Your days are filled with mundane routine: You get up, shower, follow the traffic signals to work, run home on your lunch break to check the mail and feed your pet tiger scraps of your political adversaries -- you know, everyday stuff. But many of the things you think are routine only became that way after massive amounts of suffering.
You've almost certainly seen the ubiquitous all persons fictitious disclaimer after a movie. Filmmakers want to make it absolutely clear that the events you've just witnessed are entirely fictitious, because otherwise you'd have a certain POTUS swearing up and down that Captain America ripped off his life story.
FDR Presidential Library & Museum
Although, a sickly kid from New York overcoming his physical limitations to inspire America during World War II, but sadly not getting to see the end of the war, does sounds familiar ...
The Gruesome Backstory:
You have Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin to thank for those disclaimers. Well, not directly, seeing as how he was utterly, thoroughly, painstakingly dead by the time MGM released their 1932 film Rasputin And The Empress. Rather, the impetus came from Rasputin's head murderer, Prince Felix Yusupov. In the film, Rasputin is murdered by Prince Paul Chegodieff, but not before the mystic hypnotizes and rapes Chegodieff's wife, Natasha. Now, Prince Yusupov had been in no way secretive about his role in Rasputin's murder, so he reasonably posited that audiences would equate Prince Chegodieff with him, and by extension assume that Rasputin had his mystical dong all up in Yusupov's wife, Irina -- whom Rasputin had never even met.
"His dying words were, 'I never fucked your wife, and while I have length, yours is clearly the more girthy and powerful dong.'"
The Yusupovs sued for defamation, and a jury agreed with their claim, awarding them $125,000 in today's money. If that seems somewhat paltry, we should note that the total court costs for MGM nearly equaled the film's entire production cost. As a direct result of the case, MGM and other studios began slapping the "Any Resemblance To Persons Living Or Dead" disclaimer on every last film they produced -- even those clearly based on actual persons living or dead.
When a building features a revolving door, it's almost always flanked by doors of the swinging variety. That's kind of weird, right? Why would you steal the thunder of the objectively funnest type of door? The answer, of course, is: Tragedy.
Tragedy + Time + Door = Comedy
The Gruesome Backstory:
Doors to public or commercial buildings always, always swing outwards. That's not so you can use your butt to open the door while duel-wielding hot dogs -- it's to avert stampede deaths. Which is exactly what happened in 1942 at Cocoanut Grove, Boston's hippest nightclub. We've mentioned before that 492 people died there, when the flammable tropical decorations in the overcrowded club burst into ... something. Song? Oh right, flame: They burst into flame. Nearly 500 people died, and hundreds more were injured, mostly because the club's main exit -- a revolving door -- clogged up with panicked revelers. If you're wondering why the club didn't have other exits, it did ... the doors just all swung inward, making them literally impossible to open when throngs of desperate people were pressed up against them.
The Boston Globe
"Keep pushing, this will work!"
As a direct result of the tragedy, Boston led cities nationwide in enacting fire codes that dictated outward-swinging exit doors, normal doors when revolving doors are in use, and, for the love of God, no more superfluous letters when spelling "coconut."
Back in its day, home mail delivery was the closest thing we had to internet service -- you simply couldn't get life done without it. That unassuming slot on your front door is something we still take for granted, but it's only there because of a bunch of dead husbands.
Not literally. They weren't, like, shoving the bodies through there ... R- right?
The Gruesome Backstory:
While the Union was crushing slavery beneath an avalanche of muskets and alcoholism, your mail didn't come to you -- if you wanted to read the excruciating details of Grandma's gout, you went down to the post office to do it. And said post office wasn't the sterile place you know and barely tolerate today. No, much like the Chuck E. Cheese's downtown, the post offices of yesteryear were social places where men could solicit hookers and drink themselves silly. It got so raucous, in fact, that many post offices installed special "ladies' windows" where women could pick up their post without first wading through a sea of drunken prostitutes ... and therein lay the problem.
Nowadays, "Sorry honey, I was just trying to get the mail" doesn't quite cut it.
Once the Civil War hit, all the men that would have normally been whorin' down at the PO were instead getting cannonball infusions on the front lines. The ladyfolk back home lined up at their respective windows to receive news about their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. After watching so many soon-to-be widows lined up in the snow every day, Ohio postal employee Joseph William Briggs took it upon himself to begin delivering mail directly to homes. The idea spread, and in 1863 Congress approved free home mail delivery for cities that could afford the extra cost.
So today we have liquor, prostitution, and untold dead husbands to thank for the fact that all of our bullshit convenience store circulars come straight to us.
Hey, remember how, upon approaching a railroad crossing, the school bus driver always stopped and opened the door? It was an odd requirement -- surely the driver could see, hear, or, hell, feel a train coming without flinging the door wide open, right?
The Gruesome Backstory:
On the morning of December 1, 1938, in Salt Lake City, Utah, a tremendous blizzard wracked the countryside. That's when a school bus carrying 39 kids between the ages of 12 and 18 to Jordan High School stopped at a railroad crossing, just as the law required. However, the zero-visibility conditions and fogged-up bus windows ensured that driver Farrold Silcox never saw the hurtling cow-catcher of the Flying Ute, a 50-car freight train, barreling down on him. We'd tell you to close your eyes at this point, but that would be irresponsible since we have no way of knowing if you're currently approaching a railroad crossing.
And if so, please start reading our articles while on the toilet instead, as God intended.
It was the worst railroad crossing accident in U.S. history -- the Flying Ute plowed into the bus at 60 miles per hour, dragging it for nearly half a mile before it could come to a stop. In all, 25 students, plus the driver, perished in the tragedy.
Lawmakers were swift to act for once, implementing regulations requiring school bus drivers to stop, open the door, look both ways, and listen before crossing railroad tracks. Early versions of the law even required a lookout -- a student tasked with getting out and looking both ways before the bus crossed -- but that stipulation was later voided by the Children Are Not Expendable Act of 1959.
"One Child Left Behind" didn't make it past the idea phase.
You know natural gas smells like the devil ate tacos, and you probably also know that natural gas is naturally odorless -- that smell comes from an additive called mercaptan. So who the hell thought that was a bright idea?
The Gruesome Backstory:
It was all thanks to the Consolidated School in New London, Texas on March 18, 1937.
London Museum in New London/AP
Renamed the Consolidated Rubble in New London, Texas shortly after.
As was common at the time, builders had supplied natural gas to the building by tapping into a nearby Parade Gasoline Company line. While the students sat around in their shiny new classrooms, a prolific leak from a janky pipe filled the building's basement with gas. Then a maintenance worker flicked a basement light switch, "the ground bounced," and the building collapsed. The resulting scene was so horrific that even Adolf Hitler sent his condolences. No joke.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H1216-0500-002 / CC-BY-SA
Just to be absolutely clear. This Adolf Hitler.
Following the loss of 300 of the school's 500 students, Texas Legislature enacted regulations requiring refiners to add an easily detectable scent to natural gas, and the entire industry soon followed suit. Why they chose to make it smell like a rundown Shoney's restroom during the breakfast buffet and not, say, cinnamon with a nice hint of vanilla, is anybody's guess.
Jordan Breeding also writes officially for Paste Magazine, unofficially on the twitter and his blog, and with a dirty, dirty spray can in various back alleys. Dr. Claudio Buttice, Pharm.D., is a former hospital pharmacist who eventually grew bored being just a doctor, and became a freelance medical writer. He's also a screenwriter and journalist who contributed to several magazines such as The Ring of Fire, Digital Journal, Techopedia and Business Insider -- and he always managed to look cool, every time. If you want to offer Dr. Buttice a writing gig or just want to throw money in his general direction, feel free to contact him at email@example.com or on LinkedIn.
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Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.