1897 in Art

John Collier – Lady Godiva

Edvard Munch – The Kiss

Paul Gauguin – Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Camille Pissarro – Boulevard Montmartre, printemps

Henri Rousseau – Boy on the Rocks

Jacek Malczewski – Vicious Circle

L. A. Ring – In the garden door. The artist’s wife

Ramon Casas – Ramon Casas and Pere Romeu on a Tandem

Edmund Leighton – In Time of Peril

Georges Lacombe – Vorhor, the Green Wave

Ogata Gekko – Ryu sho ten

Claude Monet – Morning on the Seine near Giverny

1897 in Film

To mirror the main mix, this year we have some extra inappropriate content – irresponsible drinking, the occult, and actual sort-of porn.

The Hallucinated Alchemist

Old Man Drinking a Glass of Beer

The X-Rays

The Bewitched Inn

Making Sausages

After The Ball

Leaving Jerusalem by Railway

Naval Combat in Greece

Spanish Bullfight

La prise de Tournavos

Bram Stoker – Dracula

It’s been over twenty years since I last read ‘Dracula’ and I was a little surprised to find that my opinion about it this time was essentially the same. It’s 50% utterly wonderful, a wildly evocative mystery story with enough half-spoken to lead to a century of derivative works, none of which can quite capture its unique atmosphere. The first part of the book largely falls into this category.

But then there’s also the 50% pointless tedium, lifeless characters writing long letters about how they had a meeting and how wonderful another boring character is. Aside from possibly Van Helsing, the characters are so thinly drawn it’s sometimes breathtaking. Quincy, for example, has the defining feature of being American, and that’s pretty much it. Lucy is the worst though, surely the most insipid personality ever put on a page (and praised to the heavens for being braindead in such a delicate, ladylike way,) she only gains any character when she is killed and brought back  as a vampire, only for the others to be physically repulsed by her passion to the point of driving a stake through her heart. I’m sure there has been a great deal written about what this says about Stoker’s view of female sexuality, none of it very positive.

In spite of all of this I still loved reading it again. The best parts are absolutely worth sitting though the dull sections for, and if you’re anything like me you can also enjoy imagining what you would do with it if you were Bram Stoker’s editor.

Bram Stoker – Dracula
Bram Stoker – Dracula (free text at Project Gutenberg)
Bram Stoker – Dracula (BBC radio adaptation)
Bram Stoker – Dracula (free audiobook at Librivox)

…and here’s a clip from perhaps the most famous adaptation, the one with Bela Lugosi from 1931. Unfortunately the film gets even more bogged down in its second act than the book does, but this scene shows off both Lugosi and the superb set design.

S.A. Andrée and the 1897 North Pole Balloon Mission

People live only 500 miles from the North Pole, so why didn’t anyone reach it until 1908? Well, it turns out there are many reasons, and a number of innovative solutions to the problems, including freezing a huge ship in the ice and letting the currents pull you across the arctic over a couple of years. In that particular case most of the crew survived, but many were less lucky.

In 1897 Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée had the truly original idea of piloting a hot air balloon across the arctic – an idea that’s so crazy that it just might be a work of genius. After every expert consulted had told him that he was an idiot he nevertheless managed to capture public excitement enough to raise the money to fund the trip. Would he manage to get his crew all the way to the North Pole and back alive?

This podcast over at Stuff You Missed In History Class goes into the details of the trip. I won’t spoil what happened, but I probably don’t need to.

Elsewhere in 1897


The first Boston Marathon, the discovery of the electron, Kyoto University, Juventus F.C., The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, The play Cyrano de Bergerac, Aspirin, The Kinetoscope, The Tremont Street Subway in Boston – the first underground metro in North America.

It began in Africa

Benin is put to the torch by the British Army’s Benin Expedition.
After months of searching, generals of Menelik II of Ethiopia capture Gaki Sherocho, the last king of Kaffa, bringing an end to that ancient kingdom.
Natal annexes Zululand.
The pan-African anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (“God Bless Africa”) is composed as a Xhosa hymn by South African teacher Enoch Sontonga.


A Cyclone destroys Darwin, Australia.
An earthquake of magnitude of 8.0 hits Assam, killing over 1,500
A sheriff’s posse kills 19 unarmed immigrant miners in Pennsylvania.

Beyond the physical world (possibly)

Elva Zona Heaster is found dead in West Virginia – the resulting murder trial of her husband is perhaps the only capital case in United States history where spectral evidence (that is evidence revealed in a dream) helps secure a conviction.


