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Posted in Absurd, Anniversary, History, Oddities, World War 1 on Saturday, 15 December 2012
Six months ago we thought it would be interesting to make a collection of postcards sent in 1913, the reasoning, of course, being that 1913 was the year before the world fell to pieces and so images from that year have a peculiar poignancy.
We looked through not less than 70,000 postcards, and bought 300. These we have further refined down to 100 which we think best summarise, albeit idiosyncratically, the end of an era.
To see a picture show of these 100 postcards sent in 1913, click here.
The images are available for commercial licensing through the Bridgeman Art Library.
Posted in Absurd, Anniversary, Oddities on Saturday, 15 December 2012
To wish visitors to the Look and Learn website a Very Happy Christmas we have created a slide show of Christmas cards, all rather different from what you may have received this year. They come from the Valerie Jackson Harris collection.
To enjoy the slide show, click here.
Posted in Absurd, Actors, Historical articles, Leisure, Music on Friday, 9 November 2012
This edited article about Grock originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 783 published on 15th January 1976.
Grock, the musical clown
On to the stage came a clown with a big, bald head covered by a hat. He wore baggy trousers and enormously long shoes. He decided to start his act by playing the concertina, but his chair collapsed. He opened an enormous trunk and pulled out a tiny violin. After playing a few notes, he headed for a grand piano and sat down on the stool.
The stool was too far away from the piano. Not for one moment did it occur to him to move the stool to the piano. Instead, he nearly fainted with exhaustion pushing the piano to the stool. Then the keyboard lid started attacking him. Every time he opened it it crashed down on his fingers.
At last, things seemed to be going better, but, suddenly, his hat started to fall off. In despair lest the audience should see he was bald, he slid over the piano trying to keep it on. The moment it finally fell off his misery was complete. It was a moment of tragedy and comedy rolled into one. The audience cheered – Grock had truimphed again! His act was wordless except for groans, plaintive protests and gurgles!
Needless to say, Grock was actually a fine musician, a master of eight instruments.
Grock, the greatest clown of the 20th century, was born in Switzerland on 10th January, 1880. His father was a watch-maker who loved the circus, and it was as a circus performer that the young Grock was trained.
From his youth he had the clown’s gift of looking at an object as if it was alive. He once wrote that everything seemed to be looking at him and saying: “We’ve been waiting for you . . . at last you’ve come . . . take us now and turn us into something different . . . we’ve been so bored waiting.” So Grock turned piano lids and violin bows into living things. Grock summed it all up, when he once said to his father: “I want people to laugh . . . to simply split their sides whenever they catch a sight of me.”
Grock switched from the circus to the theatre in Berlin in 1911. It took him some time to adjust to playing less “broadly” than in the circus ring, but he triumphed, especially in London, where Grock appeared year after year with a series of partners and on his own. His reputation was world-wide and colossal – so were his fees!
It cannot be proved how funny, entertaining and moving his performances were by mere words. Grock had tremendous personality, incomparable timing, real pathos and looked, and was, very funny. He spellbound his audiences. In 1959 he died, after a long retirement.
Posted in Absurd, Geography, Historical articles, History, Oddities on Saturday, 21 July 2012
This edited article about the Couani deception originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 753 published on 19 June 1976.
Gold washing in Brazil, which neighboured the gold-rich Republic of Couani
To begin with, the reporters at the Paris press conference were mystified by, and somewhat suspicious of, the President of Couani, who had summoned them to his magnificent hotel suite. None of them had heard of him before, nor could they find his “small but significant” country on the map. However, the President soon dispelled their doubts.
Resplendent in his gold-and-red uniform, boasting numerous medals and wearing a ceremonial sword, he spoke long and convincingly about his nation and its place in the world. Couani, he explained, had been under the dominance of its large and more powerful neighbour, Brazil. But a short time previously, all that had changed. The Couani people had fought for, and gained, their independence. All they wanted now was recognition.
The assembled journalists agreed with the President (a middle-aged Frenchman named Adolphe Brezet), that publicity was due to the recently re-emerged nation. The conference over, they hurried back to their offices and, without bothering to check with the Brazilian Embassy in Paris, began typing out their stories.
The next day, the French newspapers were full of the bravery of the citizens of Couani and of the splendour of their country. Maps were given showing Couani’s exact location, on the north-west border of Brazil. Towns, cities and ports were marked and here and there were triangular symbols denoting the sites of Couani’s fabulous gold-mines.
