The Fix Is In: Capone’s Rigged Roulette Wheel Rediscovered

 

fully restored table

 

“$2,500,00 DAY SPENT ON OPEN GAMES IN CITY” declared a Chicago Tribune headline in 1928 in bold type, bemoaning the rising gambling epidemic within the city’s confines. “Chicagoans freely and openly indulge in all the pastimes of chance known to the betting world,” wrote an anonymous Tribune reporter. Gambling dens of all types, from “bare walls and pine board tables” to places with “luxurious fittings, studded roulette wheels, [and] handsomely lighted green tables,” had sprung up all over the city, ready and waiting to ensnare unsuspecting rubes  (“List 215”). “There is a gambling den within easy walking distance of every home,” claimed the Tribune, with competition so fierce between establishments on the Loop that big dens paid runners to stake out the entrances and exits of their competitors, “soliciting trade as the players come and go, and offering better odds, a squarer deal, and anything that comes to the mind in the hope of inducing them to leave the play they were playing to patronize the runner’s establishment instead” (Ibid). Thanks to the illicit pleasures of gambling, “thousands of individuals of moderate salaries are finding it difficult to pay their rents and their food bills,” with women in particular being drawn to the tables, eager to “risk their husbands’ earnings” by throwing money meant for “grocery bills and baby clothes” into “the gambler’s till” (Ibid). 

It turns out those housewives might’ve been cheated out of more than just baby clothes and groceries, however.

 

In 2016, game restorer Alexander Walder-Smith of The Games Room Company got a surprise while refurbishing a 1929 roulette table from Chicago: two tiny buttons disguised as screw heads just underneath the lip of the table.

screws from table

The false screw buttons on the bottom of the table, within easy reach of the croupier. Photo Source: dailymail.co.uk

Connected to tiny wiring channels that led to pressure pads and tiny pins, it turns out the false screws were part of an electrical circuit—one that was in the house’s favor.

A set of 1929 Ever Ready batteries concealed in a hollow leg directly underneath the wheel provided the power for the trick. “Packed so tightly” that “anyone rocking the table who was unhappy with their hand wouldn’t hear [them] rattling around inside,” the batteries completed an electrical circuit that, when the croupier pressed one of the screw buttons, cause two tiny pins to rise along the wheel. Then “the ball would travel round the rim of the wheel and would hit the pin which could cause it to drop into part of the wheel the croupier wanted the ball to fall into,” explained Walter-Smith. That way, the house could win anytime it wanted—and more money went into the mob’s pockets.

 

 

batteries in table leg

These 1929 batteries were found inside the false table legs, wrapped in newspaper. The newspapers plus the batteries show the table was operational from 1929 to 1931, towards the end of Prohibition and the height of Capone’s power in the Outfit. Photo source: getsurrey.co.uk

 

 

While there isn’t a direct, proven link between this particular table and Al Capone—it spent a decent chunk of its life in a farmer’s barn in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after all—the money that was generated by the rigged table undoubtedly made its way back to his syndicate. Capone’s Outfit was heavily involved in gambling rackets throughout Chicagoland in the late 1920s, and Capone often personally oversaw their operations as well. In the early days of the Cicero operations, Al was “more of a hands-on supervisor,” according to Jonathan Eig in his book Get Capone. Al was one of two men who “held the only keys to a strongbox containing records from some of Cicero’s biggest gambling halls,” and he “inspected the books almost daily” (Eig, 316).

This level of personal involvement was also revealed in Capone’s 1931 tax evasion trial when prosecutors called on the Reverend Henry C. Hoover, who’d raided a Cicero gambling joint in 1925 with a crowd of reformers, to testify to what he saw there. Not only did one of his followers distinctly hear Al say “I’m the owner of this place,” but the Reverend saw him “taking the money out the till and putting it in his pockets” (Kinsley, 2). Meanwhile, Capone tried to make a deal with the Reverend. “Reverend, can’t you and I get together—come to some understanding?…if you will let up on me in Cicero, I’ll withdraw from Stickney,” he offered.  The Reverend didn’t take him up on it, of course. 😉

While the Reverend’s testimony didn’t make much of an impact, the revenue books taken from Capone’s gambling operations had a big impact on his 1931 trial. According to ledger books from Cicero, gambling dens like the Ship generated roughly $500,000 in a twenty-four month period, each bet and payoff carefully tabulated by accountants hired by each den (Eig, 295). During 1924 through 1927, those same houses made $25,000 to $30,000 a month in profits (Ibid, 317). Yet, while the figures were substantial, there was no way for the prosecutors to directly tie it to Capone’s income directly—until they tracked down the accountants who’d made the notations and got them to testify. Their words about the money, where it went, and who owned the establishments were vital in putting Capone behind bars once and for all.

