More Horrible Cereal

This week Aaron finishes his dive into the horrible origins of food. Then Shea tells patrons about a ye-oldie “well” of tragedy.

Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that Chex all the boxes! @11:30

I’m your host this week, Aaron, and with me are:

I’m Shea, and this week I learned that if you bump into someone you haven’t seen in 7 or more years, every cell has been replaced and they are someone new. You don’t have to say hello.

Chex Shredded Ralston off your list

So. Korn flakes were made to stop you jerking off. Sleepy Time tea was made by eugenicists. And Chex Mix, it turns out, was created by a racist health food nutter who walked like a centaur.

Webster Edgerly was a health food nut before, health, food, and nuts were really understood, much less used together. He was a bigoted, would-be actor who moved to Hopewell in the late 1800s to create a utopian society based on his own understanding of hygiene, eugenics, and magnets.

Edgerly first arrived in New Jersey. The year was 1898 and had arrived to save the world from the horrors of being a fat, gross, minority. Perhaps apropos then that he would — as an amateur actor — first appear on stage as Christopher Columbus. A role which he insisted on playing while walking only on the balls of his feet. The theater people assumed it was because he was an ass. He said it was because keeping all your weight on your toes would avoid “leakage of vital forces.” But in reality, it was because he was an ass.

Fortunately, he wasn’t a full-time actor. That was just a hobby. His real passion lay in writing under the pen name Edmund Shaftesbury. He wrote 82 pseudoscientific, and often overtly racist and horrible, advice books on life, sex, and one’s ability to become Magento!

Also a bunch of “the kids these days,” and “damn modernity” stuff that would have made the Luddites blush.

Also, being a cult leader.

That was probably the one that paid the best. Cause if you’re the cult’s leader, you get all the money and everyone else gets whatever you say they do. It’s a pretty solid system if you’re at the top — I imagine he got that advice from long-time patron and fan, Queen Victoria.

She’s also probably where he got his advice on sex: once every eight days. The end. Or vice versa. There’s not a lot of info on how freaky deeky the Queen of England is.

He also had this thing where you’re not supposed to walk in straight lines. Because of demons or some other stupid, Jersey-water induced, nonsense.

Upon arrival in Jersey, he created The Ralston Health Club. Which was less of a destination as it is a mindset. His mindset. He named it Ralston by using the letters of his mother’s name, Rhoda Lucinda Stone, and later retrofitted it to become an acronym for Regime, Activity, Light, Strength, Temperation, Oxygen, and Nature—all things Edgerly valued.

While the official motto of the Ralston Club was “Perfect Health,” Edgerly said its purpose was “To Establish a New Race.” So… welcome, again, to your snack eugenics moment.

So if you wanted to join the nearly million people who fell down this idiots’ well, you’ll want to read his advice books like Artistic Deep Breathing or Sexual Magnetism. Written under the name Edmund Shaftenbury, the books offered all his fantastic wisdom, like, if you’re a young man you should bang GILFs. And if you’re an old man, like he is, you should marry women at least 20 years your junior, as he did.

He also wrote advice for improving your day-to-day life, like spinning a marble around your head to make yourself more magnetic. I guess at this point I should say that “magnetism” was his pet term for life force or chi or whatever you fancy.

Image from Six, Janet. “Hidden History of Ralston Heights.” Archaeology, vol. 57, no. 3, 2004, pp. 30–35. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Jun. 2022.

Also, the ability to manipulate ferrous metals and read people’s minds.

But if you want to get brain powers, you have to read all his books of course. Some of which cost as much as $25 — remembering that this is 1892 that’s about $750 now. Still, he had hundreds of thousands of followers, called Ralstonettes, who identified themselves with black armbands.

Members were structured using “degrees,” not unlike celsius. You went from 0 to 100. The only way to achieve this distinction was to advance five degrees at a time up the club’s “chain of influence” with each book counting as five degrees. So you’ll be into this dude for a minimum of twenty books if you wanted to be a “100th Degree Rastonite,” the highest level you could achieve without being Edgarly.

Members also got great advice on which doctors they could, or couldn’t use.

Unfortunately, the ones they could use weren’t doctors.

