Category Archives: Science & Industry

A Frog Swallower

‘Ranita’ by Gil d’Azil, published by Cicada (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by André Marcy.

“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. The Frenchman Mac Norton took this advice from Mark Twain quite literally. About a hundred years ago he started his magician career by eating live frogs on stage. No wonder that our cute frog on the sheet music cover seems a bit worried.

Mac Norton ‘Das menschliche Aquarium’ – 1912

For his ‘human aquarium’ performance Mac Norton, artist name of Claude Delair, took from a fishbowl five frogs and six goldfish, and swallowed them alive one by one. Then he made a point of nonchalantly lighting a cigarette. After a relaxing moment of small talk with his audience he started to disgorge all the small animals, still alive. It is said that he could keep fish, frogs or other aquatic animals moving around in his stomach for more than two hours.

All Mac Norton’s shows centered around his stunning ability to hold large quantities of water in his stomach and to disgorge it afterwards. Sometimes he would emphasise the enormous amount of water by ordering a parade of waiters to bring him 50 glasses of it. He would then demonstrate La Fontaine: he expelled the water he had just swallowed into a delicate jet in which he washed his hands. Or he performed La douche. The water then gushed from his mouth with force, but still seemingly without effort.

In Berlin, Mac Norton did his trick with beer. Houdini who watched the show behind the scenes was not that impressed. “The filled glasses were displayed on shelves at the back of the stage, and had handles so that he could bring forward two or three in each hand. When he had finished these he would return for others and, while gathering another handful, would bring up the beer and eject it into a receptacle arranged between the shelves, just below the line of vision of the audience…”.  So at least some of it was a trick.

‘l’Amour Magicien’ (Mister Magician) by Charles O’Flynn; James Cavanaugh & Frank Weldon, French lyrics by Jan Marotte & Jean Cis. Published by Salabert (Paris, 1934) and illustrated by Ch. Roussel.

Houdini goes further. “I remember his anxiety on one occasion when returning to his dressing-room; it seems he had lost a frog—at least he could not account for the entire flock—and he looked very much scared, probably at the uncertainty as to whether or not he had to digest a live frog.”

‘La Grenouille au Nénuphar’ by Clapson & Teredral, published by Clapson (Paris, 1919) and illustrated by Lt. Fetaz.

Mac Norton himself believed that he had an extra stomach like a cow. But more likely he suffered from rumination syndrome. This is the effortless regurgitation of undigested food from the stomach back up into the mouth. There is no retching, pain or other inconveniences as in the case of vomiting.
Thanks to the treasure trove that is Gallica, I found out that Mac Norton became the subject of medical examinations in 1912.

Drawings of Mac Norton’s stomach. Fig 1: after ingestion of 125 g milk of bismuth. Fig 2: after ingestion of 400 g milk of bismuth. Fig 3: after ingestion of 3,5 litre liquid. From ‘Archives d’Electricité Médicale experimentales et cliniques’ – 1912

With radiography a doctor revealed the structure of the performer’s stomach. One would expect that he would have taken images of Mac Norton’s insides after swallowing the frogs. But no, he just made him drink some fluid and concluded that his stomach was ‘very muscular‘ and that was about it. How absolutely deceiving!

To illustrate once more that songs were made about anything, we insert a Dutch sheet music cover of a song about Röntgen’s discovery: X-stralen (X-rays). On the cover we see the first ever photograph of a human body part using X-rays. It is the hand of Röntgen’s wife on a photographic plate.

‘De X-stralen’ (The X-Rays) by Tommy & Bassy, published in 1896.
Mac Norton’s international career took him all over Europe and in various parts of South America. The protest actions of the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty made North America a no go for the frog eater. Claude Delair (1876-1953) continued his Mac Norton tricks until he was well into his seventies.
Claude Delair, aka Mac Norton, in the Forties.

I found a similar regurgitation act from 1931 by Hadji Ali in a Spanish-language version of Laurel and Hardy’s Chickens Come Home. Enjoy and have a drink!


Further reading on magicians and illusionists:  ‘Miracle-Mongers and their Methods’ by Harry Houdini.

Of Moths and Mums

Frisson d’Automne‘ by Victor Divoir. Sheet Music cover illustrated by E.D. Published by Auguste Bosc, Paris, 1907.

Inspired by autumn I scanned our collection for chrysanthemums. And look what I found: no less than a dozen covers! That doesn’t come close to the number of sheet music romantically decorated with roses. But at least it shows that in the beginning of the 20th century mums (the informal name for cultivated chrysanthemums) were cherished. Perhaps because they seem to add a touch of exuberance to the music?

