Random moment from history

Actual sentence just read, by me, in a history tome documenting the early days of Outagamie County, Wis. — "A fair sized audience attended the lecture on 'The Rise and Fall of the Moustache'." This is listed as one of the highlights of 1880, people. And don't front like you wouldn't have totally gone to that lecture. We all know better. UPDATE: Intrepid reader ncbeets was able to supply some missing context on the moustache lecture. Turns out, it's the work of a sort of proto-David Sedaris, who traveled the country reading his comic stories to packed houses for 30 years. And you can listen to the whole thing online!


  1. What’s left out here is that the speech was delivered by Robert Jones Burdette, a well-known American humorist.

    Thanks to the powers of the internet gods, you can listen to the entire lecture here: http://misterron.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=502814

    “Robert J. Burdette delivered his lecture ‘The Rise and Fall of the Mustache’ from 1877 to packed houses for well over thirty years. It is almost totally forgotten today, and while much of it is terribly outdated, most of it is timeless, and worth hearing today. It will make you laugh, and cry. “

    1. Fabulous info! Which was, sadly, left out of my source. (Apparently, the authors assumed anyone reading their book would already know who Mr. Burdette was.)

      I love BoingBoing because I can take a random context-less sentence from an obscure history book and one of you readers will know something about it. Rock on.

      1. I love BoingBoing because I can take a random context-less sentence from an obscure history book and one of you readers will know something about it.

        and in less than 1/2 hour. Nice.

  2. I assume it was some kind of novelty moustache, as worn by perhaps a vaudeville performer or circus clown, with a hidden wire attached to initiate the described “rise and fall.”

    Hilarity ensued.

  3. My favorite piece of 19th-century moustache trivia fell into my lap not long after getting in a debate over whether the “moustache party” was a “hipster fad” or not. My position was that it must have a more distinguished pedigree, but had no evidence until reading Karl Marx: A Life a couple weeks later. And I quote:

    “‘Last Sunday we had a moustache evening,’ the nineteen-year-old Engels wrote to his sister in October 1840. ‘I had sent out a circular to all moustache-capable young men that it was finally time to horrify all philistines, and that could not be done better than by wearing moustaches. Everyone with the courage to defy philistinism and wear a moustache should therefore sign. I had soon collected a dozen moustaches, and then the 25th of October, when our moustaches would be a month old, was fixed as the day for a common moustache jubilee.’ This pogonophiles party, held in the cellar of Bremen town hall, concluded with a defiant toast:

    Philistines shirk the burden of bristle
    By shaving their faces as clean as a whistle.
    We are not Philistines, so we
    Can let our mustachios flourish free.”

  4. An amusing (though perhaps a little long) tangential tale:

    I’m a young actor and a year or two ago I found myself auditioning in eastern Connecticut at the Windham Theatre Guild in Willimantic, CT. It was for a play I was interested in, and the theatre had had a very slick, professional website, which I thought was a good sign. What I couldn’t make heads or tails of though was why the website was covered in frogs. There were frogs in the logo, frogs in the promotional material for productions, drawings of frogs acting out key scenes from their plays. Not knowing what else to do, I put a pin in that mystery, and googled up some directions.

    I was nearly there when I got myself a little lost. I knew I was close, but with no GPS, and running a little late, I was desperately looking around for a familiar street sign or something else recognizable. Right then, a pair of giant twelve foot cement frogs squatting on pillars came into view around the corner, overlooking this bridge like some sort of gate keepers. With no better leads, I crossed the bridge and found myself in downtown Willimantic (such as it is) quite near the theatre. As I found parking I noted the colorful frog statues that dotted the street here and there . . .

    The audition went well, but afterwards I only had one question for the director, what’s with all these frogs? Well, she told me:

    The frogs, you see, are tied to one of Willimantic’s greatest and most central historical narratives. It was during the Revolutionary War, when everyone was wary of Red Coats marching in at any time. On one chilly spring night, the townsfolk were woken up by a cacophony of pops and bangs nearby, and with weeks and months of preparation and paranoia under their belts, they knew what to do.

    The men of the town grabbed their guns and rushed toward the sound, ready to stop the oncoming march of the Red Coats, but when they got there they found . . . nothing.

    The next morning a quick investigation of the area revealed the truth of the previous night: dozens of trampled bull frogs just getting geared up for mating season littered the ground.

    . . . and that’s it. I was waiting for her to finish the story, but there wasn’t anything else. It was the Revolutionary War. People were worried about the British. They heard frogs and thought they were gunshots but they weren’t. End. That is Willimantic’s greatest story. And now the town spends a good deal of tax payer money building gigantic effigies to the brave frogs lost during the war.

    Welcome to Connecticut.

  5. That’s very meta – the very act of delivering the lecture would presumably have caused a moustache to rise and fall repeatedly.

  6. I am still hung up on the notion of a “proto-David Sedaris”. I can’t seem to shake these mental images of a humanoid/annelid with David Sedaris’ face, sporting a top-hat and pouring absinthe over a sugar cube.

  7. Love the reference in the document to Captain Spaulding’s stave factory. Of course, it was after that he decided to become an African Explorer.

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