CLOSE
istock
istock

15 Perfectly Safe Things That Were Once Considered Dangerous

istock
istock

Lead paint in kids' rooms. Smoking. Flammable pajamas. It's easy to name items that are more dangerous than we realized. But some things people once considered dangerous aren't harmful at all. 

1. Dancing

Safety dance? More like deadly dance. In its 1926 article “Death of Girl, 17, Laid to Charleston Dance,” The Washington Post reported on a girl who perished after dancing the Charleston. The paper interviewed the girl's doctor, who blamed her death on the “extreme physical exercise” of this classic dance move, which he said was “particularly dangerous for young women.” 

But potential “inflammation of the peritoneum” wasn't the only thing to be concerned about when flitting across the dance floor. Even the most traditional of dances could do serious damage and lead to all sorts of evil. “The high kick, displaying bare legs and arms of our little girls in the presence of even small boys, cannot honestly be said to tend to beget in those children the highest sense of modesty, purity so greatly prized in our women,” a Dr. Waldron told a local ministerial association in 1925; his remarks were quoted in  The Pittsburgh Courier article “Flays Teaching of Dancing in Public School: ‘Display of Bare Legs is Hurtful’” [PDF]. “The folk dances become the way and door to the dancing school; the dancing school is the feeder to the dance hall and public ball room and these inturn [sic], load to the brothel,” the doctor said. “Statistics show from one-third to two-thirds of the prostitutes in our large cities come from the public dance halls and ballrooms.” 

While few are currently concerned about the risk of death by dancing, there are still associations between promiscuity and certain dance styles. Some schools have rigid rules about what's allowed at school dances—especially when it comes to the distance between partners—and other towns have gone full Footloose, outlawing dancing all together, either for religious reasons, the crime rate at nightclubs, or like one town in Wisconsin, for just a short-lived promotional stunt

2. Competitive Sports (for Girls)

According to 1920s wisdom, if a girl wants to stay desirable and get married, she must refrain from practicing competitive sports. “Too many athletics threaten to rob girls of their chief appeal to men,” warns a Victoria college headmistress in “Says Athletics Harm Girls: English Woman Warns Students Not to Lose Appeal to Men,” an article published in The Washington Post in 1922. “The modern girl is trying to do too much at football,” she continues. “Her charm, balance and poise will all be lost, and her dignity lowered if she endeavors to emulate man too closely.”

Worse still, if she participated in sports in high school, she risked wearing herself out, ruining her chances for future happiness. “Must I continue through my life half enjoying living just because I gave too much of myself to competitive sports, to win a few medals which lie unnoticed and tarnished in a box?” asks a married woman in the 1931 Chicago Daily Tribune article “Competitive Sports are Dangerous for High School Girls.”  

It wasn’t until World War II that women’s competitive sports gained greater acceptance. After women proved their strength by joining the workforce or enrolling in military service, “organizations for women in sport began to increase as sport became more competitive and intercollegiate and interscholastic competition spread.” The Civil Rights movement in conjunction with Second Wave feminism also aided in the growing presence of women’s competitive sports.

3. Licking Stamps

Back in 1916—when snail mail was the norm, and before stamps evolved into stickers—The New York Times warned against the dangers of stamp licking. “Aside from hygienic reasons, it is dangerous to lick postage stamps on the ground that the stamps are bacteria-laden and under favorable conditions might easily convey pathogenic types especially colon, diphtheria, and tubercle bacilli,” said the Philadelphia scientists who conducted the study. 

A mere four years later, J. Diner and G. Horstman—two members of the American Pharmaceutical Association—disproved this theory. A 1920 article in The Boston Daily Globe quoted the study originally printed in American Medicine, saying, “The hygienic reason that people should not lick postage stamps is certainly sound. Nevertheless this practice is scarcely to be construed as a potential danger compared with eating and drinking which are so essential for sustenance but are responsible for a large measure of bacteriological contamination of the oral cavity.”

On that note, Seinfeld fans may wonder whether Susan could have actually died by licking all those cheap wedding invitation envelopes. Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S., says no. “In general terms, most envelope glue is produced from gum arabic, which comes from tree sap,” he explains in a piece for The Huffington Post in 2011. “It is safe for humans and is also used in some other things we eat (M&Ms, gumdrops, etc.). The glue can also be more petroleum-based, as we can see by this answer from someone in the UK post office. But either way, it would appear that the glue is indeed safe. This goes the same if you ingest it, or if you cut your tongue while licking.”

