Category:
Nineteenth Century

Photographing a mule at the instant its head is blown off by dynamite

Advances in photographic technology that occurred in the 1860s and 70s led to the invention of plates that had exposure times of a fraction of a second. This allowed for "instantaneous photography," as it was called at the time. Moving objects could be frozen in time by the camera.

Researchers immediately used this technology to study bodies in motion. Most famously, Eadweard Muybridge in 1878 took a series of images to study the galloping of a horse. Similarly, neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot used instantaneous photography to study the muscular movements of his human patients.

A more unusual application of the technology took place on June 6, 1881, when Mr. Van Sothen, photographer in charge at the United States School of Submarine Engineers in Willett's Point, New York, took an instantaneous photograph of a mule having its head blown off by dynamite. The mule was apparently old and was going to be put down anyway, so it was decided to "sacrifice the animal upon the altar of science."

The resulting photo


Eugene Griffin, First Lieutenant of Engineers, described the details of the experiment in a letter to Lieut. Col. H.L. Abbot:

On the 6th of June, 1881, an instantaneous view was taken, by your direction, of the execution of a condemned mule belonging to the Engineer Department. A small bag containing 6 ounces of dynamite and a fuse was fastened on the mule's forehead, the wires from the fuse connecting with a magneto-electric machine. The camera was placed at a distance of about 47 feet from the mule and properly focussed; the drop shutter was held up by a string, fastened to another fuse, which was placed in the same circuit with the first, so that both were fired simultaneously and the shutter allowed to drop. The result was a negative showing the mule in an upright position, but with his head blown off. This photograph has excited much interest and comment in the scientific world. A very narrow slit was used in the shutter, and as nearly as can be estimated the time of exposure was about 1/250 of a second. A 10 by 12 gelatino-bromide instantaneous Eastman dry plate was used, with a 4 D Dallmeyer lens, using the full opening.

Several months later Scientific American published an account of the experiment, including several engravings showing before and after scenes:

Scientific American - Sep 24, 1881

Posted By: Alex - Fri Sep 02, 2016 - Comments (0)
Category: Mad Scientists, Evil Geniuses, Insane Villains, Photography and Photographers, Science, Experiments, Nineteenth Century

Tricycle Black Maria

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Served the extra duty of public humiliation of criminal.

Original article here.

Posted By: Paul - Mon Jul 11, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Bicycles and Other Human-powered Vehicles, Cops, Crime, Inventions, Nineteenth Century

Mystery Illustration 24

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What historical figure is this rooster intended to represent? Lord Nelson? Oliver Perry? Maybe Captain Cook?

The answer is here.

Or here.

Posted By: Paul - Sat Jul 09, 2016 - Comments (8)
Category: Animals, Nineteenth Century

Anchor Stone Building Blocks

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Another weird old playtoy for building stuff. Very pricey on Ebay.

Wikipedia entry here.

A blog post here.

Posted By: Paul - Thu Jun 23, 2016 - Comments (6)
Category: Toys, Europe, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century

Senior Moment?

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Original article here.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Jun 05, 2016 - Comments (0)
Category: Nineteenth Century, Brain Damage

Coco-Bay and Chiego-Foot

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Original ad here.

Holloway's Pills and Ointment were apparently miraculous as seen by the number of ailments they could cure. But I was curious about two of the more obscure ills, and managed to track them down.

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Definition here.

Yes, the treatment could cure leprosy! The second disorder is much less severe.

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Definition here.


Posted By: Paul - Wed Apr 27, 2016 - Comments (8)
Category: Scams, Cons, Rip-offs, and General Larceny, Nineteenth Century, Diseases

Illinois Canal Scrip

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With USA paper money in the news, let's look at a wild and woolly era in the history of the USA when just about anyone could issue their own cash.

Explanation here.

And more info here.

Posted By: Paul - Fri Apr 22, 2016 - Comments (4)
Category: Business, Crime, Frauds, Cons and Scams, Nineteenth Century

Cold Medicine of the Beast

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Still being made and sold today.



Home page here.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Apr 17, 2016 - Comments (9)
Category: Health, Religion, Superstition, Nineteenth Century

The Coffin of Pero Bannister

I find this anecdote in two sources. True, or apocryphal? You be the judge!

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1880 text.

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1937 text.

Posted By: Paul - Tue Mar 29, 2016 - Comments (7)
Category: Death, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, Face and Facial Expressions, Head

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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.

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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.

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