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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged eighteenth century:

Excessive Eaters of the 18th Century
For some unfathomable reason the 18th century threw up a formidable clutch of prodigious eaters, and scholars have supplied many trustworthy accounts of these great polyphagi. For instance, Rev. Lysons, a habitué of London’s low life, [who visited] squalid, back-street monster-shows and collecting information about al he saw there, recorded in 1788 that “The Duke of Bedford [had] betted 1000 guineas with Lord Barrymore, that he does not eat a live Cat! It is said his Lordship grounds his chances upon having already made the experiment upon a Kitten.” The unusual bet attracted considerable public attention and several articles appeared under the headline ‘Cat Eating’. One authority on blood sports pointed out that it was “not without precedents in the annals of sporting.” He had himself witnessed an Irishman devouring five fox cubs for a bet of £50, whilst another said he had seen a Yorkshire shepherd eat a live cat to win a bet of two guineas.

A few entrepreneurial gluttons managed to transform the art of bizarre consumption into a profitable sideshow act, eating all manner foods for the entertainment of live audiences. Thomas Eclin, for example, performed such wonders in London in the mid-1700s. His feats included eating dogs and cats and leaping head first into the Thames when the weather was freezing cold. The 1770s saw the rise of ‘The Stone Eater’, who would invite doubters to his shows to witness him grind stones and pebbles between his powerful jaws, whilst claiming that his intestinal tract had become used to minerals as the principal source of nourishment after he was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island for 13 years.

Perhaps the most celebrated gluttons, however, are Charles Domery and Tarrare. Domery served with the Prussian Army in the War of the First Coalition, however, upon finding the rations were insufficient to satisfy his appetite he defected to the French Army in return for food. He is recorded as having eaten 174 cats in a year, and although he disliked vegetables, would eat 5 pounds of grass each day if he could not find other food. He once also attempted to eat the severed leg of a crewmember hit by cannon fire, before it was wrestled from him.

When Domery’s ship was captured and imprisoned by the British he remained hungry despite being put on ten times the rations of other inmates. He was subsequently experimented on: throughout a day he was fed a raw cow’s udder, which was eaten without hesitation; 4.6kg of raw beef; 24 large tallow candles; and four large bottles of porter. During the course of the experiment he did not defecate, urinate or vomit, his pulse remained regular and he did not change temperature.

Similarly, Tarrare was a French showman and soldier able to eat vast amounts. He was constantly hungry; his parents could not provide for him, and he was turned out of the family home as a teenager. He travelled France in the company of a band of thieves and prostitutes; swallowing corks, stones, live animals and whole apples. He then took this act to Paris where he worked as a street performer.

He also found military rations unable to satisfy his appetite, and would eat food from gutters and refuse heaps. Suffering from exhaustion through hunger, he was hospitalised and became the subject of experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies, and swallowed an eel whole without chewing. Despite his unusual diet, he was of normal size and appearance. His army general decided to put Tarrare to use as a courier, swallowing documents and transporting them over enemy lines, however, Tarrare was captured upon his first mission and subjected to a horrific beating and mock execution.

Returning to the hospital following this, Tarrare was caught several times attempting to eat the bodies in the hospital mortuary. After some time, a toddler disappeared, and Tarrare was immediately suspected and banished from the hospital. After his death Tarrare’s body was found to be filled with pus; his liver and gallbladder were abnormally large, and his stomach was enormous, covered in ulcers, and filled most of his abdominal cavity. The cause of their appetites is not known and there have been no modern documented cases of polyphagia as extreme as Domery’s and Tarrare’s.
[Sources: Fortean Times | Charles Domery | Tarrare]

Excessive Eaters of the 18th Century

For some unfathomable reason the 18th century threw up a formidable clutch of prodigious eaters, and scholars have supplied many trustworthy accounts of these great polyphagi. For instance, Rev. Lysons, a habitué of London’s low life, [who visited] squalid, back-street monster-shows and collecting information about al he saw there, recorded in 1788 that “The Duke of Bedford [had] betted 1000 guineas with Lord Barrymore, that he does not eat a live Cat! It is said his Lordship grounds his chances upon having already made the experiment upon a Kitten.” The unusual bet attracted considerable public attention and several articles appeared under the headline ‘Cat Eating’. One authority on blood sports pointed out that it was “not without precedents in the annals of sporting.” He had himself witnessed an Irishman devouring five fox cubs for a bet of £50, whilst another said he had seen a Yorkshire shepherd eat a live cat to win a bet of two guineas.

