Weird Ways People Use to Entertain Themselves
Dime Museums were mostly frequented by the lower class for some quick fun entertainment. However, they’re not like other museums, you won’t find any art or historical artifacts. They were basically just a house of carnival sideshows. The exhibits most often had “Freak Shows,” where humans with deformities, unusual conditions and diseases were put on display. These often included, dwarves, people with missing limbs, extra limbs, or deformed limbs, giants, Siamese twins and many more. They also had vaudeville acts and magic shows. Dime Museums helped start the careers of performers who would later become super famous like Harry Houdini, the magician and escape artist, Joe Weber and Lew Fields, the famous comedy duo and Maggie Cline, who would later sing on Broadway. Dime museums became very popular in big American cities like New York and Boston where many immigrants settled. By the 1920’s they started to die out but there are some still around today.
Believe it or not, competitive walking or what’s called Pedestrianism, was the number one sport in the America in the 19th century. People would just walk around a track and whoever walked the farthest distance during the duration of the race would win. These were long walks, sometimes the races would last 24 hours. The sport filled arenas, it was the hip thing to do and watch. Races happened on Monday - Saturday. Competitive walkers who did well could win a lot of prize money. They would even get sponsored. Of course, like any other sport there were scandals of fixed races and performing enhancing drugs. After the Safety Bicycle was invented in the late 1800’s, people started racing them on the tracks instead and that became more popular than the walking races.
The brutal bloodsport of dogfighting has been around since the Roman times. After Rome invaded Britain, they saw how effective their war dogs were at killing so they brought them back to Rome and started breeding them. It wasn’t long until dogfights became popular betting events and unfortunately its remained popular in many parts of the world still. For much of Western history, dog fights, rooster fights and other types of animal fights became phenomenons worldwide. In 12th century England, nobility enjoyed a sport called “Baiting,” in which a larger animal is chained up, then a dog is released fight it. By the late 1800’s most states in America and other regions of the world started recognizing how inhumane the sport is and outlawed it. But that hasn’t gotten rid of it completely. Illegal underground dog fights exist all over the world. Even today, countries like China, Russia, Albania, Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t see a problem and allow dog fights to happen.
In the early 1880’s, a new form of tourism began and instead of going to posh beautiful places, rich folks paid top dollar to see how the poorest in their society lived. Guided tours started popping up for this growing industry in towns and neighborhoods like Five Points in Manhattan, Mumbai in India and White Chapel in London. It was advertised to the public as a way to show the rich how much these areas needed help but a lot it was mostly for morbid entertainment and stories to tell at brunch.
Slum Tourism started happening again in the 1980’s. Popular destinations were in South Africa, Belfast, and Mumbai. After Hurricane Katrina, tours of the devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans became a trend. And during the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, tourists flocked to the Favelas to see what life was like there. There is much controversy over slum tourism, critics nick-named the practice “poverty porn” and condemn it for being exploitative and voyeuristic. They claim people do it to feel better about themselves. People in the business argue it gives brings in money to these impoverished areas.
In the 1800’s, it was common for people to take tours of their local Asylum to see the dark reality of mental illness. In the beginning it was much like slum tourism where people did it to get a sort of thrill. But by the 1900’s people became more interested in the medical advances in these hospitals and the tours became a source for the public to educate themselves and marvel at modern technologies. Some asylums went to great lengths to accompany the tours while some barred them from taking place in their facility, saying it was distasteful and a distraction to the nursing staff.
The last public execution in the US was in 1936. To people today, they might find it really strange and even barbaric to go watch someone intentionally get killed. But ever since public executions began, there was probably always a crowd watching. Usually, public executions took place in the town’s square and everyone would come watch. It became a whole event, complete with vendors and sideshows. Everyone would be especially curious of what the last words of the condemned would be. In the 19th century in London, there were documented crowds of up to 20,000 people when a famous felon was executed. In 1939, the notorious serial killer Eugen Weidmann was beheaded by the guillotine in France. Afterwards a mob rushed his body to get souvenirs. The event embarrassed France, so the president at the time banned public executions from happening again.
Perhaps the most messed up form of entertainment people took part in was Witch Trials. There’s been a long standing tradition of humans accusing certain individuals of witch craft then burning them at the stake. But people took it to a whole new level in the 15th - 17th centuries. A hysteria spread through Europe and the American colonies, much to the responsibility of people called Witch Hunters, who would travel from town to town, find a poor woman to accuse and then whip the town into a frenzy with a trial. These witch hunts would attract entire towns to the courthouse to see what would happen. It got so bad that during the 16th and 17th centuries thousands of innocent people were murdered for no reason, other than people were duped to being scared. An estimation of how many people were executed for witch craft between 1450-1750 is 40,000 but it could be up to 100,000. Modern witch trials have been reported in Sub-Saharan Africa and Papua New Guinea. Governmental legislation against witch craft is still around today in the countries of Cameroon and Saudi Arabia.