Strangely Specific Secret Societies That Should Have Saved Us All
We all know about the Illuminati, who rule the world, and about the Freemasons, who also rule the world. The broad goal of world domination, however, held by so many secret societies, is perhaps too ambitious to achieve or too vague to define. Real heroes identify narrower causes, about which they feel truly passionately. That’s how we became blessed with such organizations as...
The Apostrophe Protection Society
John Richards spent his whole working life at British newspapers like the Boston Standard and the Lincolnite, both as a reporter and as a copy editor. For decades, he found himself correcting the same errors, including many involving that essential punctuation mark known as the apostrophe. So, upon retiring, he founded an organization to enforce the rules by which the apostrophe is governed.
Hundreds of people from around the world wrote to him in support. Richards ran a website that compiled apostrophic errors, in a charming old-school web way...
...and he also contacted offenders directly. “Dear Sir or Madam,” he’d write by letter to some business or publication. “Because there seems to be some doubt about the use of the apostrophe, we are taking the liberty of drawing your attention to an incorrect use. We would like to emphasise that we do not intend any criticism but are just reminding you of correct usage should you wish to put right the mistake.”
In 2019, Richards shut the society down. One reason was he was 96 (he would go on to die at the age of 97), but he was also admitting defeat. “Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language,” he wrote. “We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”
We salute John Richards’ memory. And we apologize for the way we used the apostrophe in the previous sentence. John would have spelled the word “Richards’s,” but in the absence of a functioning Apostrophe Protection Society, we can only follow AP style, as laid out in the following tweet, which features several punctuation errors:
The Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters ‘George’
By the 1850s, trains were well established in the U.S., but they weren’t very comfortable. You could sit down, but you couldn’t really lean back. If you wanted to sleep during longer journeys, you hardly stood a chance. That all changed thanks to George Pullman and his Pullman sleeping car, which aimed to turn trains into hotels on wheels.
Pullman staffed his cars with porters, and his goal was to keep the employees as anonymous as possible. People had to be comfortable changing clothes with a porter just a curtain away, or with slipping into someone else’s compartment and hooking up, without having to worry about the porter’s opinion of the matter. Passengers called all the porters “George,” after Pullman. The porters, who were all Black men, were cool with this, as far as anyone could tell. It beat being called a racial slur.
The only people who weren’t so cool with this? Other people named George. And so, we got the Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters George (or SPCSCPG “for short”). The George nickname, however, remained after Pullman died, and so did the society trying to fight it. The group eventually attracted 31,000 members named George, including Babe Ruth (whose real first name was George) and King George V.
Today, we no longer call porters “George.” In America, we don’t even call them porters. We call them “sleeping car attendants” — if we call them anything, because long-distance train travel isn’t nearly as common as it might have been. Did SPCSCPG kill train travel? We think you know the answer to that question.
The Millard Fillmore Appreciation Society
Fillmore was not a terribly interesting or memorable president. Let’s put it this way: A while back, we put together a list of 55 facts about presidents, saying something about each president and multiple things about a few of them. For Fillmore, all we could do was report that one semi-famous fact about him was actually false (turns out he was not the first president to install a bathtub).
Nonetheless, in the 20th century, we got a Millard Fillmore Appreciation Society. Despite the name, they were not really devoted to appreciating the presidency of Millard Fillmore (who married his own high school teacher and whom Queen Victoria considered the most handsome man in the world — what do you know, the guy does have a few interesting facts). Instead, they met annually at his grave in commemoration of what a forgettable man he’d been.
Starting in 1980, they also issued an annual Medal of Mediocrity, to honor some current personality just as unremarkable as Fillmore. In 1993, for example, they considered Vice President Dan Quayle, Woody Allen and the entire U.S. Postal Service. They ultimately gave the medal to George H.W. Bush, whose presidency had just ended after a single term. They previously gave the medal to Boy George, but not all winners were members of SPCSCPG; the group also honored Prince Charles and Ed McMahon.
The Society of Mutual Autopsy
At the end of the 19th century, many anatomists around the world wanted to dissect dead bodies but were forbidden by law or by custom. The French were a little more liberal about such matters, but even in France, few people bothered dissecting the brain. Perhaps the first folks who tried realized they were held back by the technology of their time and focused their efforts on simpler organs.
That said, the Paris Anthropology Society took special interest in the brain. They were interested not so much in physiology as phrenology — they wanted to link observable brain structures to personality traits and abilities. And so, scholars from here and from elsewhere in Paris formed the Société d’autopsie mutuelle. Every man declared that upon dying, he would turn over his brain to the other men’s scalpels.
The Society of Mutual Autopsy was a strictly atheist organization. Committing meant committing to atheism: No man would, they declared, turn to God in his last moments and beg for a Christian burial. Despite this, during their meetings, the group engaged in rites that resembled the religion they’d rejected — namely, they held ceremonial funerals and took confessions. Rituals, you see, are the best part of any religion and of any secret society.
The Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men
British adults at the start of the 1960s made frequent jokes about how boys were starting to look like girls, thanks to growing their hair out. The BBC learned of an organization called The Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, founded by a 17-year-old. The network invited the group for an interview. Judging by the questions, the interviewer expected to exchange jokes with the boys, but the group gave him pretty straightforward answers.
“I think we all like long hair, and we don’t see why other people should persecute us because of this,” said the founder, Davy Jones. The boys were not imitating the Rolling Stones, they said — they’d started growing before the Stones, as hair takes years to grow that long. The interviewer said there’s no distinguishing between men and women, with hair this length, and one of the Society members replied, “That’s ridiculous. If the stage has got to the point where you can’t tell either sex by a few inches of hair, I think that’s a pretty poor showing, don’t you?” “I do,” said the interviewer, and it’s not clear if he understood the point being made.
The interviewer — who was balding, and would reveal this as the punchline to the segment — turned back to Jones and asked what exactly the group planned to do to address perceived persecution. Jones said, “Well, if anybody is chucked out of a factory job or removed from a public bar or a saloon bar, we’ll get a petition written up and sent to either the LCC (the liquor control commission) or the people who hold the publican’s license.” That’s a better answer than we could come up with when asked where to direct our own advocacy.
That kid later went into the music business, where he had to change his name, since a singer in the Monkees already went by “Davy Jones.” He changed his name to David Bowie, and once he made something of himself, we assume he grew up and put all that boundary-pushing behind him.