6 Harmless Things With Insanely Disturbing Origin Stories
Many of the fun, innocent things that we find so entertaining have shockingly dark origins. So really, the old saying has it backwards. First someone gets hurt, then it's all fun and games. Just consider how ...
Nintendo Miis Are Memorials To Infanticide
The Nintendo Wii introduced the general public to many gaming innovations, like motion controls, wrist problems, and Miis. You know, those cutesy avatars with giant heads and cylindrical bodies? The nicest thing we can say about them is that they look like vibrators.
You probably assumed the Miis were made so simplistic to ensure everyone from a toddler to your half-blind grandpa can tell what they're looking at, but there's another inspiration behind the design. According to Mario's dad, Shigeru Miyamoto, the Miis are based on kokeshi, a type of Japanese doll ... although "doll" feels like a generous word here, since they're pretty much straight tubes of wood. But what does "kokeshi" mean? Uhh, "erasing children." And one theory says that's because they're reminders of child murder.
Back in the Edo Period, families found themselves in a bit of a pickle whenever they birthed a child they could not take care of. The solution was often a form of belated family planning which involved killing or selling the babies. Parents then carved kokeshi to represent those children. They put the dolls in shrines in the home, to serve as memorials or grim reminders of what they'd done.
Today, kokeshi are sold as souvenirs, and the meaning of the word is generally forgotten. In fact, "kokeshi" is now more often used as a slang term for vibrator. And now that you know their history, that really is the nicest thing we can say about Miis.
Candy Land Was Made For Kids With Polio
Candy Land was America's preferred method of distracting young children back before we had smartphones. It's a basic board game full of bright colors and whimsical characters, and it was inspired by ... uh, the polio epidemic?
It all started in 1948, when a retired schoolteacher named Eleanor Abbott contracted the disease and ended up stuck in a polio ward in San Diego. Soon the novelty of watching partly incapacitated children cry all day wore off, and Abbott got bored. So to pass the time and distract the children from their loneliness and pain, she grabbed some crayons and sketched out a straightforward board game she called Candy Land. (Please Let Me Sleep, Come On, I've Got Polio Too was already taken.)
The game became popular among the polio-ridden youngsters, which is always a sure sign that you've got a big hit on your hands. Emboldened by this feedback, Abbott later pitched the game to Milton Bradley, who in a keen business move omitted the "It's for children with polio!" part from the marketing materials.
Candy Land remains a favorite to this day. They might even make a movie out of it, possibly starring every child's favorite actor, Adam Sandler! So if there's an upside to the current anti-vaccination movement, it's that we might get some more classic children's entertainment out of it.
Dance Marathons Were Grueling, Sometimes Deadly Affairs
Today, dance marathons are seen as a fun, corny way to raise money or awareness, but during the Great Depression, they were more about not starving to death. It was like the 1930s version of reality TV: a place where the morbidly curious went to find out how desperate other people could get.
At first it was cheap entertainment. Dancers would be provided with food, shelter, and medical care as long as they kept dancing, with the most durable couple taking a cash price -- a deal that became very enticing to a lot of people when almost a quarter of America found itself without a job. Suddenly the marathons got intense. People would dance for days, weeks, or even months, sleeping in 15-minute breaks here and there, often eating or bathing while shaking their booties.
As a marathon advanced, contestants began dropping like flies ... sometimes for good. One lady tried to kill herself when she ranked fifth in an event after 19 days of dancing. Another time, a man named Homer Morehouse died from a heart attack after he and his partner danced for 87 hours straight. Sadly, death was against rules, so they were disqualified.
Eventually, cities like Seattle began seeing danceathons as public health hazards and outlawing them. These illegal, deadly events are a far cry from the church basement dance marathons of today. You'd be lucky to die at one of those.
The First Olympics In The U.S. Involved A Racist "Experiment"
The Olympics are a magical time when we all stop our petty squabbling to marvel at the rock-solid butts of the greatest athletes in the world. Here's a weird fact: Did you know that it took until 1904 for the games to be held in the U.S.? And did you know that as soon as that happened, things got very racist, very fast?
