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New England tinkerer Arthur Blanchard didn’t patent a machine in 1916 to remove the guesswork from the pre-Talkie screenwriting process but merely to alleviate humans of the guessing. The so-called thinking machine was a handheld device that used a slot-machine method to cough up plots. It was marketed as “The Movie Writer,” though it was said to be helpful in the creation of poems and novels as well. In 1921, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran an article celebrating this simple technology.

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Carl Tanzler (Von Cosel) C 1940. From the Stetson Kennedy Collection.

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From the August 14, 1952 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Aga Khan III came from good stock.

Believed to be able to trace his ancestry directly to the prophet Muhammad, the spiritual leader to millions upon millions of Muslims was also a Cambridge-educated, jetsetting, racehorse-owning, tiger-shooting playboy. Considering that many in his flock weren’t exactly ensconced in affluence and he was by all accounts living the highest of high lives, it’s stunning that the Aga Khan inspired not envy but adoration. It was a different time.

A January 19, 1941 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article profiled the Aga Khan when he was 63. It explained the devotion he enjoyed this way: “He works hard for his people and plays hard for himself.” That may have been true, though I can guarantee he didn’t subsist on a diet of peeled grapes as this piece suggests.

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From the June 16, 1946 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Mathew Brady.

Mathew Brady.

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President Lincoln.

Ulysses S. Grant.

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Robert E. Lee.


The Civil War would have a name without Mathew Brady but not a face.

Other notable photographers worked in that tumultuous, internecine period, but it was Brady and his pioneering photojournalism that truly captured the visages burdened by the fate of a nation. While Brady was rich in life experience, his relentless attempt to record the Civil War with the expensive daguerreotype process essentially bankrupted him. He expected the U.S. government to eagerly purchase his trove in the post-war period and restore his financial standing, but the money never materialized. Brady died penniless in the charity ward of New York’s Presbyterian Hospital in 1896. Two years before his death, a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article misspelled his first name while chronicling how money troubles cost him his gallery in Washington D.C. 

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From the August 11, 1925 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Of all the early 20th-century American astrologers, Evangeline Adams probably did the most to modernize and legitimize the craft, and that’s a shame.

Adams, installed in an apartment above Carnegie Hall at the end of her brilliant career, spent her early years dodging prison sentences for practicing fortune telling before the bullshit was legalized. She differentiated herself from the competition by updating the lexicon for the Industrial Age crowd, sprinkling her predictions with terms like “machines” and “electrical forces.” She was also quite adept at using her powers of persuasion to draw in gullible boldface names (Eugene O’Neill, Tallulah Bankhead, J. Pierpont Morgan, etc.), who gave her a cachet she would not have otherwise enjoyed. But the astrologer’s greatest gift may have been playing the press, aggressively publicizing those occasions she guessed correctly and making her many boneheaded pronouncements go quietly away.

In 1929, she uttered her worst prediction, telling a radio reporter the Dow Jones “could climb to Heaven” just weeks before the bottom fell out. Also interesting is that her most celebrated on-target prognostication, in which she said in 1923 that America would be engaged in a world war in 1942, looks less impressive if you read the fine print. WWII would be provoked, she asserted, when a second American Civil War spread all over the globe. Her 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle obituary, embedded below, lauds her “extraordinary record for accuracy.”

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Speaking of automata through the ages, the article embedded below from the July 31, 1887 Brooklyn Daily Eagle surveys some highlights from the field, with special attention paid to 18th-century French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson, who breathed “life” into the Digesting Duck (pictured above), among other locomotion machines.

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From the November 3, 1952 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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The Univac 1 computer got off to a good start in 1952 when it predicted that Eisenhower would win easily over Stevenson even though the press thought the reverse outcome was a near-certainty. It faltered a bit in the 1954 midterm Senate races and was mocked. (“Tilt!” was hollered in the newsroom by one wiseass when it became clear that the prognostications were errant.) But by the 1956 Presidential election, the computer once more nailed the Eisenhower triumph over Stevenson. No TV broadcast of any major election ever went without a computer again. 

