5 Forgotten Historical Facts That Prove The Past's Crazy AF
Ever heard the old saying "The past is a foreign country"? That's underselling it a little. Some things never change (death, taxes, Keanu Reeves), but other parts of life were so bizarre during your grandparents' day that it's more like the past was another world. A pretty ridiculous one, too, judging by the fact that ...
Getting Into An Ivy League College Meant Handing Over Nudes
If pop culture is to be believed, present-day colleges are hotbeds of sexual depravity, like Sodom and Gomorrah but with Scarface posters. It's not like in the days of yore, when our fresh-faced grandpas walked into these temples of knowledge wearing bow ties and suspenders ... and immediately proceeded to take them off and pose nude for a camera.
See, between 1940 and 1970, several colleges -- including Harvard, Yale, Vassar, and Brown -- required first-year students to pose au naturel for several photographs. No, it wasn't for some creepy Skull-and-Bones-esque secret society, although it was bone-related. These photos formed part of a massive study undertaken by psychology researcher William Herbert Sheldon into how rickets develops. This involved sticking metal pins to the students' backs:
It's since been suggested that the study was actually focused on proving the pseudoscientific principle (also believed by people like, uh, the Nazis) that analyzing a person's body can yield a whole bunch of information about their intelligence, moral worth, and "probable future achievement." We don't know that for sure, but we do know that Sheldon used the photographs to identify three distinct body types: skinny, nervous "ectomorphs," fat and jolly "endomorphs," and confident, buff "mesomorphs." Was he secretly conducting a study on the scientific validity of The Three Stooges?
Whatever the case, the most tangible result of the study was that a whole generation grew up terrified of their nudes leaking one day -- something millennials know nothing about. A lot of the photos were burned after the study was denounced, but others could still be out there, being eagerly traded by people with porcupine fetishes.
Brits Celebrated Their 21st Birthdays By Getting All Their Teeth Removed
Today, your 21st birthday is considered the start of adulthood, the first day on which you can (legally) pump yourself full of Jell-O shots and warm beer. But in England during the 19th and early 20th centuries, this momentous occasion was less about fun and frolics, and more about signing yourself up for excruciating surgery.
Dental hygiene standards back then were ... not good. A combination of poor diets, smoking, alcohol, and flossing being considered something that you only did if you got a small animal stuck in there meant that people's teeth rarely lasted into adulthood. In order to spare their offspring the pain of having their teeth extracted without anesthetic one at a time over the course of several years, families would pay for them to have their entire mouths stripped out and replaced with dentures. "Full teeth removal" was also considered a fine wedding present for young brides. (Hey, beats getting a fourth toaster.)
No wonder people were so prudish back then. You couldn't go down on your significant other without getting them haunted by the ghosts of 32 different soldiers.
Germany's Polar Bear Costume Craze
Imagine you're living in Berlin in the '20s, where everything and everyone was not only still reeling from the horrors of war, but also having the shit economically beaten out of them. So when something good happens, no matter how minor and existentially inconsequential it is, you're going to go absolutely fucking nuts. Such is the backdrop for our next tale.
According to editor / photography collector Jean-Marie Donat, in the early '20s, the Berlin Zoo acquired two polar cubs. So many people flocked to see the two bears that the zoo installed a couple of guys wearing polar bear costumes. As the bears got more and more popular, so too did these proto-furries. This in turn resulted in a mini-boom economy for bear costumes that today's horse head makers only wish they could match.
Bear costumes were everywhere. And we do mean everywhere.
Yes, there's photographic evidence that the bear-mania persisted even after the Nazis came to power and started gearing up for even more horrors of war. There's your fun reminder that even your goofy neighbor could be seduced by fascism, if you needed it.
French Waiters Striked In 1907 Over Their Right To Have Mustaches
Try to imagine a French waiter without a mustache. You can't. And yet prior to 1907, waiters in fine restaurants across France were unofficially barred from growing mustaches. The reasoning was that waiters were basically valets, and valets couldn't have mustaches, because they were valets.
As dumb and petty as this might seem today, this was a major source of discontent. Mustaches were seen as symbols of virility and class, and men being forced to "emasculate" themselves for the benefit of the upper classes who frequented high-end restaurants was, well ... you know how the French get when it comes to class struggle.
In April 1907, waiters across the nation went on strike in support of their facial fluff, an act of defiance that cost their employers an estimated 25,000 francs per day. If a waiter didn't join the strike, they would be harassed, heckled, and labeled a scab and mustache-hater.
The police did attempt to restore order and started arresting strikers, whom they identified on the basis that they were the only people in town who possessed clean-shaven faces -- you know, apart from all the tourists. In their exuberance, police in one town "expelled every smooth-shaven man including a dozen innocent Americans" (though if they were walking around France with exposed upper lips, they were asking for it).
The strike lasted for two weeks before the government gave in to the waiters' demands for facial autonomy. It's just as well. It would've taken only one pissed-off woodworker noticing all those unused razor blades, and wham. Or whatever noise a guillotine makes.
Everyone In NYC Was Required To Move House On The Same Day
If there's any experience in life more stressful than moving, science has yet to discover it. Between packing your valuables so securely that they'd survive a direct hit by a nuclear blast, cleaning your old place, leasing a van, driving however many miles you're going, getting your new keys, discovering that nothing has been professionally cleaned, unloading the van, learning that you've got no water pressure, and unwrapping (and rebuilding) everything, it's enough to make anyone want to go live in the woods. OK, now imagine everyone in town having to do that at the same time.
Also, that town is New York City.
Thanks to a weird little quirk in 19th-century rental laws, every lease in the city expired at exactly the same time: May 1 at 9 a.m. This meant the entire city would annually descend into unbridled chaos as people hitched up their belongings and battled their way through the bloodsoaked streets to their new digs. As Davy Crockett described the scene, "It seemed to me that the city was flying before some awful calamity." And that guy had seen (and done) some shit.
It's estimated that over a million people took to the streets on moving day, and as you'd expect, things would get a bit hairy. Carts were in high demand, and renters were often forced to pay wagon owners over a week's wage to avoid carrying everything they owned on their backs. Between this, the fights that would break out, and how some landlords would take this opportunity to demolish their properties, it's no wonder that The New York Times advised people to prepare by stocking up on "nails, glue, putty, and a pint of varnish to buff out the inevitable scratches."
The practice eventually died out during World War II, and the city's inhabitants soon found themselves with the opposite problem: being stuck in that godforsaken hot-dog-smelling hellscape forever.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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