5 Insane Vacations Your Great-Grandparents Totally Went On
What's the worst vacation you've ever taken? That roadside motel with the vibrating bed that wouldn't shut off? That campground where a grizzly bear made sweet destructive love to your Isuzu Amigo? Disneyland? Whatever it was, we can absolutely guarantee that it doesn't top the dumb things that passed for vacations amongst our ancestors. Hell, they've even got your bear story beat ...
Yellowstone Used To Be Like Yogi Bear
There aren't a lot of bears roaming the public areas of Yellowstone National Park these days. But don't despair just yet; Yogi Bear wasn't entirely a lie. Back in the 1910s, bears basically did rule the entire park.
See, back in the day, national parks had to placate government officials who would've liked nothing more than to pave over them. And what's more, they had to justify their existence in a way that didn't cost too much money. Luckily, Yellowstone had plenty of workers who didn't ask for a living wage. In 1919, the park opened a brand-new attraction: the "bear lunch counter."
The park built a raised bear feeding platform, along with bleachers from which guests could watch it. At a designated time, a ranger would ride a horse-drawn cart out to the feeding platform and give a lecture to the assembled masses, all while a swarm of hungry bears descended upon his position. Just like Disneyland, there were also VIP experiences up for grabs -- in this case, the chance to ride the garbage cart out to the feeding platform. If that sounds hilariously dangerous ... it, uh, was.
After we successfully taught bears that they could tap humans for food on demand, they began tapping humans for food on demand. Who could have foreseen?! Bears would no longer wait for the timed performances, but would instead squat in the middle of roads leading into the park, blocking cars until their occupants threw out food in the hopes of distracting them. People called them "hold-up bears," which is frankly an adorable name for bear robbery.
But once the inevitable happened and bears finally started attacking people for food, the program was gradually phased out until the bears once again learned to steer clear of guests. The guests, meanwhile, have yet to learn the same lesson.
The Only Two Words You'll Ever Need To Hear: Octopus! Wrestling!
In the late '50s and early '60s, octopus wrestling was a hugely popular spectator sport in the Pacific Northwest, drawing crowds of over 5,000. But rather than an awesome-sounding cage match between man and octopus, this was more of a glorified diving competition wherein teams of divers would compete to hunt down and bring back the biggest octopus they could.
There was even an octopus wrestling league, the World Octopus Wrestling Championship (or WOW), which of course quickly became corrupt. In order to ensure that spectators got enough bang for their buck, organizers began doping the shoreline with pre-caught octopi. Is nothing truly pure in this world?
Before Parks, People Played In Local Cemeteries
Throughout the 19th century, before a lot of wars made them real happenin' places, it was commonplace for families to use local cemeteries as public parks for their enjoyment. See, actual public parks were rare in those days, but cemeteries were green, well-cared-for, tidy places. Cemeteries across the country were often filled with visitors using them for everything from picnics to sunbathing.
Of course, there was a morbid element to it, too. It was a way of keeping close to relatives who had passed away. Because hey, what's a picnic without Uncle Morty's corpse decaying somewhere nearby? As one family explained in 1884, "We are going to keep Thanksgivin' with our father as [though he] was live and hearty this day last year ... we've brought somethin' to eat and a spirit-lamp to boil coffee."
We don't know what any of that means, but we know damn sure everybody involved in that scenario had a glorious mustache. Even the children.
People Used To Come From All Over The Country To See A Real-Life Hermit
The Fort Fisher Hermit was once known as Robert Harrill, a man who'd spent his entire life getting dumped on by the Universe. After his son committed suicide, Harrill was confined to a psychiatric institution, which he soon escaped so he could start a new life, preaching the Good Word (or his approximation of it, the OK Word). He hitchhiked the 250 miles to Fort Fisher, North Carolina, where he took up residence in an abandoned wartime bunker. Locals and tourists who stumbled across this lonely old man hiding in the salt marshes did the only logical thing they could think of: They started telling all of their friends how awesome he was. And because the threshold for "entertainment" was far lower back in the '60s, the Fort Fisher Hermit was born.
Harrill spent his days preaching life lessons to assembled masses of tourists like a modern-day Diogenes. At his "School of Common Sense," Harrill would converse about everything from philosophy to society, nature, and the evils of "the Man." For the tourists who gathered there, he was their equivalent of Woodstock, Burning Man, and -- judging from the lack of food and housing -- Fyre Fest.
At his peak, Harrill saw nearly 10,000 visitors per year, and he made a pretty good living off of the change they donated to him. He later claimed he was the second-largest tourist attraction in North Carolina -- which is actually fairly believable, if you've ever been to North Carolina.
Chinatown Was A Whole Different Kind Of Tourist Trap In The 1920s
During the Great Depression, residents of San Francisco's Chinatown figured they could make some quick cash by showing white people exactly what they wanted to see: racist stereotypes.
They added "oriental" features onto the buildings, mocked up everything from fake opium dens and gambling halls to displays of "captured" white women in cages, and hired tour guides to spin stories of the "wicked orient" to guests.
It worked so well that the scam soon went nationwide. In New York's Chinatown, residents staged events like knife fights between "opium-crazed men" over prostitutes, all while tour guides warned guests to stick close, lest they too be thrown in a cage and turned into an attraction at Racist Disneyland.
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