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Friday, January 19, 2018

French King Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793. Here's Allan Sherman

If you're of a certain age it's inevitable to think of Allan Sherman when you hear Louis XVI (wiki) mentioned:


From Chambers' 1869 The Book of Days*:

The 21st of January will long be a memorable day in the history of France, as that on which an agonised nation, driven frantic by the threats of external enemies, threw down the bloody head of their king as a gauge of defiance to all gainsayers. Louis Blanc's Histoire de in Revolution Francaise, tom. viii., published in 1856:
At ten minutes past ten, they reached the foot of the scaffold. It had been erected in front of the Palace of the Tuileries, in the square called after Louis the Fifteenth, and near the spot where stood the statue of the most corrupt of kings—a king who died tranquilly in his bed. The condemned was three minutes descending from the carriage. Upon quitting the Temple he had refused the redingote which Clery had offered him, and now appeared in a brown coat, white waistcoat, grey breeches, and white stockings. His hair was not disordered, nor was any change perceptible in his countenance.

The Abbe Firmont was dressed in black. A large open space had been kept round the scaffold,—with cannon ranged on every side,—while beyond, as far as the eye could reach, stood an unarmed multitude gazing. . . . Descending from his carriage, Louis fixed his eyes upon the soldiers who surrounded him, and with a menacing voice cried, "Silence!" The drums ceased to beat, but at a signal from their officer, the drummers again went on. "What treason is this?" he shouted; "I am lost! I am lost!" For it was evident that up to this moment he had been clinging to hope. The executioners now approached to take off a part of his clothes; he repulsed them fiercely, and himself removed the collar from his neck. But all the blood in his frame seemed to be turned into fire when they sought to tie his hands. "Tie my hands! "he shrieked. A struggle was inevitable:—it came.

Louis XVI imprisoned at the Tour du Temple
It is indisputable, says Mercier, that Louis fought with his executioners. The Abbe Edgeworth stood by, perplexed, horrified, speechless. At last, as his master seemed to look inquiringly at him, he said, "Sir, in this additional outrage I only see a last trait of the resemblance between your Majesty and the God who will give you your reward." At these words the indignation of the man gave way to the humility of the Christian, and Louis said to the executioners, "I will drain the cup to the dregs." They tied his hands, they cut off his hair, and then, leaning on the arm of his confessor, he began, with a slow tread and sunken demeanour, to mount the steps, then very steep, of the guillotine. Upon the last step, however, he seemed suddenly to rouse, and walked rapidly across to the other side of the scaffold; when, by a sign commanding silence, he exclaimed, "I die innocent of the crimes imputed to me." His face was now very red, and, according to the narrative of his confessor, his voice was so loud that it could be heard as far as the Pont-Tournant.

Some other expressions were distinctly heard, "I pardon the authors of my death, and I pray Heaven that the blood you are about to shed may never be visited upon France." He was about to continue, when his voice was drowned by the renewed rolling of the drums, at a signal which, it is affirmed, was given by the comedian Dugayon, in anticipation of the orders of Santerre. "Silence! be silent!" cried Louis the Sixteenth, losing all self-control, and stamping violently with his foot. Richard, one of the executioners, then seized a pistol, and took aim at the king. It was necessary to drag him along by force. With difficulty fastened to the fatal plank, he continued to utter terrible cries, only interrupted by the fall of the knife.'
There's an excellent hyperlinked and searchable version of Chamber's Book of Days here.

Update - I received this received this from Terry Teachout (@terryteachout): 
Weirdly enough, I was thinking of the original song on which this parody is based just yesterday: http://tinyurl.com/opguznu

There's a super-hip record of the song by Peggy Lee and the George Shearing Quintet--it's my favorite.
Which I found and embedded below - start at 2:10 if it doesn't do it automatically. Interestingly, it's followed by Always True To You (In My Fashion) - one of my favorite show tunes.


I never realized that there was a song Sherman was parodying (other than La Marseillaise), although I should have - everything he did was a parody, right?

Friday links

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer's birthday, here's a list of her birthday catastrophes.