Overnight, Couani had literally been put on the map and the President approached the atlas-makers in Paris to make sure that they brought their products up to date. He was particularly insistent that they used gold triangles to mark the mines and that, wherever possible, notes were given explaining Couani’s present prosperity and its “unlimited” future.
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Posted in Absurd, Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 18 July 2012
This edited article about Wilhelm Voigt originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 751 published on 5 June 1976.
The corporal who was marching his squad of ten men through a Berlin suburb sensed nothing wrong with the officer, a captain, who ordered the soldiers to halt and then proceeded meticulously to inspect them. In his immaculate uniform, complete with sword, helmet and rows of medal ribbons, the officer seemed like just another over-zealous disciplinarian.
His inspection over, the captain then gave an abrupt and unexpected command. He told the soldiers to accompany him to a nearby railway station. As they marched briskly along, he explained to the corporal that he had some “top-level” business to conduct in the town of Kopenick, not far from the German capital.
On arriving at Kopenick on that October day in 1906, the captain led his “task force” to the Town Hall. He hurried up the steps, along a corridor, and charged into the mayor’s office with his sword drawn.
“Don’t move!” he shouted. “Just take out the civic cash-box and place it on the table!”
In vain did the mayor protest that he was not allowed to show the cash-box or contents to strangers even if they were obviously distinguished officers. The captain insisted and, with the box brought from its hiding-place, he opened it and peered suspiciously inside.
He then counted the banknotes and loose change and turned to the mayor, his red face blazing with indignation. In a loud and furious voice, he accused the bemused official of having misappropriated a large sum of money. There was only some 4,000 marks in the box when, according to the captain, there should have been at least 20,000.
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Posted in Absurd, Animals, Famous news stories, Mystery on Tuesday, 26 June 2012
This edited article about a ghostly mongoose originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 741 published on 27 March 1976.
A Manx farmer had purchased several Indian mongooses which he released to help keep the rabbit population down
The new owner of the little Manx farm of Cashen’s Gap was returning from a walk across his fields when he noticed something scurrying across the yard. The farmer’s immediate reaction was that the creature was a large rat, and as he was carrying a shotgun it was only the work of a moment to aim and fire.
The creature rolled over and lay still, but when the man inspected the limp body, he saw that it was no rat that he had killed. In fact, he could not say for certain what it was, although it seemed to be some kind of mongoose. Yet what could a native of India be doing living wild on the Isle of Man?
The news of the shooting caused something of a stir in the neighbourhood, and the farmer soon learned that his new home was widely believed to be haunted. And haunted, of all things, by the ghost of a mongoose who went by the name of Gef. A talking mongoose!
But let us start at the beginning. The scene of this extraordinary haunting had been bought in 1917 by a former business man, James Irving. It was a remote, rather bleak farmhouse that stood high up on the slopes of Dalby Mountain, on the West coast of the Isle of Man. The interior walls had been covered over with boarding in order to keep out the draughts. Irving himself was a well travelled man who spoke several languages and he, his wife and their daughter, Mary, made up for their lack of neighbours with plenty of books and gramophone records.
It was on an evening in September, 1931, that the Irvings first heard the sound of an animal scuttling about their home, first in the attic and later in the space that had been left between the match boarding and the original slate walls.
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Posted in Absurd, America, Historical articles, Leisure, London, Oddities, Theatre on Wednesday, 9 May 2012
This edited article about Emanuel Zacchini originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 702 published on 28 June 1975.
Zacchini was appearing half a century after the great Zazel had performed similar feats as a human cannon-ball for her audience at London’s Royal Aquarium in the 1880s
One Day in 1940, amid a thunderous roll of drums, the ring master stepped before the packed crowds in Madison Square Gardens, New York, U.S.A.
“Ringling Brothers and Barnum and ‘Bailey’s circus proudly presents the most amazing spectacle ever witnessed by human eyes,” he proclaimed proudly.
A lorry trundled into the arena with a great cannon mounted on its back, and the crowd gasped in excitement.
“Mister Emanuel Zacchini’s death-defying feat is about to begin,” he cried. “He is going to be shot from a cannon for the greatest distance ever recorded in the annals of history.”
To a fanfare of trumpets, Zacchini tripped into the ring, bowed to the audience and climbed into the barrel of the cannon.
