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How Did Saloons in the Old West Lock Their Doors at Night?

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If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that the ubiquitous watering holes that littered the dusty trails traversed by thirsty cowboys roundin’ up those dogies in the Old West all came equipped with “batwing” doors (technically called “café doors”) hanging in the entryway. But how in the world could a barkeep protect his livelihood after hours with such a tiny barrier between his stash of firewater and the outside world?

Café doors were actually practical for many reasons. They allowed ventilation in a small enclosure that was filled with folks smoking cigars and home-rolled cigarettes. The bidirectional hinges were handy for cowboys who both entered and exited carrying heavy saddlebags (unlike automobiles, horses don’t come equipped with locking storage containers in the rear, and there was always the danger of some low-down sidewinder stealing from you while you were inside getting your drink on). And those abbreviated doors shielded the church-going “proper” passersby from having to view the liquor, gambling, and spitting (spittoons were as common then as ashtrays would be later) going on inside.

As Ronald M. James writes in his book Virginia City: Secrets of a Western Past, most saloons actually didn’t have these doors. Outside of certain parts of the country, it gets too cold in winter and too windy in summer for them to be viable. But for the saloons that had them, the café doors were actually a secondary barrier; the buildings were traditionally equipped with a standard set of solid doors on the outermost part of the entrance. When opened they laid flat against each side of the building during business hours, but they could be shut (and padlocked when necessary) during bouts of inclement weather, or when the building was unattended. While many mines in places like Virginia City, Nevada stayed open 24 hours, newspapers from the time allude to the fact that the saloons did in fact close in the early morning hours, making the locks necessary.

As for Hollywood's depiction of saloon doors, set designers for Westerns made the batwing doors smaller than would be typically used in real life—likely in order to make heroes like John Wayne or Gary Cooper look larger and that much more imposing when they burst into the room searching for the yellow-bellied swamp rat who shot their Pa.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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