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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Daily Telluride Journal, August 3, 1901. This item puts me in mind of Yosemite Sam’s deathless line from the classic 1949 Friz Freleng cartoon High Diving Hare: “I paid my four bits to see the high divin’ act, and I’m gonna see the high divin’ act!” more

Columbus Inquirer, July 28, 1908. We confront one of two probabilities here: Either Leppo was an early method man and very dedicated to staying in character, or else this carnival was exploiting a bona fide crazy person as its geek. more

Washington Post, August 17, 1929. Rehearsing for his act and doing a little advance publicity work too, I’ll warrant. If I’d been this guy’s counsel, I’d have thrown Leviticus 11:22 in the judge’s face: “Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.”
I’ve been delving into the circus wild man theme lately on a account of I just finished reading William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley, which I heartily recommend though not to the timid. Sixty-four years after publication, it’s still a seriously disturbing toilet-crawl. Makes Jim Thompson look like Beatrix Potter.

Daily Picayune, March 9, 1891. Here’s one of those heretofore respectable lady shoplifters I was talking about. Well, she’s not really so much a shoplifter as a credit-scamming identity thief. The point is, she’s got sticky fingers and needs an explanation for same. Give her points for originality: Svengali made her do it.

Omaha Daily Herald, December 20, 1881. Yes, well, it’s been her gig for 16 years, so it make sense she doesn’t see it as unusual. Moving on. Read More »

Los Angeles Herald, November 19, 1905. As we’ve seen, Americans in the 19th and early 20th century were nuts about “wild men.” That’s is why circus geeks were a popular attraction: It was like a chance to see Bigfoot in captivity.
Your typical showbiz wild man was probably just a hobo in a fright wig with just enough teeth left to bite the head off a live chicken. But as this story shows, some enterprising carnies were willing to go that extra mile to impress the marks. more

The San Francisco Call, February 1, 1910. Ha! It’s like a vaudevillian pre-make of Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. Who plays the souse with the red sticks? Fatty Arbuckle? Harold Lloyd? Heck, it hardly even matters: with material this boffo, you could cast Calvin Coolidge and people would still be rolling in the aisles. more

The Duluth News Tribune, November 21, 1918. The global flu pandemic of 1918 was a doozy–somewhere between 30 to 50 million people died from it, disproportionately young and hitherto healthy adults. In the U.S., the death toll was around 675,000–about as many as in the Civil War. Oddly, the plague didn’t produce much in the way of cultural ripples. Blind Willie Johnson sings about the “influenzy” in a couple of his songs, but by and large the whole thing was a dead letter. Anyway, life goes on even when the world is ending, and here’s this Runyonesque jeu d’esprit making light of the fact that Duluth public health officials had ordered citizens to carry a 200-square-foot buffer zone around with them in public.
By “cash carrier” is maybe meant one of those little belt-mounted change dispensers that transit train conductors used to have?
Drunks–inherently funny.

“Shootin’ snuff into his wrist with a hatpin”–more Burroughs than Runyon, that bit.

Los Angeles Herald, January 2, 1908. I’ve got no particular brief against the felines, but gotta admit, I laughed. It’d be interesting to know when and why this joke became unthinkable in a daily. But ‘pon my oath, is the guy on the left not pretty much the Edwardian forebear of a Gahan Wilson character?