Work halted on San Francisco renovation after 19th century coffin is uncovered.
In San Francisco, where high-end property renovations are occurring all over the city at breakneck speed, even the dead are being pushed out by gentrification. Last week workers digging beneath a home in the Richmond neighborhood unearthed a metal and glass coffin from the 1870s that holds the body of a little girl.
We had no idea such items existed, but after doing a little research we discovered that ornate metal caskets, usually made of cast iron or lead, were popular during the mid- to late-1800s among the more affluent. A Providence, Rhode Island man named Almond Fisk was the first to patent them, which he displayed in 1849 at the New York State Agricultural Society Fair in Syracuse, and the American Institute Exhibition in New York City.
He called them Fisk Metallic Burial Cases, and they came in an amazing variety, including Egyptian style sarcophagi. The coffins were airtight, helping preserve bodies during an era when the embalming arts were not as advanced as today and a week could elapse before arrangements were made to bury a loved one and family gathered for the send-off. They were also welded shut, preventing grave robberies—a serious problem of the times, not only due to valuables that might be buried with bodies, but also due to the price a well-preserved corpse could fetch from unscrupulous medical schools looking for research cadavers.
Fisk's sales materials boast that not only could his burial cases be drained of air, aiding preservation, but—if one chose—filled with any type of atmosphere or fluid. Just a year after he displayed them at those New York exhibitions, former U.S. Vice-President and Secretary of State John C. Calhoun died and was buried in one. The publicity caused a wave of nationwide interest that prompted Fisk to license his expensive invention to other companies. Eventually, Crane, Breed & Co., of Cincinnati and New Orleans acquired a license, and made coffins sporting the types of viewing windows featured on the San Francisco discovery.
What will happen the little girl's body is still unknown. San Francisco ordinances make her the property owner's responsibility. Reburial has been mentioned by said property owner, but we'd be surprised if anthropologists didn't get a look at the girl first. Autopsies on bodies ofthat age have uncovered troves of data about diet, disease, and more. Afterward she can be laid to rest somewhere well out of the way of San Francisco's ongoing makeover into millionaire Disneyland.
A sequel dealing with the world’s worst men ran more than 100 volumes.
This is a rather nice 1955 edition of Bernard O’Donnell’s The World’s Worst Women, a collection of bios on assorted female murderers. Among them are Belle Gunness, who we wrote about several years ago, Martha Wise, who was known as the “Borgia of America,” Vera Renczi, who poisoned thirty-five people in Bucharest, Romania, and Anna Marie Hahn, who killed five people in Cincinnati, Ohio. Other famed killers include such colorfully named characters as the Red Witch of Buchenwald (Ilse Koch), the Poison Widow of Liege (Marie Alexandrine Becker), the Ogress of Paris (Jeanne Weber), and the Angel Makers of Nagyrév, a group of women who poisoned up to 300 people in Hungary. We were just kidding about a sequel dealing with men. Finding enough paper to print something like that would wipe out half the world’s forests…
First time we’ve seen it, but hopefully not the last.
Above is the cover of an issue of Final, a publication we had never heard of before, but which is certainly big budget and hit the streets this month in 1950 courtesy of Gambit Publishing out of New York City. The cover star is model Joy Niven, who we also had never heard of, but who was photographed by famed Marilyn Monroe lensman Earl Leaf. This Final has taken a bit of wear over the last six decades, but kudos to the Denver Book Fair for acquiring it, sealing it so its deterioration stopped, and selling it to us cheap. Now we’ve carried it across an ocean, opened it, and exposed it to the elements, but all in an effort to scan it for posterity. For as we discussed before, if it isn’t digital and accessible to the masses, does it really exist at all?
Final is basically a tabloid, with a bit of crime, a bit of politics, a bit of sports, and a lot of celebrity dish. There are quite a few interesting items inside. In the Picture of the Month you see Canadian actor Rod Cameron with Portuguese model Angela Alves-Lico. They had just met earlier on the beach and, according to Final, she was driving home, and Cameronwas following in his car, when she had an auto accident. Our first thought, because they’d just met and “following her home” sounds a bit stalkerish to us, is that maybe she crashed because she was trying to get away from him. But perhaps not—Cameron and Alves-Lico soon married each other.
