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“These animals make a peculiarly plaintive cry when molested in any way”: 1901’s amazing, disturbing Living Animals of the World


Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

The Living Animals of the World: A Popular Natural History Magazine

Date: 1901
Publisher: Dodd, Mead & Co.
Discovered at: Antique mall
The Back Cover Promises: “This work was three years in preparation; everything has been done to make it PERFECT IN EVERY WAY.”

Representative Quotes:

“A splendid snapshot of two black African rhinoceroses taken on the open veldt. They were afterwards shot by the party.”

“The Capuchins are, in the writer’s opinion, the nicest of all monkeys.”

First things first, here’s what happened to that rhino:

Captured on film: the invention of the loveseat!

A remarkable achievement in late Victorian publishing, The Living Animals of the World was once the most thorough popular guide to global wildlife: a laivishly illustrated periodical that brought the world to the reading public at the rate of one dime for every forty pages — and half dozen or so species. Today, it stands today as a vital reminder of a time when the documentation of animals in their native habitat was mostly left to the men who had come to kill them.

Perhaps that explains this Very Special Photo Caption:

Since even the cuddliest, most Ed Asner-looking of animals had come to fear photographers, it’s little surprise that many of the photos in my three issues of Living Mammals are of animals freshly killed.

Or of animals long domesticated.

Sometimes, your Crap Archivist receives pissy, touchy e-mails from white people angered up by my occasional insinuations that the American past might be somewhat racist. “That was a different time,” they carp. Or: “You’re taking things out of context.”

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the above images. (That is, after I point out that the editors never pose a “negro boy” with a tapir or bunny.) But then, I ask: what context might possibly justify this?

Please, next time you see your great-great grandfather thank him for building a kick-ass country . . . and then punch him in the mouth.

On to more pleasant things! Skittish animals posed such difficulty that photographers were forever searching for innovative techniques.

For the sake of saving American jobs, please keep this idea from the bigwigs over at the Sears Portrait Studio.

Even as late as 1901, folklore tainted science. Here, an anonymous naturalist discusses the relationship between apes and African natives.

“There is a tale of a tribe that kept an enormous gorilla as executioner, which tore its victims to pieces, until an Englishman, doomed to meet it, noticing a large swelling near its ribs, killed it with a heavy blow or two on the weak spot.”

That same author detests mandrills:

“They grow to a great size and are probably the most hideous of all beasts. Add to the figure the misplaced bright colors – cobalt blue on the cheeks, which are scarred, as if by a rake, with scarlet furrows, and scarlet on the buttocks – and it will be admitted that nature has invested this massive, powerful and ferocious baboon with a repulsiveness equaling in completeness the extremes of grace manifested in the roe-deer or the bird of paradise.”

Often, the editors rely on animals even more easy to pose than fresh corpses.

Stuffed and mounted, or did it just smack into a window?

Luckily, Henry Ford worked out that assembly line thing, because in 1901 we were dangerously close to a transit system comprised only of exotic animals:

You know, that tortoise could still be alive. Just in case, let’s never mention within turtle earshot this photo of it trying to eat Bam-Bam’s onesie.

Just like today’s basic-cable food and nature TV shows, and all movies about inspirational high school teachers, much of Living Animals concerns the thrilling adventures of white folks in a world not their own. One writes,

“The writer’s experience with a villainously savage cat which one night fell incontinently into an uncovered cistern, and which was rescued by him at almost the last gasp, will not readily be forgotten.”

Does the cat who falls “incontinently” still land on its feet?

The authors also reward our immaturity:

“Both asses and zebras carry short, erect manes, and in both the upper portion of the tail is free from long hair.”

And indulge in bizarre thought experiments:

“It has been said with truth that so great is the ferocity displayed by the mole that if it could be magnified to the size of a lion it would be one of the most terrible of living creatures.”

From now on, that sentence is my entry in every New Yorker cartoon caption contest.

Shocking Detail:

Speaking of the New Yorker contest, the winner for this would be, “Gentlemen of the board, we have become too preoccupied with creature comforts.”


The chapter “Marsupials and Monotremes” includes the lively tale of a man who brought a flying squirrel with him to a luxury hotel:

“Master Tiny was discovered emerging, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, from the top of one of the old-fashioned china dogs that decorated the hotel mantelpiece. . . . This singular domicile Master Tiny was permitted to monopolize for the remainder of his sojourn at that hostelry.”

Also, there’s this:

Ha ha, you are now humming John Williams’ Superman theme!

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 20, 2011

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