 

While the Games Room Company was very reluctant to let their intriguing find go, they sold the rigged table to “a very well known person” in the United Kingdom for more than $5,000. “I’m sure he will be playing tricks on his friends,” said Walder-Smith of his client, who he claimed had “a great sense of humor.”

And if that’s all he does to them with that table, then those folks are getting a much better deal! 🙂

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Want to see how the rigged table worked in real time? Check out these explanation videos below, including demos of the restoration and how the pins worked:

 

 

…Or check out this video over at Popular Mechanics.

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Works Cited:
“LIST 215 GAMBLING JOINTS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Mar 24, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180918988?accountid=3688.
Eig, Jonathan. 2011. Get Capone: the secret plot that captured America’s most wanted gangster. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kinsley, Philip. “5 WITNESSES ACCUSE CAPONE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 08, 1931. https://search.proquest.com/docview/181256759?accountid=3688. p 1-2.

 

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C is for Cocktail: A Series of Links For You All

Toasting the cocktails with cocktails. How meta! ;)

Part of the cover for the 1922 edition of “Cocktails: How to Mix Them.”

 

Hello again, everyone! I’m about to go on vacation—again—so here’s a set of interesting cocktail-themed links for you to enjoy this week. Bottoms up! 😉

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Got some cocktail info to share? Please link in the Comments below!  🙂

 

 

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Dance ‘Til You Drop: New Vintage Photos of Grueling Dance Marathons Are Sad, Funny, and Everything In Between

1473 hour winners_sun co uk

Could you dance for 1,437 hours straight? This couple did—and they weren’t the only ones!

Starting in 1923 and lasting throughout the Great Depression, dance marathons were a major form of popular entertainment in America, with couples dancing weeks and sometimes months away in a desperate bid to win cash prizes, trophies, bragging rights, and a brief shot at fame—not to mention photos.

Last month, new vintage photos from the 1920s, 1930s and more appeared on UK news sites like The Daily Mail and The Sun. Each depict the intense, grueling and sometimes odd nature of these contests. One poor man even tries to shave while dancing! Check them all out below.

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1923 alseep on her feet

A series of couples compete in 1923, at the beginning of the endurance dance craze. Check out the poor lady on the far left who’s asleep on her feet!  Photo source: Mashable/Library of Congress

1925 charleston endurance competition 53 min

These 1925 Charleston dancers only lasted for 53 minutes straight, but they got the orchestra to serve them food, so that’s something, right? 😉 Photo Source: Mashable

asleep together awww 1930

This 1930 couple is nearly down for the count. Photo Source: Mashable

 

1930 annoyed lady

This lady from 1932 looks super annoyed at having to hold up her sleeping partner, and no wonder—this was her third partner, and she’d been dancing for 1120 hours! Photo Source: Mashable 

1934ish chicago giving up

Dammmn, that lady is ASLEEP. I think I can hear the snoring now! 😉 According to Mashable, this  charming couple is Frank and Marie Micholowsky. They participated in a 1931 Chicago marathon. Photo Source: Mashable

1931 bemused man with partner

While the fella above looks resigned, this one looks downright concerned about his lady friend. Another shot from 1931, supposedly. Photo Source: The Sun

they look exhausted yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but this couple looks exhausted. The crowd of spectators looks pretty large, however.  Photo Source: The Sun

 

1930 anna lawanick man on floor

Women weren’t the only ones to pass out on their partners. In this photo, dance contestant Anna Lawanick tries to support her partner, Jack Ritof, at a 1930 Chicago dance marathon. Photo Source: The Sun

lady in heels partner asleep

He’s asleep on his feet, and she’s still going—in HEELS! Photo Source: The Sun

fella shaving dance marathon

Check out the guy on the left—he’s having a shave! Photo Source: The Sun

that lady looks MAD yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but that lady on the far left is MAD at the cameraman. Another scene from a Chicago contest. Photo Source: The Sun

dance marathon with cots yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but you can get a sense of the setup for these contests, with the dancers surrounded by spectators, judges, nurses, and a band—plus the resting cots on the edges of the dance circle, where contestants got 15 minutes to “sleep” or rest before staggering back onto the dance floor. Photo Source: The Sun

