Dale M. Brumfield

Is the song “Hokey-Pokey” really a parody of the Catholic Latin Mass?

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Americans doing the Hokey-Pokey on the beach in Australia, 1953. Wikimedia Commons.

ANY AMERICAN BABY-BOOMER who went to a roller-skating rink or a home birthday party in the 1960s and 70s especially remembers singing and playing a corny, almost nonsensical game called “The Hokey-Pokey.” As the instructional music played, Kids playfully followed directions as the music boomed over the loudspeaker:

Repeat for the left hand, right leg, left leg, head, and even backside.

But what is it really all about? Are the origins more sinister or black-humored than previously believed? …


The Absolutely Horrifying Story Behind Kuru Laughing Sickness

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Kuru victims, early 1960s.

AMERICAN PHYSICIAN AND VIROLOGIST Daniel Carleton Gajdusek listened intently as Vincent Zigas, a district medical officer in the Fore Tribe region of Papua, New Guinea, described a devastatingly fatal illness he had been observing.

Women and children primarily were presenting symptoms that he at first attributed to Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, which included body tremors, weakness, and slurred speech. But there were additional symptoms that followed, including strange, uncontrolled laughing. And like Creutzfeldt–Jakob, it was always fatal.

Zigas was a native Estonian who after a months-long course at the Australian School of Pacific Administration went to Papua New Guinea in 1950 to serve as the only medical officer in this remote region. Soon after landing in this strange, primitive land, he began hearing rumors of, and then witnessing, that unique illness that the locals called “Kuru” and attributed to sorcery. Stranger still, he discovered the disease was primarily distinctive to the Fore tribe and seemed to chiefly strike women and children. …


An anti-masturbation pamphlet became an international bestseller — maybe for unintended reasons

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1756 edition.

UNTIL THE EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, self-pleasuring was generally considered throughout Europe as a relatively inconsequential habit. Other than a wagging finger from the Catholic Church, doctors at the time saw nothing wrong with the vice and even argued that the retention of sperm by men could actually be physically unsafe and that women could avoid such distinctly female maladies as hysteria and madness if they pursued auto-erotic release. It was considered simply a natural part of human sexuality

But thanks to a 12-page pamphlet titled “Onania” that appeared one day in London around 1712, the act of self-pleasuring suddenly became Europe’s most depraved public health threat, one that produced various maladies that were destroying the bodies, minds, and souls of the nations’ youth. Almost overnight, masturbation became not just a moral transgression, but a debilitating physical and mental disorder that required treatment and of course, expensive cures. …


First successful ovarian surgery was potentially fatal to both patient and doctor

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18th-century medical school dissecting room.

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

-Jonathon Swift, “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting,” 1706

IT WAS DECEMBER 13, 1809, and Danville, Kentucky physician Dr. Ephriam McDowell finally arrived after a punishing 60-mile horseback ride at the Green County home of Jane Todd Crawford, who believed she was pregnant with twins but was far past her due date and deathly ill. …


Testicle theft a real problem in 1922 Chicago

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Joseph Wozniak, America’s first victim of live organ harvesting.

THE STORY EXPLODED NATIONWIDE over the Associated Press wire service on October 14 and 15, 1922. A married, 34-year-old “husky” World War I veteran and marginally employed Wisconsin beet farmer living in Chicago named Joseph Wozniak reported to police that he and a friend went to a Chicago bar, where they drank heavily with four other men. Later, as Wozniak explained to a physician named Dr. Sampelinski, the four men threw a bag over his head, forced him into a car and chloroformed him. He woke up on a sidewalk under a viaduct near 17th Street.

Then, he discovered that one or both of his testicles were missing. …


Bloody noses, cracked ribs, even death on early roller coasters

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The Flip-Flap, Coney Island, 1902

ROLLER COASTERS enjoy unprecedented popularity with both the riding public, who enjoy the latest thrills, and theme park management, who enjoy the enthusiastic crowds new coaster technology fetches.

While a modern roller coaster packs a tremendous wallop for the buck, thrills experienced by nineteenth-century coaster enthusiasts who dared venture on the weekends to the coal mines, the timber mills, or the end of the trolley lines got a truly death-defying experience for pennies on the dollar without the inconveniences of built-in safety features that today only provides an illusion of real danger. …


In 1910, a young immigrant girl lost her life due to a simple misunderstanding

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West entrance of the Blue Ridge tunnel, 1963.

WHEN 18-YEAR OLD VIRGINIA RONCOLI (also spelled Roncali) awakened, it was after midnight and her pitch-black railroad car was filling with acrid, black coal smoke. Many of her fellow Italian immigrant passengers noticed at the same time, and soon there was a stampede toward the doors at the front and rear of the car.

Being seated at the rear, Virginia reached the back door first. She grabbed the handle and threw open the door, only to be sucked from the safety of the car underneath the screaming, grinding wheels of the train, where she died an immediate and gruesome death.

The reopening of the old Blue Ridge Tunnel near Afton, Virginia as a park and walking trail hearkens back to this tragedy that occurred there 110 years ago, involving the pretty teenager who was traveling west with her family. …


Kenneth and Irene Dudley were truly the parents from Hell

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Warning: contains descriptions of child abuse. Discretion is advised.

ON MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 1961, Virginia State Trooper E. B. Garner happened upon a man and a woman inside a dilapidated 1940 two-door sedan parked off Route One near Lawrenceville, in southside Virginia. The man got out and said the car was on its last legs, that it was burning oil as fast as he could add it, and that the brakes were shot. …


In 1891, a French engineer proposed one badass amusement ride

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Scientific American, Feb. 12, 1891

AN ARTICLE TITLED “A Proposed Apparatus for a Fall of 1,000 Feet” appeared buried on page 114 in the February 21, 1891 issue of Scientific American magazine, sandwiched between articles on sugar cane roller regulators and controlling static electricity on printing presses. After reading, it becomes obvious why they hid it.

“Here is an idea on the subject of which it is perhaps not without interest to learn the opinion of the public and which we recommend to American engineers at a time when work on the Chicago exhibition is about to begin … It is a question of a fact the great towers that are now in vogue would of realizing.”


Lunch counter lingo an American Phenomenon

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Waynesboro, Va. 1939

ANYONE WHO EVER ORDERED a BLT or “two sunny side up” in any American diner, dinette, grill, or Luncheonette between 1920 and the 1960s unwittingly participated in a distinctive American folklore phenomenon originated by short-order cooks, waiters, waitresses, and soda jerks called “culinary slanguistics.”

Diner and lunch counter slanguistics fall under a peculiar category of mnemonic folk speech that emerged from pre-depression-era New York, Los Angeles, and areas in the Deep South. Patrons of such bygone establishments as well may have heard their order translated into sometimes undecipherable dialectical jargon designed by the more established workers to short-cut and unmistakably communicate the ordering and preparation process. …

About

Dale M. Brumfield

Anti-death penalty advocate, cultural archaeologist, “American Grotesk” historyteller and author of 11 books. More at www.dalebrumfield.net.

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