More Theatrical Codes

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Last year I mentioned Sullivan & Considine’s Theatrical Cipher Code of 1905, a telegraphic code for “everyone connected in any way with the theatrical business.” The idea is that performers, managers, and exhibitors could save money on telegrams by replacing common phrases with short code words:

Filacer – An opera company
Filament – Are they willing to appear in tights
Filander – Are you willing to appear in tights
Filiation – Chorus girls who are shapely and good looking
Filibuster – Chorus girls who are shapely, good looking, and can sing

At the time I lamented that I had only one page. Well, a reader just sent me the whole book, and it is glorious:

Abbacom – Carry elaborate scenery and beautiful costumes
Abbalot – Fairly bristles with hits
Abditarum – This attraction will hurt our business
Addice – Why have not reported for rehearsal
Admorsal – If you do not admit at once will have to bring suit of attachment
Behag – Not the fault of play or people
Bordaglia – Do not advance him any money
Boskop – Understand our agent is drinking; if this is true wire at once
Bosom – Understand you are drinking
Bosphorum – Understand you are drinking and not capable to transact business
Bosser – We are up against it here
Bottle – You must sober up
Bouback – Your press notices are poor
Deskwork – A versatile and thoroughly experienced actress
Despair – Absolute sobriety at all times essential
Detour – Actress for emotional leads
Devilry – Actress with child preferred
Dextral – An actor with fine reputation and proven cleverness
Dishful – Comedian, Swedish dialect
Disorb – Do not want drunkards
Dispassion – Do you object to going on road
Distal – Good dresser(s) both on and off stage
Dormillon – Lady for piano
Drastic – Must be shapely and good looking
Druism – Not afraid of work
Eden – Strong heavy man
Election – What are their complexions
Epic – Does he impress you as being reliable and a hustler
Exclaimer – Are they bright, clever and healthy children
Eyestone – Can you recommend him as an experienced and competent electrician
Faro – A B♭ cornetist
Flippant – Must understand calcium lights
Fluid – Is right up-to-date and understands his business from A to Z
Forester – Acts that are not first class and as represented, will be closed after first performance
Foxhunt – Can deliver the goods
Gultab – The people will not stand for such high prices
Hilbert – State the very lowest salary for which she will work, by return wire
Jansenist – Fireproof theatre
Jinglers – How did the weather affect house
Jolly – Temperature is 15° above zero

There’s also an appendix for the vaudeville circuit:

Kajuit – Trick cottage
Kakour – Grotesque acrobats
Kalekut – Sparring and bag punching act
Kernwort – Troupe of dogs, cats and monkeys
Kluefock – Upside down cartoonist
Koegras – Imitator of birds, etc.
Letabor – Act is poorly staged and arranged
Litterat – The asbestos curtain has not arrived yet
Mallius – How many chairs do you need in the balcony
Meleto – Is the opposition putting on stronger shows than we

The single word “Lechuzo” stands for “Make special effort to mail your report on acts Monday night so as to enable us to determine your opinion of the same, as in many instances yours will be the first house that said act has performed in, and again by receiving your report early it enables us to correct in time any error that may be made regarding performer, salary and efficiency.”

(Thanks, Peter.)

Some Enchanted Evening

In 1993, reseachers Suzanna Rose and Irene Hanson Frieze asked 135 undergraduates to describe what had happened on their most recent first date:

Women Men
Groomed and dressed Picked up date
Was nervous Met parents/roommates
(Man:) Picked up date Left
Introduced to parents, etc. Picked up friends
(Man:) Courtly behavior (open doors) Confirm plans
Left Talked, joked, laughed
Confirm plans Went to movies, show, party
Got to know & evaluate date Ate
Talked, joked, laughed Drank alcohol
Enjoyed date Initiated sexual contact
Went to movies, show, party Made out
Ate Took date home
Drank alcohol Asked for another date
Talked to friends Kissed goodnight
Had something go wrong Went home
(Man:) Took date home
(Man:) Asked for another date
(Man:) Told date will call her
(Man:) Kissed date goodnight
Went home

Of the 20 actions reported by women, 6 were initiated by the man. Of the 15 actions reported by men, none were initiated by the woman.

