The Kearton Brothers

I first heard of this story on QI (series “O”, episode “Organisms”). The story is about two brothers, Richard and Cherry Kearton, who were the world’s first wildlife photographers. They began photographing things in nature in 1892, when Cherry took the world’s first (known) photograph of a bird’s nest.

Unsurprisingly, with photography equipment being cumbersome and finicky (and many animals being difficult to capture even today), the brothers had to resort to some terribly inventive tactics to get their desired shots.

Which led to this invention, in 1900:

The brothers found it difficult to get close enough to oxen to photograph them, so they went to a butcher’s, bought an entire dead ox, and got a taxidermist to hollow it out. They would then plant the ox in a field, climb inside it with their camera (the lens of which poked out a little hole they constructed in the ox), and wait for other oxen to come close.

It’s like the Trojan horse, but with the lowest stakes ever.

In 1901, they did the same thing with a sheep (although presumably only one brother could fit inside):

One day while Richard fainted while inside the ox, and when he slumped over it caused the ox to fall on its side. When Cherry showed up about an hour later and saw what happened, he did what brothers do best: he snapped a photograph, thinking it was hilarious, before rescuing his brother.

By way of a deeply unpleasant side note: on the show, they discuss how other photographers at the time were interested in “instantaneous photography“, by which they meant capturing things that happened suddenly, that older and slower methods of photography had not been able to capture.

To that end, in 1881 the United States School of Submarine Engineers took a photo of an exploding mule. And, yes. Before you ask, the mule was alive when this happened (it wasn’t predeceased, although the gentlemen in question “justified” their experiment by saying that the mule was old and slated to die anyway).

They strapped 6 ounces of dynamite to the mule’s forehead and rigged the shutter of the camera and the fuse for the dynamite to go off simultaneously. When the mule exploded, the camera took the photograph. An article was written about this endeavor in Scientific American. I have looked up this article and seen the picture. It’s about as upsetting as you’d imagine.

 

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Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: Fievel Goes West

It’s time for another installment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing Fievel Goes West (1991). As you guys know, I watch a lot of shitty long nineteenth century-inspired films with my good friend @VictorianMasc (whose blog can be found here) and we decided to turn them into blog posts.

Previous posts on VST3K include:

Dracula 2000

Vanity Fair (2004)

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

The Raven (2012)

Titanic (1997)

My co-watchers and -authors, @VictorianMasc and @DrDouglasSmall, had never seen this film before and we had yet to watch an animated film for this series, so it seemed like a perfect fit. Full disclosure: I loved this film when I was a kid, and it kinda (?) holds up, but that doesn’t  mean I’m not going to be a total dick about it. It’s what I do.

Brace yourself for a LOT of swearing and spoilers (obviously)

We didn’t even make it to the title screen before we had our first snark, which was, namely, to register our embarrassment at how many famous people were involved in the making of this film.

Our second moment of snark came with the title screen … 

… which was accompanied by an all-American whip-crack followed by a plucky banjo.

Douglas: *hysterical laughter* Gee, is this a Western, by any remote chance? No need to be coy about, I guess.

We then open with Fievel Mousekewitz narrating a high noon, gun-slingin’ duel between the Cactus Cat Gang and a character called (*sigh*) . . . Wylie Burp.

Wylie Burp is played by an exhausted-sounding Jimmy Stewart (in fairness, he was 82 at the time) who stares down all these dopey cat chuckle-fucks and prepares to meet his maker.

Cowboy Fievel jumps down to help, but Wylie replies with “Get out while you still can”, which one can only assume was Jimmy Stewart speaking in reference to this film.

But it turns out that Fievel’s just playing pretend, and the scene quickly fades back to a particularly shitty New York hellscape.

I’m not exactly sure which part of New York Fievel lives in. Gramousey Park? Mousestoria? Ratbush?

(I’ll show myself out)

Anyway, the Mousekewitz family is up to their same old bullshit. Mama Mousekewitz is nagging people, Papa’s a twinkly-eyed old fool, and Tanya’s busking, shittily. She only knows one song, which she’s apparently been singing on a loop since the first American Tail film.

“BENEATH THE PAAAAALE MOOOOOONLIGHT”

Douglas: “Hey, remember the first film, which was better?”, asks the soundtrack.

The human neighbors start screaming and throwing tomatoes.

VictorianMasc: The population of New York is really jaded. “A singing mouse? Fuck ’em.”

But in all honesty, that novelty’s got to wear off real quick by the fifth rendition of the song. Mama Mousekewitz scrapes some tomato off the wall and grumbles, “Another night without cheese”, because free home-delivered groceries are apparently not enough for this bitch.

Can we all take a moment to marvel over Mother Mousekewitz’s huge jugs? One of the animators must have had a serious boob fetish, because we get a lot of cleavage in this film.

Then Papa Mousekewitz starts lamenting about America and gesticulating with his violin.

Papa: In Russia–

All Three of Us: Violin plays you!

This is when we noticed that the Mousekewitzes have a baby, in addition to a twelve year old and a seven year old.

Douglas: How old are the Mousekewitzes supposed to be?

VictorianMasc: *deadpan* Twenty-eight years old.

Then a train goes by and rattles around the little wooden crate they live in, and Papa Mousekewitz starts going off on one: “They call America the land of opportunity. Opportunity for what? For children to play in the filthy streets? To never see the sunshine?”

