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William “Bill” Cates.

A Google Doodle just marked the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express, a hoof-bound American mail-delivery service that brought messages and news from Missouri westward in 1860-61, the days just before the transcontinental telegraph. The system especially helped link the rest of America to California, a state which had grown in importance in the previous decade, owing to the population explosion brought about by the gold rush.

It was not an easy gig, as riders faced Indian attacks, harsh elements and the slings and arrows of nature, and there was none of this be all you can be crap. One ad read: Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. One who took up the challenge was William “Bill” Cates, a self-described “young fellow, craving excitement.” He was one of the last surviving members when he was profiled in the July 29, 1908 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the June 23, 1902 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

"This is a present from a white man who desires to see her eaten."

“This is a present from a white man who desires to see her eaten.”

In 1890, James S. Jameson, heir to the famed whiskey-distilling family’s wealth, was accused of a crime that was singular and sinister even by the standards of colonialism. Syrian translator Assad Farran testified that the peripatetic explorer paid African natives a number of handkerchiefs to kill and cannibalize a small girl. Jameson, it was alleged, desired to not only witness the heinous acts but to sketch them. From an article the November 14, 1890 New York Times:

London — The Times publishes the full text of Assad Farran’s affidavit. After describing Barttelot’s cruelties, it deals with the Jameson cannibal affair in Ribakiba.

Jameson expressed to Tippoo’s interpreter curiosity to witness cannibalism. Tippoo consulted with the chiefs and told Jameson he had better purchase a slave. James asked the price and paid six handkerchiefs.

A man returned a few minutes after with a ten-year-old girl. Tippoo and the chiefs ordered the girl to be taken to the native huts. Jameson himself, Selim, Masondie, and Farhani, Jameson’s servant, presented to him by Tippoo, and many others followed.

The man who had brought the girl said to the cannibals: “This is a present from a white man who desires to see her eaten.”

“The girl was tied to a tree,” says Farran, “the natives sharpening their knives the while. One of them stabbed her twice in the belly.

“She did not scream, but knew what would happen, looking to the right and left for help. When stabbed she fell dead. The natives cut pieces from her body.

“Jameson in the meantime made rough sketches of the horrible scenes. Then we all returned to the child’s house. Jameson afterward went to his tent, where he finished his sketches in water colors.

“There were six of them, all neatly done. The first sketch was of the girl as she was led to the tree. The second showed her stabbed, with the blood gushing from the wounds. The third showed her dissected. The fourth, fifth, and sixth showed men carrying off the various parts of the body.

“Jameson showed these and many other sketches to all the chiefs.”•

From the January 9, 1920 New York Times:

LONDON – England’s public executioners, the hangmen, want their pay increased, and their claim has been presented to the House of Commons by a member of that body. Augustine Hailwood inquired whether the Government knew that it was paying the executioners no more than in pre-war days. A Government representative replied that the matter would receive consideration. 

The hangmen recently were deprived of the privilege of taking away the rope with which the criminal was hanged. This reduced one of the sources of their revenue, as the rope could be sold to curiosity collectors.•

I stumbled onto Franz Kafka’s short story “A Hunger Artist” at a young age and thought it the greatest thing ever and still sort of do.

What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that there actually were professional fasters. These were entertainers, not political protesters, who went on long hunger strikes to amaze ticket buyers at dime museums with the art of self-abnegation. The popularity of the “sport” pretty much ended in the early twentieth century, though today’s online “performance eating” is a variation of the old theme.

Giovanni Succi, who was often referred to as “the little Italian” in newsprint, was one of the most celebrated practitioners. InSucci’s Long Fast,” a New York Times article dated November 6, 1890, the 38-year-old entertainer announced his intention to starve himself for a personal record of 45 days at Koster & Bial’s music hall/beer garden in Manhattan. Succi would be on display 24 hours a day as his body wasted; student volunteers from Bellevue Medical College would minister to his needs. Below is a piece from the December 21, 1890 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about the end of the act, when Succi stopped skipping meals.•

From the May 3, 1907 New York Times:

Milan–Arcangelo Rossi, the tenor, who was with the Conried Opera Company in San Francisco at the time of the earthquake and who, as a result of the fright he experienced, has not since been well, endeavored to commit suicide here to-day.