“It is gratifying that all honest doctors who have investigated Ralstonism are its friends and recommend it, or rather prescribe it, in place of medicines, to their patients. A doctor who has investigated this system, and does not affirmatively aid and use it, may be set down as dishonest and unsafe to employ.”

Edgerly, 1900, Star Ralstonism

Where have we heard that line before? [cough]homeopathy[cough]

This is also where our Kellog and Celestial Seasonings tie in. Among our 100th level bros were Sylvester Graham — who we should have mentioned last week, thanks for the correction Ed! — and John Harvey Kellogg.

Anyway, he’s got a plan now. A growing library of self-help books, followers, and cereal to market.

If Celestial Seasonings has taught us anything it’s that the next step of crazy food-based cults is to find a plot of land and create a utopian society of free labor.

After all, bland, hateful food requires the grain. And grain requires a farm, which in turn requires farm hands who, typically, require payment. Unless you’re a smarty who founded a cult, then you get free labor because reasons.

Edgerly started buying up land in a farming community in Hopewell, New Jersey which he called “a scientifically proven Garden of Eden.” Jerseyites…

He imagined the “City of Ralston” would have 400 homes, six farms, and six estates for himself and his five most affluent friends whose lifestyles preclude manual labor or being covered in cow shit — after all, is it really a utopia if you’re not more wealthy than someone nearby?

With that in mind, he created the 27,000-square foot, Victorian, mansion that would become Ralston Manor which the locals now call “The Castle.”

The third floor was devoted to elocution lessons. There were plans for a 36-peace orchestra. Trees were imported from Japan, Norway, and China. Of them, many were fruit trees which he distributed among the residents of his town in the hopes of seeming a little less Grinchy.

At least, that was the plan…

In reality, the land near Hopewell was insanely expensive and he wasn’t helping… The land he bought earlier was sold to him at $75 an acre. It went up since of course, but nowhere near the $5100 ye-oldie bucks an acre he wanted for it. Even for his large collection of wealthy patrons. In all, only 25 lots were sold. He attempted to befriend the townsfolk by building a water tower to make their lives easier… but it was contaminated and gross, which didn’t at all make friends.

What it does do, however, is kill Johnny with dysentery.

Ok, ok, I don’t actually know if it was Johnny, with dysentery, in the study, it could just as easily have been Colonel Mustard with milk leg in the woodshed.

Either way, giving people contaminated water doesn’t make you friends.

It also doesn’t help convince your non-friends to live in your nescient compound and learn your super spesh’ invented language, Adam-Man Tongue. It contained a 33-letter alphabet that, sadly, I couldn’t find a copy of. According to Janet Six, Ph.D., — who stayed at “the Castle” as its caretaker for years while writing her Thesis on Edgerly — it was “nothing more than a bizarre-looking version of English.”

Speaking of tongues, your taste buds need not apply. It was around this time the whole-grain cereal he and William Danforth of the animal feed company Purina Mills started gaining ground.

If there’s any one statement that sums up the mind-numbing desperation of the ye-oldie times, it’s the idea that a whole grain pet food is the flavor sensation sweeping the nation.

Still, it was a simpler time and if you had a hey-penny burning a hole in your pocket, you were gonna reach for a bowl of Chex. And so, in 1902, Purina Mills was renamed Ralston-Purina. These days, if you contact the company as Dr. Six did, you’ll get a pamphlet back talking about the creation of the company in part by a Dr. Ralston who they say was “a heath Gugu.” This is, of course, Edgarly and what I imagine to be a marketing department that hopes you don’t google well.

These days Nestle owns Purina and replaced Raston’s name with their own.

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Toilet Fall Down

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Today I’m going to try and bring more incredibly stupid humor to the show and I have decided the best way to do that is with the help of the porcelain throne.

We have all had bathroom accidents but how many of those have resulted in death and a disruption of the Holy Roman Empire? I got close, that one time when I visited the Vatican, but that was about it.

Our bathroom accident started outside of the bathroom in the late 12th century. During this time there was loads of political strife brought on by constant power struggles between feudal nobles and religious leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. One such conflict erupted between Conrad of Wittelsbach, who was the Archbishop of Mainz (also known as Conrad I), and Ludwig III, the Landgrave of Thuringia. It’s unclear exactly what prompted the conflict, but they hadn’t seen eye to eye since Henry the Lion had been defeated for the crown, and the genesis of the dispute is believed to have centered on land control. These two pissy Nobels made life miserable for most under their fiefdom, so much so that the king decided to intervene.

