I first saw Mary Mallon thirty-two years ago, that is, in 1907. She was then about forty years of age and at the height of her physical and mental faculties. She was five feet six inches tall, a blond with clear blue eyes, a healthy color and a somewhat determined mouth and jaw. Mary had a good figure and might have been called athletic had she not been a little too heavy. She prided herself on her strength and endurance, and at that time and for many years thereafter never spared herself in the exercise of it.
We’re on the cusp of a breakthrough in medical science in 1908 – viruses and bacteria have been conclusively shown to be the cause of illness, vaccines are being developed, antibiotics are just around the corner – but for the bulk of humanity, little has changed since Victorian times. All these advances are as yet nothing when set against a stubborn person who is carrying an infectious disease.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection which results in a high fever, weakness, abdominal pain, constipation and headaches. In 1908 it had a mortality rate of something like 20%. Mary Mallon was a carrier of the disease, but never showed any symptoms. She worked as a cook in at least six wealthy households in New York, and was famous for a signature dish of ice cream and frozen peaches. “No better way,” said investigator George Sopor, “could be found for a cook to cleanse her hands of microbes and infect a family.” It was shown that least 51 people were infected by Mary, with three fatalities, but some have the latter figure as high as 50.
After three years of quarantine, Mallon was released after agreeing that she would “change her occupation (that of a cook), and would give assurance by affidavit that she would upon her release take such hygienic precautions as would protect those with whom she came in contact, from infection.” However, after two years working as a laundress, she changed her name to Mary Brown and returned to her former occupation, starting several other major outbreaks. Police were finally able to find and arrest her in 1915, and she spent the remainder of her life in quarantine on North Brother Island.
1. Though it is undeniably the driving force behind the adoption of automation in industry, the Model T wasn’t the first car made on a production line – that was the Oldsmobile Curved Dash, beginning in 1901.
2. Famously the Model T was available in “any color as long as it’s black” – however for the first five years it wasn’t black at all, but came in gray, green, blue, and red varieties. The uniform black paint was adopted in 1913 in order to save money on materials and production.
3. To start your Model T you had to turn a crank which could kick back and break your arm or (very occasionally) exit at missile velocity. The choke and throttle controls were mounted on the steering column, and needed to be set as soon as the engine started, so you had to run back and do this before the engine died.
4. The car had no speedometer, one gear and only one door. All models were, however built with a jack stand on the rear axle, which allowed the owner to remove the rear wheel and place a flat belt on the hub in order to power farm equipment.
5. Early models had their seats stuffed with dried moss, which undoubtedly was very comfortable, but which led to a recall when it was found to harbour hoards of tiny, biting bugs
6. The Model T was produced with fundamentally the same design for almost 20 years – and the worlds (and roads) of 1908 and 1927 were markedly different. Henry Ford was furious when any engineers suggested the blueprint be changed.
7. At $300 in 1925, it was the first car which was affordable for blue collar workers in America, and he also paid his workers a wage which far surpassed what they could get elsewhere. Before we hail him as a hero of the modern age however…
8. Henry Ford’s racism and antisemitism are surely widely known at this point – but the extent of this and its bizarre implications still beggars belief. Not only did you have to be a white male protestant to work on his factory floor, and sign a “morals contract”, but he invented and publicised square dancing purely in order to counteract the black and allegedly jewish jazz culture of the 1920s. To describe him as a crackpot doesn’t really do him justice – these are the actual words he used (in “The International Jew”, a favourite of Adolf Hitler) to describe the popular culture of the times;
“Many people have wondered whence come the waves upon waves of musical slush that invade decent homes and set the young people of this generation imitating the drivel of morons. Popular music is a Jewish monopoly. Jazz is a Jewish creation. The mush, slush, the sly suggestion, the abandoned sensuousness of sliding notes, are of Jewish origin.”
What did the Edwardians like to do in their free time? Smoke pipes? Grow moustaches? Wear boater hats? Chain themselves to railings? Let’s add one to the list – rollerskating. Apparently the late 1900s saw a rollerskating craze sweep the UK, and at one point 500 rinks were open for public use.
A deep, but very entertaining, dive into this topic was undertaken by Sean Creighton at The National Archives – take a look at his presentation or download the audio podcast here-
A truism that bears continual restating; the Edwardian / “progressive” era was really, truly racist. Even the most diehard bigots these days would be unlikely to begrudge a black man his boxing career, but it took the best part of a decade of being the best boxer in the world, and two years of stalking his opponent, before Jack Johnson was able to compete for (and win) the world heavyweight title from Canadian Tommy Burns.
This was not, of course, allowed to pass unnoticed. The next two years saw a host of competitors put up against Johnson as “the great white hope” until finally superstar world champion James J Jeffries was brought out of retirement to challenge Johnson in “the fight of the century” – the film of which was distributed across the USA. The viewing of Johnson’s victory sparked race riots, which led to a nationwide ban on the distribution of fight films. Nearly a hundred years later, it would be entered into the National Film Registry.
