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Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

9 Strange Courtship Rituals From Around the World

Henry Guttmann/Getty Images
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Love wasn't always as simple as putting a ring on it. Here's how the dating game has been played in various cultures over the years.

1. The Apple of My Armpit

Talk about a real test of devotion: in 19th-century rural Austria, eligible lasses would keep an apple slice crammed in their armpits during dances. At the end of the evening, the girl would give her used fruit to the guy she most fancied. If the feeling was mutual, he’d wolf down the stinky apple. (Something’s telling us Austrian guys weren’t too broken up over the death of this ritual.)

2. You're Sew Pretty

The Puritans were predictably a little leery of wedding rings, which they saw as frivolous. Instead, a young bride-to-be would receive a thimble from her fiancé. (Even the Puritans couldn’t deny a practical gift like a thimble.) The girl could then use the thimble while sewing items she’d need for her new home, and when the wedding rolled around, she could cut the bottom off of the thimble and wear it as a super-practical wedding ring.

3. Man and Knife

As recently as the 19th century, Finnish girls who had reached a marriageable age would wear an empty sheath on their girdle. If one of these young ladies caught a man’s eye, he would make or buy a knife to put in her sheath. A girl would return the knife of a would-be suitor if she wasn’t interested, but keeping his blade meant that she agreed to marry him. (Nobody’s giving this ritual any points for subtlety.)

4. Tangy Romance

Amish courtship is notoriously secretive. In some communities, fellow citizens don’t even know a wedding is in the works until the marriage is announced in church a few weeks before the big day. Amish sleuths can usually sniff out impending nuptials by poking around in a family’s garden, though: Hot creamed celery is a main dish at Amish wedding feasts, so if a family loads up its garden with stalks, they're probably getting ready to marry off one of their daughters.

5. The Welsh Love Spooning

When Welsh couples talk about “spooning,” they don't mean cuddling. Since at least the 17th century, the Welsh have exchanged “lovespoons,” intricately hand-carved wooden spoons, as signs of romantic intentions. Young men spent hours meticulously crafting their spoons so they could offer their crushes the most magnificent utensil imaginable. If the gal accepted the spoon, the courtship was on. The courtship aspect of the spoons has since faded, but lovespoons are still given on special occasions as tokens of admiration and affection.

6. Need a Love Shack? Call Your Dad

In some African groups like the Zulus, fathers haven’t allowed suitors to visit their daughters at home. They were far from prudish, though. Daughters got their own “courting huts” in which they could entertain suitors away from the watchful eyes of their parents.

7. Victorian Women: Just Not That Into You

Nowadays if a woman really, really wants to rebuff your advances, she can always give you a good whack or splash a drink in your face. Victorian belles had a subtler, but infinitely more withering, mode of attack: if a lady wasn’t interested, she would simply rest her fan on her left cheek. In an era when talking it out was definitely not an option, Victorian ladies devised an elaborate system of codes using their trusty hand fans.

Lady’s fanning slowly? Already spoken for. Fanning quickly? She’s on the market. Fan rests on the right cheek? Lucky you, she’s interested! Time to get your stilted, formal Victorian court on!

8. Gypsies Grab a Girl. Literally.

The 2011 British reality series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings introduced the world to an unexpected courtship ritual called “grabbing.” Gypsy girls are famously chaste and aren’t allowed to date, so if a boy wants to catch a girl’s attention, he manhandles her in an attempt to get a smooch. Disturbing? Yes. Violent? Yes. Effective? Apparently.

9. Carry a Big Stick

Eighteenth-century New England couples had a tricky problem when it came to exchanging tender words: they had zero privacy, and who wants to coo sweet nothings into his girl’s ear while her dad watches? Enter an ingenious invention called the courting stick or courting tube. This six-foot-long hollow tube allowed couples to exchange whispered words of affection from a safe distance while family members remained in the room to make sure there was nothing as salacious as hand-holding going on.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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History
Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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iStock

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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7 of History’s Most Unusual Riots
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Some sociologists theorize that most rioters only join a crowd because the crowd is big enough to justify joining. But there’s always that one person who sparks the violence, and sometimes the reason for doing so can seem pretty baffling. Maybe a work of art scandalizes its audience, like the famous premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Or maybe it’s simply a notable act of disrespect, like history’s first recorded mooning (in Jerusalem in the first century CE). From balloonists to brown dogs to daylight saving time, here are seven weird reasons things just got out of hand.