If Cooties Were Real, What Disease Would They Be?

Weird Beauty Hacks of Yesteryear.

On January 21 - It's Stonewall Jackson's birthday - here's the story of his left arm's separate grave. Also, French King Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793 - here's Allan Sherman.

Adults Trying To Recreate Childhood Photos.


ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include how to build an igloo, what Alexa and OK Google are doing with your family's personal information, Ben Franklin's birthday, and a set of 1906 photos illustrating women's self-defense moves.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wave tank demonstration showing the impact of coastal defenses on flood risk

This is surprisingly fascinating. Living near sea-level or on flood plains have forever been risky propositions, calculated (or uncalculated) risks. All the same, people do it. 


Firing a .50 Cal Sniper Rifle in Slow Motion – The Slow Mo Guys

From The Slow Mo Guys. Watch full screen, and if you’re in a hurry, just go to 3:54 and watch the floating fireball for about 10 seconds. Nothing happens after 8:45.


h/t IMAO

Previously:


Super Slow-Motion Video of Snowballs Smashing Into Faces

Slow Motion Video of 150 Mousetraps Being Triggered In a Chain Reaction

Supercut of people running in slow motion in movies.

Slow motion video of stuff bouncing off gelatin

The classic exploding whale (1970)


Zoomable version here.
The term exploding whale primarily refers to an event at Florence, Oregon in November 1970, when a dead sperm whale (reported to be a gray whale) was blown up by the Oregon Highway Division in an attempt to dispose of its rotting carcass. The explosion threw whale flesh over 800 feet (240 m) away.

On November 9, 1970, a 45-foot long, 8 ton  whale beached itself at Florence on the central Oregon Coast. At the time, Oregon beaches were under the jurisdiction of the state's Highway Division which, after consulting with the United States Navy, decided to remove the whale in the same way as they would a boulder – using dynamite – assuming that the resulting pieces would be small enough for scavengers to clear up.

George Thornton, the engineer in charge of the operation, told an interviewer that he wasn't sure how much dynamite would be needed, explaining that he was chosen to remove the whale because his supervisor had gone hunting. A charge of half a ton of dynamite was selected. A military veteran with explosives training who happened to be in the area warned that the planned twenty cases of dynamite was far too much – 20 sticks would have sufficed – but his advice went unheeded. 

The dynamite was detonated on November 12 at 3:45 p.m. The resulting explosion was caught on film by cameraman Doug Brazil for a story reported by news reporter Paul Linnman of KATU-TV in Portland, Oregon. In his voice-over, Linnman joked that "land-lubber newsmen" became "land-blubber newsmen ... for the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds." The explosion caused large pieces of blubber to land near buildings and in parking lots some distance away from the beach. Only some of the whale was disintegrated; most of it remained on the beach for the OHD workers to clear away. In his report, Linnman also noted that scavenger birds, whom it had been hoped would eat the remains of the carcass after the explosion, did not appear as they were possibly scared away by the noise. The explosives-expert veteran's brand-new automobile, purchased during a "Get a Whale of a Deal" promotion in a nearby city, was flattened by a chunk of falling blubber.



Here's Dave Barry:

The Farside Comes to Life in Oregon

By Dave Barry (1990)

I am absolutely not making this incident up; in fact I have it all on videotape. The tape is from a local TV news show in Oregon, which sent a reporter out to cover the removal of a 45-foot, eight-ton dead whale that washed up on the beach. The responsibility for getting rid of the carcass was placed upon the Oregon State Highway Division, apparently on the theory that highways and whales are very similar in the sense of being large objects.

So anyway, the highway engineers hit upon the plan — remember, I am not making this up — of blowing up the whale with dynamite. The thinking here was that the whale would be blown into small pieces, which would be eaten by sea gulls, and that would be that. A textbook whale removal.

So they moved the spectators back up the beach, put a half-ton of dynamite next to the whale and set it off. I am probably not guilty of understatement when I say that what follows, on the videotape, is the most wonderful event in the history of the universe. First you see the whale carcass disappear in a huge blast of smoke and flame. Then you hear the happy spectators shouting “Yayy!” and “Whee!” Then, suddenly, the crowd’s tone changes. You hear a new sound like “splud.” You hear a woman’s voice shouting “Here come pieces of… MY GOD!” Something smears the camera lens.