That sounds amazing. That sounds like the best possible childhood I could imagine.

But their bitching is interrupted by Fievel’s dweeby vegetarian cat friend, Tiger, who is in the process of having his ass dumped by his sultry, fed-up girlfriend (the imaginatively named Miss Kitty).

VictorianMasc: Uncomfortable cat cleavage klaxon!

Miss Kitty is heading west to find a fella who’s better at performative masculinity. What she really wants is “a cat that’s more like a dog”, because she’s all kinds of kinky.

Considering that I’m fatigued by Tiger about two sentences into his Woody Allen shtick, I can’t even imagine a full courtship between these two. She sprays on some stank-ass day-glo perfume, jumps on a passing taxi, and leaves Tiger alone with so many neuroses that his therapist will probably be able to pay off the mortgage on his beach house.

Douglas: She’s taking a … taxi to the Wild West? That is one decadent cat.

Then all hell breaks loose when cats attack the mice neighborhood. The attack is led by John Cleese, the dandiest cat you ever did see, who probably only took this role to pay for his second round of alimony (he divorced his second wife the year before).

The plan is to scare the ever-loving bejesus (be-cheesus?) out of the mice, but not actually to harm them. Of course, the mice don’t know this, and the Mousekewitzes scream at Fievel to hide indoors.

But Fievel is (despite his American accent) clearly the most Russian of all the mice, because he has a straight-up death wish. He charges out into the night to play “cowboys and gangster cat dickheads”. You know. That classic children’s game.

Tiger hears all of this commotion and spends about six years going, “Aww, geez, the mice!” before making a half-hearted vow of ally-hood to “do something”. But this complacent asshole takes one look at John Cleese’s spider sidekick:

who is very clearly the bastard love child of Yosemite Sam and a pair of Liza Minnelli’s fake eyelashes from the ’70s, before promptly fainting and leaving the mice to certain death.

The Mousekewitzes are ripped from their home and flung in the gutter. Fievel almost becomes cat poop, if not for the timely obnoxiousness of Papa Mousekewitz’s violin. There’s a reason the word for “violin” in Russian is the onomatopoeic “skripka”.

The Mousekewitz women flee, leaving their menfolk to be devoured.

Mama Mousekewitz: Run, run, Fievel!

VictorianMasc: Run! Like we are doing! We are abandoning you! We are mice–we can always have more babies!

There’s a big chase scene with them jumping in a tin can and floating away from danger down into the sewer.

Douglas: The real tragedy is that they never turned this into a ride at Universal Studios.

They eventually float toward a weird mouse puppet controlled by John Cleese, and none of the mice seem to notice because everyone in this film is an idiotic shit-lark with the IQ of a russet potato.

Douglas: WHAT NIGHTMARISH UNCANNY VALLEY BULLSHIT IS THIS? Jesus Christ, it’s like the Babadook!

John Cleese puts on a truly horrible American accent, and as soon as I commented on it, VictorianMasc (who’s a Geordie) and Douglas (who’s Northern Irish) jumped all over me to say that Cleese’s American accent is no worse than the various British accents I do.

Because they are assholes.

And liars.

My accents are fucking flawless.

ANYWAY

Creepy Mouse Puppet John Cleese tells all the other terrified mice that they should move out West, where dogs and cats and mice live together in perfect harmony, and where there’s sunshine and money and safety and jobs, and it can all be yours for the low, low price of blah blah blah.

Douglas: Yes, by all means, follow the robot mouse of death.

So he sells a bunch of tickets West, and the mice should definitely get their hopes up really high, because they have a great track record of that working out for them.

(*cough, just gonna leave this here, cough*)

This was the point in the film where I had to sit VictorianMasc and Douglas down and explain to them that John Cleese is actually the hero of the film, as he is the only true purveyor of good ole fashioned American capitalism, and we all need to respect that.

MEANWHILE

Tiger wakes up from his bullshit nap to find a note at the Mousekewitz house: they’ve all fucked off West and left him alone in New York. And of all the towns out West, they’re going to the one where Miss Kitty is living (and definitely not working as a prostitute, definitely not).

Tiger immediately drops everything and uses all of his disposable cat income to buy a train ticket West, too. I mean, he didn’t want to follow his girlfriend, but he’ll follow his 7-year old inter-species buddy’s family, who kind of seem to hate him.

Tiger rushes to the train station to catch up with the Mousekewitzes.

Fievel: I was hoping maybe Tiger would come say goodbye. Will I ever see him again, Papa?

Douglas: With any luck, no. He is very annoying, and some days we can barely put up with you, Fievel.

Then, because Steven Spielberg didn’t have enough material to fill a 71-minute film, we get a hammy chase scene of Tiger trying to catch the train, and every dog in New York deciding that this is the perfect moment to chase him:

Then the mice have a jaunty little song:

Yay, colonialism! The American expansion west certainly was free of all moral quandaries!

And then, just when we thought we were done with all of the Tiger/dog gags, we get one more. Tiger gets on a stagecoach and attempts to talk to the driver:

VictorianMasc: Why does this dog wear clothes? Were the other dogs nudists?

Because Fievel doesn’t have a danger reflex, he decides to leave his train compartment in the middle of the night and go exploring unsecured chains and rocking machinery directly above the rails.

