utopian trivia roundup

As we approach the 131st anniversary of the first Labor Day and the beginning of football season, the trivia roundup has been giving 110% during training camp, working on the fundamentals, taking it one day at a time and one play at a time. The roundup’s on the proverbial “roster bubble,” so before those final cuts are made, let’s get rounded up.

mccay :: oneida :: utopias :: crush :: hammock

• • •

1. Winsor McCay was a prolific cartoonist and animator of the early 20th century. He began as an editorial cartoonist, and by 1900 had started working on then-newfangled comic strips. Many of his strips were flashes in the pan, including A Tale of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle, Mr. Goodenough (the tale of a portly millionaire whose attempts at exercise and activity ended in disaster), Little Sammy Sneeze (a child whose sneeze builds in each panel, before being explosively expended to exaggerated and humorous consequences in the last), and Phurious Phinish of Phoolish Philipe’s Phunny Phrolics (winner of the National Alliteration Award in 1902). His most famous and longest-lasting strip was Little Nemo in Slumberland, depicting a child named Nemo’s fabulous dreams.

The idea for Little Nemo actually came from his second most-famous work, a strip aimed at adults called Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. Fiend was a multi-panel comic strip with no recurring characters or plots. Each strip depicts the hallucinatory dreams inflicted on an individual who’d eaten a bad Welsh rarebit…

Welsh rarebit

with the last panel showing the afflicted awakening in a cold sweat, promising to never again consume that cheesy concoction. That summary hardly does the sheer lunacy of the strip justice. “Plots” include:

• A priest is killed in a car accident and sent to hell, where he is thrown in a pit of melted Limburger

• A man’s wife somehow borrows the entire life savings of J.P. Morgan, Russel Sage, and J.D. Rockefeller and gives it to her husband, who loses it all in the stock market. Morgan, Sage, and Rockefeller kill themselves.

• In an apparent prequel to Mannequin, a cigar store indian comes to life and woos a man, whose mother-in-law spots the amorous couple. The man’s wife is granted divorce and $5000 per minute in alimony.

• A car is equipped with “rarebit tires” which initially work but vaporize at speed and presumably kill the passengers in a fog of bread mist and cheese fumes

• A man drinks wood alcohol and is visited by hallucinations, including a rabbit riding a tiny alligator, a frog walking upright with a pipe and paint bucket, a tiny hippo chasing two tiny camels, an ox driving a carriage, and a giant lobster with a human head.

See the full collection here. McCay was also an early adopter of animated films. Check out this piece from 1921, titled The Centaurs:

McCay’s artwork, in particular his understanding of perspective and creativity in varying the size and shape of the panels in his strip, was ahead of its time. Fellini was said to be inspired by him, and Walt Disney viewed McCay’s techniques as the fundamental aesthetic basis for most Disney animated films.


jh_noyes2. Wikipedia lists John Humphrey Noyes’s (1811-1886) occupation as “utopian socialist.” We should all be so lucky. Noyes is known as the founder of the Oneida Community, a mid-to-late 1800s, well, utopian socialist community. Noyes was a priest and theological scholar kicked out of seminary for his controversial views built on peculiar interpretations of scripture. He was a Perfectionist, which held that, upon converting to Christianity, man may achieve sinless perfection through acts and thought—a view standing in stark contrast to the “total depravity” of John Calvin and the more general fire-and-brimstone guilt-mongering of religious leaders. Indeed, Noyes’s belief arose in part because of his lack of guilt, which he viewed as an indication that he was free from sin (admittedly, this is a staggering logical end-run around Christian dogma). The other half of the Noyes theology/eschatology was Millennialism, which is the view that before the end-times, the kingdom of heaven will be realized on earth; Noyes felt this paradise was possible right then, if only through proper living.

