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5 of History's Biggest Killjoys

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Who would declare war on Christmas, alcohol, and sex? These extremely uptight people.

1. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): Stole Christmas

Technically, it wasn't Cromwell himself (above) that stole Father Christmas from England in the 1640s. It was the government he presided over as Lord Protector. During the brief period between the execution of King Charles the First and the Restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, Christmas was forbidden.

Cromwell and the commonwealth government he led were strongly Puritan. Puritans thought celebrating such a solemn occasion as Christ's birth with feasting and parties was repugnant, and without Biblical base. They also thought that having a "Christ's Mass" sounded much too Catholic. They abolished all traditional Holy Days (holidays) except for Sunday, and set up the second Tuesday of each month as a secular day off.

Everybody hated it.

Cromwell died in 1658, and the monarchy, and Christmas, was restored in 1660... at which time Cromwell's corpse was dug up, hung from chains, decapitated, and thrown in a pit with his head impaled on a pike. Because you don't mess with Christmas.

2. Carrie Nation (1846–1911): Attacked alcohol with a hatchet

It is tempting to hate Carrie Nation. This angry woman took it upon herself to forcibly free America from the vice of alcohol (decades before the U.S. government attempted the same with Prohibition). But she did it with such style! In the beginning, she would just stand outside saloons singing hymns, or greeting the bartenders as they opened up with, "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls!"

Then things took a turn. God apparently told her to smash all of a local saloon's stock with rocks, so she did. She entered Dobson's Saloon in Kansas on June 7, 1899, shouting, "Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard's fate!" Smashing felt right, and garnered much publicity, so she got a hatchet to do the job more effectively.

Between 1900 and 1910 she was arrested 30 times for attacking the liquor supply of saloons, administering what she called "Hatchetations."

Some historians believe it was the death of her alcoholic husband that set Carrie down the road to violently enforced temperance. Others note the strain of mental illness running in her family (both her mother and daughter spent the majority of their lives institutionalized). Carrie died in 1911, and never saw Prohibition enacted in 1920, the same year women got the right to vote. That was not a coincidence. Historians believe her campaigns paved the way for the U.S. government's attempt (and fantastic failure) to save the country from demon alcohol.

3. Will H. Hays (1879–1954): Sanitized the movies

In the 1920s, movies didn't get rated. Though most early motion picture content is incredibly tame by today's standards (if you ignore the racism and sexism and other modern -isms), contemporary viewers still found much to be offended by.

A campaign began to make it illegal to distribute any movie that didn't represent excellent morals and piety. As it was, each state had its own motion picture board that would censor each movie as they saw fit. Divorce treated lightly? Out. Gold miners drinking whiskey? Out. Too much wiggle in Clara Bow's bottom? Out. And the studio that made the movie had to pay for it: the editing, the redistribution, everything.

So Hollywood called on Will H. Hays, manager of President Harding's successful campaign, to be the new president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. They wanted him to clean up the image of Hollywood and staunch the hemorrhage of money being paid to state censors.

He wrote rules for making clean movies, but at first, neither the studios nor the public liked them. In 1930, a group of Catholic priests presented Hays a code that one of them, Father Daniel A. Lord (who would be the REAL wet blanket here, except priests really don't count), had written. Hays thought it was perfect and implemented it.

The studios initially balked at having their art restricted. Then in 1934, under threats of boycotts and other financial woes, the MPPDA agreed to voluntarily send all films through the Hays Code censors before release. The code stayed intact until the 1960s, when modern lettered, age-appropriate ratings replaced them.

4. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825): Purified Shakespeare

When Thomas was a boy, his father used to read the family Shakespeare. When he grew up, he realized that his father had been omitting or changing anything that was lurid. Lady Macbeth cried, "Out, crimson spot!" and Ophelia's drowning was most certainly an unfortunate accident.

And so, when Bowdler grew up, he and his sisters wrote (or rather, edited) The Family Shakespeare.

