Massive Myths of a Previous Thread

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Loyalist Dave

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In a recent and ongoing thread some age old myths about colonial life surfaced. I confess I only read about a page, and had to pen this....


NO Bathing?
So we hear this a lot, and how people would douse themselves to the point of being self-marinated in perfume, because they didn't bathe. This is Balderdash upon Balderdash. They rarely conducted full immersion bathing in the home..., because it was a pain in the arse to heat all that water (especially in a quick manner) , and to maintain a vessel for the purpose aka a bathtub. (Ben Franklin was rich enough to own such BTW). Authors in the past for some unknown reason decided that since there was no bathtub in the home, and some sources mentioned "bathing" only once or twice a year, that meant that they didn't "wash" their bodies. They never bothered to look into the fact that when the old sources used the term "bathing" they mean full immersion, and not always in hot water. There is AMPLE evidence that folks performed washing of more than their face and hands on a regular basis. We would call this a "sponge bath". Franklin regularly aired his body in his rooms, calling the procedure an "air bath"... and today we know that a lot of the odor causing bacteria on the body is anaerobic (which is why the stinkiest of places on a person are the crevices on the skin where moisture doesn't evaporate, and are dark most of the time.

As for the perfume "dousing" that was simply another one of the "conclusions" of so called historians, who simply decided that since perfume existed, and bathtubs didn't then it must have been used to cover the stench. Of course it never occurs to these same "scholars" that such perfume was highly expensive. The same way that you hear how "pepper" was used to cover the taste of tainted meat so was desired by Europeans who had no refrigeration at that time in history... ignoring the fact that spices were SO expensive that IF you could afford pepper you darn well could afford fresh meat.... so wouldn't need the pepper.....

Washing of Clothing?
Folks, part of hygiene in the 18th century, in fact a major part, was in using clean clothing on a daily basis. So not only was washing with water and a cloth performed, but changing clothes on a regular basis was performed. Not to mention that a lot of clothing was also for protection, i.e. women wearing a head covering was fashion but kept their hair cleaner than not from soot and smoke and perspiration. A recent study was done where one man bathed as modern folks do and the other wore 18th century clothing and changed into something clean every day, sometimes changing twice a day. Results for the guy not "bathing" was only a slightly higher amount of personal bacteria and much akin to several European nations today in this century. This use of clothing wasn't a practice for just the "rich" or the "prosperous" either, as information on common folk on the "frontier" show a good quantity of clothing especially the clothing that was worn as undergarments. Further Proof? Folks, Castile Soap (hard, lye soap) was exported into Antwerp, Belgium in the 1560s. In the 1600's the Spanish purchased a monopoly on the stuff in Europe and then it later caused a problem in England as it was cheap enough to supplant the soft soap that the English were making and using. (Until widespread availability of hard [Castile] soap, all soap was "soft" ) . IF folks aren't using it to wash themselves.... what then? Clothing.

Further, the bathtub was commonly found in homes by the middle of the 19th century, but the first commercial deodorant, known as Mum, didn't appear until 1888. Zinc was discovered in 1746. Zinc Oxide was in wide use by 1850, and at the time it's active ingredient was zinc oxide. Mum is still made today btw, but has a different formula.

So folks weren't covered in filth and reeking during in the Colonial Period.

The Language was hard to Understand?
Um so here is some written text, text based on the spoken language of the period....,

"There do not frequently occur opportunities of obtaining a passage from Charlestown to Norfolk : the season was too far advance to admit of travelling on horseback through North-Carolina, and making in that state a sufficiently long stay to acquire good information. After having waited a week for a vessel to convey me to Virginia I had engaged a birth [berth] in a sloop, but my Charleston friends thought it too much encumbered with passengers to allow of my being conveniently accommodated on board..." from a journal of 1799

The subsistence of the men in Hospital must be thrown into a fund, for the benefit of the whole in general, and no particular account given to each man, in what manner his money has been expended ; for though the disorder of one may not require the consumption of his Pay, yet that of another may much more, when wine, rich broths, and things of that kind are absolutely necessary : Cuthbertson 1776

