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Category Archives: Stuff people actually used to do

Chicago Tribune, 11 18 13 3Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1913. Let us now all remember Frank Coleman for what he was–a mink-lined douchebag with a solid-gold nozzle.
Less than a month after Frank was thus getting his yuks, some other yob scored far greater success with the same gag in Calumet, Michigan.

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Atlanta Constitution, January 22, 1890. In colonial New England, the birth of such a monster would typically inspire suspicions that some man had had carnal relations with the mother. The freakish progeny would be scrutinized for clues as to the identity of the malefactor. The penalty for bestiality was hanging, but first the condemned man would have to watch his animal consort killed before his eyes. And no, I’m not making this shit up.

nat intelligencer 924 33National Intelligencer, September 24, 1833. The faithful will recall that in a prior post we discussed the rumor, popularized by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers, that felis catus was standard ingredient of commercially-produced mince pie. Here’s an incident that lends color to the charge. I think the reference to gout has to do with the notion that it was a disease of gourmands and epicures, whose educated palates would not be fooled. Thanks to Melynda for pointing out that the reference is not to gout (painful crystals of uric acid in one’s joints) but gout (French for “taste”), and that the “victims” were not human consumers of cat meat but butchered tom cats whose gamy flavor failed to pass as bunny flesh. Gosh, do I ever have mince on my anthropocentric face.

statue nyht 9 11 1904New York Herald Tribune, September 11, 1904. The shrewd thing to do today would be to spraypaint this guy silver, put a hat at his feet, and drop by three times a day to collect your earnings. Read More »

poemSan Francisco Chronicle, December 21, 1920. Walt Mason, aka “Uncle Walt,” was a newspaper doggerlist of some renown, though I’m not sure I’d sign off on this website’s proposition that “there are few people to-day who have not, at some time or other, heard of” the scribbling old rhymer.

Anyway, this shabbily typeset verse implicitly places mince in the context of the rise of urban industrialism and accompanying changes in way we ate. In addition to all of its dark and dangerous attributes (indigestibility, oneiric volatility, indeterminacy of content, etc.), mince pie was also the nostalgia food par excellence. The dividing line between the wholesome, innocent pie of “old times” and the dangerous pie of the present coincides with the line between home and market production of foodstuffs. One moment we were all–at least according to the myth– enjoying the reified, pastry-wrapped love of Aunt Jemimah, the next we were sitting in an anonymous urban beanery chomping down on telephone slugs and bus transfers embedded in stewed cat meat. And mince pie prepared by indifferent strangers wasn’t just bad, it was a “crime.” There is an underlying symbolic truth at work here: the collective callousness of food industries in the early 20th century necessitated the federal government to get serious about enacting food and drug laws to save us all from, for example, milk enriched with plaster, alum, flour or chalk. Free market, anti-regulation fundamentalists should all be made to choke on such wholesome fare until they outgrow their taste for Ayn Rand.

(Parenthetically: A warm Hope Chest shout-out to regular commenter Melynda, who has posted her great grandma’s mince recipe at her fun food-and-crafts website, with nice things to say about our obsessive efforts at the historical decoding of the pie. Awesomely, the meat component of the recipe is a roasted venison neck. Mmmm, venison neck… ).

liverAssociated Press, January 9, 1878. No idea whether these reports of the liver-eater’s demise were premature, though a guy named Liver Eating Johnson surely has got to go sometime . Anyway, this one was the inspiration for a hokey ’70s eco-Western starring Robert Redford, but the entire liver-eating angle somehow got lost along the way. Time for a remake, I think. Casey Affleck looks like he might eat your liver.

baby farming in nyChicago Tribune, August 4, 1874. This is your standard-issue exposé of the baby-farming racket, which provided unwilling parents with fourth-trimester abortions. Read More »

tarSan Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 1892. Even if I blogged 24/7/365 strictly about wife-beating, I’d never live long enough to exhaust the available supply of these anecdotes about masked men enforcing community standards with a rope and a whip. As mentioned before, such incidents are part of an ancient tradition called the “rough music.” This one’s interesting for its ferocity plus the stipulation that it was the local gentry who were taking care of business. But when, I wonder, was the last time someone was tarred and feathered by his neighbors in this great country of ours?
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rough musicChicago Tribune, January 2, 1881. While the majority of Southern lynchings in this period were racially motivated, white ruralites could also get their coupons clipped if they played their cards wrong. This incident strikes me as a rough music that got out of hand: had the mob intended to kill Mr. Dove, the masks wouldn’t have been necessary. Wifebeaters and men who abused their children and horses were routinely targeted for this kind of correction back to colonial times, as was just about anyone widely regarded as an asshole in the surrounding community.

spec1Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1860. Chicago is currently weathering a really revolting cemetery scandal. Sadly, shenanigans like these are as old as commercialized undertaking. Read More »