Weird Universe


Red Out

The 1948 high school fad of "Red-Out." Certainly one of the stupidest high school fads ever.

What it involved: "Students would kneel, breathe deeply 10 times, close their lips around their thumbs and then blow, without actually exhaling, until they turned red and passed out."

Bonus thrill: students would wake up believing they had been chased by monsters!

Lubbock Evening Journal - Nov 26 - 1948
Posted By: Alex | Date: Sat Nov 29, 2014 | Comments (6)
Category: Fads, School, 1940's

Buttleopener forces resignation

Mark Gregory invented the Buttleopener, which is a bottle opener shaped like a woman's buttocks. Gregory also served as a member of the Williamson County school board in Tennessee, recently rising to become chairman. But the two aspects of his life (buttleopener inventor and school board chairman) have proven to be incompatible. Gregory recently resigned his position as chairman, bowing to pressure from parents who really, really didn't want him involved with the school board. []
Posted By: Alex | Date: Sun Oct 05, 2014 | Comments (11)
Category: Education, Inventions, School

Wish you were here!

The story below is from 1939. Would the students have been dealt with as harshly today? My guess, based on all the stories of overreacting school officials that Chuck reports, probably yes.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Tue Oct 15, 2013 | Comments (5)
Category: School, 1930's

The College of Swedish Massage

Original ad. (Scroll down.)

I wonder how one went about setting up as a freelance massage therapist in 1949. Did the College of Swedish Massage mail order course culminate with a nice diploma you could display, something along the lines of a "Bra Inspector #23" badge? And exactly how, as a student, did you practice your techniques at home, and on whom?

As the quote below tells us, the College of Swedish Massage eventually was superseded by the more proper Swedish Institute, still teaching massage therapy today. I wonder if you can take their courses online?

Posted By: Paul | Date: Tue Mar 12, 2013 | Comments (10)
Category: Body, School, 1940's

The Philadelphia Phonograph School of Languages for Parrots

It came into existence circa 1903. Details from The Strand Magazine:

Philadelphia can boast of a phonograph school for parrots. It is said to be the only institution of its kind in the world. Here parrots are taught to speak by means of the phonograph, and during the brief time that the school has been in existence over one hundred birds have been taught to pronounce all kinds of sentences and phrases for the edification of themselves and the amusement of their owners.

This is the twentieth-century method of teaching a parrot. Hitherto he has been taught by tutors, generally women, and, if the truth must be told, he has not been altogether a satisfactory or exemplary pupil. First of all his teacher has to repeat the phrase or sentence over and over again, hundreds and thousands of times, before "Pretty Polly" is able to pronounce it. This in itself is a tiresome procedure, but it is rendered more fatiguing on account of the fact that the speaker must be hidden from the parrot. She has, therefore, to crouch behind a screen or to cover the cage of the bird with a large hood. The former is regarded as the best method, as no self-respecting parrot likes to be left alone in the dark, but to hide oneself secretly behind a screen and then repeat the words, "Pretty Polly," "Pretty Polly," a thousand times is surely not an enviable task.

By the new mode of teaching, however, no personal inconvenience of this nature is felt, for all the tutor has to do is to obtain a phonograph, secure a few records suitable for birds, and set the phonograph going in the parrot's ear. The bird, too, learns more quickly by this method than in the old way...

The fee for a full term of six months is eight pounds. Parrots are often sent, however, for a briefer period, when the rate charge is ten shillings per week, including, of course, board and lodging. Sometimes, when a pupil has to be taught unusual phrases—French or German sentences, for instance—the tuition rate is a little higher.
Posted By: Alex | Date: Fri Feb 22, 2013 | Comments (5)
Category: Animals, School, 1900's

Rat-Killing Lessons, 1907

Back in the day, students were taught the important subjects at school, such as how to kill rats. Here's a description of rat-killing lessons at the Farm and Trade School on Thompson's Island, circa 1907. From Rats and Rat Riddance (1914), by Edward Howe Forbrush:

At the Farm and Trade School on Thompson's Island, where the boy pupils are taught to kill rats, as all boys should be, there is a henhouse built with a cement foundation, but it has an earth floor and no foundation wall on the south side; therefore it is not rat-proof. The wooden floor of the main house is raised about three feet above the earth, leaving a space below it for a shelter for geese. Here the rats have burrowed in the earth, and as it was considered unsafe to use carbon bisulphide there on account of the fire danger, water was suggested. Two lines of common garden hose were attached to a near-by hydrant, the ends inserted into rat holes and the water turned on. All rat holes leading from the henpens to the outer world were closed with earth, and several boys were provided with sticks, to the end of each of which a piece of hose two feet long had been attached. A fox terrier was introduced into the henpens, and in about half an hour the rat war began. As the half-drowned rats came out of their holes somewhat dazed they were struck by side swings of the hose sticks, which knocked them off their feet, to be killed by other blows. If one escaped into the henpens, boy or dog killed it. This operation was repeated later from time to time. Four successive battles several weeks apart yielded 152 rats from under and about this henhouse, and no doubt many young rats were drowned in their nests. Where no high-pressure water main is available burrows on the banks of pond, river or ocean might be cleared in this way by means of a powerful sewer pump and hose.

The pictures show the schoolboys showing off their kill, as well as the rats strung up.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Mon Dec 31, 2012 | Comments (6)
Category: Animals, School, 1900's

Lifted by the Ears

A photo of a kindergarten teacher in China lifting one of her students by her ears has recently been doing the rounds online. The teacher, reportedly, has explained her actions by saying she and the student "were just having fun." Well, the smile on the teacher's face indicates she's having fun. I'm not so sure about the kid. [huffpost]

The photo immediately made me think of those photos of Lyndon Johnson lifting his two beagle pups by their ears, which caused an uproar back in 1964. LBJ also claimed the ear lifting was all fun and games. Just another reminder of how often weird news repeats itself.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Fri Oct 26, 2012 | Comments (9)
Category: School, Children

Classes in Store Windows

With school budgets constantly declining, maybe this is a money-saving solution that should be reconsidered. Stop building new schools and conduct classes in store windows instead.

[From Newsweek, April 6, 1953]
Posted By: Alex | Date: Wed Oct 10, 2012 | Comments (5)
Category: School, 1950's

The Kenmore High Cheerleading Chant

Here's the latest image gone viral. I spotted it on, but you can also find it on any number of blogs or facebook posts. My first thought -- I'm pretty sure this is Chuck's work! So posting it here to give some credit where credit is due.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Sun Mar 11, 2012 | Comments (4)
Category: Racism, School, Sports, Can't Possibly Be True

The School of Weird Facts

Back in 1989, Coppin State College in Baltimore started a program designed to teach kids critical thinking skills -- how to "formulate meaningful questions, identify pertinent data and determine fallacies and biases." It did this by having the kids examine and discuss "weird facts" and weird news stories. Perhaps Chuck's work was on the curriculum. (link: Google News)

The picture shows teacher Tom Payne teaching the kids some weird facts. I don't know what happened to the program. It doesn't seem to exist anymore. In its place, we should try to make Weird Universe mandatory reading in all high schools.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Mon Feb 27, 2012 | Comments (3)
Category: School
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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2008 by the author of the post, either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.