The Klondike Gold Rush begins
The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria
Oscar Wilde is released from prison in England and goes into exile in France.
Greece and Turkey sign a peace treaty to end the Greco-Turkish War.


Judith Anderson, Australian-born British actress (d. 1992)
Marian Anderson, American contralto (d. 1993)
Sidney Bechet, American musician (d. 1959)
Enid Blyton, British children’s writer (d. 1968)
Subhas Chandra Bose, Indian political leader, led the INA (d. 1945)
Manuel Ávila Camacho, Mexican colonel and politician, 45th President of Mexico (d. 1955)
Frank Capra, American producer, director, and writer (d. 1991)
John Cockcroft, English physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1967)
Henry Cowell, American avant-garde composer (d. 1965)
Marion Davies, American actress (d. 1961)
Eddie Eagan, American boxer and bobsledder (d. 1967)
Amelia Earhart, American aviator (d. 1937)
Anthony Eden, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (d. 1977)
Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith (d. 1957)
Ludwig Erhard, Chancellor of Germany (d. 1977)
William Faulkner, American writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1962)
Hermione Gingold, English actress (d. 1987)
Joseph Goebbels, German Nazi propagandist (d. 1945)
Edith Head, American costume designer (d. 1981)
Fletcher Henderson, American musician (d. 1952)
Sepp Herberger, German football coach (d. 1977)
Moe Howard, American comedian and actor (The Three Stooges) (d. 1975)
Irène Joliot-Curie, French physicist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (d. 1956)
Peter Llewelyn Davies, British publisher and one of the Llewelyn Davies boys (d. 1960)
Lucky Luciano, Sicilian-American Mafia boss (d. 1962)
Fredric March, American actor (d. 1975)
Elijah Muhammad, co-founder of the Nation of Islam (d. 1975)
Pola Negri, Polish-born actress (d. 1987)
Paavo Nurmi, Finnish runner (d. 1973)
Lefty O’Doul, American baseball player and restaurateur (d. 1969)
Pope Paul VI (d. 1978)
Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Thai field marshal, prime minister, and dictator (d. 1964)
Wilhelm Reich, Austrian psychotherapist (d. 1957)
Denise Robins, British romance novelist (d. 1985)
Jimmie Rodgers, American singer (d. 1933)
Gershom Scholem, German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian (d. 1982)
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Austrian architect and anti-Nazi activist (d. 2000)
Douglas Sirk, German-born director (d. 1987)
Charles Kingsford Smith, Australian aviator famous for his trans-Pacific flight (d. 1935)
Otto Strasser, German Nazi politician (d. 1974)
Soong Mei-ling, Chinese wife of Chiang Kai-shek (d. 2003)
George Szell, Hungarian conductor (d. 1970)
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia (d. 1918)
Dennis Wheatley, English writer (d. 1977)
Walter Winchell, American broadcast journalist (d. 1972)
Yi Un, Korean Crown Prince (d. 1970)


Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Iranian teacher and writer (b. 1838)
Andrés Bonifacio, Filipino revolutionary (b. 1863)
Johannes Brahms, German composer (b. 1833)
Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, Spanish politician and historian (assassinated) (b. 1828)
Alphonse Daudet, French writer (b. 1840)
Henry Doulton, English pottery manufacturer (b. 1820)
Louisa Lane Drew, actress and theater manager (b. 1820)
Henry George, American economist (b. 1839)
Ernest Giles, Australian explorer (b. 1835)
Ion Ghica, 3-Time Prime Minister of Romania (b. 1816)
Stanislas de Guaita, French poet (b. 1861)
Edward Maitland, British writer and occultist (b. 1824)
Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale (b. 1822)
Joseph S. Skerrett, American admiral (b. 1833)
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, French Roman Catholic and Discalced Carmelite nun and saint (b. 1873)
Karl Weierstrass, German mathematician (b. 1815)


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“He told them he wanted a certain cylinder containing a particularly obscene song. He claims in his affidavit, on which the warrant was issued, that Hunting sold this cylinder to him and then in his presence made him another equally objectionable record, and offered to provide still worse productions… …When the warrant was executed the police officers seized fifty-three cylinders, said to contain bad records, and also took a phonograph instrument found on the premises.” – Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 25th 1896

The pattern is all too familiar. Experiments are conducted into a new medium, engineers work on it to make it a viable product, entrepreneurs invest and roll out mass production, the great and the good attempt to claim it for high culture, then the rabble inevitably take over. It’s 1897, and for the first time the gramophone isn’t the preserve of the self-elected tastemakers. Unfortunately this does not mean that someone’s gone down to New Orleans to record Buddy Bolden, more that the ability to record your own cylinders is leading to the arrival of the audio equivalent of b-movies (or perhaps even stag films.)

