Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

1884: Reposts and Aliases

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

One thing the internet both rewards and hates at the same time is when someone reposts something, without crediting the source, as their own fresh content, under an alias.  Reddit has an entire culture revolving around it.  Copyright defenders try to point out that just because something’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free, but it falls on deaf ears at every corner.  People use aliases to cover up their duplication, with little regard to taking much claim of their stolen content, other than to reap the attention, upvotes, and thumbs-ups in the fallout.

Sadly, this isn’t something new: it has been going on for more than a hundred years.   From The Bad Lands Cow Boy, April 16th 1885:

Reposters are warned to stop reposting under aliases

Some tenderfoot has sent us an article on roller skating, copied almost entire from an article which has been floating around the newspaper world until it has become stale, and signed it “Cow-puncher.”  We don’t really think the writer knows the difference between a hackamore and a round-up and that he does know a great deal more about rubbing stage stock.  We like to hear from you, boys, but write original articles and send your names so that the editor may know whom to get action on, provided he happens to get stepped on for publishing some other man’s ideas.

I couldn’t figure out what “rubbing stage stock” meant, but it must be an uncowboylike task the way it was accused upon the alias-hidden copyright-infringer.

Glassless Goggles, 1907

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Scientific, automotive, and news publications announced this marvel of modern design  in 1907:  Can you guess what they are?

Yes, they’re goggles, but what doesn’t come across in these images is that the “lenses” are actually steel plates.

“Looked at from the distance of two or three feet away these plates appear to be solid  and that by no means could the eyes see through them.  But a closer inspection discloses (A, B, and C) in the smooth surface of the steel.  They are in the form of a cross, with an additional shorter line above.  These lines are cut through the steel plate, and when the goggles are properly adjusted to the eyes of the person wearing them can see in all directions through these narrow slits as well as if they were an ample surface of glass.”

It might  seem counterinuitive — who can see through a tiny slit? — but what they’ve essentially created is a stenopaeic slit, a device used by opticians to detect astigmatism by filtering incoming light through what’s essentially an elongated pinhole camera.   Based on the direction of the line, and whether the eyesight through the slit in one direction versus the other, can tell how malformed the lens is.

Technically, someone with good eyesight should be able to see through the slits fine — and the French optician who designed these lenses made a horizontal and a vertical one, to allow some eye movement.  I don’t entirely get what the “A” line is for; my guess is for a modicum of peripheral vision.   One thing these googles do not take into account is the movement of the eye when looking around; there may be some limited vision when just moving the eye from right to left, or up and down, but when doing so the pupil and iris are moving in orbit around the center of they eye, which doesn’t translate well compared to a flat surface. Wearing these googles means looking straight ahead for the best benefit, which I suppose is generally how driving is done.  They may work OK, but I’d be hesitant to operate a moving vehicle with these in front of my face.

The technique found a resurgence during wartime as a means of protecting the eyes from shrapnel, since glass lenses pose a problem when struck by a small piece of metal at high speeds.  Owing back to the science behind the stenopaeic slit’s optical origins, the style was refined over the years and is now the snake-oil vision-enhancing product called “pinhole glasses“.  Pinhole glasses are believed to cure poor eyesight, for which there is little-to-no evidence.  The original steel googles purported to cure “swelling and conjuctivitis”…which I can only assume is due to keeping stuff out of the eyeball, versus any special scientific principle.

The “snake oil” link above also warns that driving while wearing the pinhole glasses is a really, really bad idea.  But, if you had tried these glassless goggles out, a hundred years ago, you’d already know that.

21st Century Aeroplanists, 1906.

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The promise of flying cars and jetpacks in the 21st century has been around a long, long time: here is a comic from the french journal Le Pele-Mele:


Aeroplanist to friend: “Just look down and you’ll see how backward they are in this part of the world.  Why, the peasants still go about in automobiles at a miserable fifty miles an hour.”