The first non-European Olympics were supposed to take place in Chicago, but then St. Louis threw a hissy fit, arguing that the event might upstage the upcoming World's Fair. So the location was changed to St. Louis ... but most European players were like "Saint who?" and decided to skip the games. This left the event with a troubling lack of athletes / rock-hard butts. Enter William McGee, the Fair's chair of anthropology and a racist prick who ran a "human zoo" featuring Native Americans and people from places like Congo or the Philippines. His solution: getting these "savages" to compete in a sort of pseudo-Olympics alongside the real games ... and taking the opportunity to conduct a little anthropological experiment.
Of course, by "experiment," he actually meant "messing with people." With significant language and cultural barriers and little time/effort put into the event, the "savages" couldn't learn the rules on time. For instance, many didn't understand the purpose of the gunshots during the quarter-mile race -- which, to be fair, is a weird practice. Others stopped near the end of the race to wait for friends, not grasping the whole "race" part.
The event was a disaster. Very few people attended, and McGee didn't get the data he needed. So he repeated the experiment a few years later, this time obtaining the numbers he wanted, and surprise! It was a flawed, racist conclusion. McGee determined that whites were clearly superior compared to the other races in physicality. Welp, you heard the expert. Please return all those medals, Mr. Bolt.
Cooties Were A Parasitic Bug That Tortured Soldiers In WWI
You might remember "cooties" as that dastardly disease contracted whenever a child violated the "no boys/girls allowed" sign on the treehouse. For most of us, it was just a bit of silly childhood fun. But for soldiers fighting in World War I, cooties were very real, and the cause of a lot of pain and misery (maybe not the main one, but still).
The word "cootie" was used by British soldiers to refer to battlefield lice, which ravaged men in the trenches of the Western Front. The lice would suck blood and spread diseases such as trench fever, which causes severe headaches and can lead to heart failure. Because WWI didn't suck enough on its own.
So when did the term start to make the leap from "nightmarish infestation" to "wholesome childhood fun"? It may have been thanks to a series of children's board games of the same name. Still, it didn't really take off in America until servicemen returned from the Pacific after WWII, where they likely picked it up from the Commonwealth soldiers they fought with (the term, not the bugs).
The Ferris Wheel Completely Ruined Its Inventor's Life
George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. was the man who invented Ferris wheels (so they should technically be called Junior Wheels, we guess). Ironically, his life was more of a roller coaster ride, which is probably a line of work he wished he'd gone into.
When the Eiffel Tower made its debut in 1881, America got a bit of tower envy and started looking for something even more impressive to debut at the Chicago World Fair. Ferris accepted the challenge and proposed building a 264-feet, 71-ton rotating wheel that could carry over 2,000 passengers. The Fair's board laughed off the idea as ridiculous, because, well, it was. Still, they generously allowed Ferris to go ahead with his monstrous contraption, as long as he financed the whole thing himself and shouldered the entire responsibility. He took this sweet deal.
The wheel was a huge success, in that no one died while riding it and it raked in a crapload of money. Unfortunately, most of that money went to the Fair, and Ferris' small cut soon evaporated as people sued him for ripping off his own wheel. Turns out he never patented the idea, so others tried to scoop it up for themselves. He ended up bankrupt, was abandoned by his wife, turned into a drunk, and contracted typhoid fever. He died only three years after his invention's debut, at age 37, although his body stayed at the morgue for an extra 15 months as his brother scrounged up enough funds to pay for the funeral debt. Even in death, the dude still couldn't catch a break.
Ferris' ghost got the last laugh on the cursed invention that ruined his life when the original wheel was dynamited into scrap a decade later. If you ever feel strange while riding in one of those things, that's probably him flipping you off from the other side.
For more, check out The Horrifying True Story Of St. Patrick's Day:
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