Much of this mix is made up of short clips from a CD called “Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s” issued by Archaeophone Records in 2007. A compilation of unofficial recordings, the dates were understandably guesswork at best, so putting them in here is the kind of messy compromise we have to maker quite a bit in this decade. Most of the clips are performed by one Russell Hunting, a very popular recording artist of the time who founded, Phonoscope, the first independent magazine for the recording industry and set up one of the first phonograph shops, in New York. On request he would reproduce bawdy monologues or dialogues from an illegal book (which he may be the author of) called “The Stag Party.” On one of these occasions he was set up by an undercover police office, and the resulting court case ended up with him being sent to jail. Some of these recordings are genuinely shocking in their obscenity, to the extent that this mix is probably unsuitable for playing at work or around small children, and I didn’t even include the strongest examples. Russell Hunting spent three months in prison, and suitably chastised set sail for England, where he immediately found work as the recording director of Edison Bell Records – he had quite a spectacularly successful career, setting up offices for Pathé and Zonophone, and lived long enough to see the second world war.

The other big takeaway from this month’s mix is ‘virtuosity’. Trombone player Arthur Pryor had by 1895 been promoted to assistant conductor of Sousa’s Band, and as Sousa would have nothing to do with recording studios, they were entirely his domain. On their tours of Europe, Pryor had put himself forward as a soloist, producing not only elaborate displays of lightning-fast trombone playing, but also incorporating the kinds of slides and smears that would later be a hallmark of early jazz – and which went against everything expected of regimented military music. This combination of peacock-like display of talent and occasional plunges into joyous self-expression was labelled a “Yankee trick” by astonished European audiences. While its link to the underexposed world of black music is unclear, the connection is certainly no co-incidence, and can be sensed in the work of banjo king Vess L. Ossman and piccolo player George Schweinfest. While we’re undoubtedly still in the stone age, something wonderful is bubbling up.


Students at Cornell University – New Years Day Party
Sousa’s Band (Trombone – Arthur Pryor) – Blue Bells of Scotland
Believed to Be Russell Hunting – Did He Charge Too Much
Vess L. Ossman – Old Folks at Home
Harry Heath – Speech With Church Chimes
Al Sweet – L’elegante [Élégante Polka]
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh on a Bicycle
Edison Brass Quartet – Come Where Lilies Bloom
‘Willy Fathand of New York City’ [Believed to Be Russell Hunting] – Sim Hadley on a Racket
Edison Concert Band – El Capitan March
‘Manly Tempest’ [Unknown Performer, Possibly Russell Hunting] – the Rascal Detector
The Columbia Orchestra – Sea Flower Polka
Len Spencer & Vess Ossman – Hot Time in the Old Town
N. R. Wood – Morning on the Farm
Edison Male Quartette – Annie Laurie
Drum Corps – Spirit of ’76
Garde Republicaine – Marche Des Petit Pierot
‘Charley Smith of Kankakee’ [Believed to Be Russell Hunting] – Out of Order
Fraulein Vioni Eidner – Der Vogelhandler, Act I- Die Nachtigall
Robert Green Ingersroll – On Hope
Cousins & De Moss – Poor Mourner
Harry Heath – Speech
Arthur Pryor – the Palms
Frank S. Mazziotta – Sleighride
‘Manly Tempest’ [Unknown Performer, Possibly Russell Hunting] – Gimlet’s Soliloquy
George Schweinfest – Bob White Polka
Russell Hunting – Casey’s Political Speech
Peerless Orchestra – My Babe From Boston
‘Charley Smith of New York City’ [Believed to Be Russell Hunting] – Reilly as a Policeman
George J Gaskin – Best in the House is None Too Good for Reilly
Charles P. Lowe – Leonora Waltz
The Columbia Orchestra – I Thought I Was a Winner, Or, I Don’t Know, You Ain’t So Warm
Billy Golden – Listen to the Mocking Bird
Thompson River Indians – Dance Song of Thompson River Indians
Joseph Norrito – Original Schottische
Sousa’s Band – Stars and Stripes Forever

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