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15 Classified Ads We Hope Had Happy Endings

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Today, if we have specific needs or questions, we can usually find a specific forum or website to help us get hooked up with whatever we need. A century ago, there was only the Classifieds section of your town’s newspaper—tiny blocks of print disguising entire lives and stories behind very few words. Here are some of those stories that we hope met with a happy ending. We hope:

1. That Lula was all settled up at Woolworths.

“To Whom It May Concern: Lula Dumont, having left my bed and support, I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by her. - F.E. Dumont” 1920

We hope that Lula’s next partner valued the virtue of an open marriage as deeply as she did. You can’t put chains on love, man.

2. That Exactly This Happened and Nothing Else.

“Is there someone who would raise and have a clean young boy of 12 educated, for a home companion?” 1907

Howdy. I’m Chris Hansen. Why don’t you come along and set a spell over there on the divan?

3. That It Was the Meet-Cute Story They Told Their Great-Grandchildren.

“Will some nice girl take Christmas dinner -at any hotel she chooses- with a decent young man; a stranger and alone in the city” 1907

If there isn’t a Reese Witherspoon movie with this premise one should be made immediately.

4. That Mrs. Verhilla Finds Justice

“GIRLS- Please return purse taken from lavatory of Circle Theater, as you are known. Police have your description and there will be a warrant out if not returned. – Mrs. Verhilla” 1920

May God have mercy on your souls, girls. Because Mrs. Verhilla will not.

5. That the Lady in Question Will Not Remain Unsupported for Long

“Lost- Two unfinished linen brassieres. Kindly leave at Washington hotel. Reward." 1907

From what I’ve seen early brassieres were two handkerchiefs tied together with twine. Good riddance, honey. Stick with the corset for another decade or so.

6. That Room 24 Held All the Delights it Promised

“Ladies, if you want to go to a very select place for your electric treatments and massage, go to room 24 in Marquam House. You will get the best attention” 1907

Hysteria cures weren’t all bad.

7. That a Certain Gentleman Will Realize His Oversight

"Lost: Will the Gentleman who occupied my room Tuesday pm please return jewelry taken? No questions asked.” 1907

Come on Wilbur. We both know you looked ridiculous in that lavaliere.

8. That this is Not Nearly as Depressing as it Sounds

“I have two children, boy and girl, ages 10 and 12, that I would like to leave with a nice family for a year: want good neighborhood and where proper care will be given.” 1897

A parent who spends 5 whole cents to procure the safety of his children can’t be completely negligent.

9. That All These Girls Have Been Thoroughly Briefed on the Mann Act

"Wanted: Girls. Must be pretty, small, and 16 years of age. Apply today at Los Angeles Theatre Box Office” 1911

Nothing suspicious, seedy, or potentially criminal here.

10. That…ehh. Sorry buddy. This isn’t going to end well.

“For Sale- Calf with two legs. Call or write quick: make offer.” 1909

Write quick? It’s not like the poor thing is going anywhere.  

11. That Ray Had a Reason

“Ray- good luck to you in your coming explanation. Dollie.” 1909

Shame on your suspicious mind, Dollie. It just so happens Ray remembered to have a photograph taken of himself next to the Guatemalan children whose school he’s been building for the past two months.

12. That G and B were only dating.

"G- You are, as I thought, a sad mistake. –B”

Jeez Mom. So I didn’t make Varsity. You didn’t need to take out an entire ad. 

13. That the Realization of Love and Family are Not Exclusive to People Over 5 Feet tall.  

“Am 40, 3ft 11 in high, weigh 175 lbs, best health, brown hair, brown eyes and mustache, erect figure, regular features; good business, wish the acquaintance of little woman with common sense. Object: Matrimony.”

An extremely prudent use of a personal ad. In an era where differences were not always celebrated, this gentleman stood to meet more potential willing brides than by any other means available to him.

14. Doesn’t Matter how it Ended. The Joy was in the Journey.

 “Wanted: Ten Monkeys, Talking Parrots, and Canaries.” 1900

That was a weekend no one ever forgot.

15. No Joke. Just Really, Really Wishing for a Happy Ending.

In my research I thought I’d hit a goldmine of peculiar, personal classifieds when I stumbled across a 1906 copy of The San Francisco Call. But what appeared to be a laundry list of strayed husbands and cryptic codes turned into something much more tragic on closer examination of the date.

 “News Wanted of Mrs. R J Pringle by her husband.”

“Sarah Rockel, come to Sullivan’s. Am much worried.”

“Daisy- Bring Mother to Port Richmond.”

These ads and dozens more like them were placed on April 21, 1906, three days after the Great San Francisco Earthquake demolished 80 percent of the city and killed 3000 people. Here’s hoping many more were reunited with their loved ones. 

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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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