Going back a little more than a century, we can still read and understand this recipe

Take a Pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream, put in eighteen yolks of Eggs, and eight of the whites ; a pint of Sack [sweet sherry] ; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of sugar into the Wine and Eggs with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon ; set the basin on the fire with the wine and eggs and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boyling from the fire ; pour in on high, but stir it not ; cover it with a dish, and when it is settled, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up. Sir Kenelm Digby 1669

Now yes, there were no established norms in spelling, the font of the printing of the time at first reading may be tough but regular reading and it becomes easy, and the further back one goes one gets some interesting phrasing, not to mention some accents and other dialects were found, but the majority of the people who were British subjects could and did speak English similar to what we would speak today. It's not Shakespeare and definitely not Chaucerian English.

Life expectancy

Compared to today, where we have childhood vaccines, antibiotics, antivirals, anesthetics, and chemotherapy (not just for cancer btw), the medicine of the 18th century sucked. BUT folks confuse "average life expectancy" stats with survival expectancy. The reason the life expectancy was low in the 18th century was childhood mortality due to a lack of pre-natal care and vaccines, which skews the average downwards. IF you survived past about 5 years of age..., you were likely to live to be old age, if you avoided a war zone. And "avoiding a war zone" doesn't mean being involved in the fighting but avoiding being exposed to bacteria and viruses cheerfully brought to your village by a moving army, even your own country's army. In New England in the 17th Century, it became common for people to know their grandparents, and by the 18th century, people in Britain were living to between 50 and 65, BUT people in the English Colonies in America were living on average as much as 20 years more, to 65-70, and it was not unheard of to live into one's 80's.

LD
 

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Good writeup and quite accurate. For modern day comparisons on cleanliness, I used to spend a few weeks at a time on the Appalachian Trail. I did fine with a daily birdbath using about a quart of water and was told I wasn't too offensive to be around.... Another perspective: There are a number of strict Amish folk who live in my area. A bath once a week with daily birdbaths is typical and clothes worn to town are always clean. There is some body odor, but nothing really bad.
 

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Regarding bathing without a tub, we used to call that a “Possible Bath.” The procedure still sees some use when the power is off and we have no running water.

You get a bucket of warm water, a bar of soap, and a washcloth. Take off your shirt, start with your face, and wash downward as far as possible.

Next, take off your socks and trousers. Start with your feet, and wash up as far as possible.

Last but not least, you wash old Possible.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 

Loyalist Dave

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I read an interesting article a few days ago about Ivory bar soap. They wanted it to float because many people were bathing in ponds, lakes, and streams. Their thinking was if you lost the bar in murky water and it didn't float it was gone, now if it floated you'd have it right there.
I heard it was because a portion of the "market" had home made soap, and it floated, so when they marketed it as 99.9% pure, they wanted it to float as well.

I have no idea...

LD
 
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This is all balderdash. It is well known that the very correct 'primitive' reenactors at Friendship, about 1970, expelled several members because they overturned their canoe in the creek and that was technically considered a prohibited "bath". 🤣
(p.s. the laughing face is included because some readers might actually believe the story. What is true is that this story has lingered on for these many years.)
 
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In a recent and ongoing thread some age old myths about colonial life surfaced. I confess I only read about a page, and had to pen this....


NO Bathing?
So we hear this a lot, and how people would douse themselves to the point of being self-marinated in perfume, because they didn't bathe. This is Balderdash upon Balderdash. They rarely conducted full immersion bathing in the home..., because it was a pain in the arse to heat all that water (especially in a quick manner) , and to maintain a vessel for the purpose aka a bathtub. (Ben Franklin was rich enough to own such BTW). Authors in the past for some unknown reason decided that since there was no bathtub in the home, and some sources mentioned "bathing" only once or twice a year, that meant that they didn't "wash" their bodies. They never bothered to look into the fact that when the old sources used the term "bathing" they mean full immersion, and not always in hot water. There is AMPLE evidence that folks performed washing of more than their face and hands on a regular basis. We would call this a "sponge bath". Franklin regularly aired his body in his rooms, calling the procedure an "air bath"... and today we know that a lot of the odor causing bacteria on the body is anaerobic (which is why the stinkiest of places on a person are the crevices on the skin where moisture doesn't evaporate, and are dark most of the time.

