1958: New US national flag earns a B minus


In 1958 the United States was on the brink of admitting Alaska and Hawaii as its 49th and 50th states. In Ohio, a 16-year-old schoolboy, Robert G. Heft, was given a school social studies project with a broad focus: design an original visual artefact connected with US history. Aware that two states were about to be added to the union, Heft resolved to design a new national flag. At his local department store he spent $2.87 on a length of blue cloth, along with some white iron-on tape. Working on the dining table at home, Heft cut up an existing flag, something that horrified his mother. He then set about designing a new configuration containing 50 stars rather than 48. Heft presented his updated flag to his teacher – the appropriately named Mr Pratt – who was far from impressed and graded it severely: a B minus. According to Heft, Pratt told him:

“Why you got too many stars? You don’t even know how many states we haveā€¦ If you don’t like the grade, get it accepted in Washington then come and see me. I might consider changing the grade.”

Determined to prove his teacher wrong, Heft sent his design to the White House. Over the next two years he followed his submission with 21 letters and numerous phone calls. US president Dwight D. Eisenhower endorsed Heft’s design in late 1959 and on July 4th 1960 it became the new national flag of the United States. Mr Pratt subsequently agreed to change Heft’s grade from a B minus to an A, although by then Heft had graduated from high school.


Source: WBUR interview with Robert G. Heft, July 3rd 2009. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1511: Belgians amuse themselves with pornographic snowmen


From New Year’s Eve 1510, the city of Brussels was frozen by more than six weeks of sub-zero temperatures and constant snow. In a city with high levels of poverty, this prolonged cold snap caused considerable human suffering, leading some to dub it the ‘Winter of Death’. But those able to stay warm made the most of things by engaging in a spontaneous snowman competition. All across Brussels, life-sized snowmen began to appear in parks, on street corners and outside private homes. One contemporary report suggests at least 50 clusters of snow figures could be observed in various places around the city. By all accounts, most of these snowmen were cleverly sculpted and quite realistic; some may even have been created by prominent artists. Among the figures represented in snow were Jesus Christ, Adam and Eve and other Biblical figures, Roman deities, Saint George and the dragon, unicorns and several signs of the Zodiac.

In the city’s working class areas, however, the majority of the snow figures were pornographic or scatological. Near the city fountain, a snow couple fornicated while another snow figure watched with a visible erection. A number of snow women, ranging from nuns to prostitutes, appeared in various states of undress. Near the city market a snow boy urinated into the mouth of another; a snow cow could be seen, halfway through defecation; while a snow drunk lay amongst his own snowy excrement. The poet Jan Smeken, who penned the best known account of the Belgian snow figures, described one scene of implied bestiality:

“In the Rosendal, a wonder was to be seen: a huge plump woman, completely naked, her buttocks like a barrel and her breasts finely formed. A dog was ensconced between her legs, her pudenda covered by a rose…”

The snowmen of Brussels lasted for about six weeks, until the return of warmer weather in mid-February.

Source: Jan Smeken, The Pure Wonder of Ice and Snow, 1511. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1863: Turkish women shocked by stone horse genitals


halicarnassushorseThe Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (now Bodrum, on the south-west coast of Turkey) was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built in the 4th century BC to house the remains of the powerful Persian governor Mausolus and Artemisia, his sister and wife. The site of the mausoleum was excavated in the mid-1850s by British archeologist Charles Thomas Newton. Among Newton’s discoveries were remnants of gigantic stone horses that sat atop the mausoleum roof. These horses were originally more than five metres tall and exquisitely carved from local marble. According to Newton, they were also well endowed. Writing several years later, he recalled having to tow the back half of a Halicarnassus horse through local streets – causing women to swoon at the sight of its enormous genitals:

“After being duly hauled out, he was placed on a sledge and dragged to the shore by 80 Turkish workmen. On the walls and house-tops as we went along sat the veiled ladies of Bodrum. They had never seen anything so big before, and the sight overcame the reserve imposed upon them by Turkish etiquette. The ladies of Troy gazing at the wooden horse as he entered the breach, could not have been more astonished.”

Fragments of the horses are held by the British Museum – though as with other foreign artifacts there is pressure to return them to their place of origin.

Source: Charles Thomas Newton, History of Discoveries at Halicarnassus, 1863. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1961: Italian artist sells his own dung for price of gold


dung

In 1961 Italian avant-garde artist Piero Manzoni manufactured 90 small cans, claiming that each contained his own dung. Their lids were numbered and signed by Manzoni; each can bore a label reading:

ARTIST’S SHIT
Net content 30 grammes
Preserved in its natural state
Produced and packaged in May 1961

Manzoni sold his cans of dung for $US37 each, basing this on the equivalent per-gramme price of gold. In recent years Sotheby’s has sold cans of Merde d’Artista for 124,000 euros (2007) and 97,250 pounds (2008).

Source: Various, including Piero Manzoni and Germano Celant, Manzoni, 2007. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1879: Lewis Carroll seeks permission to photograph nude children

In 1879 Charles L. Dodgson was better known to the world as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published 14 years earlier. Carroll was also an avid photographer, at a time when amateur photography was both difficult and very expensive. The majority of Carroll’s surviving photographs feature young girls. In May 1879 he wrote to Mr and Mrs Mayhew, asking permission to photograph their daughters Ruth (aged 13) Ethel (aged 11) and Janet (aged six). These extracts reveal Carroll’s persistent coaxing, as he seeks Mayhew’s permission to photograph the girls in various states of undress:

“Now your Ethel is beautiful, both in face and form; and is also a perfectly simple-minded child of Nature… So my humble petition is, that you will bring the three girls, and that you will allow me to try some groupings of Ethel and Janet (I fear there is no use naming Ruth as well, at her age, though I should have no objection!) without any drapery or suggestion of it.

If I did not believe I could take such pictures without any lower motive than a pure love of art, I would not ask of it…”

Mrs Mayhew responded to Dodgson’s letter, agreeing to some of his requests – however her reply has not survived. However a follow-up letter, written by Dodgson to Mr Mayhew, is extant:

“I am heartily obliged to Mrs Mayhew for her kind note. It gives more than I had ventured to hope for, and does not extinguish the hope that I may yet get ALL I asked…

The permission to go as far as bathing drawers is very charming… I can make some charming groups of Ethel and Janet in bathing drawers, though I cannot exaggerate how much better they would look without.”

Source: Letter from Charles Dodgson to Mrs Mayhew, May 26th; letter to Mr Mayhew, May 27th 1879. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.