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Clubs, Fraternities and Other Self-selecting Organizations

What is the New York Center For The Strange?

WUvians, perhaps you can help me solve a mystery which has been perplexing me for the past few days — what is the "New York Center For The Strange"?

Here's the info I've gathered so far:

In 1972, an organization by this name began an annual tradition of issuing predictions for the following year. It claimed to have obtained these predictions by conducting a survey of American witches.

Year after year, around Halloween, these predictions have appeared in papers. (For instance: 1977, 1979, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990.)

Sometimes the predictions sounded serious, such as when, in November 1974, the NYCFTS predicted that "Henry Kissinger will resign as secretary of state before next July" (wrong!). But more often the predictions were just bizarre and seemingly tongue-in-cheek. For instance, in 1974 the witches also predicted "a nationwide shortage of Scotch whiskey, shoe polish and lighter fluid." And in 1978 they predicted "a nationwide shortage of Beluga caviar, earmuffs, bagels and automobile dipsticks."

Throughout the 1980s and 90s the witches' predictions continued to appear in papers. In the 21st Century they become harder to find, but as recently as 2013 the NYCFTS issued predictions, though I can't find any predictions issued in 2014 or 2015.

In all this time, no one seems to have questioned what exactly is this organization. Is it real, or is it someone's long-running joke? Is there really a "Center For The Strange" with offices in New York City?

Various NYCFTS spokespeople have told reporters that the organization's mission is to help correct "the widely-held image of witches as evil, gnarled hags who fly across rooftops astride brooms." This makes it sound like it might actually be a genuine society of witches.

But on the other hand, the NYCFTS officially describes itself as "a non-profit organization involved, basically, in research." This, to me, sounds like a joke.

In 2013, someone created a website for the organization, at www.nycenterforthestrange.org. But they only kept it active for a year. (It's preserved in the wayback machine.)

On this website, an address was listed: 555 Fifth Avenue, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10017. Currently, this address seems to be occupied by one Himanshu Rajan Sharma, Corporate Lawyer.

I strongly suspect that the syndicated humor columnist Don Maclean was somehow involved in the NYCFTS, since in the early 1970s he wrote about it frequently (such as here and here). He even claimed to have visited its headquarters and knew its officers. Perhaps the organization was his satirical creation and he issued press releases every year on its behalf, to amuse himself.

However, Maclean died in 2005, so obviously someone else has been keeping the joke alive — if it is, in fact, a joke.

And that's all I know about the New York Center For The Strange. I'm hoping someone out there might have more info about it.
Posted By: Alex | Date: Wed Dec 02, 2015 | Comments (8)
Category: Clubs, Fraternities and Other Self-selecting Organizations

Mystery Illustration 10

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This Scout is signalling for what now?

Visit link, then scroll down.
Posted By: Paul | Date: Thu Sep 24, 2015 | Comments (10)
Category: Clubs, Fraternities and Other Self-selecting Organizations, Signage, 1980's

British Snail-Watching Society

The British Snail-Watching Society was founded in 1945 by Peter Henniker Heaton. It was an organization "dedicated to the theory that man, harassed by the mounting tempo of modern life, has something to learn from contemplating the snail."

The snail watchers spent much of their time watching snail races, but they also tried to promote interest in snails and were enthusiastic supporters of conchophilately (the collection of pieces of mail damaged by snails that had invaded mailboxes).

Life magazine ran a feature about the society in its Dec 2, 1946 issue.


