Category Archives: 19th Century Factoids

What was life like in the 1800s? Well, pretty shitty for about 99.99% of Americans. But we still managed to find ways to make it interesting at the very least.

8 Craziest Detective Novels (Featuring Celebrity Sleuths)

“So anyway, after my divorce, everyone said I should have a hobby. Until I told them that I was planning to write a mystery novel where Alf solves crimes.”

~Some of These Writers, Basically

detectives

Mystery novels serve many important functions in American society. They’re read on our sandy beaches, they’re packed and probably not read on our family vacations, and they’re an easy way for lazy screenwriters to fast track a screenplay in Hollywood. We, as a nation, love a good mystery, be it the deductive sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes, or trying to figure out why there are used condoms in the bathroom garbage can when you and your wife have been trying for kids the last three months. If that sentence took a shocking turn, that wasn’t this feature’s writer oversharing about his debilitating divorce, it was a twist that you didn’t see coming!

Americans love mystery novels because they’re light, easy to read, enjoyable, and there’s something genuinely exciting about finding yourself shocked by an outcome you never saw coming. Which is why it is such a popular genre for not only American readers, but for American writers. We don’t have the numbers to back this up, because it’s not like we make enough money on this site to hire an actual research team, but every year roughly 900,000 mystery novels are written by recently retired business men and women who have not yet decided to take up fishing.

And sure, every once and a while we’ll get a Gone Girl out of this slurry of mid-life crises, but more often than not we’ll get someone that just goes, “Okay so it’s a mystery, but like, what if the detective was David Duchovny?”

Which, duh, if Duchovny was the detective it would have to feature aliens. Actually, there’s some nuggets there, we could make that work. So while we work on our masterpiece Murder on the X-Files Set, here’s a list of eight detective novels that have actually been published where the detectives are fictionalized versions of real-life people.

8 Craziest Detective Novels (Featuring Celebrity Sleuths)

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Ipswich Witchcraft Trial, a.k.a. Holy Shit, We Had a Witchcraft Trial 141 Years Ago?

“Listen, we know we’re still backwards as shit right now, but we’re not ‘Witch Trials Are a Normal Thing’ Backwards, Yeesh.”

~The Year 1878

witch trial

The Salem witch trials hold a place of particular infamy in American history, a stark reminder of both the complications of our Puritan foundation as well as the sins of our hysterical forbearers. From 1692 to 1693, over 200 people were accused of witchcraft crimes, leading to the death of 25 innocent people whose only crime was “did something to piss off an asshole at some point.” But we still try to separate ourselves from these events. It was before America was America, we rationalize. It was over three hundred years ago, we say. But while the trials of Salem remain in the forefront of the American zeitgeist, we forget that there were dozens of other similar, though less widespread, witchcraft trials throughout the years. And they went on much longer than you’d think.

How late? Try the late 1800s.

Here’s the story of America’s (hopefully, but who knows the way things are going nowadays) last witchcraft trial.

Continue reading

Chang and Eng Bunker Were America’s Original Siamese Twins

“But how did they…you know…”

Trust Us, We’ve Been Wondering the Same Thing, All We’ve Got Are Theories at This Point

chang and eng

We as a species have been making humans for long enough that we’ve mostly got the kinks worked out. Two people get sweaty together, nine months later a new person comes out, and typically that person has a set number of fingers, toes and, like, bones.  Listen we’re not biologists or whatever, but you get the point.  However, sometimes that whole process doesn’t exactly work out as intended, which is what happened to Chang and Eng Bunker, two Thai-Americans born in the early 19th century.  Specifically, their number of fingers, toes and, like, bones…well, sort of doubled. Yes, as you’ve probably figured out from the picture just above this inelegant paragraph, Chang and Eng Bunker were conjoined twins.  Actually, they’re kind of the reason why conjoined twins are called Siamese twins, and will be about 75% of the time no matter how angry you get about it online. Despite being born in a time and place with the odds stacked against them in the most impressive way possible, they actually ended up living a full and American life.  They pretty much represented the American Dream (okay but with more slave owning, *cringe*).

Here’s their story.

Chang and Eng Bunker Were America’s Original Siamese Twins

Continue reading

Victoria Woodhull, the First-Ever Woman Presidential Nominee, Was Kind of Badass

“Sure, this thing says I can’t vote, but where does it say I can’t just be president, then, huh?”

~Victoria Woodhull

victora woodhall

There are two kinds of historical figures in America; the ones we learn about at an early age in school, and the equally badass ones who just sort of linger in obscurity for a while until someone decides to write a movie about them.  The latest figure in that latter category, based on the fact that Brie Larson is signed on to play her in a currently under-development movie from Amazon Studios, is Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States of America.  Oh, no, she didn’t come close to winning, obviously, but she still stands as an impressive, and pretty quirky, American hero that might as well be saluted in these hallowed, beer-splattered halls.  So here we go.

Victoria Woodhull, the First-Ever Woman Presidential Nominee, Was Kind of Badass

Continue reading

The Crash at Crush: That One Time We Established a City So We Could Smash Two Trains Together

“Smashy Smashy”

~William George Crush

crush

The only person who loves staging a pointless, violent spectacle out of sheer boredom more than an American is an American in the 19th century.  We’re talking about a population that actually gathered around to look at re-assembled trees for entertainment.  They probably needed the Internet more than any other population in American history.  You know how bad it was back then?  Someone said, “Let’s set up a fake city just so we can crash to trains into each other really fast and invite everyone to watch it” and 40,000 people said, “That is badass!”