15 min cots with crowd

Here are more cots for the 15 minute rest periods, with a packed crowd. Photo Source: The Daily Mail UK

judge monitors dancers yr unknown

If your knees hit the floor during the dance marathon, you were disqualified. Here, a judge crouches down to monitor a couple who seem seconds away from being out of the running. Photo Source: The Sun

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EXTRA! EXTRA!

dance contest ad van winkles

An ad for an endurance dance marathon emphasizes the grueling nature of the “sport,” as well as encouraging the kind of voyeurism that comes so easily to reality TV. Photo Source: Van Winkle

Want to learn more about endurance dance marathons? Try this guest post I wrote about dance marathons, or check out this Daily Mail article, which also features a video of an actual contest. This blog post over at Blondie Cuts a Rug has a bit more history to it, however, and this Van Winkle’s post isn’t bad either.

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C is for Cocktail: This Summer’s WTTW Chicago History Cocktails Are For The Ladies

 

Last year, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight featured a series of cocktail creations based on Chicago history. This summer, they’ve brought them back—with a twist. Instead of Chicago politics, they’re focusing on Chicago’s historical leading ladies, starting with Bertha Palmer, the most famous Chicago socialite of the Gilded Age.

bertha palmer still

The lady herself. Photo Source: Forest Park Review

Despite being married to millionaire Potter Palmer, Bertha was very much a force of her own in Chicago, and she had a major hand in many of the things that make Chicago famous today. These include…

…acting as the President of the Board of Lady Managers for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, where she insisted that women have their own building, instead of a corner of an exhibition hall like Daniel Burnham wanted

…collecting vast amounts of French Impressionist paintings which eventually became the core of the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection—and popularized them with the entire world. This Renoir painting was her favorite, and legend had it that she traveled with it wherever she went…

…making the practice of “wintering in Florida” commonplace among those who could afford it…

…and many more! 🙂

You can learn more about Bertha Palmer’s Chicago legacy—and the sweet champagne-based cocktail WTTW whipped up in her honor—at Chicago Tonight’s blog. Check back with them all summer for more Chicago history with your cocktail!

BerthaPalmer_not a feminist cocktail

Bertha’s cocktail, the “Not a Feminist.” Photo Source: WTTW Chicago Tonight blog

And if you want even more cocktail recipes, you can check out last year’s list for a brief history lesson in Chicago politics! 😀

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What’s in a Name? 1920s Baby Names for Girls Rising in Popularity…Again!

1920s baby photo looking up

 

Ever met a Fern, an Opal, or a Zelda? Well, according to sites like cafemom, that might change this year. Roaring Twenties names for girls are back in vogue this year, and why not? There are tons of awesome Jazz Age names out there, and a lot of them deserve to come back—whether in real life or on the written page. So whether you’re trying to name a flapper or a suffragette in your historical fiction, check out this list of unusual 1920s names. Maybe you’ll find the perfect one for your character!

 

Looking to name a suffragette, perhaps? Bustle features girl names from the early 1900s with a feminist bent as well as ones from the 1920s.

If your novel or short story is set during the 1920s, however, it’s likely that your characters were born earlier. So, you’d want to look at names from the early 1900s, the 1910sthe 1890s, or the 1880s, depending on the character’s age. If you’re looking for something quick and period-appropriate for any of those times, however, you can’t go wrong with Mary or James. Both of them topped the list in America for over 100 years. Alternatively, if you want your character to stand out, you could try one of Mental Floss’ least popular baby names. 

 

 

How do you name your historical fiction characters? Share your process in the Comments below.

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Posted in 1920s fads, link post, list post, writing advice | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Mugs in the Jug: British Edition

Hey everyone! Remember that post I wrote about 1920s mug shots from Australia? Well, now I’ve got a whole bunch of new ones…from England! 😀

This particular collection comes from a scrapbook by former New Scotland Yard detective Herbert Mew, who collected over 64 images of various thieves, murderers, prostitutes, and fraudsters he arrested over the course of his career. His collection had been passed down within his family for years, but ended up going up for auction recently due to “a house clearance,” said Glen Chapman, an auctioneer at UK-based C&T Auctioneers and Valuers, which recently sold the collection. Thanks to the publicity around the sale, many of these photos are now online…and you can see them below! 🙂

