Air Planking

Houston Public Library, 1920s

During the Roaring 20s (as opposed to this current 20s, whose moniker remains to be seen, but I vote for Recovering) flying circuses and wing walkers were all the rage. I find it curious that they simply couldn’t paint in smaller font and thereby include all of the letters in TRANSPORT, but no matter. Although, technically, it could abbreviate TRANSPLANT as well. I would not volunteer for an aerial transplant.

When Cramming Was Cool

Time Life “The Good Old Days”

Mid-century festivities seemed to involve the tight mass gathering of young people.

This Renault is overflowing with ladies.

But more popular than cramming cars was cramming booths. This telephone booth is purportedly crammed with 22 California college boys. The only cramming I did in college was for exams.

Joseph Munroe

Another tactic was to go in sideways. Good thing most folks weighed under 200 lbs then. I’d hate to be the fellow at the bottom or the one with a receiver stuck in my side.


Today’s cramming is mostly limited to food. And boy, do we ace that!

Halitosis In Extremis

I Remember Distinctly

No, it wasn’t bad breath that caused Marie Micholowsky to pass clean out in her brother Frank’s arms. Believe it or not, this image was snapped at HOUR 3327 into a Chicago dance marathon. The seated woman shares my sentiment exactly. Girl, what were you thinking?

Now most of us have heard of dance marathons, especially popular during the 20s and 30s. But did you know that some lasted for weeks, even months? This particular one began on August 29, 1930 and ended in 1931. And yes, they did get intervals in which to nap. But can you imagine having started dancing TWO WEEKS AGO, only to ultimately finish next January? I guess these couples didn’t have jobs? Or families?

This next pair had the benefit of not being siblings in embrace, but you can see the pickle petite Anna Lawanick is in, having to support slumbering Jack Ritof, aka the failure.

Library of Congress/Corbis via Getty Images

What had begun as opportunities for the glow of youth to show its endurance and immortality eventually morphed into the exploitation of those who desperately needed the cash reward given to the last couple standing. As you can see, the onlookers (who paid an entrance fee to gawk) kept their eyes on the dance floor.

But what of the pain in their feet? Rules often allowed for one partner to visit the restroom or nap as long as the other partner continued dancing, so the feet were only briefly spared their dancing duties. The contestants below received medical attention for their tootsies during a Madison Square Garden marathon in June of 1928, where the prize was $5000, more than an average annual income.

Spectacle it was, as folks pushed themselves past the point of exhaustion, and in the case of Homer Morehouse, heart failure at the age of 27.

The predecessor to today’s reality shows or movies like Hands On A Hard Body, dance marathons proved both cruel and entertaining. Ultimately, the fad passed as fads do, and Americans moved on to the next big thing.

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