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11 "Modern Antiques" Kids Today Have Never Seen

Even though I'm fairly ancient, I've never seen a Model T outside of a classic auto show. So I realize that there are many things that have been obsolete since the elastic waistband was invented and would confound anyone under age 70. But what about some common items that have come and gone within the last 30 or so years? See how many of these you recognize, and how many of them would puzzle your kids or grandkids.

1. 45 rpm Record Adapter

Seven-inch singles produced in the US had a large half-dollar size hole in the center, unlike the tiny hole punched in LPs that fit conveniently onto a turntable spindle. This large hole tradition was originally instituted in order to accommodate the mechanism inside a jukebox. Rather than making a separate version for home use, the simple solution was to sell adapters that popped into the center of a 45, making it playable on a standard record player. These gadgets were usually found in a bin near the checkout at every record store, a dozen or so for a dollar.

2. Skate Key


Those good ol' fashioned metal roller skates that strapped onto your shoes were useless if you didn't have a skate key on hand to adjust them. The hexagonal loop on top was used to turn the bolt that adjusted the length of the skate and the tubular end fit on the pin that tightened the toe grips. The long narrow hole in the middle? Why, that was for stringing a shoelace through so you could wear the key around your neck while skating.

3. Church Key



Many a barbecue and tailgate party was ruined in the pre-pop top days when it was discovered that no one had remembered to bring a church key to the proceedings. The pointy end punctured beer (and soda pop) cans open – one hole for pouring, one for a vent. The rounded end was used to remove bottle caps – twist-off crown caps weren't invented until the 1960s, and even then it took some years for breweries to start using them on their products. But then again, most veteran party animals of that era knew how to open a beer bottle on a car bumper or table edge in an emergency.

4. Self-Service Tube Tester

Household electronics have become as disposable as Pampers in recent years; if your flat screen television stops working, it's usually just as cheap to buy a new one as to have the old one repaired. But 30-plus years ago when a TV went on the fritz you called the TV Repair Man. He was so ubiquitous that he made house calls, but his services were expensive (and today's Cable Guy has taken the TV Repair Man's vague "I'll be there sometime between X and Y o'clock" promise to a new level). Since a good percentage of the TV malfunctions back then were due to malfunctioning vacuum tubes, DIY Dads started diagnosing and replacing the tubes on their own, saving both time and money. Almost every drugstore, hardware store, and even grocery store had a self-service tube testing machine stashed among the gumball and cigarette machines. Dad (or Mom or whoever) simply brought whichever tubes he thought suspect and tested them on the machine to see whether they were functional. If the tube in question was kaput, there was a wide selection of brand new tubes stocked in the cabinet underneath the machine available for purchase.

5. Pull Tabs

In between cans requiring a church key and today's pop tops there were pull tab soda and beer cans. The convenience of not requiring an opener was revolutionary, but the innovation came with a downfall: a new type of litter. Instead of disposing of their pull tabs responsibly, many folks simply discarded them on the ground before chugging away. Walking barefoot on the beach in the 1960s and '70s was often something of an obstacle course; those tabs weren't always immediately visible, but they were razor-sharp, and savvy sunbathers included Band-Aids in their picnic baskets for the inevitable sliced toe.

6. Fotomat Booth


The abandoned hut as shown in the right photo is still a frequent sight in the parking lots of older shopping malls across the country. Some of them were re-purposed for a while, but let's face it – there's not much you can do with a form-fitting booth situated miles from the nearest bathroom. Back when cameras still used actual film, and before drugstores offered one hour photo developing, Fotomat was the convenient method of getting your pictures back within 24 hours. You didn't even have to get out of your car (this was at a time when fast-food drive-through windows were still few and far between).

7. Motel Room Wall-Mounted Bottle Opener

Some older roadside accommodations still have a bottle opener mounted on the bathroom wall, but a lot of the guests in those cases are stumped enough to ask the front desk, "What the heck is that thing?" We refer you back to the bottle-opening end of the church key and further explain that pop machines ("soda machines" to you heathens) at most motels in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s dispensed pop the way God intended – ice cold in 10-ounce glass bottles with a small ring of ice floating in the neck. There was a bottle opener included on the machine, but a lot of folks preferred to wait until they returned to the sanctuary of their room before they popped the cap off and enjoyed that first refreshing sip. And then there were those (wink-wink) who eschewed the pop machine but traveled instead with a cooler full of beer. That's why the opener was usually mounted in the bathroom – all that beverage spillage was easier to mop up off a tile floor rather than have it soak into the carpeted areas of the room.