Left: ‘Les Chrysanthèmes’, a schottisch by Gaston Anglade. Illustrated by H. Viollet-Douhin and published by Emile Marchand in Bordeaux (s.d.). Right: ‘Les Chrysanthèmes’ a mazurka by Julien Heins. Published in Ghent by Paternotte- Gaucheron (s.d.).
Chrysanthèmes‘ by Alfred Margis and P. Jeanne de Fallois. Unknown illustrator. Édition Almar (Paris, 1907).
Music Kiosque
A cascade of chrysanthemums at a bandstand (De Kouter, Ghent 2017)

Chrysanthemums are botanically described as a genus of compositae with more than 200 species. The variety of colours and wildly arranged petals often reminds one of small fireworks.

Als Chrysanten bloeien’, by J.V.D. Brink and Stan Haag. Published by Ch. Bens (Brussels, 1944) and illustrated by J. Hgos (or Ilgos?).

It is probably their Chinese origin (and centuries later also Japanese roots) that explains their highly decorative value for many orientally inspired art nouveau images.

Dans nos deux coeurs‘, by Eug. Stoerkel and Henri Darsay. Cover illustration by H. Gillet, published by G. Ricordi & Cie (Paris, s.d.)
Fleur d’Hiver’, by Thérèse Wittmann. Unknown illustrator. Published by G. Ricordi & Cie (Paris, s.d.)

Twenty years later, art deco artists showed no lesser fascination for the orient. Look at de Valerio’s beautiful cover design for ‘a Japanese fox‘ or Granath’s Swedish illustration for a ‘Japansk serenad‘.

Chrysanthème Blues‘ by José Sentis. Published by Salabert (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by Roger De Valerio.
En vit chrysantheme‘ by Jules Sylvain and N. G. Granath (Edition Sylvain, Stockholm, 1929). Illustration: Granath.

As a finale, here is one more sheet music: charming, though I’m not really sure that it is an ‘official’ chrysanthemum…

Quelques Fleurs‘ by J.M. Zoubaloff and probably illustrated by himself. Editions Maurice Senart, Paris, s.d.

I was surprised to learn that one can brew tea from certain chrysanthemum flowers. For centuries it has been a popular drink in China and other parts of the world. It is praised for its floral aroma and health benefits.

Gukhwa-cha, a Korean infusion of dried flower heads. On the right a packet of ready-to-drink Yeo’s from Malaysia.

Chrysanthemums have also been used in the Chinese kitchen and in medicine. The flower heads of two particular species have traditionally been used in the Middle East and the Balkan as a repellent for insects. This effect is caused by the toxic substance pyrethrum which they contain.

Tanacetum cinerariifolium and Tanacetum coccineum, two species that contain pyrethrum, a  natural insecticide.

And here is where the moths enter our story. In 1814 a certain Johann Zacherl was born in Munich. Following the steps of his father he learned the pewter crafts. A few years and travels later he found employment in a pewter foundry in Vienna in 1836. He must have been an enterprising lad or a restless soul, because from there he travelled via St. Petersburg, over Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa to finally arrive in Constantinople. In the early 1840’s Zacharl moved again, this time to the Caucasus where he set up shop in Tbilisi. He had a pewter foundry, but also a wood and iron turning workshop.

Sheetmusic covers of chrysanthemums (partitions musicales chrysanthèmes)
Left: ‘Amusements pour Piano‘ by Wilhelm Aletter (Bosworth & C°, London, s.d.). Right: ‘Chrysanthème‘ by Eduardo Garcia-Mansilla and Charles Fuster (Au Ménestrel, Paris, s.d.).

In Georgie, Johann Zacherl moreover started trading tea, rum, amber, carpets and oil paintings. It is probably through his contacts with Armenian merchants in Tbilisi that he discovered ‘Persian powder’. This was in fact grounded chrysanthemum flower heads, which when mixed with water gave a powerful lotion against vermin, parasites and moths.

1907 advert for Zacherlin insect repellent (source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

In the West the demand was high for an efficient protection against insects, and moths in particular: think of the damage to precious carpets, curtains and furs. Gradually Zacherl increased his trade in Persian powder (which he branded as ‘Zacherlin’). It is said that he travelled deep into the Caucasian mountains in order to organise the picking of the wild-growing chrysanthemums.

Publicity poster for the Zacharl factory (source: Zacherlfabrik)

After having put in place an export network to Europe, Zacharl moved to Vienna in 1855. He first set up a shop and then a real production factory. His business expanded successfully, and later his eldest son joined the flourishing company. Today one can still admire the Oriental facade of the Viennese workplace. Part of the building is used for cultural events and exhibitions.

The Zachherl factory in Vienna. Photo by Eva Offenthaler
Statue of Johann Zacharl (source: it.wikipedia.org)

Johann Zacharl senior died in 1888. A bronze statue in the staircase of the former factory shows the company founder in Circassian costume. He holds a chrysanthemum in his hand.