Thirty-three respondents reported something going wrong. “[O]ne young man had car trouble after picking up his date and was mortified by having to take her back home. Another’s date abandoned her at a party and began to cruise other women, leaving the woman to fend for herself. Embarrassing events were also common. One participant reported having made a fool of herself by throwing the ball backward while bowling; another woman got extremely upset when her date insisted it was ‘love at first sight.'”

“A third type of interruption … was related to perceived violations of gender roles, such as ‘He lost points for not opening my car door’ and ‘We went out to eat later at Pizza Hut and she was a pig.'”

(Suzanna Rose and Irene Hanson Frieze, “Young Singles’ Contemporary Dating Scripts,” Sex Roles 28:9/10, 1993.)

“The Attack of Love”

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How a woman assails a man’s heart, by German map publisher Matthäus Seutter, 1730. Princeton map curator John Delaney explains:

[F]orces are attacking and defending the fortress of Manhood that sits in a frozen, passionless sea. The side of Love, representing the fairer sex, employs four sets of artillery batteries (on the left) to bombard the walls with appeals to vanity, offering delightful surprises, charms, and joys, and plying with tenderness, wishful thinking, and ‘un certain je ne sais quoi.’ Over the walls, naval ships lob such feminine wiles and virtues as beauty, pleasant conversation, gentleness, and ‘regards languissant’ (languishing looks). Love’s forces are camped for the duration (at the lower left), commanded by their general, Cupid.

As the key states, there are also methods for defending and conserving one’s heart against this unrelenting onslaught: memory, prudence, industry, experience (see the lettered outposts along the fortress walls). Ultimately, however, it is a war of attrition. As the trail winding through the fortress and along the coastline proves, the love-struck victim surrenders, retreating, first, to his friends for advice, deliberation, and information, before moving onward to the garden of pleasure and his first encounter with his beloved. … From there, via a subterranean passage, he arrives at the Palace of Love — note the change from fortress to palace — which resides in a sea of peace. Entering is easy, according to the note, but leaving is impossible without losing one’s liberty. Another definition of a prison?

There’s a high-resolution image in Cornell’s rare manuscript collection.

Podcast Episode 171: The Emperor of the United States

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In the 1860s, San Francisco’s most popular tourist attraction was not a place but a person: Joshua Norton, an eccentric resident who had declared himself emperor of the United States. Rather than shun him, the city took him to its heart, affectionately indulging his foibles for 21 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the reign of Norton I and the meaning of madness.

We’ll also keep time with the Romans and puzzle over some rising temperatures.

See full show notes …

A Soaring Heart

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From an advice column in Home Companion, March 4, 1899:

‘Sweet Briar’ (Swansea) writes in great trouble because her lover will persist in his intention to go up in a balloon. She urges him not to imperil his life in this foolhardy manner, but he only laughs at her fears.

I am sorry, ‘Sweet Briar’, that your lover occasions you anxiety in this manner, and I can only hope that he will ultimately see the wisdom of yielding to your wishes. What a pity it is that we have not a law like that which exists in Vienna! There no married man is allowed to go up in a balloon without the formal consent of his wife and children.

One solution: Go up with him, and marry him there.

The Victim

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It goes against masculine pride to have a wife helping support the household, and once a man’s pride is shattered, anything can happen to him. …

There was a couple I once knew in Chicago. At the time of their marriage the husband was earning $5,000 a year. Two years after marriage the wife went to work, and presently was making more than her husband. His home became a desolate place, for his wife’s job required her to travel to other cities. Driven to seek companionship to escape from the loneliness of home the man became addicted to drink. Today they are divorced. The woman is a notable business woman, and the man is a drunken drifter.

