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5 Great Skincare Tips (From 100 Years Ago)

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Beautiful skin. It's not a vanity to desire it. In fact, doing whatever you can to get it may very well be God's will. Marie Montaigne explains in 1913's How to be Beautiful:

Almost while I was writing this, a learned Presbyterian minister reminded the sisters of his flock about the loveliness of flowers and admonished them that women were the flowers of the human family, and, therefore, that it was a woman's sacred duty to do everything she could to enhance her beauty and so confer upon the world the pleasure in the gift of a human blossom. [How to be Beautiful]

In 1913, many women were also the cows, pack-mules, kangaroos, and brood sows of the human family. Though it may be difficult to maintain your blossom while constantly pregnant, caring for six children, driving a plow, and hand-washing the clothing of an entire family while elbow-deep in lye, it is not impossible. A true woman can surely manage it!

Here, some helpful skin-care tips from 100 years ago.

1. Avoid the salad oil

To nourish the skin on your face, Dr. William A. Woodbury, dermatologist and author of 1910's Beauty Culture: A Practical Handbook on the Care of the Person, prescribes a mix of lard, lanolin, boric acid, and white wax. Ms. Montaigne, however, sees no need for such harsh ingredients. Furthermore, she cautions against what can happen if you use the wrong skin food.

An important thing to consider in the selection of skin foods is their tendency to darken the skin or make it hairy… Salad oil, unless made from pure olives, will make the skin hairy, while pure olive extracts will not. [How to be Beautiful]

Perhaps using salad oil on your skin never occurred to you in the first place. Good! It, like impure thoughts, causes unwanted hair growth. Avoid at all costs. However, dairy products may be just the thing!

Sour milk or that which has curdled, is very whitening to face and neck. Mixed with cornmeal it cannot be surpassed as a softening bleach for the skin. [How to be Beautiful]

You can be one of those rare human blossoms that smell like curdled milk. God's skunk cabbage.

2. Don't move

If you believe that wrinkles are an unavoidable part of aging, sister, you're just making excuses. You have wrinkles for two reasons. One, you didn't rub your face correctly, and two, you will not control your emotions. Why can't you be more like the Turks?

According to Beauty's Aids, a book written in 1901 by the anonymous Countess C__:

The most simple and most effective way to avoid the appearance of lines, is to try as far as possible to keep an immobile face — that immobility which amongst the Arabs and the Turks preserves for so long the purity of their skin. And it is the same even in our country. Many unimpressionable women are such mistresses of their nerves that nothing surprises them or troubles them, they remain always serene, never crying, never laughing, hardly smiling, until they reach that stage of force of will, that they prevent their passions from showing in their faces. [Beauty's Aids]

Faces aren't for feelings, dear. If they were, what would you bottle up inside, enabling you to build enough wrenching inner turmoil to keep your figure trim? Hmm?

But if you insist on being so gauche as to have visible emotions, you have the option of a facial "massage." From The Countess:

The cheek muscles… are manipulated with a clawing motion which must be light and quick; not pinching. This will fill out hollow cheeks, while it gives firmness to the tissues and banishes the tell-tale lines of worry. [Beauty's Aids]

Presumably to be replaced by the tell-tale signs of clawing your own face daily.

3. Be good for beauty's sake

According to Daniel Garrison Brinton and George Henry Napheys, who wrote Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve it in Accordance with the Laws of Health in 1870, the placement of wrinkles reveal your inner soul. And you can prove this theory simply by electrocuting a corpse.

Connect the poles of an electric battery with these separate muscles on the face of a corpse, and you will see the ghastly spectacle of the passions of rage, of mirth, of lust, of hate, one after another brought into horrid relief on the countenance of death. The habitual use of one of these muscles above the other, enlarges it, and leaves on the countenance marks which observers ever associate with the passion. [Personal Beauty: How to Cultivate and Preserve it in Accordance with the Laws of Health]

4. Stock up on hog's lard

The anonymous Countess C__ gives serious consideration to many injurious skin conditions: carbuncles, blackheads, warts, and, of course, freckles.

These spots, which are ordinarily called freckles, and by the learned, ephelis, are the horror of blondes, red-haired, and dark people, with a fine white skin. How do they come? Medici certant — the doctors disagree, said one of my friends, a Latin scholar. Are they a sign of an excess of iron in the system? Do they denote an anaemic temperament, a feeble circulation? No one knows. However they come, they are very disagreeable for those who are afflicted with them. Fortunately it is possible to prevent them, and, as a rule, one can get rid of them. [Beauty's Aids]

Modern times tell us, of course, that freckles actually denote a lack of soul. Still, the Countess then offers a variety of recipes, principle ingredients including turpentine, hog's lard, and acetate of lead. It may seem drastic, but it's a small price to pay to be able to walk amongst the normals without having the blackness of your heart speckled all over your face.