This is where Douglas developed a rage-ulcer.

Douglas: What is with you, you loser? Any opportunity to fuck up your life and you take it. Stay in the box, you twerp!

Because Fievel is a peril magnet, he immediately stumbles upon the cats’ private chambers, right in the middle of their evil monologue exposing their nefarious plans!

Rather than chasing a few mice to eat in New York, John Cleese wants to lure the mice in droves out to the West, where he will eat them only after exploiting their labor to create a luxurious cat town.

Who knew the epitome of the American dream would sound so British?

Fievel, of course, gets caught by them right away. John Cleese has his little fucked up spider buddy make sure that Fievel trips and falls from the train in full view of his parents, because children’s films are DARK. The parents think it was an accident (or an inevitability, really, given Fievel’s complete lack of self-preservation).

R.I.P. Fievel, we barely knew ye, but we’re probably better off without ye.

In all seriousness, the Mousekewitzes seem to entirely forget about Fievel . . . pretty much immediately, and the music resumes its peppy tone as they reach their destination.

All of a sudden there is a mad dash for resources as all the mice squabble with each other over who gets to live in the best pieces of garbage.

I have never wanted anything to turn into the cornucopia bloodbath in Hunger Games so badly in my life.

The Mousekewitzes then bitch about their circumstances. Because, ya know, that tin can is somehow worse than the box they were living in in New York.

John Cleese then takes over the water supply and uses it to blackmail everyone into doing manual labor. I hope in the deleted scenes we get the subplot where he has four beautiful, pregnant wives who run off into the desert with the help of a truck-driving feminist with great eye makeup.

Meanwhile, Fievel is slowly dying of dehydration in the desert. He starts seeing mirages of his family, which turn out to be cacti.

Tiger, who is walking through the same desert (he fell off the stagecoach, gibbering idiot that he is), also starts seeing mirages of Miss Kitty.

He starts Frenching what he assumes to be his girlfriend, but really turns out to be an owl, and the owl is into it.

Tiger and Fievel pass each other in the desert, mistakenly thinking the other one is a mirage. They are traveling in opposite directions, for reasons that are never explained.

Douglas: *quietly, to himself* Hope you both die, you shitheads.

Tiger then gets captured by some racist caricatures who roast him over a fire and do a war dance, and the whole room went, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

TigerHow. Do you do? Hehehe!

The Whole RoomOhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

And then they discover that Tiger looks exactly like the rock under which they’re roasting him, so clearly Tiger must be a god, and they must worship him.

The Whole RoomOhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

While things look decidedly better for Tiger, they look decidedly worse for Fievel. After managing to travel in the desert for an entire day without food or water, he gets hunted by an eagle.

The moral of the story is: nature is terrible. By this point, none of us were 100% that Fievel Goes West wasn’t directed by Werner Herzog.

In running away from the eagle, Fievel somehow catches up with Tiger (even though they’ve been walking in opposite directions all day), and the Native American mice take care of all external threats with . . . fireworks.

VictorianMasc: Did they just take down an eagle? That is like us taking down a dragon. I don’t care how racist they are – they are fucking badass.

The eagle dies a fiery, weird death, and Fievel is almost accidentally swallowed when he ends up in Tiger’s wine.

Douglas: This film is an honest-to-god Lovecraftian shit show.

Fievel and Tiger are able to catch up a bit, and then Tiger uses his new god-powers to summon up an Uber in the form of a sentient (?) tumbleweed that drives Fievel right into town.

Also, they had more budget than plot, because we get a minute-long “Rawhide” musical interlude.

GLAD THAT PLOT CUL DE SAC WENT SOMEWHERE, LET’S GET BACK TO THE CAPITALIST CATS.

Fievel’s tumbleweed blows right up to the ornery old sheriff, who turns out to be the legendary Wylie Burp himself!

(I guess they used up the Jimmy Stewart budget on getting the rights to “Rawhide”, because we’re halfway through the film and he’s only had one line so far)

As a side note, when Jimmy Stewart starred in the western Destry Rides Again (1939), he knocked up Marlene Dietrich, whom he then immediately ditched. We took bets as to which actress Jimmy Stewart impregnated behind the scenes of this film.

Anyway, Jimmy Stewart just asks to be left the goddamned hell alone, and really, isn’t that what everyone wants?

We are then treated to an INDUSTRY MONTAGE.

Oh, and yeah, Fievel gets reunited with his family.

VictorianMasc: Oh, you’re back? Great. Mama’s blood pressure was just getting down to normal with you out of the way.

John Cleese is holed up in the saloon, like Al fucking Swearengen, discussing his plot to trick all the mice into sitting on a cleverly disguised mousetrap.

I mean, you don’t even really have to disguise it with all that bunting. These mice are intellectually unfortunate.

There’s also a small subplot about a human woman obsessed with John Cleese. She repeatedly shoves him into her breasts and screams, “PUSSY PUSSY PUSSY” and I dare you to watch this as an adult and not give this everything you got in your side-eye arsenal.

But John Cleese is saved from more molestation and evil villain monologuing when he hears the voice of a diva*

*it’s not a diva, it’s just Tanya

He gets all glassy-eyed and stumbles around town like a drunk, looking for the mouse with the hella good vocal projection (she’s like 5 buildings away).