A few entrepreneurial gluttons managed to transform the art of bizarre consumption into a profitable sideshow act, eating all manner foods for the entertainment of live audiences. Thomas Eclin, for example, performed such wonders in London in the mid-1700s. His feats included eating dogs and cats and leaping head first into the Thames when the weather was freezing cold. The 1770s saw the rise of ‘The Stone Eater’, who would invite doubters to his shows to witness him grind stones and pebbles between his powerful jaws, whilst claiming that his intestinal tract had become used to minerals as the principal source of nourishment after he was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island for 13 years.

Perhaps the most celebrated gluttons, however, are Charles Domery and Tarrare. Domery served with the Prussian Army in the War of the First Coalition, however, upon finding the rations were insufficient to satisfy his appetite he defected to the French Army in return for food. He is recorded as having eaten 174 cats in a year, and although he disliked vegetables, would eat 5 pounds of grass each day if he could not find other food. He once also attempted to eat the severed leg of a crewmember hit by cannon fire, before it was wrestled from him.

When Domery’s ship was captured and imprisoned by the British he remained hungry despite being put on ten times the rations of other inmates. He was subsequently experimented on: throughout a day he was fed a raw cow’s udder, which was eaten without hesitation; 4.6kg of raw beef; 24 large tallow candles; and four large bottles of porter. During the course of the experiment he did not defecate, urinate or vomit, his pulse remained regular and he did not change temperature.

Similarly, Tarrare was a French showman and soldier able to eat vast amounts. He was constantly hungry; his parents could not provide for him, and he was turned out of the family home as a teenager. He travelled France in the company of a band of thieves and prostitutes; swallowing corks, stones, live animals and whole apples. He then took this act to Paris where he worked as a street performer.

He also found military rations unable to satisfy his appetite, and would eat food from gutters and refuse heaps. Suffering from exhaustion through hunger, he was hospitalised and became the subject of experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies, and swallowed an eel whole without chewing. Despite his unusual diet, he was of normal size and appearance. His army general decided to put Tarrare to use as a courier, swallowing documents and transporting them over enemy lines, however, Tarrare was captured upon his first mission and subjected to a horrific beating and mock execution.

Returning to the hospital following this, Tarrare was caught several times attempting to eat the bodies in the hospital mortuary. After some time, a toddler disappeared, and Tarrare was immediately suspected and banished from the hospital. After his death Tarrare’s body was found to be filled with pus; his liver and gallbladder were abnormally large, and his stomach was enormous, covered in ulcers, and filled most of his abdominal cavity. The cause of their appetites is not known and there have been no modern documented cases of polyphagia as extreme as Domery’s and Tarrare’s.

[Sources: Fortean Times | Charles Domery | Tarrare]

Cemetery Gun

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”


The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.


Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.


Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.
[The website that this is from also has a Tumblr, so go follow them!]

Cemetery Gun

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”

The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.

Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.

Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.

[The website that this is from also has a Tumblr, so go follow them!]

(Source: Slate)

Peter the Wild Boy
Amongst William Kent’s depiction of George I’s court, which adorns the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, is the above image of a smartly-attired but bushy-haired youth: the mysterious Peter the Wild Boy. Peter’s story is as sad as it is curious.

In Germany, in 1725, a ‘naked, brownish, blackhaired creature’ was found living in a woods near Hamelin. He walked on all fours and exhibited uncivilised behaviour. As an honoured guest at a banquet of George I, this feral boy aroused the curiosity of the king by gorging on vegetables and rare meats and eating noisily with his hands – behaviour which had him attributed with his title of Peter the Wild Boy. By royal request he was taken to England where he became an instant sensation, providing a remedy to the tedium of court life and inspiring such satirical works as The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation (attrib. Jonathan Swift).

