Blindfold Pigs

Back in 1905, celebrities of the day were asked to try to draw a pig while blindfolded. The results were printed in The Strand magazine:

Most of the names I don't recognize. But I do know Caton Woodville (middle of the second row from the top). He was an artist who specialized in war scenes, such as his rendition of the Charge of the Light Brigade. I'm guessing his paintings aren't cheap. But I wonder how much his blindfold pig would go for?

Posted By: Alex - Sun Apr 07, 2013 - Comments (5)
Category: Art, 1900s

Outdoor Manhattan Banana Food Fight


I would have paid good money for a safe ringside seat at this riot.

From The New York Times for April 24, 1901.

Posted By: Paul - Fri Mar 22, 2013 - Comments (4)
Category: Food, Riots, Protests and Civil Disobedience, 1900s, Bananas

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 - Fri Feb 22, 2013 - Comments (5)
Category: Animals, School, 1900s

Doc Owens, Con Man

As early as December 1900, the notorious Doc Owens was making headlines, having established his racket of fleecing sea-going sheep.




Three years later, The New York Times did a special feature on Owens and his fellows (with his photo miscaptioned).

Click here for very readable PDF download.



But Owens was to meet poetic justice in 1912, as our final piece reveals.


Posted By: Paul - Fri Feb 15, 2013 - Comments (2)
Category: Crime, Death, Disasters, Frauds, Cons and Scams, Oceans and Maritime Pursuits, 1900s, 1910s, Gambling, Casinos, Lotteries and Other Games of Chance

Westphal’s Auxiliator

image image
[Click text to enlarge]

Here's an old-timey hair tonic with a weird name. The strange noun just means "helper."

Composed of "55% grain alcohol," it went down many an alcoholic's gullet, I'm sure.

Believe it or not, the tonic was mentioned in a SIMPSONS comicbook. If you look at their ad below, you'll see why. The mutant female user resembles the famed Springfield three-eyed fish.


Posted By: Paul - Tue Jan 22, 2013 - Comments (4)
Category: Business, Advertising, Products, Elderly and Seniors, Comics, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, Nineteenth Century, Hair and Hairstyling

Marvel Whirling Spray

Marvel Whirling Spray was a feminine hygiene product marketed in the early 20th century. It stopped being made and fell into obscurity for 100 years until the early 21st century, when it earned a place in comic-book history.

Alan Moore included a reprint of one of the Marvel Whirling Spray ads in an issue of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 1, #5). An executive at DC (publishers of the comic) saw the ad and became worried that their rival, Marvel Comics, would take offense — even though Marvel Whirling Spray was a real product that existed before Marvel Comics. So he ordered the entire print run destroyed. The few copies that survived are now considered rare collector's items. More details at

Posted By: Alex - Sat Jan 19, 2013 - Comments (4)
Category: Hygiene, Baths, Showers and Other Cleansing Methods, Products, 1900s

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 - Mon Dec 31, 2012 - Comments (6)
Category: Animals, School, 1900s

Dying pigs’ squeal used to sell pianos

Found in Popular Mechanics, October 1907:

It has long been the boast of the Chicago packing houses, that in killing hogs everything is utilized — except the squeal. The squeal has now been turned to account in this way:

An ingenious piano salesman travels through the country, taking several instruments with him. To draw a crowd he gives a free evening entertainment with a moving picture machine. Between each series of views he demonstrates on the pianos. One of his pictures shows the progress of events at a packing house. To make the scenes in the killing room realistic he visited the plant and secured some phonograph records of the porkers as they let out some vigorous remarks. Now when the moving picture reaches the pig sticking act, he turns on his phonograph and his visitors can see and hear just as if they were actually present at the original scene of operations.

I wonder how many pianos he sold using this method.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Dec 23, 2012 - Comments (5)
Category: Animals, Music, Advertising, 1900s

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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, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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