There are times that we want to romanticize the past – the courting, the clothes, the hats, the dancing – but if you truly think you’d be happier living in a different time, there are certain realities that existed for our ancestors that just can’t be easily overlooked. Cause they really sucked.
And once you scroll through this short – but convincing – list, I’d be surprised if you aren’t singing a different tune about the “good old days.” Even if you could still Lindy Hop to it.
#5. Your view – and your water – might be contaminated by dead animals.
In 1870, The New York Rendering Company was dumping so many dead animal carcasses into the bay that the Hudson River was overflowing with them – and stinking up a storm. People reported decayed animals washing up onto shore, and on any given day as many as 15 bloated horses could be seen from the riverbanks.
People’s leisure sails were being rudely interrupted by the stench and the sights, and all of this was happening regardless of rules that said the animal corpses needed to be dumped outside city limits.
#4. A beer could kill you.
In case you don’t know, strychnine is a type of poison. But back in the day, not only was it used as a tonic that could supposedly cure myriad complaints, but strychnine was also often added to beer as flavoring. Predictably, sometimes batches would get too much flavoring, resulting in people taking ill or even dying, like this unfortunate Queensland woman.
Her bottle was tested and found to contain an astounding 12 grains of strychnine. A half-grain is enough to kill an adult.
#3. You (or your baby) might swallow a pin.
And honestly? No one would much care. And, if they did care, there wasn’t much they could do.
Due to the fact that a lot more women did daily sewing and mending, often with pins in their mouths, it was fairly common for pins to be accidentally swallowed. Babies would also swallow open pins (because babies put things in their mouths, I guess?), and no one really did anything except watch the kid to see what would happen. Though people did sometimes perish if the pin got turned just so and perforated a bowel, often it would come back up – painfully – after some time had passed.
And I thought my kid eating dog hair was bad.
#2. Tetanus was deadly.
It was also a super awful way to go. People basically suffered violent muscle spasms and seizures until they died (probably way after they wished they would). When an epidemic swept through New York in 1899 due to “careless handling of fireworks and toy pistols,” mortality rates were between 85-90%.
Now, we just blow off our appendages on the 4th of July. God bless America.
#1. Your gloves or belts might be made from human skin.
And no, not only if you were a serial killer. In the 19th century, medical schools dissected unclaimed bodies in the pursuit of knowledge, and then sold the skin to tanners and jewelers. Yes, really.
There was a physician living in New South Wales (Australia) in 1888 who had shoes made from African skin because they made the “softest and most durable” leather. But he wasn’t a racist:
“I would use a white man’s skin for the same purpose if it were sufficiently thick and if anyone has a desire to wear my epidermis upon his feet after I had drawn my last breath, he has my ante-mortem permission.”
What. The. Shit.
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