Episode 12: Strings & Things!

Shea strings you along with stories of magic and musical twin, then Jenn gets hung up on yee-oldie executions.

Welcome to Interesting If True,

The podcast my wife begrudgingly listens to in order to support my hobbies.

I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me are Aaron, and Jenn!

I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that cats are the primary predators of modern dinosaurs.

I’m Jenn, and this week I learned that when actor Michael Clark Duncan (Green Mile, Armageddon) died he had nearly a dozen pets, including a cat named Dribbles.

Strings and Things

Today’s episode comes to us from the back of the junk drawer. There are things around us every day that often get shoved into the junk drawer of life so today I’m organizing and unpacking facts about wires and cords. Maybe next week I can find some cool stuff about halfway used pens or old chapsticks.

Largest Loopholes

How big do you think the largest loophole is?

It’s hard to imagine anything huge being hidden in cities all over the world, but look up and you might just see the huge loophole over your heads. Winding its way 18 miles around Manhattan is a thin translucent wire stretched above the skyline, hardly noticed, is an eurvin.

An eurvin or eurv plural, is a symbolic wall that allows Jews to, essentially break some of their laws on Shabbat. Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath and goes from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night. In the simplest of explanations, Shabbat symbolises the seventh day of creation when God rests. During this observation members are told to refrain from working and rest, and when I say no work I mean no work, no turning lights on, no cooking, no lighting fires, even no carrying things outside of the home, this includes pushing a stroller or carrying your keys.

Under Jewish law on Shabbat, it is forbidden to carry anything—regardless of its weight, size or purpose—from a “private” domain into a “public” one or vice versa, or more than four cubits (approximately 6 feet) within a public domain. Private and public do not refer to ownership, rather to the nature of the area. An enclosed area is considered a private domain, whereas an open area is considered public for the purposes of these laws.

It became obvious even in ancient times, that on Shabbat, as on other days, there are certain things people wish to carry. People also want to get together with their friends after synagogue and take things with them—including their babies. They want to get together to learn, to socialize and to be a community.

Given the design of many communities in the past, many neighborhoods or even cities were walled. As such, the whole area was regarded as “private,” and carrying allowed. That, however, wasn’t always the case. And today, it is an obvious impracticality to build walls throughout portions of cities, crossing over or through streets and walkways, in order to place one’s home and synagogue within the same “private” domain.

The Answer is the Eruv

The answer is a technical enclosure which surrounds both private and public domains and thus creates a large private domain in which carrying is permitted on Shabbat.

Or as I call it, the giant flying loophole!

Two Pennies for a Hangover

When I told you I was going to talk about wires today I doubt you would think about homeless shelters. Back in the late 19th early 20th Century the Salvation Army operated the first homeless shelter in London. Back in those days the poor and destitute didn’t have anywhere to go and had to hunker in a corner or find outdoor shelter for warmth. The Salvation Army had a great idea to help those less fortunate and set up Coffin Houses. For four pennies, a homeless client could stay at a coffin house. He received food and shelter and, he was allowed to lie down flat on his back and sleep in a coffin-shaped wooden box. The client was given a tarpaulin for covering. What made this unique is that it was the cheapest homeless shelter in London at that time that allowed its clients to lie down on their back and sleep. For a more extravagant price you could get a bed, but most popular and cost effective was the 4 penny coffin.

Now for down on their luck individuals who may have lost all their money or, more often, drank their money, there were a few cheaper options for you to choose from. At the lowest and most basic was the one penny sit up where a homeless client could get food and shelter from the cold in exchange for a penny. He was allowed to sit on a bench all night, but was not allowed to sleep. Or if you were lucky enough to find another penny you could pay for the 2 penny hangover, it was like a penny sit-up except that a rope was placed in front of the bench. The client was allowed to sleep when he leaned on (or hung over) the rope during the night. He was not allowed to lie down flat on his back and sleep.The principal reference for such an establishment is George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London of 1933:

“At the Twopenny Hangover, the lodgers sit in a row on a bench; there is a rope in front of them, and they lean on this as though leaning over a fence. A man, humorously called the valet, cuts the rope at five in the morning. I have never been there myself, but Bozo had been there often. I asked him whether anyone could possibly sleep in such an attitude, and he said that it was more comfortable than it sounded — at any rate, better than bare floor.”

Also I have read that the valet would promptly cut the rope at 5am and kick everybody out for the day.

You probably heard 2 penny hangover and had flashes of a rough night in your younger days and rightly so. Many believe the term hangover came from the practice of these houses. Many times sailors would get shore leave and immediately go into town to spend all their money on drink and gambling only to find themselves “hungover” in a coffin house the next morning with a headache and empty pockets.