Actually, come to think of it, that is pretty badass.  Well, until everything exploded.  We’ll get to that in a bit.

The Crash At Crush: That One Time We Established a City So We Could Smash Two Trains Together

Continue reading

6 of the Goofiest American Names From the 19th Century

“It’s like an entire century decided to find a name funnier than Seymour Butts.”

~American Historians Looking at Goofy American Names

pete la cock

In the past, when we spent time looking into baseball players of the 19th century to find some really goofy name, it was primarily to talk about how silly, yet delightful, the Wild Wild West days of early Major League Baseball truly was.  But the more we thought about it, the more we wondered—what if it wasn’t just baseball players that had strange, laughable names back then?  What if the era was responsible for ridiculous names more than just the sport of baseball?  It seemed plausible, and so we did a little digging (read as—we found a list on tumblr and did some googling to make sure the names weren’t just made up).  And because very little gives us more joy in life than making fun of people whose parents really should not have tried to get “creative” coming up with a word to describe a human for their whole fucking life, we’re going to make fun of some names that are goofier than your name.

Except for you, Brandalynn.  Your name is white trash garbage.

6 of the Goofiest American Names From the 19th Century

fucking brandalynn

Oh for fuck’s sake, it’s a gender neutral name too?

Continue reading

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

The Eggnog Riot Happened, And Was Absurd

“Ain’t no party like a West Point party ‘cause a West Point party’s got drunks.”

~Jefferson Davis

eggnog riot

As long as there has been Christmas, there have been Christmas parties.  And as long as there have been Christmas parties, there have been Christmas parties where you wake up the next morning thinking ugh, what have I done?  But we can say with relative certainty that even your worst drunken office shenanigans paled in comparison to what happened at the United States military Academy in West Point on 1826 because, as much as you shouldn’t have made out with your office’s married secretary, at least you never had a Christmas party go so bad it caused a fucking mutinous riot.  Let’s talk history, people.

The Eggnog Riot Happened, And Was Absurd

 eggnog Continue reading

The Medal of Honor from 1871-1917: The Military Honor America Couldn’t Seem To Give Away Fast Enough

“No, seriously, you have to stop printing these like Thin Mints.  What’s it gonna take, an actual major war to make you chill?”

~Smedley Butler, trying to turn down a Medal of Honor in the early 20th century

medal of honor

We’re going to start this one off with a disclaimer—any claims we make regarding the Medal of Honor is a reflection of how politicians and military leaders handed out the honor before we really had any intense modern wars under our belt.  Our servicemen that fought in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or the many other excursions where they have put their lives on the line for their brothers and for their country have paid dearly for our benefit, and every single recipient of the Medal of Honor can, at worst, be called a hero (at best they can be called “basically Batman, if Batman could get free beer and deserved gratitude sex whenever they want”).

Even when we make fun of the skirmishes that resulted in Medals of honor being handed out during the time period of 1869 (when we had kind of forgotten what the Civil War was like) to 1917 (when we started World War I and realized, holy shit, this shit is super intense), we’re acknowledging that the soldiers who were awarded did show valor and a love of this country.  They just happened to get an award that was handed out to pretty much anyone who asked for it up until recently.  Let’s put it this way—Congress gave out 1522 Medal of Honors in the Civil War, of which 32 were posthumous.  Now, the American Civil War was a bloody and bitterly fought war, but when you consider the fact that we awarded only 464 during the entirety of World War II (266 posthumously by the way), or that we’ve only given out 16 (7 of which were to fallen soldiers) of these awards in the Afghanistan and Iraqi War combined, you can see how we’ve increasingly made the honor harder and harder to get.  The Congressional Medal of Honor, as we know it know, is the most prestigious and rare award for those who have gone above and beyond their duty to keep freedom within these borders—for those of you with a loose idea of what military action generally means, this is the award a soldier gets when doing something so brave and so intense that, if you saw it in a movie, you’d respond, “Oh, come on, the director’s really taking some liberties with this battle to make it seem more exciting.”

So currently, yes, the Medal of Honor is given out only in the most extraordinary and harrowing cases , but during the time period between the end of the Civil War and start of World War I?  Well, at that point it was more…

The Medal of Honor from 1871-1917: The Military Honor America Couldn’t Seem To Give Away Fast Enough

 more medals of honor

Continue reading

Elm Farm Ollie: America’s Flying Milking Cow

“What’s the use of flying if you can’t even milk a cow on a plane?”

What?  Bob, are you having a stroke?

“Blast the monkey jam, Betty!”

~Transcript from 1930 International Air Exposition planning meeting

ollie the flying cow

You are blessed to live in a time where it’s actively difficult to be truly bored.  No, we know that any combination of events, from work meetings to being stuck in traffic can leave you “bored” but none of you have experience real boredom, in the same way that you’ve been hungry before but not actively starving.  We have the internet to distract us, we carry tiny computers in our pockets that can call people and play stupid but additive games, and apparently radio and television are things that people still kind of use when they don’t want to pay for premium Spotify accounts or Netflix.

We point this out because in the early 1900’s, that was not the case at all.  The human mind needs to be distracted, and when all you have is books and a lot of public shaming regarding masturbation, you’re going to seek out some pretty desperate ways to entertain yourself.  That’s as close to a segue as we’re going to get so we’ll just go ahead and tell you what this article is going to be about.

This is about the first time a cow was ever milked mid-air.

[awkward pause]

[howling wind]

America was a lot easier entertained in 1930, okay guys?  Let’s dive into this.

Elm Farm Ollie:  America’s Flying Milking Cow

 elm farm ollie

Continue reading