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I’m sure the advent of commercial aviation was met with prejudices about the new-fangled machines, but it took quite a while to perfect automated co-pilots and the navigation of wind shears, so horrifying death was probably also a deterrent. In the article below from the September 22, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle (which is sadly chopped off a bit in the beginning), the unnamed author looks at a selected history of technophobia. 


From the June 20, 1942 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Nottingham, England — A strange man called on Mrs. Mabel Foulkes yesterday, said he had come at the request of a friend of hers to examine her teeth, then pushed her into a chair, extracted one of her teeth and ran out of the house, exclaiming, “What beauty!”

Police said the man produced a forceps from his pocket and shoved it into her mouth before she could protest. Mrs. Foulkes fainted.•


From the January 12, 1858 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

A most atrocious murder was committed at Poolville, four miles from Hamilton, N.Y., last Sunday. Jared Comstock and his wife, aged over seventy years, were the victims. Their son was the murderer; he has been for some time insane. At about eight o’clock on Sunday evening he killed his father by knocking him down with an axe; and his mother was killed with a skillet. He then cut their hearts out, and cut one of the bodies in pieces, and roasted the other on the stove, eating a portion of it. He intended to have killed his sister, but fortunately she escaped. The murderer is in custody and has confessed to the act.•

From the October 11, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Los Angeles — The veil of mystery cloaking the disappearance of seven members of the “Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven” was partially lifted today by the announcement of authorities that two of the seven had died and had been buried in Southern California towns. One died after being baked in a brick oven.

Investigators said they had located in Ventura, Cal., the grave of Mrs. Harlene Satoris, 30, of Portland, Ore., and obtained information that the body of Mr. Frances May Turner had been buried in San Gabriel, a Los Angeles suburb, although the death certificate had been filed in Ventura.

Mrs. Jennie Blackburn, mother of the high priestess of the cult, admitted to police yesterday that Mrs. Turner had been subjected to baking in an effort to cure her of paralysis.•

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According to Felix McDonald, a Brit expat who was raised in a circus and worked as a lion tamer for three decades, the most expensive animals desired by exhibitors and collectors in fin de siècle New York were the giraffe and the gorilla. He would have been privy to such information as he managed a wild-animal farm in New Jersey which stocked circuses and private zoos and such. Of course, as he pointed out in an article in the February 11, 1900 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, domesticated animals capable of producing revenue regularly sold for more than the rarest of species.


From the February 7, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Berlin — Thousands of rats and mice, living unmolested in palatial splendor for a score of years, have ruined the interior of a 155-year-old castle of Schwerinsburg, near Ducherrow, Mecklenburg. The rodents had gnawed into woodwork, costly antique furniture, paintings and tapestries and played havoc even with the beautiful glass chandeliers. The purchaser, unable to spend $250,000 for repairs, again locked the doors and left the rats in undisputed possession.

Ruth Snyder was a persistent if imprecise killer.

A Queens housewife who fell hard for married corset salesman Henry Judd Gray, Snyder failed the first seven times she attempted to murder her husband, Albert, finally garrotting her betrothed in 1927 with the aid of her lover, who, of course, had experience tightening fabric around flesh. The slaying was messy and the story she concocted for police about a home invasion even more so, so instead of collecting insurance money, Snyder was soon collecting dust in a prison cell. But not for long: A year later, she and her paramour were no more, silenced at Sing Sing by the hum of an electric chair.

Snyder was the first woman to die in the chair, and despite her vicious crime, her gender made her punishment shocking to many, even the executioner, and the picture of her being put to death, taken stealthily with a hidden ankle camera by New York Daily News photographer Tom Howard, is one of the most famous images in the history of journalism.

A postscript: Even after her death, Snyder had no luck with heat.

The following is the March 22, 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle account of her recanting her confession and entering a not-guilty plea.


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From the April 4, 1905 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Mattituck, L.I. — L.C. Dayton, of this place, a well-known young farmer, has a freak pig with an elephant head and an elephant’s trunk. The little fellow was born two or three days ago, and lived but about two or three hours. It is now carefully preserved in alcohol, and is creating great interest among farmers, many of them driving several miles to see the curiosity.”