Recently he lose his voice. This calamity weighed so deeply on his mind that he became insane, and, to-day he cut out his tongue with a pair of scissors. He was taken to a hospital in critical condition.•

The main Nazi targets were Jewish people, of course, but the party’s hatred was directed in manifold directions. It’s somewhat surprising, however, that millions of German nudists were among them, considering how the Third Reich relentlessly fetishized the supposedly superior Aryan body. But it was Herr Goering himself who derided the clothesless clubs in a March 10, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article.


From the September 28, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Norbert Casteret, speleologist, took a giant leap for humankind in 1923 with a dive in the Grotte de Montespan in France. This brave departure from dry land led to one of the adventurer’s greatest discoveries (one of anyone’s greatest): a trove of prehistoric drawings and sculptures of animals. In his book, Ten Years Under The Earth, Casteret recalls the moment he shared with friend and fellow explorer Henri Godin:

At that moment I stopped before a clay statue of a bear, which the inadequate light had thus far hidden from me; in a large grotto a candle is but a glow-worm in the inky gloom.

I was moved as I have seldom been moved before or since: here I saw, unchanged by the march of aeons, a piece of sculpture which distinguished scientists of all countries have since recognized as the oldest statue in the world.

My companion crawled over at my call, but his less practised eye saw only a shapeless chunk where I indicated the form of the animal. But one after another, as I discovered them around us, I showed him horses in relief, two big clay lions, many engravings.

That convinced him, and for more than an hour discovery followed discovery. On all sides we found animals, designs, mysterious symbols, all the awe-inspiring and portentous trappings of ages before the dawn of history.•

The following is an October 7, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the Upper Paleolithic trove, which focuses on clay figures that had been mutilated by their creators as part of a hunting ritual.

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From the January 12, 1860 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Although different such tools were worked on for hundreds of years, it was Charles Latham Sholes who was awarded a patent in 1868 for what would become the first commercially successful typewriter. It was the “Sholes and Glidden Type-writer” that gave the machine its popular name, also introducing the QWERTY keyboard, which was aimed at slowing down typists so that the keys on these crude early gadgets would not become entangled. The contraption also helped transition women into the workforce, even if the initial jobs were low-level ones. Below is an article from the September 16, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle marking the moment when Sholes’ creation reached a particularly nice round number.


From the April 21, 1944 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

The Space Race knew numerous casualties, and one of the first was Austrian rocketeer Max Valier, who passed away 39 years before humans reached the moon. His work with rocket motors and his founding, in 1927, of the Society for Space Travel, were instrumental in humankind’s eventual giant leap. (One of the Society’s members was Wernher Von Braun, who later became a Nazi before leading the American postwar space program.) Newspaper writers had wondered for years when his daring experiments would do him in, but Valier actually perished while calmly tinkering in his lab. The story of his demise from the May 18, 1930 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.


From the March 9, 1884 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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From the August 26, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



From the August 14, 1893 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“In these troublous times when money is scarcer than the fabled teeth of hens or than the upper molars of the female of the bovine species, it has been noticed that a man will part with almost anything in his possession for the sake of a little ready money. But the worst case of destitution which has come to notice so far, is that of Hiram C. Truesdale, the popular young attorney, whose future always seemed bright and who appeared to be on the road not only to reputation but great fortune. But he has more and more felt the gnawing tooth of poverty and has tried in devious ways to escape the gnaw. He has offered his old clothes for sale at greatly reduced rates, but he could find no purchaser for various reasons, the chief one being that the trousers were too long to fit the ordinary user of such articles. Article after article was put up, first a toothbrush, then, a No. 1 Kodak, then a hammerless shot gun, then his vote, and in fact everything that he hoped something could be raised on, but to no avail. Finally, a gentleman appeared, who said to him in a moment of particular financial despondency: ‘Harry, you have a remarkable handsome mustache, which I have always admired as a thing of beauty, and if you will cut it off and give it to me I will give you 25 cents for it.’ Harry hesitated for a long time and tried to raise the offer to 30 cents, but they buyer stuck to his price and finally prevailed. The mustache was sacrificed and Mr. Truesdale was relieved from his financial troubles.“•