Tanya, meanwhile, is “cleaning”, by which I mean she sprinkles some sort of powdered version of Marcellus Wallace’s soul into a glass of wine and transforms it into … urine? Look, I don’t know what’s going on in this scene any more than you do.

They do a weird dance and he asks her to come sing for him, which is not at all creepy, considering he’s an adult cat and she’s a 12 year old mouse, and he plans on eating her entire family the next day.

Douglas: Okay, cat, I’m gonna level with you. Follow your dreams and everything, but I really don’t see this relationship going anywhere.

He drops Tanya off with Miss Kitty so Tanya can get outfitted up as–in the words of my dad–“a bona fide prairie slut”.

VictorianMasc: Oh, good. More cat tits.

Miss Kitty’s having some real buyer’s remorse about coming to the West, and especially misses Tiger. Yeah, that’s right. That guy.

Miss Kitty manages to sew a little mouse can-can dress in about 2.3 seconds, puts some makeup on Tanya, and throws her to the wolves (cats?) with no rehearsal time.

Douglas: I am so uncomfortable right now.

Tanya gets crazy stage fright, but pulls it out at the last minute. I gotta hand it to her: moving West has been great for her, creatively. She’s gone from singing one song over and over again to having at least, like, two other songs in her repertoire.

Fievel runs into her after her number to tell her of the evil mousetrap plans set for the next day, but Tanya’s gone from a self-conscious little girl to a real shitbag in the space of one song.

Finally, with only twenty minutes left of the film, Jimmy Stewart gets to say more than two lines. Fievel goes to find Wylie Burp and shames him into action.

I mean, presumably Wylie–as the town sheriff–knows what the cats are up to or at least must suspect something sinister is going on. That doesn’t get him off his ass, but an appeal to his sense of celebrity does.

It takes some cajoling, and a lot of bad writing (Douglas: What is with this whirlwind of dog puns, you giant prick?) but Wylie finally gives Fievel some advice about how to beat the cats.

VictorianMasc: Here’s what you do, kid. You hire a ragtag group of seven desperadoes and…

No, actually what he tells Fievel to do is to find him a young dog. He’ll show this new dog the ropes and will make a hero out of him.

Fievel doesn’t know any other dogs, but he does know one asshole cat. Will that do? He drags Tiger away from his racist peons and brings him in for a training montage.

Tiger and Wylie are . . . generally hostile. The goal? To teach Tiger how to act like a dog.

VictorianMascWhy does he have to be a dog? He just needs to shoot a gun!

KISS EACH OTHER

Tiger acts himself an asshole, and Wylie swings his dick around (metaphorically, you sickos. This is a family film), and Fievel thinks this shit is hilarious.

Douglas: I don’t know why you’re laughing, Fievel. Tiger’s your only hope to avoid genocide.

Wylie attempts to teach Tiger something called “The Lazy Eye”. Tiger tries it, and this happens.

We changed our minds. Werner Herzog didn’t direct this film. David Lynch did.

Jimmy Stewart then makes Tiger take a dirt bath, because he’s got some weird kinks, and then he teaches Tiger how to bark (which turns into an almost-song, because sure, why not).

He also teaches Tiger how to gut a dude with a pitchfork, and how to spin a lasso, and how to play fetch, and how to race through buckets.

Douglas: Sure, these are all vital skills in ranged weapons combat.

They emerge from the training montage all badass, wearin’ spurs and shit, but I guess I just have to ask . . . what animals are they going to ride that require spurs?

As they sloooooowly walk toward the big party with the mousetrap bleachers (don’t run or anything, guys, it’s not like this is happening IMMINENTLY), all the other non-cat and -mouse animals cringe in fear for the impending bloodbath.

This includes an owl that we have all concluded is the same owl from the desert before.

“I coulda hit that.”

We also had to pause the film and laugh for about 15 minutes at this one mouse sitting in the stands. There very clearly must have been an intern in the animation studio that day, because all the other mice move around, but this mouse stays perfectly still, with a thousand-yard stare:

Douglas: What nightmarish monstrosity is that? It looks like one mouse wearing another mouse’s face!

VictorianMasc: Holy crap, he looks like a cartoon version of every bad taxidermied animal I’ve ever seen.

Meanwhile, John Cleese is preparing to cut the red ribbon, which leads to an overly complicated genocidal Rubes-Goldberg device that will set off the mousetrap.

The heroes shoot the scissors out of his hands just in time. Let me tell ya, Tiger has a hell of a range on that slingshot. Now, why precisely they decided to swap out all of the guns for slingshots, when we’ve already shown guns in the film (the very first scene, in fact), I’m sure I don’t know.

There’s a big shoot-out, and Miss Kitty gets some lady wood for “that dog down there with Wylie” before realizing it’s Tiger.

Unfortunately, his masculinity is severely undermined when one of the cats brings out a ludicrous slingshot:

I see what you did there, and I am not terribly impressed by it.

They all get cornered, but then Wylie and Tiger break out the lazy eye, which apparently weirds everyone out enough to abandon their plan of American imperialism.

There’s some more fighting and nonsense, and John Cleese is literally hoisted by his own petard: he ends up on the mousetrap, which Fievel sets off, which catapults John Cleese onto a train with the weird boob lady who screams, “PUSSY PUSSY”, and I cannot think of a better way for this film to end.