Peter appealed especially to the Princess of Wales, who essentially kept him as a pet. Though he was inclined to sleep on the floor he was dressed in a fine suit each morning, whilst vein attempts were made to properly educated him – though physically healthy “he could say nothing but his own name and a garbled form of ‘King George’. [Thus], Peter could not to live up to the popular interest invested in him and a fickle public quickly abandoned him in favour of the next unfortunate”1. 

Consequently, in 1728 he was taken to live in the country. Here “He developed a taste for gin and loved music, reportedly swaying and clapping with glee and dancing until he was exhausted. But he never learned to speak and his lack of any sense of direction gave cause for concern”2.

He was also prone to wandering. On one occasion, in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was mistaken as a Highlander and arrested; in 1751, he went missing for such a period of time advertisements were placed appealing for his safe return. When a fire broke out in goal in Norwich, some 100 miles from the farm on which Peter lived, and the inmates were released, one aroused particular curiosity due to his remarkable appearance and the strange sounds he uttered, leading some to describe him as an orangutan. He was identified as Peter the Wild Boy, returned to the farm and fitted with a collar bearing the inscription: ‘Peter, the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble.’

Peter died in 1785 at the age of about 70. A portrait of Peter as an old man was published in Caulfield’s Portraits of Remarkable Persons, and matches the last description of him as having a full beard. He was buried at Northchurch and his grave can still be seen in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church. A modern assessment of Peter’s condition might be read here.
[I wrote this myself (for a change) however I am heavily indebted to this, this and this. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing Peter’s portrait with my very own eyes and I recommend it very much]

Peter the Wild Boy

Amongst William Kent’s depiction of George I’s court, which adorns the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, is the above image of a smartly-attired but bushy-haired youth: the mysterious Peter the Wild Boy. Peter’s story is as sad as it is curious.

In Germany, in 1725, a ‘naked, brownish, blackhaired creature’ was found living in a woods near Hamelin. He walked on all fours and exhibited uncivilised behaviour. As an honoured guest at a banquet of George I, this feral boy aroused the curiosity of the king by gorging on vegetables and rare meats and eating noisily with his hands – behaviour which had him attributed with his title of Peter the Wild Boy. By royal request he was taken to England where he became an instant sensation, providing a remedy to the tedium of court life and inspiring such satirical works as The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation (attrib. Jonathan Swift).

Peter appealed especially to the Princess of Wales, who essentially kept him as a pet. Though he was inclined to sleep on the floor he was dressed in a fine suit each morning, whilst vein attempts were made to properly educated him – though physically healthy “he could say nothing but his own name and a garbled form of ‘King George’. [Thus], Peter could not to live up to the popular interest invested in him and a fickle public quickly abandoned him in favour of the next unfortunate”1

Consequently, in 1728 he was taken to live in the country. Here “He developed a taste for gin and loved music, reportedly swaying and clapping with glee and dancing until he was exhausted. But he never learned to speak and his lack of any sense of direction gave cause for concern”2.

He was also prone to wandering. On one occasion, in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was mistaken as a Highlander and arrested; in 1751, he went missing for such a period of time advertisements were placed appealing for his safe return. When a fire broke out in goal in Norwich, some 100 miles from the farm on which Peter lived, and the inmates were released, one aroused particular curiosity due to his remarkable appearance and the strange sounds he uttered, leading some to describe him as an orangutan. He was identified as Peter the Wild Boy, returned to the farm and fitted with a collar bearing the inscription: ‘Peter, the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble.’

Peter died in 1785 at the age of about 70. A portrait of Peter as an old man was published in Caulfield’s Portraits of Remarkable Persons, and matches the last description of him as having a full beard. He was buried at Northchurch and his grave can still be seen in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church. A modern assessment of Peter’s condition might be read here.

[I wrote this myself (for a change) however I am heavily indebted to this, this and this. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing Peter’s portrait with my very own eyes and I recommend it very much]

Tipu’s Tiger

'Tipu's Tiger' is an awesome, life-size beast of carved and painted wood, seen in the act of devouring a prostrate European in the costume of the 1790s. It has cast a spell over generations of admirers since 1808, when it was first displayed in the East India Company's museum. Concealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger’s shoulder. Turning the handle pumps … bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim.

Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India for whom the automaton was built, identified himself with tigers; his personal epithet was ‘The Tiger of Mysore,’ his soldiers were dressed in ‘tyger’ jackets, his personal symbol invoked a tiger’s face through clever use of calligraphy and the tiger motif is visible on his throne, and other objects in his personal possession [Source]. The death of a young Englishman named Munro carried off by a man-eating tiger in 1792 was the inspiration … Munro was the son of Sir Hector Munro, one of the East India Company’s generals. His death was seen by [Tipu] … as divine retribution against the British invaders [Source - see also documentary].

(Source: vam.ac.uk)

The Dark Counts

The Dark Counts, or Dunkelgrafen in German, was a nickname given to the wealthy couple who resided in the castle of Eishausen from 1807 until their deaths. The man presented himself as Count Vavel de Versay but kept the woman’s identity secret, making it clear that they were neither married nor lovers. They led secretive lives, particularly the Countess who ventured out only in a carriage or with a veil covering her face.

When she died in 1837 she was buried quickly, possibly without a religious service. The Count - later identified as Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck - gave her name as Sophie Botta of Westphalia and according to the physician who constated her death, she looked about 60 years of age. The Count stayed in the castle and died there in 1845.

Speculations about the identity of the Countess started early on. The most notable theory, although it enjoys little support from historians, is that the Countess was actually Marie Thérèse, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. According to the hypothesis, Marie Thérèse, traumatised by her trials or pregnant by rape, refused to go back in the world and Ernestine Lambriquet, supposedly the illegitimate daughter of Louis XVI by a chamber maid, and therefore Marie Thérèse’s half-sister, took her place.

The theory of exchanging the person sprang immediately after the wedding of Marie Thérèse with the Duke of Angoulême in 1799. Pictures of the Duchess of Angoulême look remarkably different from pictures of Marie Thérèse before 1795 and her social style is said to be very unlike that of the original Madame Royal. 

The graves of the Dark Counts are still untouched on the Eishausen cemetery. In June 2012 the Stadrat of Hildburghausen gave permission for the exhumation of the body to allow for a scientific determination of identity. The name given by the count, Sophie Botta, was not found in any civil registry in Westphalia.

[Image Source: 1: Marie Thérèse before 1799 : 2: Marie Thérèse after 1799]

World’s Largest Nose
The longest nose in history, 7.5 inches, belonged to Thomas Wedders, who was exhibited throughout Yorkshire in the 1770s.
In Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (1901), George Milbry Gould writes, “This man expired as he had lived, in a condition of mind best described as the most abject idiocy.”
“The accompanying illustration is taken from a reproduction of an old print and is supposed to be a true likeness of this unfortunate individual.”

World’s Largest Nose

The longest nose in history, 7.5 inches, belonged to Thomas Wedders, who was exhibited throughout Yorkshire in the 1770s.

In Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (1901), George Milbry Gould writes, “This man expired as he had lived, in a condition of mind best described as the most abject idiocy.”

“The accompanying illustration is taken from a reproduction of an old print and is supposed to be a true likeness of this unfortunate individual.”

Valentina Vassilyev: The Woman with 69 Children
Valentina Vassilyev was an 18th century Russian peasant who sets the world record for the most children birthed by a single woman. Between 1725 and 1765 she purpotedly gave birth to a total of 69 children: 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets and 4 sets of quadruplets in a total of 27 births. 67 of the 69 children are said to have survived infancy. Valentina was the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev who had, between two wives, at total of 87 children.
The first published account about Valentina’s children appeared in a 1783 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine and states that the information “however astonishing, may be depended upon, as it came directly from an English merchant in St Petersburg to his relatives in England, who added that the peasant was to be introduced to the Empress”. 
Several published sources raised doubts as to the veracity of these claims. For example, a 1790 book by B. F. J. Hermann did provide the claims about Valentina’s children but “with a caution”. The French Academy of Sciences attempted to verify the claims and contacted “the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg for advice as to the means they should pursue, but were told by him that all investigation was superfluous, that members of the family still lived in Moscow and that they had been the object of favours from the Government”. 
However, despite both its seeming improbability, and the various distortions that have appeared in accounts from time to time, most commentators have concurred in the belief that there must be some truth to the story. Sadly, th[e] evasion of proper investigation seems, in retrospect, to have dealt a terminal blow to our chances of ever establishing the true detail of this extraordinary case. [Source]
[Image Source: The Swaddled Twins - The image is actually unrelated to the story apart from the fact it depicts twins in ‘the olden days’]

