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The Weird History Podcast
20 minutes | a month ago
225 Los San Patricios
The Mexican-American War was not fought for good reasons. The war was one of imperial and expansionist ambition and territorial expansion, and even in the 1840s many Americans at the time knew they were on the wrong side of history. Among the Americans who knew that the U.S. probably shouldn’t wage a war of aggression on its neighbor were a battalion of mostly Irish immigrants who became known as Saint Patrick’s Battalion. They defected from the American to Mexican side of the conflict, battled against the American invaders, and are now remembered as heroes in both Mexico and Ireland.
39 minutes | 3 months ago
224 Carlton F.W. Larson on Treason in the U.S.
Treason is the only crime specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution, and talk of treason has been in the air for the last four years. Carlton F.W. Larson is a professor of constitutional law at University of California at Davis, and the author of On Treason: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law. He joined us to discuss how treason is defined in the U.S., why it’s defined in that particular way, and the U.S.’s checkered past when it comes to actually prosecuting (or not prosecuting) people for treason.
21 minutes | 6 months ago
223 Grand Guignol Part Two: Tales of Terror!
It’s not enough to just talk about the history of the Grand Guignol. We also want to bring you a little bit of what it was like to take in a night of horror there. On this special Halloween episode, we bring you three adaptations of Grand Guignol plays: Him!, The Ultimate Torture, and The Kiss of Blood.
30 minutes | 6 months ago
222 Grand Guignol Part One: Theater of Horror!
The Grand Guignol was a small Parisian theater which regularly produced original works of horror. The theater, which operated from 1897 until 1962, showcased short plays about murder, insanity, dismemberment, disease, and other horrors, much to the delight of regulars and tourists alike. The theater produced over 1,200 original plays during it’s six decades of work, and today occupies a special place in the history of the horror genre. However, the Grand Guignol’s mythic status is sometimes at odds with how plays were actually staged, and how horror effects were achieved on stage. In this episode, we look at the history of the Grand Guignol in general, and how the artists who worked there achieved an atmosphere of terror and dread.
27 minutes | 7 months ago
221 Sasha Abramsky on Lottie Dod
Sasha Abramsky is a journalist and author whose new book Little Wonder tells the story of Lottie Dod, the modern world’s first female sporting celebrity. Dod came to prominence as a tennis prodigy and later excelled in other sports like golf, archery, and mountain climbing before voluntarily giving up her celebrity and fading into obscurity.
32 minutes | 8 months ago
220 Michel Paradis on Last Mission to Tokyo
Today’s show is a conversation with Michel Paradis, attorney and author of Last Mission to Tokyo. Early in WWII the U.S. launched the Doolittle Raids against Japan, attacking the Japanese mainland for the first time. Most of the raiders were able to land safely in allied China, but some were captured by the Japanese and put on trial for the attack. After the war, the Japanese officers who put the raiders on trial were, themselves, put on trial by the Americans. Last Mission to Tokyo tells the story of that trial, and plays out like a legal thriller or detective story, except the stakes are on the level of war crimes and international relations.
18 minutes | 10 months ago
Slavery in the United States did not end all at once. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863, the last enslaved persons in the United States didn’t know they were legally free until June 19th, 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas. That day, which became known as “Juneteenth,” has been recognized as a holiday by numerous African-American communities throughout the U.S. since 1865. While it’s still not an official federal holiday, it is recognized as a state holiday by over forty U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
5 minutes | a year ago
An Update From Joe
Hello everyone. We’re all dealing with a lot right now. This is an update on how I’ve been doing, and the state of the show.
22 minutes | a year ago
217 The War of 1812 Part Two: Other Causes
British impressment of American sailors and restrictions on maritime trade are only part of the story in the run-up to the War of 1812. Another major factor was American expansionism. The British, at the time, were supplying munitions to Native American populations in the Old Northwest who were violently resisting American expansion, and a war with Britain could, potentially, cut off that support. Also, lots of Americans wanted to take over Canada.
18 minutes | a year ago
216 The War of 1812, Part One: Surface Causes
America doesn’t talk much about the War of 1812. In the historical narrative that the U.S. likes to construct for itself, its first official, declared war might as well not exist. The war’s been ignored for a variety of reasons (we’ll get to why later) but in this episode we’re going to examine surface causes for the war. Conventional narratives about the war of 1812 point the finger at British impressment of American sailors in the early 1800s, and policies like the Orders in Council that restricted American trade with France. High-profile naval conflicts like the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair and the Little Belt Affair, in which American and British ships exchanged fire over the Royal Navy’s right to conscript sailors, inflamed American political passions against Britain. However, these were only surface causes. Next episode, we’ll dive into deep reasons for America’s conflict with Britain in 1812.
17 minutes | a year ago
215 Vortex One: An Excerpt From Storied and Scandalous Portland, Oregon
In 1970 Oregon governor Tom McCall had a problem: An American Legion convention was descending on Portland in August of that year, with a potential visit by then-president Richard Nixon. A group called the People’s Army Jamboree promised to protest the convention and Nixon, and McCall wanted to avoid the possibility of urban warfare in his state’s largest city. His solution: Vortex One, a week-long state-sponsored music festival where attendees could enjoy sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll free from law enforcement interference. This, McCall thought, would lure potential protesters away from Portland. This episode is an excerpt from Storied and Scandalous Portland, Oregon, my upcoming book about vice, transgression, and weirdness in the Rose City. If you’re in the Portland area, be sure to join me at Powell’s Books on Sunday, March 22nd at 7:30 for a live reading and book signing.
24 minutes | a year ago
214 In Which Loki Ruins a Dinner Party
The Poetic Edda is one of our main sources for Norse mythology, and the poems in it feature tales of gods, heroes, giants, and (of course) Ragnarok. However, not everything in the Poetic Edda focuses on quests, battles, heroes, or monsters. Some of the major poems featuring the Aesir don’t feature the gods fighting frost giants or battling with monsters like Fenris or the World Serpent. Rather, they spend an awful lot of time insulting each other. In a poem known as The Flyting of Loki or Loki’s Quarrel, the god of mischief crashes a feast and systematically goes around the room insulting each of the other gods. In Harbard’s Song Odin (in disguise as a ferryman) taunts and belittles Thor for no reason at all. Each of the poems is an example of flyting, a Northern European medieval practice of trading comedic, poetic insults for the amusement of onlookers.
6 minutes | a year ago
Bonus: A Visit From the Spirit of Vengeance or Ghost Rider Saves Christmas
Happy Holidays, everyone!
33 minutes | a year ago
213 Where Does Santa Claus Come From?
Santa Claus is the result of cultural crossover and exchange. Historical and folkloric figures like St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Father Christmas combined in various ways over several generations to create the English-speaking world’s most popular personification of Christmas. It was a long, messy journey that involved sailors venerating Saint Nicholas, the Netherlands getting more into the Saint than anyone else in Europe did, New Amsterdam, New York, Washington Irving, and more than a little anonymous poetry.
26 minutes | a year ago
212 St. Nicholas
Saint Nicholas is not Santa Claus, but he’s now inescapably bound up with Santa’s story and identity. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, a town in what we no call Turkey, and we don’t have any surviving sources about him from his lifetime. The first major biography we have of Nicholas dates from 800s, centuries after his death, and stories about him are likely fictional or exaggerated. Those stories tell of a man who expelled demons, stayed executions, slapped the Christian heretic Arius (pictured below) and showed great generosity to his fellow citizens of Myra.
19 minutes | a year ago
World monuments get replicated all the time. There are no shortage of Statues of Liberty or Eiffel Towers, for instance. However, the world monument that’s probably replicated more than any other is Stonehenge. Copies and parodies of the stone circle are everywhere, and in this episode we talk about Stonehenge replicas in general, and the Maryhill Stonehenge in particular. That Stonehenge comes to us via Sam Hill, an eccentric industrialist and pacifist who built his monument as a memorial for soldiers who died in World War One.
23 minutes | a year ago
210 Soviet Pepsi
In 1959 a Pepsi executive successfully showcased his product at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, an event created to foster cultural exchange during the Cold War. Nikita Khrushchev himself tasted the beverage, and years later Pepsi became one of the few American products widely available in the USSR. Pepsi’s deal with the Soviet Union was essentially a gigantic barter deal: They’d ship Pepsi syrup to the USSR, and in return they’d get Stolychanaya vodka. This worked well until 1989, when a vodka boycott forced Pepsi to ask for other compensation. Instead of vodka, the USSR paid them in decommissioned naval vessels: 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer. Because of that deal, Pepsi was briefly the sixth largest navy on Earth.
23 minutes | a year ago
209 The Ribbon Around Her Neck
Alvin Schwartz is best known for traumatizing children with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. However, one of Schwartz’s most terrifying tales for kids is from a different book, In a Dark, Dark Room and other Scary Stories. The story The Green Ribbon frightened an entire generation of schoolchildren with a narrative about a woman who wore a green ribbon around her neck every single day of her life… because it was keeping her head on. Schwartz was a folklorist, and his stories all had antecedents in other works or in oral tradition. The Green Ribbon dates back to at least 1824, with Washington Irving’s short story The Adventure of the German Student. Several other versions of the story exist, all of which feature a ribbon-wearing woman whose head only stays on because of a thin layer of fabric.
20 minutes | a year ago
Today Dracula is one of the most ubiquitous public domain characters in popular media. However, in the 1920s German filmmakers had to get permission from Bram Stoker’s estate in order to make a film based on the 1897 novel. Prana Films, however, was not able to secure permission from Stoker’s widow for an official adaptation. Instead, producer Albin Grau and director F.W. Murnau made Nosferatu, a Dracula film in all but name.
35 minutes | 2 years ago
207 Les Klinger on H.P. Lovecraft
Les Klinger is an editor, Sherlock Holmes expert, and annotator of classic fiction. He joined us to talk about his newest book The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham. He talked about Lovcraft’s life, fiction, and how Lovecraft’s racism and xenophobia informed the content of his fiction.
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