Tanya washes off her makeup (she “de-prairie sluts”, if you will), and the water supply is released to the public, and the town becomes an Edenic paradise the red-hot second that water touches the earth, because that’s how nature works.

Tiger and Miss Kitty quite honestly have implied sex in the middle of the street (Wylie looks on in confusion, saying, “I never taught him that one”).

Wylie goes off into the desert to die, or think deep thoughts, or maybe to join some sort of nihilistic Blood Meridian murder crew or something.

Fievel is a hardcore imperialist now, so An American Tail 3 will be subtitled Fievel Invades the Phillipines.

THE END

Douglas: Look ye upon the names of the guilty!

*

Thankfully we had time to watch 3 films when we all got together, so there are two more posts–Little Women (1994) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)–that will be released in the next few months.

As always, we welcome recommendations!

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Teddy Roosevelt’s Sasquatch

Since it was Halloween and Day of the Dead this past week, I thought I’d give you all a bit of a spooky story. For the record, I first heard this from the podcast “Superduperstitious” (Episode 4, starting around minute 23), and they got this story from a Bigfoot spotting website here. As this is kind of a long story, I’m going to just copy and paste what they’ve written (originally by Bobby Short in 1995, way back when the Internet was just a zygote).

In short, this is a “something creepy is in the woods” story that was told to Teddy Roosevelt by a fur trapper at the fin de siecle, and it creeped out the unflappable, unstoppable bullmoose so much that he decided to put it in a book he was writing.

“Presidential frontiersmen ‘Rough-rider’ Teddy Roosevelt began writing his soon to be published book in 1890. Titled The Wilderness Hunter, the author writes of a grizzled, weather beaten trapper by the name of Bauman, whose figure of a man reminded me of actor Robert Redford’s portrayal of the legendary woodsman-tracker Jeremiah Johnson. Bauman however was German born, lived all of his life out on the early frontier. Roosevelt must have had some degree of belief in Bauman’s tale to include his thoughts in his book.

“Before his legendary encounter, Roger Patterson wrote in his 1966 book, Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist that, “He [Roosevelt] was a hard man to fool with a wild tale.” Bauman must have held to the story for it was said that he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points in the yarn. A yarn that was to become a legend at Roosevelt’s unwitting recounting, weathering the retelling for more than 100 years and will go on ad infinitum.

“One of Idaho’s best known horror stories, it tells the story of two trappers who set out on a beaver hunt in the still remote alpine terrain of the beautiful Salmon River countryside. This portion of the Salmon River is located in the Bitterroot Mountains between the state of Idaho and Montana. To this day, stories of the Sasquatch come out of this part of this virgin wilderness. Roosevelt wrote that the previous year a trapper’s body had been found torn to bits and partially eaten by an “unknown beast, which left enormous human foot tracks in its wake.” [Bears do not leave human footprints; overlapping bear tracks upon one another can be differentiated.]

“Oblivious to what should have been a warning to the senses, these two men journeyed deep into the wilderness’ remote regions, moving campsites from one creek to another in search of satisfactory places in which to place their beaver traps. Here is that famous excerpt about Bauman from Roosevelt’s book:

“Frontiersmen are not, as a rule, apt to be very superstitious. They lead lives too hard and practical, and have too little imagination in things spiritual and supernatural. I have heard but few ghost stories while living on the frontier, and those few were of a perfectly commonplace and conventional type. But I once listened to a goblin-story, which rather impressed me.A grizzled, weather beaten old mountain hunter, named Bauman who, born and had passed all of his life on the Frontier, told it the story to me. He must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and goblin lore. So that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the specters, [spirits, ghosts & apparitions] the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the regions where they lurk. It may be that when overcome by the horror of the fate that befell his friend, and when oppressed by the awful dread of the unknown, he grew to attribute, both at the time and still more in remembrance, weird and elfin traits to what was merely some abnormally wicked and cunning wild beast; but whether this was so or not, no man can say.

When the event occurred, Bauman was still a young man, and was trapping with a partner among the mountains dividing the forks of the Salmon from the head of Wisdom River. Not having had much luck, he and his partner determined to go up into a particularly wild and lonely pass through which ran a small stream said to contain many beavers. The pass had an evil reputation because the year before a solitary hunter who had wandered into it was slain, seemingly by a wild beast, the half eaten remains being afterwards found by some mining prospectors who had passed his camp only the night before.

The memory of this event, however, weighted very lightly with the two trappers, who were as adventurous and hardy as others of their kind. They took their two lean mountain ponies to the foot of the pass where they left them in an open beaver meadow, the rocky timber-clad ground being from there onward impracticable for horses. They then struck out on foot through the vast, gloomy forest, and in about four hours reached a little open glade where they concluded to camp, as signs of game were plenty.

There was still an hour or two of daylight left, and after building a brush lean-to and throwing down and opening their packs, they started upstream. The country was very dense and hard to travel through, as there was much down timber, although here and there the somber woodland was broken by small glades of mountain grass. At dusk they again reached camp. The glade in which it was pitched was not many yards wide, the tall, close-set pines and firs rising round it like a wall. On one side was a little stream, beyond which rose the steep mountains slope, covered with the unbroken growth of evergreen forest.

