15 Old Photographs That Prove the World Used to Be Insane
From those bullshit seat belt laws to Big Kindergarten trying to tell you which preschools you can and can't take your gun into, it seems like today's nanny nation is intent on making our lives as safe as possible at the expense of any and all excitement. That's not how it used to be, though. Back in the good old days, when all men were mustachioed and all women preferred their men mustachioed (if they knew what was good for 'em), the people knew how to live: dangerously, recklessly, violently and awesomely. The following photographs definitively prove that somewhere along the way, we as a species have tragically misplaced our balls.
They're probably in the same place we left our mustaches.
Canne de Combat
This is not just evidence in an assault trial -- I mean yes, it is almost certainly exactly that; that man is clearly being beaten to death on camera, and I'm sure that justice has since been served -- but there's more to the photo than that. This is actually a pictorial how-to guide for a martial art called canne de combat: the gentle and sophisticated art of beating people with walking sticks. Canne de combat was developed in early 19th century France, and was most commonly practiced by civilized gentlemen in metropolitan areas, presumably because rural farmers could vent their bloodlust on livestock and wild animals. It was only city folk who had to save all the anger up, periodically venting their frustration via explosive cane beatings. But canne de combat wasn't sheer, purposeless fury. There was quite a bit of technique involved. Here you can see two gentlemen, both versed in canne de combat, executing muay-thai-style knee strikes and kung fu side-kicks.
It looks like a shoddily made steampunk fan fiction video. You'd laugh your ass off if you saw a Victorian gentleman in a period piece do this stuff. If Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice suddenly leaped to his feet and executed a savage cane-beating on Mr. Bingley, followed by a flawless jumpkick, there would be far fewer suspicious quotes from Jane Austen's Wikipedia page in our high school English papers. But that's exactly what 19th century France was all about. There was even a rival form, a kind of gentlemanly jeet kune do that incorporated elements from every martial art into a perfect fighting system. It was called bartitsu, and it looked like this:
In this image you will find: old-timey gentlemen wielding canes like samurai swords, a succinct demonstration of how to use a formal jacket as a weapon, and a mustache so magnificent and sharp that you could gut a bear with it. And likely it would not be the first time: The man sporting said murderstache is none other than Edward William Barton-Wright, inventor of bartitsu (the name is a combination of Barton and jujitsu, because both of those are equally deadly things for your opponent to know). Barton loved the brutal extravagance of Eastern martial arts, but he saw absolutely no reason that you had to wear all those silly pajamas. So he developed a fighting style that was unhindered -- nay, even augmented -- by the presence of a polka-dot ascot.
Oh, but don't go thinking civilized gentlemen like Barton-Wright were just idly inventing new ways to beat innocent passersby; they needed this stuff to defend themselves. Because back in the day ...
Criminals Were Apparently Way More Badass
That is not the slick teaser poster for the new Capone biopic starring Liam Neeson. That is an actual mugshot, as used by the police department of New South Wales to document the appearance of a typical criminal in 1925. This one features one Mr. William Stanley Moore, whose chief infraction was apparently bringing sexy back without a permit. Oh, and drug dealing. Fake drug dealing. Yes, this was what the bottom-rung, sell-gullible-teenagers-bags-of-oregano drug dealers looked like in the Roaring '20s. And it wasn't just a matter of Moore having more style than you can stuff into a three-piece suit. Every criminal who passed through the New South Wales Police Department between 1910 and 1930 got the full glamor shot treatment.
This is the official mugshot of William Cahill, taken in 1923. It looks like Russell Crowe shooting a tasteful whiskey ad, but this is the picture that went on his official criminal record. Not since Anne Hathaway in a catwoman suit has crime looked this good. Seriously, even the pettiest crook got the full-blown Batman villain treatment.
This is Sydney Skukerman, looking like he's going to unleash hordes of mind-controlled rats on Gotham City if his demands aren't met. His crime? "Obtaining goods from warehousemen by falsely representing that he is in business." This guy got arrested for pretending that packages were for him. And he gets a forensic makeup team and a mugshot that looks incomplete without a death ray in the background.
I mean Christ, if you're going to frame the shots this elaborately, you could take any petty crook and make them look intimi-
Oh, holy shit. Never mind.
Those two are legit supervillains. Those men's names are recorded as De Gracy and Edward Dalton. Their crimes were not recorded, but I'm suspecting it had something to do with carving souls from the flesh of the unworthy, judging by De Gracy's Skeletor eyes and Dalton's bitchin' facial scar.
