Cheese Mites: How Cheese Eating Pests Became Cinematic Stars

Aired in 1903, The Unseen World was a series of short films shot through microscopes -- the first "scientific" films made for the public. And Cheese Mites , a brief glimpse at cheese mites scuttling and jostling over a surface of Stilton, was the show's smash hit.

The film was created by American entrepreneur Charles Urban in collaboration with microscope enthusiast Francis Martin Duncan. In line with the style of most early cinema, The Unseen World was presented as a buoyant spectacle, a novel source of fun and entertainment. The series of microscopic films first played at London's Alhambra Music Hall as part of a full program that also included a few moralistic animal films (such as The Greedy American Toad), 15 short films on bees, and the illusionist Servais Le Roy performing his most famous trick, "Asrah the Floating Princess."
It was Cheese Mites, however, that filled houses for months. And even elitist scientists graced the theater to watch it. The Morning Post wrote of the phenomenon, "People like to be interested, and they don't in the least mind being interested by something worth knowing."

The Cheese Industry Steps In

All this attention, however, concerned the cheese industry. Although Stilton mites were well-known -- in one of the first references to Stilton cheese, in 1772, novelist Daniel Defoe took note of "mites so thick around it that they bring a spoon for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese" -- the cheese industry feared that Cheese Mites' success would cause cheese sales to drop (sales of microscopes, on the other hand, were soaring). In fact, faux disgust was part of the fun. The director had insisted on playing up the gross-out factor by adding a final shot of a man revolted by what he sees in his Stilton, and throwing it away.

Under pressure from cheesemakers, the British government finally shut down Cheese Mites, making it one of the first films to be banned -- despite all the erotic, violent, and graphic material onscreen at the time. But Urban's design to market science films didn't flag; and he went on to work with Percy Smith, whose hugely successful Birth of a Flower (1910) and Secrets of Nature (1930) guaranteed the future of nature films.
Want more from cheese historian David Clark? Be sure to check out his posts on Sardinia's Black-market Maggot Cheese, 3 Cheeses that caused Political Riots, and A Brief History of "American" Cheese. 

Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London

Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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