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Of bacon, bugs and broken wind

Opinion

Of bacon, bugs and broken wind

If you have a sore throat, forget about cough drops.

According to "Everybody's Pocket Cyclopedia," the best course of action is to cut slices of fat boneless bacon, pepper it heavily and tie it around your throat with a flannel cloth.

This is only one of several household solutions this book recommends in its more than 250 pages of tiny text. And if the sore throat treatment above sounds quirky, maybe that's because the book is about 100 years old.

My grandfather, who I call Bump, found the book recently. Knowing what a history buff I am, he passed it along. The book belonged to Bump's dad who, like Bump, grew up on the South Side of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. It was a rugged place with rugged people who worked hard to survive in trades like fishing and carpentry. You might imagine that school, beyond the basics of "reading, writing and figuring," as Bump puts it, wasn't a huge priority.

That's why the info in this little book was quite important in 1909. Still, it's quite entertaining in 2009.

For instance, baldness was considered not necessarily hereditary, but usually a result of overwork and worry, or bad health. The book recommends you use Cantharides to stimulate hair growth.

"Now what's a Cantharide?," I asked myself. According to antiquebottles.com, it's a homeopathic medication composed of "dried beetle Cantharis vesicatoria," known usually as the Spanish Fly. It would act as a counter-irritant and, if taken internally, cause sexual arousal. Of course, it could also make your skin red and cause kidney failure. But hey, at least you'd be hairy and aroused.

Here's my favorite. According to this book, flatulence occurs most frequently in women, particularly those who drink a lot of tea. Sugar is a no-no. (If the social clubs only knew.)

But lest you think this book is nothing but household remedies, there's a list of the 116 greatest men in the world. Among them: Darwin, Beethoven and Homer (not Simpson or Winslow).

Where are the women? Remember, it's 100 years ago.

About 15 years before the "Monkey Trial," in which John Scopes defended his right to teach evolution at his high school, this book touches on that controversial subject: "Science includes man with lemurs, monkeys, and apes in the order Primates, but man is not in direct descent from the ape. Each is the descendant of common mammalian ancestors, tree-dwellers in torrid zones in Tertiary times. From these ancestors man and ape branched off in different directions, man reaching the topmost place."

I'll go out on a limb (no pun intended) and guess that that common ancestor looked something like George Burns.

There are maps, historical timelines, geographic info and quotations worth remembering, along with meanings of names and a chapter called "Love, Marriage & Etiquette."

In this chapter, you'll find a list of how much a woman should weigh according to height. Women were ideally 100 pounds at 5 feet, 119 pounds at 5 feet 3 inches, 144 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches and at 6 feet they were 180 pounds. Ah, the days before the glamor of stick figure models!

There's also a chart showing a woman's chance of marrying as she gets older. Between the ages of 15 and 20 it was 17.5 percent, between 20 and 25 it was 41.25 percent, and between 25 and 30 it was 24.5 percent.

If you wait until after 30, your chances of being a lonely spinster are big. The likelihood of marriage, according to the book, drops to 8 percent between age 30 and 35, then 4 percent between 35 and 40, 2 percent between 40 and 45, 1.25 percent between 45 and 50, a whopping one chance in a thousand if you're older than 55.

Further chapters touch on sports and science, and you can also brush up on your arithmetic, business, sign language and medical skills (pass the bacon).

Among a list of historic events is that soap was first manufactured in England in the 1500s and that a Dr. Tanner in New York lived 40 days on nothing but water in 1880, losing 36 pounds. We don't know whether he lived to see the 41st day.

I was amazed to read one event stating that the first photograph was produced in England in 1802. Since I always figured it was more like 1826, I furrowed my brow and checked online. According to Wikipedia, Thomas Wedgwood did indeed produce the world's first photograph, but since he had no way to fix it, it quickly faded.

It's nice to know that with 100 years of information that has come along since this book was published, you can still learn a lot from it.

My mother suffers from atypical trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve condition that causes continued headaches and face pain. She's tried many solutions, including surgeries and a trip in vain to the Mayo Clinic. This book actually recommends some treatments for her condition, though, and includes advertisements for neuralgia-battling medications.

One of those medications is called "Zox." For all I know it involves bug carcasses and makes you hairy and horny, but who knows? Maybe it's worth a try.

More stories like this: alex lear, bump, 100 years old, cyclopedia, bacon