In this 1952 clip, Walter Cronkite cedes the floor the machine which at this early point in the night thought Eisenhower was a 100-1 favorite to win. Nervous CBS brass were so concerned that the “electronic brain” was wrong that they initially pretended it had mechanical difficulties and was being unresponsive.

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From the November 27, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Dormiphone.

Auto-Typist.

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Lord and Lady Tycoon.

Tycoon & Lady Tycoon.

War dividends of the technological kind snaked in many directions in mid-century America, from kitchen appliances to bowling-ball return machines to business gadgets. In the latter category, new machines reaching the market promised greater automation, the ability to listen and talk and memory augmentation. These are areas reaching a significantly more mature phase now, with Siri and such. An article in the October 24, 1950 Brooklyn Daily Eagle introduced readers to the Dormiphone, the Auto-Typist, the Robotyper and the Tycoon (and Lady Tycoon) soundscriber.

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From the October 25, 1912 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Before media connected us all every second, there was Robert L. Ripley.

The creator of Believe It or Not!–a comic strip in the Hearst papers, then a radio program and finally a T.V. show–traveled the globe beginning in the 1920s in search of oddities and curiosities to entertain and inform Americans, long before travel abroad was something possible for most. His items didn’t exactly go viral–everyone caught them all at once during the Newspaper Age. In Ripley’s own wry way, as a spiritual descendant of P.T. Barnum, he worked to make the world smaller, to establish a Global Village.

As an early King of All Media, he was helped aided in his amateur anthropology and archaeology by his able researcher, Norbert Pearlroth, and helped immensely by his onetime sports editor, Walter St. Denis, who suggested the three-word, exclamatory column title that remains a recognizable phrase even in the Internet Age.

Heart problems ended Ripley’s life young, as recorded in his obituary in the May 28, 1949 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the February 5, 1913 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Chemtrails are bullshit, of course, but in 1950s America, there was definitely something in the air.

That was especially true if you lived in desert areas in which the U.S. government was conducting A-bomb tests. Windstorms at just the wrong moment could cause havoc, blowing radioactive mist into unsuspecting nearby communities.

One such bomb, nicknamed “Harry,” was detonated in Nevada on May 19, 1953, with gusts carrying its fallout 135 miles, running headlong into 5,000 people, including those on the set of Howard Hughes’ film The Conqueror. Legend has it that a cancer cluster among cast and crew was the result, although that seems more urban legend than medical fact. Nonetheless, some citizens were outraged by the recklessness, and the bomb was rechristened “Dirty Harry” in retrospect.

A month earlier, the Atomic Energy Commission had carried out another detonation in same state. Just after the explosion, a pair of radio-controlled planes carrying mice and monkeys were flown through the radioactive cloud. The strange scene, which was conducted in the name of biomedical research, was recorded in an article in the April 6, 1953 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Homer Collyer, 1939.

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Langley Collyer, 1946.

One person can lose his mind, but nothing is madder than a couple. 

Two souls can encourage each other to health and prosperity, but they can also nurture mutual insanity, creating a madhouse behind close doors, replacing bedroom mirrors with the funhouse kind. No living quarters in New York City history were likely crazier than the Fifth Avenue hoarder heaven that the reclusive brothers Homer and Langley Collyer called home sweet home. It contained, among many–many–other things, 240,000 pounds of garbage, 18,000 books, 17 grand pianos, eight live cats, three dressmaking dummies and two very damaged brothers. 

A March 22, 1947 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the demise of the Collyers was published after the police had found Homer’s lifeless body seated in a chair but 18 days before they realized that Langley was just ten feet away, dead and buried under some of his favorite things.

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From the July 30, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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From the August 17, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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From the November 4, 1841 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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The Opening Ceremony at the 1896 Athens Olympics.