Later, the reporter explains: “The humor of the entire situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere.” One piece caved in the roof of a car parked more than a quarter of a mile away. Remaining on the beach were several rotting whale sectors the size of condominium units. There was no sign of the sea gulls, who had no doubt permanently relocated in Brazil. This is a very sobering videotape. Here at the institute we watch it often, especially at parties. But this is no time for gaiety. This is a time to get hold of the folks at the Oregon State Highway division and ask them, when they get done cleaning up the beaches, to give us an estimate on the US Capitol.

Lots more at Exploding Whale.

Wednesday links

January 17 is Ben Franklin's birthday - bio, quotes, videos, his 200 synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more.

Alexa, What Are You Doing with My Family's Personal Info?

How to Build an Igloo.

Gorgeous X-Ray Photographs of Plants and Animals.

For Al Capone's birthday, here's the story of that time he bought large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.

Method of Women's Self Defense: Vintage Photos From 1906 Illustrate Modes for Warding Off a Street Bully or Foul.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and include why toll-free numbers start with 800, the ultimate paper airplane (a paper Boeing 777), why gadgets are called "doohickeys", the anniversary of prohibition in the United States, and why tequila is good for you. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday links

Prohibition in the United States began on January 16, 1920: here's some history, contemporaneous newsreels, the women who tried to telepathically influence the vote, Abraham Lincoln and Milton Friedman.

The Forgotten History Of How Automakers Invented The Crime Of 'Jaywalking'.



Tequila is good for your health, according to top scientists.

Why do we call gadgets "doohickeys?"

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the 1918 Flu pandemic, Napoleon’s descendants, the 99th anniversary of Boston's deadly 2.3 million gallon molasses flood, and neurological disorders in Alice in Wonderland.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Ultimate Paper Airplane

This isn't of the kind of paper airplane you fold from a sheet of notebook paper and throw across the room. It's a paper sculpture of a Boeing 777 and Luca Iaconi-Stewart has been building it for years, all from paper. He's recreating all the details of the real 777, including the passenger seats, wind struts, retractable landing gear, and hinged doors.


via Wired

January 17 is Ben Franklin's birthday - bio, quotes, videos, his 200 synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more

If you would not be forgotten,
When you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth the reading,
Or do things worth the writing.


Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.

~ Ibid., December 1743

It would be a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their income.

~ Ibid.

Our Constitution is in actual operation; everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.

~ Franklin (letter to M. Leroy, 1789) 

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

~ Franklin

Political cartoon by Franklin urged
 the colonies to join together
during the 
French and Indian War
Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.

~ Franklin (Autobiography, Ch. 9) 

I should have no objection to go over the same life from the beginning to the end: requesting only the advantage authors have, of correcting in a second edition the faults of the first.

~ Ibid., Ch. 1 

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from
 the Sky
 c. 1816 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Benjamin West
January 17th is the anniversary of the birth of American statesman, philosopher, and scientist Benjamin Franklin (wiki) (1706-1790) in Boston. After apprenticing with his brother as a printer, Franklin settled in Philadelphia, published The Pennsylvania Gazette, and gained a wide circle of readers with his Poor Richard's Almanack (1732-1757). Entering civic affairs, he was eventually appointed Postmaster General for the colonies (1753-1774) while also dabbling in a variety of scientific pursuits, including his famous experiment with a kite in a thunderstorm. 