Also thought to be the origins of the phrase “sleep on a clothesline,” or so tired I could sleep on a clothesline, also.

When A cat isn’t a cat

We can’t talk about wire and cord without talking about strings! And who would have thought strings could be so interesting! But how does a cat fit in to all this you ask? Back in history and even today we use a product called catgut, catgut is used in many applications. Back when Steve was little it was used for many string instruments such as violins before steel became stronger and cheaper to produce. High end tennis rackets are still often strung with catgut even as synthetic become more popular. Even many stitches and sutures use catgut as it will naturally dissolve.

The truth, if your cat is sitting with you as you listen, and is demonstrating concern, you can tell your pussy not to worry; it isn’t, and never was, made from actual cat guts. Theoretically, you could use your cat’s intestines to make catgut string, but when compared to the string you get from cows and sheep, it’s not worth the trouble. A cow intestine can produce catgut string that is up to 160 feet long. Your cat’s intestine is small potatoes compared to that.

As I just said, it comes from the intestines of cows. Mostly cows, these days. Sometimes from sheep, pigs, or even horses…but cow catgut is the biggest current industry. When cows are slaughtered for meat, the intestines are saved and processed.

The part we want in order to make catgut comes mostly from the submucosa and the externa layers. These two layers contain the collagen, which is what we’re looking for. Collagen is found throughout the bodies of mammals and some other vertebrates. Wherever structural strength and elasticity is required in soft tissue, you may find collagen there. Skin, for instance; strong and elastic. The intestines also need to be strong and elastic for when we eat a lot of food, in order for the intestines to stretch without bursting, and then to contract back to normal size after food passes. This collagen is made up of strong, stretchy fibers.

The intestines are usually slit in half, thirds, or quarters, lengthwise. This would make different thicknesses for different uses. These are then soaked in a series of solutions and caustic solvents, which dissolves away all the tissue except for the strong collagen fibers. Once all these fibers are clean and pure, it is then stretched, twisted, and allowed to dry under tension. What remains is catgut string; pound for pound, one of the strongest strings there is. In that regard, it’s stronger than a comparable weight of steel wire, in fact.

You’re still wondering why it was ever called catgut, I’m sure. Well, the “gut” part is obvious, it’s made out of guts, which itself is a very old word. But the “cat” part actually started out as “kytte” (pronounced “kit”).

A kytte was a medieval-era mini-violin. It was so mini that it was stored in the pokett ( [pokytte] 15th century), which was derived from the Old French poque, or bag. Traveling minstrels could whip out their kytte, play a lively tune or three, and then put their hardy instrument back into their pokett without worrying about the delicate frailty of a normal-sized violin. These instruments were the perfect mingling of a horsehair bow rubbing against a cow gut catgut in perfect concert with each other. Catgut (kytte gut) is so named because it is gut that is used to string your kytte. Simple as that. It has nothing to do with felines whatsoever.

There you go! The story of catgut.

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A Short Rope…

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So when preparing for a patron story this week, the direction Shea gave was basically ‘my stuff is about wires and cords’. I pondered on that a bit–marionettes, umbilical, telephones– but then it came to me.

So today, patrons, let’s have a Swinging Good Time and discuss the history and some fun facts about the execution method of hanging!

Hanging as a form of execution is the practice of suspension, strangling or breaking of the neck by a noose or ligature.

It dates back to ancient history, with the earliest recorded report being found in Homer’s Odyssey.

There are four ‘types’ of methods used when carrying out hanging as an execution:

  • The Short Drop (standard before the 1800s, but a pretty slow and awful way to go),
  • The Pole Method (most commonly used in Czechoslovakia ((not Poland, har har)) during WWII and was never very popular)
  • The Standard Drop (and improvement on the Short Drop and has the added ‘more humane’ additional of hopefully breaking the condemned’s neck)
    The Long Drop (introduced in Britain in 1872 and considered a ‘scientific advancement’ to previous forms, but required a skilled hangman bc too long of a drop, too heavy of a person, or too thin of a neck would cause the head to pop off and fly into the crowd).

Hanging as a form of execution was introduced to Britain by Germanic Anglo-Saxon Tribes a q sometime in the 5th century.

From historicuk.com:

“William the Conqueror … decreed that it should be replaced by castration and blinding for all but the crime of poaching royal deer, but hanging was reintroduced by Henry I as the means of execution for a large number of offenses. Although other methods of execution, such as boiling, burning and beheading were frequently used in the mediaeval period, by the eighteenth century hanging had become the principle punishment for capital crimes.”

Until the 1890’s, hanging was the primary method of execution in the United States.The last took place in Delaware in January of 1996.

