Archive for March, 2014

A Flat World, 1922

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

The caption from the 1922 newspaper reads:

Wilbur Glenn Voliva, leader of the religious sect with headquarters at Zion City, Ill, says the earth is flat and that shortly he will prove it by taking a ship and sailing around the outer crust of the earth.  Voliva proposes to captain a ship called the “Zion” and will start on a point at the sixty-fifth meridian and keep going to the starting point.  He says the earth is flat as a pancake and the point we call the North Pole is the center of the earth and there is no South Pole, and that the sixty-fifth meridian is near the rim of the earth.  The photograph shows Voliva (seated) explaining the map to his personal attendant in his office at Zion City.

Zion City was founded by John Dowie after spending a time faith-healing at the Chicago World’s Fair.   Established as a true theocracy, Zion City was meant to attract the sorts of people that would help move their body of faith into a new utopia.

Guys like Wilbur Voliva, who came to Zion City at its inception and became a powerful leader in town, turning the utopian company-town into an economic powerhouse by adding fig bars to its manufacturing business.

The Flat Earth isn’t a new concept, but even in Columbus’ time few actually thought the Earth was flat – it has largely been the domain of crackpots and religious truthers, people more willing to accept the ideas in their head than the truth that was so obviously around them.  Voliva was just one of many, most notably the Square Earth Theory out of Hot Springs, SD,  with the North Pole in the center and an enormous ice wall around the circumference.

In 1931, Voliva was still pushing his flat-earth concept, even though people in airplanes had circumnavigated it in such a way as to eliminate any doubt.  His attempt to sail around the…platter?…doesn’t seem to still be on his docket, though.  Wilbur lived until 1942, unable to prove that the earth was flat.

The Grip, 1903

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

In Guys and Dolls, the song “Adelaide’s Lament” rattles off any number of diseases that Adelaide might be suffering from — one is le grippe.   By the fifties, the name was pretty much obsolete: today, we call legrippe “the flu”.   Catarrh is another one of those obsolete disease names, too.  It mostly just means excessive mucous — today, that’s allergies or a cold.

Today, we advertise cures for these diseases with blobby green goblins, but back in 1903 the Peruna Medicine Company advertised their cures for lagrippe and catarrh with this strange vaporous banshee, spreading disease across the United States.  Well, the northern United States, completely missing the guy in the sombrero in the southwest, but they’ve known for a long time that Arizona is good for people with breathing problems.

Peruna was invented by Dr. Hartman — who, in the full ad, says he’ll give you personal advice if his tonic doesn’t work — as a cure for catarrh…which he believed to be  the cause of every other disease known to man.  Got mouth cancer?  That’s catarrh of the mouth — Peruna will fix it!  So, he advertised his Peruna as the cure for catarrh, which would then cure everything else, and sold millions of little bottles of his tonic.

Of course, Peruna didn’t cure the flu, or catarrh for that matter, but those self-medicating with Peruna likely didn’t care — analysis of the contents of Peruna at the time of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 found that the bottle contained “…1/2 pint of 90% proof spirits, 1.5 pints of water, a flavor cube and a little burned sugar for color.”    So, just about 50-proof alcohol, some flavoring and coloring, or like drinking cheap spiced rum straight from the two-pint bottle.  Needless to say, Peruna didn’t survive the Pure Food and Drug Act’s effects, aside from resurgence during prohibition for obvious reasons,  and now lives on as the mascot of Southern Methodist University Mustangs.

A Hungarian Countship, 1878

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Oh, Sergeant de Badal, I hope you have a way to pay your friend back for what you borrowed — from the Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, 3/26/1878:

“The reported fortune of 2,000,000 florins that, according to Dame Rumer, has been bequeathed to Sergt. Louis de Badal, U.S.A., caused considerable comment around town yesterday. It was received with doubtful comment by many, while some were firm in their belief in the authenticity of the claims of de Badal to a Hungarian countship and the 2,000,000 florins aforesaid. So far as we can understand, he has as yet received none of his fortune, but a well-to do friend is advancing him sufficient money to pay current expenses until he receives the first installment of the same.–Omaha Republican.”

Now that I know what to look for, these stories jump out at me these days — the clues are an enormous fortune, left by a distant relative to someone with a foreign name living in the United States, in a Dutch currency: that’s the Amsterdam Fortune Scam right there.   This is the earliest one I’ve found thus far, hailing from 1878.   de Badal was still receiving a pension from the military in 1901 and passed away in 1905 or 1906 according to the Washington Post.