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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Perfect Drunk March 16, 1931Detroit News, March 16, 1931. I wonder what model of car he was driving.

illussion of beautyThis sign belongs to a beauty parlor just outside my zip code. For some years I drove past it weekly but never remembered it was coming until the words “Illussion of Beauty” hit my retinas. When that happened, it struck me as hilarious or tragic, depending on my mood.

The spelling error exponentially amplifies the unconscious fatalism of the name: “Come on in and we’ll do what we can with scissors, hairspray, spackle, Bondo, etc. Just don’t kid yourself.”

matches coins3Detroit News, May 2, 1931. The professor may have understood, but I don’t. I would be completely immune to this “matching pennies” scam, because the grifters wouldn’t be able to explain it to me in 1,000 years.

efficiency-1Detroit News, April 16, 1931. I find this cartoon funny precisely because I have no idea what the joke is meant to be. The tiny caption in the corner reads: “Is efficiency spreading in this young and going age? You might be surprised.” I gather that the gag relates to the notion that three years represents a long engagement, and is thus not efficient. But the dialog between the girl and her swain–“Any recommendations?”–is pure dada to me, likewise the blah, affectless expression on her face.

Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1873. Meet the Benders, a Kansan family of saloon-keeping, highway-robbing, serially-killing, corpse-plundering spiritualists. Seems they were doing all right in their chosen line of work until they bumped off the brother of a state senator.
medium cruel1A

Okay, okay: enough with the forensics, however lurid. Let’s get to the spooky stuff!

medium cruel2A

So: the cops, unable to locate the missing persons, enlist the psychic aid of medium Kate Bender, who stalls them long enough for her whole murderous clan to get away. They were never caught, by the way.

That last sentence–“Altogether the murders are without a parallel”– strikes me as wholly licensed by the facts.

witch7-3-1899Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1899. “Spiritualist” is a pretty broad and diffuse category at this time, but basically we’re talking about someone who saw dead people, or at least purported to communicate with them. The bit about the killer losing $250 to his victim is intriguing. Was she the local “conjure woman,” scamming credulous neighbors? Was he a paranoid psychotic who randomly fixated on the blameless Swedenborgian lady next door? I say we hold a seance and interview the principals of the affair.

The word “genius” in “evil genius” is being used in its old, almost forgotten sense of “spirit,” as opposed to “clever bastard” or “MacArthur Grant recipient.”

eccentricaChicago Tribune, February 10, 1930. I’ve actually vacationed in Muskegon, Michigan,–they have lovely beaches there–but I didn’t get a sufficient feel for local standards to comment on whether chopping up the women you love and stashing them in shallow graves qualifies as “eccentricity” or not. A wealth of gritty detail after the jump. Read More »

insane-5-21Detroit News, March 21. 1931. I love the unvarnished candor of the language here. “Insane,” “mentally deranged”–you’d never see that in a newspaper today.
But let us consider: Who would be the cinematic dream team for this here scenario? I pick Lee Marvin, Warren Oates, Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton, Elisha Cook Jr., Robert Blake and John Don Baker. Of course, they’d all be extremely dangerous, not just Lee Marvin (automatically the most dangerous man in any ward). But I invite you all to weigh in with your alternative draft choices.

laudaWashington Post, March 31, 1904. Laudanum was a tincture of opium in an alcohol base, and it was available without prescription. Lots of respectable teetotaling ladies were addicted to patent medicines and nerve tonics containing narcotics and/or cocaine at this time. Another fun fact: opium poppies used to be a significant American cash crop, especially in the South. People have the idea that dope can only be grown in faraway foreign climes, but the poppy is a resilient and vigorous plant that will grow just about anywhere. Also, some poppies have a higher content of opium alkaloids than others, but no poppies have none.
Injections of carbolic acid, aka phenol, were used by the Nazis for small-scale exterminations, when the numbers didn’t justify firing up the gas chambers.

wapoaWashington Post, March 31, 1904. Thoughtful of her to help defray the burial costs. My guess is that $20 in 1904 actually bought a fair bit of funeral. Also, that’s two shootings-in-the-heart in a row. I wonder if there are traceable trends in suicide styles at work here. It seems apt that Victorians should shoot themselves in the heart, whereas we post-sentimental post-moderns go straight for the gray matter. I am reminded of that radioactive passage from that now-famous commencement address by the late David Foster Wallace: “It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master.” Maybe the same was true of the heart in 1904; then the main site of pain moved north to the head during WWI. Discuss.