At the start of the 19th century under British law there were at least 222 crimes considered punishable by hanging. Known as The Bloody Code, some of these offenses included:

Luckily this only lasted a few years, as by 1861 the list of capital crimes was whittled down to 4, these being murder, arson in a royal dockyard, treason, and piracy with violence.

Hanging is still the main method of execution in Afghanistan, Singapore, Egypt, Bangladesh and India (where it is the only form of execution), Malaysia, Jordan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Storytime! British executioners/hangmen would often use a term, the ‘Goodale Mess’, when discussing botched or bungled hangings. So what exactly happened?

In 1885, Robert Goodale’s wife of 22 yrs was found beaten and then drowned. And as everything was basically a hanging crime, even murdering your wife would get you sent to the gallows. And justice was definitely swifter in those days, as the murder happened on September 15th and he was scheduled for hanging on November 30th.

Now the 45yr old Goodale stood 5’11 and weighed a solid 210lbs and was apparently sporting a flimsy neck.

Taking a quick step back, hangman James Berry was in charge of the proceedings. He is probably one of the most famous executioners as he was the first British hangman who was literate and actually kept a journal of his work. He preferred the term ‘executioner’ as he felt it more professional and over the course of 8yrs presided over 131 hangings (including 5 women). It was money that kept him in it, as he seems to have had a pretty active conscience for someone who killed people for a living. (the pay was 10 pounds per hanging, 5 pounds if there was a last minute appeal) His book ‘My Experiences as an Executioner’ can still be found in some libraries.

Now back to the Goodale Mess…

This comes directly from capitalpunishmentuk.org:

At 7.55 a.m. on the Monday morning the bell of St. Peter’s church began to toll and the officials proceeded to the condemned cell. A procession then formed consisting of the governor, the Rev. Mr. Wheeler, the surgeon, Mr. Robinson and the under-sheriff, Mr. Hales. Mr. Charles Mackie of the Norfolk Chronicle represented the press. They went down a passage that connected the cell to the gallows yard where Berry met them and pinioned Goodale, after which they continued into the prison yard.

Here Berry strapped Goodale’s legs and applied the white hood and the noose. Goodale several times exclaimed “Oh God, receive my soul.” As the church clock struck for the eighth time Berry released the trap doors and Goodale disappeared into the pit, but the rope sprung back up to the horror of the witnesses.

As they looked down into the pit they could see the body and the head lying separately at the bottom.

The law required that an inquest be held after an execution and this was presided over by Mr. E. S. Bignold, the Coroner. Mr. Dent gave evidence that the machinery of the gallows was in good working order and that Goodale was decapitated by the force of the drop. Mr. Dent did not think that a drop of 5’ 9’ was excessive and in fact thought it was insufficient for a man of ordinary build. He also stated that James Berry was perfectly sober.

Berry himself testified and at the end of this the Coroner absolved him of any blame for what had happened. The jury returned a verdict that Goodale “came to his death by hanging, according to the judgement of the law.” They further said “that they did not consider that anyone was to blame for what had occurred.”

This is the only occasion of a complete decapitation occurring at a hanging in England, Scotland and Wales, although Berry had several partial ones.

On the flip side, that same year (1885), Berry had his other most…problematic hanging. This time it involved John Lee, a man convicted of murdering a young woman. Despite Berry himself testing the trapdoor prior to the event, 3 attempts at hanging Lee resulted in the trap refusing to open. Apparently 3 times the charm and Lee was released and lived to an impressive 81 years old.

And finally, ending with a popular hanging myth and its weird Fake News Origins:

The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that at the hanging of murderer Francis Gorman at Tyburn on Monday the 4th of March 1767

“a young woman, with a wen upon her neck, was lifted up while he was hanging, and had the wen rubbed with the dead man’s hand, from a superstitious notion that it would effect a cure.” 10 years later at the hanging of Dr. Dodd at Tyburn on the 27th of June 1777 a newspaper reported that “After he had hung about ten minutes, a very decently dressed young woman went up to the gallows, in order to have a wen in her face stroked by the Doctor’s hand, it being a received opinion among the vulgar that it is certain cure for such a disorder. The executioner, having untied the doctor’s hand, stroked the part affected several times therewith”.


Thank you for listening this week, I hope we didn’t string you along too much.

I’m Shea, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.

We’d like the extend a special thanks to our newest patron C.J!

Before we go this week I learned all about the Pokemon Eevee, give eevee a water stone you get a Vaporeon, give them a thunder stone and you get jolteon, a fire stone Flareon, and if you give an Eevee money to support their creative endeavors they become a Patreon.

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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.

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