8. Milk Chute


Many suburban houses built prior to 1960 had a built-in pass-through door commonly referred to as a "milk chute." This was to accommodate the neighborhood milkman, who still made daily runs door-to-door. The milk chute allowed him to leave his goods in a protected area, and Mom could also leave his money inside, freeing her up from having to wait at home for the milk delivery (see TV Repairman above) all day. And as any child who grew up in this era knows, the milk chute was a necessary means of ingress when either Mom or Dad forgot their house key; the smallest kid in the family had to shimmy through that opening and then go open the back door. (And even though it seemed funny at the time, parents were not pleased when you playfully called out from inside, "What will you give me if I let you in?")

9. No-Draft Window

At one time this small triangular window was standard equipment on every American automobile. Some folks called it the "no-draft" (its official name), some called it the "vent," and others (including my Mom) called it the "wing." Whatever the name, the purpose was the same: in those days when air conditioning was a very expensive option and opening the main driver side and passenger windows caused too much turbulence (not to mention noise) the no-draft provided quiet yet efficient air circulation while driving during warm weather.

10. Green Stamps

TV-Holics certainly recall that first season episode of The Brady Bunch in which the kids were fighting over Checker Trading Stamps. When that episode was originally filmed, trading stamps were all the rage, and S&H Green Stamps led the pack. Pasting Green Stamps into books was how families spent their evenings before scratch-off lottery tickets were invented, and unlike the lottery, Green Stamp premiums were within reach if you purchased enough groceries or gasoline. The "We Give Green Stamps" enticement was a major boon for merchants; there were many consumers who decided "where to buy" solely on the basis of Green Stamp giveaway. And the rewards were great; your average Green Stamp redemption center had everything from home appliances to musical instruments to furniture available if you'd filled X amount (actually more like XXXX amount) of books.

11. Typewriter Eraser


I recall a day, maybe a dozen years ago, when a young new hire at our office was browsing through the closet that contained various supplies (and which probably had not been thoroughly cleaned since the Carter Administration) and approached me asking, "What is this weird thing?" What she held in her hand was a typewriter eraser, a pencil-like device that had a gritty rubber eraser at one end and a brush at the other. Even after White-Out and correction tape were commonly available, neither worked well on onion skin (a type of very thin paper regularly used for multiple carbon copies...perhaps we need to add a twelfth item to this list...) and typewriter erasers were still a necessity. The abrasive end was used like a regular pencil eraser, and then the typist brushed away the resultant debris with the bristle end.
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'Fess up – how many of these items did you recognize strictly from the photo? How many have you never seen? Feel free to test your friends, family members, and co-workers!

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History
A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

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Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock
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History
Tomb Raider: The Story of Saint Nicholas's Stolen Bones
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock

Throughout history, corpses have been bought and sold, studied, collected, stolen, and dissected. In Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, Mental Floss editor Bess Lovejoy looked into the afterlife of numerous famous corpses, including Saint Nicholas, one of the many canonized bodies whose parts were highly prized by churches, thieves, and the faithful.

Don't tell the kids, but Santa Claus has been dead for more than sixteen hundred years. No, his body is not at the North Pole, and he's not buried with Mrs. Claus. In fact, his remains are thousands of miles away, on Italy's sunny Adriatic coast. And while Santa might be enjoying his Mediterranean vacation, he's probably not too happy about what happened to his remains. They were stolen in the eleventh century, and people have been fighting over them ever since.

Of course, the Santa Claus of folklore doesn't have a skeleton. But his inspiration, Saint Nicholas, does. That's about all we can say for sure about Nicholas: he was a bishop who lived and died in what is now Turkey in the first half of the fourth century. Legend tells us that he was born into a rich family and delighted in giving gifts. Once, he threw three bags of gold into the window of a poor family's house, saving the three daughters who lived there from a life of prostitution. Another time, he raised three children from the dead after a butcher carved them up and stored them in a vat of brine. He also protected sailors, who were said to cry out his name in rough seas, then watch the waves mysteriously smooth.

The sailors spread Nicholas's cult around the world. Within a century of his death, the bishop was worshipped as a saint, lending his name to hundreds of ports, islands, and inlets, and thousands of baby boys. He became one of the best-loved saints in all of Christendom, adopted by both the Eastern and Western traditions. Christmas probably owes something to his December 6 feast day, while Santa Claus’s red outfit may come from his red bishop’s robes. "Santa Claus" is derived from "Sinterklaas," which was how Dutch immigrants to New Amsterdam pronounced his name.

As one of the most popular saints in the Christian world, Nicholas had a particularly powerful corpse. The bodies of saints and martyrs had been important to Christianity since its beginning: the earliest churches were built on the tombs of saints. It was thought that the bodily bits of saints functioned like spiritual walkie-talkies: you could communicate with higher powers through them, and they, in turn, could manifest holy forces on Earth. They could heal you, protect you, and even perform miracles.

