Posts filed under “History”


In 1924, cartoonist G. Francis Kauffman imagined an exceedingly implausible future in which movies would come into your home through the telephone wires.


On this day in 1506, the first group of Swiss Guards arrived at the Vatican. Since then there has never been a successful assassination of a pope, and yet for some reason few other world leaders have followed the example of dressing their personal bodyguard as clowns.


Monument to Charles Taze Russell, Pittsburgh.

What is it about the Great Pyramid that attracts cranks?

Of course there are two remarkable facts about the Great Pyramid that, taken together, would be enough to attract your average crank: it is old, and it is big. It is both of those things to an extraordinary degree. The Great Pyramid was finished about 4600 years ago. A longer time separates the Pyramid from Christ than separates Christ from us. It was one of the seven wonders in the ancient world—writers disagree about the exact list, but everyone agrees that the Great Pyramid was on it. And it is the only one of those wonders left standing today, even though it was ancient when the rest of those wonders were built. As for the size, for most of its life it was the tallest building in the world. It was finally surpassed by the spire of Lincoln Cathedral in 1311, but that collapsed 238 years later—hardly enough time for the Great Pyramid to get in a good yawn.

Age and size would attract the average crank. But we quickly discover that it is not the average crank who is most attracted to the Great Pyramid. It attracts specifically cranks with calculating machines. Today they have computers, but cranks have attacked it with pocket calculators, adding machines, slide rules, and pencil and paper—whatever it took to make numbers dance in their heads.

John Greaves, an Oxford professor of astronomy, seems to have quite unknowingly laid the shaky foundation of pyramidology. In the 1630s he visited the Great Pyramid, yardstick in hand, and in 1646 he published his Pyramidographia, or a Description of the Pyramids in Ægypt. This book was a mine of numbers which could be appropriated by crankier writers.

Athanasius Kircher, the famous “polymath” (Greek for “man misinformed about everything”) who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics in the same way our beloved Barry Fell deciphered random scrapings on American rocks, was one of the first to suggest a mystical significance to these measurements. The archcrank Isaac Newton also dipped his oars in that stream. But it was left to the Victorians to bring out the full crank potential latent in the measurements of the Great Pyramid.

Many of these cranks were British, but local patriotism will not let us forbear mentioning that perhaps the most influential of them all was a Pittsburgher. This was Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose scripture studies promoted the idea that the Great Pyramid was scripture in stone, prophesying the complete course of world history.

Viewed from whatever standpoint we please, the Great Pyramid is certainly the most remarkable building in the world; but in the light of an investigation which has been in progress for the past thirty-two years, it acquires new interest to every Christian advanced in the study of God's Word; for it seems in a remarkable manner to teach, in harmony with all the prophets, an outline of the plan of God, past, present and future.

Why, then, you might ask, does the Bible not mention the Great Pyramid?

If it was built under God's direction, to be one of his witnesses to men, we might reasonably expect some allusion to it in the written Word of God. And yet, since it was evidently a part of God’s purpose to keep secret, until the Time of the End, features of the plan of which it gives testimony, we should expert that any reference to it in the Scriptures would be, as it is, somewhat under cover—to be recognized only when due to be understood.

In other words, it was a secret until Pastor Russell came along and drew the veil aside.

Pastor Russell quite literally took his obsession with the Great Pyramid to the grave with him, as you can learn at Father Pitt’s Pittsburgh Cemeteries.

As you have come to expect when we have a long historical overview like this, it serves to introduce a new section in our Eclectic Library. The page of Wrong History now has a subsection on the Pyramids, which we intend to expand as we gather more crankery.


On this day in 1521, the pope excommunicated Martin Luther.

On this day in 1962, the pope excommunicated Fidel Castro.

Both men immediately fell into miserable obscurity.


The trouble with most new year’s resolutions is that they are so easily broken. Broken resolutions are discouraging, and discouragement leads to apathy and acedia. It is far better to make resolutions one is sure of keeping. Dr. Boli’s resolution for 2022 is to have published an article for every single day of 2021. And look! Here it is December 31, and the thing is done. Every single day in 2021, an article appeared without fail in this space—except for a few days in July when wicked foreign agents took down the site for their own nefarious reasons. But even then we provided an article every day for our strictly imaginary readers, and those articles are properly archived on the appropriate dates.

We began in January with some inspirational yard signs, in tautological and surrealist models.

In February we solved the Dot-Matrix Mystery. It turns out that dot-matrix printers do not print 1500 pages a minute, but it was fun to imagine for a while. We also spent some time thinking about the things you can do with a typewriter that are much harder to do with a computer.

In March we asked “What will happen to cursive?”—and gave the answer, of course, in cursive. March was also the month when we were the first publication to report that the family of Marcel Marceau had apologized for decades-old whiteface photos of the famous mime. As far as we know, we were also the last publication to report that story.

In April we helped the world overcome its chronic misunderstanding of nineteenth-century photography. No need to thank us.

May gave us one of the Landmarks of Spirit Photography. Whoever denies the reality of the world beyond is simply immune to evidence.

In June we considered the problem of interpreting historiated initials, and we liked doing it so well that we considered it again a few days later.

In July we were attacked by nefarious agents of a foreign power, and yet Dr. Boli did not excuse himself from preparing articles for the days his Magazine spent off line. Instead, as readers were doubtless delighted to discover, when the site was working again, there was a new article for every day the site had been inaccessible. Dr. Boli values his readers even when they are not there. July was also the month we introduced Binary Sudoku to the world, because it has always been Dr. Boli’s ambition to leave the world more puzzled than it was before he came into it.

