The Condenser

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Infamous Exploding Mule Experiment

Posted by Dave
From Gizmodo, of all places, comes a pretty interesting account - with illustrations - of how in 1878 Charles Bennett demonstrated his newly-invented gelatin dry plate emulsion process, which allowed for high-speed photography, by blowing the head off a live mule with dynamite. Progress!

I've always preferred the bullet through the apple, myself.

Originally via Stereoviews, where you can also see the resulting photograph.


The Mystery of Edna Dorr

Posted by Dave
More mysterious goings on from Current Literature: A Magazine of Record and Review (collected issues of 1890), this time reprinted from the New York World.

The Mystery of Edna Dorr—From the New York World

A famous specialist in nervous diseases recently spent an evening with me. I asked him if he had ever come into contact with mental phenomena that science could not explain. He answered: Yes, I had a very curious experience not long ago. I was on my way to Washington, and had made the acquaintance in the smoking compartment of two cultivated men, whose conversation was extremely entertaining. The talk turned upon mind-reading, and one of my companions proposed an experiment. I left the compartment, and walked to the other end of the car. On my return my friends informed ,me that they had chosen a woman's name, and would will me to guess it. We took hold of hands and sat silent for a time. Gradually my mind became a blank. I could not concentrate my thoughts, and a nervous twitching affected my muscles. Pretty soon a name came into my head. I glanced at my companions. They were eyeing me attentively. As though influenced by an irresistible power I faltered out "Edna Dorr." "That's it! " they cried in chorus. "That was the name we had selected." On my return to New York I found the name of Edna Dorr constantly in my mind. I had never heard it before, and did not know whether it was the name of a living being or simply the product of the experimenters' fancy. Whatever it was it haunted me. I really felt annoyed at my weakness. I began to fear that I had overworked myself and was in danger of nervous prostration. One night last week I was called to examine a critical case at a well-known hospital. I found that the patient, a young woman, had been fatally shot in a low resort on the Bowery. She was dying when I reached her side. Her face bore the marks of refinement and beauty, but a life of dissipation had almost obliterated them. I bent toward her, for I saw that her end was at hand. "What is your real name?" I asked, knowing that in death she would tell the truth. "Edna Dorr," she answered. In another moment she was dead. That is the case. Who she was or how my companions happened to select her name I knew not. Queer, wasn't it ?

Image of an unrelated mind-reading session found on Flickr


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

19th Century Film - In Color!

Posted by Dave
The endlessly fascinating Blog About History posted a remarkable YouTube video today - a short film from 1899 in which every frame was individually colorized. It was the work of those crazy Lumiere brothers, of course, and needless to say, it didn't exactly catch on. We don't want to steal our fellow blogger's thunder, so by all means - head over there to check it out!


Monday, September 28, 2009

On Clouds

Posted by Dave
Tomorrow evening, our friends at the Observatory will be presenting a cloud-themed multimedia double-feature. In their own words:

At 8:00pm artist Klara Hobza will present The Cloud Maker, a thirty-minute performative lecture and projection that employs science, pseudo-science, culture, history, and art to introduce the audience to the myths and realities of cloud making. Her work can be seen at

After a short break we'll watch the video Opera for Migrant Clouds, a collaborative project of artists Catriona Shaw and Pauline Curnier Jardin. Intending to embody and capture a singular moment in the constant metamorphosis of clouds, Opera for Migrant Clouds is primarily a sound piece, a collection of vocal recordings performed by anyone inspired by the beauty (or mediocrity) of a cloud of their choosing. The artists have compiled these recordings as a short opera, also reinterpreting them as drawings that are presented here as a slideshow forming a poetic backdrop to accompany the possible songs of clouds.

Admission $5

More info:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vanity Defeats the Corset

Posted by Dave
Arguments against the wearing of corsets were a dime a dozen in the 19th century. So much ink was spilled in attacks on the constrictive garment that it seems almost incredible that most people of the era were still, er, supportive of the item. Much of the opposition focused on the detrimental effects of the corset on its wearer's health, and many had a decidedly feminist bent. Of course, there would inevitably be a few times when an author's attack on the corset wasn't exactly a tribute to the feminine intellect, either...

From The Omaha Clinic, Volume 1 (1888)

We all know there is nothing will so appeal to the women of the present day as art, and since they will not listen to argument, you can attack their artistic inclinations. Every girl and lady should be shown, in their drawing lessons at school, copies of the Venus de Medici, and the Venus de Milo, and it should be impressed upon their minds that these possess female beauty in all its perfection, and I think this would accomplish more than all argument. Their mothers and grandmothers have been painted on canvas, and they have always seen them and heard them talked of as the reigning belles of their time, and I think that taking it from an artistic standpoint and educating them in that direction, would accomplish more than any other means. The ladies of the present day all paint flowers, and some other things. We should get them to draw these figures, and impress upon their minds that these possess the highest type of beauty. In this way we may accomplish great good.

Image of a corset advertisement (including corsets for babies!) via this site.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Photographing a Spirit

Posted by Dave
From an 1874 issue of The Spiritual Magazine.


