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No matter how patriotic a human cannonball may have been, it’s difficult to imagine much good would have come to that person if he or she accepted Benito Mussolini’s invitation to serve their country in the Italo-Ethiopian War. Il Duce’s odd request was recorded in an article in the August 22, 1935 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From October 13, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Topeka, Kan. — Rules for the guidance of kissers were issued today by the Kansas Board of Health in co-operation with the United States Public Health Service. 

Never kiss in crowded places or in a poorly ventilated room, the instructions say, but if you must kiss, take a hot mustard foot bath and avoid drafts as precautions against colds.

Other rules:

Guard against sudden changes in temperature when kissing. Kissing in a coonskin coat one minute and lighter apparel the next is extremely dangerous.

Don’t kiss any person who has chills and fever.

At a party where postoffice and similar games are played, be sure to gargle frequently.” 

John du Pont had nothing on Jacques Lebaudy, the so-called “Emperor of the Sahara.” Lebaudy was the wealthy French scion of a sugar fortune, and due to dollar signs and decimal points, he was labeled eccentric rather than insane, despite stints in a sanitarium. In 1903, he embarked on perhaps the most eccentric-millionaire scheme ever, creating his own ad hoc navy and “invading” Africa, moving several hundred houses with him from Europe to enjoy the comforts of home in the desert. His ragtag “cabinet” proved inept in their new land, and the mission had to be aborted, the planned railroad never built.

Lebaudy’s behavior just grew more erratic from there. When his beleaguered wife eventually shot him to death in their Long Island home after the crazed millionaire decided to take their teenage daughter as his wife (the privilege of an emperor, he believed), no indictments were forthcoming. An excerpt follows from the report of his murder in the January 12, 1919 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the January 24, 1886 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Cleveland, O.–Michael Browloski, a Bohemian, and his family, consisting of his wife and six children, are lying very sick at their home on Union Street from the effects of eating raw pork. Browloski, a few days ago bought a quantity of pork, of which the family partook liberally, and were immediately made very ill. A physician was called and an examination showed that the meat was strongly impregnated with trichinae. Medicines were administered, and yesterday the family had so far recovered that they were thought to be out of danger, when they again partook of the diseased pork and Browloski and his wife are now lying at the point of death.”

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was many things in Mussolini’s Italy: fascist, modernist, machine-lover and misogynist. As the leader of the Futurist Movement, he was a crackpot with an aluminum tie and tin books who deified machinery and automation and extolled the virtues of war (“the world’s only hygiene”). He not only favored violence being visited upon many institutions and people but also wished to legally protect technology, the kind that made Italo Balbo’s office hum. In the following article from the October 8, 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, one of his minions, Signor Azari, proposes a society to guard machines as if they were family pets. Two interesting things: The question of robots having legal rights has come into vogue again in our time, and the idea that an autonomous society would eliminate economic inequality has proven false so far in our digital era.

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From the November 18, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“After driving an unidentified woman passenger back and forth from 167th St. and Jerome Ave., the Bronx, to City Island for more than three hours this morning, Walter Clery, a chauffeur, stopped his taxi at a gasoline station at Williamsbridge and Boston Roads to replenish his supply. He looked into the cab and saw the woman apparently asleep. Failing in his attempts to rouse her, he drove to the Wakefield police station. She was pronounced dead. The woman was described as 40 years old, weighing 140 pounds, 5 feet 1 inch tall. She had bobbed brown hair and light blue eyes. She wore a black sealskin coat with brown fur collar and cuffs, a Poiret twill henna dress, tan stockings and black shoes. In her leather purse was found 13 cents.”

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At the conclusion of World War II, America collected as many Nazi rocketeers as we could find and dispatched them to Huntsville, Alabama, to do their voodoo. We dreamed that our new friends would help us develop a space program the world would envy, and while there were bumps along the way, that’s essentially what happened. In the first blush of our post-war power, unbridled enthusiasm for exploration was at high throttle, as evidenced by this article from July 30, 1946 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the July 9, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“The fat man who walked from Danville, Ill., to Los Angeles, crossing the Mojave desert without water, succeeded in losing eighty-one pounds. His condition is critical, but he may survive. We hope so. He’s a fine object lesson.”

