The Shipwreck Diet

Studies conducted by the U.S. Army in the late 1940s sought to determine the minimum amount of food a person would need to survive if they were shipwrecked on a desert island.

One of the oddities the researchers discovered was that if, for some reason, the shipwrecked person had to choose between steak and water, they should choose the water: "Protein has the effect of drying up the body. Therefore eating a steak on a desert island with little or no water available would probably be worse than eating nothing, depending upon how long rescue took."

"Shipwreck Diet: One of eleven Army volunteers who for six weeks will live on biscuits and water at the Metropolitan Hospital, New York City, to determine a human survival ration."
Newsweek - Mar 15, 1948

Waterloo Courier - Nov 16, 1949

Posted By: Alex - Mon Nov 16, 2020 - Comments (4)
Category: Food, Nutrition, Experiments, 1940s, Dieting and Weight Loss

Graduated Alone

May 1949: Eva Mae Bradbury was the only member of her graduating class at the public school in Ada, Kansas. The school nevertheless put on a full commencement program for her, attended by 150 people (which was about the entire population of Ada).

Decatur Herald and Review - May 21, 1949

Posted By: Alex - Thu Nov 05, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: School, 1940s

250 Times I Saw a Play

Keith Odo Newman, whom the Guardian has described as "a homosexual Austrian psychoanalyst," authored 250 Times I Saw A Play, which was published in 1944. As the title suggests, it describes his experience of watching a play 250 times. The play was Flare Path by Terence Rattigan.

The backstory here is that Newman was Rattigan's doctor. According to

When World War II broke out, Rattigan, who was seeing a bizarrely charismatic psychiatrist named Dr. Keith Newman, decided, with the encouragement of his doctor, to enlist with the RAF. Despite the fact that he wasn’t at all mechanically inclined and was a social snob, Rattigan flourished in the egalitarian RAF, mastering the technical requirements and becoming an air gunner wireless operator (like Dusty Miller in Flare Path). It was while he was serving active duty that he wrote Flare Path and its creation seemed to dissolve the writer’s block under which Rattigan was suffering.

For some reason, Rattigan asked Newman to personally direct the performance of the lead actor in the play, Jack Watling, and Newman proceeded to become obsessed with Watling. Which is why, I assume, Newman ended up watching the play 250 times. Rattigan's biographer, Geoffrey Wansell, offers more details:

During rehearsals, which took place at the Apollo, Newman said nothing. 'He just sat there in the stalls, silent', according to Watling. 'But just before the play opened in Oxford, where I was to stay with him in his flat at Number 36 Holywell, he took me to the Lake District for three days of what he called intensive voice training.' The psychiatrist had devised a set of vocal exercises, which he insisted he practised for hours at a time. 'It was unbelievable,' Watling recalled. 'He took over my life completely.'...
At this stage Newman had not made a homosexual pass at Watling. That came later. Newman simply frightened him beyond words. 'I couldn't do anything without asking his permission. I was heterosexual then, and I am now, but Newman pretty much gave me a nervous breakdown. I couldn't cope with him.' Why Newman had this power, or why people submitted to him, Watling is just as unable to explain now as he was then.

After completing his odd book, Newman sent the manuscript to George Bernard Shaw, who wrote back with a few of his thoughts about it. Shaw's comments weren't very complimentary, but Newman nevertheless included a facsimile of them at the front of the book. Shaw wrote:

I don't know what to say about this book. The experience on which it is founded is so extraordinary, that an honest record of it should be preserved. But it would have driven me mad; and I am not sure that the author came out of it without a slight derangement.

Sure enough, Newman was subsequently certified insane and died in a mental institution.

Posted By: Alex - Mon Nov 02, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Theater and Stage, Books, 1940s

Demoralize Nazis with tea

1940: Stephens Fothergill of London had a very British plan to defeat the Nazis:

"I would allow the German army to march into London, and instead of greeting them with machine guns, I would give them cups of tea. That would completely demoralize them."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Feb 15, 1940

Posted By: Alex - Wed Oct 28, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Military, War, 1940s

My Old Flame

A song that goes rapidly off the rails around the one-minute mark, with some Halloween relevance.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Oct 25, 2020 - Comments (4)
Category: Hoaxes and Imposters and Imitators, Horror, Music, 1940s, Parody

Ruby Barnett, machine-gun tester

Mrs. Ruby Barnett was one of 1000 women employed at the Aberdeen Proving ground during World War II. Her job there was to test guns, and she attracted quite a bit of media attention because she was a grandmother and didn't exactly look like the kind of person one would expect to see behind a .50 caliber machine gun.

Apparently she was only 40, but she already had three grandkids.

Source: Google Arts & Culture

Grandmother, 40, Tests All Kinds of Weapons, Except Large Cannon, at Aberdeen; is Used to the Noise Now
Mrs. Ruby Barnett, 40, said today as she went about her job of testing all kinds of guns—except 16-inch cannon—that she found nothing inconsistent in gun-firing by day and rocking the cradle of her third and newest grandchild by night.
"Hitler hasn't respected grandmothers or little children in this war and I guess American grandmothers will have to pitch in and fight him any way they can," she said, as she turned from the anti-tank gun, loaded a .50 caliber machine-gun and banged away with nonchalance and a terrific din.
The youthful grandmother, wife of a World War veteran, is employed by the Army, along with 1,000 other women, to test ordnance materiel at the government's oldest and largest proving ground here.
Wilmington Morning News - Oct 2, 1942


Life - Feb 1, 1943

Posted By: Alex - Wed Oct 14, 2020 - Comments (8)
Category: 1940s, Weapons

Parkinson’s Dream Weapon

How, in 1940, a Bell Labs engineer invented a guidance system for anti-aircraft guns in a dream. Source: The Bigelow Society

Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychologist, elaborated the theory that the solution to a difficult problem can somehow suddenly crystallize in the unconscious mind.