1. THE MELBOURNE DART RIOT

The Darts Invitational Challenge, an international tournament held in Melbourne, attracted international gawking in January 2015 during the finals match between Michael "Mighty Mike" van Gerwen and Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock. The dart players weren’t making a scene, though: Rather, hundreds of spectators, many of them drunk and in costume, began throwing plastic chairs as they watched (pictured above). The reasons for the fight remain unclear; footage and photos show police trying to control adults dressed as Oompa-Loompas, numerous superheroes, and, in one instance, in a ghillie suit (heavy camouflage meant to resemble foliage).

2. THE LEICESTER BALLOON RIOT

In 1864, balloonists were the great daredevils of their time, and a major draw for eager audiences. That summer, Henry Coxwell, a famous professional aeronaut, was set to make an appearance for 50,000 paying ticketholders in Leicester, England. Unfortunately, a rumor spread that he hadn’t brought his biggest and best balloon to the event. After heckling from the crowd, Coxwell deflated his balloon, and attendees rushed it, ripping it to shreds, setting it on fire, and threatening to visit the same fate on Coxwell. Rioters even paraded the remains of the balloon through the streets of town, which briefly brought residents a new nickname: Balloonatics.

3. THE TORONTO CLOWN AND FIREFIGHTER RIOT

Toronto was still a pretty rough place in the 1850s, but not so rough that the circus wouldn’t come to town. As it turns out, circus entertainers were also a tough lot back then, so when a group of off-duty clowns spent an evening at a brothel popular with the city’s firefighters on July 12, 1855, tensions came to a head. Accounts differ as to who started the fight, but after one firefighter knocked the hat off a clown things escalated into a full-on rabble intent on chasing the circus out of town. Only the mayor calling in the militia put an end to the uproar, an incident Torontonians credit with kicking off much-needed local police reforms.

4. THE BELGIAN NIGHT AT THE OPERA RIOT

A painting by Charles Soubre of the Belgian Revolution
Charles Soubre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many nations can claim their independence started with an aria, but for 19th-century Belgians sick of living under Dutch rule, an opera was just the right fuse for a revolution. To honor the birthday of King William I of the Netherlands, a theater in Brussels put on La Muette de Portici, about an uprising in Naples against Spanish rule. One song, "Amour Sacre de la Patrie" ("Sacred Love of the Fatherland"), aroused nationalistic passions so much that after the opera ended, the crowd began destroying factories and occupying government buildings. That was August 25, 1830; Belgium declared independence on October 4.

5. THE NEW YORK DOCTORS' RIOT

Hamilton fans, take note: Everyone’s favorite Founding Father once tried to quiet a mob bent on burning corpses. For centuries, anatomists and medical students relied on gruesome means to learn about the human body. Cadavers for dissection class often came from grave robbers, since the corpses of executed criminals were the only legal source—and they were in limited supply. In New York in 1788, rumors abounded that medical students were digging up paupers’ graves and black cemeteries. When one mob came after the doctors responsible, Alexander Hamilton tried, and failed, to restore the peace. The crowd swelled to about 5000 before militiamen intervened, leading to up to about 20 deaths.

6. THE BROWN DOG RIOTS

Photo of an anti-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, to protest the removal from Battersea Park of the Brown Dog statue
The Anti-Vivisection Review, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Riots against the dissection of dead human bodies were not rare in the United States at one time. But on December 10, 1907, a thousand Britons marched in support of vivisection, or surgery on live animals. At the center of the controversy was a small terrier allegedly vivisected without anesthetic in 1903 during a class at London’s University College. Animal rights activists erected a statue to the dog in 1906, which enraged area medical students, and protesters tried to destroy the statue using crowbars and hammers. For the 1907 march, 400 mounted police were deployed to contain marchers. The statue became such a flashpoint (and an expense to local authorities) that in 1910, it was removed and melted down.

7. THE EEL-PULLING RIOT

Palingtrekken (eel-pulling) was once a popular contest in Amsterdam, in which a writhing eel was suspended over a canal and hopefuls on boats would leap to snatch it as they passed beneath (usually landing in the water instead). However, “eel-pulling” was also illegal—the government deemed it a “cruel popular entertainment”—and in July 1886, police intervened at a particularly large gathering in the city’s Jordaan district. Civilians threw stones and bricks at police, and when some nearby socialist protestors joined them, a riot broke out that lasted for several days. The army finally intervened and opened fire on the protestors. All in all, 26 people died and 136 were wounded, but somehow, the eel itself at the center of the riots was allegedly saved and auctioned off in 1913.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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