In the 1910s, if you strolled through Prague in the evenings, you might have caught a glance of a half-naked (or fully nude) Franz Kafka shamelessly jumping, stretching, and spinning in front of his apartment window.
By his late twenties, Kafka was obsessed with bulking up. “My body is too long for its weakness,” he once wrote; “it hasn’t the least bit of fat to engender a blessed warmth, to preserve an inner fire, no fat on which the spirit could occasionally nourish itself beyond its daily need without damage to the whole.” The author's own doctors agreed with that sentiment. In 1907, a physician said Kafka's body was, “thin and delicate. He is relatively weak.” (To salt the wound further, the same doctor described Kafka’s clavicle as “drumstick-shaped.”)
That, however, started to change after Kafka discovered the work of Jørgen Peter Müller.
A Danish physical fitness guru known to go skiing in nothing but a loincloth, Müller was arguably then one of the most famous people in all of Europe. In 1904, he published a pamphlet called My System, which promised to transform any weakling’s body into that of a Greek god with just 15 minutes of daily exercise. His fitness books sold in the millions and were translated into at least 25 languages. Müller’s methods were so popular that his name became a verb—"to Müller” was the equivalent of “to exercise.”
As Sarah Wildman writes for Slate, My System is “something like a precursor to Pilates; it borrows from ballet, and it needs no equipment, other than commitment. It is strict but appealingly accessible.” The regimen consists of bodyweight exercises—toe touches, squats, leg raises, modified push-ups—that could be performed from the comfort of a bedroom. No dumbbells required.
The book appeared have been written just for Kafka, who was used to sedentary office drudgery—he had once worked 12 hours each day at an insurance office. “The town office type is often a sad phenomenon,” Müller intones, “prematurely bent, with shoulders and hips awry from his dislocating position on the office stool, pale, with pimply face.”
Seeing himself in Müller's writing, Kafka became something of an calisthenics zealot. Like a modern CrossFit fanatic, Kafka would sing the praises of the routine to everybody—even writing a letter to his fiancée insisting she try it. (It may not surprise you that they never married.) Twice a day, he’d shamelessly “Müller” in front of his window, sometimes completely nude.
To both Kafka's and Müller’s credit, the exercise book gets a lot of things right. It preaches the importance of core and back strength and offers solid exercises to accomplish those goals. Müller also gives health tips that weren't so common back in the day, advising people to drink alcohol in moderation, to hydrate properly, to clean their teeth, and to sleep for eight hours every night. As Wildman notes, “half of his exercises are now part of the standard back-pain recommendations for patients.”
Want to give Kafka’s workout routine a try? Check out Müller’s guide here at the Internet Archive. (Window shades optional, but strongly suggested.)
Hunter S. Thompson in Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
Like any real-life legend, there are many myths surrounding the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. But in Thompson’s case, most of those stories—particularly the more outlandish ones—are absolutely true. The founder of the “Gonzo journalism” movement is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. Here are some things you might not have known about the eccentric writer, who was born on July 18, 1937.
1. Hunter S. Thompson was named after a famous Scottish surgeon.
Hunter S. Thompson was reportedly named after one of his mother’s ancestors, a Scottish surgeon named Nigel John Hunter. But Hunter wasn't just your run-of-the-mill surgeon. In a 2004 interview with the Independent, Thompson brought along a copy of The Reluctant Surgeon, a Biography of Nigel John Hunter, a biography of his namesake, which read: "A gruff Scotsman, Hunter has been described as the most important naturalist between Aristotle and Darwin, the Shakespeare of medicine and the greatest man the British ever produced. He was the first to trace the lymphatic system. He performed the first human artificial insemination. He was the greatest collector of anatomical specimens in history. He prescribed the orthopaedic shoe that allowed Lord Byron to walk."
When pressed about what that description had to do with him, Thompson responded: "Well, I guess that might be the secret of my survival. Good genes."
2. Hunter S. Thompson missed his high school graduation ... because he was in jail.
Just a few weeks before he was set to graduate from high school, at the age of 17, Thompson was charged as an accessory to robbery and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
“One night Ralston Steenrod, who was in the Athenaeum with Hunter, was driving, and Hunter and another guy he knew were in the car,” Thompson’s childhood friend Neville Blakemore recalled of the incident. “As they were driving through Cherokee Park, the other guy said, ‘Stop. I want to bum a cigarette from that car.’ People used to go park and neck at this spot. And the guy got out and apparently went back and mugged them. The guy who was mugged got their license number and traced the car, and within a very short time they were all three arrested.
“Just before this Hunter had been blamed for a nighttime gas-station robbery,” Blakemore added, “and before that he and some friends got arrested for buying booze underage at Abe's Liquor Store on Frankfort Avenue by the tracks. So Hunter had a record, and he was already on probation. He was given an ultimatum: jail or the military. And Hunter took the Air Force. He didn't graduate with his class.”