To Bowdler's credit, he did not want to remove the impurities of Shakespeare for the sake of the entire populace, just the soft impressionable minds of women and children. Still, his name became a verb, to bowdlerize: "Remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), esp. with the result that it becomes weaker or less."

5. Anthony Comstock (1844–1915): Totalitarian dictator of sex

Anthony Comstock was the nation's self-appointed chastity belt. As a traveling salesman in New York during the mid-19th century, he was disgusted by what he saw as a society sick and degraded by obscenity and pornography. At first he just took it upon himself to be an informant, supplying information to the police so they could do prostitution busts. Then he drafted his own anti-obscenity bill, and headed off to Congress.

Comstock's law against obscenity — which prevented the printing, sale, or distribution of sexually obscene literature or devices through the mail — passed in 1873. It also banned birth control devices, as well as information about birth control or sexual health. So Americans were the only soldiers sent overseas in WWI without standard issued condoms, and any married woman who wanted legal help from her doctor to prevent constant pregnancy was told to stop having so much sex.

Comstock also founded the utterly terrifying New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, whose agents were granted the right of search, seizure, and arrest by New York state. For every bookseller they had arrested for selling obscene material (like James Joyce novels), and for every Broadway play they had shut down, they received 50 percent of the fines the violator had to pay. The society dissolved in the 1950s.

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WWI Centennial: Bolshevik Coup Attempt Fails
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Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 282nd installment in the series.


Far from enhancing the prestige of Russia’s Provisional Government as hoped, the disastrous outcome of the Kerensky Offensive in July 1917 put the new regime on the defensive with its own people as well as the enemy. Within weeks, its already fragile authority faced a grave internal threat, as Lenin’s radical Bolsheviks staged their first coup attempt. Although the communist uprising failed, the “July Days” made it clear to all that the Provisional Government was living on borrowed time.

While the moderate socialists who formed the majority of the Petrograd Soviet were content to cooperate with the Provisional Government under the ineffectual idealist Premier Lviv, at least for the time being, Lenin had never concealed his ambition to overthrow the “bourgeois” liberals and seize power for the Soviet – which in reality meant the Bolshevik Central Committee.

The debacle on the Galician front seemed to present an ideal moment for the coup, as military morale plunged to new lows and popular support for the Provisional Government dwindled. An opportunist first and last, Lenin seized on another (supposedly) unexpected event – a military mutiny – to make his bid for power.

Mutinous elements, never far from the surface during this unsettled period, began bubbling again when the Provisional Government ordered a number of units from the Petrograd garrison to the front. The Bolsheviks depended on disaffected soldiers from their ranks as a big part of their power base, and were determined not to lose this leverage: a sudden blitz of propaganda excoriating the “imperialist” Provisional Government helped push troops from one unit, the 1st Machine Gun Regiment, over the edge into open rebellion (it’s unclear exactly how much Lenin knew about the event beforehand, but the fact that he went to Vyborg, Finland, not far from Petrograd, for a “restful holiday” a few days before the mutiny suggests he knew what was coming).

On July 15, two leading Bolsheviks, Lev Bronstein (better known by his nom de guerre, Trotsky) and Anatoly Lunacharsky, addressed thousands of troops from the 1st Machine Gun Regiment, demanding the Provisional Government hand power to the Petrograd Soviet and encouraging the soldiers to refuse to obey any orders until this happened. The next day the regiment heard even more inflammatory speeches by anarchist agitators allied with the Bolsheviks, who openly called for rebellion, and in the afternoon of July 16 the mutiny began as the troops elected a revolutionary committee. One of their first actions was to send representatives to recruit support from rebellious sailors stationed at the naval base of Kronstadt, who quickly convened their own soviet and voted to join the rebellion; they were soon joined by workers from the Putilov factory complex (below Bolsheviks address workers).