But that's not to say that life back in the day was a constant struggle against supervillainy waged via savage street-beatings. It wasn't all crime and fighting; even old-timey badasses liked to kick back and relax with a nice game of ...
This photo sets a new standard for athleticism. An event shall no longer be considered a sporting competition unless it contains:
A. Flying Hammers
B. Crashing Automobiles
C. Dramatic Spinal Injuries
No, really look at that picture again. Look at the man who has been freshly ejected from a speeding automobile. There he is, currently flailing through the air. Now look at the other man -- the one with a giant smile on his face, waiting to smack said crash victim with a comically oversized mallet before he hits the ground. Everybody in that image either died immediately after it was taken or were promptly investigated for suspected Highlanderism. But that was auto polo.
You would head out to your nearest muddy field, mount up an unstable, dangerous, rickety car -- a vehicle that had only been invented 30 years earlier, remember -- and then whale the bastard about psychotically while swinging a friggin' hammer over your head. That's like you and your friends buying a bunch of jet packs and jai alai sticks today and just setting off into the open sky, giving the finger to your concerned families -- it's insane that you would even own the technology in the first place, much less have the balls to violently misuse it like that. Auto polo was not just some Jackass-style one-off stunt, either ...
Demonstration matches were frequently held at county fairs and stadiums all across the country, though it was most prominent in the Midwest during the early 1910s. It was usually played with a basketball, as seen above, and the only mandated gear was a jaunty cap and a callous disregard for human life. It was every bit as unquestionably awesome as it was uncontrollably, screamingly retarded:
That picture is perfect. It's everything art should be: There's an Old West style sheriff in a ten-gallon hat, grimly staring off into the sunset as a pair of land-based airboats wait patiently for permission to start their automotive hammer-jousting. I'm going to dedicate that last sentence to my wife, because that's the most beautiful thing I've ever created.
Don't go thinking that auto polo was a case of things looking worse than they really were, either: I'm not cherry-picking exciting photos from a boring event. If you couldn't guess from the ridiculous overabundance of overturned cars and men flying through the air, about to successively eat shit and then have their heads bashed in by their own hurtling hammers:
Auto polo was so deadly, it was eventually banned nationwide. Heartbroken enthusiasts of sport and blunt-force injuries the world over had to pack up their families every Sunday, and settle for attending another boring old ...
I've shown this photo once before, but I don't think I made it totally clear that Lion Dromes were not a fluke. This was just how you took in a show, back in the day. It was like going to the matinee now, only instead of watching Jeremy Renner pout in front of a shaky camera, you had the kids stick their unshielded little faces out over a bowl of automotive trauma and told them to inhale the heady fumes of gasoline and jungle predator.
Lion Dromes originally started as a spinoff of Walls of Death: enclosed arenas where small cars and motorcycles kicked gravity square in the beanbags with a boot made out of centrifugal force. But of course, driving sideways in defiance of how everything should be wasn't entertaining enough for the discerning, cane-fighting supercriminals of yesteryear. So they added lions, naturally:
Now you had stoic men in severe suits bolting great cats to tiny cars and trying to outrace a million years of primal, murderous instinct ... sideways.
However that, too, bored the masses, still coming down off the carnage-high of auto polo, so Wall of Death owners did what any good entertainer would do: They threw in hot dames and bigger cats.
Well, as hot a dame as they could find who was willing to risk flipping a go-kart on top of a furious lion. The pool was ... surprisingly narrow.
Our forefathers were so jaded by the rampant, unchained awesomeness of day-to-day life that they looked at motorcycles defying gravity with zero safety measures and stifled a yawn. Then they politely requested that the show owners mix some comely lasses and apex predators into the Bowl of Death to really earn that nickel admission fee.
I know that we, as a species, have come a long way since then: We have established such important concepts as "human rights" and "respect for animals" and "basic, rational safety measures" in our modern society. And that's great. Wonderful. But maybe it's time we all stopped and asked ourselves: Is it worth what we gave up? Is it worth the total and complete absence of angry lions doing sweet motorcycle tricks in our lives?
I humbly posit that it is not.
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For more from Brockway, check out 6 Insanely Awesome Things the 1900s Thought We'd Have by Now and 7 Awesome Images That Will Make You Mourn the Space Shuttle.