One of our favorite pastimes here at Cracked is collecting evidence to prove that "old fashioned" is nothing more than a synonym for "creepy, bordering on medically insane." And nowhere is this more evident than in some of the activities our not-so-distant ancestors considered entertaining. Say what you will about today's ultra-violent video games and movies, but at least we don't equate fun with something like ...
#7. Throwing Atom Bomb Viewing Parties
Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
If the government announced they were going to detonate an atomic bomb just an hour's drive away from your hometown, we're guessing that at the very least you'd put in an angry phone call to your congressman and arrange to be out of town that day. What you would probably not do is grab a lawn chair and go watch the mushroom cloud.
So when President Truman approved the repeated scorching of the very face of Mother Earth herself just 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas in late 1950, how do you think Las Vegans reacted to the news? Did they lock themselves in bunkers? Did they cash in their chips, jump into their cars, and keep on driving until they hit Delaware? Or did they stage atom bomb viewing parties and use this whole thing as an excuse to do even more drinking and gambling and sexing?
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That includes any body parts that may fall off.
Taking advantage of a massive government publicity campaign promoting their nuclear testing activities, residents and officials didn't hesitate one bit to redub the town "Atomic City." The nearby nuclear testing was hyped as just another Vegas tourist attraction. Showgirls donned mushroom cloud swimwear. Curious visitors pressed as close to the explosions as they could without fear of pistol whipping, and many hotels hosted "dawn bomb parties" where revelers drank the night away while waiting for the detonations to light up the sky in an apocalyptic fireworks display.
This is Miss Atomic Bomb 1957. And no, that's not a joke.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and when "downwinders" started complaining of ill effects from all that pesky atomic fallout, it marked the beginning of the pooping of Sin City's atomic party. Nuclear testing was forced underground in 1963, and eventually the site ceased testing altogether.
No word on whether Vegas' atomic craze just sort of quietly petered out or if they sent the era off with one final bang, but we're going to assume that they celebrated in much the same way military officials celebrated the end of the "successful" atomic pummeling of Bikini Atoll during Operation Crossroads back in 1946 -- with delicious mushroom-cloud-shaped cake. Never let it be said that The Man doesn't know how to celebrate mankind's ability to wreak horrifyingly godlike destruction with class.
It was iced with vanilla butter cream and filled with undiluted fear.
But at least they were just watching weapons of war being tested. It's not like people used to sit back and watch actual battles take place ...
#6. Having Civil War Battlefield Picnics
Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
Early in the Civil War, there was a pretty pervasive belief among Northerners that the war was going to be a quick one. Yep, them Southern boys were about to be pulverized beneath the weighty haversacks of the almighty Union forces ... and John and Jane Q. Public didn't just want to be there to watch it happen, they wanted to make an afternoon out of it.
There's a realistic chance that the dude in the center is looking at an oncoming cannonball.
You see, as Union troops approached what would be the First Battle of Bull Run, they were "followed by hundreds of civilians, teamsters, congressmen, and their ladies." This throng of carnage groupies came in their Sunday finery, packing picnic baskets and opera glasses, thus earning Bull Run the nickname of the "picnic battle." The atmosphere was exactly like that of a modern day tailgate party, except for the explosions and innards flying about all willy-nilly within somewhat observable distance.
If you were lucky enough to catch an arm, you got to keep it as a souvenir.
The morning went swimmingly for the North, and the crowd was totally feeling it ... until the Confederate reinforcements arrived. The spectators soon found out just how quickly the tides of war can turn when they were swiftly washed over by a wave of Union soldiers shouting, "Turn back, turn back, we're whipped!" The picnickers quickly went from visions of a flawless victory to a very real run for their lives. Many nice picnic baskets were tragically trampled that day; much fried chicken went woefully ungnawed.
We can't be the only ones who hear the Monty Python guys yelling "Run away" when we see this picture.