From the November 14, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“Miss Patricia Royer of Cleveland, Ohio, who for nine years made her living fighting men of her own weight in the boxing ring, has entered Fenn College to study salesmanship. She was born in England.”

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Mark Twain, America’s second greatest comic ever in my estimation (after George Carlin), died of a heart attack 104 years ago. He lived a life writ large, won fame and lost fortunes, and, most importantly, reminded us what we could be if we chose to live as one, traveling as he did from Confederate sympathizer to a place of enlightenment. I think of Twain what I thought of Pete Seeger and Odetta when they died: You can’t really replace such people because they have the history and promise of the nation coursing through their veins. He was eulogized in the April 22. 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle; the opening sections excerpted below follow him from birth to his emergence as a “stand-up” and his shift to author of books.

From the May 8, 1925 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“Mrs. Mary Hannigan of 83 Division Ave. today mourned the death of her daughter, Julia, the little girl who wanted to be a boy. And she is filled with bitterness because, she said, her daughter died of a broken heart, not the pneumonia listed on the death certificate at St. Catherine’s Hospital.

Too much notoriety killed the little girl, the mother says. The notoriety was gained by what the mother describes as an ‘innocent prank.’ Julia, who was buried on Saturday, decided last October that she wanted to be a boy. She disappeared from her home. A week later she was found. She had cut her hair, donned boy’s clothing and earned her living caddying.

But the little girl brooded over what she thought was the disgrace she had brought on her family. Her resistance was weakened. She caught a cold a short time ago which developed into pneumonia.”

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It wasn’t a commercial triumph like the organ named for him, but Laurens Hammond’s “Teleview” projection system was a critical triumph in early 3D films. The set-up was installed in Manhattan’s Selwyn Theater in the early 1920s, and moviegoers were treated to screenings of The Man From Mars, a stereoscopic film made especially for Teleview, which was shown on a large screen and on individual viewing devices attached at each seat. It apparently looked pretty great. Alas, the equipment and installation was costly, and no other cinemas adopted the technology. An article follows about the apparatus from the December 17, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the November 10, 1925 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“The whipping post, say officials of Wilmington, Del., has had a good–that is, diminishing–effect on crime. With the progressive decrease in crime has come, of course, a similar decrease in the number of whippings it was necessary to administer. Thus the whippings reported to in the past two decades have been:

  • 1900 to 1915–100 to 150 a year.
  • 1922–33 whippings.
  • 1923–24.
  • 1924–22.
  • 1925 (to date)–15.”

From the September 4, 1909 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Freeport, L.I. — While walking along the shore at High Hill Beach, Gibson Wanser and Garret Verity, whose homes are at Seaford, L.I., came across a rubber boot, which Wanser picked up. He was surprised at the weight of the boot and the two men became curious. With a knife, the boot was ripped open and a human foot was discovered inside. There were two pair of heavy woolen socks on the foot which had been severed at the ankle. It is believed the owner was drowned in the winter and that the salt water preserved the foot intact. The men showed it to the inhabitants in the vicinity and then buried it in the sand.”

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Two years before piloting the flight that killed himself and the great comic Will Rogers, aviator Wiley Post completed a ’round-the-world trip that was solo save for a helpful robot, an autopilot device fashioned by Sperry. It wasn’t like he could sleep comfortably while his “co-pilot” took over the controls, but it did allow Post to journey the long distance navigator-less. An article from the July 15, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle published just prior to the mission.

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From the April 11, 1902 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Leadville, Col. — John Sullivan committed suicide by drinking three ounces of carbolic acid. Sullivan accidentally swallowed a twenty-dollar gold piece several weeks ago. This depressed him so that he ended his life.”

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From the December 8, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Ravenna, Ohio — Addie Potter Chapman and Glenn E. Colton, who live in this place, were married to-day before the open grave of Mrs. Lydia Potter Chapman, mother of the bride. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Dr. A.D. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, who officiated at the funeral, and having performed the last rites over the body of the mother, turned to the young couple at the grave. The body was in the grave and the grave diggers were ready to throw on the dirt, but waited until after the wedding ceremony was performed. Before her death Mrs. Chapman requested that her daughter be wedded at her grave.”

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While I’m sure Adolf Hitler’s personal yacht, the Aviso Grille, had some historical value, it probably shouldn’t have been employed as a floating tourist trap, even if the proceeds went to charity. But that’s what happened during the end of the 1940s, soon before the craft was smashed up and sold for scrap. Judging by an article from the June 16, 1949 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which uses some strangely admiring adjectives to describe one of history’s very worst villains, the Führer was unsurprisingly not a fun cruise director, at least according to his former staff, some of whom sailed with the vessel when it made its voyage to New York. Postscript: When the boat was sold in pieces, Hitler’s shitter wound up in a New Jersey gas-station bathroom.

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From the November 18, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“John Snyder, a big, burly peddler, who on Saturday night bit the head off a turkey in a saloon at 38 Varet Street, was arraigned before Justice Kenna this morning on a charge of cruelty to animals. The details were published in yesterday’s Eagle. Snyder pleaded guilty.

‘It was on a wager,’ exclaimed the prisoner. ‘The owner of the turkey was satisfied.’

‘But I suppose the turkey had no say in the matter,’ remarked Justice Kenna.

Snyder was sent to jail for twenty-nine days.”

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Before method acting, Lon Chaney had his own method.

A master of makeup and body contortion, Chaney would go to any end to transform himself for each role, a character actor who became a star, eventually earning the sobriquet, “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Like most people born in 1883, he had no reason to expect a long life and seemed in a rush, becoming a Pike’s Peak tour guide when he was only 12. The son of parents who could not hear or speak, he learned to be an expert mime at home, bringing this talent to the stage at 17, and, soon enough, the screen. A talented comic and singer, Chaney became best known for macabre roles in Hollywood, always disappearing into the performance. He was just as inscrutable off-screen, living quietly, even reclusively, refusing interviews, feeling he owed the public no twists beyond the turn. His grave was unmarked and remains so. The following is the report of his death from the August 26, 1930 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the May 21, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Long Beach, Cal. — Three little chicks belonging to W.B. McCracken, yesterday picked their way into the world after an unusual experience. For thirteen days the mother hen had been busily attending to her sitting duties when a hungry snake drove her from the nest and gorged itself with three eggs.

The snake lingered about the premises and McCracken shot it. Wondering at its odd proportions, he performed an operation and found the eggs. They were placed back under the hen and at the end of the regulation time were hatched.”

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It sounds odd, but it seemed to some in the Roaring Twenties that the best way to get to the airport was by plane. In an article in the February 19, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, an engineer predicted that soon city dwellers would be able order up small planes that could take off from or land on midtown buildings which had been retrofitted as small airports, saving themselves from the veritable tortoise-like transport of trains and taxis.

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From the September 16, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Oklahoma City — George Palmer yesterday reached home after a walk of 8,500 miles. He started from here the first of last December, walked to San Francisco, thence to New York, and thence home.”

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For John Wanamaker, being America’s first great merchant wasn’t merely about ringing cash registers. It was also about innovation in a number of ways, many of which weren’t directly reflected in the bottom line.

The owner and operator of a pair of humongous department stores, one opened in 1876 in Philadelphia and the other 20 years later in Manhattan, Wanamaker believed that rather than than looking at your customer as a short-term mark, you should cultivate a long-standing relationship based on trust and satisfaction–not the conventional wisdom at the time–and introduced the price tag and allowed money-back guarantees. He was the first to wisely exploit the power of print advertising, but he sold you what he’d promised.

He also turned his emporiums into experiments in communications and technology, having telephones in his stores as early as 1879, allowing his roofs to be used as launching pads for balloonists in aviation’s pioneering days and installing into his sprawling shops wireless radio stations (customers listened to live reports of the sinking of the Titanic). Having the world’s largest playable pipe organ in his on-site theater and a working train car suspended from the ceiling to carry children around the toy department were nice flourishes as well. Wanamaker didn’t spoil his customers by starving his employees: He paid them holiday bonuses and gave them medical care and athletic facilities and other benefits. His passing was reported in an article in the December 12, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, an excerpt from which follows.

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From the March 26, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Beaver Falls — When the bock beer signs made their appearance here, Joseph Bouva, an Italian fish dealer, made a wager that he could drink 250 glasses of the beer in three days. He won the wager, but is now in the hospital. He is dying.”

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