The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Quick and Easy Way to Become a Pig, and Other News

December 5, 2014 | by

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“Between Two Evils,” from Puck magazine, 1888.

  • “The kinds of books we’ve decided to ‘note’ have changed over time, and so have the books that loom largest in our imaginations or that we urge on our friends, even if similar books have been around all along. In other words, it may be the readers who have changed as much as (if not more than) the titles made available to us.” A history of the New York Times Notable Book list …
  • … and a history of humankind’s antipathy for drunkards—specifically their drunk, decaying bodies. “To [Edward] Bury, the most comparable creature to the drunkard was the swine, as drunkards seemed to take great pleasure in wallowing in their own vomit, dung, and the dirt. Drunkards even came to resemble swine by crawling about, after losing control over their ability to walk; though, while beasts are serviceable in this manner, Bury remarked, ‘the Drunkard [is] good for nothing but to spend and consume.’ ”
  • There are Mayakovsky Streets in forty-five Russian cities and fourteen Ukrainian cities. There are three Mayakovsky Streets in St Petersburg, more than there are in the whole of Kazakhstan, which boasts only a couple, one in Almaty and one in Ust-Kamenogorsk. Triumph Square in Moscow was called Mayakovsky Square from 1935 to 1992; the metro station that serves it is still called Mayakovsky. Omsk seems particularly fond of the poet: as well as a street, it has a cinema and a nightclub (or rather a ‘youth relaxation complex,’ which I hope is a nightclub) blessed with the great man’s name.”
  • Want a way of predicting if a new word will become a fixture of the language or simply fade away? Use the FUDGE system (Frequency of use; Unobtrusiveness; Diversity of users and uses; Generation of other forms and meanings; Endurance of the concept).
  • Pantone’s color of the year is Marsala, “a reddish-brown shade that’s not quite as bright as Adobe clay but not as deep as brick … slightly more pink than your basic brown.”

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All the President’s Turkeys

November 24, 2014 | by

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Horace Vose with a turkey for President McKinley. Vose secured presidential turkeys for more than thirty-five years.

From Turkeys, all varieties: Their care and management. Mating, rearing, exhibiting and judging turkeys; explanation of score-card judging, with complete instructions, published jointly by the Reliable Poultry Journal Publishing Company and the American Poultry Publishing Company in 1909.

A turkey boiled
Is a turkey spoiled,
A turkey roast
Is a nation’s boast,
But for turkey braized
The Lord be praised.

The most famous grower of turkeys in the United States is Horace Vose, of Westerly, Rhode Island. Mr. Vose last year followed his annual custom of sending a Thanksgiving turkey to the President of the United States, a custom which he began in Gen. Grant’s first term. He has autographed letters of thanks from all the presidents since then. Mr. Vose goes to a great deal of trouble to get the President’s Thanksgiving dinner. Besides growing turkeys he deals in them, and after the chicks have been hatched a month or two he makes a tour of the farms for miles around. If he sees a particularly fine chick he secures an option on it, and directs that it be given special care. He makes other visits later in the season and bids for every fine turkey that he sees. When Thanksgiving approaches the Rhode Islander has control of practically all the finest birds for miles around. He is the largest shipper of turkeys for the New York market. This is Mr. Vose’s philosophy:

“The object of fattening a turkey is to produce firm, finely flavored, luscious flesh. Therefore it should be fattened on whole corn—not meal—as the corn gives a firmer consistency to the flesh. It should never be stuffed artificially or confined in close quarters. If sweet apples are available they may be fed, as nothing will give a nicer flavor to the flesh.”

[…] The London Board of Agriculture reports great success in fattening turkeys with a cramming machine. A mash of equal parts of ground barley, corn and oats, with a small amount of melted fat and linseed meal was used, enough skim milk being added to make it the consistency of cream. At first there was difficulty in feeding the turkeys, owing to their size and strength, but the operator finally overcame this by placing the fowls on a low stand so that their heads were on a level with the nozzle of the cramming machine. It is stated that “after a day or two the turkeys became accustomed to this manner of feeding, and when meal times came they showed much eagerness to mount the stand and receive their share of the food.”

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Too Much of a Good Thing

October 17, 2014 | by

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An ad by Mensing & Stecher, ca. 1870.

Fact: two hundred years ago today, eight Londoners drowned in a flood of beer.

I don’t know what else to say.

I guess I can tell you a little about it: how it began at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, where an enormous vat ruptured, unleashing more than a hundred thousand imperial gallons of beer; how the force of that gushing beer apparently caused the brewery’s other vats to rupture, thus sending some 1,470,000 liters of beer into the streets; and how that beer washed through a nearby home, killing a mother and daughter as they took tea. The Times reported that “inhabitants had to save themselves from drowning by mounting their highest pieces of furniture.” And the story goes that that the beer deluged right through a living room where a wake was in progress, killing a few mourners with intoxicating irony.