Valentina Vassilyev: The Woman with 69 Children

Valentina Vassilyev was an 18th century Russian peasant who sets the world record for the most children birthed by a single woman. Between 1725 and 1765 she purpotedly gave birth to a total of 69 children: 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets and 4 sets of quadruplets in a total of 27 births. 67 of the 69 children are said to have survived infancy. Valentina was the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev who had, between two wives, at total of 87 children.

The first published account about Valentina’s children appeared in a 1783 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine and states that the information “however astonishing, may be depended upon, as it came directly from an English merchant in St Petersburg to his relatives in England, who added that the peasant was to be introduced to the Empress”. 

Several published sources raised doubts as to the veracity of these claims. For example, a 1790 book by B. F. J. Hermann did provide the claims about Valentina’s children but “with a caution”. The French Academy of Sciences attempted to verify the claims and contacted “the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg for advice as to the means they should pursue, but were told by him that all investigation was superfluous, that members of the family still lived in Moscow and that they had been the object of favours from the Government”. 

However, despite both its seeming improbability, and the various distortions that have appeared in accounts from time to time, most commentators have concurred in the belief that there must be some truth to the story. Sadly, th[e] evasion of proper investigation seems, in retrospect, to have dealt a terminal blow to our chances of ever establishing the true detail of this extraordinary case. [Source]

[Image Source: The Swaddled Twins - The image is actually unrelated to the story apart from the fact it depicts twins in ‘the olden days’]

New England’s Dark Day
New England’s Dark Day refers to an event on May 19, 1780, when an unusual darkening of the day sky was observed over the New England states and parts of Canada. The darkness was so complete that candles were required from noon on. It did not disperse until the middle of the next night.
The earliest report of darkness came from New York where the sun was already obscured at sunrise. Samuel Williams observed from Cambridge that: “This extraordinary darkness came on between the hours of 10 and 11 am and continued till the middle of the next night.” In Massachusetts, peak obscurity occurred “by 12”. At Harvard College, the obscuration was reported to arrive at 10:30 am, abating by 1:10 pm, although a heavy overcast remained for the rest of the day. 
At 2:00 pm, roosters crowed, woodcocks whistled, and frogs peeped as if darkness had fallen. A witness reported that a strong sooty smell prevailed in the atmosphere, and that rain water had a light film over it that was made up of particles of burnt leaves and ash.
For several days before the Dark Day, the sun appeared red, and the sky yellow. While the darkness was present, soot was observed to be collected in rivers and in rain water, suggesting the presence of smoke. Also, at night observers saw the moon coloured red. For portions of New England, the morning of May 19, 1780 was characterised by rain, indicating that cloud cover was present.
Since communications technology of the day was primitive, most people found the darkness to be baffling and inexplicable. Many applied religious interpretations to the event. However, the likely cause of the Dark Day was smoke from massive forest fires. When a fire does not kill a tree and the tree later grows, scar marks are left in the growth rings. This makes it possible to approximate the date of a past fire. Researchers examining the scar damage in Ontario, Canada, attribute the Dark Day to a large fire in the area that is today occupied by Algonquin Provincial Park.
[I realise while I post this, though when I first started reading about it I did not realise it regarded forest fires, that there are currently massive bush fires in Australia, so I’d like to say that I hope any Australians who might read this, and their families and friends, are safe and well.]
[Image Source: The only known depiction of New England’s Dark Day taken from Our First History by Richard Devens (1876)]

New England’s Dark Day

New England’s Dark Day refers to an event on May 19, 1780, when an unusual darkening of the day sky was observed over the New England states and parts of Canada. The darkness was so complete that candles were required from noon on. It did not disperse until the middle of the next night.