Mr. F. Silkstone, 76, George Street, Hulme, Manchester, in a letter, dated October 23rd, to the Christian Spiritualist for November, gives the following particulars respecting the first spirit-photograph taken in Manchester:—

Elizabeth Ann Williamson, a little girl of 12 years, small for her age, but apparently full of life and health, residing with her parents at 2, WilBngton Street, Lower Ardwick, Manchester, went at the commencement of the present month to have her portrait taken to Mr. Thomas M. Waters, photographer, 105, Hyde Road, Manchester. Her likeness was taken as requested, but at a stance where she was present during the following week, it was communicated by knocks through the table that in the process the photographer had rubbed out a spirit-face, which he in his ignorance of the whole affair considered a defect. She was instructed through the table to go again to the same photographer, and the spirit would appear a second time on the plate. She accordingly went, accompanied by her father, on the 10th October, 1874. A few questions were asked the photographer, and he acknowledged having erased, on her previous visit, some figure he could not understand. He was requested, should anything appear except the little girl, to let it remain untouched. The result was that a shadowy face, with features, however, quite clear, distinct, and well-defined, appears by the side of the girl. The forehead is broad and high, the beard and whiskers short, but plentiful. It is decidedly one of the beat spirit-photographs I have seen; and this opinion is shared by many Spiritualists who are competent judges. The spirit is one of the guides of the young medium, to whose name great interest will now be attached; and many warm hopes will be excited that this innocent, guileless child will be the means of our obtaining in the future striking phenomena, which shall establish in our midst the certainty of our continued existence. The guide who was thus photographed gave his name at a stance as a Dr. Pearson, of London, who practised when in earth-life on the Surrey side of the water. He is entirely unknown to any Spiritualists in Manchester.

Spirit photograph taken from this site. And you thought the ghost would be the scary one...


Monday, September 21, 2009

The Amoeba, Homeless Wanderer

Posted by Dave

Poetry in the microscope, from a delightfully florid article in the Friends' Intelligencer, 1867.

Another interesting animal belonging to this class, and found like the Amoeba in our jar, is the Difflugia. Its body is exceedingly minute and jelly-like, too; without a trace of separate organ; but has the ability to cover itself with a beautiful little house, in shape like a Florence flask, but spangled all over, except one orifice, with brilliant points and reflecting surfaces. Through that orifice its finger-like processes are protruded, either as means of locomotion or in quest of food. We have observed no difference between this animal and the Amoeba, except one is permitted to live in a house ornamented with beautiful designs and cunning tracery, while the other is a homeless wanderer, groping about among the obscure shadows lying between animal and plant life.

Image of a Victorian den of microscopy courtesy of this site


Liber Novus

Posted by Dave
The New York Times site currently features an article about Carl Jung's Red Book, the account of a bizarre and fantastic journey he took through his own subconscious in 1913. It has been kept closely guarded by Jung's family over the years, but they've finally been persuaded to allow an edition to be published. What should make this volume particularly interesting to bibliophiles and oddity enthusiasts are the illustrations, done by Jung himself, along with calligraphy and decoration that make the book resemble an illuminated Medieval manuscript more than the work of a 20th century psychotherapist. Look for it in bookstores next month, published by W.W. Norton. We can only hope they manage to put out an edition with the beauty and weight- both intellectual and material- of the original.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Difficult Journeys Concluded

Posted by Dave
We're back! Allow us to take a moment, dear reader, to commend you for the fortitude it must have required to maintain your faith in the Condenser over the last month, as the days stretched into weeks and you surely wondered more than once if you'd ever lay eyes on another post again. And for those of you seeing this on your RSS readers, where you've been happily gorging on the fruits of other blogs and allowing the joys we once provided so frequently to slip into the deep recesses of memory, well, we suppose you were there too.

It's been a difficult month, but we've emerged with a new apartment and a renewed passion to continue our beloved blog. Our library is nearly settled in its new home, and already we're on the hunt for something interesting to share. And with long journeys and dubious planning already top of mind, we can't help but offer up an excerpt from an account of Captain Fremont's exploration of the Rocky Mountains in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (Volumes 5-6, 1846) - an experience which in many ways mirrored our own recent intra-Astoria caravan.

Image of Fremont, at what one can only assume was a more fondly remembered moment, via
this site

At an elevation of more than 9000 feet ... they were gladdened with the sight of the Bay of San Francisco and the fertile valleys of California. The difficulties of the descent were, however, greater than had been anticipated. The howitzer, and a large portion of the baggage, were abandoned; numerous valuable packs were lost on the backs of the animals that fell over the slippery precipices; and many horses and mules were killed to supply food for the daring adventurers. Some of the men became light-headed, and wandering off into the woods, were not recovered for several days. Mr. Freuss, who had strayed from the right track, was missing for nearly a week. He kept himself alive by eating ants, and a few roots, which he dug from the rocky ground, and at length rejoined the party in a state of great weakness and exhaustion.

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