From the April 12, 1904 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

From the November 17, 1885 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

St. Paul. — Mrs. Eulitz, of Glenrillen, died and was buried on the 3rd. On the 8th she was disinterred and showed signs of life by the flush on her cheeks and the perfect appearance of her body. She is now believed to be in a state of suspended animation.•


So much going on in this 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle feature about the plastic surgery practice of one Dr. W. Augustus Pratt. The early part of the piece mentions the surgeries endured by a 48-year-old woman who wanted to put a permissible face on her May-December relationship with a 16-year-old drug-store clerk. The indelicate article refers to injured WWI veterans as “noseless or chinless monsters.” It goes on to focus on women’s efforts to cosmetically remake themselves for beauty and men for professional reasons. Dr. Pratt, by the way, married one of his patients after “perfecting” her, though, as you can see from the photo at the bottom, he could have used a few nips and/or tucks himself.

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From the June 5, 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Simla, India — Religious pilgrims reported today that the aged Shamanist abbot of a temple near Bareilly has been buried alive at his own request.

The abbot, who was reported to be 157 years old, believed his life’s work was over, and that to live on would be an affront to the deities. Pilgrims reported he lay down in a grave and that faithful followers, after performing ancient ceremonies, covered him with earth.•

A house that’s impervious to storm and earthquake sounds pretty good right about now, and that was what Buckminster Fuller promised in 1929 when he introduced the Dymaxion House, an architectural dream never realized beyond a few prototypes. In a 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from a series on the future of the home, Fuller’s automated abode was given a public hearing. The opening of the piece below.


“We are living in a spheroidal universe”:

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From the June 13, 1867 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

A school teacher in a Texas town was grossly insulted by a man, who told her at the same time that if she had any friends to avenge the insult that she could send them to him. The lady replied that she was able to protect herself, and, drawing a pistol, shot the man, killing him on the spot.•

The Mormon polygamists of Short Creek, Arizona, near the border of Utah, had long vexed local authorities with their alternative lifestyle, but things came to a head in 1953 when the largest mass arrest of such people–perhaps any people–in American history to that point occurred. The state believed they were bringing to a close a chapter it found disquieting, but it was only a temporary interruption. The town renamed itself Colorado City and Warren Jeffs, the polygamous sect leader, held dominion over much of the land more than 50 years later when convicted of sex charges against children. A report about the raid from the July 27, 1953 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:


From the May 1, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Hamburg — The eighth wonder of the world recently appeared in this city. It is a talking dog, Don by name, who has learned to articulate eight German words very clearly and distinctly. The discovery of the dog’s power to articulate was made quite by accident.•

From the July 20, 1886 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Frederick Gruenwald, a German, called upon Relief Clerk Short, of the Charities Department, yesterday afternoon. He stated that he came with his wife and three children from Cleveland, O., about three weeks ago, and was anxious to go back. He was unable to pay for himself and his family to Cleveland, as he had but $8, and asked Mr. Short to furnish him the balance necessary. Gruenwald stated that some time ago he saw an advertisement in a New York weekly paper regarding the exhibition of living curiosities. As he had a living curiosity in his family he thought this would be an opportunity to make a living for himself and his family. The curiosity was Albertine, who was born with two tongues. Gruenwald at once communicated with the authors of the advertisement and made arrangements with them to exhibit Albertine at various museums at Coney Island for the past two weeks. She was obliged to keep her mouth open for hours at a time. Yesterday morning an officer for the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children appeared at the museum and prevented the exhibition of the child. Clerk Short will refer the case to the Charities Commissioners at their meeting to-morrow morning.•

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