Sometimes, the miracles concerned the saints' own bodies. Their corpses would refuse to decay, exude an inexplicable ooze, or start to drip blood that mysteriously solidified and then reliquefied. So it was with Nicholas: at some point after his death, his bones began to secrete a liquid called manna or myrrh, which was said to smell like roses and possess potent healing powers.

The appearance of the manna was taken as a sign that Nicholas’s corpse was especially holy, and pilgrims began flocking by the thousands to his tomb in the port city of Myra (now called Demre). By the eleventh century, other cities started getting jealous. At the time, cities and churches often competed for relics, which brought power and prestige to their hometowns the way a successful sports team might today. Originally, the relics trade had been nourished by the catacombs in Rome, but when demand outstripped supply, merchants—and even monks—weren't above sneaking down into the crypts of churches to steal some holy bones. Such thefts weren't seen as a sin; the sanctity of the remains trumped any ethical concerns. The relics were also thought to have their own personalities—if they didn't want to be stolen, they wouldn't allow it. Like King Arthur's sword in the stone, they could only be removed by the right person.

That was how Myra lost Saint Nicholas. The culprits were a group of merchants and sailors from the town of Bari, located on the heel of Italy's boot. Like other relic thefts, this one came at a time of crisis for the town where the thieves lived, which in this case had recently been invaded by a horde of rapacious Normans. The conquerors wanted to compete with the Venetians, their trading rivals to the north, who were known for stealing the bones of Saint Mark (disguised in a basket of pork) from Alexandria in 827. And when the Normans heard that Myra had recently fallen to the Turks, leaving Nicholas’s tomb vulnerable, they decided to try stealing a saint for themselves.

According to an account written shortly after the theft by a Barian clerk, three ships sailed from Bari into Myra's harbor in the spring of 1087. Forty-seven well armed Barians disembarked and strode into the church of Saint Nicholas, where they asked to see the saint’s tomb. The monks, who weren't idiots, got suspicious and asked why they wanted to know. The Barians then dropped any pretense of politeness, tied the monks up, and smashed their way into Nicholas's sarcophagus. They found his skeleton submerged in its manna and smelled a heavenly perfume wafting up from the bones, which "licked at the venerable priests as if in insatiable embrace."

And so Nicholas of Myra became Nicholas of Bari. The relics made the town, and the men who stole them. The thieves became famous in the area, and for centuries their descendants received a percentage of the offerings given on the saint’s feast day. The townspeople built a new basilica to hold the remains, which drew thousands of pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. Even today, Bari remains a major pilgrimage site in southern Italy, visited by both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Every May an elaborate festival, the Feast of the Translation, celebrates the arrival of Nicholas’s relics. As one of the highlights, the rector of the basilica bends over Nicholas’s sarcophagus and draws off some of the manna in a crystal vial. The fluid is mixed with holy water and poured into decorated bottles sold in Bari's shops; it is thought to be a curative drink.

But Bari is not the only place that boasts of the bones of Saint Nicholas. If you ask the Venetians, they will say their own sailors visited Myra during the First Crusade and stole Nicholas’s remains, which have been in Venice ever since. For centuries, both Bari and Venice have claimed the saint's skeleton.

In the twentieth century, scientists waded into the dispute. During renovations to the basilica of Bari in 1953, church officials allowed University of Bari anatomy professor Luigi Martino to examine the remains— the first time the tomb had been opened in more than eight hundred years. Martino found the bones wet, fragile, and fragmented, with many of them missing. He concluded that they had belonged to a man who died in his seventies, although because Martino was given only a short time with the bones, he could say little more.

Four decades later, Martino and other scientists also studied the Venetian bones. They concluded that those relics and the ones in Bari had come from the same skeleton, and theorized that the Venetian sailors had stolen what was left in Myra after the Barians had done all their smashing.

As for Demre, all they have is an empty tomb. And they want their bones back. In 2009, the Turkish government said it was considering a formal request to Rome for the return of Nicholas's remains. Though the bones have little religious significance in a nation that’s 99 percent Muslim, there’s still a sense in Turkey that the centuries-old theft was a cultural violation. Its restitution would certainly be an economic benefit: according to local officials, tourists in Demre frequently complain about the barren tomb, and they weren't satisfied by the giant plastic sculpture of Santa Claus that once stood outside Nicholas’s church. Even though Santa has become an international cultural icon, his myth is still rooted in a set of bones far from home.

From REST IN PIECES: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy. Copyright © 2013 by Bess Lovejoy. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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