Before the Revolution, Franklin spent a total of 14 years representing the Pennsylvania Assembly in England, attempting to achieve reconciliation with the home country. Failing that, he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775 and signed the Declaration of Independence the next year. Appointed to represent the American colonies in France, he spent the next nine years in Paris and helped negotiate the peace with Britain in 1781. After his return to the United States, Franklin served as a member of the Constitutional Convention and died three years later. On the separation of church and state, he wrote in 1790,
"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself, and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."
My favorite bit of Franklin lore remains his 200+ synonyms for “drunk”, alphabetically arranged, first published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on January 6, 1737 (and later in The Drinker's Dictionary) with this introduction:
"The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow'd from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather'd wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd: But upon Consideration, I fear'd being guilty of Injustice to the Brute Creation, if I represented Drunkenness as a beastly Vice, since, 'tis well-known, that the Brutes are in general a very sober sort of People."
Here's some guy dressed as Franklin reciting the list.

And then there's... That Time They Found Those Bodies in Ben Franklin's Basement:
From 1757 to 1775, Ben Franklin lived in an elegant four-story Georgian house at No. 36 Craven Street in London during his time as an ambassador for the American colonies. In late 1998, a group calling itself Friends of Benjamin Franklin House began to convert the dilapidated building into a museum to honor Franklin, whose other home in Philadelphia had been razed in 1812 to make way for new construction (a "ghost house" frame now sits on the site).
One month into the renovations, a construction worker named Jim Field was working in the basement when he found something odd: a small pit was in a windowless basement room. Inside, sticking out of the dirt floor, was a human thigh bone.
The police were called and supervised excavation continued. More human bones were pulled up. And more. And more, until some 1,200 pieces of bone were recovered. Initial examinations revealed that the bones were the remains of 10 bodies, six of them children, and were a little more than 200 years old. Their age discouraged any interest from Scotland Yard, but piqued the curiosity of historians and the Institute of Archaeology. The bones' age meant they may have been buried in the basement around the same time that Franklin was living in the house.
Read the whole thing here. More on the bodies in his basement here.

Franklin is known to have played the violin, the harp, and the guitar. He also developed the glass harmonica seen in this video:


Here's a brief (two minute) animated bio:



Wikipedia has more on his inventions and scientific studies, including (without limitation), work on electricity, ocean currents, population, the wave theory of light, and meteorology.

Sex Ex Machina By James Thurber

One of my favorite authors is James Thurber. I frequently think of this particular piece, in which he discusses, among other things, the psycho-sexual reasons why some squirrels, when they see a car approaching, will run away, some will stand in the middle of the road and dither about, and some will jump at the car. I realize that the squirrel bit is a small part of the whole essay, but for some reason I think of it every time I see a squirrel in the road.

By the way, as far as I can tell, none of his drawings accompanied this essay, but I've included several unrelated ones here, just because I like them.

Sex Ex Machina By James Thurber (wiki) (1894-1961), The New Yorker, March 13, 1937

With the disappearance of the gas mantle and the advent of the short circuit, man's tranquility began to be threatened by everything he put his hand on. Many people believe that it was a sad day indeed when Benjamin Franklin tied that key to a kite string and flew the kite in a thunderstorm; other people believe that if it hadn't been Franklin, it would have been someone else. As, of course, it was in the case of the harnessing of steam and the invention of the gas engine. At any rate, it has come about that so-called civilized man finds himself today surrounded by the myriad mechanical devices of a technological world. 

Writers of books on how to control your nerves, how to conquer fear, how to cultivate calm, how to be happy in spite of everything, are of several minds as regards the relation of man and the machine. Some of them are prone to believe that the mind and body, if properly disciplined, can get the upper hand of this mechanized existence. Others merely ignore the situation and go on to the profitable writing of more facile chapters of inspiration. Still others attribute the whole menace of the machine to sex, and so confuse the average reader that he cannot always be certain whether he has been knocked down by an automobile or is merely in love. 

Dr. Bisch, the Be-Glad-You're-Neurotic man, has a remarkable chapter which deals, in part, with man, sex, and the machine. He examines the case of three hypothetical men who start across a street on a red light and get in the way of an oncoming automobile. A dodges successfully; B stands still, "accepting the situation with calm and resignation," thus becoming one of my favorite heroes in modern belles-lettres; and C hesitates, wavers, jumps backward and forward, and finally runs head on into the car. To lead you through Dr. Bisch's complete analysis of what was wrong with B and C would occupy your whole day. He mentions what the McDougal-lians would say ("Instinct!"), what the Freudians would retort ("Complexes!"), and what the behaviorists would shout ("Conditioned reflexes!"). He also brings in what the physiologist would say deficient thyroid, hypoadrenal functioning, and so on. The average sedentary man of our time who is at all suggestible must emerge from this chapter believing that his chances of surviving a combination of instinct, complexes, reflexes, glands, sex, and present-day traffic conditions are about equal to those of a one-legged blind man trying to get out of a labyrinth. 