 

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T H E   S C R A P B O O K   P A G E S :

When interviewed about the scrapbook by the UK’s The Daily Mail, Chapman said “I could not believe how smartly dressed they all were with their expensive looking suits.” According to the article, this probably has to do with the fact that most of these fellows were brought in on fraud charges—the lowest for 12 pounds and the highest for 10,000. Looks like they spent a lot of their ill-gotten gains on clothes and tailors…

mew scrap pg 1

Photo source: The Daily Mail

mew scrap pg 2

The reason most of these fellows are so dapper, wearing expensive tailored clothes? They’ve been brought up on fraud charges. Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew scrap pg 3

Larceny, theft and receiving stolen goods are part of why these guys got arrested. Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew scrap pg 4

The fellow in the hat on the bottom right—Fiskwick—is an Australian jeweler who was brought in for a series of robberies in 1923. Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew scrap pg 5

Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew scrap pg 6 door

This page is a little unusual thanks to the article that’s been pasted in, which describes the arrest of the dapper-looking gentlemen in the upper half of this page. My guess is Dect. Mew kept the article since he was mentioned in it by name, hehe. Also, the fellow with his arms crossed in the bottom right-hand corner, Hugh Lindsay, is the biggest fraudster of the bunch, at 10,000 pounds!  Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew scrap pg 7

Sometimes you wonder why these people were arrested. I wonder what the story was with the kid on the bottom left… Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew 13 mugshot i think dope queen

That lady in the upper left is labelled “The Dope Queen.” A drug dealer, perhaps? Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew 14 mugshot

Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew 15 mugshot

Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew 16 mugshot

Photo Source: The Daily Mail

mew 17 mug shot

Photo Source: The Daily Mail

more uk mugshot mews 12 i think

Photo Source: The Daily Mail

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Personally, what I love about these mug shots is trying to imagine the stories behind them. Who were these people? What did they do? And how did they get caught?

All grist for the mystery-writing mill, I suppose… 😉

 

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The Yanks Are Coming! A Booklist in Honor of America Entering WWI One Hundred Years Ago Today

enlist man

One hundred years ago on April 6th, 1917, America entered WWI and changed the world forever.

Over the course of the War, America went from an isolationist, frontier power to a major player on the international stage, both economically and politically. Ask you average American about the importance of World War I, however, and you’ll get a lot of blank stares. This is a real pity, as much of our modern social, economic, and political world has its roots in the Great War.

So, in honor of today’s illustrious occasion, I present to you a book list about America’s involvement in WWI, and how that experience shapes our history today. If you have some free time this April, consider picking up one of these books and spare a thought for all those brave doughboys a century ago, many of whom gave their lives to usher in a new era in world politics, whether they meant to or not.

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T H E   B O O K L I S T:

Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

American pro-War sentiment rode high once a German U-boat sank the Lusitania, a British passenger liner traveling from New York to Liverpool, England in 1915. An excellent, gripping read, it’s a terrific place to begin understanding why America entered World War I in the first place.

path to war

Photo Source: Oxford Press

The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America, by Michael S. Nieberg (2016)

Though resistant at the start, by 1917 Americans were clamoring to enlist and fight “Over There.” Nieberg outlines this transition admirably while also giving voice to the many dissenters, such as many German Americans, who didn’t want American involvement in the War. Kirkus Reviews called it “A valiant attempt to dispel America’s collective amnesia over the First World War.”

the world remade

Photo Source: Target

The World Remade: America in World War I by G. J. Meyer (2017)

Weaving together many disparate strands of history, Meyer creates a compelling and interesting account of America’s participation in WWI, covering everything from political battles and battlefield maneuvers to the social upheaval on the home front. An excellent place to start if you’re looking for a broad understanding of America’s role in WWI.

deluge book cover

Photo Source: Yale University

The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, by Adam Tooze (2015)

Focusing on the final years of the Great War, Yale historian Adam Tooze offers an interesting idea: that America entered the War in order to reshape Europe on its own terms, thanks in no small part to its newfound economic ability to manipulate a highly fragile, interconnected global economy.  “What Adam Tooze has done,” says a Telegraph review, “is to reconstruct a vast global web, and to show how the slightest vibrations on its threads had consequences everywhere, almost regardless of individual fears and hates or venomous ideologies.” “Epic in scope” and “boldly argumentative,” the New York Times called his book “splendid interpretive history” and ensured that it would give readers lots to think about.

first over there cover

Photo Source: MacMillan Publishing

First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America’s First Battle of World War I by Matthew J. Davenport (2015)

Here Davenport explores America’s first real battle of WWI, where the American First Division “Big Red One” wrested the French town of Cantigny from German hands. It makes an  excellent companion for a visit to the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park, too. 🙂

forty seven days cover

Photo Source: Goodreads

Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I by Mitchell Yockelson (2016)

In a mere forty-seven days, under the leadership of Gen. Pershing, millions of untested American troops managed to beat back the Germans and bring about the end of WWI almost single-handed. Yockelson explores this extraordinary feat by relying on accounts of the men who participated in the battle, from the famous (Patton and MacArthur) to the common Army grunt.

Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I, by John Eisenhower (2002)

Military historian John Eisenhower takes the reader through every American battle of WWI, while showing how leaders like Gen. Pershing transformed the American Expeditionary Force into a capable modern army that was more than capable of facing down global powers.

 

 

 

yanks are coming

Photo Source: Regenery Publishing

The Yanks Are Coming: A Military History of the United States in World War I, by H. W. Crocker III (2014)

A quick military history of America’s involvement in WWI, featuring a number of  short biographies of the great generals and heroic fighting men that made America stand out “Over There.”

last doughboys

Photo Source: Goodreads

The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War, by Richard Rubin (2013)

The last known American WWI veteran died in 2011. Thank God, then, that journalist Richard Rubin made it his personal mission to track down and interview as many of them as he could find before the last of them left this earth. A lively, engaging, and vivid read that brings to life a conflict that’s largely been forgotten in American history, as told firsthand by people who lived through it.

wwi americans who lived it

Photo Source: Penguin Random House

World War I and America: Told by the Americans Who Lived It, Edited by A. Scott Berg (2017)

Inside this collection of primary sources, you’ll find newspaper clippings, speeches, poems, diaries, magazine articles and more, all covering different aspects of America’s participation in WWI. It’s much more than just an excellent resource for term paper quotations, however. Berg’s collection shows bit by bit how America dealt with the War from many different angles—and how much impact it had on the country’s citizens, despite its short length.

over there photos

Photo Source: Amazon

Over There: America in the Great War, by Robert J. Dalessandro (2016)

Need some pictures of American soldiers in WWI? Then look no further than this gorgeous book, which contains over 360 rare photographs of American soldiers training, fighting, and dying.

fellow soldiers cover

Photo Source: Amazon

My Fellow Soldiers: General John Pershing and the Americans Who Helped Win the Great War, by Andrew Carroll (2017)

While he features a new and surprising “intimate” portrait of General John “Black Jack” Pershing, Carroll also explores the WWI experiences of many other famous Americans in their early military careers, such as Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and even a young Harry Truman—-not to mention a host of common soldiers, nurses, and other Army personnel. A highly readable and interesting take on America’s entry into WWI.

The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers, by Elizabeth Cobbs (2017)

When most people think of women participating in WWI, most think of Red Cross nurses. But there were also the “Hello Girls,” women who signed on with the Army Signal Corps as telephone operators (a difficult job in and of itself) and risked their lives to make sure American troops could communicate on the battlefield. These “female wire experts,” demanded by Gen. Pershing himself, were integral to keeping lines open between commanders and troops. Author Cobbs shines a new light on a little known aspect of women’s involvement in WWI.

chicago transofrmed cover

Photo Source: Amazon

Chicago Transformed: World War I and the Windy City, by Joseph Gustaitis (2016)

Didn’t think I’d leave Chicago out of this, did you? Of course not! 😉

Author Gustaitis shows how Chicago changed thanks to WWI—mostly thanks to major labor shortages, which helped encourage African American migration to the city, bringing a new ethnic group into the larger mix…while nearly killing off the massive pre-War German presence in the city.

War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918, by Michael Kazin (2017)

With so many Americans eager to enlist thanks to all that crazy propaganda, it’s easy to forget that there were still many who people who actively protested the War—and they did so together for three years, despite vast differences in background, race, and religion. By the end of the War, public opinion turned in their favor…but not without consequences. A thoughtful look at the consequences of a forgotten movement.

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AND FINALLY…

…It’s time for some recordings of “Over There!” 🙂

Here’s the first ever recording of this song, from November 1917, by singer Nora Bayes.

Or you could listen to George M. Cohan himself sing it, in his only known studio recording ever. He does a pretty good job, too!

 

…And this one is just because I couldn’t resist! James Cagney is the best, and so is Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).

And if you want, the lyrics are here.

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wake up america poster

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See the 1920s Come to Life in Gorgeous Color Videos

 

 

When most people imagine the past, many think of it as colorless. And why not? Most photographs and film from those times is in black and white, especially films. But what if it didn’t have to be?

Color has been a part of motion picture history from its very beginning, when Thomas Edison projected a two-colored film as early as 1896. Most early color films involved hand-painted cells, tinting, or the stenciling method popularized by Pathechrome technology, however. It wasn’t until 1910 when true color started coming to film with Kinemacolor. Limited to hues of red and green—adding blue would destroy the film as it ran through the camera—they brought the first flickers of color to moviegoers, even if they were often out of sync.

Technicolor, however, which began in 1915, fared much better than their competitors, and their first widely released color film, The Toll of the Sea (which you can see in full here), was a smash hit with audiences. Add to that a stabilized dyeing process invented in 1928, and by the late 1920s color film was a real possibility, even if 80 to 90 percent of films throughout the 1920s were still tinted or toned with a single color.

 

The following clips, however, feature a full range of glowing color given the limits of technology at the time. So, ready to see the past in a more colorful light? Then check out the following list of video clips below! 🙂

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A Kodak Kodachrome Film Test From 1922

This gorgeous Kodak film test comes from the George Eastman archives and features actresses Mae Murray, Hope Hampton, and Mary Eaton—plus a wonderful array of vivid colors and period hairstyles. Hope Hampton in particular is interesting; she’s shown modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), a Lon Chaney film which included bits of color footage.

 

The deep, rich colors were thanks to a new experimental photo-chemical process that involved a dual-lens camera. According to Vintage Everyday, the camera “recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues.”

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Actress Mary Pickford Does a Color Screen Test

Someone on YouTube thinks this clip was a color test for Douglas Fairbank’s The Black Pirate, and they might be right! Especially since it was the first film “designed entirely for color cinematography.”

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Visit the Streets of London in 1926

Restored by the British Film Institute’s National Archive, this video clip gives you a small tour of inner city London, complete with cute inter-title commentary! 🙂

If you’re interested, an entire playlist of these videos can be seen here on YouTube. They seem to cover much of England and Scotland, all circa the mid-1920s.

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A Short Color Test of Actress Claire Windsor

Here’s a very short clip of actress Claire Windsor in a lovely feathered hat.

While it seems she was never a big star herself, she was in a lot of movies and rubbed elbows with a lot of big names. You can hear an interview with her regarding her acting career here on YouTube, or check out this blog dedicated to her memory and film career.

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Watch Flappers Sashay Down the Catwalk

Poking around YouTube, I found quite a lot of these “fashion films” from the late 1920s and early 1930s. While the models never do anything too exciting, it’s interesting to see the color combinations that were popular at the the time. Some clothing was much brighter, garish, or interesting than it seems in black and white.

Each fashion clip features a short introductory inter-title card that describes the ensemble, then a model showing it off, often in fun locales. Check out the following mini-list:

This clip comes from 1928. Check out the crazy color combos on that hat and scarf ensemble at 0:50!

The pastels and beading designs really pop in this next clip, and you get a sense of the more flowing dresses that were also popular:

This clip lacks much color (aside from the sepia tints), but it has lots of great coats that make up for it, plus parks:

As you might have noticed, most of these films come from glamourdaze’s profile on YouTubeTheir website features a ton of cool stuff on vintage fashion, including hairstyles and period clothing. You should check it out!

EXTRA! EXTRA!

Interested in the history of color film? Then check out this quick 21 minute video over at Filmmaker IQ .

Want a list of the best tinted silent films? Then try Fritzi Kramer’s post on the history of color in silent films over at Movies Silently. Her blog is one of my absolute favorites!

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I hope you enjoyed this brief peek into a more colorful past. If you’ve got any cool film links from the 1920s, please post them in the Comments section below! I’d love to see them 🙂

 

Posted in 1920s fashion, list post, silent films, video post | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

What Job Would You Have in Britain During the 1920s?

If you worked in Britain during the 1920s, what kind of job would you have?