The earliest report of darkness came from New York where the sun was already obscured at sunrise. Samuel Williams observed from Cambridge that: “This extraordinary darkness came on between the hours of 10 and 11 am and continued till the middle of the next night.” In Massachusetts, peak obscurity occurred “by 12”. At Harvard College, the obscuration was reported to arrive at 10:30 am, abating by 1:10 pm, although a heavy overcast remained for the rest of the day. 

At 2:00 pm, roosters crowed, woodcocks whistled, and frogs peeped as if darkness had fallen. A witness reported that a strong sooty smell prevailed in the atmosphere, and that rain water had a light film over it that was made up of particles of burnt leaves and ash.

For several days before the Dark Day, the sun appeared red, and the sky yellow. While the darkness was present, soot was observed to be collected in rivers and in rain water, suggesting the presence of smoke. Also, at night observers saw the moon coloured red. For portions of New England, the morning of May 19, 1780 was characterised by rain, indicating that cloud cover was present.

Since communications technology of the day was primitive, most people found the darkness to be baffling and inexplicable. Many applied religious interpretations to the event. However, the likely cause of the Dark Day was smoke from massive forest fires. When a fire does not kill a tree and the tree later grows, scar marks are left in the growth rings. This makes it possible to approximate the date of a past fire. Researchers examining the scar damage in Ontario, Canada, attribute the Dark Day to a large fire in the area that is today occupied by Algonquin Provincial Park.

[I realise while I post this, though when I first started reading about it I did not realise it regarded forest fires, that there are currently massive bush fires in Australia, so I’d like to say that I hope any Australians who might read this, and their families and friends, are safe and well.]

[Image Source: The only known depiction of New England’s Dark Day taken from Our First History by Richard Devens (1876)]

The King Who Ate Himself to Death
Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden (1751-1771), died on 12 February 1771 after having consumed a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, which was topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla, served in a bowl of hot milk. He is thus remembered as “the king who ate himself to death.”

The King Who Ate Himself to Death

Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden (1751-1771), died on 12 February 1771 after having consumed a meal consisting of lobstercaviarsauerkrautkippers and champagne, which was topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla, served in a bowl of hot milk. He is thus remembered as “the king who ate himself to death.”

Figures Made to Move by Means of Living Birds
Courtesy of Children’s Toys of Bygone Days: A History of Playthings of All Peoples from Prehistoric Times to the XIXth Century by Karl Grober, English version by Philip Hereford. London, 1928.

Well into the nineteenth century, it was the custom in Italy to tie a string to the leg of living birds or big cockchafers and give them to children to play with. The custom was so universal that we even see such living playthings represented in the hands of the Christ Child, especially in pictures of the Italian Renaissance. A curious example of a similar kind was to be found among the usually so simple and harmless German toys, as a Nuremberg catalog of the eighteenth century proves [above]. These were comic figures with space inside to hold a bird which in its struggles gives to the figures all kind of motions. As the catalog says: ‘No one would imagine that a living bird was inside, but would suppose that it was clock-work which made the head, eyes, and beak of the bird move.’

Figures Made to Move by Means of Living Birds

Courtesy of Children’s Toys of Bygone Days: A History of Playthings of All Peoples from Prehistoric Times to the XIXth Century by Karl Grober, English version by Philip Hereford. London, 1928.

Well into the nineteenth century, it was the custom in Italy to tie a string to the leg of living birds or big cockchafers and give them to children to play with. The custom was so universal that we even see such living playthings represented in the hands of the Christ Child, especially in pictures of the Italian Renaissance. A curious example of a similar kind was to be found among the usually so simple and harmless German toys, as a Nuremberg catalog of the eighteenth century proves [above]. These were comic figures with space inside to hold a bird which in its struggles gives to the figures all kind of motions. As the catalog says: ‘No one would imagine that a living bird was inside, but would suppose that it was clock-work which made the head, eyes, and beak of the bird move.’

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