Amazingly, only a single civilian was killed in the battle, but in an unfortunate/hilarious set of circumstances, New York congressman Alfred Ely -- one of the most vocal proponents of pressing the Union offensive, with his cries of "On to Richmond!" -- accidentally got his ass captured by the 8th South Carolina Infantry during the fray and spent the next six months festering in a Richmond prison.
#5. Visiting Paris' Public Morgue
Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Let's say you're some kind of highfalutin official in the mid-19th century version of a big city like, say, Paris, and you've got more dead bodies popping up than you know what to do with. How do you handle this situation?
We'll tell you how they handled it: They built the Paris Morgue right down the block from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, set up a glass-walled refrigerator room, and propped up all the dead folk on slabs so that the general public could filter through and gawk at their general deadness.
And from that day forward, the sight of bare breasts gave little Jean-Paul the liquid terror shits.
The idea, supposedly, was that the public could help identify the unknown corpses, which was the old-timey version of DNA testing. That's why you can see the dead dudes' clothes hanging behind them in the drawing above. However, the public morgue was visited by as many as 40,000 people every day (about the same as Disney World), and it was clear that, like, two guys came to actually do that -- what started with practical intentions soon metamorphosed into a full-fledged social phenomenon, with scads of Parisians and tourists, young and old alike, gathering at the morgue day after day to harrumph and/or swoon at the latest additions.
Via Spectacular Realities
That poor little bastard on the right is in both pictures, proving he has the world's worst mother.
The morgue made it into all the official guidebooks to the city and was so popular with the locals that one newspaper reported, "It would be difficult to find a Parisian, native or transplanted, who does not make his pilgrimage." The visitors even had a nickname for the displayed corpses -- macchabees -- and we're not sure if it makes it more or less skeevy that they were staring at (sometimes nude) corpses in varying states of decay like some kind of high art display.
After enjoying a nearly half-century run as the coldest hot spot in Paris, the morgue was finally closed to the public in 1907 when people realized that, holy shit, things like books and theaters existed.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Of course, they read nothing but books about corpses, but it was a step in the right direction.
#4. Collecting Murderers Like Action Figures
Even Victorian-era Londoners liked to collect action figures, so it's totally not sad that you paid $150 for that statue of Mega Man's dog. Only instead of buying replicas of superheroes or semi-naked girls, people back then collected tiny little murderers. Like this guy:
Those are life-size, by the way. That's just how short people were back then.
Those are earthenware figures of James Blomfield Rush, and they probably seem like a perfectly mundane thing to collect -- until you realize that the one in the back depicts Rush choking some dude to death while apparently also letting a dog snack on his sausage. That's because he was the perpetrator of the Murders at Stanfield Hall, the gruesome double murder of Rush's employer, Isaac Jermy, and his son, Isaac Jermy Jermy (the Jermy clan wasn't completely comfortable with the whole "middle name" concept). And decorating your shelf with murderers was far from a one-time thing, as evidenced by these dust collectors right here:
"Do you have anything in a stabbing? Or maybe a more subtle living room piece, like a poisoning?"
These figures depict the famous Red Barn Murder, a case in which known ladies' man William Corder knocked up his paramour, Maria Marten, and then strangled her with his handkerchief, which of course was considered the gentlemanly way to murder your illicit lover. If you look closely at the figure of the barn, that's Corder luring Marten inside, where he would eventually bury her beneath the floorboards.
Not every Victorian family could afford fancy pottery depicting the day's trendiest murderer, but there was a cheaper alternative: collectible death pamphlets. On the day of an execution, peddlers roamed the streets hawking broadsides featuring a detailed account of the murder and the resulting execution in verse (with illustrations!), belting out this "execution ballad" the entire way to attract customers.
Jermy tragically died while doing jazz hands.
Some of the more popular ones sold millions of copies. Think of it as 19th century London's version of buying MP3 singles, if instead of breaking up with her boyfriends Taylor Swift brutally murdered them all.