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15 Frightening Facts About Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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Are You Afraid of the Dark? is the reason why '90s kids might look back at their Saturday nights with a little bit of terror. The anthology horror series, which closed up the SNICK block of programming, must have cost millions of children precious hours sleep with the scary tales presented by The Midnight Society under the cover of darkness. Submitted for your approval, here are some facts about the classic Nickelodeon series.

1. NICKELODEON DIDN'T WANT IT FOR OVER A YEAR.

Creators D. J. MacHale and Ned Kandel unsuccessfully pitched the series to Nickelodeon, who told the two that scaring children was a non-starter. One year and network hiring of an executive named Jay Mulvaney later, the two tried and failed again to sell a different show. But Mulvaney, who had read a three-page treatment of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and wondered why the network had passed on it, asked MacHale and Kandel if they were still interested in making their original idea.

2. ITS TITLE WAS INSPIRED BY DR. SEUSS.

The show's original title was Scary Tales, which Nickelodeon didn't like it. “There was a scary story written by Dr. Seuss … called What Was I Scared Of?, and I always loved that story," MacHale told Splitsider. "So, I took that title and thought, ‘Well, I was afraid of clowns and I was afraid of the dark …’ And that’s where the title [of our show] came from: Kind of an answer to that Dr. Seuss title.”

3. THE THEME WAS COMPOSED IN AN AIRPORT.

Jeff Zahn was waiting for his plane to arrive at the airport in Montreal when he just started to sing the theme. "I just thought about the series, about mystery, hauntings, scary, supernatural things, thrillers—and kids—and it came to me," Zahn told Art of the Title. "I didn’t have music paper, so I scribbled out the notes on a napkin. I really liked it and kept singing it. Then when I played it on piano the important countermelody came to me, which I used as an introduction and for linking material. It came together very quickly and easily, unlike a lot of other themes I’ve done."

4. NICKELODEON PUSHED FOR A DIVERSE, "NON-DISNEY" CAST.

Diversity was such a strong mandate at Nickelodeon that the series ended up being nominated for an NAACP award. Nickelodeon also turned away kids if they were "too Disney," which MacHale described as "apple pie, freckles, cute, over-the-top acting."

5. MACHALE GOT THE CHICKEN POX FROM AUDITIONING KIDS.

MacHale traveled to Vancouver, Toronto, New York, and Montreal to fill out the show's cast. After a trek to Vancouver, he came down with the chicken pox. He was quarantined in Montreal for 10 days.

6. RYAN GOSLING TURNED DOWN JOINING THE MIDNIGHT SOCIETY.

MacHale wanted to hire Ryan Gosling, but he chose to join the now legendary The All-New Mickey Mouse Club cast, alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Keri Russell instead. Gosling did, however, guest star in the episode "The Tale of Station 109.1." Plenty of other future stars appeared on the series, too.

7. NONE OF THE CHARACTERS EVER ACTUALLY LIT THE CAMPFIRE.

All of the Society's fires were already lit when the audience joined the action because Nickelodeon didn't want to educate the kids watching at home on how to strike matches. In the one episode where a character was allowed to light a lantern, the actress, Mia Kirshner, didn't know how to do it.

8. THEY SHOT AN ENTIRE SEASON'S WORTH OF MIDNIGHT SOCIETY SCENES TWO TO THREE WEEKS AT A TIME.

Ross Hull (Gary) recalled that 13 episodes were shot over a "two to three" week span. Elisha Cuthbert, who was a part of the second group of Society kids, had a similar experience. "It was interesting for me and everyone in the Midnight Society because we would shoot all of our scenes back to back in two weeks, and then we wouldn’t do it again until the following year," she said.

9. NICKELODEON WANTED THE STORIES TO BE BASED ON CLASSIC HORROR TALES.

The network's logic was that if parents ever complained about the show's darker themed content, the network could just say it was based on classic literature. According to MacHale, a lot of the stories had literary antecedents. (But there were never any complaints.)

10. SOMETIMES THE LOCATIONS WOULD INSPIRE THE STORY.

"There was an episode we did called ‘The Tale of the Hatchet,’ which was about a private boarding school that turns out [laughs] it’s run by lizard people," MacHale said. "In the basement of the school there were these giant tanks with floating eggs, where the lizard people were nurturing all these little monsters. That came from the fact that this location scout took me to this water purification plant from the ‘30s where all these tanks were, and I thought, ‘Ooh, I can build a story around this.’"

11. THE MIDNIGHT DUST WAS NON-DAIRY CREAMER.

The "midnight dust" that Society members tossed on the campfire while introducing their stories was a non-dairy creamer (and it reportedly burned). Daniel DeSanto (Tucker) did not know the secret until he joined the cast. "I came on third season and I was so excited for the magic dust used in the fire. But it’s just a bag of CoffeeMate and glitter. The fire was a pyrotechnic trick."

12. THERE WAS A CHANGE WITH GARY AFTER THE FIRST SEASON.

Ross Hull had to take the lenses out of his glasses because it was catching the reflection of the studio lights.

13. THEY SHOT IN REAL CEMETERIES, BUT WITH FAKE NAMES.

There are laws against showing real names on tombstones, so foam ones with phony names were used when necessary.

This fact did not ease editor Paul Doyle's paranoia. "I remember working very late one night, bleary-eyed, cutting a scene from a graveyard," Doyle said. "The camera creeps among the tombstones with a rolling fog and comes to rest on a tombstone reading, 'Here Lies Blind Paul.' I burst out laughing and the assistant editor came running in to see what was the matter. To this day D.J. [MacHale] denies that he was commenting on my editing."

14. MOSQUITOES WERE A SERIOUS PROBLEM.

A Montreal arboretum allowed the show to film the "deep, dark woods" scenes on their premises, but they did not permit the use of any mosquito-killing insecticides. This resulted in the crew having to actually wear beekeeper outfits and gloves. Several takes through the years were dumped because a mosquito would bother an actor.

15. 'THE TALE OF THE NIGHT SHIFT' WAS MEANT TO BE THE SERIES FINALE.

It was the only episode of the series where the Society fire was not put out in the end. The hospital room door in the final shot had the number 65 on it because it was the 65th episode. "In that same shot, if you listen closely, you can hear the Dark theme coming from the hospital room," MacHale said. But after an almost three-year drought with no new episodes, another two 13-episode seasons were shot.

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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