Whatever the problem was, it’s believed that King Heinrich VI wanted to settle the conflict between the two men once and for all. As he made his way through the territory, he called for a meeting involving a number of the region’s nobles and high-ranking officials. Some may have been expected to act as mediators during the negotiations.

They decided to hold the mediation at King Heinrich’s ancestral castle, Erfurt. A huge medieval castle in central Germany, though they didn’t know it would make such a huge splash.

So a bit about medieval plumbing. Modern indoor plumbing was invented in the 1800s and wasn’t widely used until the 1920s. It was commonly believed that before then, people washed their hair in the river, bathed in bathtubs filled with buckets of water from the creek, and used outhouse-style toilets with no plumbing whatsoever. While some medieval civilizations did do those things, some wealthier civilizations during the medieval times actually had plumbing (or even indoor plumbing!) That’s right, the medieval times weren’t as primitive as you thought, not Erfurt though. Most toilets of the time were just fancy latrines that would empty into a pit somewhere below, this was the technology Erfurt employed, the shit pit.

Back to the mediation, in late July of 1184 the nobles and their entourage began to arrive at the castle, being that there wasn’t Netflix at the time there was a lot of buzz behind the gathering and the nobles brought as many as they could.

The court opened on July 26th in Erfurt. Historical details about the meeting of nobles in 12th-century Erfurt are murky. Most believe the meeting took place on one of the floors of St. Peter’s Church, but other accounts claim it happened elsewhere. Most believe it was in the church though. The citadel, packed to the gills, couldn’t handle the strain of the substantial occupancy. Without warning, the wooden floor collapsed sending those who had been standing and sitting on it to the floor below, which happened to be a large basement latrine system.

It was horrifying as people fell into raw sewage. Some may have been injured or killed simply by the fall, but at a time when swimming wasn’t necessarily common, many, including some significant royal figures, perished because they couldn’t escape the deep ooze of human waste they had tumbled into. At least 60 were believed to have died, while some accounts have put the number of fatalities at closer to 100.

It was said that the King and Archbishop might have also perished except they were saved by having been seated in an alcove situated on a small stone floor that didn’t succumb to collapse. They were discussing what would be happening that day and avoided falling below by grabbing the iron rails of a window until they could be extracted.

Because the citadel was served by an order of monks, and they are lazy as shit, the latrine was especially large to prevent the need of having it emptied frequently. Instead, it turned out to be an exacerbating factor in the death of so many people. However, the disaster killed some of the meeting’s more famous participants, such as nobles Heinrich von Schwarzburg, Hesse Gozmar von Ziegenhayn, Friedrich von Abenberg, Burkard von Wartberg, Friedrich von Kirchberg, and Beringer von Mellingen, to name just a few of the known victims, I definitely just pulled those names from the articles I read but I have no idea who most of them are, I doubt I even said most of their names right. The great Erfurter Latrinensturz or Erfutor toilet fall down was a great tragedy. It’s unknown whether the conflict between the two men at the center of the meeting was ever resolved, but the Erfurt latrine disaster remains one of the most bizarre catastrophes of medieval Europe. Of course, it was also one of the grossest.

The Chronicle of Saint Peter of Erfurt eluded entering scatological details and dispatched the accident with more elegance than really there was; it does not say how the king survived and euphemistically describes the destiny of the less fortunate:

“The king Henry was passing through Erfurt on his way to Poland and found there Conrad of Mainz who was having a violent dispute with Ludwig of Thuringia. While he was sitting trying to make peace among them, surrounded by many in a high room, the building suddenly collapsed and many fell in the lower well, some of them laboriously saved, while others suffocated in the mud.”

Had King Heinrich perished with some of the other nobility that day, the historical impact would have been significant. After his father Frederick, I went on a crusade to the Holy Land on Easter in 1189, King Heinrich took over governance of the Roman Empire. He would later go on to block a revolt by Henry the Lion, the Duke of Bavaria, and Saxony, whose titles were stripped away thereafter. Had he died in the Shit Pit, history would have been very different.


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