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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Minneapolis Journal, November 3, 1900. Living the gourd life isn’t always easy. It’s interesting to see that somebody was hip as early as 1900 to the profligacy of Halloween visa vis the pumpkin, that most noble and delectable squash. Things have of course gotten much worse since 1900: Your average supermarket pumpkin nowadays wasn’t even bred for edibility but for size, sturdiness of stem and bright orange color. All kinds of superior varieties have lost or all but lost to the hegemony of the jack o’lantern.

This sample of the unique argot of early 20th-century Chicago youth gangs is from sociologist Frederick Thrasher’s landmark study The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago, published by the University of Chicago in 1927. I haven’t heard the term “loogin” since I left my hometown of Winnipeg, where I think the preferred spelling was “loogan.” There it signified a loud, loutish, potentially dangerous hoser. I wonder if Thrasher wasn’t missing the mark in overlooking the sexual connotations of both fruit and punk, usage of which as a synonym for catamite dates back to the 16th century.

New York Times, August 5, 1878.  Yes: cartridge placement would be key here. Standard operating procedure among ghouls was not to expose the whole coffin, just the top half. Then the lid would be prized up with a bar and/or hooks. The soil pressure on the lower part of the coffin helped lever the lid upward. Then the smallest dude in the crew would get down in the hole and run a rope under the armpits of the deceased, who could then be extracted with a quick heave-ho. The best of the trade took pains to restore the grave to an ostensibly undisturbed condition–leaving a mess was bad for repeat bidnis, see? Sometimes mourners would leave small tokens on the grave–a stick or a stone–as a quick way of determining if the site had been disturbed, but the ghouls knew about this trick too and did their best to anticipate it. Anyway, this torpedo gizmo apparently found a market and sometimes worked, judging from this prior post.

P.S. To those who like this sort of thing, may I recommend this excellent book.

Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1908. I assume these are national statistics, not municipal. I must do some research into the matter of electric swings and scenic railroads. It was tough luck for that lone victim of the discus.

Philadelphia Inquirer, October 31, 1912.Whatcha got here, left to right, are quality caricatures of the three contending presidential candidates, Teddy Roosevelt (Bullmoose Party), William Howard Taft (Republican) and Woody Wilson (Democrat). Old-timey editorial cartoonists were much more observant of Halloween than ours today, and hit that holiday mark with clockwork regularity.

Wilkes Barre Times Leader, October 28, 1913. The basic thrust of old-timey Halloween pranks was vertical: You took some mobile piece of your neighbors’ property and hoisted it onto their or someone else’s rooftop.

Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1900. The reactionary Trib was naturally agin the presidential candidacy of arch populist William Jennings Bryan, and didn’t spare the venom in its deadly caricatures of “The Great Commoner.” Bryan actually wasn’t a bad-looking chap, though the artist definitely nailed a likeness: Read More »

Duluth News Tribune, October 27, 1918. The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed between 10 and 20% of infected persons; the death toll in the U.S. has been estimated at 675,000—slightly more lives than were claimed by the Civil War. All told, it was a preview of Apocalypse, so it weirds me out to see it treated so lightly in contemporary ephemera like this editorial cartoon, which it often was. I know the resolution isn’t so great so I’ll transcribe the captions:

“If you duck for apples you will duck alone or else it will be staged like this.”

“No chance to see witches and things on this dope.” (I guess that would be unfermented cider in the bottle?)

“Safety signs for gates.” (It was a standard Halloween prank to steal your neighbor’s gate and throw it on his rooftop. Knocking over latrines was also S.O.P.)

“Even the pumpkins will have to wear flu masks.”

“You will have to stay in bed a week.”

“It will be soft for some.”

“Gee this is a dull night.”

“The only witch on the job.”

Omaha World Herald, September 20, 1896.Gags about new brides and their indigestible pies were once a cultural staple, right up there with mother-in-law jokes. I gather from this meta-example that the trope is as old as pie and marriage themselves.

Bruce Herald, October 29, 1901. “The wreck of matter and the crush of worlds” is from Addison:

The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
Grow dim with age, and Nature sink in years;
But thou shalt flourish in immortal youth,
Unhurt amid the war of elements,
The wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds.

The general tendency of this blog is anti-nostalgic, but I’ll own that I wish I lived in an era in which wisenheimers in cheap diners garlanded their snappy patter with bits cribbed from Addison.