CLOSE

How to Be Entertaining: 10 Simple Instructions from 1904

Being the life of the party was hard in the early 20th century, especially if you weren’t into reciting poetry or being Jay Gatsby. Thankfully, there were plenty of guidebooks available to help the uninteresting; of those, the least prominent was likely a little book called Cupology: How to Be Entertaining, authored by an Ohio woman known only as Clara. Here are 10 of Clara’s tips, directly from 1904.

1. Be a Fortuneteller

According to Clara, through careful analysis of personalities and mystical tells, a person “can become his own prophet.” The arrangement of dregs in a coffee or teacup can be interpreted in entertaining ways, as the “sensing of atmospheres” can be performed “for the pleasure of guests, both young and old.” And if reading leaves doesn’t suit you, “palm reading [or] solar biology forecasts” are equally diverting for guests and company. Here’s a condensed list of images you’ll probably see in your guests’ leaves, and their interpretations:

Accordion—Primitive talent
Apples—Health, Knowledge
Atlas—Sight, Seeing
Bats—Moral blindness
Bees—Thrift
Bed—Illness or need of rest
Birds—News, Singing, Joys
Bridge—Some event in life
Books—Learning
Cake—Luxury
Cats—Jealousies
Children—Good omen
Circles—Fine realizations
Cow—Good nutriment
Crescent—Love token
Children at play—Universal good
Crosses—Some trials
Chickens—Gains
Crows—Intrigues
Ditch—Dangers ahead
Dogs—Friends
Door—Some opening
Elephant—Some imposition
Eyes—To observe
Feet—Traveler
Feet (bare)—Poverty
Flowers—Joy, Pleasure
Floods—Sickness, Sorrow
Fountain—Public benefit
Fruit—Health
Hearts—Artistic love of Unity, Friends, Home
Hand—Friendship
Houses—Home building
Jewel-Box—Wealth
Lock and Keys—To be put in trust
Lion—Moral courage
Lighted Lamp—Great success
Lock—A secret
Moon—Honors
Monkeys—Evolution—Darwin
News-Boys—Public excitement
Palms—Restful victory
Bats—Thieving
Ring—Contract
Road—An outlook
Rabbit—Timidity, Cowardice
Rainbow—Sublime promise
Saw or Scissors—Vexations
Star—Hope, Promise
Squares—Realizations
Ships—Commerce
Sinking Ships—Perils and loss
Sofa—Social or Courtship
Spiders or Scorpions—Illness, Venom
Tiger—Onslaught
Trees—Lofty thoughts
Wheat—Plenty
Whirlwind—Distraction
Wavy lines—Vexations
Weeds—Petty trials
Window—In a new light.
Scattered objects—Lack of harmony and no propitious time for action

2. It Takes Two to Party

It’s hard to be a lady, what with being constantly nervous and inept. And it’s perhaps just as difficult to be a man with seemingly no ability whatsoever to remember who anyone is or how everyone knows one another. So it’s best to have one of each, a man and a woman, to host each party. What could go wrong?

"The most successful social functions are those managed by a host and hostess," says a society scribe, "not by either alone. Leave a man to make up a party and he is sure to forget that Mrs. B. was engaged to C. before she married D., and that Mrs. C. is aware of the fact, and that the D.s and E.s have long been at daggers drawn, and he will have no eyes to detect the designs of Mrs. H. On the other hand, a woman gets nervous and fatigued with the constant effort to keep the ball rolling, and fails just where a man would succeed. What is wanted is a division of labor, and if this were done oftener there would be less disappointment on the part of entertainers and entertained."

3. Play a Game! (Ladies Only)

Ever heard of the “progressive peanut party”? Well, hold onto your hatpins, chickens, because this is exciting:

Four guests are seated about each table, and on the table is placed a crock full of peanuts. Each guest is provided with a hatpin, and when the word is given all begin jabbing for peanuts. The quartet that empties its crock first wins the game, and then the sets of players change. It is needless to say that the peanut party is strictly a "hen" function. A man couldn't jab a crockful of peanuts with a hatpin in a week, but the young women of Lamar [Missouri] played thirty games in a single afternoon.

4. Check Out Each Other’s Nails

If staring into your own spent teacup and stabbing legumes didn’t overexert you, there’s probably still time to discover your personality through the condition and shape of your fingernails. Get all the ladies in a circle (men need not apply) and take turns examining the hands of the woman to your left. Everything you need to know about her can be summed up thusly:

Broad nails denote a gentle natured person, inclined to be modest and unassuming.

Narrow nails denote a studious but not very gentle nature, with a desire for scientific knowledge.

White nails denote a fondness for society of opposite sex, not overstrong in health and subject to fevers.

Round nails denote a desire for knowledge in general, apt to take great pride in own accomplishments, rather hasty, yet fairly good natured and forgiving.

Long nails denote caution, lacking confidence in human nature, decided in opinion and strictly virtuous.

5. Amaze Her with Simple Math (Men Only!)

Men have long been at a loss for polite methods of determining a woman’s age. Here’s an easy trick, quite entertaining, that would have made for an excellent Facebook post five years ago. Simply approach the woman whose approximate age escapes you and follow this script:

"There is a very simple problem in arithmetic which very few people are able to see
through, yet it is as easy as possible. I wonder if you can do it?"

This sets the person on his dignity, and he or she wants to do it at once. Then you go on:

"Think of a number corresponding to the numerical order of the month in which you were born. Oh, no, you need not tell me." (To make the explanation clear, we will assume that the figure is two—standing for February—and that the age is 30.)

"Now, multiply that figure by 2," you continue, "and add 5. Done that? Well, multiply that by 50 and add your own age. From the total subtract 365, and to the total add 115. Now, what figure have you got?"

"230," replies the person addressed, "Isn't that correct?"

"Exactly," you exclaim. "You are one of the very few persons who have managed it." And you turn away to hide your smile of satisfaction at having discovered that your victim was born in February and that she is thirty years of age. You have arrived at this result by separating the figures 230 into 2 (February) and 30. And you can do this with everybody's age. Try it on your sweetheart.

Just don't ask, ever.

6. Know How to Get a Man (Probably Ladies Only in 1904)

What’s the sense in having a party if you’re just going to sit around bowls of peanuts telling people how old you are? Better have a plan, ladies, and know the rules. To get a man, a woman should:

7. Know an Off-Color Lawyer Joke

Everyone has one. If you don’t have one, don’t use this one, either.

8. Know Other Jokes, Too

Clara’s suggestions leave a little to be desired, but these are the types of jokes an entertaining man or lady tells at a party.

"Goodness," exclaimed the nervous visitor. "What vulgar little hoodlums those noisy boys are out there in the street!"

"I can't see them," said the hostess, "I'm rather near-sighted, you know."

"But surely you can hear how they're shouting and carrying on."

"Yes, but I can't tell whether they're my children or the neighbors’."

9. Finally, a Co-Ed Game

Twentieth century party games are more fun when they don’t involve examining cuticles. (Maybe not much more fun.) Here’s a set of cards for the host or hostess. Give each guest a list of famous assumed names, then a writing implement and a predetermined amount of time in which to guess the real names of the people listed. Offer a prize to the winner, which is the person who correctly guesses the highest number within the allotted time.

10. Maybe Know Just a Little Poetry

Every entertaining person knows one great toast. According to Clara, these were always the most popular at her parties, and she was a lady who knew what it meant to please a crowd.

arrow
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).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock
arrow
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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios