"Mishap Bares Vampire Auto Death Puzzle" | Bleader

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Mishap Bares Vampire Auto Death Puzzle"

Posted By on 12.16.09 at 09:30 AM

"The past is a foreign country; shit is fucked up there."

So (approximately) wrote the English novelist L.P. Hartley in some book that nobody reads anymore yet still gets quoted to death by hack book reviewers, essayists, and historians. Hartley knew what he was talking about, which is only to be expected since, unlike us, he lived in the past. Yet the deep-dish profundity of this moth-eaten cliche can only be fully appreciated by those who, like me, waste a lot of time perusing ancient newspapers published long before the advent of our spotless glass-domed cities, fusion-powered monorails, perfected health-care system, and convenient boil-in-bag foods.

But I'm more than willing to spread the joy around. For the past year, I've been posting the fruits of my haphazard research at my The Hope Chest: Bad News From the Past. Now I'll be taking my obsessions public by posting my Chicago-themed discoveries to the Reader's Web site. The purpose of this exercise, to the extent that it is purpose-driven, is to relativize the miseries of the present by reveling in the horrors of past eras often misremembered as kinder and gentler than our own. Your questions, comments, compliments, and complaints are always welcome.

So let's get this funeral started:

Chicago Tribune, November 23, 1920. The democratization of the automobile in the late teens and 20s greatly reduced the amount of horse excrement on the streets (a major public health consideration), but that advantage was offset by terrible human costs. Pedestrians conditioned to horse-drawn traffic were slow to adapt to the new speed of life; drivers didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. The consequent death toll gave rise to the journalistic concept of the “vampire auto,” which basically meant a hit-and-run car. This enigmatic tragedy yields an inkling as to the scope of the problem.

For old-timey relief from the vapid, present-day definition of "vampire" as "dreamy teenage male with great hair and no libido," check out my vampirism thread at The Hope Chest.

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