They were surprised to find that during their absence something, apparently a bear, had visited camp, and had rummaged about among their things, scattering the contents of their packs, and in sheer wantonness destroying their lean-to. The footprints of the beast were quite plain, but at first they paid no particular heed to them, busying themselves with rebuilding the lean-to, laying out their beds and stores and lighting the fire.

While Bauman was making ready supper, it being already dark, his companion began to examine the tracks more closely, and soon took a brand from the fire to follow them up, where the intruder had walked along a game trail after leaving the camp. When the brand flickered out, he returned and took another, repeating his inspection of the footprints very closely. Coming back to the fire, he stood by it a minute or two, peering out into the darkness, and suddenly remarked, “Bauman, that bear has been walking on two legs.”

Bauman laughed at this, but his partner insisted that he was right, and upon again examining the tracks with a torch, they certainly did seem to be made by but two paws or feet. However, it was too dark to make sure. After discussing whether the footprints could possibly be those of a human being, and coming to the conclusion that they could not be, the two men rolled up in their blankets, and went to sleep under the lean-to. At midnight Bauman was awakened by some noise, and sat up in his blankets. As he did so his nostrils were struck by a strong, wild-beast odor, and he caught the loom of a great body in the darkness at the mouth of the lean-to. Grasping his rifle, he fired at the vague, threatening shadow, but must have missed, for immediately afterwards he heard the smashing of the under wood as the thing, whatever it was, rushed off into the impenetrable blackness of the forest and the night.

After this the two men slept but little, sitting up by the rekindled fire, but they heard nothing more. In the morning they started out to look at the few traps they had set the previous evening and put out new ones. By an unspoken agreement they kept together all day, and returned to camp towards evening. On nearing it they saw, hardly to their astonishment that the lean-to had again been torn down. The visitor of the preceding day had returned, and in wanton malice had tossed about their camp kit and bedding, and destroyed the shanty. The ground was marked up by its tracks, and on leaving the camp it had gone along the soft earth by the brook. The footprints were as plain as if on snow, and, after a careful scrutiny of the trail, it certainly did seem as if, whatever the thing was, it had walked off on but two legs.

The men, thoroughly uneasy, gathered a great heap of dead logs and kept up a roaring fire throughout the night, one or the other sitting on guard most of the time. About midnight the thing came down through the forest opposite, across the brook, and stayed there on the hillside for nearly an hour. They could hear the branches crackle as it moved about, and several times it uttered a harsh, grating, long-drawn moan, a peculiarly sinister sound. Yet it did not venture near the fire. In the morning the two trappers, after discussing the strange events of the last 36 hours, decided that they would shoulder their packs and leave the valley that afternoon. They were the more ready to do this because in spite of seeing a good deal of game sign they had caught very little fur. However it was necessary first to go along the line of their traps and gather them, and this they started out to do. All the morning they kept together, picking up trap after trap, each one empty. On first leaving camp they had the disagreeable sensation of being followed. In the dense spruce thickets they occasionally heard a branch snap after they had passed; and now and then there were slight rustling noises among the small pines to one side of them.

At noon they were back within a couple of miles of camp. In the high, bright sunlight their fears seemed absurd to the two armed men, accustomed as they were, through long years of lonely wandering in the wilderness, to face every kind of danger from man, brute or element. There were still three beaver traps to collect from a little pond in a wide ravine near by. Bauman volunteered to gather these and bring them in, while his companion went ahead to camp and made ready the packs.

On reaching the pond Bauman found three beavers in the traps, one of which had been pulled loose and carried into a beaver house. He took several hours in securing and preparing the beaver, and when he started homewards he marked, with some uneasiness, how low the sun was getting. As he hurried toward camp, under the tall trees, the silence and desolation of the forest weighted on him. His feet made no sound on the pine needles and the slanting sunrays, striking through among the straight trunks, made a gray twilight in which objects at a distance glimmered indistinctly. There was nothing to break the gloomy stillness which, when there is no breeze, always broods over these somber primeval forests. At last he came to the edge of the little glade where the camp lay and shouted as he approached it, but got no answer. The campfire had gone out, though the thin blue smoke was still curling upwards.

Near it lay the packs wrapped and arranged. At first Bauman could see nobody; nor did he receive an answer to his call. Stepping forward he again shouted, and as he did so his eye fell on the body of his friend, stretched beside the trunk of a great fallen spruce. Rushing towards it the horrified trapper found that the body was still warm, but that the neck was broken, while there were four great fang marks in the throat. The footprints of the unknown beast-creature, printed deep in the soft soil, told the whole story. The unfortunate man, having finished his packing, had sat down on the spruce log with his face to the fire, and his back to the dense woods, to wait for his companion. While thus waiting, his monstrous assailant, which must have been lurking in the woods, waiting for a chance to catch one of the adventurers unprepared, came silently up from behind, walking with long noiseless steps and seemingly still on two legs. Evidently unheard, it reached the man, and broke his neck by wrenching his head back with its fore paws, while it buried its teeth in his throat. It had not eaten the body, but apparently had romped and gamboled around it in uncouth, ferocious glee, occasionally rolling over and over it; and had then fled back into the soundless depths of the woods.

Bauman, utterly unnerved and believing that the creature with which he had to deal was something either half human or half devil, some great goblin-beast, abandoned everything but his rifle and struck off at speed down the pass, not halting until he reached the beaver meadows where the hobbled ponies were still grazing. Mounting, he rode onwards through the night, until beyond reach of pursuit.”

