This photo sets a new standard for athleticism. An event shall no longer be considered a sporting competition unless it contains:
A. Flying Hammers
B. Crashing Automobiles
C. Dramatic Spinal Injuries
No, really look at that picture again. Look at the man who has been freshly ejected from a speeding automobile. There he is, currently flailing through the air. Now look at the other man -- the one with a giant smile on his face, waiting to smack said crash victim with a comically oversized mallet before he hits the ground. Everybody in that image either died immediately after it was taken or were promptly investigated for suspected Highlanderism. But that was auto polo.
You would head out to your nearest muddy field, mount up an unstable, dangerous, rickety car -- a vehicle that had only been invented 30 years earlier, remember -- and then whale the bastard about psychotically while swinging a friggin' hammer over your head. That's like you and your friends buying a bunch of jet packs and jai alai sticks today and just setting off into the open sky, giving the finger to your concerned families -- it's insane that you would even own the technology in the first place, much less have the balls to violently misuse it like that. Auto polo was not just some Jackass-style one-off stunt, either ...
Demonstration matches were frequently held at county fairs and stadiums all across the country, though it was most prominent in the Midwest during the early 1910s. It was usually played with a basketball, as seen above, and the only mandated gear was a jaunty cap and a callous disregard for human life. It was every bit as unquestionably awesome as it was uncontrollably, screamingly retarded:
That picture is perfect. It's everything art should be: There's an Old West style sheriff in a ten-gallon hat, grimly staring off into the sunset as a pair of land-based airboats wait patiently for permission to start their automotive hammer-jousting. I'm going to dedicate that last sentence to my wife, because that's the most beautiful thing I've ever created.
Don't go thinking that auto polo was a case of things looking worse than they really were, either: I'm not cherry-picking exciting photos from a boring event. If you couldn't guess from the ridiculous overabundance of overturned cars and men flying through the air, about to successively eat shit and then have their heads bashed in by their own hurtling hammers:
Auto polo was so deadly, it was eventually banned nationwide. Heartbroken enthusiasts of sport and blunt-force injuries the world over had to pack up their families every Sunday, and settle for attending another boring old ...
I've shown this photo once before, but I don't think I made it totally clear that Lion Dromes were not a fluke. This was just how you took in a show, back in the day. It was like going to the matinee now, only instead of watching Jeremy Renner pout in front of a shaky camera, you had the kids stick their unshielded little faces out over a bowl of automotive trauma and told them to inhale the heady fumes of gasoline and jungle predator.
Lion Dromes originally started as a spinoff of Walls of Death: enclosed arenas where small cars and motorcycles kicked gravity square in the beanbags with a boot made out of centrifugal force. But of course, driving sideways in defiance of how everything should be wasn't entertaining enough for the discerning, cane-fighting supercriminals of yesteryear. So they added lions, naturally:
Now you had stoic men in severe suits bolting great cats to tiny cars and trying to outrace a million years of primal, murderous instinct ... sideways.
However that, too, bored the masses, still coming down off the carnage-high of auto polo, so Wall of Death owners did what any good entertainer would do: They threw in hot dames and bigger cats.
Well, as hot a dame as they could find who was willing to risk flipping a go-kart on top of a furious lion. The pool was ... surprisingly narrow.
Our forefathers were so jaded by the rampant, unchained awesomeness of day-to-day life that they looked at motorcycles defying gravity with zero safety measures and stifled a yawn. Then they politely requested that the show owners mix some comely lasses and apex predators into the Bowl of Death to really earn that nickel admission fee.
I know that we, as a species, have come a long way since then: We have established such important concepts as "human rights" and "respect for animals" and "basic, rational safety measures" in our modern society. And that's great. Wonderful. But maybe it's time we all stopped and asked ourselves: Is it worth what we gave up? Is it worth the total and complete absence of angry lions doing sweet motorcycle tricks in our lives?
I humbly posit that it is not.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Brockway, check out 6 Insanely Awesome Things the 1900s Thought We'd Have by Now and 7 Awesome Images That Will Make You Mourn the Space Shuttle.