Before television, there were many hours of the day that needed to be filled. Here are some ancient ways in which people filled this time.
1. Public Dissections
Back in the 1300’s, these dissections were taken from small rooms or houses and brought out into the open for onlookers to see. It was quite the event. They were called “anatomy theaters”, a place built specifically to entertain this morbid display. Tickets were sold and the prices varied depending on how interesting a particular dissection might be. In Hanover, the price was high to see one woman who died while she was pregnant.
These events were attended by both men and women. They became so popular that they even had to have separate viewings for men and women. These viewing only occurred about 3-4 times a year and were attended by the most affluent people in town. It was a grand event that usually preceded a festival or ball that evening.
The “Murder Act” of 1751 in England allowed for the public dissection of all criminals. This increase in public dissection did not decrease their popularity. Thousands of people attended them each year and they were finally outlawed in the 1800’s.
2. Inflating balloons
The first hot air balloon flight occurred in 1783 and since then, it has become a popular event with some of the biggest crowds ever gathered in Europe. The first balloon took many days to completely fill and the crowds became so large that it endangered the entire process. When the first balloon flight reached the ground for the first time in a village a few miles away, the villagers were so frightened that they attacked it with pitchforks and destroyed it.
The first living creatures to be in one of these balloons was a goat, a duck and a rooster in Versailles. The crowd was enormous and included the King and Marie Antoinette. It is said that “practically all the inhabitants of Paris” attended and many paid large sums for VIP seating.
The first manned flight was in England with a man named Vincenzo Lunardi and it drew a crowd of 200,000 people, including the Prince of Wales. One woman was said to have died of fright at the sight of this in the audience and the navigator, Lunardi was tried for her murder! However, he was eventually acquitted. Even George Washington witness the first ballooning attempt in America in 1793.
3. Poking patients with sticks
During the 1800’s, people were flocking down to the local insane asylum to watch the patients get poked with sticks. They paid a small fee to gawk at the residents who were taunted in front of them.
The poking was meant to stimulate the onlookers more than the patients themselves. For example, if the patients were being too calm or docile for the patrons, they were antagonized to create more of a show. Many people smuggled in alcohol to give to the patients in order to watch their behavior while intoxicated.
During the year 1814 over 96,000 people visited one hospital, Bedlam and because not everyone could pay to visit, there was free admittance on the first Tuesday of every month.
4. Riding escalators
The first escalators were patented by Jesse W. Reno in 1892. It was called “Endless Conveyor or Elevator” (later called the “inclined elevator”). By 1896, the first working example had been installed and became a popular ride at the Coney Island amusement park.
The difference between the ones back then as compared to now was that you sat on slats rather than stood on stairs. However, the general principle was the same. The belt moved up to two stories high at a 25-degree incline. It was only at the park for two weeks but approximately 75,000 people rode it during that time.
Later, the same prototype was moved to the Brooklyn Bridge. Again, it was a popular ride and in 1900, it was shipped to Europe and displayed at the Paris Exposition Universelle, where it won first prize. Afterwards, the Otis Company bought Reno’s patent and started producing escalators for businesses.
The first department to install one was Frederick Loeser in New York City in 1897 and it was included in their advertisements, saying to their customers that they could reach the second floor in only 26 seconds.
However, these escalators only moved upwards. Once the downward ones were in place, it took the public and businesses approximately 30 years to accept the frightful ride DOWN.
5. Staring at quintuplets
The Dionne Quintuplets were born in 1934 in Ontario, Canada and no one even knew that this was possible. These babies were also two months premature and their existence astonished the world. Newspapers paid huge sums for photos of them and when they became 1-year-old, their father benefited financially by displaying them at the 1935 Chicago World’s Fair. At which point, the Canadian government decided that their parents were unfit to raise them properly and they were placed in a hospital/nursery directly across the street from where their parents lived. Then the Canadian government took to exploiting their existence themselves.
During the first 10 years of their lives, 3 million people came to see them. Sometimes up to 3,000 people a day. They watched them play, eat and sleep through special one-way windows. They were the most popular tourist attraction in Canada at that time, receiving more visitors than Niagara Falls. They generated a half a billion dollars in just 9 years. Famous people were also anxious to see them, including Amelia Earhart, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Mae West, and the future Queen Elizabeth II.