Tag Archives: historical

Caution: Children on Fire

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Pictures of burning children always catch our attention. Particularly old-timey pictures of burning kids like this one from She Walks Softly. Turns out, this one is a little too good to be true, as it’s not the vintage advertisement for some the kooky product it purports to be, but the work of contemporary designer and illustrator Christian Northeast.

firekids-stunt

Even though I’d seen this marshmallow roast gone terribly wrong before, I’d assumed it was mere Photoshop trickery, so was surprised to learn these are genuine flesh-and-blood children staging a pyrotechnic stunt for reality TV show pilot. The kids are part of a family of stunt professionals headed by TK TK Dunn, and have performed in many movies including Catwoman, X-Men II, and Scary Movie, and others. No word was to whether the pilot ever sold

firekids-cigs

Cigarette cards were the bubblegum cards of their Edwardian day.  It seems fitting that a cigarette manufacture should produce instructional material on fire safety, though this was only one in a series of hundreds of unrelated to the dangers or ill-effects of smoking, so it would be a bit of a presumptuous to conclude this was offered as a sort of product warning.

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The final word in burning children art would have to come from the pen of early German psychiatric pioneer Heinrich Hoffman, who in 1845 created both verse and illustration for his collection of cautionary tales for children Der Struwwelpeter, translated for American audiences by Mark Twain as Slovenly Peter.  Peter, a child whose grooming habits were wildly out of control, was one of a host counter-exemplary children, which also included the tale of naughty Pauline (pictured here) whose fascination with matches ends badly despite the best advice of her cats.

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Hoffman’s “The Dreadful Story About Matches” was later republished in many editions, sometimes with different illustrations such as this one featuring an older Pauline no longer toting doll and perhaps already on the verge of puberty, a state some scholars have associated with the graphic decision to move the fire from its original location on the child’s back to the more suggestive position shown here.

British cabaret band, The Tiger Lillies retells “The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches” in their Struwelpeter-inspired album Shockheaded Peter,  which provided the soundtrack for an off-Broadway stage production of the same name.

The poem has even inspired Rammstein in their song “Hilf mir,” which loosely retells this story well known to their native German audiences.

Cadavers Gone Wild

The last post on medical students of the good old days and their good old gallows humor got me poking around to document some of those semi-mythic stories we’ve all heard about ghoulish stunts with anatomy lab cadavers.

The most widely circulated recent case is that presented in this video and mentioned on Boing Boing in October 2010.   Have a look and decide for yourself whether you think it’s genuine as the verdict is definitely out on this one.

Reaching back a little further, we find Mr. Parallel’s delightful horde of old newspaper clippings, where one can read of medical students propping up cadavers as scarecrows, heaving severed heads out windows, staking them on picket fences,  nailing loose hands to telephone poles, and hanging dissected bodies in effigy.  Good times!

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Vintage Dissection Lab Photos

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Nowadays before medical students begin their cadaver dissections, they are invited to participate in high-minded ceremonies honoring those whose bodies are soon to be opened, but in the wild and wooly days before the mid-twentieth century, med students lightened this grisly rite of passage with humor,  painting macabre slogans on their dissection tables, and sometimes posing the bodies in less-than-reverent situations.

A good starting point for exploring such things is the 2009 publication Dissection: Photographs of a rite of passage in American medicine 1880-1930, by John Harley Warner and James Edmonson, published by Blast Books.

The  general phenomenon of anatomy lab photography is thus described by the book’s publisher:

In the 19th and early 20th century, a culture of secrecy surrounded human dissection in medical education. Students could be expelled for divulging the source or the identities of “subjects,” while anatomy professors, demonstrators, and janitors were to guard the dissection room’s secrets-which makes it all the more striking how often medical students documented and commemorated this rite of passage.  At the same time that student dissectors were admonished to shield the secrets of the dissecting room, they frequently invited in the eye of the camera to pose with “their” cadavers. For nearly the next half century, through the 1920s, the dissection photo would become one of the most archetypal and ubiquitous forms of medical student portraiture before 1930, yet it vanished almost completely after 1950.

These photographs were made in a surprising variety of forms: class portraits, cartes de visite and postcards, and staged dark humor scenes.  Complete with illuminating essays by two experts on the subject, Dissection features 138 extraordinary, rare historic photographs of the unseen world of the rite of passage into the mysteries of medicine.

Most of the pictures posted here — originally from the Dittrick Medical History Center — are from the afore mentioned book.  These photos and more info can be found on Science FridayDiscover Magazine, Morbid Anatomy, American Medical News.   The last few and more can be found in the online collections of The Burns Archive.

