Roll Call

More unusual personal names:

From John Train’s Remarkable Names of Real People (1988):

  • Ave Maria Klinkenberg
  • Gaston J. Feeblebunny
  • Humperdink Fangboner
  • Larry Derryberry
  • Mary Louise Pantzaroff
  • Norman Icenoggle
  • Primrose Goo
  • Rapid Integration
  • Verbal Funderburk

From Barbara Fletcher’s Don’t Blame the Stork (1981):

  • Bobo Yawn
  • Louise Ghostkeeper
  • Constance Stench
  • Naughtybird Curtsey
  • Rat Soup
  • Sir Dingle Foot
  • Consider Arms
  • Craspius Pounders
  • Gizella Werberzerk-Piffel
  • Barbara Savage Machinest

The most impressive specimens come from H.L. Mencken’s magisterial American Language. In 1901 Loyal Lodge No. 296 Knights of Pythias Ponca City Oklahoma Territory Smith was baptized in Ponca City, and in 1949 John Hodge Opera House Centennial Gargling Oil Samuel J. Tilden Ten Brink was interviewed for the Linguistic Atlas in upstate New York. I don’t know what he said.

Nice Try

COMMON PLEAS — Yesterday Barton, an attorney, was brought from the Fleet prison. It was stated that the prisoner had written a very violent and voluminous libel on himself. This he procured to be printed, and then brought his action against the printer for defamation; but in this he was non-suited, and sent to prison for costs attending to the prosecution.

Observer, Nov. 11, 1798

A Virtue of Necessity

Enterprise, Ala., has the world’s only monument to an agricultural pest.

In the 1890s the Mexican boll weevil arrived in the American South and began ravaging Alabama’s cotton crop. By 1916 the insects had infested the whole state, inflicting $20 to $40 million each year in economic damages. Insecticides, controlled burning, and innovative planting schedules were tried, but nothing worked.

So local businessman H.M. Sessions convinced indebted farmer C.W. Bastion to try planting peanuts instead of cotton. When Bastion produced 8,000 bushels that year, neighboring farmers followed suit, and in 1917 Coffee County brought forth the largest peanut harvest in the nation.

Because the new, diversified crops proved more profitable than cotton, in 1919 local businessman Roscoe Fleming proposed dedicating a statue to the pest that had proven a “herald of prosperity,” and an $1,800 classical statue was commissioned from an Italian sculptor. Thirty years later, one Luther Baker fashioned a large weevil to place atop her outstretched arms. Might as well be explicit.

All Relative

Eddie Cantor and George Jessel played on the same bill on the vaudeville circuit.

In one town Jessel noticed that the billing read EDDIE CANTOR WITH GEORGIE JESSEL.

“What kind of conjunction is that?” he asked manager Irving Mansfield. “Eddie Cantor with Georgie Jessel?” Mansfield promised to fix it.

The next day the marquee read EDDIE CANTOR BUT GEORGIE JESSEL.

The Zink Womanless Library

When Iowa attorney T.M. Zink died in 1930, his will disinherited his wife and daughter and left a sum to be invested for 75 years, when Zink calculated it would total about $4 million. This would be used to endow a rather unique library:

  • “No woman shall at any time, under any pretense or for any purpose, be allowed inside the library, or upon the premises or have any say about anything concerned therewith, nor appoint any person or persons to perform any act connected therewith.”
  • “No book, work of art, chart, magazine, picture, unless some production by a man, shall be allowed inside or outside the building, or upon the premises, and this shall include all decorations for inside and outside the building.”
  • “There shall be over each entrance to the premises and building a sign in these words: ‘No Woman Admitted.’”
  • “It is my intention to forever exclude all women from the premises and having anything to say or do with the trust estate and library. …”

Evidently this was a considered decision. “My intense hatred of women is not of recent origin or development nor based upon any personal differences I ever had with them but is the result of my experiences with women, observations of them, and study of all literatures and philosophical works within my limited knowledge relating thereto.”

If Zink’s plan had gone through, the library would be opening its doors just about now. Unfortunately for him, his daughter Margretta had him declared of unsound mind — and the court gave everything to her.

Moving Day

Changing apartments in New York City is an ordeal today, but it’s a great improvement over the old system, when every lease in the city expired at 9 a.m. on May 1 and thousands of people moved to new lodgings simultaneously. Davy Crockett witnessed the spectacle during a visit in 1834:

By the time we returned down Broadway, it seemed to me that the city was flying before some awful calamity. ‘Why,’ said I, ‘Colonel, what under heaven is the matter? Everyone appears to be pitching out their furniture, and packing it off.’ He laughed, and said this was the general ‘moving day.’ Such a sight nobody ever saw unless it was in this same city. It seemed a kind of frolic, as if they were changing houses just for fun. Every street was crowded with carts, drays, and people. So the world goes. It would take a good deal to get me out of my log-house; but here, I understand, many persons ‘move’ every year.

The tradition ran from colonial times until World War II, when a shortage of men finally ended it. That’s more than a century, an oddly long run for such an unpopular practice. “There may be some doubt as to whether landlords make out leases to suit the habits of the people, or whether the habits are a result of the leases,” journalist Luke Grant wrote in 1909, “but there is no doubt that the custom imposes hardships on every one concerned.”

In a Word

n. to pass over in favor of another

Fuel Efficiency

In 1995 Nicole M. Dubus patented a fork with an electronic timer that indicates when it’s okay to take another bite.

“The present invention can assist people to be more aware of their eating habits and pace themselves between bites, thus slowing down their rate of consumption and helping them change their eating habits to more healthy and enjoyable ones.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We never repent of having eaten too little.”

Making Faces

Claiming to be haunted by the “spirit of proportion,” German sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-83) found he could subdue its attacks by pinching himself and pulling a face in a mirror. Pleased with this success, he resolved to sculpt every “canonical” variety of human grimace.

By the time of his death at age 47, he had executed 69 “character heads” in lead, stone, and wood. None had been commissioned, and none were sold during his lifetime; they were the product of a peculiarly personal obsession and a passionate discipline. (A visitor who had observed him in 1781 noted that Messerschmidt “looked into the mirror every half minute and made, with the greatest exactitude, precisely that grimace which he just needed.”)

Interpreting the heads has been equally the province of psychology and art history. Messerschmidt may have been mentally ill, but he was undeniably gifted, and it appears he achieved the goal he had set. “It is utterly strange,” wrote Jonathan Jones of a recent Louvre exhibition. “No other artist of the age worked in a similar way, and you sense a long sickness of compulsive, isolated behaviour in what are nevertheless great works of art.”

The Frog Barometer

Take one of those small green frogs which are found in hedges, put it in a white glass bottle, the neck of which must be large enough to receive the little animal tout a fait a son aise. Previous to its being let down, put in the bottle some earth and water to the height of about four fingers breadth; and also a little wooden ladder that may reach from the bottom to the lower part of the neck. Let the bottle be properly stopped with a piece of parchment, pricked with a pin so as to admit the air. As long as the weather continues fair, the frog stands a-top of the ladder, but goes down into the water at the approach of rain. You must from time to time, that is, every week or fortnight, change the water. Many of those animals have been known to live three years without any food.

The New Lady’s Magazine, April 1789