Fads sweep across America like thunderstorms.
One of the latest — selfies — may already be slackening. Colleges in Florida and Rhode Island banned selfies at graduation. Reports that the White House was discussing the fad brought out the selfie loathing. Even tastemaker Katy Perry has tweeted that taking selfies “is a disease.”
No matter. We will always remember a time when selfies were cool and everybody was snapping them.
Flagpole sitting, marathon dancing, goldfish swallowing – these fads are forever part of the American fabric.
“Nothing mobilizes the population like a big booming fad,” wrote Richard Alan Johnson in his 1985 history American Fads. Johnson listed 40 all-the-rages from our national past, including Hula hoops, waterbeds and Nehru jackets. His book predated the Internet, which has given us even more — like planking and Tebowing.
But a nosedive into the news archives turns up a host of other fads that for one reason or another have pretty much been forgotten. Here are five:
1) Hair Lizards. The Atlanta Constitution reported in 1920 that — at the behest of the Humane Society — police were cracking down on the sale of live chameleons to young girls who liked to wear them in their hair at dances and soirees. “Goodby to our pretty hair ornaments,” the reporter wrote. “But at least the men will feel safer, for at a recent dance it is stated when the best beau of a Druid Hills girl started to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, the chameleon became loosened from her hair and fell into the man’s mouth.”
2) Pillow-Dex. “A game which has captured society,” is the way the Boston Daily Globe referred to Pillow-Dex on Nov. 15, 1896. In the parlor game, purveyed by Parker Brothers, a funky-shaped balloon was batted back and forth between two teams — separated by a line. “Don’t let it land on your side of the line,” the reporter warned. “If it does, it is a point for your opponents. Strike it back! The side getting 10 points first wins the game.”
3) Delsarte Posing. In the 1890s, the Francois Delsarte System of Expression — a balletic way of exercising and stretching — captivated a nation. From Rhode Island to Rodeo Drive, posers — mostly women — followed an exercise regimen to learn about the “harmonic poise of bearing” and the “gamut of expression in pantomime.” As The Ladies’ Home Journal reported in 1895: “Even hard-working girls in stores and factories will keep on their feet an hour or so in the evening, going through a series of exhausting exercises with enthusiasm.”
4) Indoor Baseball. Around the turn of the 20th century, Americans were so in love with baseball they created wintertime indoor leagues. Teams played in repurposed buildings. Players wore rubber-soled shoes. Lighting was poor. But crowds responded. In Hartford, Conn., for instance, some 2,000 fans gathered at an armory on a January night in 1910 to watch summertime baseball stars play a shrunken-down version of America’s pastime. The New York team included future Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers. And in Chicago, the Daily Tribune reported, “women form a large part of the audiences.”
5) Sand Baths. Chicago women who weren’t at the indoor baseball games may have been home partaking of another fabulous American fad: sand bathing. As reported in the Daily Tribune in 1909, women dug up several bushels of sand from the shores of Lake Michigan and took them home. They scrubbed themselves with fine-grain sandpaper and then lolled around in a bed of sand. “In Paris, where sand baths are most popular, there are a great many who have found water no longer necessary to cleanliness,” the Daily Tribune reported, “but Chicago women admit they have not yet reached the stage where they can get along without the old fashioned water bath.”
And, as it turns out, there may be resurgent interest in sand cleansing. Katy Perry also recently tweeted: “Sand is the new dry shampoo.”
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj