£ > H H I m
I’ve heard from some semi-reliable friends that Edison’s breath is in a container in some museum. Does this qualify for your Famous Body Parts file? What information do you have on this? Why would anyone want Edison’s breath? A million more questions come to mind.
— Breathless, on the Internet
Mixed in with a lunar rover, Ming vases, a locomotive engine, and other exotica, the gargantuan Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, displays a test tube that supposedly contains the breath of Thomas Edison, exhaled as he lay on his deathbed. As the museum tells it, Henry asked Tom’s son to collect the sample when it seemed that Edison’s bulb was about to burn out. Ford and Edison had been pals for years, and Henry was fascinated by Tom’s genius. But no one seems to know the real motivation for the odd request. Don’t know that anyone’s figured out how to authenticate the item, but the museum seems satisfied.
Any truth to what I heard, that British Bobbies were the first to wear sneakers to help them sneak up on Jack the Ripper? — Webwalker, somewhere on the Net
Hey, Matt A.:
Some of my pals and I have a disagreement over the history of a style of shoes: the heavily soled, heavily priced, heavily bought, and heavy (if you can dig it) “creepers. ” I learned somewhere that creepers were made in the late 1800s for prominent married men in England, designed so they could quietly get around inside of brothels without being noticed. My buds say, “NOT!” Matt, you gotta help me keep my Cliff Clavin status. — Bruce Stone, Spring Valley
Not quite enough ammunition here to knock you off your know-it-all pedestal, Bruce, but your pals should keep an eye on you. The shoes with the thick, wedge-shaped crepe soles, now known as creepers, were named brothel creepers by English street toughs, Teddy Boys, in the 1950s. They wore outrageous adaptations of the then-fashionable Edwardian style of dress (slim-waisted, flared suit jackets; narrow, straight-legged pants; velvet-collared overcoats) in reaction to the American-influenced, denim-wearing “Rockers.” Brothel creepers weren’t really an Edwardian accessory, though the Edwardian era was when rubber-soled shoes for the discreet of feet became available. Thieves and others in the British and American underworlds (perhaps including philandering husbands) were particularly fond of the quiet “sneakers,” as any canvas-topped, rubber-soled shoes were already known.
Creepers faded in popularity somewhat during the punk era, though Sid Vicious was partial to them. They came back with a vengeance in the late ’80s, eventually replaced by Doc Martens. By the way, Doc Marten is really Doctor Klaus Maertens, a German designer who first marketed his cushion-soled shoes and boots in 1947. British skinheads adopted them in the ’60s as the favorite boot for inflicting lots of damage during soccer riots. When a British company bought the manufacturing rights, they Anglicized Doc’s name to Marten.
As for Bobbies in sneakers, Web, more likely the Ripper wore them than the police, who wore copper-toed boots. India rubber-coated leather shoes had been around since the 1830s, but not until Goodyear figured out how to vulcanize rubber in the 1860s did anybody do much with it. And for a while, it was more an upper-class thing. But by 1900 you could buy canvas-and-rubber sneakers through the Sears catalog, and American cops began wearing rubber-soled shoes, hence the term “gumshoe,” well-known by 1910.
Dear Matthew Alice:
I have fallen in love with Jewel Kilcher and would like her address and daytime phone. Thank you.
— Idey, Blacksmith Union/KCR
Then I publish it and she’s so hassled by music fans she runs screaming from her house and comes over and flails me senseless. A fine plan. This is not The Dating Game. I am not Chuck Woolery. Nothing spoils romance faster than getting to know your love object. Worship from afar. Fewer problems.
Pertaining to your answer on T-shirts [the name comes from the shape of the shirt], here is information I got in Reader’s Digest and at the Boston Tea Party Museum. Long ago, workers in the tea trade had a small problem with leaves getting in their clothing. One of the wives of the workers made a tea shirt so it would be easy to shake the leaves out.
— Mark Lyons, Encinitas
The BTP Museum staff laughed so hard at the idea, they squirted orange pekoe out their noses. “T-shirt” is no older than the early part of the 20th Century, when men’s longjohn underwear became two-piece and buttonless. As for what you get from Reader’s Digest, sometimes it’s just gastritis.