Sibling Rivalry

It was a difficult relationship from the beginning.  Even before he could walk William had made several failed attempts on his elder brother’s life, including tripping Charles headfirst into the coal chute, down the cellar stairs, and once nearly over the church choir loft.  To be fair, Charles continually “forgot” William in his bassinette in such inconvenient places as the outhouse or the middle of the street.  Perhaps it was the day Charles dyed his brother from head to toe with a bottle of bluing left behind by the laundress, or maybe it was the occasion in which William fed Charles’ toy soldiers to the dog (who mercifully threw them back up).  Whatever sparked this Cain and Abel struggle, the rivalry lasted well into adulthood when it manifested itself in the most ruthless competition for top billing on the vaudevillian stage the world has ever seen.


August 1894

Today was a busy day. Margot was up before dawn to bury her dolls in the garden after all died gruesome deaths in a shipwreck off the coast of Africa. (Jobena was the sole survivor but wouldn’t live long, poor thing, as she had a whopping case of Scarlet Fever). She had just gotten to the best bit when the widows and orphans were wailing and throwing flowers, when Nanny discovered her and made her go-into-the-house-and-change-your-frock-for-heaven’s-sake-you-heathen-child. After a fidgety luncheon and a fidgetier hour listening to Father read the Bible (all “begats” and no “smite”), she spent the afternoon in a tree spying on the neighbor boy and dropping marbles into Mr. Fitzwilliam’s koi pond. She eventually came down for tea, and was now waiting until the coast was clear to hide her crumpets in the piano.


All the News That's Fit to Print

Beryl and Ethyl chuckled over the evening news. A calf two counties over had been born with a third eye. "They ain't seen nothin' yet," remarked Ethyl as she scooped up the nearest kitten and headed into the house.


The Creepiest Christmas Ever

The eight gathered every year at the little villa on the outskirts of the Aventine. They were robber barons, spies, art thieves, and deposed dictators. Together, they feasted on oysters, quail, sweetbreads, and tangerines while bitterly recounting tales of foiled schemes and dastardly deeds. The evening always ended with a drunken rendition of “Auld Lang Syne,” a group photo ‘round “der Weihnachtsbaum,” and an attempted murder. (Arsenic was a particularly popular method). Mr. Kempner (bottom left) was this year’s chosen victim. Seconds after this photograph was taken the doll exploded (a “gift” from Frau Liselotte, center). Laughing years later over the memory of such homicidal hijinks (at least we think it was laughter; it was hard to tell due to his now necessary prosthetic jaw), Kempner fondly recalled, “Oh, I’d been slowing killing them all for years via the tainted tangerines.”*

*Actual notes written on the back of the photograph: “Weihnachten, 1902. Roma, in Casa Keinjour. Mr. Kempner – art dealer who supplied Uncle Guido. Also sent box of tangerines to Liselotte every Xmas.” You just can’t make this stuff up.


A Mysterious Light

A previously unknown image from among the famous O’Malley children faerie photographs. The photograph was found between the pages of Mary O’Malley’s girlhood diary, which was only recently brought to light through the opening of the O’Malley family archive at Cambridge University. Dated 11 June 1897, the photograph was likely taken on the grounds of Undershaw, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Hindhead, England where the O’Malley children had been invited to spend the summer by Conan Doyle’s son Kingsley. Mary O’Malley’s diary entry for this date is brief but illuminating: “More rambles through the woods today. P. brought his camera and we spent all morning hunting, though the rain kept most of them away. K. insists on showing his father, but the four of us swore him to secrecy. I believe he’ll keep quiet, but P. doesn’t think so.”


The Gang

October 5, 1904. Meeting of the Mad Hatter’s Club at the University of Illinois. Already infamous for its wild co-ed parties, gambling, and sideways cello playing, the MHC stunned this sleepy central Illinois community a few weeks later when all thirty members streaked through an election rally for Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt being held in the University gymnasium. This is the first recorded act of naked subversion, largely forgotten until its drug-induced resurrection in the 1960s. When news of the bacchanalian interruption reached Roosevelt he roared “Bully!” and proceeded to regale standers-by with stories of his naked escapades down the Amazon River with only a pith helmet and bayonet for protection.


The Mysterious Fading Man

September 24, 1890. The last known photograph of Edward T. Harrison: linguist, civil war general, inventor, hot air balloonist, and time traveler. Harrison was last seen boarding his hot air balloon, “The Omnivagum II” in Aberdeen, South Dakota for its maiden voyage around the world (and through time). His last words as he floated away through the blue Dakota sky remain unrecorded as they were drowned out by the shifting winds of the plain and the music of the Aberdeen Municipal Brass Band (led by a young John Philips Sousa). In attendance that historic day was L. Frank Baum, reporter for the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer and eventual author of the beloved Wizard of Oz. Baum would later cite Harrison as his model for the character of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, noting that both men – Harrison and the Wizard – were “humbugs.”

A Family Gathering

The entire family came to the front porch that hot August afternoon of 1911 to witness the unveiling of Uncle Edgar’s latest invention. Expectations were high, but, alas, the electrified butter churn proved nothing more than an empty promise and a greasy mess that some say reached half a block. As an adult, little Timothy would discover after years of psychoanalysis that this was in fact the root of his aversion to dairy products, and not lactose intolerance.

I was meant for the stage

Bertha O’Bannion, aged 9 months. Bertha’s future circus career as “Bountiful Bertha” may be anticipated through this early photograph taken during the star’s infancy. Referred to by Mr. P. T. Barnum himself as that “elusive, effervescent, enigmatic mountain of feminine flesh,” she is best known today as “Houdini’s Downfall.”