A fun infographic from the UK’s OnStride Financial blog  attempts to answer this question, using a cheerful, colorful flow chart. Sadly, none of them coincide with Downton Abbey—but they’re still pretty interesting.

The salary ranges were particularly surprising, at least to me. English bankers, I was surprised to learn, made significantly less during that time than I thought—and telephone operators made a heck of a lot more. Farmers, of course, made very little, something which is often overlooked in talking about the 1920s (it didn’t “roar” for everyone, you know).

There was one job, however, that stood out as particularly English to me, mostly because it sounded like a hold-over from the Victorian Age: the “Knocker-Upper.”

Being an ignorant American, I’d never heard of that job, but Wikipedia, the BBC, and MentalFloss assure me it was a real job, and an important way to ensure that industrial workers got up on time for work before reliable alarm clocks existed. The fact that it continued well into the 1970s in parts of England, however, was amazing to me.

Most of these jobs, though, look pretty fun. So which job would you have during England in the 1920s? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

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By the way, if you’d like to explore the sources OnStride used to figure out average salaries and such, just scroll to the bottom of the original infographic here on their blog post.

Posted in infographic, link post | Tagged , | 2 Comments

John Barleycorn Must Die: Today in History, Mock Funerals Took Place Across America as Prohibition Began in Earnest

jb tombstone loc.jpg

Image Source: Library of Congress

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On January 17th, 1920, hundreds of fake funerals were held in churches and bars across the country for a man that didn’t exist. John Barleycorn, the anthropomorphic personification of beer and whiskey, was symbolically laid to rest amid cheers and tears at 12:01 AM, January 16th, 1920. These mock funerals saw the actual burial of a bottle effigy, complete with pomp and circumstance. The tone of the ceremony varied widely, however, depending on who was conducting the funeral rites.

For religious Drys, it was a joyous, momentous occasion—both a summation of their political endeavors and a victory over Satan himself. “Good-bye John,” said Billy Sunday, the famous baseball-player-turned-Evangelical-preacher, to a crowd of 10,000 at a mock funeral in Norfolk, Virginia. “You were God’s worst enemy; you were Hell’s best friend.”1 Then he led the “corpse” and a group of twenty pallbearers to the church tabernacle, with “Satan” trailing behind them.2 “Satan”—a fellow “wearing a mask”—then sat with mourners “in a state of deep dejection” as the funeral services went on.3

funeral-annoucement-jb

An announcement for a mock Barleycorn funeral in Boston. Photo Source: Boston Globe

Virginia wasn’t the only place to see Barleycorn laid to rest by triumphant Drys, however. Chicago’s churches sent him off in style a day later on January 18th, sending out “black bordered invitations” to invite folks to hear Capt. Frank B. Ebbert, chief counsel for the Anti-Saloon League, “conduct the funeral service” at the Second United Presbyterian Church. Considered the “most elaborate and impressive” event of its kind in the city, the funeral featured “a large imitation bottle, six feet high…[that] stood on its head in a coffin” which was then “embalmed, cremated, and buried amid…applause” and cheers from the “dry-eyed” crowd.4 “He was buried upside down,” Ebbert added, “so that if he ever wriggles [away] he will wriggle in the right direction.5  

On July 1st, 1919, a similar act took place in Chicago, in recognition of the Wartime Prohibition act, a precursor to the wider Volstead Act. St. David’s Roman Catholic Church at 32nd Street and Union held a mock funeral for Barleycorn that was just as joyous as the later one. “Our women are going to act as pallbearers,” explained Father Joseph McNamee, church pastor. “They are not going to wear black, because it is too happy an event, but they will dress in white. No flowers are going to be put on the coffin, for John doesn’t deserve any, but the flowers are going to be worn in the hair of the women…we propose to march in procession all around the church…then we will bury John Barleycorn.”6 He wanted to wait a few days on the funeral rites, he said, so he could “invite some of the saloon keepers to be present.”7

john-barleycorn-runs-for-his-life

The Drey prelude to the funerals, presumably… 😉                            Source: Father Penn and John Barleycorn (1920) at HathiTrust Digital

 

The Wets, of course, took a very different tone with their “funerals.” For them, things veered from raucous, drunken wakes to sullen tears—often right up until the bitter end. While some “funerals” had an air of fun, more often than not the sadness was palpable. In New York, drunken mourners got to their feet and, “as though animated by the same impulse,” formed “mock funeral corteges and marched in and out among the bottle strewn tables, while the orchestras fiddled desperately at funeral tunes set to jazz time.”8 

