Dreams of the Forbidden City: When Chinatown Nightclubs Beckoned Hollywood

When “talking pictures” took over the cinema in the early 1930s, America’s fascination with Hollywood blossomed into a full-on love affair. Naturally, little girls and boys across the country dreamed of becoming glamorous starlets and debonair leading men, dancing and singing their way to stardom. It was no different for the first generation of natural-born Chinese Americans, who longed to escape from the traditional values of … (continue reading)

Storybook Apocalypse: Beasts, Comets, and Other Signs of the End Times

It’s tempting to dismiss the mid-16th-century depictions of Biblical miracles, flaming comets, multi-headed beasts, and apocalyptic chaos that fill the pages of the “Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs” as the superstitious vestiges of the post-Medieval mind. But according to the co-authors of Taschen’s new, 568-page boxed volume called “Book of Miracles,” the Protestant citizens of Augsburg, Germany, were enthusiastic and active collectors of portrayals of … (continue reading)

Selling Shame: 40 Outrageous Vintage Ads Any Woman Would Find Offensive

One vintage ad warns women, “Don’t let them call you SKINNY!” while another promises that smoking cigarettes will keep one slender. If the task of morphing their bodies into the current desirable shape isn’t enough of a burden, women are also reminded that they stink.

“You’re stuck at the party with a ripped stocking, and it’ll probably end your marriage.”
In these vintage ads, a woman may … (continue reading)

Being The Beatles: Untold Stories from the Fab Four’s Legendary North American Tours

Like a lot of people of a certain age, I’ll never forget the night I watched The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It was February 9, 1964, I was 7 years old, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr had just invaded America. Coming scant months after the assassination of President … (continue reading)

How We Used to Give Thanks in Wartime

Earlier this month, while browsing the Library of Congress website for Armistice Day images, we came across this provocatively titled 1918 lithograph, created by an artist named A. Hendee and printed by Edwards & Deutsch of Chicago for the United States Food Administration. That agency was established in August of 1917 by the Food and Fuel Control Act, which was designed to, among other things, keep … (continue reading)

A Frenzy of Trumpets: Why Brass Musicians Can’t Resist Serbia’s Wildest Festival

Aside from a certain subset of musicians, most Americans live a day-to-day life that is sadly free of brass music. In Serbia, however, any occasion is an excuse to bring out the horns. The joyous, off-kilter sounds of Balkan brass bands fill the air during weddings, births, housewarmings, funerals, and patron saint days. And every August, even in times of war and strife, Serbians celebrate the … (continue reading)

Women and Children: The Secret Weapons of World War I Propaganda Posters

Armistice Day is a time to reflect upon that defining moment at the end of World War I, at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, when soldiers stopped shooting at each other along Europe’s Western Front. At its close, most observers assumed that nothing would ever match the “Great War” for its sheer volumes of death and destruction, and for decades after, people around the world stopped whatever … (continue reading)

Can’t Buy Me Love: How Romance Wrecked Traditional Marriage

Despite the fondness among certain politicians and pundits for “traditional marriage,” a nostalgic-sounding concept that conjures a soft-focus Polaroid of grandma and grandpa, few consider the actual roots of our marital traditions, when matrimony was little more than a business deal among unequals. Even today, legal marriage isn’t measured by the affection between two people, but by the ability of a couple to share Social Security and tax … (continue reading)

Treats or Tricks? Unfortunate Vintage Candy Wrappers

According to a recent article on Smithsonian.com, the notion that poison candy is routinely distributed to unsuspecting children on Halloween is a myth perpetrated by advice columnists Dear Abby and Ann Landers in the 1980s and ’90s. But historically, candy meant for young consumers has sported poisonous-sounding, WTF wrappers and packages that most self-respecting 2013 parents would be dismayed to see dumped out of their children’s … (continue reading)

Return to ‘The Crypt’: Jack Davis Resurrects the Crypt-Keeper

When iconic “Mad Magazine” illustrator Jack Davis launched his career in the early 1950s, he made a name for himself drawing nightmarish images for EC Comics titles such as “Tales From the Crypt.” Horror fans today still marvel at his towering and intricately detailed fiends—corrupt men with shadowy, crevassed faces; feral werewolves with saliva dripping from their fangs; hordes of slimy skeletal corpses that seem to reach out … (continue reading)

Jeepers Creepers! Why Dark Rides Scare the Pants Off Us

Most roller coasters put their stomach-dropping slopes and brain-twisting loops front and center for all the world to see. But the amusement-park attractions known as “dark rides” keep their thrills hidden. As you’re standing in line for a tour of a haunted house full of ghosts and ghouls, a high-seas adventure with pirates, or a ride on the range with gun-slinging cowboys of the Wild West, all you … (continue reading)

The World’s First Hunk: Why We’re Obsessed with Muscle Men

When Eugen Sandow took the stage in 1894, clad only in a pair of miniature briefs, audiences swooned. Not only did Sandow have one of the finest musculatures in the Western world, but he made physical beauty his primary talent: Instead of focusing on magic tricks or daring feats, Sandow simply posed like a gorgeous hunk of marble.
Though the bodybuilding trend was initially based on notions … (continue reading)

Extraordinary Collection of Counterculture Literature Up for Auction

The first time I met Rick Synchef, I was anxious to see his legendary stash of political ephemera and protest posters from the 1960s, which eventually formed the basis of an article for CollectorsWeekly. Synchef had been collecting political paper and ephemera since he was a student in Madison, Wisconsin, which was a hotbed … (continue reading)

The Real Mermaids of San Marcos, Texas

The springs of the San Marcos River in central Texas have plenty of extraordinary traits: Each day, they release about 100 million gallons of water, forming the life source for one of the longest-inhabited places in North America. They’re also the primary habitat for several endangered species, including a blind salamander found nowhere else on earth. Yet the most magical thing about the San Marcos springs … (continue reading)

Untangling the Tale of the Seven Sutherland Sisters and Their 37 Feet of Hair

These days, the biggest stars—like Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé—know the easiest way to get the world to gawk is to chop off your long locks for a “boy cut.” And then, perhaps, perform some sexually provocative dances moves on TV.

“Their antics and wild, over-the-top parties were the talk of Niagara County.”
In the late 19th century, though, the most startling, erotic thing you could do as … (continue reading)