4. The Color Purple

In the early 1900s, an interior decorator would never choose the color purple. A Boston Globe article from 1903—titled “Dangerous Tints: Some Colors Will Drive a Person Mad if the Eyes Are Continually Looking at Them”—called it "the most dangerous color there is":

If purple walls and a red tinted window surrounded you for a month with no color but purple around you, by the end of that time you would be a mad-man. No matter how strong your brain might be it would not stand the strain, and it is doubtful if you would ever recover your reason.

That wasn't the only color to avoid. Scarlet could push you into a murderous rage, while blue “excites the imagination and gives a craving for music and stagecraft, but it has a reaction that wrecks the nerves.” Meanwhile, “Solitary confinement in a yellow cell … will weaken any system and produce chronic hysteria,” and “sheer dead white, unbroken, will destroy your eyesight.”

But according to color expert Kate Smith, purple has the power to calm the nerves, improve the mood, and even inspire creativity. Why else would Harold choose a purple crayon? 

5. Dungeons and Dragons

D&D came under fire in the 1980s when suicides and murders were loosely linked to the game. A few years ago, Mental_Floss compiled a list of complaints against the fantasy role-playing game, including ones that mention cults, witchcraft, Satan, and murder. 

One mother was concerned by the amount of time and attention her kids and their friends devoted to the game. “They're always planning what they will do the next time. Kids have lost jobs, flunked out of school. They totally confuse reality and fantasy," she said. "It (the game) becomes their god."

6. Hanging onto Straps on Public Transportation

Ladies feeling under the weather in 1912 could blame public transportation. Not because there were germs lingering on the poles, or floating through the crowded street car, but because holding on to the straps—now replaced with rods—was “a frightful strain upon [your] internal organs,” according to the unnamed but "prominent" physician interviewed in 1912 for the Chicago Daily Tribune‘s “Strap Hanging Dangerous for Women.” According to the physician, "Women do not have the strong shoulder muscles that men possess, and while men use only their arm and shoulder muscles to steady themselves, women are obliged to use all the muscles in their bodies for the same purpose.” 

Lillian Russell, the author of the piece, even made it a political issue, saying, “It is high time that women were granted the rights of suffrage, for without suffrage they have neither seats in the cars nor the votes to protect themselves against such a horde of so-called men.”

Hanging on straps might no longer be considered dangerous for ladies, but seating on public transportation can still be a contentious and gendered issue. At least there are taxis.   

7. Where's Waldo? and other children's books

It’s hard to find Waldo among the crowded pages of a Where’s Waldo? book, let alone notice every detail hidden among the illustration. But once a kid in Long Island found a woman’s partially exposed breast on the beach page in the first book of the series, chaos—in the form of overly-concerned parents—ensued. The woman's breast, described as “about the size of the lead tip of a pencil,” caused the book to be banned from that town's school library in 1993. Other children’s books that have been pulled from the shelves include A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, and—in an unfortunate mix upBrown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

8. Gum

Your mother might have told you never to swallow your gum because it would stick in your gut for 7 years. That might be a good way to scare a child into throwing their chewed gum in the trash, but this claim is entirely false. Yes, the gum isn’t broken down like other food, but it’ll still pass through your digestive system at a normal rate. That being said, it’s still not a great thing to do.

9. Sitting Too Close to the TV

Before TVs had flat screens, hundreds of channels, and crystal clear imaging, they were clunky and emitted radiation that could potentially worsen the viewer’s eyesight after prolonged exposure. However, in 1967, a “factory error” caused some defective General Electric televisions to emit 10 to 100,000 times the amount of radiation health officials deemed acceptable. GE recalled the TVs and updated their new models with a leaded glass shield surrounding the tubes inside the television to solve the problem.

Radiation isn’t something to worry about anymore, but you can still strain your eyes if you spend too much time staring at a screen—so with our iPhones and our computers and all of our other devices, television is the least of our problems. 

10. The Tomato

Paired with the wrong platter, a tomato had the power to kill. When European aristocrats became sick and died after eating tomatoes, the fruit was dubbed the “poison apple.” It was later discovered that the tomato itself wasn't deadly—but its high acidity caused it to “leach lead” from the pewter plate, resulting in lead poisoning. But the tomato’s reputation was set.

The tomato’s sad tale continued when the Green Tomato Worm invaded tomato patches across New York in the 1830s. Personal accounts of encounters with the worms resulted in rumors about how poisonous they were. It was believed that Ralph Waldo Emerson thought they were “an object of much terror, it being currently regarded as poisonous and imparting a poisonous quality to the fruit if it should chance to crawl upon it." The worm turned out to be totally harmless, people’s fears eventually subsided—and the tomato became a garden and salad staple.

