6 Nightmarish Truths Behind Famously Pleasant Places
Our favorite cities are a lot like our grandparents. They're pleasant enough and full of charming anecdotes, but there's a reason we don't delve too far into their pasts. Much like your Nana and that period of her life she'll only talk about if the feds agree to grant her immunity, many famously nice places also have some rather disturbing skeletons hidden in their closets -- or buried under their landmarks. Literally.
Well, we've let these cities keep up their acts for long enough. If places were people, then starting today, you'd never be able to make eye contact with ...
Minneapolis Used To Be "The Antisemitism Capital Of The United States"
Despite all of the snow and some recent mediocre seasons from the Vikings, everyone in Minneapolis always seems able to put on a friendly face. Hell, even Prince thinks it's a swell place to dwell. Prince would never steer us wrong.
Fine, almost never.
The Disturbing History:
Affable old Minneapolis, the Phil Coulson of US cities, beat Hitler to large-scale antisemitism by over 50 years. The first documented Jewish-bashing incidents in Minneapolis stretch back to the late 1800s, when Jews would get kicked out of public transportation and attacked by gangs in the street. It was basically downhill from there.
Ever notice how, aside from the aforementioned Purple One, the population of Minnesota is as white as its snow? It turns out that's, uh, kind of by design. Today, we have some wonderful laws on the books that prevent discrimination when it comes to housing, but prior to the enactment of those laws in 1968, Minneapolis landlords were kicking Jews to the curb like the weekly trash pickup. Phrases like "Gentiles preferred" could be found in housing and "help wanted" ads as recently as 1942, and the law didn't give much of a shit.
This guy was fined $100 for the lack of chill, though.
Shockingly, Hitler and World War II didn't help things. The Silver Shirts, a pro-Nazi group originally shat out of North Carolina, had one of its largest chapters in Minneapolis, thanks to the anti-Jewish sentiment in the city. One of their meetings there was attended by a member of the Minneapolis School Board and the president of the Associated Industries of Minneapolis. Mind you, this wasn't your average fascist get-together -- these guys believed the Pyramids of Giza predicted a Jewish world-conquering conspiracy. In the end, it took a combination of teamsters and gangsters to kick the group out of the city ... presumably by giving them wedgies, because check out how these losers dressed:
Actually, it looks like their pants are already giving them wedgies.
Even after America thumped the Axis Powers, Minneapolis still saw itself labeled in 1946 as "the capital of antisemitism in the United States." Eventually, they got their shit together, presumably when they realized that wasn't the best motto for a city.
London Was Shaped By Death, Horror, Drunkenness
London is one of the major cultural hubs of Europe, the world, and all of time and space if Doctor Who is to believed (why would an ancient alien have a British accent otherwise?). It seems like everything in the city is an internationally recognizable symbol of class and sophistication, from London Bridge to Big Ben to the freaking metro system.
And when British people publicly urinate, their piss opens portals to Mary Poppins dimensions.
The Disturbing History:
Everything we just mentioned was originally shaped by fucked-up situations.
It's hard to know where to start, so let's be a little touristy for a bit and take a ride on the London Underground. As we head out on the Piccadilly line east to South Kensington, the train takes a bit of a turn before getting back onto straighter track -- because otherwise, we'd crash into an ancient pile of corpses. When the London Underground's builders reached Hyde Park, they discovered a present the plague had left them a few centuries prior: a mass grave densely filled with interlocking skeletons, like the world's worst game of Tetris. It was packed so tightly that it was borderline impossible to drill into. They're still bumping into piles of corpses today.
The proposal to build the rails out of bones to save on materials was sadly turned down.
Moving along, we'll hop off the train at Big Ben. Most people know it by the big-ass clock tower, but it's connected to the Palace of Westminster, home of Britain's parliament ... which is notoriously more like a frat party than a functional system of government. The buildings themselves reflect that: Inside an area connecting Big Ben and the House of Commons is a section previously known as the Prison Room, where Ministers of Parliament were thrown when they were too rowdy even for Parliament. Think of it as a drunk tank for lawmakers. Others were locked in there for crimes like refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen or thinking that women should vote.
Those people got off lucky, though. A few centuries earlier, traitors to the crown were taken to London Bridge. Like this:
Don't see them? Let's zoom in on that front section:
It was also the origins of British love for kebab stands.
Yep, in its medieval version, the Bridge was decorated with the heads of those who pissed off Her Majesty, stuck on pikes. Hopefully, Simon Cowell isn't reading this, or we've given him an idea for what to do to the losers on The X Factor.
The Boulevards Of Paris Were Designed To Slaughter Rioters
We all know France has a bit of a, uh, hairy history with revolution, but modern-day Paris is a product of a more civilized time. It's a beautiful, tourist-centric city specifically made for enjoying the arts, eating cheese, and watching Marlon Brando fuck.
The Disturbing History:
Pretty much the opposite. Several decades after France thought it was done with revolution and Napoleon, they found themselves with yet another budding revolution and another, less-successful Napoleon -- number three, a nephew of the original.
A sequel and a reboot. Ugh.
