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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Lord Byron's Obsession with Dieting

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Whether it’s low-carb, low-calorie, or a lemon juice and cayenne pepper concoction, the diets of the rich and famous often influence our own eating habits—and it’s been that way for centuries.

It’s famously been said that 19th-century poet George Gordon Byron, better known as Lord Byron, was “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” The latter was particularly true—because of his popularity, Byron’s harmful diets and strange relationship with food rubbed off on everyone around him.

Byron was terrified of becoming fat, believing that it would result in lethargy and stupidity. So much so, some historians argue that he battled anorexia nervosa. When he wanted to keep his weight down as a student at Cambridge University, Byron dined almost exclusively on biscuits and soda water, though he also occasionally “enjoyed” potatoes drenched in vinegar. The poet told friends he would rather "not exist" than be large, and wore up to six coats while exercising in an attempt to sweat out excess water.

In 1816, Byron made it through the day on a slice of bread and a cup of tea for breakfast, then vegetables and seltzer water mixed with a bit of wine for dinner. He smoked cigars to curb his appetite. Just two years later, however, Byron's worst nightmares had apparently come true. In 1818, a visiting friend wrote that the poet had become “pale, bloated, and sallow. He had grown very fat, his shoulders broad and round, and the knuckles of his hands were lost in fat.” In response, Byron restricted himself to a menu of red cabbage and cider; his apple cider vinegar and water concoction became a popular way to drop pounds in 1820.

Unfortunately, Byron didn’t just impose these restrictive beliefs on himself—he was of the opinion that women who regularly ate real food were terribly uncouth. In a letter to former lover Caroline Lamb, he complained about how much his new wife ate: “I only wish she did not swallow so much supper—chicken wings, sweetbreads, custards, peaches and port wine; a woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster salad and champagne, the only truly feminine and becoming viands.”

Some historians think the constant ups and downs may have taken a toll on his health, prematurely wearing his body out. In 1824, Byron fell ill with a fever, possibly due to a relapse of malaria, and died. He was just 36.

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You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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History
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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