As a preacher, he developed a sort of proto-Perfectionist community in Vermont, but only shortly thereafter fled to Oneida, New York in 1848 when he was about to be arrested for adultery. The Oneida group blossomed to a peak of about 300 people. While some of his strictures for communal living were socialist boilerplate (for example, unskilled laborers rotated jobs every now and then, which is actually a pretty good idea), many dealt with sexual politics. Chief among these was complex marriage, in which monogamy was frowned upon and all members were “married” to all other members, such that sexual congress could occur without consequence between any consenting parties. They preached male continence as a birth control method (think about that one until it makes sense). They also practiced a sort of proto-eugenics known as stirpiculture, in which prospective parents were paired off based on the recommendations of a committee in hopes of producing the best offspring (clearly, the Oneidans loved committees). Children produced by such pairings were raised communally, and if parents became too attached, temporary separations would be enforced. In the non-sexual realm, they also practiced mutual criticism, a sort of community-wide public shit-talking that smacks of the airing of grievances on Festivus. In short, shit was bananas, and sounds like something out of Brave New World.

In one of the great historical non-sequiturs of all time, Wikipedia describes the end of the utopian Oneida Community thusly: “The Oneida Community dissolved in 1881, and eventually became the giant silverware company Oneida Limited.” Yes, precisely, because when your quasi-judeo-christian-socialist utopia collapses, what else are you meant to do than develop a large silverware concern? Remember: every time you eat a forkful of mac-and-cheese, you’re contributing to the SILVER MENACE.

crazy johnny’s silver emporium

Actually, the whole thing is less of a non-sequitur than it seems. The community was a thriving business (which set it apart from most of the other communal living experiments of the 1800s, most of which couldn’t support themselves). The Oneidans sold silk, canned goods, hats made from palm fronds, handmade bags, and animal traps. The traps were the real money maker until the first part of the 20th century, when the fur trade dissipated and they went whole-hog into silverware. The community (but not the company) disbanded in 1881 when Noyes fled to Canada because of pending statutory rape charge (because of-fucking-course), and turned over control to his less charismatic but more agnostic son.

3. The 19th century US was full of socialist utopian communes, though purely in terms of longevity Oneida was the most successful. Among the hundreds of others included New Harmony (Indiana), which failed after only two years in part due to overpopulation. Because of the intellectuals it had drawn to its promised paradise, New Harmony became a prominent scientific center in subsequent decades:

New Harmony

Other notable groups were the Icarians, a French community that started in New Orleans before uprooting and moving to several different states (a debate over gender equality let to their disbanding), and Brook Farm (Boston), an egalitarian farming community in the 1840s that was financially devastated after only a few years when their main building was destroyed by fire.

4. For one day in 1896, the temporary and aptly-named town of Crush was the second-largest city in Texas: some 40,000 people were there to watch a highly anticipated staged event. That event? Well, let me back up. In the mid-1890s, the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad had replaced their 30-ton steam engines with 60-ton locomotives. But they still had a bunch of the old ones to get rid of, even after selling some to other companies that might use them. A railroad employee, William Crush, hit on a solution: smash the remaindered engines into each other, at speed, in front of an audience. Any good idea should make you wonder “why didn’t I think of that?”, and Crush’s bosses, immediately recognizing the insane genius of this audacious plan, signed off on it. And that was how, on September 15, 1896, the town of Crush—in an otherwise barren field north of Waco—was born. They’d sunk wells to provide water to the crowd and hired concession stands for food, but the show was free (the railroad profited by selling train tickets to reach the out-of-the-way locale). Engineers pointed the six-car trains at one another, got them started, then jumped off and ran to safety. After accelerating for a few miles, the trains met at somewhere between 45 and 60 miles an hour:

collision-based train-tertainment

The collision was awesome, but shit got real when the boilers exploded shortly after impact. Shrapnel and train parts rocketed into the crowd, killing three and injuring six (including the photographer of the above picture, who lost an eye).

less-fun aftermath

Crush was fired, but demonstrating both the maxim that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” and the tragic impotence of Gilded Age tort law, he was re-hired the next day and worked at the railroad until his retirement. Despite the tragedy, staged train collisions became sort of a “thing” for the next few years (I have never been prouder to live in America). Here’s video of one from the 1913 California State Fair:

Sort of a letdown, but I still think all obsolete vehicles should be retired this way. Incidentally, actual flavors of Crush soda include Crush Apple, Crush Nectar (???), Crush Peach Sour, Crush Birch Beer, and Crush Red Licorice (!!!). Red Licorice!


5. According to at least one source, hammocks may have been invented by the famed Athenian military strategist Alcibiades. Here is a picture of a bear in a hammock:

lazing hammock bear

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