Don’t miss the Christmas Card!

Surgical Couture 2: Basic Black

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After our last post about dramatic surgical styles, it’s hard not to think of Alexis Carrel, the man who really put the “theater” in “operating theater.” As divine as vintage white surgical gowns might be, the diabolical black shrouds preferred by Dr. Carrel surely have them beat.

Carrel, a French surgeon and Nobel Prize winner working in America in the 1920s and 1930s, believed that black aided the mental focus of his surgical team as well as visually highlighting any dust that might appear in the operating room. He therefore not only insisted his team dress head to toe in black, but even had the walls painted that color. The ominous aura did not go unnoticed by journalists covering Carrel’s surgical experiments, especially since that work involved keeping human organs alive outside the body — heady s stuff for an era fascinated with the mad scientists of pulp novels and early horror movies.

Appearing on the cover of Time Magazine only two months after the release of The Bride of Frankenstein, Carrel was treated both as a sinister curiosity and beloved celebrity, the latter in no small part due to his friendship with aviator Charles Lindbergh, who not only who assisted Carrel with the engineering of a perfusion pump necessary for the doctor’s transplant experiments but also shared some of Carrel’s more esoteric perspectives on shaping humanity’s future. These included the possibility of physical immortality and Carrel’s most unfortunate legacy — advocacy of eugenics.

More on that curious friendship can be found in David M. Friedman’s The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever, the source of the picture above (via Depressed Metabolism.

Surgical Couture: Vintage White

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V0030945 Wotton Lodge, Gloucester: operating theatre and staff.

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Sure, contemporary blue or green surgical wear may be easier on the eye, but only the white wardrobe of yesteryear really moves us. So it was a great delight to discover the Flickr set of “Knuckles 45,” who obviously shares our appreciation for antique surgical styles. Savor for a moment these depictions of surgeons dressed the way God intended — in a color that evokes not only professional gravitas but the very power of angels, heaven, death and all things unseen.  And don’t even get us started on those hoods!

 

Achtung! Electrocution Graphics

The last posting about Soviet industrial safety posters got us thinking about some other safety graphics from dark days gone by. These handsome renderings of electrocution are from the book Electrical Safety in 132 Pictures, published in Germany just a few years before Hitler made his power grab. They were originally scanned and uploaded by roboticist and hacker Bre Pettis, and a wider assortment can be found on his Flickr set.  Enjoy and stay insulated!

electro-baby

Electrocution begins in infancy.

electro-pee

A classic case of overstimulation.

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Beware the tannenbaum!

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Such a shame to lose a lovely gartered Fräulein in this way. Who’s going to inherit that classic bakelite hair dryer?

Careful There, Comrade!

Judging by these safety posters from the site English Russia it seems Soviet-era Russia was not quite the Workers’ paradise it was cracked up to be. At least we all got some handsome graphics out of all those industrial accidents they must’ve been struggling with.

Which is your favorite way to be maimed?

russian-bracing

Translation: “Don’t leave anything without bracing.”

russian-drunk

Translation: “I was drunk at work.”

russian-hair

Translation: “Hide the hair.”

russian-picker

Translation: “Don’t open the lid of the picker before the engine stops.”

russian-transmission

Translation: “Don’t walk under the transmission arbor.”

Book Surgeries 2: Anthropodermic Books

vesaliusOur last entry on book surgeries got us thinking about a more grisly nexus of books and anatomy, in particular: anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the use of human skin in bookbinding.

If you thought such things only existed in concentration camp mythology and The Evil Dead movies, think again. Genuine examples can be found in museums the world over.  London’s Wellcome Library in London has one; Brown University in Providence, and Berkeley’s Bancroft Library each have one; Harvard has two, and The Mütter Museum boasts four examples including one sporting a tattoo.

Though reasons for the creation of such volumes were varied, the rationale is more or less apparent in many cases as with the skin from dissected cadavers used to bind anatomy books, or the skin of convicted murderers punitively employed in the binding of accounts of their trials. Less obvious, and more creepy — if one can really parse such things when it comes to books bound in human skin — would be the Bancroft Library’s  example created during the French Revolution– a book of common prayer.

Nor is the practice a thing of the past, as made clear this month by the appearance of a story about a Russian writer Maksim Aleshin currently writing a book he plans to have bound in his own skin, a proposition serious enough to have already placed the book on the market.  It’ll be  $100,000, so start squirreling away funds now as you’re sure to have competition from other ghoulish collectors, including the small but dedicated followers of the anthropodermic bibliopegy  interest group on FaceBook.

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