Episode 265 – The One Where We Wash Away The Fairy Dust!

In This Week’s Show, episode 265, we fill our yee-oldie tubs with 3D printed British cow-leavings for science.

In This Week’s Show, episode 265, we fill our yee-oldie tubs with 3D printed British cow-leavings for science.

Now, grab a beer and help us test the god hypothesis — because, while Titania (the queen of the Fairies) hasn’t struck us down yet, we are trying her patience!

Shea’s Life Lesson

Thanks to Steve E, this week I learned that the saying, “you are what you eat” doesn’t apply to vegetarians, as, if you were to eat a vegetarian you probably aren’t a vegetarian.

Also I learned that in 1979 the US government built a secret underground base in Dulce, NM, to house aliens, more on that in the following weeks to come.


Jenn’s Actual Lesson

Did you know that the oldest fairies on record in England were first described by Gervase of Tilbury in the 13th century?

But before we get to all that, let’s have a beer!

This Week’s Beer

Oro de Calabaza – Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales

  • Donated By: Steve E
  • BA Link: https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/9897/18975/
  • BA Rating: 92
  • Style: French Bière de Garde
  • ABV: 8%
  • Aaron: 8
  • Jenn: 3
  • Shea: 9
  • Steve: 1

This Week’s Show

Round Table

Thanks to everyone who donated to Vulgarity for Charity – they raised over 270k!

As a reminder, you can still donate to WyoAIDS.org and force Shea to learn about something.

Patreon Story

  • https://advertisingwizards.blogspot.com/2008/02/kia-knows-their-history.html
  • http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/the_history_of_the_bathtub

Before we can begin this week’s patron story, we need to watch a commercial. And by watch I mean listen. And by commercial I mean a non-show sponsored apocryphal soap-on-a-rope joke.

So the commercial is based on the life and bath-time of the 13th President of the United States, the not at all fake-named Millard Fillmore. Fun fact, he wasn’t a duck.

First of all, if like me, you’ve not heard of President Fillmore, here’s a brief overview. He is most famously know as being the first president to have running water in the White House. He was a Whig – a member of a British and Constitutional party that worked with the Democrats from 1830 to 1850 or so. Their logo was an owl in the traditional half-blue, half-red, with stars style. He was born in a log cabin. Was a career cloth maker. and had a third nipple he named “Professor Milkington” – ok, that last bit was an internet joke.

As far as Fillmore goes he was a relatively unremarkable president. He did some ok stuff, he did some terrible stuff like signing the Fugitive Slave Act. And then he died of a yee-oldie disease. This story is more concerned with his bathtub.

On the 28th of December, 1917, the journalist henry L. Mencken published an article in the New York Evening Mail titled “A Neglected Anniversary.” Full article linked in the notes (read the full text here). The article was about America’s adoption of the bathtub. Or rather, America’s slow adoption of the bathtub, which was believed to pose serious health risks until Mallard Fillmore popularized them by installing the first bathtub in the White House in 1850.

The first American bathtub was installed in Cincinnati in December of 1842 by one Adam Thompson. Prior to 1842, I guess people just jumped into lakes and loofa’d off with a small woodland creature. It was a brisk and bity time in personal hygiene.

The lavish water-box was a massive mahogany tub lined with lead. Adam proudly displayed the tub at a Christmas party and at least four of his guests were said to have taken a dip. Which is a weird party favor but I’m guessing no one complained about the first time a party got less smelly as a night went on.

The following day the tub was the talk of the town. The Cincinnati paper devoted columns, plural, to the tub most of which were met with violent controversy.

A number of papers ran the tub story through the lens of distasteful and elitist epicurean luxury. Some going so far as to call owning a personal tub as undemocratic as its surroundings were ornate and ostentatious.

Medical authorities at the time took a break from putting pigeons on people and churning peoples cankles to decry the medical dangers of having a bathtub.

News quickly spread to the surrounding areas and in the medical community’s uproar came to a thunderhead. Doctors all over the state were appalled and were lobbying their frustrations. So much so that the 1843 Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1st and March 15th. The ordinance failed, but only by two votes.

That same year the legislature of Virginia implemented a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs. In Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington a special, and very heavy, water tax was laid on persons who had bathtubs. Boston, as is their smelly way, in 1845 made bathing unlawful. The law was never really enforced and was repealed in 1862, but still, god damn Boston.

So 1845 was a tumultuous year for the American bathtub. The rest of the decade saw highs and lows for bathing enthusiasts and, finally, in 1850 Mallard had his own feather-wetter installed and the nation took notice.

So there ya go, the history of American acceptance of bathing… except that Menken made all of that up. Like, all of it.

For his part, he explained it was all a joke, “my motive was simply to have some harmless fun in war days.” Unfortunately, then like now, satire was a foreign concept to most Americans. And as we all know, foreign stuff is bad.

The hoax article quickly spread to the four corners of the country and saw publication in enough papers that the attributions section of Wikipedia is longer than the story.