As for the perfume "dousing" that was simply another one of the "conclusions" of so called historians, who simply decided that since perfume existed, and bathtubs didn't then it must have been used to cover the stench. Of course it never occurs to these same "scholars" that such perfume was highly expensive. The same way that you hear how "pepper" was used to cover the taste of tainted meat so was desired by Europeans who had no refrigeration at that time in history... ignoring the fact that spices were SO expensive that IF you could afford pepper you darn well could afford fresh meat.... so wouldn't need the pepper.....

Washing of Clothing?
Folks, part of hygiene in the 18th century, in fact a major part, was in using clean clothing on a daily basis. So not only was washing with water and a cloth performed, but changing clothes on a regular basis was performed. Not to mention that a lot of clothing was also for protection, i.e. women wearing a head covering was fashion but kept their hair cleaner than not from soot and smoke and perspiration. A recent study was done where one man bathed as modern folks do and the other wore 18th century clothing and changed into something clean every day, sometimes changing twice a day. Results for the guy not "bathing" was only a slightly higher amount of personal bacteria and much akin to several European nations today in this century. This use of clothing wasn't a practice for just the "rich" or the "prosperous" either, as information on common folk on the "frontier" show a good quantity of clothing especially the clothing that was worn as undergarments. Further Proof? Folks, Castile Soap (hard, lye soap) was exported into Antwerp, Belgium in the 1560s. In the 1600's the Spanish purchased a monopoly on the stuff in Europe and then it later caused a problem in England as it was cheap enough to supplant the soft soap that the English were making and using. (Until widespread availability of hard [Castile] soap, all soap was "soft" ) . IF folks aren't using it to wash themselves.... what then? Clothing.

Further, the bathtub was commonly found in homes by the middle of the 19th century, but the first commercial deodorant, known as Mum, didn't appear until 1888. Zinc was discovered in 1746. Zinc Oxide was in wide use by 1850, and at the time it's active ingredient was zinc oxide. Mum is still made today btw, but has a different formula.

So folks weren't covered in filth and reeking during in the Colonial Period.

The Language was hard to Understand?
Um so here is some written text, text based on the spoken language of the period....,

"There do not frequently occur opportunities of obtaining a passage from Charlestown to Norfolk : the season was too far advance to admit of travelling on horseback through North-Carolina, and making in that state a sufficiently long stay to acquire good information. After having waited a week for a vessel to convey me to Virginia I had engaged a birth [berth] in a sloop, but my Charleston friends thought it too much encumbered with passengers to allow of my being conveniently accommodated on board..." from a journal of 1799

The subsistence of the men in Hospital must be thrown into a fund, for the benefit of the whole in general, and no particular account given to each man, in what manner his money has been expended ; for though the disorder of one may not require the consumption of his Pay, yet that of another may much more, when wine, rich broths, and things of that kind are absolutely necessary : Cuthbertson 1776

Going back a little more than a century, we can still read and understand this recipe

Take a Pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream, put in eighteen yolks of Eggs, and eight of the whites ; a pint of Sack [sweet sherry] ; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of sugar into the Wine and Eggs with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon ; set the basin on the fire with the wine and eggs and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boyling from the fire ; pour in on high, but stir it not ; cover it with a dish, and when it is settled, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up. Sir Kenelm Digby 1669

Now yes, there were no established norms in spelling, the font of the printing of the time at first reading may be tough but regular reading and it becomes easy, and the further back one goes one gets some interesting phrasing, not to mention some accents and other dialects were found, but the majority of the people who were British subjects could and did speak English similar to what we would speak today. It's not Shakespeare and definitely not Chaucerian English.

Life expectancy

Compared to today, where we have childhood vaccines, antibiotics, antivirals, anesthetics, and chemotherapy (not just for cancer btw), the medicine of the 18th century sucked. BUT folks confuse "average life expectancy" stats with survival expectancy. The reason the life expectancy was low in the 18th century was childhood mortality due to a lack of pre-natal care and vaccines, which skews the average downwards. IF you survived past about 5 years of age..., you were likely to live to be old age, if you avoided a war zone. And "avoiding a war zone" doesn't mean being involved in the fighting but avoiding being exposed to bacteria and viruses cheerfully brought to your village by a moving army, even your own country's army. In New England in the 17th Century, it became common for people to know their grandparents, and by the 18th century, people in Britain were living to between 50 and 65, BUT people in the English Colonies in America were living on average as much as 20 years more, to 65-70, and it was not unheard of to live into one's 80's.

LD
As someone who grew up in the mountains of Virginia as poor as an acorn, we did not get running water in our home until I was 13 years old. We bathed every day during the school year and every other day during the summertime. We didn't have a bathtub per se but did have a galvanized tub we children would bathe in during the summer. During the cold months, we washed in the kitchen out of wash pans from water heated on the kitchen stove and our coal stove. We didn't have a well or spring, but our neighbors allowed us to use theirs every day which was about 300 yards from our house. We, children, carried the water in Clorox and milk jugs each and every day, come rain, snow, or sunshine. One of my other daily chores was to keep kindlin cut, coal buckets filled, and keep the ashes out of the stoves. We had two Buckeye coal stoves. I don't ever remember anyone in the house having body odor, as my mamaw made sure we cleaned ourselves on a regular basis. I do remember when Mamaw got our Papas black lung back pay, she had a well drilled, and we built a pump house and she bought some lumber from the local sawmill and we built a bathroom that had a sink, toilet, and a shower. I remember enjoying a shower inside, but thinking it was nasty to use the toilet in the house, even though it was a modern flush type. Up till then, we had an outhouse at the end of the backyard which had its challenges in both summer and winter as you can imagine.
 
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Come On Man! nobody wants a reasonable discourse on primitive hygiene!:ghostly:

i have read countless stories touted as absolute fact, about the filthy Native Americans. My own mother recounted to us when we were growing up, (something that stalled in me), how her mother had watched her mother, that lived traditionally, break ice on Wisconsin streams twice a day and do a full immersion bath.
Mom used these stories to get us little heathens to bathe in a warm water bath.
lest someone cry Lie, the thought of telling an untruth was so abhorrent to my mother that she even admitted to me that she had smoked when a teenager! i have been inside many, many, traditional NA homes of extremely modest appointments, (no indoor plumbing) and only ever noted unpleasant odors once. that was caused by terminal cancer. even though i sometimes let old bias's intrude on my thinking, i doubt that, being human, the early settlers were immune to the bacterial results of poor hygiene.
Loyalist Dave's treatise above is against the bias handed down by the ignorant.
if one thinks about it, consider the condition one gets from an extended dry camp hunting trip commonly known as "monkey butt"
one wandering about a frontier settlement without the ability or desire to bathe would become uncomfortable fast.
most all settlements were established in close proximity to waterways. personally if there is a stream, no matter how cold, i am going to do everything possible to stave off "monkey butt". your milage may vary.
 
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In a recent and ongoing thread some age old myths about colonial life surfaced. I confess I only read about a page, and had to pen this....


NO Bathing?
So we hear this a lot, and how people would douse themselves to the point of being self-marinated in perfume, because they didn't bathe. This is Balderdash upon Balderdash. They rarely conducted full immersion bathing in the home..., because it was a pain in the arse to heat all that water (especially in a quick manner) , and to maintain a vessel for the purpose aka a bathtub. (Ben Franklin was rich enough to own such BTW). Authors in the past for some unknown reason decided that since there was no bathtub in the home, and some sources mentioned "bathing" only once or twice a year, that meant that they didn't "wash" their bodies. They never bothered to look into the fact that when the old sources used the term "bathing" they mean full immersion, and not always in hot water. There is AMPLE evidence that folks performed washing of more than their face and hands on a regular basis. We would call this a "sponge bath". Franklin regularly aired his body in his rooms, calling the procedure an "air bath"... and today we know that a lot of the odor causing bacteria on the body is anaerobic (which is why the stinkiest of places on a person are the crevices on the skin where moisture doesn't evaporate, and are dark most of the time.

As for the perfume "dousing" that was simply another one of the "conclusions" of so called historians, who simply decided that since perfume existed, and bathtubs didn't then it must have been used to cover the stench. Of course it never occurs to these same "scholars" that such perfume was highly expensive. The same way that you hear how "pepper" was used to cover the taste of tainted meat so was desired by Europeans who had no refrigeration at that time in history... ignoring the fact that spices were SO expensive that IF you could afford pepper you darn well could afford fresh meat.... so wouldn't need the pepper.....

Washing of Clothing?
Folks, part of hygiene in the 18th century, in fact a major part, was in using clean clothing on a daily basis. So not only was washing with water and a cloth performed, but changing clothes on a regular basis was performed. Not to mention that a lot of clothing was also for protection, i.e. women wearing a head covering was fashion but kept their hair cleaner than not from soot and smoke and perspiration. A recent study was done where one man bathed as modern folks do and the other wore 18th century clothing and changed into something clean every day, sometimes changing twice a day. Results for the guy not "bathing" was only a slightly higher amount of personal bacteria and much akin to several European nations today in this century. This use of clothing wasn't a practice for just the "rich" or the "prosperous" either, as information on common folk on the "frontier" show a good quantity of clothing especially the clothing that was worn as undergarments. Further Proof? Folks, Castile Soap (hard, lye soap) was exported into Antwerp, Belgium in the 1560s. In the 1600's the Spanish purchased a monopoly on the stuff in Europe and then it later caused a problem in England as it was cheap enough to supplant the soft soap that the English were making and using. (Until widespread availability of hard [Castile] soap, all soap was "soft" ) . IF folks aren't using it to wash themselves.... what then? Clothing.

Further, the bathtub was commonly found in homes by the middle of the 19th century, but the first commercial deodorant, known as Mum, didn't appear until 1888. Zinc was discovered in 1746. Zinc Oxide was in wide use by 1850, and at the time it's active ingredient was zinc oxide. Mum is still made today btw, but has a different formula.

So folks weren't covered in filth and reeking during in the Colonial Period.

The Language was hard to Understand?
Um so here is some written text, text based on the spoken language of the period....,

"There do not frequently occur opportunities of obtaining a passage from Charlestown to Norfolk : the season was too far advance to admit of travelling on horseback through North-Carolina, and making in that state a sufficiently long stay to acquire good information. After having waited a week for a vessel to convey me to Virginia I had engaged a birth [berth] in a sloop, but my Charleston friends thought it too much encumbered with passengers to allow of my being conveniently accommodated on board..." from a journal of 1799

The subsistence of the men in Hospital must be thrown into a fund, for the benefit of the whole in general, and no particular account given to each man, in what manner his money has been expended ; for though the disorder of one may not require the consumption of his Pay, yet that of another may much more, when wine, rich broths, and things of that kind are absolutely necessary : Cuthbertson 1776

Going back a little more than a century, we can still read and understand this recipe

Take a Pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream, put in eighteen yolks of Eggs, and eight of the whites ; a pint of Sack [sweet sherry] ; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of sugar into the Wine and Eggs with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon ; set the basin on the fire with the wine and eggs and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boyling from the fire ; pour in on high, but stir it not ; cover it with a dish, and when it is settled, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up. Sir Kenelm Digby 1669

Now yes, there were no established norms in spelling, the font of the printing of the time at first reading may be tough but regular reading and it becomes easy, and the further back one goes one gets some interesting phrasing, not to mention some accents and other dialects were found, but the majority of the people who were British subjects could and did speak English similar to what we would speak today. It's not Shakespeare and definitely not Chaucerian English.