Let us single out what Dr. Bisch thinks the Freudians would say about poor Mr. C, who ran right into the car. He writes, " 'sex hunger,' the Freudians would declare. 'Always keyed up and irritable because of it. Undoubtedly suffers from insomnia and when he does sleep his dream life must be productive, distorted, and possibly frightening. Automobile unquestionably has sex significance for him ... to C the car is both enticing and menacing at one and the same time. ... A thorough analysis is indicated. ... It might take months. But then, the man needs an analysis as much as food. He is heading for a complete nervous collapse.' " It is my studied opinion, not to put too fine a point on it, that Mr. C is heading for a good mangling, and that if he gets away with only a nervous collapse, it will be a miracle. 

I have not always, I am sorry to say, been able to go the whole way with the Freudians, or even a very considerable distance. Even though, as Dr. Bisch says, "One must admit that the Freudians have had the best of it thus far. At least they have received the most publicity." It is in matters like their analysis of men and machines, of Mr. C and the automobile, that the Freudians and I part company. Of course, the analysis above is simply Dr. Bisch's idea of what the Freudians would say, but I think he has got it down pretty well. Dr. Bisch himself leans toward the Freudian analysis of Mr. C, for he says in this same chapter, "An automobile bearing down upon you may be a sex symbol at that, you know, especially if you dream it." It is my contention, of course, that even if you dream it, it is probably not a sex symbol, but merely an automobile bearing down upon you. And if it bears down upon you in real life, I am sure it is an automobile. I have seen the same behavior that characterized Mr. C displayed by a squirrel (Mr. S) that lives in the grounds of my house in the country. He is a fairly tame squirrel, happily mated and not sex-hungry, if I am any judge, but nevertheless he frequently runs out toward my automobile when I start down the driveway, and then hesitates, wavers, jumps forward and backward, and occasionally would run right into the car except that he is awfully fast on his feet and that I always hurriedly put on the brakes of the 1935 V-8 Sex Symbol that I drive. 

I have seen this same behavior in the case of rabbits (notoriously uninfluenced by any sex symbols save those of other rabbits), dogs, pigeons, a doe, a young hawk (which flew at my car), a blue heron that I encountered on a country road in Vermont, and once, near Paul Smith's in the Adirondacks, a fox. They all acted exactly like Mr. C. The hawk, unhappily, was killed. All the others escaped with nothing worse, I suppose, than a complete nervous collapse. Although I cannot claim to have been conversant with the private life and the secret compulsions, the psycho-neuroses and the glandular activities of all these animals, it is nevertheless my confident and unswervable belief that there was nothing at all the matter with any one of them. Like Mr. C, they suddenly saw a car swiftly bearing down upon them, got excited, and lost their heads. I do not believe, you see, there was anything the matter with Mr. C, either. 

But I do believe that, after a thorough analysis lasting months, with a lot of harping on the incident of the automobile, something might very well come to be the matter with him. He might even get to suffering from the delusion that he believes automobiles are sex symbols. 

It seems to me worthy of note that Dr. Bisch, in reciting the reactions of three persons in the face of an oncoming car, selected three men. What would have happened had they been Mrs. A, Mrs. B, and Mrs. C? You know as well as I do: all three of them would have hesitated, wavered, jumped forward and backward, and finally run head on into the car if some man hadn't grabbed them. (I used to know a motorist who, every time he approached a woman standing on a curb preparing to cross the street, shouted, "Hold it, stupid!") It is not too much to say that, with a car bearing down upon them, ninety-five women out of a hundred would act like Mr. C or Mr. S, the squirrel, or Mr. F, the fox. But it is certainly too much to say that ninety-five out of every hundred women look upon an automobile as a sex symbol. For one thing, Dr. Bisch points out that the automobile serves as a sex symbol because of the "mechanical principle involved." But only one woman in a thousand really knows anything about the mechanical principle involved in an automobile. And yet, as I have said, ninety-five out of a hundred would hesitate, waver, and jump, just as Mr. C did. I think we have the Freudians here. If we haven't proved our case with rabbits and a blue heron, we have certainly proved it with women. 