Another journey into the history of recorded sound with James and Sean. This time we delve into the vaults for 1890 and 1891, explore the pop music of the gilded age, and hear the voices of P.T. Barnum, Florence Nightingale, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
I’ve lived through a couple of decades of recorded sound now – perhaps you have too – and as a result the world of 1908 seems almost entirely alien from the perspective of 1888. Recording technology has improved a great deal of course, but this year this feels incidental; there does seem to be a genuine shift in popular culture. The buttoned-up world of Victorian musical theatre and the racist formalism of the minstrel show have both largely fallen out of favour, but what do we have in their place? Films and TV series set during this era tend to feature ragtime piano music, in place of the early jazz they are clearly itching to use. Real ragtime was, however, still something of a minority interest – and when it did really take off a few years later, it had mutated slightly into the proto-jazz syncopated music which scandalised society and the media.
So when we try to put together an aural picture of this time, there’s a puzzling gap – puzzling because not only was there a great wave of popular music around this time, but because much of it still exists in popular consciousness in the way that embarrassing Victoriana and swept-under-the-carpet “coon songs” do not. The Wikipedia page on the “Great American Songbook” posits a timeframe of “1920s-1950” – but the writers of these songs were already at work, many of them in Tin Pan Alley, and some of the standards had already been written. In 1908 Irving Berlin is already working in New York, Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth have married and have published their most enduring hit “Shine On, Harvest Moon” and George M Cohan has already become such a big deal with hits like “Give My Regards to Broadway” that his two compositions in this mix have his name in the title – “Cohan’s Rag Babe” and “Cohan’s Pet Names.” Sentimental patriotic ballads about soldiers leaving their sweethearts are thankfully out of favour now, though it wouldn’t be until the electronic microphone allowed singers to croon (still 20 years away) that the laconic sophistication we tend to associate with this sort of music began to rise to prominence.
Vaudeville was not new in 1908, but it had finally evolved from a loosely adapted minstrel show into the classic style of wisecracking comics and variety performance it’s associated with today. Perhaps the last truly universal American entertainment, it showed a remarkable ability to adapt while it spread, helping to develop performing styles through sheer power of audience approval. A little-remembered Vaudeville comic called Murray K Hill features prominently in this mix – his stream-of-consciousness rapid-fire joke-telling style anticipates Groucho Marx or even Bob Hope.
One place vaudeville could not be easily transferred to was the UK. Strict regulations on theatres meant that most venues were simply not allowed to present a wide variety of material to the general public. To fill this gap, the ‘Music Hall’ came into existence. Originally back rooms of taverns and coffee houses, these venues allowed food, drink and smoking, and acts would have to work hard to make any sort of impression. This atmosphere, combined with laws about the kinds of performances that could be allowed, ensured that the music hall would rely on songs almost exclusively – there was simply not room for a Murray K Hill in London. Instead we have risqué innuendos from working class girl Marie Lloyd, male impersonators like Vesta Tilley and Vesta Victoria, who dressed as Edwardian gents and sang songs mocking their pomposity, and character singers, often from far afield, like Billy Williams, George Formby Sr and Harry Lauder – all of whom were to achieve national, and even in some cases international fame.
There isn’t any sort of revolutionary change in 1908 – these trends have been building for many years – but it’s the first time that enough of this stuff exists for it to be presented together as a vaudeville / music hall show (I could have made an hour-long mix using exclusively this material.) This is the world of my great-grandparents, and though 110 years have passed, it still sounds notably modern to me.
