Victorian Era ... Prim or Grimm???


Step off Chuck Norris . . . the Victorians held balloon duels!

A list of this and other crazy facts about those “stuffy prudes.”

1. The Texas Ranger may have had his eyes on the bad guys, but dishonouring a Victorian could spell death! Forfeit a bet? Call someone a coward? You may eat more than just a knuckle sandwich. The daisies in many cemeteries receive a helping hand from beneath, courtesy of those on the losing side of a duel. For some, the tried and true method, with all its rules and terrestrial limitations, had fallen out of fashion. Two rivals once devised a way to spice things up.

In early May of 1808, Monsieur Le Pique and Monsieur de Grandpre boarded two separate but identical balloons and armed themselves with blunderbusses. These were early versions of shot guns. To make things fair, neither was to shoot until an agreed-upon height of around 900 yards was reached and a signal given. Le Pique fired his weapon first but missed. Grandpre scored a direct hit on Le Pique’s flying contraption and sent his rival crashing to what must have been a terrifying death.

2. Forget the Tylenol. Arsenic was often used in medications. Despite the known dangers, it was used to treat asthma, cancer, reduced libido and skin problems. Regulations to protect patients was slow in coming because of capitalistic interests and government indifference.

3. “Her corset is electrocuting her!” Scott shouted as he tried to throw the switch.

Well, not exactly. In reality, the “electrical” corset employed a magnetized-steel busk. The promised benefit was improved circulation. It was invented by Dr. Scott and sold by Cornelius Bennett Harness. The invention comes as little surprise. The Victorians were obsessed with all-things electric and eagerly purchased other quackeries, including electric hair and flesh brushes.

4. Do kittens have tea parties? Can rabbits learn to read and write in a formal school setting? Can a monkey saddle up and ride a goat? Yup. If they are subjected to Anthropomorphizing Taxidermy.

Walter Potter, apparently bored with the “Plain-Jane” version of stuffing dead animals and posing them into standard positions, decided to take things a little further. Indeed, it became all the rage.

5. The term, “if looks could kill” could have been taken quite literally in those “good old days.” Belladonna drops were used to dilate the pupils and give the eyes that special glow. There was only one catch . . . Belladonna was poisonous.

6. If you’ve seen the movie Weekend at Bernie’s then you know what can happen during an attempt to make a cadaver appear alive. One cannot help but contemplate the possibility that the film’s producer may have gleaned the

idea from the Victorians. Whether you label it sentimental or macabre, a simple google search will fill your screen with images of deceased Victorians posed to create that very effect. Often the dearly departed would be photographed with the living.

7. If you’re into ceramic garden gnomes, terracotta turtles, or any sort of outdoor knickknacks that add flavour to your yard, you have got to read this!

No wealthy landowner was complete without his/her very own living Garden Hermit. What, pray tell, was a Garden Hermit and what need was there for one? The second question is easy, they served no function. They were unwashed and unkempt people who were paid to live on the property and be, well, hermits.

8. Beer! For breakfast lunch and dinner! While alcoholism was a problem back then, just as it is today, the men and women of that time can be somewhat forgiven for their generous consumption of the beverage. With water and food supplies often contaminated, it was a way to avoid becoming sick. Though one must consider what the rate of liver cirrhosis was.

This list is but a minuscule window into the bizarre practices and beliefs of

those supposedly prim and proper ancestors of ours. As with many areas in life, things are often not what they appear!

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Copyright © 2017 by Mark Bierman.