11. Tea

In the 19th century, if an Irish peasant woman were drinking tea, it meant something else was being put on the back burner—something far more important, like her domestic duties. According to Dr. Helen O’Connell, a lecturer at Durham University, and author of “'A Raking Pot of Tea’: Consumption and Excess in Early Nineteenth Century Ireland,” published in Literature and History journal, “Drinking tea was thought to threaten traditional ways.” A tea break among women could lead to them plotting a rebellion or engaging in political discussion, and publicly distributed pamphlets warned against the dangers of the drink. Now we just consider it a nice alternative to coffee, which was also once considered dangerous

12. Clothes

“If the doctors are to be believed, the wearing of clothes is more dangerous to human life than their utter absence would be,” wrote the authors of the 1901 Boston Daily Globe article “Don’t Wear Clothes: That is, if You Would be Entirely Healthy…"  The British doctors who were consulted for the piece advised against wearing cotton and linen as well as garters and waistcoats, which they argued “are a permanent menace to life and health.”

Their reasoning is partially accurate—the body does breathe through both the lungs and the skin (despite what all of those internet myth sites will tell you), and there are some fabrics that are less “breathable” than others—but “nonporous clothing” isn’t quite as “disastrous” as they seem to have thought. 

Today, we know that cotton is one of the better fabric options available to us; some synthetic materials can cause rashes and skin irritation. However, there have been recent articles about the danger of some clothes—not because their “clammy surface ... imparts any variety of cold, up to and including pneumonia,” but because some dyes include toxins as a result of polluted water near the factories [PDF].

13. Writing Letters

Just a glance at a person's tweets, blog posts, and status updates can be enough to tell you everything there is to know about their problems. But oversharing isn’t a new epidemic caused by the Internet. In 1898, Amelia E. Barr wrote a chapter called “Dangerous Letter Writing” in her book Maids Wives and Bachelors in which she said “Young women are proverbially fond of playing with edged tools ... And of all such dangerous playthings a habit of promiscuous, careless letter-writing is the worst; for in most cases the danger is not obvious at the time, and the writer may even have forgotten her imprudence when she has to meet the consequences.” Barr credits cheaper postage for the impulsive way girls wrote overly sentimental letters and sent them off immediately.

In a highly prescient passage, she writes,

The abuse of letter-writing is one of the greatest trials of the epoch ... Every one cries out, and insists upon your listening. They write events while they are only happening. People unknown intrude upon your time and take possession of it. Enmities and friendships thousands of miles away scold or caress … For a mere nothing—a yes, or a no—idle, gushing people fire off continual notes and insist upon answers.

Letter writing may no longer be considered dangerous, but thanks to cell phones, computers, and all other communication enabled gadgetry, it's definitely still a nuisance. 

14. Public Toilets

Are you a hoverer or a toilet seat cover user? There's very little need to be putting in that extra effort when using a public restroom, because despite what you might have heard, it's impossible to contract a sexually transmitted disease just by sitting on a toilet. 

Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter at The New York Times, attributes the fear of contracting a venereal disease from the toilet seat to an age old excuse. In response to a reader's question about the dangers of toilet seats, he explained that the STD myth was probably a result of cheating partners refusing to admit their infidelity when their partners angrily ask them about why he or she "suddenly has symptoms of syphilis, gonorrhea, pubic lice, or any other unpleasantry." Instead of coming clean, the unfaithful partner can easily say “I have no idea, dear—I must have gotten it from a toilet seat..." and then move on without an argument. 

Non-sexually transmitted diseases like various flesh-eating bacteria, the norovirus, or E. Coli are carried through vomit or feces, both of which are visible and thus avoidable. And far as other germs go, as long as the skin on your rear end and thighs is fully intact—thick skin works as a barrier—there's almost nothing to be worried about. 

That's not to say that there aren't germs on a toilet seat—in fact, there's an average of 50 bacteria per square inch on one's surface—but compared to a cutting board, a kitchen sponge, or your cell phone, toilet seats are cleaner. Just something to think about the next time you stick your iPhone next to your pillow. 

15. Air conditioning

The invention and subsequent increase in accessibility and affordability of air conditioning in the 1920s and '30s brought a general sigh of relief to homeowners and office workers used to sweating through the summer months. But in Washington D.C., some government officials didn’t give the new technological addition to the Senate chamber such a warm welcome. In May 1929, John E. Rankin, a Democrat from Mississippi, filed a complaint about the chilly air temperature in the chamber, saying, "This is regular Republican atmosphere, and it is enough to kill anybody if it continues." 

Rankin was wrong. In fact, according to a 2013 study, since 1960, air conditioning has cut heat-related deaths by 80 percent. "The likelihood of a premature death on an extremely hot day between 1929 and 1959 was 2.5 percent," and has since dropped to less than 0.5 percent.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
arrow
entertainment
6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)

Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
literature
11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER