The Condenser

Monday, March 30, 2009

In Iceland, Death Laughs at You

Posted by Dave
One of the few facts everyone seems to know about Iceland is that belief in elves and gnomes is still widespread among its inhabitants. Jon Arnason's Icelandic Legends (1866) is full of examples showing that their fascination with the supernatural runs deeper than expected - but it doesn't come without a strong sense of irony.

Men who are clear-sighted, or ghost-seers, can tell, by walking into the churchyard on New Year's night, how many will be buried in it during the ensuing year. If they themselves are amongst the ghosts that they see in the burial ground, they do not generally perceive the identity of their own double. A strange story is told of a second-sighted man in the East of Iceland, who died some years ago. He was very clever, and almost infallible in foretelling the death of other people. But concerning his own decease, he always said: "I am not clear about my death; it is for ever veiled in smoke." And he died suffocated by smoke, in 1832.

Image taken from this site.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Social Solitarian

Posted by Dave
As this is the Condenser's 50th post, we've chosen to highlight an account of a man who, like your tireless authors, has chosen to forsake friendship and human contact in pursuit of an honorable purpose. A Swiss hermit living in seclusion in the mountains, toiling endlessly, living an ascetic lifestyle, and finally passing on... while hanging out with friends? From Smith's Wanders, excerpted in The Cabinet of Curiosities (1833).

About three miles from Fribourg in Switzerland is a hermitage, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, and situated among woods and rocks, in the prettiest solitude imaginable. It has been described by several travellers, particularly M. Blainville and Mr. Addison, who both saw it about the beginning of the last century, when the hermit was still alive. He had wrought out of a rock a pretty chapel, with an altar: sacristy, and steeple; also five chambers, a parlour, refectory, kitchen, cellar, and other conveniences. The funnel of his chimney, which pierces from his kitchen to the top of the rock, slanting all the way, is 90 feet high, and cost him so much toil, that he was a whole year about it, and often despaired of completing his design. The chapel is 63 feet in length, 36 in breadth, and 22 in height; the sacristy, or vestry, is 22 feet square, and the height of the steeple 70 feet; the chamber between the chapel and the refectory is above 40 feet long, the refectory itself is 21, and the cellar U 25 feet long, and 10 feet deep. But the hall, or parlour, is particularly admired, being 28 paces in length, 12 in breadth, and 20 feet in height, with four openings for windows, much higher and wider than those of our best houses. At one end of this hall was the hermit's cabinet, with a small collection of books, and other curiosities; and to add to the pleasantness of his habitation. He had cut the side of the rock into a flat, and having covered it with good mould, had formed a pretty garden, planted with several sorts of fruit trees, herbs and flowers; and by following the veins of water, that dropped from several parts of the rock, he had made two or three fountains, which supplied his table, and watered his little garden. This hermit, whose name was Jean du Pre, began his laborious undertaking at the age of thirty, and said he was twenty-five years in completing it, having had no assistance from any person except one servant. He intended to have carried on his work still further, but was drowned in 1708, as he was crossing a neighbouring river in a boat with some company that came to visit him. His place is supplied by a priest, who subsists by the generosity of strangers that come to see the hermitage, and he generally entertains his yisiters with bread and wine, and a nosegay.

Image via the Cleveland Museum of Art


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Friday, March 27, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents A Woman Disrobing on a Trapeze (1901)

Posted by Meg
Today's feature film is short and racy, but simple it is not. Is it a vaudeville performance or a burlesque performance? The suggestive material leans more toward burlesque: it's a woman stripping on a trapeze while two men watch in a balcony and occasionally fight over her corset. But she really only strips down to the standard acrobatic leotard that many other performers wore on vaudeville stages. And even though vaudeville was advertised as clean entertainment, the occasional bawdy act would slip in. I'll let you decide. Enjoy!


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Upper West Countryside

Posted by Dave

This 1848 daguerrotype has been making the rounds on the news sites today - it's one of the earliest known photographs of New York, our fair city, and it's expected to fetch $50,000-70,000 when Sotheby's auctions it on Monday. The road in the foreground is believed to be Bloomingdale Road, which later became northern Broadway.

Image via Gawker

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Doing It For the Fans

Posted by Dave
This account of the habits of the Fan tribe of western Africa is taken from The Heart of Africa (1874) by Georg August Schweinfurth and Ellen Elizabeth Frewer. The stories of cannibalism that came back with early explorers were often heavily exaggerated, and Schweinfurth's account seems particulary suspicious - particularly in regard to disinterring bodies for food.

Of late years our knowledge of Central Africa has been in many ways enlarged, and various well-authenticated reports of the cannibalism of some of its inhabitants have been circulated; but no explanation which can be offered for this unsolved problem of psychology (whether it be considered as a vestige of heathen worship, or whether it be regarded as a resource for supplying a deficiency of animal food) can mitigate the horror that thrills through us at every repetition of the account of the hideous and revolting custom. Among all the nations of Africa upon whom the imputation of this odious custom notoriously rests, the Fan, who dwell upon the equatorial coasts of the west, have the repute of being the greatest rivals of the Niam-niam. Eye-witnesses agree in affirming that the Fan barter their dead among themselves, and that cases have been known where corpses already buried have been disinterred in order that they might be devoured. According to their own accounts, the Fan migrated from the north-east to the western coast. In various particulars they evidently have a strong affinity with the Niam-niam. Both nations have many points of resemblance in dress and customs: alike they file their teeth to sharp points; they dress themselves in a material made from bark, and stain their bodies with red wood; the chiefs wear leopard skins as an emblem of their rank; and all the people lavish the same elaborate care upon the arrangement of their tresses. The complexion of the Fan is of the same copper-brown as that of the Niam-niam, and they indulge in similar orgies and wild dances at the period of every full moon; they moreover pursue the same restless hunter life.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Devil's Bible

Posted by Dave
Next Sunday, the National Geographic channel will be broadcasting a program on the Codex Gigas, or "Devil's Bible". A physically enormous book from the medieval period, it contains a full copy of the bible as well as a number of other important history and science texts. Its most famous feature is the large image of the devil on page 290, which gave it its nickname and has fascinated scholars for centuries, even contributing to a legend about the book's creation. While the program will likely focus on the more sensational elements of the story, it should be a good chance for bibliophiles to get a close-up look at the tome itself.

Image via Wikipedia

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Friday, March 20, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents the "Witness" Scene from "Les Enfants du Paradis" (1945)

Posted by Meg
It's that time again: another night at the Condenser Bijou. Today, we have a clip from one of my favorite movies, Les Enfants du Paradis or Children of Paradise. The film begins around 1827, when many theatres could not have spoken dialogue, which is why the Theatre des Funambules, where much of the movie takes place, is a pantomime theatre. This scene is outside the Funambules where Baptiste, a mime, is attracting a crowd for the next performance. The clip doesn't have subtitles, but considering most of the scene is a pantomime, you'll probably be able to figure out what happens.

Additionally, I'd like to point out that this movie was made during the height of Nazi Occupation in France and the fact that it exists is amazing in itself. Also, it's a great movie. Enjoy!




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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Remarkable Gyrations

Posted by Dave
In 1890, the Ghost Dance movement swept the American west. A sort of Native American religious revival, it was based upon the visions of John Wilson, a part-Delaware, part-Caddo, part-French prophet. He first entered a trance in 1889, and claimed to have received a message from God that he would come to lead the western United States into a new period of peace and harmony - President Harrison would be allowed to keep the eastern half. Numerous tribes began performing the Wilson's Ghost Dance ritual, and it spread with remarkable speed. After the massacre at Wounded Knee, however, the movement dissolved as quickly as it had appeared. The colorful description below was taken from The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (1896), by James Mooney of the Smithsonian Institution.

When Captain Scott was investigating the Ghost dance among the Caddo and other tribes of that section, at the period of greatest excitement, in the winter of 1890-91, he met Wilson, of whom he has this to say:

John Wilson, a Caddo man of much prominence, was especially affected, performing a series of gyrations that were most remarkable. At all hours of the day and night his cry could be heard all over camp, and when found he would be dancing in the ring, possibly upon one foot, with his eyes closed and the forefinger of his right hand pointed upward, or in some other ridiculous posture. Upon being asked his reasons for assuming these attitudes he replied that he could not help it; that it came over him just like cramps.

Image of the ghost dance at Pine Ridge via Wikipedia


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Krafft Singles: Case 86

Posted by Dave
Krafft Singles is a recurring series in which we post individual case studies from Richard Krafft-Ebing's landmark 1886 tome Psychopathia Sexualis. Needless to say, your great-grandparents may have been stranger than you could imagine.

Case 86. A physician in the General Hospital of Vienna had his attention drawn to a girl who used to call on the medical assistants of the institution. When meeting one of them she would express great delight at meeting a medical man and ask him to at once undertake a gynecological examination on her. She said she would make resistance, but he must take no notice of that, on the contrary ask her to be calm and proceed with the examination. If X. consented, the scene would be enacted as she desired. She would resist, and thus work herself up into a high state of sexual excitement. If the medical man refused to proceed any further she would beg him not to desist. It was quite evident that the examination was only requested for the purpose of inducing the highest possible degree of orgasm. When the medical man refused coitus she felt deeply offended, but begged him to let her come again. Money she never accepted.

It is apparent that orgasm was not induced by the mere palpation of the genitals, but the exciting cause undoubtedly lay in the act of force, which was always demanded, and which became the equivalent of coitus. It is evidently a manifestation belonging in the province of masochism in woman.


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Monday, March 16, 2009

Don't Rush Me!

Posted by Dave
The next time you hear someone complain about the hectic pace of contemporary life, just remember that we've been living a rushed existence for quite some time now - and, well, it's enough to make one lose his head. From an 1891 issue of The Electrical Review.

A Most lamentable accident, with fatal results, occurred on Thursday afternoon of last week at the Oval Station of the City and South London Railway. About 10 minutes to 4 o'clock a well-dressed elderly gentleman alighted from a train and proceeded to a lift which he endeavoured to enter while in motion. He was carried up a short distance when he came into contact with the cross-beam, the result being that his head was completely severed, the body falling into the well beneath.
There are two improvements which the public has a right to demand to be introduced in the working of the City and South London Railway. One is that the lift attendants should receive definite instructions not to attempt to carry more than the prescribed number of passengers ; and the other... --The manner in which the employees sometimes unduly hasten passengers would, we imagine, not be tolerated on any other railway. To be told, in gruff tones, to "hurry up, train now in, hurry up, lift waiting," is not well received by anybody, and the consequence is a frequent race for both trains and lifts, the scene sometimes resembling the running of boys after a fire engine in the streets.

Image via Worcester Elevator

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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents an Excerpt from the Film "ECCO" (1963)

Posted by Meg
Welcome back to the Condenser Bijou Theatre. I hope you enjoyed last week's feature, but if you have a weak stomach, you might want to sit this one out. This clip is taken from the shockumentary ECCO and, according to the film, is the final performance at the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris. The theatre was founded by Oscar Méténier in 1894, and their performances were famous for their frank, naturalistic portrayal of violence and creative use of animal byproducts. The theatre officially closed in 1962 but its influence on horror cinema lives on. For more information, go to Grand Guignol Online.





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Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Vampire By Breeding

Posted by Dave
Vampires of the undead variety might get all the publicity, but the Romanians know there's more than one way to make a Nosferatu. Something tells me we'd be hearing a lot more about blood-sucking attacks if this is really all it takes. Published in an article on Transylvanian superstitions in The Nineteenth Century - A Monthly Review (1885)

Decidedly evil... is the vampire, or nosferatu, in whom every Roumenian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell. There are two sorts of vampires—living and dead. The living vampire is in general the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons, but even a flawless pedigree will not ensure anyone against the intrusion of a vampire into his family vault, since every person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent people till the spirit has been exorcised, either by opening the grave of the person suspected and driving a stake through the corpse, or firing a pistol shot into the coffin. In very obstinate cases it is further recommended to cut off the head and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing the ashes over the grave.

Image via Wikipedia

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents Georges Méliès "L'homme orchestre" (1900)

Posted by Meg
The Condenser Bijou Theatre is a weekly feature that lets us put down the books for a while and post our favorite video clips. The items might not be strictly pre-1930, but we try to find things that convey the spirit of the Condenser.

We'll start our movie nights with L'homme orchestre by Georges Méliès. Méliès was already an accomplished magician when he decided to go into the film industry. By combining his two passions, he created wildly imaginative spectacles and became a pioneer of special effects and cinematography. His most famous films are Le voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) in 1902 and Le voyage à travers l'impossible (The Impossible Voyage) in 1904. Sadly, his company went bankrupt in 1913, and many of his films were melted for boot heels for the French Army, or were recycled into new film. He lived a relatively anonymous life as a toy salesman until film enthusiasts of the early 1930s rediscovered him and gave him the recognition he deserved. In 1932, he was given a place to live at the Chateau d'Orly, a home for film veterans and lived there until his death in 1938.



We will have more Méliès and other film pioneers in future Bijou Theatre posts, so stay tuned.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Pauline" Witnesses Squid/Whale Showdown

Posted by Meg
Sea serpents: the monsters of many a tall tale. Eating people. Eating ships. Eating ships with people on them. Surely, at least one person saw one of these terrifying creatures up close and lived to tell his story. Well...not quite. Many people have seen "sea serpents", but as Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1886 demonstrates with the help of illustrations, these people had probably just seen giant squids. Considering that the first recorded sighting of a living giant squid was in 2005, catching a glimpse of this elusive beast is still pretty impressive. Bonus points go to the crew of the "Pauline" for seeing one take down a whale.

On July 8, 1875, the officers and crew of the " Pauline " observed three large sperm-whales, and one of them was gripped around the body with two turns of what appeared to be a huge serpent. The head and tail appeared to have a length beyond the coils of about thirty feet, and its girth eight or nine feet. The serpent whirled the whale round and round, and then suddenly dragged him to the bottom, head first. A rough drawing was made of this extraordinary scene, and a copy of it is here given.
Numerous appearances of the sea-serpent were reported in 1886; but in no instances were the observers near enough to make new discoveries as to its shape or formation. Various hypotheses have been advanced by scientific men to account for these appearances. Thus it has been claimed that a calamary (or giant squid), swimming on the surface of the sea, would present the appearance described by so many observers as peculiar to the great sea - serpent ; and it has been urged that it was the same animal, rising to the surface to blow, that was seen by Mr. Egede.
When swimming, these squids propel themselves backward by the outrush of a stream of water from a tube pointing in a direction contrary to that in which the animal is proceeding. The tail part, therefore, goes in advance, and the body tapers toward this. At a short distance from the actual extremity, two Hat tins project from the body, one on each side, so that the end of the squid's body has been compared to an arrow-head. It is a habit of these squids, the small species of which are met with in some localities in teeming abundance, to swim on the smooth surface of the water in hot and calm weather. The arrow- headed tail is then raised out of the water to a height that in a large individual might be three feet or more, and as it precedes the body, which moves at the rate of several miles an hour, it of course looks, to a person who has never heard of an animal going tail first at such speed, like the creature's head.

Images courtesy of Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1886

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Actually, I'm Holding Out For the Whole Bottle"

Posted by Dave
If a man wants to get eaten by a shark, he's going to get eaten by a shark. Or at least lose a limb. An account by a Mrs. Bowdich, taken from Alfred Henry Miles' Natural History of the World (1895).

Sharks abounded at Cape Coast, and one day, as I stood at a window commanding a view of the sea, I saw some of the inhabitants of the town bathing, and the sharks hastening to seize upon them,—they being visible from always swimming with part of their dorsal fin out of water. I sent to warn the men of their danger, and all came ashore except one, who laughed at the caution of his companions. A huge shark was rapidly approaching, and I sent my servant again, and this time armed with half a bottle of rum, to bribe the man to save himself. It was too late, the murderous creature had seized him, and the water around was dyed with his blood. A canoe was dispatched to bring him ashore, but a wave threw him on to the beach ; and it was found that the shark had taken the thigh bone completely out of the socket. The man, of course, expired in a very few minutes.

Image from this site.

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