We’ve already told you that in these days they made songs about almost anything. Well…

Zacharl und sein Pulver!‘ by Moritz Kässmayer and Josef Weyl (s.d.). source: Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, via ÖBL.

Since I started preparing this post, and all through the writing of it, another song has persisted in my mind. It still is, and I can’t get rid of it. I know Jacques Brel’s lyrics so well.

De chrysanthèmes en chrysanthèmes
Les autres fleurs font ce qu’elles peuvent
De chrysanthèmes en chrysanthèmes
Les hommes pleurent les femmes pleuvent…

Well, it can linger in your head now, until it really gets under your skin!


Further reading on Johann Zacharl (in German): Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon, Biographie des Monats, by Eva Offenthaler.

Music For Typospherians

‘Mercedes Mädel’ by Fanciulli published by Mercedes Buro Maschinen (Berlin, 1912) and illustrated by Ernst Deutsch Dryden.

Whew no more typewriting for me!

Still I have a soft spot for the cover created by Ernst Deutsch who in 1919 —after leaving Berlin following a plagiarism scandal— started using the pseudonym Dryden. The sheet music cover is for the waltz Mercedes Mädel (Mercedes Girls) composed for the German company Mercedes Buro Maschinen. On the cover these Buro Maschinen are not prominently shown, they are only suggested on the lower background. Deutsch-Dryden used the exact same table and chair on an earlier publicity for the Mercedes Model 3 typewriter. On this poster the seductive secretary is not waltzing with her colleague: she is hard at work.

I also love the vintage typewriter on the cover for La Dac-Dac-Dactylo! illustrated by my favourite illustrator Roger de Valerio.

‘La Dac- Dac-Dactylo !’ Charles Borel-Clerc, Albert Willemetz & Jacques-Charles published by Salabert (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by de Valerio.

You can hear the fast pace of typing in this fragment of the frantic foxtrot.

Another typewriter song was published in the same year 1924: the Typewriting Machine Romance. Contrary to what you’d expect from the English title, it is a French composition: Chanson de la machine à écrire. It was written by Pierre Larrieu using his alias Harry W. Hampton. For its sheet music cover illustrator Choppy succeeds wonderfully well in translating the tappety-tap-tap of typing into music.

'Typewriting Machine Romance' sheet music cover illustrated by Choppy (partition musicale illustrée par Choppy)
Typewriting Machine Romance‘ by Harry W. Hampton. Published by Editions L. Maillochon (Paris, 1924), illustrated by Y. R. Choppy.

As early as 1917 Satie and Cocteau already recognised the musicality and rhythm of the typewriter. They used it as one of the sound effects in the avant-garde ballet Parade. Also watch out for the gun!

Modern women in the Twenties and Thirties worked as shop assistants or typists. Young beautiful girls could rise their social status by catching Mr. Right at the office. That’s what we learn from the German office film Die Privatsekretärin. This light-footed and successful comedy about the pitfalls of falling in love at work was made in 1931 as a Multi Language Version film (yes, like our previously told Seadrome film). The French-language version of Die Privatsekretärin was called Dactylo, which launched the slow-fox song Je vois la vie en rose.

Je vois la vie en rose‘ by Paul Abraham & Jean Boyer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Cecchetto.

The English-language version, Sunshine Susie, starred the same leading actress as the original German version, Renate Müller (see note 2). The film was polled in England as the best British film of 1932. In the following fragment a song is created out of the hustle and bustle in the typewriting office.

Otto Dely drew the pretty blonde Blanka sitting elegantly at her typewriter. The five men behind her seem very interested in her WPM stats. I bet the lovely Blanka married her boss after she realised that her most important role is that of a mother and housewife.

‘Die Blanka, ja die Blanka!’ by Jara Benes & Beda published by Wiener Bohele Verlag (Wien, 1924) and illustrated by Dely.

1937 saw Ruby Keeler and Lee Dixon perform a rather mediocre tap routine on a giant typewriter in the film Ready, Willing and Able. They are leaping from key to key. Watch the legs in black stockings kick the typewriter’s platen (the big rubber roller that you type on).


Notes:

  1. Die Privatsekretärin was one of Renate Müller’s greatest successes. She died tragically in 1937 after a fall from a window. But the circumstances surrounding her untimely death are unclear. Although it is said that she had a short relationship with Hitler, her entire property was confiscated by the Nazis. And Die Privatsekretärin was no longer shown in the cinema.
  2. The ‘Parade‘ fragment is available on YouTube as the first of two, and is played by the Orchestre Symphonique du Pays de Romans.
  3. Thanks Tom Hanks for the Hanx Writer app.