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  • Immortal Meals 22#: Mesmerism Tea Party April 15, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Immortal Meals 22#: Mesmerism Tea Party

    This story combines three Beachcombing interests: first, mesmerism, and second, the practical joke framed, third, in an immortal meal, one that many readers would have killed to have attended. We are in the town of Hexham in the north of England in 1871. Mr Morgan, a professor of mesmerism has come to town to impress […]

    Poison Jokes April 14, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Poison Jokes

    Strangehistory recently ran a post on death by joke and Beach was surprised by just how many late nineteenth-century joke victims died by poison. Perhaps the strangest thing is that anyone would ever even dream of bringing poison to a joke, after all you don’t load the gun you use for a fake duel, do […]

    Dangers of Treasure Hunting in Sixteenth-Century Devon April 12, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Dangers of Treasure Hunting in Sixteenth-Century Devon

    Ancient mounds and barrows evoked mixed feelings in your average yokel in the medieval and modern period. On the one hand you, might find treasure: gold, silver and coins from the Empire or even before. On the other, though, you were likely to get flattened by whatever dragon or spirit guarded the hole in question: […]

    Poxless 1492 April 7, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Poxless 1492

    A counterfactual that has long fascinated Beach. In 1492 Columbus reaches the Caribbean and within a century Europeans have mapped and visited all coastal regions in the New World. So far so normal. But add a slight adjustment into the mix. The viruses that killed tens of millions of Amerindians have practically no effect: maybe […]

    True Bosom Serpents April 5, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    True Bosom Serpents

    The bosom serpent is the useful term to refer to the folklore notion that animals (particularly reptiles) find a way into the human body and cause illness there. Stories of this kind seem to be practically universal and to date back to the earliest times: we are dealing with a proto-myth or even part of the […]

    Natator #4: Diving off London Bridge April 3, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Natator #4: Diving off London Bridge

    From Natator’s defeat to the churlish Fish Man in the spring of 1871 it was all down hill, and the slope was steep and full of briars and stones: some readers might want to spare themselves the unhappy denoument and click away at this point. OK, well you’ve been warned. In June 1871, doubtless desperate […]

    Natator 2#: Buckland Speaks March 29, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Natator 2#: Buckland Speaks

    Natator had no biographer: who would be equal to such a life! However,  10 August 1867 Frank Buckland the celebrated naturalist and son of a great British eccentric (who once ate a king’s heart) visited the Cremorne Gardens to examine Frog Man. We learn more from this account than from any other. First, the aquarium: […]

    Natator 1#: Arrival of the Master! March 28, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Natator 1#: Arrival of the Master!

    Nineteenth-century London. Three million human beings crammed into rookeries and tenements, villas and palaces and desperate for stimulation outside the normal run of work, gin and jellied eels. The theatres and music halls did their best, of course, but even the wildest cant, the heartiest acting, the prettiest legs quickly jade in the world capital. It was […]

    The Eyes Have It: Lenin’s Screwing Orbs March 25, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Eyes Have It: Lenin's Screwing Orbs

    Eyes! Novelists are forever going on about them, even philosophers occasionally get excited about them: blue eyes are beautiful, brown eyes are sublime, Kant insists.  Beach personally has never understood all the fuss: of the twenty members of his family he probably has noticed the eyes of three and knows the colour of six or […]

    Not the Shawl, Josephine! March 24, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Not the Shawl, Josephine!

    This is a chamber pot story, one which Beach stumbled upon during his recent research into chamber pot enemies. We are in France in the theatre at Saint-Cloud and during the first act, Napoleon’s wife, the Empress Josephine ‘was seized with an uncontrollable desire to make water’. This comes from an edition in 1896 and […]

    The Mystery of the Victoria Reservoir at Southport March 22, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Mystery of the Victoria Reservoir at Southport

    Southport is a Lancashire seaside town. In the nineteenth-century Southport had something of a reputation, tourists flocked from throughout the north and in 1860 Southport would build the second largest pier in Britain: a big deal back then when coast towns measured their self esteem by ‘how long’ they were. At the centre of these […]

    Death by Joke March 21, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Death by Joke

    The historical practical joke tag has now reached almost a dozen posts and Beach thought that he would celebrate with a brief survey of a particularly unusual form of practical joke: jokes that ended in the joker or jokee dying. Beach limited himself to British newspapers from 1 Jan 1880 to Dec 31 1899 and […]

    Disturbingly Nude Victorian Mermaids March 18, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Disturbingly Nude Victorian Mermaids

    Nothing like a really beautiful mermaid, right: hair breezing sea blue blonde, scales shining with Brasso, tail whipping like a pike dropped in a bucket of acid? Well, yes, and Beach has previously celebrated the alluring mermaids of Venice: what some of his students would call ‘babes’. But he has been disturbed today by a […]

    Preserving Foolish Enemies March 15, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Preserving Foolish Enemies

    A very speculative post. In war there may be something to be said, in strategic terms, let’s forget the tiresome debates around international law, for killing enemy leaders. Sometimes this is a simple decapitation strategy (American attempts to annihilate Sadam Hussein at the beginning of the Second Gulf War or earlier US targeted bombing on […]

    Chamber Pot Enemies March 14, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Chamber Pot Enemies

    Chamber pots have been practically banished from modern western households but as late as the Second World War most families had a ceramic bowl that passed as a toilet; a potty for grownups with no running water in the house. These chamber pots were, of course, carefully decorated. Some of them were twee, some were […]

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