To my notion, the effect of the automobile and of other mechanical contrivances on the state of our nerves, minds, and spirits is a problem which the popular psychologists whom I have dealt with know very little about. The sexual explanation of the relationship of man and the machine is not good enough. To arrive at the real explanation, we have to begin very far back, as far back as Franklin and the kite, or at least as far back as a certain man and woman who appear in a book of stories written more than sixty years ago by Max Adeler. One story in this book tells about a housewife who bought a combination ironing board and card table, which some New England genius had thought up in his spare time. The husband, coming home to find the devilish contraption in the parlor, was appalled. "What is that thing?" he demanded. His wife explained that it was a card table, but that if you pressed a button underneath, it would become an ironing board. Whereupon she pushed the button and the table leaped a foot into the air, extended itself, and became an ironing board. The story goes on to tell how the thing finally became so finely sensitized that it would change back and forth if you merely touched it you didn't have to push the button. 

The husband stuck it in the attic (after it had leaped up and struck him a couple of times while he was playing euchre), and on windy nights it could be heard flopping and banging around, changing from a card table to an ironing board and back. The story serves as one example of our dread heritage of annoyance, shock, and terror arising out of the nature of mechanical contrivances per se. The mechanical principle involved in this damnable invention had, I believe, no relationship to sex whatsoever. There are certain analysts who see sex in anything, even a leaping ironing board, but I think we can ignore these scientists. 

No man (to go on) who has wrestled with a self-adjusting card table can ever be quite the man he once was. If he arrives at the state where he hesitates, wavers, and jumps at every mechanical device he encounters, it is not, I submit, because he recognizes the enticements of sex in the device, but only because he recognizes the menace of the machine as such. 

There might very well be, in every descendant of the man we have been discussing, an inherited desire to jump at, and conquer, mechanical devices before they have a chance to turn into something twice as big and twice as menacing. It is not reasonable to expect that his children and their children will have entirely escaped the stigma of such traumata. I myself will never be the man I once was-, nor will my descendants probably ever amount to much, because of a certain experience I had with an automobile. 

I had gone out to the barn of my country place, a barn which was used both as a garage and a kennel, to quiet some large black poodles. It was 1 A.M. of a pitch-dark night in winter and the poodles had apparently been terrified by some kind of a prowler, a tramp, a turtle, or perhaps a fiend of some sort. Both my poodles and myself believed, at the time, in fiends, and still do. Fiends who materialize out of nothing and nowhere, like winged pigweed or Russian thistle. I had quite a time quieting the dogs, because their panic spread to me and mine spread back to them again, in a kind of vicious circle. Finally, a hush as ominous as their uproar fell upon them, but they kept looking over their shoulders, in a kind of apprehensive way. "There's nothing to be afraid of," I told them as firmly as I could, and just at that moment the klaxon of my car, which was just behind me, began to shriek. Everybody has heard a klaxon on a car suddenly begin to sound; I understand it is a short circuit that causes it. But very few people have heard one scream behind them while they were quieting six or eight poodles in the middle of the night in an old barn. I jump now whenever I hear a klaxon, even the klaxon on my own car when I push the button intentionally. 