There was a hushed silence as the audience clung to their seats in anticipation. Suddenly, there was a tremendous roar. Smoke poured from the cannon and in the midst of it was Zacchini, shooting through the air so fast that he looked like a streak of colour.
Before the crowd could recover their breath, he was scrambling to the edge of the net in which he had landed and jumping into the arena.
After consulting with officials who had carefully measured the distance, the ringmaster announced that Zacchini had been shot a distance of 175 feet (53.3 metres) and achieved a world record.
Wherever he appeared after this, crowds flocked to see the world’s greatest human cannon-ball who not only survived to enjoy a quiet retirement, but was succeeded by his daughter Florinda as a star in an exciting profession.
Posted in Absurd, Communications, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Oddities on Thursday, 2 February 2012
This edited article about newspapers originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 625 published on 5 January 1974.
The Duke of Portland’s hoax angered the gullible public so much that they gutted the New Theatre in the Haymarket, burned the furnishings and stole the box office receipts, by C L Doughty
Usually tucked away in some unobtrusive part of a newspaper is a column that has many stories to tell. Marked “Personal”, it can contain love stories or sad pleas, mysterious messages or ridiculously funny ads. For what must be many thousands of avid readers it is a world of infinite wonder which can make the dullest imagination take off on wild flights of fancy.
Despite headlines, news stories and pictures from all over the world, there are many people for whom the most interesting and intriguing part of a newspaper is the quiet, sober column of advertisements tucked away and simply headed “PERSONAL”. For over two hundred years, the Personal Column (or the “Agony Column” as it has become known) has been a strange, romantic and sometimes exciting world where almost anything can happen.
Spies have sent secret messages through its columns in wartime and Scotland Yard has cracked its coded instructions to criminal gangs in peacetime. Dogs, jewellery and even people have been traced and there are always enough mysteries to satisfy the most curious reader. Even the celebrated Sherlock Holmes once remarked to Dr. Watson: “I read nothing except the criminal news and the Agony Column. The latter is always instructive.”
Here are some recent examples from the Personal Columns of “The Times” and the “Daily Telegraph”:
“Wanted to hire. A full grown, forest bred, Bengal Tiger. Very Active.”
“Smudge O.K. No news at Shepherds Bush Post Office. Captain Scarlet and the beans approach. Compliments of Captain Juicy.”
“Talking Parrot required. Will pay £1 per word.”
Yet the Personal Columns began life quietly enough, with masters seeking new servants or chemists extolling the virtues of a new cough linctus. Then in 1749 came an extraordinary incident which seems to have left its mark on the Agony Column ever since.
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Posted in Absurd, Geography, Geology, Historical articles, Magic, Oddities on Thursday, 19 January 2012
This edited article about water divining originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 607 published on 1 September 1973.
Some 35 years ago an old French agricultural worker was seen scurrying for dear life along a road near Moulins. It was a zig-zagging course he ran, for every few moments he glanced over his shoulder in case his employer, a certain Monsieur Treyve, was in pursuit.
“Sorcerer! Sorcerer!” screamed the old man over his shoulder.
Thankful that such an accusation had not been made centuries ago, when he might have been burned at the stake, Monsieur Treyve sighed, scratched his head and then had to smile. What else could he do after proving his extremely unusual powers yet again?
A short time earlier Monsieur Treyve had told his employee that he had left work without permission, visited a cafe in the village, enjoyed a drink there and chatted for a while with two old friends.
All this was perfectly true, as the man admitted, resentful that he had been followed.
And so he had been – but by a tiny pendulum dangling on a length of string!
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Posted in Absurd, Anniversary, History on Monday, 30 May 2011
10 June marks the anniversary of the hanging of the first witch at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692.
The Salem witch trials resulted in 72 executions for witchcraft
The Salem Witch Trials were a series of hearings before the county court to prosecute people accused of witchcraft. Despite being named after Salem, the early hearings were held at various locations, including Salem Village (now Danvers), Ipswich, Andover and Salem Town. All misfortunes were attributed to being the work of the devil, and accusations of witchcraft were often used during arguments between families.
In Salem, this escalated into examinations before magistrates and accusations then began to pour in. A Special Court of Oyer and Terminer was set up and warrants issued for a great many people and Bridget Bishop became the first of dozens to be executed for witchcraft.
Many more pictures relating to the history and culture of America can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.