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15 Historical Hangover Cures

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Sherman/Three Lions/Getty Images

As long as there has been alcohol—and humans have known about it—there have been hangovers. And as long as there have been hangovers, humans have been scrambling to find a cure for them. Unfortunately, although we’ve had since about 7000 BCE to figure this out, the challenge has been met with only moderate success at best. Here are some of history's more bizarre attempts to help revelers through the day after a long night out. While they almost certainly won’t work on your wicked morning-after headache, you’ve got to give some credit for innovation here.

1. TREE SAP AND BIRD BEAKS

When folks found themselves hungover in ancient Assyria—which included present-day Syria as well parts of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey—they liked to grind up the beaks of birds and mix them with myrrh, the fragrant resin of the Commiphora tree, and then eat it. Myrrh is normally just used for perfumes and as a tincture, not in its highly pungent resin form, so it’s even odds that eating it would be any better than just going without and suffering the hangover. And that’s to say nothing of the bird beak part.

2. PICKLED SHEEP’S EYEBALLS

Many cultures seem to recommend consuming pickled things to cure a hangover—and in Poland, you’re supposed to drink pickle juice straight up. But Mongols from the era of Genghis Khan took it a step further: They prescribed a breakfast of two pickled sheep’s eyes. This supposed cure is still used in the region, although now they chase it with a glass of tomato juice; it’s known as a “Mongolian Mary.”

3. LICKING YOUR OWN SWEAT

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Some Native American tribes believed that “sweat swishing” is the only way to rid yourself of a pesky hangover. What you do is, you have yourself a workout the morning after, lick up the toxins that your body has expelled, and swish them around in your mouth. You gotta spit it all out afterward, though, or it won’t work. Or don’t spit it out, and then it also won’t work. No matter what you do with your sweat, this probably won’t work.

4. SNORTING TREE IVY JUICE

If you wanted to shake it off in 17-century England, author and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper advised “stuffing the nasal passages with the juice of tree ivy.” Culpeper also made a career out of blaming certain diseases and afflictions on astrology, so you may want to take everything this guy said with a grain of salt.

5. LEMONY ARMPITS

In Puerto Rico, some would-be revelers opt for preventative measures—by rubbing a slice of lemon or lime into their armpits before a night of boozing. Some versions say you only need to do this on your “drinking arm.” The science-free explanation is that it’s said to keep you hydrated.

6.  PRAIRIE OYSTERS

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Introduced at the 1878 Paris World Exposition, this remedy has nothing to do with actual oysters—nor, seemingly, any prairies: It’s just a raw egg in a shot glass with whiskey and Tabasco. Some variations add vinegar and/or Worcestershire sauce.

7. FRIED CANARY

The ancient Romans were pretty hardcore about their days-long parties, and through Pliny the Elder, we know that they liked to fry up a canary and eat it for breakfast the morning after a bender. (Raw owl's eggs and sheep’s lungs were another Roman anti-hangover brunch fave.) Ah, so that’s why they named a beer after him.

8. RABBIT DUNG

Cowboys in the American West thought that if you went outside and got some rabbit pellets, made a tea out of them, and drank it, your hangover would disappear. Now, it’s true that rabbit poop contains salts and nutrients—such as potassium—that might have been depleted while you were tying one on last night. But nowadays, you can probably just eat a banana or something.

9. BURYING YOURSELF IN WET SAND

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Irish legend dictates that if you want to cleanse yourself of a hangover, you need to do is go to the river and bury yourself up to your neck in wet river sand. The idea is that it will chill you and get your blood pumping, in the manner of a cold shower. No word on why river sand has stronger curative powers than ocean sand, or whether you’re allowed to have someone help you.

10. COCA-COLA AND MILK

In the 1930s, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City served its post-blitz patrons a glass of Coca-Cola and milk. The head barman claimed that after someone drank it, he or she would “take a little nap, and after that, you feel wonderful.”

11. SKULL DUST AND DRIED VIPER

In 17th-century England, a physician named Jonathan Goddard sold a product that he called Goddard’s Drops, which were comprised of powdered human skull, dried viper, and “spirit of hartshorn,” which we now call ammonia. Not just any skull would do, though—it had to be the skull of person who had recently been hanged. King Charles II swore by them.

12. HIGHLAND FLING

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For centuries, the Scots have relied on a special concoction to kill that next-day headache: Mix a bit of corn starch (known as corn flour in the UK) into some buttermilk, heat it up, season it with salt and pepper, and guzzle it down. The drink shares its name with a dance that was popular in the 1800s.

13. BULL PENIS SOUP

Caldo de cadran, or bull penis soup, is the national hangover cure of Bolivia, and it’s pretty flamboyant to behold—considering that the penises are served whole and that they average about a foot-and-a-half in length. Once the penis has simmered in a rich, concentrated broth for about 10 hours, pieces of lamb, beef, chicken and boiled egg are added, along with rice and potatoes. The dish is also considered an aphrodisiac and is said to cure back pain, too.

14. VINEGAR ON THE TEMPLES

A helpful hint from the 19th-century Medical Adviser for dealing with a hangover: Just drink a lot of vinegar, then rub some into your temples. If this doesn’t work, it advises you to strip naked and try dumping a bucket of water over your head.

15. RAW EELS

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A favored cure in Medieval Europe was raw eels for breakfast, and in Portugal specifically, the standard hangover cure was to eat a lamprey boiled in wine and its own blood. (No, a lamprey is technically not an eel, but folks may or may not have known that in the 1200s.)

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Excerpt
The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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Art Lovers in England, Rejoice: France's Famous Bayeux Tapestry is Coming to the UK
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of France’s most prized national treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry, is officially heading to England for exhibition. The loan will mark the first time the fragile 11th century work has left France in nearly 1000 years, according to The Washington Post.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced news of the loan in mid-January, viewed by some as a gesture to smooth post-Brexit relations with Britain, ABC reports. The tapestry depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, a historically important event replete with guts and glory.

Stretching for 210 feet, the Bayeux Tapestry’s nine embroidered panels tell the tale of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who swore an oath to support the right of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne once King Edward (a.k.a. Edward the Confessor) died without an heir. But after Edward's funeral at Westminster Abbey, Harold breaks his oath to William so he could be crowned king instead. Believing he was the rightful ruler, William—today remembered as William the Conqueror—decides to wage war and ultimately defeats Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

The historical narrative has endured for centuries, but the tapestry's provenance has been lost to time. Experts think that the artwork may have been created in England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, although it’s unclear who designed and embroidered the scenes. Its original owner, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, may have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. He became Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings, and this new title would have afforded him access to skilled artisans, The Guardian explains.

The Bayeux Tapestry is currently on display in the town of Bayeux in Normandy. It likely won’t leave France until 2020, after conservators ensure that it’s safe to move the artwork. According to The Telegraph, the tapestry might be be displayed at the British Museum in 2022.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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