The experience has left its mark. Everybody, from the day of the jumping card table to the day of the screaming klaxon, has had similar shocks. You can see the result, entirely unsuperinduced by sex, in the strained faces and muttering lips of people who pass you on the streets of great highly mechanized cities. There goes a man who picked up one of those trick matchboxes that whir in your hands; there goes a woman who tried to change a fuse without turning off the current; and yonder toddles an ancient who cranked an old Reo with the spark advanced. Every person carries in his consciousness the old scar, or the fresh wound, of some harrowing misadventure with a contraption of some sort. I know people who would not deposit a nickel and a dime in a cigarette-vending machine and push the lever even if a diamond necklace came out. I know dozens who would not climb into an airplane even if it didn't move off the ground. In none of these people have I discerned what I would call a neurosis, an "exaggerated" fear; I have discerned only a natural caution in a world made up of gadgets that whir and whine and whiz and shriek and sometimes explode. 

I should like to end with the case history of a friend of mine in Ohio named Harvey Lake. When he was only nineteen, the steering bar of an old electric runabout broke off in his hand, causing the machine to carry him through a fence and into the grounds of the Columbus School for Girls. He developed a fear of automobiles, trains, and every other kind of vehicle that was not pulled by a horse. Now, the psychologists would call this a complex and represent the fear as abnormal, but I see it as a purely reasonable apprehension. If Harvey Lake had, because he was catapulted into the grounds of the Columbus School for Girls, developed a fear of girls, I would call that a complex; but 1 don't call his normal fear of machines a complex. Harvey Lake never in his life got into a plane {he died from a fall from a porch), but I do not regard that as neurotic, either, but only sensible. 

I have, to be sure, encountered men with complexes. There was, for example, Marvin Belt. He had a complex about airplanes that was quite interesting. He was not afraid of machinery, or of high places, or of crashes. He was simply afraid that the pilot of any plane he got into might lose his mind. "I imagine myself high over Montana," he once said to me, "in a huge, perfectly safe tri-motored plane. Several of the passengers are dozing, others are reading, but I am keeping my eyes glued on the door to the cockpit. Suddenly the pilot steps out of it, a wild light in his eyes, and in a falsetto like that of a little girl he says to me, 'Conductor, will you please let me off at One-Hundred-and-Twenty-fifth Street?' " "But," I said to Belt, "even if the pilot does go crazy, there is still the co-pilot." "No, there isn't," said Belt. "The pilot has hit the co-pilot over the head with something and killed him." Yes, the psychoanalysts can have Marvin Belt. But they can't have Harvey Lake, or Mr. C, or Mr. S, or Mr. F, or k while I have my strength, me. 

Related - This post: Animals who look as if they had a few too many,  includes Thurber's fable The Bear Who Let It Alone.

On January 15, 1919, Boston's 2.3 million gallon molasses flood killed 21 people


On January 15, 1919, a tank containing 2.3 million gallons of molasses weighing an estimated 26 million pounds burst open, unleashing a sticky flood onto Boston's North End. The 25-foot high wave of goo oozed over the streets at 35 miles per hour, crushing buildings in its wake and killing 21 people.


The wave broke steel girders of the Boston Elevated Railway, almost swept a train off its tracks, knocked buildings off their foundations, and toppled electrical poles, the wires hissing and sparking as they fell into the brown flood. The Boston Globe reported that people 'were picked up and hurled many feet'. Rivets popping from the tank scourged the neighborhood like machine gun bullets, and a small boat was found slammed through a wooden fence like an artillery shell. By the time it passed, the wave had killed 21 people, injured 150, and caused damage worth $100 million in today's money. All caused by molasses.

The tank gave out a dull roar, and then its two sides flew outward with a mighty blast. One huge piece knocked out the support of an elevated railway, buckling the tracks. An engineer stopped his train just in time to avoid an even worse disaster. Fragments of metal landed 200 feet away.
Besides sending shrapnel whizzing through the air, the explosion flattened people, horses and buildings with a huge shockwave. As some tried to get to their feet, the sudden vacuum where the tank once was created a reverse shockwave, sucking air in and knocking people, animals and vehicles around once more, and shaking homes off their foundations.
That was just the first few seconds. The real terror was about to begin.
The tank had been filled to near capacity, and 2.3 million gallons of thick, heavy, odorous molasses formed a sticky tsunami that started at 25 or 30 feet high and coursed through the streets at 35 mph...
When it was over, more than a score had died, and seven or eight times that number suffered injuries. The mess took months to clean up, and the legal issues even longer.
It was the height of the post-World War I Red Scare, and the distillery blamed anarchists, who they said knew the molasses was intended for alcohol to make military ammunition. The victims and their survivors blamed the distillery for faulty construction and unsafe operation.
At the time, molasses was a standard sweetener in the United States, used in cooking and in fermentation to make ethanol, which in turn could be made into a liquor used as an ingredient in munitions manufacture, an aspect of the business that had been booming during the First World War.