This was found in the 2 August 1906 edition of the Williston Graphic; note that the Wright Brothers made their first flight in December 1903 — a mere three years later, speculation had already grown to the point where, a hundred years hence, there would be no question that only backwards, primitive societies would resort to driving…ick…automobiles.   They were just as wrong about the lasting power of the stovepipe tophat as they were about personal  flight systems.

Where’s Ward? 1881.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Click on this map to see a bigger version.   In 1881, eight years before statehood, this is how the county lines were drawn in north-central North Dakota:

Your first question if you’re familiar with this area is probably  ”Where’s Ward?”    Ward, home to the city of Minot, is one of the most populous counties in the state but just a few years before statehood Minot didn’t show up on maps and the county didn’t exist.

Ward County was created in 1885 and named after the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Counties (how convenient).   Portions of Stevens, Renville and “Mountraille” were merged to create what is today known as “Imperial Ward” County. Imperial Ward was the largest county in the state until 1910 when it was broken up, reforming Mountrail and Renville and adding Burke County to the north, and leaving a much-smaller Ward County to the south.  From the 7/15/1881 Bismarck Tribune.

Fargo Tornado, 1957.

Friday, June 20th, 2014

If you’re even somewhat familiar with the Fargo tornado of 1957, you recognize this photo – it’s been in newspapers, it’s part of the Fujita report on the tornado, and it even appears on the NOAA website:

30-year-old Chet Gebert was one of the Fargo Forum’s staff photographers.  Just after 7:30pm on June 20th, 1957, heavy storms rolled into the Valley, and while out on his beat Chet pulled in just north of the Star-Lite Drive-In and pointed his camera to the southwest.    There wasn’t any Fargodome at that time, no RedHawks stadium, it was fields and empty land as far as you could see…until Golden Ridge, that is.

Golden Ridge had a bad reputation: even when my daughter was in gradeschool, so we’re talking 21st century here, Golden Ridge was seen as a crime-ridden, low-rent, wrong-side-of-the-tracks part of town.  It was sandwiched between the Great Northern railroad yards and the old industrial part of downtown Fargo, so back in the early life of Golden Ridge the reputation might have been true, but by the time I was a kid it was a regular North Fargo neighborhood.  If you drive west on 7th Avenue north, you reach the intersection of 7th avenue and 25th street — the corner with the abandoned gas station marks the southeast corner of Golden Ridge.  I guess the abandoned gas station doesn’t really improve the area’s image much.  But, you can easily drive a large square around Golden Ridge: the division between industrial buildings and residential homes is a stark line delineating Golden Ridge.

The 1957 tornado was nearly the end of Golden Ridge:

From the Sunday 6/22/57 Fargo Forum

The ‘point’ at the bottom is where the vacant gas station sits today.  The Fargo  tornado — the third of four spawned by this storm — first touched down further west, about the spot in Gebert’s photos, around where the Fargo Landfill is today. Golden Ridge was its first contact with civilization and it strolled right down 8th Avenue North.   Most deaths were along here: first it hit the Tigen house at 718 29th street, just south of the Golden Ridge School, killing Don Tigen and injuring his wife.  The tornado killed the  entire Udahl family at 802 27th St., and a block east it killed six children at the Munson home, 818 25th Street (marked on the photo above).

Chet Gebert took several photos of the tornado – here’s about as high a resolution as you’ll ever see of them:

The second photo above is the iconic image that gets used whenever the Fargo tornado is discussed;  all three appear in the 6/22/57 Fargo Forum that I’ve got a copy of.  The printed-reproduced-dithered-halftoned-and-photocopied-again image doesn’t do justice to the photos themselves.   The clouds aren’t a single mass of black: the thunderhead is a writhing mass of wind and rain.

Incidentally, the photo at the top is called “23 E GEBERT” because, in the Weather Bureau report on the tornado, it happens to be the 5th photo from Chet Gebert, and taken at location #23 on the list.  The report says over 200 photos were taken of the tornado, and amusingly notes that they got a number of pre-tornado photos of the stormcloud because people, upon hearing the tornado warning, went outside and began taking pictures of the quickly-rotating wall cloud, thinking it was the tornado itself.