The mood wasn’t too different from the beginning of the Wartime Prohibition Act, either. During Chicago at that time, “a vast gloom made itself felt” everywhere.9 “Strong men wept as they ordered,” said the Tribune, often while calling up their wives to discuss “the expediency of remaining in the office” instead of coming home.10 Then they’d order another round and gather together to sing The Alcoholic Blues:

 

When midnight rolled around, some didn’t want the party to end. In New York, when told to dispose of their drinks after midnight by pouring them onto the floor or leaving them, revelers simply drank them on the spot and stumbled away.11 In Chicago during the Wartime Act, people tried to take their booze with them—or pour one for the road: “At midnight lights were switched on and off to announce the hour and customers were told to leave. Some who were drinking from glasses carried them away. Others who had bottles in their hands about to pour drinks carried them off.”12 Apparently, no one stopped them. Some folks even got a bit violent during the Wartime Act. In Chicago, a taxi driver and an insurance salesman came to blows over a 25 cent fare, and a riot started when detectives tried to arrest some men who kicked in the door to the Fountain Inn after midnight.13

But no matter how either side reacted, with the dawn of January 17th, 1920, it was clear that Prohibition had started for good.

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SIDE NOTE: WHO WAS JOHN BARLEYCORN?

Today, most people recognize his name thanks to this famous Traffic song from 1970, John Barleycorn Must Die:

That song, however—and the figure it mentions—is much older than the 1970s. Though the first known printed version of this traditional British folksong occurred in 1568, its likely that the song is much older, especially since Barleycorn’s connection to mythic grain figures is both deeply pagan and Christian, thanks to the themes of death and resurrection.

According to Graeme Thomson, author of I Shot A Man in Reno: A History of Death by Murder, Suicide, Fire, Flood, Drugs, Disease and General Misadventure, As Related in Popular Song (The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2008), this song is “one of the most enduring of all British folksongs,” largely thanks to offering “a multi-tiered explanation of the sheer stubborn necessity of death.”14 While “ostensibly the song is about the production of cereal crop,” says Thomson, it is also “a metaphor for the Christian notion of intense suffering leading to a death made as a sacrifice for the benefit of others, but it also encompasses an essentially pagan viewpoint—the vital cycle of the changing seasons; there can be no bountiful spring without the barren winter.”15

There are many versions of the song since the 1970s, but one of the most popular versions was by the famed Scottish poet Robert Burns (you can read it here or here). Interestingly, while researching this post I happened upon a ridiculously awful Temperance response to Burn’s poem. You can read it in all its hideous glory here at HathiTrust Digital.

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Footnotes:
  1. “THOUSANDS HEAR SUNDAY IN BOOZE FUNERAL SERMON.”  Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jan 17, 1920. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174568545?accountid=3688
  2. “BILLY SUNDAY SPEEDS BARLEYCORN TO GRAVE; Preaches at Mock Obsequies, with Devil as Mourner, in Norfolk Tabernacle.” New York Times, Jan 16, 1920. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B07E0DB1F38E533A25754C1A9679C946195D6CF&legacy=true
  3. Ibid.
  4. “CHURCHES HOLD J. B.’S FUNERAL; CREMATE EFFIGY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jan 19, 1920. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174547998?accountid=3688
  5. Ibid.
  6. “ST. DAVID’S CHURCH PREPARES TO BURY JOHN BARLEYCORN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Apr 05, 1919. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174467673?accountid=3688
  7. “CHICAGO GULPS ITS FINAL CUPS AMID A BEDLAM.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jul 01, 1919. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174533016?accountid=3688
  8. “NEW YORK CAFES BOTTLE-STREWN AT THE WINDUP.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jan 17, 1920. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174568545?accountid=3688
  9. “CHICAGO GULPS ITS FINAL CUPS AMID A BEDLAM.”
  10. Ibid.
  11. “NEW YORK CAFES BOTTLE-STREWN AT THE WINDUP.”
  12. “CHICAGO GULPS ITS FINAL CUPS AMID A BEDLAM.”
  13. Ibid.
  14. Thomson, Graeme. 2008. I shot a man in Reno: a history of death by murder, suicide, fire, flood, drugs, disease, and general misadventure, as related in popular song. New York: Continuum. p 9.
  15. Ibid, p 9-10.
Posted in term origins, today in the 1920s | Tagged , , | 6 Comments