From The Great Molasses Flood,
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2012
The tank itself was just over three years old. It was constructed of large curved steel plates, seven vertical rows of them overlapping horizontally and held together with rows of rivets, the whole set into a concrete base. It was perfectly located for USIA, just 200 ft from the harbor and ships that brought molasses from Cuba, and near the railroad tracks that would move the molasses from storage.

Yet the five-story storage facility was never properly tested - by filling it with water - because a shipload of molasses was due only days after the completion of the tank in December 1915.

Excerpts from an article at History Today:

On January 15, 1919 at around 12.30 pm, lunchtime for many workers, the tank broke. Buildings of the nearby Northend Paving Yard were instantly reduced to kindling as the molasses cascaded out. The three story Engine 31 Fire House was torn from its foundations, trapping three firefighters who fought to keep their heads above the rising tide. A piece of the tank was blown into the elevated railway tracks, breaking girders and almost forcing a northbound train off its tracks.

The entire waterfront area was leveled and rails from the overhead railway dangled like Christmas tinsel.

Here's a brief documentary:


First on the scene were 116 sailors from the lightship USS Nantucket that was docked nearby. They were soon joined by Boston police, Red Cross workers and army personnel. When Suffolk County medical examiner George Magrath arrived, several bodies had already been pulled from the molasses. He said they looked 'as though covered in heavy oil skins ... eyes and ears, mouths and noses filled'. A makeshift hospital was set up at Haymarket Relief Station about half a mile from the waterfront, and volunteers removed molasses from victims' noses and mouths so they could breathe.

The rescue continued for days, and almost four months later a final body was pulled from the water under the Commercial Wharf.

Harvard students re-enacted the Molasses Flood
 using a small scale model, corn syrup, and a walk-in refrigerator.
Via Popular Science, researchers at Harvard have gained new insight into the disaster by studying historical accounts of the accident, century-old maps, and weather data, and building their own mini molasses flood inside a walk-in refrigerator. Using corn syrup as a stand-in for molasses at this smaller scale, they studied the goop's flow properties at wintery temperatures.

That January's relatively balmy, 40-degree Fahrenheit weather may have increased pressure as carbon dioxide built up inside. Before the rupture, the molasses inside the tank was likely 5 degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding air, thanks to a fresh shipment of syrup from the Caribbean. The higher temperature may have helped the molasses spread over the Boston waterfront at such an alarming pace. But once exposed to the nearly freezing winter temperatures outside, the goo cooled and became much thicker and stickier. 

The higher viscosity may have trapped people caught in the flow, and likely hampered rescue and cleanup efforts, according to the researchers. 

History Today has more on the ensuing lawsuits.

The tank was never rebuilt. The site where it stood is now a public park with bocce (Italian boules) courts and Little League baseball fields, slides and swings. All that remains of that terrible day 90 years ago is a small plaque at the entrance of the recreational complex. Yet local residents insist a faint smell lingers to this day. They say that on warm summer days the air is still tinged with the sweet, cloying scent of molasses.

More at WiredHistory TodayPopular Science, and Mental Floss, plus Scientific American has much more on the fluid dynamics involved. The Atlantic has a larger set of photos, which you can view full screen.

Monday links


Napoleon’s Heirs Include a Wall Street Banker, the Founder of the FBI and a Star Trek Actor.


How deep have humans dug into the Earth?

The Neurological Disorders in Alice in Wonderland.

Ten Myths About the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include Thomas Edison's sci-fi novel, a Victorian dinosaur park, how to celebrate the Feast of the Ass, and why you can't take an orange through customs.