With thousands of soldiers and sailors rallying to the banner of revolution, a handful of Bolshevik leaders, including Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, tried to engineer a parliamentary coup in the Petrograd Soviet by calling an emergency meeting of the workers’ section and presenting a resolution calling for the Soviet to seize power and overthrow the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks were opposed by rival socialist parties, including the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, but simply passed the resolution themselves after the latter walked out in protest.

L-R: Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By the late evening of July 16 a large crowd of soldiers and factory workers had gathered outside the Tauride Palace where the Soviet met, calling for the delegates to join the Bolshevik coup attempt and overthrow the Provisional Government (which was seemingly unable to intervene to stop these events, revealing how powerless it really was). In another strange twist, the Petrograd Soviet now found itself in the same position as the Provisional Government in March, with power being thrust on it by unruly mobs – practically at gunpoint.

On July 17 the mutinying soldiers in Petrograd were joined by the sailors from Kronstadt, who arrived and helped take over most of the city, using commandeered automobiles and trucks. Alexander Kerensky, the charismatic war minister who had so far managed to keep the Soviet and Provisional Government united (and who would soon replace Lviv as prime minister), was forced to flee the capital, narrowly escaping a kidnapping attempt. Pitrim Sorokin, a moderate socialist member of the Soviet, recalled the scene as chaos spread throughout the city:

“Come as soon as possible,” we were urged, “a new Bolshevist riot has broken out.” Without any delay we started. On Sergievskaia Street all was serene, but as soon as we turned into the Liteiny we saw a number of heavy motor trucks, full of armed soldiers and sailors and fitted with machine guns, being driven furiously in the direction of Tavrichesky Palace. Private automobiles were being stopped and seized by the rioters. We saw a mutinous regiment crossing the Liteiny Bridge and near at hand we head the crack of rifles. Revolution was hungry again and was calling for human sacrifice.

As Sorokin noted, the column of rebellious sailors and civilians came under rifle fire from some unknown assailants, perhaps supporters of the Provisional Government, in the “bourgeois” Liteiny neighborhood of Petrograd, causing them to briefly scatter before resuming their march (top, the column disperses). They joined the 1stMachine Gun Regiment and over ten thousand workers from the Putilov factories in front of the Tauride Palace, where the crowd was growing increasingly threatening to the Soviet – the same Soviet they were supposedly supporting against the Provisional Government – while inside the Bolshevik leaders tried to persuade the other socialist parties to seize power. Later that day Sorokin described the weird situation:

Meanwhile, the crowd outside grew into a dense throng. Bolshevist speakers urged the throng to break down the doors of the palace and to disperse the Soviet. My head bursting with excitement and the close atmosphere of the room, I went out into the yard of the Duma. In the gray twilight of the July night I saw a perfect sea of soldiers, workmen, sailors… Here and there cannon and machine guns pointing at the Palace, and everywhere red banners floating and incessant firing. It was like a madhouse. Here was the mob demanding “All the Power to the Soviets” and at the same time training cannon on the Soviets, threatening it with death and extinction.

The drama was about to take an even more bizarre turn thanks to the Provisional Government’s minister of justice, Pavel Pereverzev, who decided the only way to head off the coup attempt was to discredit the Bolsheviks – specifically by releasing secret police documents indicating that Lenin was in the pay of German intelligence. The gambit worked, as even most radical revolutionaries still loathed the foreign enemy, and viewed any cooperation with them as treason.

As suddenly as it had arisen, the popular support for the Bolshevik coup collapsed, allowing military units loyal to the Soviet to enter the Tauride Palace, rout the Bolsheviks, and free the other members of the Soviet, who had effectively been held hostage by the mob in their own building. Sorokin recalled the moment when an officer leading loyal troops arrived in the chamber to restore order:

The explosion of a bomb could scarcely have produced such an effect. Wild, joyous applause on the one hand, shrieks, groans, maledictions on the other. As for Trotzky, Lunacharsky, Gimmer, Katz, and Zinovieff, as one of my colleagues expressed it, they “shriveled like the devil before holy water.” One of them did make an effort to say something, but was instantly howled down. “Out of here! Away!” shouted the Soviet, and with their partisans at their heels they left.