Columbia Double – Disc Demo Record (Excerpt 1) 0:00
Orchestra Goldberg – Kleftico Vlachiko 0:12
Columbia Double – Disc Demo Record (Excerpt 2) 2:17
Zon-O-Phone Concert Band – The Smiler 2:50
Unknown – Sunderland Home Cylinder 34 5:15
Vess L. Ossman – Smiler Rag 5:23
Murray K. Hill – A Bunch Of Nonsense 7:25
Ada Jones & Billy Murray – Shine On, Harvest Moon 7:42
Ada Jones & Len Spencer – Henry & Hilda At The Schuetzenfest 9:46
Billy Murray & Ada Jones – Cohan’s Pet Names 10:16
Len Spencer and Billy Murray – The liars 12:53
James Lent – The Ragtime Drummer 13:04
Thomas A. Edison – Electricity and progress 14:33
A. T. Berlyavsky – A Quiet Corner 14:51
Emile Berliner – An Address At Atlantic City 15:46
Indestructible Concert Band – Torch Dance 16:10
William Jennings Bryan – An Ideal Republic 17:32
Edison Concert Band – Pure As Snow 18:16
Taft & Bryan – Foreign Policy Debate 19:44
4 Flutes And Vocal – Music For The Lela Celebration 21:52
Taft & Bryan – Economic Debate 22:14
London Palace Orchestra – The Silken Ladder – Overture 24:43
Taft & Bryan – Labour Debate 25:38
Venetian Instrumental Trio – Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still 26:33
Joseph Taylor – Sprig O’ Thyme 27:32
Harry Lauder – Hey, Donal! 28:18
Harry Lauder – The Wedding O’ Sandy Macnab 29:31
Murray K. Hill – Grandma’s Mustard Plaster 31:39
Marie Lloyd – Little Of What You Fancy Does You Good 32:19
Winifred Hare and Percy Clifton – The Plumber 33:43
George Formby Sr – John Willie Come On 35:23
Wilkie Bard – Sea Shells 36:23
Vesta Tilley – Following A Fellow With A Face Like Me 36:47
Steve Porter – He And She In Vaudeville 37:50
New York Military Band – I’m Afraid To Come Home In The Dark 38:28
Billy Murray – I’m Afraid To Come Home In The Dark 39:37
Billy Murray & Byron G Harlan & Steve Porter – Village Constable 40:51
Edward Meeker – Take Me Out To The Ball Game 41:24
Hadyn Quartet – Take Me Out to the Ball Game 42:20
Len Spencer & Gilbert Girard – Sheriff’s Sale Of A Stranded Circus 42:49
Arthur Collins – Rag Babe 43:18
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh Keeps House 44:22
Indestructible Military Band – Eppler’s whiskers 44:53
Elk’s Minstrel Co. – Elks minstrels 45:39
Len Spencer and Mozarto – Krausmeyer’s birthday party 46:08
Edison Symphony Orchestra – Suwannee River with orchestra variations 47:04
American Symphony Orchestra – By The Suwanee River 48:52
Ada Jones & Len Spencer – Jimmie And Maggie At The Merry Widow 49:41
Arthur Pryor’s Band – Georgia Sunset 49:56
Cocadorus – Postpapier 52:25
Bérard – Le retour au pays 52:37
Fréjol – Le Marin Marseillais 53:42
Grupo K. Larangeira – Só para moer 54:22
Grupo Bahianinho – Destemido 56:09
Samuel Siegel and William Smith – Castilian echoes 57:16
Banda de Policía – La Tirolesa 59:25
William Moriarity – Ain’t Dat a Shame Medley 1:00:34
Dmitry Bogemsky, acc. orchestra – Wedding in the Galley Harbor 1:01:28
Ignacy Podgorski & Jego Nadzwyczajna Orkiestra – Wesola Mania (Happy Mary-Polka) 1:01:46
Ignacy Podgorski & Jego Nadzwyczajna Orkiestra – Skowrenek-Oberek (Lark Oberek) 1:03:26
V.S.Varshavsky’s ‘Harmony’ Orchestra – Jewish Revival, March 1:04:46
Varya Panina – I Long For Gaiety 1:05:13
Moscow Chudkovsky Choir – He That Dwelleth in the Secret Place 1:05:57
Aurelia Volskaya & Zinaida Ratmirova – Cradle Song 1:06:40
Emilio De Gogorza – O Sole Mio 1:07:58
Enrico Caruso – Lolita (Buzzi-Peccia) 1:09:42
Komitas Vardapet – Gutan Yerg 1:11:16
Brahma Sri T. Appadurai Aiyengar – Jalatharangam Instrumental 1:12:16
Gopal Chunder Singh Roy – Burdwan Dist. Beggar’s Song 1:13:22
Nagaraja Rao – Rag Hamsadhwani 1:13:40
Miss Mankoo – Maro Joban Bito Jaya 1:14:22
Danakoti And Sister – Nadanamakriya-Eka 1:15:08
Booker T. Washington – Atlanta Exposition Speech 1:15:48
William Craig – Lady Binnie and shores of Lake Erie 1:16:16
Unknown – Sunderland Home Cylinder 16 1:18:10
Charles D’almaine – Violin Solo, Jigs and Reels 1:18:16
Buglers of the New York Military Band – U.S. Army bugle calls 1:18:43
Edison Military Band – Whistle 1:19:08
Billy Murray & Steve Porter – Laughing Spectator 1:20:16
John J. Kimmel – American Polka 1:21:00
Murray K. Hill – Stranded Minstrel Man 1:21:46
Chris Chapman – Dill Pickles Rag 1:23:09
Vess L. Ossman – Fun In A Barber Shop 1:24:25
Steve Porter with Edward Meeker – Sidewalk Conversation 1:25:40
Arthur Collins & Byron G. Harlan – My Gal Irene Indestructable 1:26:36
Billy Whitlock – Billy Whitlock’s Christmas Waits 1:28:50
Indestructible Military Band – In Darkest Africa 1:29:03