5. Make your own dimples

The Skin: Its Care and Treatment by Emily Lloyd is a turn-of-the-century study manual for women considering becoming "beauty operators." Most of the book is dedicated to instruction on how to use what appears to be a car battery to electrically stimulate a client's face. (A live client this time, presumably).

The sections on cosmetic surgery, though detailed, do indicate that a professional surgeon should be called upon. However, an operator can make dimples for her client, all by herself. All you need is a very sharp knife, a hook and some scissors.

After the skin has been carefully cleansed the sharp point of a very fine knife is carried into the cellular and fatty tissue of the cheek, and then these tissues drawn up with a very sharp hook and snipped off. The amount of tissue excised is hard to describe as it will depend largely upon the location selected, also upon the style of a dimple preferred. [The Skin: Its Care and Treatment]

You don't think Shirley Temple was born with those dimples, do you? Only her beauty operator knows for sure.

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When John Lennon and Yoko Ono Mailed Acorns to World Leaders
 Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a big year in 1969. Following a quick wedding ceremony in Gibraltar, they hopped over to Amsterdam and used their honeymoon suite at the Hilton as a stage for their week-long “Bed-In for Peace” protest against the Vietnam War. A week later they were in Vienna wearing bags over their bodies and declaring the formation of a comical new philosophy called “bagism." Their goal, they said, was to promote "total communication" by getting people to focus on their message instead of their skin color, ethnicity, clothes, or in Lennon's case, hair length.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with a sign reading "bagism"
Bob Aylott, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

These attention-grabbing antics were among their most famous peace efforts, but that same year they undertook a very different project. This time, away from the cameras, Lennon and Ono mailed acorns to some of the world's most important leaders and asked that they be planted in support of world peace.

The idea had been a year in the making. While filming a part for a movie called A Love Story on June 15, 1968, Lennon and Ono planted two acorns at England’s Coventry Cathedral, which had been bombed during WWII and was later rebuilt as a symbol of peace. They were “planted in east and westerly positions,” symbolizing the union of Lennon and Ono and their respective cultures.

Then, in 1969, they decided to scale up their "peace acorn" project. Along with two acorns placed in a small, round case, they sent world leaders a letter that read: “Enclosed in this package we are sending you two living sculptures—which are acorns—in the hope that you will plant them in your garden and grow two oak trees for world peace. Yours with love, John and Yoko Ono Lennon.”

Like the proverb “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” the couple understood the power of small gestures and wanted to start a conversation that would get world leaders thinking about the possibility of peace—or in Lennon's words, to encourage them to "give peace a chance."

John and Yoko hold up a protest sign that says "War is over if you want it."
Frank Barratt, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They did provoke some thought, at least. In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon explained, “We got reaction to sending acorns—different heads of state actually planted their acorns, lots of them wrote to us answering about the acorns. We sent acorns to practically everybody in the world.”

The two acorns were “submitted to Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth II] in due course,” according to a letter that the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace sent to the Lennons. A response from Malaysia confirmed that the acorns were to be planted in Kuala Lumpur’s Palace Gardens, and another letter from South Africa indicated that they would be planted on then-president Jim Fouché’s farm.

Golda Meir, then-prime minister of Israel, reportedly said something along the lines of, “I don’t know who they are but if it’s for peace, we’re for it,” Lennon told Rolling Stone. An official response sent by Meir’s assistant director in 1970 read, “Mrs. Meir very much appreciated the gesture, the underlying symbolism of which she would indeed like to see take root within a realistic framework.”

One particularly polite response came from Cambodia's head of state, Norodom Sihanouk, who worried he had erred in addressing Lennon and Ono as Mr. and Mrs. (he hadn't). He wrote, “Dear Sir and Madam, I may have wrongly assumed the friendly donators of acorns are husband and wife, and would like to submit ‘preventive’ apologies, together with my sincerest thanks for their gift.”

Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event
Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event in 1960
Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ono saved all of these letters, and photocopies can be viewed on her website. For his part, Lennon memorialized the event in The Beatles single "The Ballad of John and Yoko." In case you've ever wondered what the line "50 acorns tied in a sack" means, the verse in question references the events following their honeymoon and return to London:

Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press
Said we wish you success
It's good to have the both of you back

To mark the 40th anniversary of the peace acorn offering in 2009, Ono recreated the act and sent acorns to 123 world leaders, including Barack and Michelle Obama. Next year, for the 50th anniversary, it remains to be seen if the famous peace acorns will again make their way around the world. If you happen to be a president or the Queen, you might want to save a spot in your garden, just in case.

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11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.


Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”


Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."


In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.


One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.


When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.


Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].


Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!


In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.


Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].


When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.


In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.


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