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Today is the anniversary of the opening ceremony of the first modern Olympiad, the Athens Summer Games of 1896. While Greece would not host the event again for 108 years, this iteration was paramount for establishing a grandeur, truly globalizing the Games and instituting the Marathon as a major event. Photos above show Panathenaic Stadium, as well as competitors in field events, and unheralded Greek water-carrier Spyridon Louis, who won the Marathon. The particulars of latter event had a surprisingly academic source in French proto-semanticist Michel Bréal, who based its course on the legendary trek run by messenger Phidippides after the Battle of Marathon. Sadly, no women were allowed to participate due to the chauvinism of IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin, but one female still made a mark.

The Olympics sparked interest among American athletes in what had been largely unfamiliar activities, and later that year a collection of U.S. competitors convened in New York City to prepare for future Games. The chariot race was probably not necessary. From a report published in the September 6, 1896 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the December 28, 1921 New York Times:

Pittsburgh, Pa.–The nimble Pirates, minus the tendency to crack in the heat of a National League pennant chase, and a Pitt football team that will display more agility than any trick movie star, are promised for 1922 by A. Lincoln Bowden, a Pittsburgh oil man, who has volunteered to supply both aggregations with dried monkey meat during the coming year. Glands will be included in the menu, according to the Pittsburgher, who has offered his services in the spirit of a devoted gridiron and diamond fan and says he wants Pittsburgh athletes to beat the world.

Mr. Bowden is about to depart for South America to lay in a supply of monkeys of a superior class, which he has frequently observed in Ecuador. The invigorating element of monkey meat and glands, he asserted, will give indomitable power and unlimited aggressiveness to the baseball and football men.

In proof of his assertions, he points to the case of of a Pittsburgher who was in Ecuador with him two months ago. In this case, Mr. Bowden said, although the patient was quite bald, a diet of monkey meat caused new hair to grow on his head, while all pains and aches left him and neither the heat of the jungle nor the cold of high mountain plateaus affected him in the slightest degree.•

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Speaking of law enforcement in pursuit of criminals, the relative low-speed-chase era of the Wild West experienced one of its most infamous prison breaks during its dying days when the outlaw Harry Tracy escaped the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1902, not the first time he’d slipped through bars. The desperado, who had run with Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang, spent nearly two twisty months dodging officers who hunted him while he engaged in a spree of shootouts, kidnappings and ambushes. Ultimately shot in the leg and cornered, he committed suicide to avoid justice at the hands of others. It was his final escape.

While he was in mid-flight, Tracy’s legend was burnished by a very long Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about his life on the lam. The opening follows.

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dogstrollerFrom the August 17, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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With his dog Rollo, 1885.

London at 21 in the Klondike in 1897.

In the Klondike, 1897.

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At Beauty Ranch in California, 1916.

  • Jack London had a man’s face when a boy and a boy’s spirit as a man, which probably wasn’t so unusual for a son of California born in 1876. The offspring of a spiritualist and an astrologer, he was a hard-drinking, intrepid adventurer who wrote about masculinity in crude prose and was a template of sorts for Ernest Hemingway, and like most progenitors, he was easily the more authentic item.
  • London was not only a writer but also an oyster pirate, salmon fisherman, fish patrolman, seal hunter, sailor, longshoreman, gold miner, explorer, tramp, war correspondent, and, finally, an experimental farmer and rancher
  • I’ve always held a grudge against him for his racism in general, and for the viciousness he particularly aimed at the amazing black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.
  • Have meant many times to read Iron Heel, his 1908 dystopian novel about the rise of fascism and class warfare in America, and these days I feel especially remiss in not having done so.
  • The following article from the November 23, 1916 Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced the writer’s death at 40 from renal failure and more maladies, some self-inflicted and others that invited themselves

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charliechaplincocaineFrom the June 25, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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