With my three copies of the tornado photos, I devoted a lazy Sunday morning to piecing them together into a cinemagraph that, while not a true film of the tornado, gives a sense of scale -

There IS actual film of the Fargo tornado, as seen in this newsreel:

The Weather Service report credits both movie segments to a 16mm film made by a “Jennings” — that would be WDAY’s Harry Jennings from the “top of the WDAY Building” at 205 N 5th street, now the offices of Prairie Public.

All of these pictures and films, particularly the unintentional pre-tornado photos,  are the reason the Fargo tornado has had a lasting impact on storm analysis.  Tetsuya “Ted ” Fujita wrote “Research Paper No. 42″ for the Weather Service, a photo-filled analysis on the Fargo tornado that helped spawn the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale and codified many of the terms used in describing tornadoes today.

Click for zoomable Google Map of the tornado path

The 1957 Fargo tornado was at its most powerful when it struck Golden Ridge, but it still continued on through North Fargo.  It hopped the Great Northern tracks just southwest of the soccer fields and NDSU’s “T Lot”.   NDSU was saved due to a slow right turn, which mangled several blocks of residential housing and hit the old Shanley High School building.  Then, it marched through the residential area along 13th Avenue North, south of El Zagal, before crossing the Red River and into the, at that time, mostly uninhabited areas around the Moorhead Country Club.  It had also lost much of its power by the time it reached the Red, and petered out after crossing Highway 75 twice, before fading near Probstfield Farm.

The Fargo Forum won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for their quick and thorough coverage of the carnage that followed, and photographer Chet Gebert won several awards for his photos of the tornado and the aftermath.  Gebert passed away in December, 2013.

Rushmore In Progress, 1930s.

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

We’ve got a lot of old photos – almost more than we know what to do with.   This one is so over-saturated, so light, that I had to really darken it in Photoshop just to see anything, and I didn’t realize what it was at first:

You might be thinking, “Wow — it kinda looks like there’s a face in those rocks!  Weird, huh?”

Well, that’s because Gutzon Borglum put a face there: that is several years away from becoming the Mount Rushmore we know and love today — President Washington is only partially done:

Carving started in 1927, and the finished Washington face was unveiled to the public on July 4th, 1934, so that puts this photo somewhere in between, probably 1932 or 1933.  Based on this 1932 photo, progress seemed at about the same point, so 1932 is probably right.  They didn’t carve all the faces at once — Washington was completed in 1934, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and then Roosevelt in 1939.   About 4 years after the photo above, here’s how much progress they made:

Jefferson’s nearly done and they got Lincoln’s nose, which puts this postcard at about 1936 or 1937.

Vienna General Hospital, 1900s

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Alongside the glass plate of Sanssouci Palace is this ambulatory image:

The plate is marked “Hospital Yard, Vienna”.   I’m sure there have been many different hospitals in Vienna over the years, but the architecture clearly identifies this building: the Vienna General Hospital, otherwise known as “Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien”.  The image above would appear to be taken along that central promenade, facing towards the west; the central building on the right is clearly visible in the background of my magic lantern slide:

The Vienna General Hospital was built in 1694 as a home for the poor and invalid by Emperor Leopold I, and by 1696 it held over a thousand indigent patients.   Emperor Joseph II saw the poorhouse as capable of so much more than just housing the sick and poor, and turned the campus into a General Hospital, inspired by Hotel Dieu in Paris.   The grounds continued to be expanded unto the 19th century, but as the medical care of the 20th century improved, the old Hospital became less functional.

I tried to find a modern photo with the same perspective, but came up empty — not due to a lack of pictures of the grounds, but just the lack of coincidence in pointing a camera that direction.  You can look around the grounds in this photoset.

It’s not difficult to visit the area because in the late 20th century the Vienna General Hospital became the campus of the University of Vienna.  Although the buildings still stand today, there’s a lot more inside the walls of the old General Hospital than when the picture was taken.  About all that remains of its medical heritage is the “Fool’s Tower”, once home to the mentally ill, and now home of the Vienna Pathological-Anatomical Museum.

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.