Yoshiwara was a famous pleasure (red light) district, in Edo, present-day Tokyo, Japan. In the early 17th century, there was widespread male and female prostitution throughout the cities of Kyoto, Edo, and Osaka. To counter this, an order of Tokugawa Hidetada of the Tokugawa shogunate restricted prostitution to designated city districts.
The Yoshiwara was home to some 1,750 women in the 18th century, with records of some 3,000 women from all over Japan at one time. The area had over 9,000 women in 1893, many of whom suffered from syphilis. These girls were often indentured to the brothels by their parents between the ages of about seven to twelve. If she was lucky, she would become an apprentice to a high ranking courtesan. When the girl was old enough and had completed her training, she would become a courtesan herself and work her way up the ranks. The young women often had a contract to the brothel for only about five to ten years, but massive debt sometimes kept them in the brothels their entire lives.
Gef the Talking Mongoose - The Dalby Spook
For over 80 years, speculation has surrounded the case of the Dalby Spook, a talking mongoose called Gef, since a 12 year old girl is said to have first seen it in 1931.
The strange story of Gef the Talking Mongoose began in Autumn 1931 in an isolated farmstead on the Isle of Man called Doarlish Cashen (Cashen’s Gap). The farm was home to 60-yr-old Jim Irving, his wife Margaret, and their 12-yr old daughter Voirrey.
One September evening, the family heard inexplicable “blowing, spitting and growling” sounds coming from behind the wooden paneling lining the farmhouse walls. Jim thought a rat was to blame, and tried in vain to drive it from its lair. He was unsuccessful, but the creature eventually came out on its own.
At first the elusive creature proved to be a talented mimic. It ingratiated itself with Jim by dutifully repeating his imitations of various animals and birds. Soon, he had only to name an animal and it would promptly respond with the appropriate imitation. At other times, it made a gurgling sound like a baby attempting to form its first words. Then it began to talk.
By way of experiment, Voirrey asked the creature to repeat some nursery rhymes. It obliged in a clear, if very squeaky, voice. Soon it was speaking freely. It introduced itself as Gef (pronounced ‘Jeff’) and claimed to be “an extra clever mongoose” born in Delhi, India in 1852. Gef was soon holding regular conversations with both Voirrey and her father. He began nesting in a boxed partition in Voirrey’s room, which the family dubbed “Gef’s sanctum”.
Although Jim and Margaret both caught brief glimpses of Gef, only Voirrey was allowed to look at him directly. She described him as being the size of a small rat, with yellowish fur and a long bushy tail.
Like many a poltergeist, which is what many thought it was, Gef had a rather short fuse. For example, he once suddenly flew into a rage when he thought Jim was taking too long opening the morning post. “Read it out, you fat-headed gnome!” he squeaked furiously. He also seemed to enjoy deliberately provoking Voirrey’s parents. One night, he made a nuisance of himself by sighing and groaning for 30 minutes without pause, before confessing, “I did it for devilment!”
Gef’s fame spread to the mainland after Jim Irving persuaded the psychic researcher, Harry Price, to take an interest in the case. But even as Gef’s notoriety grew, his visits to the Irvings became fewer and farther between. By the time Price showed up to investigate in person, the marvelous mongoose was conspicuous only by his absence.
In 1936, Price published the results of his investigation in a book co-authored with journalist Richard Lambert entitled “The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap: A Modern Miracle Explained”. Although Price did not explicitly accuse the Irvings of perpetrating a hoax, neither did he validate their claims. Soon after Price’s book was published, the Irvings left Cashen’s Gap for the mainland. Gef did not follow them there, nor did he introduce himself to the new owner, a Mr. Graham.
The Ghost Plane of New York, 1933
One of New York’s oldest unsolved mysteries is the Ghost Plane. On December 26, 1933, every airport in the New York City area was asked to turn on their landing lights in hopes that an airplane heard circling the city during a snowstorm might be able to land. Attempts to contact the plane by radio had failed; no one knew who was flying it or where it had come from. By nightfall, the NYPD was fielding numerous calls from people seeing and hearing an airplane flying dangerously close to the ground, as if looking for a place to land. But then the ghost airplane simply disappeared. No crashes were reported, nor were any airplanes or pilots ever reported missing. Nearly 80 years later, the ghost plane and its pilot is still a mystery.
Curious History: Apeboy found in the jungles of Brazil, 1937
Curious History: “Just click your heels three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home, There’s no place like home’.”
Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland wore these sequined shoes as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. In the original book by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy’s magic slippers are silver; for the Technicolor movie, they were changed to ruby red to show up more vividly against the yellow-brick road. One of several pairs used during filming, these size-five shoes are well-worn, suggesting they were Garland’s primary pair for dance sequences.
Curious History: The “Notificator”; A Vintage Form of Twitter, 1935
An article from Modern Mechanix advertises the “notificator”. Hand write a message, drop in a coin, and the message moves behind a glass panel remaining in view for a couple of hours for a friend to read.
Again the past predicts the future. Maybe the old adage “there is nothing new under the sun” really does hold true. The needs of society have always been the same. Its the technological developments that morph the form of how we fulfill those needs. So what’s after Twitter? Sending messages via brain implants? Technological telekinesis? We’ll know soon enough.
Curious History: Monowheel Motorcycle, 1930s
While not necessarily a masterful design, Italian M. Goventosa’s 1930s single-wheeled motorcycle is certainly a testament to human imagination.
Cleaning the Elephant Skin
Museum staff cleaning an elephant skin at the American Museum of Natural History, June 1933. Image: Thane L. Bierwert, via the archives of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Taken between 1933-1935, these images show museum staff engaged in the task of cleaning and re-mounting the skin of an elephant for display. As well as offering a great (and I suspect rare) behind-the-scenes glance of a 1930s natural history museum, that deflated elephant body is also a powerful and unsettling image of our strange relationship to death and display.
Vintage Shoes; 1939
Shoes by the French designer Steven Arpad (1904-1999)