3. Hunter S. Thompson's fellow journalist coined the term gonzo.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
While covering the 1968 New Hampshire primary, Thompson met fellow writer and editor Bill Carodoso, editor of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, which is where Thompson first heard him use the word “Gonzo.” “It meant sort of ‘crazy’ or ‘off-the-wall,’” Thompson said in Anita Thompson’s Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson. Two years later, in June 1970, Thompson wrote an article for Scanlan’s Monthly entitled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which became a game-changing moment in journalism because of its offbeat, slightly manic style that was written with first-person subjectivity.
Among the many fellow journalists who praised Thompson for the piece was Cardoso, who sent a letter to Thompson that “said something like, ‘Forget all the sh*t you’ve been writing, this is it; this is pure Gonzo.’ Gonzo. Yeah, of course. That’s what I was doing all the time. Of course, I might be crazy.” Thompson ran with the word, and would use it himself for the first time a year later, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
4. Hunter S. Thompson typed out famous novels to learn the art of writing.
In order to get the “feel” of being a writer, Thompson used to retype his favorite novels in full. “[H]is true model and hero was F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker. “He used to type out pages from The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way, and Fitzgerald’s novel was continually on his mind while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published, after a prolonged and agonizing compositional nightmare, in 1972.”
"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it,” Thompson said in 1997. “Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald—these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me—so yeah, I wanted to learn from the best I guess."
5. Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff in Colorado.
In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on what he called the Freak Power ticket. Among his political tactics: shaving his head so that he could refer to his opponent as his “long-haired opponent,” promising to eat mescaline while on duty, and campaigning to rename Aspen “Fat City” to deter "greed heads, land-rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name 'Aspen.'" Unfortunately, he lost.
6. Hunter S. Thompson stole a memento from Ernest Hemingway.
In 1964, three years after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at his cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, Thompson traveled to the late author’s home in order to write “What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?” While there, according to his widow, Hunter “got caught up in the moment” and took “a big pair of elk horns over the front door.” In 2016, more than a decade after Thompson’s death, Anita returned the antlers to the Hemingway family—which is something she and Hunter had always planned to do. “They were warm and kind of tickled … they were so open and grateful, there was no weirdness,” Anita said.
7. Hunter S. Thompson once used the inside of musician John Oates's colorado cabin as his personal parking space.
Earlier this month, musician John Oates—the latter half of Hall & Oates—shared a story about his ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, just outside of Aspen, which is currently on the market for $6 million. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Oates recalled how when he first purchased the cabin, there was a red convertible parked inside. “I happened to ask the real estate agent who owned the convertible, and he said ‘your neighbor Hunter Thompson,’” Oates said. “Why is he keeping his car in a piece of property he doesn’t own? The real estate agent looked at me and said ‘It’s Woody Creek, you’ll figure this out. It’s a different kind of place.’” After sending several letters to his neighbor to retrieve his vehicle, Oates took matters into his own hands and deposited the car on Thompson’s lawn. Oates said that the two became friends, but never mentioned the incident.
8. Hunter S. Thompson's ashes were shot out of a cannon at his funeral.
On February 20, 2005—at the age of 67—Thompson committed suicide. But Thompson wasn’t about to leave this world quietly. In August of that year, in accordance with his wishes, Thompson's ashes were shot into the air from a cannon while fireworks filled the sky.
“He loved explosions," his widow, Anita, told ESPN, which wrote that, “The private celebration included actors Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, rock bands, blowup dolls and plenty of liquor to honor Thompson, who killed himself six months ago at the age of 67.”
When Harry Potter fans dream of living like the boy wizard, they may picture Harry's cozy quarters in the Gryffindor dormitory at Hogwarts. One home owner in San Diego, California is trying to spin one of Harry's much less idyllic living situations as a magical feature. As The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, a listing of a three-bedroom house for sale in the city's Logan Heights neighborhood boasts a "Harry Potter room"—a.k.a storage room under the stairs.
In the Harry Potter books, the cupboard under the stairs of the Dursley residence served as Harry's bedroom before he enrolled in Hogwarts. Harry was eager to escape the cramped, dusty space, but thanks to the series' massive success, a similar feature in a real-world home may be a selling point for Harry Potter fans.
Kristin Rye, the seller of the San Diego house, told The Union-Tribune she would read Harry Potter books to her son, though she wouldn't describe herself as a super fan. As for why she characterized her closet as a “large ‘Harry Potter’ storage room underneath stairs" in her real estate listing, she said it was the most accurate description she could think of. “It’s just this closet under the stairs that goes back and is pretty much like a Harry Potter room. I don’t know how else to describe it," she told the newspaper.
Beyond the cupboard under the stairs, Rye's listing doesn't bear much resemblance to the cookie-cutter, suburban home of 4 Privet Drive. Nearly a century old, the San Diego house has the same cobwebs and a musty smells you might expect from the Hogwarts dungeons, the newspaper reports. But there are some perks, including a parking spot and backyard space for a garden or pull-up bar. The 1322-square-foot home is listed at $425,000—cheaper than the median price of $620,000 for a resale single-family home in the area.
If you want to live like a wizard, you don't necessarily need to start by moving under a staircase. In North Yorkshire, England, a cottage modeled after Hagrid's Hut is available to rent on a nightly basis.