Life expectancy

Compared to today, where we have childhood vaccines, antibiotics, antivirals, anesthetics, and chemotherapy (not just for cancer btw), the medicine of the 18th century sucked. BUT folks confuse "average life expectancy" stats with survival expectancy. The reason the life expectancy was low in the 18th century was childhood mortality due to a lack of pre-natal care and vaccines, which skews the average downwards. IF you survived past about 5 years of age..., you were likely to live to be old age, if you avoided a war zone. And "avoiding a war zone" doesn't mean being involved in the fighting but avoiding being exposed to bacteria and viruses cheerfully brought to your village by a moving army, even your own country's army. In New England in the 17th Century, it became common for people to know their grandparents, and by the 18th century, people in Britain were living to between 50 and 65, BUT people in the English Colonies in America were living on average as much as 20 years more, to 65-70, and it was not unheard of to live into one's 80's.

LD
Interesting post! I know that even people in the "olden days" would have 'itched' had not their skin been tended to at least a bit. I always wonder about the hygiene involved without "modern toilet paper", though. Eccch!
 
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Interesting post! I know that even people in the "olden days" would have 'itched' had not their skin been tended to at least a bit. I always wonder about the hygiene involved without "modern toilet paper", though. Eccch!
We used old sears and roebuck catalogs and old telephone books.
 

Uncle Miltie

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Folks need to go to places where water is a precious commodity and short supply and see how folks bathe daily. All that is needed is a bit more than a large cup of water, a clean rag and something to use as a soap, if needed. I've seen it before, and it fascinated me as it always does to see how some folks do so much with so little.
 
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Come On Man! nobody wants a reasonable discourse on primitive hygiene!:ghostly:

i have read countless stories touted as absolute fact, about the filthy Native Americans. My own mother recounted to us when we were growing up, (something that stalled in me), how her mother had watched her mother, that lived traditionally, break ice on Wisconsin streams twice a day and do a full immersion bath.
Mom used these stories to get us little heathens to bathe in a warm water bath.
lest someone cry Lie, the thought of telling an untruth was so abhorrent to my mother that she even admitted to me that she had smoked when a teenager! i have been inside many, many, traditional NA homes of extremely modest appointments, (no indoor plumbing) and only ever noted unpleasant odors once. that was caused by terminal cancer. even though i sometimes let old bias's intrude on my thinking, i doubt that, being human, the early settlers were immune to the bacterial results of poor hygiene.
Loyalist Dave's treatise above is against the bias handed down by the ignorant.
if one thinks about it, consider the condition one gets from an extended dry camp hunting trip commonly known as "monkey butt"
one wandering about a frontier settlement without the ability or desire to bathe would become uncomfortable fast.
most all settlements were established in close proximity to waterways. personally if there is a stream, no matter how cold, i am going to do everything possible to stave off "monkey butt". your milage may vary.
George Washington scratched off a request for bath tubs for the army saying in April the creeks would be ice free. Monks are known to have a full bath once a year, and knights were said to have taken a bath monthly or the night before one’s wedding.
Rome had large public baths in every town and in most military camps. Since prostitutes frequented baths the early church condemned them.
Thus
Not taking a bath morphed in to not cleaning one’s self.
During the 1930s to 60s Europeans/Americans became depicted as backwards compared to more ‘civilized’ people who did bathe regularly. The myth stuck
But then
Columbus wanted to prove the world round to people who thought it flat
Ml can only fire once every ten minutes and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, unless it’s shot at nonEuropeans where they were magic
Galileo was rejected because of silly superstition
Vikings wore horned helmets
Knights all wore plate armor
No one ever built a sword that could match the katana
 

LME

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I read an interesting article a few days ago about Ivory bar soap. They wanted it to float because many people were bathing in ponds, lakes, and streams. Their thinking was if you lost the bar in murky water and it didn't float it was gone, now if it floated you'd have it right there.
I have heard a couple of stories about Ivory soap as well. I don''t have any idea which is right or even close to the truth? All I know is my mother always bought Ivory soap? I didn't even know or care if there was another brand. Many years have past and tried and true Ivory is in my house?
My wife asked me the other day did I take a shower? I told her,""not that I could recall. ! I didn't even know one was missing''? LOL
 
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