Image via Google Cultural Institute



Snail-damaged letter

Posted By: Alex | Date: Sat Sep 19, 2015 | Comments (8)
Category: Clubs, Fraternities and Other Self-selecting Organizations

The Fred Society

The FRED Society was founded in 1984, and still appears to be going strong. It's a kind of support group for people (mostly men) named Fred, designed to address the negative connotations associated with the name. That is, when people hear the name Fred, they tend to think of characters such as Fred Mertz (the bumbling neighbor on 'I Love Lucy') or Fred Flintstone. The Fred Society would like us to think of Fred Astaire instead.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Mon Jun 29, 2015 | Comments (6)
Category: Clubs, Fraternities and Other Self-selecting Organizations, Odd Names

G. G.‘s Barnum Room

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Every hepcat knows the name of the Peppermint Lounge, famed in 1960s lore. But not as many folks recall that the same space was transformed in the 1970s into the Barnum Room, the only club with transvestite trapeze artists above the dancers.

Read a period essay about the club here.

See fantabulous fotos here.

The Bald-Headed Men of America

Apparently there have been several instances of the formation of clubs to serve as fraternal organizations for bald men.

The New York Times has this 1896 report.

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Then comes this account in 1920, also from The New York Times.

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Then comes this report from 1954.

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But sometime after that, the original group must have gone under, because in 1972, John T. Capps, III founded the Bald Headed Men of America. They were profiled in a PBS documentary from 1989, as partially shown below.



Apparently, they are still going strong.



The Tailbone Patrol

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Unfortunately, the mutability of the English language has not been kind to James W. English's stories of Scouting known as The Tailbone Patrol. In 2013, the title sounds like one of those how-to-pick-up-women books, or a "Girls Gone Wild" episode.

If you want a copy to peruse, they start at $200.00.

Or you can read one of the stories about the "Tailboners" here.

Fur Trapping the Boy Scout Way

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Not quite a century ago, apparently enough Boy Scouts indulged in fur trapping that a big fur company felt compelled to advertise to them.

What would PETA say if the Scouts did that today?

Wait a minute... They still kinda do!

From Boys' Life for February 1919.

Masonic Handshake Revealed

The Freemasons are famous for having a series of hand signals by means of which their members can identify each other wherever they may happen to be in the world. Now you too can pretend to be a Freemason. The secret is that, first, you need to memorize a series of hand signals all of which indicate different days of the week. The signals also require that you have pockets in your clothes (or that you have clothes on, period... so these won't work in a nudist colony):

Sunday sign: right hand in pocket of breeches, with thumb out, pointing to the left side.
Monday sign: left hand in left pocket, thumb out, pointing to the right side.
Tuesday sign: right hand in right waistcoat pocket, with thumb out, pointing left.
Wednesday sign: the reverse—left hand in left waistcoat pocket, with thumb out, pointing right.
Thursday sign: right hand in right coat pocket, with thumb and forefinger out, pointing downwards.
Friday sign: exactly opposite—for right, read left.
Saturday sign: putting the first three fingers of the right hand to that part of the right eyebrow next the ear, and so drawing it along till the 3rd finger touches the nose.

Note that you also need to be wearing a waistcoat! Now for the secret greeting. When a Brother meets a Brother he first has to give the signs of the two preceding days, and then the other Brother returns the 7th or Saturday sign. And that's it!

Unfortunately, these signs probably won't work today. The info comes from Secrets of the Freemasons Revealed by a Disgusted Brother, published in 1759. According to Wikipedia, the Freemasons periodically change their secret signals, in order to keep them secret. Nowadays, you may also be required to produce some kind of certificate, or paperwork, to prove your Freemason membership.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Fri Aug 31, 2012 | Comments (8)
Category: Clubs, Fraternities and Other Self-selecting Organizations

American Legion Parades of Yore



Today, the average upstanding citizen is a pale shadow of his or her riotous ancestors. We don't drink as much or smoke as much or act goofy in public as much (despite the roll call of weird behaviors as collected by our Fearless Leader, Chuck.)

Look at this boring clip of a contemporary American Legion parade from last year.

Then view this account from 1947, when randy old codger Legionnaires rode bucking ATVs through the streets, poured water from hotel windows, and shocked innocent women with cattle prods (probably the very ones sold through Johnson Smith catalogs, as shown earlier on WU).

Now, answer truly: which era would you rather live in?

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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.