When I learned of the flood, my first question wasn’t “How many people died?” It was “What kind of beer was it?” And according to no less reputable a source than FunLondonTours.com, the answer is porter. Porters tend to be pretty strong, so anyone who managed to gulp down a few mouthfuls as he or she was enveloped by the beer wave … well, you can see where I’m going with this.

For more on the flood, check out Atlas Obscura.

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What a Way to Go!

September 15, 2014 | by

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A hexagram of Constans II struck in the Constantinople mint, struck ca. 648.

Sometimes power changes hands. Sometimes, perforce, the change is violent. And sometimes, albeit rarely, it involves a Byzantine emperor who’s assassinated in the bathtub, where his servant bashes his brains in with a silver bucket.

Such is the fate, putatively, that befell Constans II on September 15, 668, unless it befell him on July 15, 669, which is also eminently possible. As a historian on Reddit’s AskHistorians recently explained, “there is basically only one source for this, the eighth-century Theophilus of Edessa, who wrote a chronicle whilst serving the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. This work is now lost, but it was used by several later chroniclers, including the more well-known Theophanes from the ninth century.” Said historian goes on to quote an account by the tenth-century historian Agapius:

When Constans was in the bath, one of his attendants took a bucket, mixed in it mallow and soap, and put this on Constans’s head. While the latter’s eyes were filled with the mallow and soap, so that he could not open them, the attendant took the bucket and struck Constans on the head with it, so killing him. He rushed out of the bath to escape and no one heard any more of him. The servants remained outside waiting for the king to come out, but when they had been sitting a long time and it was getting late and he still had not come out, they entered the bath and found him unconscious. They brought him out and he lived for that day, but then died having reigned for twenty-seven years.

In a paper on the era’s Roman-Arab relations, the Oxford historian James Howard-Johnston collates a number of sources to offer a slightly different account: Read More »

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Snow Day

August 27, 2014 | by

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Still from Snow White.

Disney’s Snow White is an animation classic, and a beautiful one. But if you’re looking for something altogether weirder (albeit shorter) go back four years, and check out the Fleischer Studios’s 1933 Snow White. Technically, this is a Betty Boop short, and it’s true that the iconic flapper does indeed play “the fairest in the land.” But the cartoon is really a showcase for all kinds of wholly unrelated tricks.

Although it’s technically a “Fleischer Brothers” production, in fact Max and Dave Fleischer didn’t have much to do with Snow White, which is considered the masterpiece of animator Roland Crandall. Apparently Crandall was given free rein on this short as a reward for all his work for the studio, and took full advantage. It’s incredibly innovative, and seriously trippy. This isn’t the only Fleischer Brothers cartoon to employ the voice talents of bandleader Cab Calloway, or even his rotoscoped moves (he also cameoed as the Old Man of the Mountain), but it’s the best: as Koko the Clown, and then a ghost, Calloway does a haunting rendition of the “St. James Infirmary Blues,” and then what might be the first recorded instance of the moonwalk. What does any of this have to do with the story of Snow White? Not all that much. But that’s what Disney was for.

(To see the full seven-minute version, click here.)

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Fruit Mutiny

August 1, 2014 | by

Whither the breadfruit?

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Marguerite Girvin Gillin, Breadfruit, ca. 1884

There’s such a thing as the Breadfruit Institute, and there should be. Researchers consider the species a “NUS”—“neglected and underutilized species.” But Ian Cole, the Breadfruit Institute’s collection manager, thinks that’s insane. He told me, “If you had a breadfruit tree in your yard, you would have food all year round!”

I don’t have a breadfruit tree in my yard, though, and neither do you, if you live in the lower forty-eight. Cole wants that to change. He wants the world to eat breadfruit.

He may well get his wish. Breadfruit, a starchy fruit that looks like a green pimpled softball, is enjoying a bout of sudden popularity. It’s gluten free, dense with protein, and rich in vitamin B and fiber. It has the mild, earthy flavor of a tuber. And it looks pretty neat: what appears to be a singular globe of fruit is in fact thousands of tiny fruits fused together like a mosaic. The media is in thrall. The Daily Mail calls breadfruit “a wonder food”; the Huffington Post calls it “a wonder food”; and the New Scientist calls it “a wonder food.” The New Zealand Herald asked in a recent news headline, “Is this the new wonder food?” Yes. Yes, it is. Read More »

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