After years of this story spreading like wildfire Mencken had finally had enough and on May 23rd of 1926 (keeping in mind his original article was in 1917) he wrote a front-page article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Melancholy Reflections” in which he chronicled his deception.

On Dec. 28, 1917, I printed in the New York Evening Mail, a paper now extinct, an article purporting to give the history of the bathtub. This article, I may say at once, was a tissue of absurdities, all of them deliberate and most of them obvious…

Three weeks later the Boston Herald reprinted the highlights of his original article as news. They say you can’t put the cat back in the box, but cats love boxes, this was a wild, uncontrolled, mess of a lie. And there was no stopping it.

In 1958 Curtis MacDougall dug into the hoax and found fifty-five instances of the hoax being reported as fact since Mencken’s 1926 clarification.

Bringing us up to current, the origin of the American bathtub is one of the most notorious and repeated hoaxes of the twentieth century, despite repeated and continuous debunking. Most recently, in 2004, the Washington Post ran a “things you didn’t know” article listing Fillmore as installing the White Houses first tub. And then printed a retraction a few weeks later in much smaller type.

The real history of the tub is thousands of years old, dating back to the Romans, Egyptians, and so on. Home tubs for the common person appeared in houses in the 19th century and by the 20th were commonplace.

One good thing to come of it all is in the town of Moravia NY, Fillmore’s hometown, there is an annual bathtub race down it’s main street since 1975.

Show Story

  • http://hoaxes.org/photo_database/image/the_cottingley_fairies/
  • https://qz.com/911990/the-cottingley-fairy-hoax-of-1917-is-a-case-study-in-how-smart-people-lose-control-of-the-truth/
  • Coming of the Fairies- https://books.google.com/books?id=ZVtNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • https://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/cottingley-village-thrall-fairies-tale/
  • https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leeds-47897891
  • https://www.visitportsmouth.co.uk/conandoyle/exhibitions/the-cottingley-fairies
  • https://www.realfairies.net/the-fifth-cottingley-fairy-photo.html

Oh yeah, it’s that time. Time for another installment of WEIRD HISTORY…REE…Ree…ree. And another hoax. So I’ll consider this the final in my trilogy of hoaxes and give you all break from them for a bit.

Today’s story is oh, so delightfully British and was referred to (at the time) as “either the most elaborate hoax ever played on the public, or else (it) constitute(s) an event in human history which may in the future appear to be epoch-making in its character.” But we’ll get back to that hyperbolic author in just a bit.

First, let’s set the stage and meet the players:

The story kicks off in 1917, in the midst of World War I. 10 year old, Frances Griffiths and her mother leave their home in South Africa and travel to West Yorkshire, England, while Frances’ father is away fighting in the war. (This is just like the start of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, so awesome.)

They move in with her aunt and uncle, the Wrights, and her cousin Elsie into the Wrights’ lovely cottage in Cottingly Village, complete with a spacious garden. (Side note: Elsie is either 13 or 16 at this time, but the most sources say 16 so I’m going with that. And Frances was said to be either 9 or 10 about an equal number of times so I don’t know. Either way, their are precocious young girls with surely adorable accents, and moving on.)

The girls enjoyed playing in the large garden, through with Cottingly Beck flowed. (Cottingly Beck is the name of a stream and if you don’t think this is just a few doors down from Hobbiton, you are wrong.) Frances’ uncle (Elsie’s father), Arthur Wright, was an amateur photographer, and one summer day the girls ran in to ask to borrow his camera to take photos of the fairies they had been playing with for days. Arthur was amused and very British (and suspiciously not fighting in the War) so allowed the girls to take his camera after showing them how it worked, I’m sure with a chuckle and a ‘jolly good’.

The girls return in about an hour, declaring they had obtained their proof of the land of the Fae. Arthur is still chuckling and being very British, but willingly develops the photo. Surprisingly, the photo does show Frances with several small figures in the foreground. Skeptical and still British, Arthur asks Elsie why there appeared to be “bits of paper” in the photo. PT Barnum would have to work on this guy.

In fact, even when the girls returned a month later with yet ANOTHER photo from the magic garden (this one showing Elsie sitting with a gnome) Arthur dismissed it as poppycock or balderdash and went for tea.

Now, had Elsie had two parents who were skeptics, the story would have probably ended here. Frances even sent a copy of one of the pictures to a friend back in South Africa, saying she had never seen fairies while in Africa: “it must be too hot for them there.” But word really didn’t get out. No, it took a couple of years before the pictures went 1919-viral.

Elsie’s mom Polly, also British but a woman, therefore mentally suspect, was way into spiritualism. She attended a lecture on Spiritualism held by the… wait for it!, Theosophical Society. (Which, as you will remember, was started by none other than the queen of malarky herself, Madame Blovatsky.) Of course, anyone involved with the Theosophical Society would immediately lose their minds over fairy pictures, and yep. Pretty much. Per hoaxes.org “she (Polly) showed the photos to the speaker, asking him if they “might be true after all.” The speaker brought the photos to the attention of Edward Gardner, a leader of the Theosophical movement, who in turn asked a photographer, Harold Snelling, to examine them. Snelling declared the photos were “genuine unfaked photographs of single exposure, open-air work, show movement in all the fairy figures, and there is no trace whatever of studio work involving card or paper models, dark backgrounds, painted figures, etc.”

