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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Then comes this account in 1920, also from The New York Times.
Then comes this report from 1954.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Chuck is the purveyor of News of the Weird, the syndicated column which for decades has set the gold-standard for reporting on oddities and the bizarre.
Our banner was drawn by the legendary underground cartoonist Rick Altergott.