Later on you get an investigative report from inside Major League Baseball. What’s being investigated? Whether baseball is still prejudiced against Negroes. Short answer—yes. The reason Final was asking was because Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and others had been playing in the Majors for a few years, prompting certain elements of the punditry to pronounce prejudice in baseball beaten. Of course that was ludicrous to even suggest, and Final’s report singles out the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cubs as clubs that would not under any circumstances employ a black baseballer. Of those, the Phillies held out longest, employing their first African American baseball player a full ten years after Jackie Robinson had arrived with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Probably the highlight of the issue, for us at least, is an article asking nineteen prominent ministers if they think the use of a nuclear bomb by the U.S. in Korea could be justified. Of the nineteen, only three unambiguously say it would be wrong. Most of the others echo theopinion of the compassionate Rev. B. W. Hancock: “If our military feels that it would establish peace, then I would favor it.” Truly, Hancock must have spent a lot of time with his cock in his han to come up with that one. It makes us think of the famous Tacitus quote: “Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” Or, “And where they make a desert, they call it peace.” Yes! Three years of high school Latin and we finally worked that shit into a post. Nice! Anyway, for various reasons, the U.S. never nuked Korea, so we hope the ministers weren’t too disappointed.
Elsewhere in Final you get Australian nudists, Parisian white slavers, professional seers, forced sterilization, Ava Gardner in the Mediterranean, Patrice Wymore and more. We don’t know if we’ll ever run across another issue of Final, but we will certainly be looking. And in the meantime this one will go back in its plastic and—who knows?—with a little luck, it might survive another sixty years. More scans below.
Update: Pamela writes in and says, "The best part about that Rod Cameron/Angela Alves-Lico story is that after ten years of marriage, Cameron divorced her. And married her mother. Yep...the woman on the right in that photo.
Everything’s coming up aces.
Above is a promo poster from the former Yugoslavia for 1965’s The Cincinnati Kid, with Steve McQueen and Ann-Margret. The movie is actually set not in Cincinnati, but in depression-era New Orleans, with McQueen playing an up and coming poker player whose goal is to be recognized as the best in the world. But one man stands in his way—invincible poker master Lancey Howard, played by Edward G. Robinson. It’s The Hustler with cards. Highly recommended.
Days go by and still I think of you.
In the United States, Major League Baseball’s 2010 season opened last night with a couple of games, but today is the first full slate of baseball, and in commemoration we’ve tracked down a few images of baseballers from the past. We won’t identify every player, but we do want to make special mention of a few. In panel two below you see Ty Cobb spiking catcher Paul Kritchell in the nuts. Why? That's just how he rolled. Panel three shows Buck Leonard of the Homestead Grays running out a grounder against the Philadelphia Stars during the 1945 season, and below him is Oscar Charleston. Leonard, Charleston, and Josh Gibson, in panel eleven, are all Negro League players who were inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame way back in the early seventies. Allthree are considered by sports historians to be among the best who ever played their positions, though they never played in the Major Leagues. Lastly, in panel fourteen you see Lefty Grove, one of the great pitchers of his era, frozen in time just before a game, forever young.
We decided to post all these photos because we’re basically a history site, and baseball, more than any other American sport, is inextricably bound with the country’s history. When you think of Ted Williams, you don’t just think of baseball—you think of World War II. When you think of Joe DiMaggio, you think of Marilyn Monroe and her tragic ending. Hank Aaron, chasing a sacred record with grim determination, is part and parcel of the civil rights movement—not for anything he said, but just because that was his place in time. For every era of baseball, the facesconjure moments on the field, but also events far from the confines of the ballpark. This is what makes the boys of summer such a special group. Seasons change, winter inevitably comes, careers and lives end, but their niches in history are secure. Meanwhile these images are a reminder of just how long and wonderful the summer can be. Enjoy the season everyone.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
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