Before going any further, let’s have a look at the first two pictures to make the rounds:

So Edward Gardner, with the assurance from Snelling that the photos could not be fake, basically took them on tour. He declared the fairy photos proof that the “next cycle of evolution was underway” and mounted a campaign to convince the public of their authenticity. He gave lectures on the photographs, made copies of them, and passed them reverently around at meetings.

The press was skeptical, but who listens to journalists? Fairy fever was spreading.

By far the most famous advocate for the girls and their tiny friends soon gets ahold of the photos and the story gained a whole new level of celebrity. Trained physician, spiritualist and creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle jumped in with both feet and all his clothes on. (He was the author of the fawning quote at the beginning, BTW.)

Conveniently, he had only recently been commissioned to write an article for the Christmas edition of The Strand magazine on, surprise!, fairies. Of course he needed to link up with the fairy whisperers to make the article as …realistic as possible. From telegraph.co.uk: “Conan Doyle secured permission from the Wrights to use the two photographs, and made a gift to the girls of a Kodak Cameo camera to obtain further “evidence”, which they duly did, producing three more images of Frances smiling at a leaping fairy, a fairy offering a posy of harebells to Elsie, and another captioned “The Fairies and Their Sun-Bath”, all of which were published in 1920.”

Now, I’m not really sure if the girls had any idea their pictures were blowing up like this until a strange man at the behest of one of the most famous current living authors shows up at their door with a camera and a cheerful “get us more fairy pics, luvvies”. Or however Edward Gardner talked. But either way, at this point their fun little project had obviously gotten a bit out of hand. So as stated, they produced another 3 pictures with the little people and Conan Doyle lost his goddamn mind.

Not content with a measly article, Conan Doyle published himself a nearly 200pg book on the events, complete with additional photos, other ‘historical’ cases from around the world, and a couple of chapters dedicated to the Theosophical Society and what they had to say about it all. The Coming of the Fairies was published in 1922, and at this point there was no turning back.

And that’s pretty much where the story stalled for the next 50 years. In much the same way that people looked at the famous ‘Surgeon’s Photo’ of the Loch Ness Monster for years (“well, it’s a picture of something”) until the picture taker came clean, it was the late 70s before there was more or less definitive proof of fakery. From hoaxes.org:

James Randi pointed out that the fairies in the pictures were very similar to figures in a children’s book called Princess Mary’s Gift Book, which had been published in 1915 shortly before the girls took the photographs.

Subsequently, in 1981, Elsie Wright confessed to Joe Cooper, who interviewed her for The Unexplained magazine, that the fairies were, in fact, paper cutouts. She explained that she had sketched the fairies using Princess Mary’s Gift Book as inspiration. She had then made paper cutouts from these sketches, which she held in place with hatpins. In the second photo (of Elsie and the gnome) the tip of a hatpin can actually be seen in the middle of the creature. Doyle had seen this dot, but interpreted it as the creature’s belly button, leading him to argue that fairies give birth just like humans!

Bless his heart.

But before you think the debunking/passage of decades caused the fairies to fall out of FAE-vor, think again! They actually made headlines again just this year as they came up for sale at an auction in Leeds. In April 2019, a lot of thirteen photos were up for auction (the additional pictures came from Frances’ daughter, as apparently there were more pictures than the 5 that became famous.) Surprisingly, the most famous picture, Frances & The Fairy Ring, did NOT sell, but the ones that did fetched more than 65,000 pounds ($84,500).

Fairy footnote: for those of us who would like a little more magic in our world (like Steve), there is still a tiny bit of mystery left in the story. Of the original set of photos, the women admitted they faked the first 4, but Frances swore until her dying day that this one was real! Apparently, they always did frolic with fairies, just had a hard time getting them to pose for the camera. Per realfairies.net (shut up), “ Frances claims that the girls were not prepared (with cut-out images of fairies) prior to taking this photo so she looked around, saw some fairies making a sort of nest and sunbathing, aimed her camera and took the photo.”

Finally, if you were wondering what happened to the quaint cottage and magical fairy garden, it’s all still there. In fact, a 35-year old graphic novel illustrator named Luke Horsman (no relation to BoJack) purchased the property in November of 2015 without knowing its backstory. He had no idea of the history until a neighbor mentioned “Oh, your the ones who bought the fairy house.”

I mention this only to share the picture of Luke in his fairy garden, in a Black Sabbath t-shirt, looking bemused.


Next Week’s Beer

Devilito – Gruner Brothers Brewing

Donated By: Lonely Wyo

  • BA Link: https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/54696/385607/
  • BA Rating: Not enough Data?? Untapped rating of 3.81/5
  • Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
  • ABV: 8.3%

Happy Ending

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