Boxes of Cracker Jacks

The Invention of the Giveaway

The appeal of the free gift has always been, for the consumer, about the eternal dream of getting something for nothing.
A physician administers leeches to a patient. Colour reproduction of a lithograph by F-S. Delpech after L. Boilly, 1827.

Why Did the Victorians Harbor Warm Feelings for Leeches?

Medical authorities wrote about leeches as if they sucked blood out of the goodness of their hearts.
Grave site of American botanist Asa Gray (1810-1888), in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

When Cemeteries Became Natural Sanctuaries

In the 19th century, bucolic, park-like cemeteries started cropping up on the outskirts of American cities.
A basilisk with a beam of light extending from its eye

The Extremely Real Science behind the Basilisk’s Lethal Gaze

According to the extramission theory of vision, our eyes send out beams of elemental fire that spread, nerve like, to create the visual field.
Witch Marks on the wall of a cave at Creswell Crags.

Witches’ Marks Protected Spaces from Evil

Throughout history, people tried to protect spaces from evil with apotropaic marks, ritual concealments, and other charms.
From a poster for Charles Frohman’s dramatic production, The Hand of Destiny by Pierre Decourcelle, 1896

Why Did “Thieves’ Cant” Carry an Unshakeable Allure?

If thieves’ cant—a language known only to criminals—was the Devil’s cabinet, bourgeois society couldn’t help but peep inside.
An illustration of John Harvey Kellogg and an early corn flakes advertisement

The Strange Story Behind Your Breakfast Cereal

Kellogg's Corn Flakes were originally created by a doctor who believed bland food would reduce people's urge to masturbate.
Two scientists in a hot air balloon

When Victorian Scientists Caught Ballomania

In a moment when scientists were working to fashion a credible identity for themselves, they had to decide how much showmanship was too much.
Ancient Greek funerary naiskos

When Was the First Handshake?

A Curious Reader asks: When and how did the handshake originate?
Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer by Michiel van Mierevelt

Public Dissection Was a Gruesome Spectacle

Renaissance-era anatomists taught people to “knowe thyself” by reading the books of bodies.