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Miscellany

Miscellany Fashion

A Japanese shogun in 1615 attempted to eradicate the popular fashions of the kabuki-mono, young men from the fringes of samurai communities who favored long hair with shaved foreheads and temples, large swords with showy red scabbards, imported velvet collars, and short kimonos with lead weights sewn into the hem. “Clothing should not be confusing,” stated a new samurai dress code.

Miscellany Swindle & Fraud

On October 30, 1938, a CBS radio announcer presented the 8 p.m. broadcast: “Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.” After the 23-year-old Welles read an ominous introduction and the “music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra” played, bulletins followed with reports of Martians crash-landing in New Jersey. Many listeners thought that the Welles-Wells adaptation was news: some people crowded highways trying to flee from aliens; others pleaded with police for gas masks.

Miscellany The Future

On July 23, 1995, in New Mexico, the astronomer Alan Hale saw an unidentified fuzzy object in the sky. He emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. In Arizona, Tom Bopp saw the same thing. He telegrammed the bureau. The comet was named Hale-Bopp the following day. Believing that a UFO was traveling behind it, thirty-eight members of The Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide on March 26, 1997, six days before the comet reached its perihelion. 

Miscellany Disaster

A 1959 Chicago Daily Tribune article about Robert Frost, who had recently proclaimed his confidence in humanity’s resilience in the face of missile threats, ran with the headline: HUMAN RACE BOMB PROOF, POET BELIEVES.

Miscellany Fear

On Halloween 1981, a Los Angeles punk band called Fear was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Comedian John Belushi, who had invited Fear to play, brought in punks to watch the performance. Chaos ensued; SNL’s stage manager was hit in the chest with a pumpkin. “The real audience at Saturday Night Live was scared to death,” Fear’s lead singer later said. The band was banned from appearing again.

Miscellany Youth

Paul Cézanne’s father, a banker, was fond of telling his son, “Young man, young man, think of the future! With genius you die, with money you live.” At least this is according to Émile Zola, who recalled the words of admonishment in one of his letters to his friend Paul. The two had first met as teenagers at boarding school in the 1850s.

Miscellany Fashion

In 1993 Estelle Ellis, Seventeen magazine’s first promotion director, gave a speech at the Fashion Institute of Technology titled “What Is Fashion?” Ellis gave her answer. Fashion is a perpetual-motion machine expressed in four areas: “mode—the way we dress; manners—the way we express ourselves; mores—the way we live; and markets—the way we are defined demographically and psychologically.”

Miscellany Music

Irving Berlin composed most of his songs in F-sharp major; the six sharp notes in the scale meant he could play the black keys of the piano almost exclusively. Eventually, for purposes of technical variety, he had a lever mechanism installed that allowed him to modulate into other keys without changing his playing.

Miscellany Family

It is said that Alexander the Great once found Diogenes the Cynic examining a pile of human bones. “What are you looking for?” the ruler inquired. “I am searching for the bones of your father,” replied the philosopher, “but I cannot distinguish them from those of his slaves.” On another occasion a woman came to see Diogenes, complaining that her son was poorly behaved, and asked what she could do about it. Diogenes answered by slapping the woman in the face.

Miscellany Rivalry & Feud

The eponymous temptress of Dolly Parton’s 1973 hit “Jolene” was based, according to the country singer, on a bank teller who flirted with her husband, Carl Dean. “Every time I look at him sleeping over there in his La-Z-Boy, snoring, that hair turning gray at the temples,” Parton said in a 2014 interview, “I wonder if Jolene is still around. I’ll call her up and say, ‘You come and get him now!’ ”

Miscellany Family

While aboard a ship on which a fire broke out, Ivan Turgenev as a boy in 1838 is purported to have shouted in alarm, “Save me, save me, I am my mother’s only son.”

Miscellany States of Mind

“No concrete test of what is really true has ever been agreed upon,” wrote William James in 1893. “When, indeed, one remembers that the most striking practical application to life of the doctrine of objective certitude has been the conscientious labors of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, one feels less tempted than ever to lend the doctrine a respectful ear.”

Miscellany Fear

Residents of North Yorkshire from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries were so afraid of the dead rising to attack the living that they would dismember, decapitate, burn, and otherwise mutilate corpses before burying them. The process was generally undertaken shortly after death, when the bones were still soft.

Miscellany Luck

A 2011 study found that Chinese consumers are charged more due to “superstitious manipulations” of retail prices—fives and sixes appear more often than unlucky fours, eights and nines more than unlucky sevens. “Retailers,” the study reported, “are the clear winners.”

Miscellany Philanthropy

In 1876 Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a railroad tycoon, offered to support Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with 6,000 rubles a year, enough for him to quit his teaching job. Her condition was that the pair could never meet, though Tchaikovsky was still periodically invited to her large estate. On one visit, while taking a walk, he failed to avoid her. “Although we were face to face for only a moment, I was horribly confused,” he later wrote. “I raised my hat politely.