“There is by the way, a second passage in The Wilderness Hunter where Teddy Roosevelt may quite possibly have been describing a personal Bigfoot experience. He writes about how he and a friend were on a hunting trip in the State of Washington. They had contracted a Native American to guide them into a remote region. Their guide urged them to avoid a particular area due to some native “superstition” that hunter-tracker Roosevelt held as utterly preposterous.

“In any event, old roughrider Roosevelt, as was his way sometimes, bullied the apprehensive guide into taking them to this area anyway. They did not find any big game during that trek or other sign but Roosevelt made a point of mentioning the very strange noises he heard at night while camping there. He did not recognize nor describe the noises, but he did give the distinct impression that they were unusual in his learned experience and found them to be unsettling. Uncharacteristically, Roosevelt did not offer any explanation or speculation about the source of the noises, simply mentioned them, and said no more about it. Odd for an author who otherwise went into such vivid detail relative to the animals he observed and hunted.

“While the killer creature was never given a clearly defined name, Bigfoot buffs believe firmly that this creature was a Sasquatch but I could use some measure of convincing. Taken on its own, the Bauman story is not very impressive as evidence for the existence of wild men in North America, but when considered along with the more substantive reports it acquires greater significance. Ultimately, readers of these eyewitness accounts will be left to judge for themselves the significance and value ostensibly placed on these stories in the future.”

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The Great Balloon Riot of 1864

I first heard of this story by Jeremy Clay on the BBC here.

The English aeronaut Henry Tracey Coxwell became a minor celebrity in 1862 from a feat of derring-do. He and the meteorologist Dr James Glashier decided to carry out an experiment on behalf of the British Association for the Advancement of Science to investigate conditions of the upper atmosphere.

In short, they were going to take a hot air balloon (which, technically, at that time was not full of hot air–they used hydrogen at this period) up as high as they could go, just to see what happened. Coxwell and Glashier reached the highest point anyone had ever flown by this point–they were estimated to have reached somewhere between 35,000 and 37,000 feet.

Coxwell and Glashier before their record-breaking flight.

Unsurprisingly, Glashier lost consciousness and Coxwell lost all sensation in his hands. Coxwell was only able to save them both by pulling the valve cord with his teeth. The balloon dropped rapidly, but they landed safely. Coxwell was lauded as a hero.

Two years later, Leicester held a fete in which 50,000 people showed up to take a ride in Coxwell’s new balloon (and his largest one to date), Britannia. Someone in the crowd, for motives unknown, decided to spread the rumor that Coxwell’s balloon wasn’t his newest or largest, but an old and small one.

Coxwell later reported to the Times that this was “a cruel libel”, but the damage had been done. The crowd started to turn on him, thinking he was trying to fool them and eke money out of them for rides in a sub-par balloon.

As there was little police presence at the event, the crowd soon turned ugly and they broke into his enclosure where he was preparing his balloon for flight. They demanded their rides immediately, and those who had paid for their tickets jumped into the basket. Coxwell tried to tell them that he wasn’t done preparations, and they were delaying their own departure.

Members of the crowd then started damaging the balloon by hanging off various cords and ropes. Seeing how dangerous this was about to become, Coxwell threatened that if they didn’t stop damaging his preparations, he’d be forced to let the air out of the balloon. When they didn’t obey, he followed through on his threat.

As the balloon deflated, the crowd went wild, tore the fabric to shreds, and set the basket on fire. They also beat up Coxwell and left him bleeding and with torn clothes. Coxwell fled to the safety of a nearby pub, while members of the crowd began gathering up shreds of the balloon to sell off to spectators as souvenirs.

As far as I’m aware, they were never able to locate the person who started the rumor. The press was ruthless in their classification of the town as a brutish, and this led to a short-lived nickname for people from Leicester in the 1860s: Balloonatics.

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Dorothy Levitt, “The Goddess in the Car”

Continuing my “Badass Women” series today with Dorothy Levitt, or “The Goddess in the Car“. I first heard of Levitt from Futility Closet’s blog here.

Dorothy Levitt (1882-1922) was born into a prosperous British family in the Victorian era. It seems that she had a love for speed from an early age and was an experienced horse rider who participated in steeplechases.

At age 20, she got a job working for an engineering company, Napier and Son, as a secretary. Three years previously, the company had expanded to start manufacturing automobiles. With the automobile industry still in its infancy, people were equally fascinated by and nervous about motorcars, with races especially getting people riled up (both positively and negatively).

In order to maximize publicity, Selwyn Edge (a famous British race car driver who drove all Napier’s cars in their races) thought it would be a good idea to find a lady racer. Not only would it compound the idea of glamour and excitement, but it would also imply that cars were safe and easy to drive, if “even women could do it”.

Edge noticed Levitt in the office one day and found her to be so beautiful that he firstly promoted her to being his own personal assistant, and secondly began training her to become Napier’s newest racer.

While it is widely presumed that she became Edge’s mistress, Napier and Son worked with the papers to invent a romantic (and more respectable) backstory: Levitt had lived in the country with her parents, only to run away to London to escape an unhappy upcoming marriage her parents had arranged for her. Now free of a tiresome fiance, Levitt pursued an exciting career of her own. Cars and cities are the future! The country and arranged marriages are the past!

