7 Popular Old-Timey 'Hobbies' That Will Give You Nightmares
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 ...
Throwing Atom Bomb Viewing Parties
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 ...
Having Civil War Battlefield Picnics
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.
Visiting Paris' Public Morgue
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.
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.
Of course, they read nothing but books about corpses, but it was a step in the right direction.
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.
Posing for Victorian Headless Portraits
These days, even someone with the mental age of a 10-year-old knows how to create a faked photograph, as North Korea continues to prove whenever they release a new piece of propaganda. However, it turns out that people first discovered the joys of trick photography way back when a Photoshop was still a place you had to drive to in your horse and buggy, and today's novelty portraits are actually fairly mundane compared to those of days gone by. So here's a little riddle for you: Tear a Victorian mother away from her murder figurine collection long enough to pose for a portrait with the kids, and what do you get?
A week of insomnia?
Yep, a family portrait of the kids having hacked off mom's head with a hatchet. Suddenly that time your mom dressed up like an old-timey prostitute for a novelty photo at the boardwalk doesn't seem so creepy, does it? Judging by the sheer amount of examples available, "headless portraits" were a pretty popular fad back in the 19th century, and looking through those images, we're not too sure they weren't the original inspiration for Mortal Kombat:
"FINISH H- Oh, wow, really? You're actually going to? I was just ... I don't know what I expected there."
The effect was achieved the old-fashioned way, by layering images from different photo negatives. Of course, not everyone had a partner willing to pose as his or her headless victim, so self-decapitation was always an option:
For a little extra they could make it look like you were teabagging yourself.
There was also the ever popular "serve your own head on a platter" pose:
"Dammit, I told them to hold the mustache."
And the "we forgot to put the head somewhere" one, for which you presumably got a discount:
Unless these are actually freshly deposed French royals.
Making Giant Bonfires (With Cats)
Everyone loves a good bonfire: surrounded by troves of friends, skin tingling as the open flames wrestle against the cool summer night air, the sacks full of cute widdle putty tats screeching in abject horror as they're fed to the pyre ...
*WHOOSH!* "Wait, what the hell have they been drinking?!"
Unfortunately, no, we didn't just make that last part up. You see, 18th century Parisians loved them some bonfires, too. Each year at the summer solstice, the masses gathered at Place de Greve and torched themselves up a massive bonfire, complete with all the stuff you tend to picture when you think of a bonfire -- laughing, dancing, singing, drunken men stumbling about and narrowly avoiding accidental flame-assisted castration -- along with the somewhat quirky addition of sacks full of live cats hung from a mast over the bonfire to be slowly devoured by the flames.
Then, the morning after their kitty-fueled bender, the partygoers collected the ashes and took them home as good luck charms. But why cats? You pick a reason: Because they thought cats had no souls, or were witches, or were the devil, or because fuck 'em.
Look at that evil bastard. Exhausted from a day of harvesting souls.
Such fiery traditions were apparently all the rage across France -- in Saint Chamond, "cat chasers" were less about bonfires and more about chasing flaming cats through the streets, while in Burgundy and Lorraine, folks went for the simpler tradition of dancing around a flaming Maypole ... with a (temporarily) live cat hanging from it.
Judging by this picture, Europe was full of pussy chasers, cock grabbers, and dog boners.
Visiting Human Zoos
Since ancient times, zoos have been providing wholesome and educational entertainment for families across the globe. Alright, so for a long time zoos basically just ripped indigenous animals from their natural homes and charged visitors to ogle and possibly poke them with sticks -- but at least they never did that with humans, right?
Well, at least not with white ones.
Yeah, that happened. Though they may not have referred to them as "human zoos" back then -- Paris fancily referred to theirs as Le Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale -- we at Cracked firmly believe in calling a tomato a fucking tomato. Such exhibitions were shockingly common throughout the world for hundreds of years, from Europe to Japan to the good ol' U.S. of A. And just like we described with their animal equivalent, human zoos involved coercing or outright abducting indigenous people from all over the world (mostly Africa), building "villages" that loosely resembled their homes, and then putting them on display for a paying public, who presumably threw peanuts at them, because people paying to see this were awful.
"Haha, look at those idiots!" -The people on the left
Perhaps the most famous human-zoo connoisseur was German Carl Hagenbeck, who, during the last quarter of the 19th century, not only supplied zoos throughout Europe with their wild animals for display, but kept them well stocked up on two-legged specimens as well. Hagenbeck would also put together stage shows starring his most exotic finds.
His version of Macbeth got poor reviews.
Such shameful displays were known to exist up until freaking 1958, when the Belgians finally looked themselves in the mirror and asked, "What in the ever-loving fuck are we doing?"
Jason is a freelance editor for this fine website, Cracked.com. Like him on Facebook and he'll bake you an apocalypse cake.
For more reasons our grandparents were genuinely terrifying, check out 10 Old-Timey Medical Treatments Inspired by Your Nightmares and 13 Old-Timey Photos That Prove History Was Haunted.
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Related Reading: What's that? You need more old-timey creepiness? Click this link and prepare for diagrams of infant children showing off their internal organs. Still haven't had enough? Here's another article full of crazy pictures from our even crazier past. And if those articles don't have you cowering in fear at every old person on the street, these olden-days medical photos are here for your shocked perusal. Wondering just what made our predecessors so batty? This collection of old-timey comics should make it clear. Batman doesn't have shit on an all-powerful hovering eye.