Napoleon III was well aware that he needed some sense of order to his rule, and he couldn't risk being seen as the war hawk ol' uncle had been. He decided to team up with a sneaky guy named Baron Haussman to pull a win-win for the city of Paris. They needed a convenient way to squash any potential rebellions, while also looking like they were doing something productive with taxpayer money. The solution: road design. Insidious road design.
While "repairing" roads under the guise of cleaning up the streets, they implemented designs and cut major boulevards that would prevent street barricades and makeshift forts in the middle of the roads.
Say what you will about Parisian manners, they once had a leader who wanted to prevent traffic about a hundred years prior to the invention of the automobile.
San Francisco Tried To Cover Up The Plague
With one of the country's largest gay populations, a thriving art scene, and home to a lot of technological innovation, San Francisco is by and large a forward-thinking and welcoming place. The scariest thing you'll run across there are the rents and those Google shuttles.
The Disturbing History:
Or, you know, the goddamn plague. In 1900, the bubonic plague hit San Francisco via a steamship carrying infected rats. When a lumber salesman named Wong Chut King fell sick and died, the authorities decided that the whole thing must be the Chinese's fault and immediately quarantined Chinatown.
According to the newspaper's artist, their "Holy shit we're gonna die" faces are the same as their "Me so wacky!" ones.
Whites were escorted out of the area, while Chinese citizens were forced to stay there, under the bogus belief that their race made them more susceptible to the disease. In an effort to make things go back to normal, the Chinese residents of Chinatown began hiding and smuggling out their dead.
"Mayor to be remembered as asshole in 100 years, news at 11."
Five years and 100 deaths later, it seemed that the plague was over and done with ... but it roared back with a vengeance in 1907, this time taking mostly white victims. Because San Francisco dealt with an enormous earthquake just a year prior, rats carrying the plague were no longer confined just to Chinatown, and the government freaked the hell out. At least somewhat in part due to the efforts by local and state officials to silence doctors and aid workers who were only trying to help, it took years before the plague was finally eradicated in northern California. It was replaced decades later by the far less fatal but nonetheless virulent "tech douche" pandemic.
New York City Is Full Of Mass Graves
It's sort of a litmus test for people in the music industry -- if you haven't recorded a song about New York, are you truly a musician? Everyone talks about the city's brilliance, how proud and majestic it is, and how the people really aren't all that rude. They're just in a hurry, you know?
The Disturbing History:
Guess what: more disease and more immigrant targeting. As New York City was often the entry point for most people coming to America for the first time, immigration officials had to take measures to protect the city from exotic foreign diseases that American antibodies didn't know how to handle yet. Those measures turned out to be "dump all the sick people on some island."
For instance, Staten Island had a quarantine hospital housing immigrants with yellow fever, ship fever, and smallpox. Local residents, apparently not very clear on what a "quarantine" involved, thought the hospital was spreading diseases and burned the fucker down.
"Our angry mob bylaws said top hats, not just any hat! Goddamn it, people."
Ward's Island, meanwhile, saw approximately 180 people die on its shores of varying diseases. A whole bunch of the islands were dedicated to smallpox, including Bedloe's Island, which you might know under its more popular name, "the one with the Statue of Liberty." In fact, Lady Liberty's pedestal was built on top of an 11-point fort designed to contain smallpox, which is a polite way of saying that her farts are very infectious.
This isn't to say that Manhattan doesn't have corpses laying around, too. You probably know Washington Square Park from its iconic arch monument, or from being filled with insufferable college students using up all the grass.
And laying on grass, too.
Well, those kids are trying to bone each other right on top of actual bones -- the New York Parks Department estimates that there are nearly 20,000 bodies buried under the Washington Square Park, from back when this same place was a public burial ground for the homeless, the destitute, and the criminal. So yeah, it turns out that the J.J. Abrams show that depicts the most dead people isn't Lost or Alias -- it's Felicity.
Oregon Was Founded As A Whites-Only State
It's a place where people take performance art seriously. A place so nice that it even let its northern neighbor beat it to marijuana legalization. Oregon (well, Portland, at least) is famous for being very open-minded about letting everyone express themselves in whatever ways they choose. Essentially, the only thing they don't tolerate over there is ... intolerance.
The Disturbing History:
This wasn't the case during a little part of Oregon's history called the entire founding of the state. Oregon was officially admitted to the Union in 1859, albeit with an interesting clause in its state constitution: It explicitly barred black people from living there. It wasn't just blacks, either. Even mixed-race folks weren't allowed in. Spent too long out in the sun without a hat? Boom, you're banned from Oregon forever.
Don't believe us? Here, check out this quote from Oregon's original state constitution. Article 1, Section 35:
"And bicycles shall possess no more than one gear, ever."
Not only could you not be black in Oregon, but you also couldn't even bring black people in, lest you feel the wrath of Oregonian law. Technically, that meant outlawing slavery, but that's probably not a big enough technicality to make this paragraph look any less ugly. If you somehow survived the perils of the Oregon Trail, you deserved to live out there.
We sure didn't.
Isaac is on Twitter @NotFunnyIsaac.
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