But, the women will comment, the husband drank. What of it? No husband drinks to excess unless there’s a reason for it. If the truth were known there are many men who began drinking because their wives took to work.

— William Johnston, These Women, 1925

Wit and Sense

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There is an association in men’s minds between dullness and wisdom, amusement and folly, which has a very powerful influence in decision upon character, and is not overcome without considerable difficulty. The reason is that the outward signs of a dull man and a wise man are the same, and so are the outward signs of a frivolous man and a witty man; and we are not to expect that the majority will be disposed to look to much more than the outward sign. I believe the fact to be that wit is very seldom the only eminent quality in the mind of any man; it is commonly accompanied by many other talents of every description, and ought to be considered as a strong evidence of a fertile and superior understanding.

— Sydney Smith, quoted in The Ladies’ Repository, September 1858

The Green Book

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During the Jim Crow era, it was difficult and dangerous for African-Americans to travel — they were routinely refused even basic amenities such as food and lodging. Civil rights leader (and now Georgia congressman) John Lewis remembered a family trip in 1951:

There would be no restaurant for us to stop at until we were well out of the South, so we took our restaurant right in the car with us. … Stopping for gas and to use the bathroom took careful planning. Uncle Otis had made this trip before, and he knew which places along the way offered ‘colored’ bathrooms and which were better just to pass on by. Our map was marked and our route was planned that way, by the distances between service stations where it would be safe for us to stop.

Accordingly New York mail carrier Victor H. Green began to publish The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable.” Green paid his readers to contribute reports of road conditions, sites of interest, and information about their travel experiences. Julian Bond later recalled:

You think about the things that most travelers take for granted, or most people today take for granted. If I go to New York City and want a hair cut, it’s pretty easy for me to find a place where that can happen, but it wasn’t easy then. White barbers would not cut black peoples’ hair. White beauty parlors would not take black women as customers — hotels and so on, down the line. You needed the Green Book to tell you where you can go without having doors slammed in your face.

The book was published annually nationwide from 1937 to 1964. The New York Public Library has the full collection.

08/25/2017 UPDATE: Using structured data extracted from the books’ listings, NYPL Labs’ Brian Foo created Navigating the Green Book, an interface that lets you map a trip between two points based on either the 1947 or the 1956 edition. The program looks for a restaurant every 250 miles and lodging every 750 miles. (Thanks, Sara.)

Marital Duels

marital duels

In the Middle Ages, husbands and wives would sometimes settle their differences with physical combat. To compensate for the man’s greater strength, his wife was given certain advantages:

The woman must be so prepared that a sleeve of her chemise extend a small ell beyond her hand like a little sack. There indeed is put a stone weighing three pounds; and she has nothing else but her chemise, and that is bound together between the legs with a lace. Then the man makes himself ready in the pit over against his wife. He is buried therein up to the girdle, and one hand is bound at the elbow to the side.

In other drawings the man sits in a tub; in one the two fight with drawn swords. “Judicial duels were common enough in the medieval and early modern period to merit etiquette books,” writes scholar Allison Coudert, “but, as far as I know, nowhere except in the Holy Roman Empire were judicial duels ever considered fitting means to settle marital disputes, and no record of such a duel has been found after 1200, at which time a couple is reported to have fought with the sanction of the civic authorities at Bâle.” The drawings that have survived come from historical treatises of the 15th and 16th centuries.

(Allison Coudert, “Judicial Duels Between Husbands and Wives,” Notes in the History of Art 4:4 [Summer 1985], 27-30.)

Podcast Episode 165: A Case of Mistaken Identity

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In 1896, Adolf Beck found himself caught up in a senseless legal nightmare: Twelve women from around London insisted that he’d deceived them and stolen their cash and jewelry. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Beck’s incredible ordeal, which ignited a scandal and inspired historic reforms in the English justice system.

We’ll also covet some noble socks and puzzle over a numerical sacking.

See full show notes …