and their posthumous copycats (Seuss and Curious George come to mind).  So the thrill of new work from a master is legitimate.

But it isn’t what I love most about Dr. Seuss.  That’d be the Hitler cartoons.

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