Discredited by the allegations of German support and sought by the police along with many others of the party’s leaders, Lenin was forced to flee Russia in disguise, clean shaven to look like a Finnish peasant (below, Lenin in August 1917). Many observers understandably assumed that the Bolsheviks were finished. But the Provisional Government neglected to ban the party, and the socialist members of the Soviet remained more sympathetic to their Bolshevik brethren – who in the opinion of many were just overzealous in their advocacy on behalf of the Soviet – than the “bourgeois” Provisional Government, now under the increasingly dictatorial Kerensky.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Indeed, the coup had also served several purposes, allowing the Bolshevik leaders to assess both the vulnerability of the Provisional Government and potential support for their program in the Soviet, and above all also acting as a huge publicity stunt for the small, previously obscure party. Rank and file members could continue organizing, and unlike their peers in other parties, they focused on the “big picture,” long-term goal of establishing an independent power base from the Soviet. Eduard Dune, a young Latvian Bolshevik, recalled that even immediately following the failed coup, the situation seemed far from hopeless:

People of all walks of life cursed the Bolsheviks, yet at the same time there was growing interest in us. What did we want? What were we proposing? Delegates from small factories, dozens of kilometers away, visited us at the factory… This was the time when the Bolsheviks were being persecuted, so there was heightened interest in our speakers from all quarters. Political differentiation became noticeable even at our factory. The Mensheviks sweated over purely practical work and agitated against the organization of a Red Guard, which none of them joined. The newspapers spoke of the Bolsheviks losing their influence on the masses, but in fact we noticed that it was growing, at least to judge by the number of those wishing to join the Red Guard detachment.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Natural History Museum
London's Natural History Museum Has a New Star Attraction: An Amazing Blue Whale Skeleton
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Natural History Museum

In January 2017, London’s Natural History Museum said goodbye to Dippy, the Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton cast that had presided over the institution’s grand entrance hall since 1979. Dippy is scheduled to tour the UK from early 2018 to late 2020—and taking his place in Hintze Hall, The Guardian reports, is a majestic 82-foot blue whale skeleton named Hope.

Hope was officially unveiled to the public on July 14. The massive skeleton hangs suspended from the hall’s ceiling, providing visitors with a 360-degree view of the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth.

Technically, Hope isn’t a new addition to the Natural History Museum, which was first established in 1881. The skeleton is from a whale that beached itself at the mouth of Ireland's Wexford Harbor in 1891 after being injured by a whaler. A town merchant sold the skeleton to the museum for just a couple of hundred pounds, and in 1934, the bones were displayed in the Mammal Hall, where they hung over a life-size blue whale model.

The whale skeleton remained in the Mammal Hall until 2015, when museum workers began preparing the skeleton for its grand debut in Hintze Hall. "Whilst working on the 221 bones we uncovered past conservation treatments, such as the use of newspaper in the 1930s to fill the gaps between the vertebrae," Lorraine Cornish, the museum's head of conservation, said in a statement. "And we were able to use new methods for the first time, including 3D printing a small number of bones missing from the right flipper."

Once restoration was complete, Hope was suspended above Hintze Hall in a diving position. There she hangs as one of the museum’s new major attractions—and as a reminder of humanity’s power to conserve endangered species.

"The Blue Whale as a centerpiece tells a hopeful story about our ability to create a sustainable future for ourselves and other species," according to a museum press release. "Humans were responsible for both pushing the Blue Whale to the brink of extinction but also responsible for its protection and recovery. We hope that this remarkable story about the Blue Whale will be told by parents and grandparents to their children for many years to come, inspiring people to think differently about the natural world."

Check out some pictures of Hope below.

 “Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

[h/t Design Boom]


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