Archive for the 'Ancient Wonders' Category

Poison Was Everywhere: Arsenic & the Victorians

It’s December. The month of cakes and cookies. But if you’re an avid reader of mysteries and crime novels, even holiday treats may be suspicious…where did that strange spice cake come from anyway?

 

P.S. Don’t tell Madame Bovary about the wallpaper….

 

When Poison Was Everywhere
A new book explores how and why arsenic found its way into wallpaper, bread, and baby carriages in Victorian times.

 

“Slightly over a century ago, poison was a common part of everyday life. Arsenic, the notorious metalloid, was used in all sorts of products, primarily in the inks and aniline dyes of beautifully printed wallpapers and clothing. Odorless and colorless, it went into food as food coloring, and it was used in beauty products, such as arsenic complexion wafers that promised women pure white skin, until as late as the 1920s. It was found in the fabric of baby carriages, plant fertilizers, medicines. It even was taken as a libido pill in Austria.

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Fowler’s solution, a health tonic that contained arsenic (Courtesy of the private collection of Madame Talbot)

 

The literature of the era hints at the effects from arsenic poisoning. The main character in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” for instance, descends into madness and believes that the source of her illness stems from the wallpaper in her room. “It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw—not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things,” she says. “But there is something else about that paper—the smell!”

 

There are numerous studies on William Morris’s arsenic-laden wallpapers, in particular, which were extremely popular during the late 19th century. Morris himself, a designer and artist, was also the heir to the world’s largest copper mine at the time, which produced arsenic dust due to mining activity. Not only did the mine cause massive environmental damage to the land around it, but many miners died of lung disease, according to a 2003 article in Nature. Morris’s famous phrase about the doctors who treated these miners was that they “were bitten by witch fever,” insinuating that the doctors were quacks when they diagnosed arsenic poisonings. He was unwilling to believe the catastrophe his businesses had caused…”

 

For the rest, click here.

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The stove goblin of Zaragoza…

This is truly a strange mystery…and “unconscious ventriloquism” is something we’ve never heard of!

 

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A young girl, possibly Pascuala Alcocer, poses with the chimney where the voice was said to emanate from. (Screencap by ANINBOXING on Youtube)

 

From Atlas Obscura,

 

Unconscious Ventriloquism: The Unsolved Mystery of the Zaragoza Goblin

 

by Eric Grundhauser

 

“The supernatural often seems to get a short shrift from government authorities, but that isn’t always the case. Or, at least, once, this wasn’t the case, because in 1930s Spain, the police, the military, and the international press were all summoned in response to the supposed voice of a goblin living in a residential stove.

 

The strange incident in Zaragoza, Spain in September of 1934 was finally blamed on “unconscious ventriloquism,” leaving one (probably) innocent woman slandered, and an entire city confused. (We scoured the almost daily reports from the 1934 London Times for the story.)

 

The madness began on September 27th, 1934 in the second floor home of the Palazón family, who lived in an apartment building on what was then known as Gascón Gotor street. It was on that date that the family first began hearing strange screams, laughter, and voices that seemed to come from the walls of their kitchen, specifically from their stove or its chimney. The chimney connected to many other units in the building before escaping to the roof, so the logic was that it must have been coming from someone in the building. The roof itself was taller than any around it and too isolated to access easily.

 

The voice, male, did not seem to just be in the heads of the Palazón family either…”

 

For the rest, click here.

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Track 61: Secret railway under the Waldorf Astoria used by Roosevelt

We’re all thinking about the Presidency in America lately. Here’s something of interest from the past that may distract us nicely regarding the present!

 

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From Gothamist,

 

A Look Inside Track 61, The Secret Train Platform Under The Waldorf-Astoria
by Jen Carlson

 

“There are secrets under our feet, above our heads, and around every corner in New York City, many you may be passing by without even knowing it. Some of these special nooks are easier to access than others, and one time capsule that remains just out of reach is Track 61, which, at one end, is found behind a locked door on 49th Street.

 

This is the secret train platform that Franklin D. Roosevelt and other VIPs used to enter the Waldorf-Astoria (it was first used by General Pershing in 1938). It has been out of service for decades, but back in 2011 we visited the underground space, which still houses the tracks, the train car, and even the private elevator. In September of 1929, the NY Times reported on the new hotel’s private railway siding underneath their building.

 

“Guests with private rail cars may have them routed directly to the hotel instead of to the Pennsylvania Station or the Grand Central Terminal, and may leave their cars at a special elevator which will take them directly to their suites or to the lobby. The arrangement is made possible because of the fact that the New York Central tracks pass directly beneath the block, which has been obtained by the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria Corporation from the New York Central Railroad on a sixty-three-year leasehold, the lease being in reality only for the “air rights” on the site.”

 

According to Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, FDR, who most famously used the secret entrance, did so “in part to hide his disability from the public.” Everything was made so large that, according to the MTA’s Dan Brucker, it could fit FDR’s armor-plated Pierce Arrow car, which would drive off the train, onto the platform, and straight into the elevator…”

 

For the rest, and many photos and a video of the secret subway station, click here.

 

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