A compelling example in favour of this theory concerns an engineer, David Bigelow Parkinson. The time was spring, 1940 and Parkinson was then a young engineer working at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City in the specialized field of electromechanical design. He was working on improving an instrument called an automatic level recorder. A small potentiometer [an instrument for measuring electromotive forces] controlled a pair of magnetic clutches which in turn controlled a pen to plot a logarithm.

Meanwhile, the top story in the headlines concerned the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of stranded Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France across the Channel to England. This news greatly preoccupied Parkinson's mind along with that of his work. And the two ideas came together in a dream, which he later described in an unpublished memoir:

I found myself in a gun pit or revetment with an anti-aircraft gun crew . [A] gun there. was firing occasionally, and the impressive thing was that every shot brought down an airplane! After three or four shots one of the men in the crew smiled at me and beckoned me to come closer to the gun. When I drew near he pointed to the exposed end of the left trunnion. Mounted there was the control potentiometer of my level recorder!

Parkinson realized the full significance of his dream the following morning. If his potentiometer could control the pen on the recorder, something similar could, with the right engineering, control an anti-aircraft gun. At the time, the complex mechanical systems controlling these guns were not very accurate and could not be mass-produced.

Parkinson discussed the idea that morning with his boss, Clarence A. Lovell. They worked for several days writing a report and then met with Lovell's boss. Just before this meeting, on 18 June 1940, Parkinson realized he would need a diagram to explain his ideas so made a quick sketch on a sheet of plain white typingpaper.

The company submitted a proposal for exploratory work on an electromechanical system for directing antiaircraft guns to the Army Signal Corps which was subsequently approved. An engineering model was delivered for testing to the Army at Fort Monroe MD on 1 December 1941. The result of Parkinson's dream began rolling off the assembly lines early in 1943. More than 3000 of the gun directors, designated the M-9, were built.

Many thousands of shells were fired to bring down a single aircraft with the older directors; the M9 brought the number down to around 100 shells per hit on an aircraft.

Thus Parkinson's unconscious revelation led to one of the most effective pieces of air-defense technology in World War II.

Green Bay Press Gazette - Apr 22, 1947

Posted By: Alex - Thu Oct 08, 2020 - Comments (3)
Category: Sleep and Dreams, 1940s, Weapons

Human Blood Pudding

Dr. Magnus Pyke was a scientific advisor to the British Ministry of Food during World War II. In 1969, during a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, he revealed the following:

An even more striking example of the way in which food taboos can hamper good nutrition, even among so-called scientifically advanced people, also occurred during the war years in Great Britain.

At that time large amounts of human blood were collected from such people as were prepared to give it. The blood was centrifuged, the plasma put aside for parenteral injection into those victims of bombing that might need it, and the red corpuscles discarded.

Again the scientific advisers to the minister of food put forward a scheme to make use of the red-blood corpuscles, so self-sacrificingly contributed by patriotic donors, and manufacture from it black pudding for distribution on the food ration.

The curious anthropological phenomenon then emerged that although the British were prepared to consume each other's blood by vein, they considred its ingestion by mouth was a variant of cannibalism and therefore disgusting.

They could have called it Soylent Black.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette - Dec 18, 1969

Posted By: Alex - Wed Oct 07, 2020 - Comments (3)
Category: Cannibalism, Food, 1940s, Blood

Baby, the Seeing-Eye Cat

1946: Carolyn Swanson of Hermosa Beach, California made headlines on account of Baby, her "seeing-eye cat." Somehow she had trained him to assist her as she walked around town.

Mrs. Swanson lives at 1029 Bayview Dr. in Hermosa Beach. Any day when she goes down the street "Baby" quickly moves along the fence ahead of her, jumps to the top of the first step and slowly waves his full tail, brushing her ankle. He does not move until she begins to count out loud the first of the seven steps down. Then lightly he moves on to the bottom step, meows to tell her the path is clear and out to the sidewalk and curb he moves, and again awaits his beloved mistress. Waving that beautiful tail and brushing her ankle, he without sound tells her of the curb step, and not until the traffic is clear does he stop waving his tail so that she may know to cross. Slowly they both cross, she having confidence in her steps because "Baby" is at her side, brushing her ankle with his tail, keeping her path straight. As they approach the curb he stops, announces the curb, and after she is safely upon it they move on.
The Redondo Reflex - Dec 13, 1946

More info: life

Brattleboro Reformer - Dec 17, 1946

Posted By: Alex - Mon Oct 05, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Cats, 1940s, Eyes and Vision

The Duchess of Windsor’s Trench Mittens

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, is best known as the woman for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, so he could marry her. But she was also an inventor, though not a very prolific one. In 1940, she invented "trench mittens" that could be unzipped to allow a soldier to use his trigger finger.

The Whitewright Sun - Feb 8, 1940

The backstory is that the Duke and Duchess were widely suspected to be Nazi sympathizers. Nevertheless, at the start of the war they were trying to make a public display of how patriotic they were. The Duke pushed to get a position in the army. And the Duchess used her fashion skills to invent "trench mittens".

But by the end of 1940, the British military had decided they were too much of a liability to keep around, so they were shipped off to the Bahamas for the duration of the war.

Winnipeg Tribune - Apr 6, 1940

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1937

Posted By: Alex - Fri Sep 25, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Fashion, Royalty, War, 1940s

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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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