From the August 21, 1881 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

St. Louis Republican –One of the two alligators at Benton Park was sunstruck yesterday–the first case of the kind on record, but as it was officially reported by the park commissioner it will will not be denied. The alligator turned over in his back, and popped out his eyes, and showed other unmistakable symptoms of sunstroke. The park keeper says it was a clear case. He had read of the way sunstruck patients are treated at the city dispensary, but he had neither ice nor ice water with him, and as it was a bad case, one that required immediate treatment, he pulled out his brandy bottle and gave Mr. Alligator a big dram. The effect was wonderful. The patient flopped over on his belly again, and swam off seemingly as happy as a big hungry catfish among a lot of little minnows. This is one of the pet alligators recently donated to the city by Democratic Gus, the saloon keeper on Seventh and Chouteau avenues, and it is said he was raised on the bottle.”


“For £25 down and the balance on delivery he can have a full-fledged rhinoceros capable of demolishing a fairly sized jerry-built villa.”

Private zoos of more than a century ago existed in both the U.S. and in Europe, though the ones on the other side of the Atlantic seem to have been wilder. A report about these unregulated menageries from the London Daily Mail, which was republished in the November 17, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

From the September 23, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

ViennaDr. Serge Voronoff of monkey gland and rejuvenation fame, announced today he was confident he could create a superman if he were permitted to transplant chimpanzee glands to a 10-year-old boy.

‘If any mother would entrust her child to me, she might be the means of establishing a new type of human far superior to the normal man.'”


From the July 6, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Spring Valley, N.Y. — Police Chief Abe Stern led a search in woods near here today for a reputed nudist colony where, he said, might be found the answer to the death of a man Sunday two miles from town.

The body, head bashed, was unclothed except for socks and shoes.” 


From the March 30, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Sayville, L.I. — Florence Gamage, 14-months-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Gamage of this place, was allowed the range of the back door yard yesterday. The child was alone for a short time, and amused herself by thrusting bits of grass through the wire meshes of the rabbit hutch. The animals were eager to grasp the first evidences of spring, but the baby got her fingers wedged in the wire meshes and could not pull them out.

When the animals had devoured the herbage they began to gnaw at the ends of the baby’s imprisoned fingers.

The screams of the child brought the mother quickly to the rescue, who upon liberating her child’s hand found the end of one finger eaten through to the bone.”

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When they weren’t busy trying to establish a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Machines, F.T.Marinetti and his fellow perplexing Futurists of the early 20th century were thumbing their noses at whatever seemed conventional, even sleep and music. Two brief tales of their offbeat activities from articles which appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

From January 7, 1925:

rom October 26, 1913:


From the December 6, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“A Colorado lawyer deliberately blew himself up with dynamite while smoking a cigar.”

From the April 29, 1888 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“The newest attraction for a dime museum is a man from Terre Haute who can drink thirty gallons of water a day.”

There had been other robots before the late 1930s, tin men who’d greeted conventioners and accomplished all manner of parlor trick, but Westinghouse’s Elektro took the mild amusements of early robotics national at the 1939 World’s Fair in NYC and in subsequent tours of the country. In addition to “playing” musical instruments and blowing up balloons, Elektro could smoke cigarettes, which the kids loved, because emphysema. Never reduced to the recycling bin, Elektro continues his travels to this day. The hacking, teeth-stained machine is one of the several displays of nascent artificial humans mentioned in a World’s Fair preview in the April 9, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

From the December 31, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Paris — A new toque is made of owl feathers with the owl’s head in front. It strikingly resembles the bird.”

Charles “Chuck” Connors was full of life, and other stuff.

The so-called “Mayor of Chinatown” was an Irishman called “Insect” by his neighbors until his penchant for cooking chuck steaks over open fires in the streets earned him a new nickname. An inveterate self-promoter, he was a tour guide, vaudevillian, boxer, bouncer and raconteur. Some of his stories were even true.

One that wasn’t: For a fee, he showed tourists “authentic” Chinatown opium dens, which were often merely apartments he rented and filled with “extras” paid to pretend to be dragon chasers. The crafty man realized that urban narratives, told just so, could be commodified.

Although he initially wasn’t so appreciated by his Chinese neighbors, Connors eventually earned their esteem and his blarney was sadly missed when it was permanently silenced. An article in the May 10, 1913 Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced his death.


From the June 19, 1952 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Pittsburgh — Millard F. Wright, 42, was back in jail today, convinced that a delicate brain operation has not cured his ‘urge to steal.’

The former Leechburg, Pa., resident, who risked his life in 1949 so the operation could be performed, was arrested last night and held in connection with a string of jewelry store burglaries.”


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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