#2. The 19th Century Had Obsessive Fanboys
It's hard to imagine something like ComicCon or costumed fans lining up for a midnight release happening prior to the Internet age. After all, it was the Web that allowed obsessive fanboys to gather and reaffirm each other's zealotry, from Tumblr accounts filled with video game cosplay to lengthy articles devoted to analyzing the minutiae of cartoons originally written for children (which we at Cracked know nothing about).
It's the kind of fandom that surely is only possible thanks to millions of people living trivial lives with too much spare time. It's hard to imagine readers in the 19th century caring enough about fictional characters to get all worked up, considering that they were probably spending 16 hours a day in the coal mines.
The smoking offsets the black lung.
But you'd be wrong. For example, when Sherlock Holmes was "killed off" by his creator Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893, the fanboy rage was comparable to when the show Firefly was canceled in 2002, only instead of spamming message boards, they spammed the real world. In London, grieving "Sherlockians" took to the streets wearing black armbands and flooded the offices of Conan Doyle's publisher with hate mail. It was an Internet shitstorm before there was an Internet.
In America, "Let's Keep Holmes Alive" clubs started appearing in several cities, which were apparently the 1893 version of all those online petitions to bring back Arrested Development. More than 20,000 people boycotted the magazine Doyle wrote for by instantly canceling their subscriptions. Other fans decided to do something a little more productive: They started writing their own Holmes stories, "fixing" the ending so that the character didn't die.
"Oh, no need to consult with me. I just wrote the fucking thing."
This tendency persisted even after Holmes was brought back the following decade: Obsessive fans began writing long essays dissecting Sherlock Holmes' continuity, pointing out inconsistencies and debating possible solutions, like Trekkies but without the Spock ears. Conan Doyle said of one of those essays, written in 1911:
"That anyone should spend such pains on such material was what surprised me. Certainly you know a great deal more about it than I do, for the stories have been written in a disconnected (and careless) way without referring back to what had gone before."
If anything, giving in to the angry readers and bringing back their idol only seemed to encourage their insanity. When the first new Holmes story came out in 1901 (it was a prequel; Holmes wouldn't be resurrected until a few years later), a long line of fans set up camp for blocks around the printer's building to get their copy early. Not the bookstore, but the actual place where the magazines were printed. Not even Harry Potter fans are that dedicated.
Substitute "John Watson" for "Ronald Weasley" and this is exactly what it looked like.
#1. "Nigerian Prince" Scams Date Back to the 16th Century
Those scam messages from "Nigerian royalty" (promising vast unclaimed riches in exchange for a relatively small "bank fee") have been around for over a decade and will probably never go away. It only takes one sucker in thousands to make it all worth it for the scammer, since a single victim can be stringed along for months or even years.
"He's still not saved? All I have left to give is this laptop, hat and mustache."
But the "Nigerian prince" scam is actually just a repurposed version of a centuries-old con. As far back as the 16th century, gullible people have been falling for a scam known as the "Spanish Prisoner Letter" or "Spanish Swindle," so named because it originated primarily from Spain instead of Nigeria. Other than that, it worked exactly the same way. The victims received letters claiming to be written by a previously unknown relative trapped in a Spanish prison who just so happens to be immensely rich. In the letter, the prisoner would promise to share his massive fortune with the victim if they could just come up with the money for his bail. So the promise was the same: Give us a little cash and you'll get a lot of it in return.
"Spanish jail? That's so specific, it must be legit."
Anyone foolish enough to send the bail money would be strung along with further implausible scenarios that required more and more cash (like money for bribes or to save the prisoner's daughter from a tyrant) until they either wised up or went broke. The scam was so common that the U.S. Postal Service even began printing information to help postal inspectors recognize it. And 200 years from now, the mail that's delivered directly to our brains over Wi-Fi will be full of requests from wealthy space royalty suffering in the prisons of Phobos, only needing a few thousand Federation credits to secure their release.
For more modern luxuries that aren't original, check out 6 Modern Technologies Animals Invented Millions of Years Ago and 8 Online Fads You Didn't Know Were Invented Decades Ago.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see its predecessor: DinoSTORM.
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