Weird News of the 1910s
March 1910: The U.S. Congress held a hearing to consider H.R. 23261 — a bill introduced by a Louisiana congressman that would create a hippo meat industry in America by transporting hundreds of hippos from Africa to the marshes along the Gulf Coast. Experts testified that hippo flesh tasted "splendid" and could be made into a delicacy called "Lake Cow Bacon." However, Congress ran out of time to vote on funding the project, and the bill was never reintroduced.
August 1910: Mrs. Scott Durand of Lake Bluff, Illinois arranged for nine musicians to serenade her cows as they were being milked, in order to test the theory that cows give more and better milk while listening to music. She reported that the "music impregnated" milk not only tasted better but "had a more happy effect upon the drinkers." She found that her cows responded best to classical waltzes, but grew restive when ragtime was played.
January 1911: When George Albert Wyld of Adelaide, Australia died in 1911, his will instructed that his estate should be applied, following the death of his children, to the creation of "a maternity home to be known as the Wyld Home, and to be available to the extent of its means to young women who have erred for the first time, but under no circumstances for the second occasion." Wyld had fathered five children, but had not been married to the mother of any of them. The home, when eventually created in 1949, was superintended by Miss Kate Cocks.
February 1911: Imogene Rechtin, leader of the "World's Health Organization," launched a campaign against kissing, arguing that kissing was a primary means by which consumption (tuberculosis) was transmitted. Her followers wore buttons displaying the motto "Kiss Not," and they also took a pledge to "discourage the custom of kissing on the lips whenever it is in my power."
April 1911: Millionaire Hodson Burton, having recorded on a wax phonographic cylinder the location of a fortune in gold, left instructions for the cylinder to be played for his heirs five years after his death. When the day arrived, the family gathered expectantly. The lawyer walked in, carefully carrying the cylinder. As he approached the table where everyone sat waiting, he stumbled over a piece of carpet, dropped the cylinder, and it smashed to pieces. It proved impossible to repair.
February 1912: Hoping to demonstrate the feasibility of a "coat parachute" he had invented, Austrian tailor Franz Reichelt jumped from the Eiffel Tower, despite having told authorities he would be using a dummy for the test, and also despite having been advised by aviation experts of flaws in his invention's design. The parachute never opened, and he plummeted to his death before a crowd of shocked onlookers.
March 1912: The town of Bowdoinham, Maine started saving for a party to be held 100 years in the future, in the year 2012. The townsfolk raised $500 and pledged to invest the money and not spend it until 2012 when the town would celebrate its 250th anniversary. The plan worked. By 2012, the $500 had grown to $60,000.
October 1913: Charles Gilbert, imprisoned for 48 years for the murder of a bounty officer, requested that his body be given to Yale Medical School following his death so that doctors there could examine his brain. Gilbert believed this would prove his innocence, albeit postmortem, since a brain such as his, he insisted, could neither have conceived of nor perpetrated a murder. Following his death, his request was granted. However, the results of the autopsy were not reported.
1914: Believing the tango to be indecent, Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish (the "undisputed leader of New York society") banned it from all of her functions. So in an effort to please her, the dancers Vernon and Irene Castle invented a "denatured" form of tango, in which the dancers stood two feet apart from each other and never touched. Mrs. Fish was reportedly very taken with the no-touch tango and promised to make it the society dance of the season.
February 1914: Mr. and Mrs. Pierstorff of Grangeville, Idaho used parcel post to ship their five-year-old daughter May to see her grandmother in Lewiston, after they realized that the shipping charge for the 48½ pound girl was cheaper than the cost of a train ticket. May, with stamps stuck to her coat, traveled in the train's mail compartment. She was delivered to her grandmother by the mail clerk on duty.
1916: Albert Bacon Pratt of Lyndon, Vermont was issued a patent for a "gun adapted to be mounted on and fired from the head of the marksman." The wearer fired the gun by blowing into a tube. The trench warfare of World War I had inspired Pratt. He hoped that his invention would free soldiers from having to carry a gun in their hands.
1916: Marian Morgan toured the United States with six young female dancers, promoting her idea of dance-enhanced education, in which dance would be the "handmaid of instruction" for subjects such as astronomy, physics, and chemistry. She envisioned dancers in classrooms, using their movements to illustrate concepts explained by a lecturer, thereby making the subjects more memorable to students. Her dancers depicted themes such as Galileo's discovery that the world moves and the circulation of the blood. College students were said to be eagerly awaiting the arrival of her tour.
January 1919: A holding tank containing 2.3 million gallons of molasses burst, sending a 40-foot tsunami of molasses crashing through Boston's North End. Buildings were destroyed, cars flipped aside, and 21 people died. Some were killed by the wave; others got stuck in the sticky sugar and suffocated. Analysts have identified the weak design of the holding tank as the immediate cause of the disaster. The January weather contributed to the death toll by making the molasses thicker and therefore harder to escape from.

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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually 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.