August brought us a new Malt-O-Cod hero, Silent Jim, whose adventures are perfectly suited to the medium of radio drama.

In September, we heard the story of “The Godproof Room,” in which T. A. Wright outwits God and profits from the accomplishment.

In October, the Yohogania Electric Light Company brought us a world-premiere dramatic radio event: the first episode of The Postapocalypticon.

In November we learned to navigate the menu system at the Call Center Frustration Hotline.

In December we talked quite a bit about the Voynich Manuscript, first in response to a comment on yet another article we had published earlier on that wonderful book, and then again after a kind commenter announced that he had found the key to the cipher. Dr. Boli remains to be convinced, but he is ready to host a grand Decipherment Ball as soon as a successful translation is confirmed.

Now, what do you think Dr. Boli has in store for his readers in 2022? It might be something very exciting. It might push the boundaries of literary probability. It might knock your socks off, so that you will have to wear sandals. But if you were thinking, “Oh, more of the same, I’m guessing,” you are probably not wide of the mark.


Annual Christmas Number.

Jolly Old St. Nick.

Chimneys.—Many chimneys fail to meet the more stringent OSHA standards for jolly old workplace safety that came into effect in September of 2021. If you did not receive any gifts this year, you may wish to have your chimney professionally evaluated.

Christmas goose.—In some European countries, the Christmas goose is still a strong tradition. In Belgium, for example, the Christmas goose brings good families a turkey with all the trimmings.

Little Drummer Boy.—In the first draft of this famous carol, the little boy brought a euphonium that went ba rum bum bum-bum.

Reindeer.—Traditionally, if a reindeer sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of Gene Autry (with 30% chance of Burl Ives).

St. Nick.—In many countries of Europe, it is a Christmas Eve tradition for children to reenact the slapping of Arius by St. Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea. The child who has been naughtiest during the previous year is assigned the role of Arius.


On this day in 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. Thus began a series of secessions that soon led to the American Civil War—secessions that, according to more modern Confederate apologists, had nothing whatsoever to do with slavery. To give those apologists some ammunition, let us quote from the Declaration of the Immediate Causes by which South Carolina justified her secession.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the Common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the Common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that Slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

​This sectional combination for the subversion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons, who, by the Supreme Law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its peace and safety.

On the 4th March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced, that the South shall be excluded from the common Territory; that the Judicial Tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

The Guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanctions of a more erroneous religious belief.

Well, it may be true, then, that the secession had something to do with slavery. In fact, if there are any remaining Confederate apologists who still insist that the secession had nothing to do with slavery, let them peruse the whole document at their leisure. Dr. Boli assigns them this task: let them find a single reason for secession expressed in that document that is not related to slavery. Dr. Boli will wait right here.


Suppose you received a telegram with the single word “Kalmia.” What would you make of it?

Well, a species of Kalmia is the Pennsylvania state flower. That might be a clue. But it also might not be.

If, however, you were a properly trained sales representative of Steinwender, Stoffregen & Co., coffee traders in New York, then you would know that your employers had given a full answer to your inquiry about terms. “Kalmia,” to you, would mean “Cash as removed, full settlement within 30 days; basis 60 days notes, less discount at the rate of 8% per annum for the unexpired time. Bill to date when coffee is all in store. Buyers to have benefit of unexpired storage and fire insurance, and same time to weigh as wanted.”

This is a saving of at least 51 words, which is pretty near a record. But it illustrates the principle very well. Telegrams were charged by the word; multum in parvo was the obvious and sensible rule to be followed in sending them. Code books that made it possible to reduce whole sentences to a single word were almost an economic necessity.

Retailers in the new mail-order businesses were quick to seize on the idea. Would you like an Estey parlor organ, style B 70 case, four sets of reeds, manual sub-bass, octave couplers, Harp Æolienne stop? Cable “Fervid” to the Estey Organ Company, and you will get exactly the instrument you require.

In fact a whole profession sprang up to provide these codes to interested parties. You could buy a “universal” code book, but then of course anyone else with the same book could intercept and interpret your messages. For the good of the firm, would it not be better to have a specially ordered code book, kept as secret as practical?

Advertisement for the American Code Company

Some of these code books are remarkably comprehensive, running up to 1800 pages. Consider just a few code words taken from various telegraph code books:

Capitulate — Might save greater portion of cargo if steamers and lighters sent soon.

Conception — Send sufficient details to enable us here to form an intelligent opinion about the matter.

Distracted — We have sold 900 cases Medallion Brand hams at price named in your last quotation.

Guileless — Has (have) been declared guilty of high treason and sentenced to death.

Mudbreast — Decline to vote. Consider it a subject for discussion at meeting of the committee.

Ogress — We cannot ship barley by this steamer; can ship by next steamer; cable if we shall ship.

Outjesting — The revolution has been crushed.

Sanctitude — Telegram unintelligible; repeat same, by wire, without regard to any code.

Underway — It is evident that you do not understand.

As you might have guessed already, this whole article serves to introduce a new page in our Eclectic Library. We now have a collection of Telegraph Codes for your amusement and edification. Historical novelists will find this page an invaluable resource. Serious historians will find more information about commercial conditions than could be discovered in any number of carefully researched academic treatises. The rest of us will find a few minutes’ amusement, and that is all the profit we need to justify this little collection.