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Amazon.com

11 Bizarre and Dangerous Items Sold by Sears in 1902

Amazon.com
Amazon.com

The 1902 edition of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue offers items of particular interest and questionable health benefits—everything from the latest fashions to the “surest” cures. Here are some highlights.

1. Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers

These poisonous wafers were advertised as being “simply magical” for the complexion, their most striking effects “being brought about by their steady use.” They were guaranteed to improve “even the coarsest and most repulsive skin and complexion”—especially if you’re into the lurid pallor of death.

2. The Toilet Mask

At first glance, a toilet mask doesn’t sound so bad. But this mask doesn’t use soothing cucumber extracts to beautify the complexion—it’s an “acid cured” rubber mask coated with “healing agents” meant to eradicate “freckles, liver spots, and other facial blemishes.” Who needs microdermabrasion when you can just use trace amounts of acid?

3. Magic Flesh Builder and Cupper

This toilet accessory looks more or less like an oversized suction cup. Its purpose? To “rebuild the shrunken tissues of the bust, neck, arms, and the only method which permanently removes wrinkles,” assumedly by sucking things back into place. We’d hate to be the guinea pig who tested this thing out.

4. Spirits of Turpentine

This elixir was ingested to kill intestinal parasites—and hopefully not their human host. Turpentine still has modern medicinal uses, but usually in chest rubs (Vicks, for example) and not drinkable medicines.

5. Aconite

This herb is advertised as a homeopathic medicine, and while it has a long history of medicinal use, it’s better known by another name: wolfsbane, a known poison and neurotoxin. Though the plant can be used as an anesthetic, it works because it damages the nerves around a treated area.

6. Kerosene Emulsion

To be used as an insecticide on crops and animals, this product promises to kill “plant lice, red spiders, scales, and mealy bugs,” among other pests. It also offers strong motivation for washing your fruits and veggies very well before eating.

7. (Veterinary) Castrating Knives

While many parents might argue that castrating knives pose no lasting danger to male infants, the horse that came under this knife would probably disagree. Knives come with a choice of one, two, or three blades of varying sizes to meet all of your gelding needs.

8. Giant Power Heidelberg Electric Belt

Suffering from a nervous disease? Infertility? A “weakness peculiar to men?" Then this electric belt may be for you! In cases of sexual weakness, “a cure is certain.” This belt promises “the best, most reliable, most harmless yet powerful, cheapest cure possible.” Just shock yourself back to health!

9. Opium

Marketed as a homeopathic remedy, opium was available by mail order to your doorstep. If you happened to form an addiction, never fear—you could always order more!

10. Nitric Acid

Though nitric acid has some medicinal purposes when used with extreme caution—from addressing potassium deficiencies to its use as a cauterizing or diuretic agent—it’s also a highly poisonous substance. The National Library of Medicine suggests seeking medical attention if you so much as inhale any fumes from nitric acid. However, in 1902, it was listed as a homeopathic medicine.

11. The Set of McKinley Assassination Slides

Though this item isn’t particularly dangerous, it is particularly curious. You could order a lecture set of slides for your Stereopticon (a home slide projector) depicting “realistic views of the assassination,” including images of McKinley’s attacker “taken within ten minutes of his capture by the police.” Who needs Tarantino movies when you can view real footage of a national tragedy?

All information and pictures (with the exception of the top image) were obtained by the Bounty Edition reprint of the 1902 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. Top image courtesy of Amazon.

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Kars4Kids, YouTube
The Cruel (But Effective) Agony of the Kars4Kids Jingle
Kars4Kids, YouTube
Kars4Kids, YouTube

It can happen suddenly and without warning. Driving in your vehicle, a commercial break comes on. In addition to the standard pleas to use a specific laundry detergent or contemplate debt consolidation, the voice of a preadolescent, out-of-tune child materializes. Your grip on the steering wheel gets tighter. The child begins to warble:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids, 1-EIGHT-SEVEN-SEVEN-Kars-4-Kids, Donate Your Car Today …

An adult breaks in to repeat the lyrics. The two begin to sing in unison:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kaaaaars for Kiiiids…Donate Your Car Today!

In roughly a minute, it’s over. You go on with your day. But the song’s repetitive melody sticks to your brain like sap. You hear it when preparing dinner. While brushing your teeth. As you put your head on the pillow. When it's finally worked its way out of your brain and you've started to forget, it reappears.

The song is engineered to be obnoxious. And its producers wouldn't have it any other way.

 
 

Since 1999, an untold number of Americans have found themselves reduced to mewling heaps of distress following exposure to the Kars4Kids jingle. The 501(c) nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, spends up to $17 million annually making sure this earwig of a commercial is played across the country. While the purpose is not expressly to annoy you, the fact that the song is irritating is what makes it memorable. And successful. And more than a little controversial.

Kars4Kids began in 1995 as a way to capitalize on the trend of automotive owners donating their unwanted cars in exchange for a tax deduction. Owners who donate their vehicles are able to get an IRS write-off—though typically for only a percentage of the current value—if they declare it a charitable donation. Kars4Kids arranges for the vehicle to be towed away and sold at auction, with proceeds going to afterschool and summer programs for students.

According to the organization, business was slow until one of their volunteers had an idea to craft a commercial song. The melody was purchased from a singer and songwriter named Country Yossi, and Kars4Kids enlisted a child to perform it at an in-house recording session. It debuted in the New York market in 1999, and spread like the plague to the West Coast by 2005 and nationally by 2007.

Aside from Yossi, however, the company has repeatedly declined to identify anyone else involved with creating the song. The reason? Death threats. The tune has apparently enraged people to the point of contemplating murder. Speaking to SanFranciscoGate.com in 2016, music cognition expert Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said that the combination of repetitive structure and the overly simplistic message was engineered to grate the listener's nerves.

“This simple melodic line is also probably responsible for some of the annoyance,” she said. “These kinds of three and four note lines are often the ones specially crafted for kids learning how to play instruments ... It probably conjures up associations of painful practice sessions.”

 
 

The line between irritating and memorable is often blurry. Kars4Kids has repeatedly pointed to the song as being effective in driving telephone traffic to their number. When they debuted a television commercial in 2014—complete with lip-syncing kids who subsequently got bullied for their participation in the spot—donations went up by 50 percent. To date, the company has received 450,000 cars. In 2017, contributions totaled $39 million.

Surprisingly, people have reserved animosity for something other than the commercial. In 2017, Minnesota's attorney general chastised Kars4Kids for not making it clear to donors that many of the children who benefit from the fundraising are located in the northeast: Kids in Minnesota received just $12,000 of the $3 million raised in that state. Other times, the organization has been criticized for leaving information out of their solicitations. In 2009, both Pennsylvania and Oregon fined the charity for failing to disclose a religious affiliation. (Most of the funds raised go toward Orthodox Jewish groups.) Oregon’s Department of Justice said that Kars4Kids needed to disclose such information in its ads.

Those speed bumps aside, the jingle shows no signs of leaving the airwaves any time soon. Rather than run from the negative response, Kars4Kids marinates in it, sharing hateful diatribes from others on social media.

“Newer people join the [media] team and when they are first exposed to the level of hatred on Twitter they'll be like, 'Are you sure you think this is a good idea that we should keep on playing this?,'" Wendy Kirwan, Kars4Kids’s director of public relations, told Billboard in 2016. “And we've looked at that time and again, and we've come to the conclusion that it's definitely worth sticking with.”

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Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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