In 1903, she took part in her first-ever race, and was in fact the first-ever British woman to do so (that we know of). She didn’t place, but got a taste for the competition, and was determined to do better next time.

True to her word, that same year, she became the first woman driver to win an automobile race.

And it wasn’t just cars. Dorothy was into everything with a motor, and everything you could race. Also in 1903, she took up powerboating and won Britain’s first international powerboat race (her top speed being a whopping 19.53 mph–very fast for the time).

In 1905, she drove from London to Liverpool and back, covering 205 miles in just 11 hours. This set a women’s distance record. She took three things with her on her journey: an official observer (to make sure she didn’t cheat and to accurately mark the time), her pet Pomeranian, Dodo, and a revolver, just in case of trouble.

She broke another record in 1906 (the ladies’ land speed record), becoming the “fastest girl on earth” at the impressive 90.88 mph.

Please keep in mind that these are only a very few select excerpts from her many, many races and trials and feats.

Having conquered both land and water, in 1909 she began flight training in France. Before she could qualify for her pilot’s license, her life took a strange turn. In 1910, Dorothy disappeared entirely from the public eye. Her life from 1910, until her death, is totally undocumented.

She was found dead in her apartment 12 years later in 1922, and her cause of death is just as complicated and mysterious as her life. The official cause of death was threefold: “the cause of death was morphine poisoning while suffering from heart disease and an attack of measles. The inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure.” So, in short, she had a long-term and a short-term illness, both of them serious, but died from taking too much morphine (or her illnesses gave her a bad reaction to the morphine), and it was all a tragic accident.

No one knows what really happened, and it was never recorded why she became reclusive from the public eye.

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The Jefferson Bible

I first heard of this on Futility Closet’s blog here. It reads:

“Thomas Jefferson once composed a secular version of the Christian Gospels. He said he wanted to study Jesus’ teachings without ‘the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves.’

“He called the Bible’s supernatural content ‘nonsense,’ from which Jesus’ ideas were ‘as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.’ His narrative ends like this:

“‘Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.'”

Though we commonly call this The Jefferson Bible today, Jefferson would have been displeased with that: he never referred to his own work as a Bible and it was actually titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. This is actually the second (non-?)religious text written by Thomas Jefferson, with the first being The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, written in 1804. No copies of Jefferson’s first text exist today.

The later text was written in 1820 when–from what I understand–Jefferson took a razor to a copy of the New Testament and glued the secular extracts together to form his text. He excluded all of Jesus’s miracles and every other supernatural event in the Gospels, including Jesus’s resurrection and any reference to him being the son of God.

Jefferson had harsh words for the writers of the New Testament (saying that they were peddlers of superstition and nonsense) and he called the Apostle Paul “first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus”.

Jefferson’s goal was to achieve a deeper philosophical understanding of the ancient world. He believed that Jesus had a rough but “most sublime edifice of morality which had ever been exhibited to man”. He was pleased that his new version of the Gospels produced a short, simple text that even a child could easily comprehend.

In 1895, the Smithsonian purchased Jefferson’s original razor-and-glue version of the text from Jefferson’s great-granddaughter for $400.

The text is in the public domain and can be read in full here.

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King of the Toilets

I first heard this story on an episode of QI (series L, episode “Landmarks”).

In 1902, King Edward VII of England was crowned, about a year and a half after the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. You can watch a silent film documenting the event here:

One problem, though. The man in the video is not Edward VII.

The man in the video is a French lavatory attendant.

Let’s back up: in the extremely early days of cinema, France was really the world-power of film making. French director Georges Melies (who directed A Trip to the Moon also in 1902) sought permission to film the actual coronation of Edward VII, which was granted.

That is, until the officials organizing the ceremony heard how loud the film making equipment was, and promptly banned him from Westminster Abbey.

Frustrated, Melies decided to re-stage the entire coronation on a sound stage in France. He managed to stumble across a lavatory attendant who–at least from the front–looked extremely similar to Edward VII.

Edward VII came down with appendicitis on the day of the coronation, which enabled Melies to arrive early and film the actual carriages arriving for the ceremony and splice that into his re-staged footage. Melies worked closely with those involved with the coronation to make sure he got all the details as accurate as possible–with a few exceptions.

Firstly, Queen Alexandra was much taller than Edward VII, a fact of which the husband was extremely sensitive. Organizers quietly instructed Melies to make sure that whatever actor and actress he got, the actress must be shorter.

Secondly, the film version was a bit more ceremonial than the actual royal ceremony, because Edward had been ill so they had cut a few unnecessary elements out of the actual coronation.

Thirdly, because this was a film, events went a great deal more smoothly (since they had more than one take). At the actual coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who was extremely old and nearly blind) put Edward’s crown on backwards. When the Archbishop knelt down to swear fealty to the king, he wasn’t able to get back up again. Edward had to help him.

The film, meanwhile, was a massive critical and financial success. The man who played Edward, whose name I can’t find anywhere, briefly became one of the biggest stars in the world. He reprised his role as Edward VII in Melies’s 1907 film, Tunnelling the English Channel. Edward VII saw the coronation film when it came out, and was reported to have enjoyed it immensely. Melies’s great-great-granddaughter, Pauline Melies, still has a letter of thanks from Edward VII to her ancestor.

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