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  • Rob Haywood

Giggles and Gasps: History's Most Bizarre Health and Safety Disasters


A crazy man with a saucepan on his head tries to find a thought with a hammer.
A crazy man with a saucepan on his head tries to find a thought with a hammer.

Giggles and Gasps: History's Most Bizarre Health and Safety Disasters


Fasten your seatbelts, dear readers, because we're about to dive into the rabbit hole of history's most bizarre health and safety fails. Whilst we navigate through our daily lives, hoping to avoid any mishap that might cost us our dignity or even our lives, it's time to step back and chuckle at some of the stranger episodes from the past. So, brace yourselves and prepare to be equal parts horrified and tickled pink.


The X-Ray Shoe Fitting Fiasco of the 20th Century


Fancy footwork took on a whole new meaning in the 20th century when a simple task of shoe fitting received a high-tech, or should we say high-risk, upgrade. This was the era when simply slipping your feet into a pair of shoes was just not enough. Instead, shoppers were enticed by the futuristic allure of the shoe-fitting fluoroscope, a gadget that could have easily been a prop in a retro sci-fi film. "See your bones wiggle!" the advertisements promised, offering a thrilling novelty rather than a cause for concern. Who wouldn't want to see the insides of their feet while trying on the latest brogues or stilettos, eh?

However, the excitement wore off faster than the soles of a cheap pair of shoes, as it dawned on everyone in the 1950s that regular radiation exposure was a bit of an overkill for finding snug-fitting shoes. You could say the whole ordeal left a shoe-bite on the conscience of the era. This goes to show, while foot comfort is important, let's remember not to 'glow' overboard next time!


The Deadly Hat Trend That Set the Victorian Era Ablaze


Ladies and gents, brace yourselves for a truly fiery fashion faux pas from the Victorian era. This was a time when setting the trend meant risking setting your head on fire! Yes, you read that right! The must-have fashion accessory was a hat embellished with feathered flamboyance. This was all well and good, except for the minor detail that these fine feathers were prepared using the highly flammable nitrate of mercury. A spark or a careless moment near a flame, and poof! Your high-fashion statement could quickly transform into a fire hazard. The term 'mad hatter' might bring to mind a lovable lunatic from a Lewis Carroll novel, but the true origins of the phrase are steeped in a far more dangerous reality. And while we appreciate a good 'lightbulb' moment in the fashion world, this is definitely not what we had in mind!


Cholera Cocktail, Anyone?


Now, let's turn our attention to something a little more refreshing. Picture this: a warm summer's day in Soho, London, 1850s, and what's the beverage of choice? Cholera cocktail, straight from the Broad Street Pump! A distinct aroma and an unusual colour that had all the allure of a mossy pond didn't seem to deter the fine folk of the time. Ah, those were the days, when folks didn't shy away from a little risk with their refreshment.

It's like ordering a Martini with a twist of lemon, a splash of vermouth, and a generous helping of deadly bacteria. A rather potent concoction, I must say. Drinking water was just too mainstream for the adventurous residents of Soho, who preferred to flirt with death in every sip they took. It was like playing Russian Roulette with a water pump instead of a revolver!

Puts a whole new spin on "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger", doesn't it? Or in this case, it just gives you cholera. But hey, at least they weren't drinking mercury, right? Small victories, my friends, small victories.


Flaming Fashion: The Crinoline Catastrophes


Let's return once more to the fashion frontlines of the Victorian era, where a silhouette trend doubled up as a potential pyrotechnic show. I'm talking about crinolines, those formidable, cage-like skirts that turned women into walking bell towers of fabric.

Designed to achieve the desired "I've swallowed a giant balloon" look, these mammoth contraptions didn't just make it impossible to pass through a doorway gracefully. They were also rather skilled at becoming human-sized tinderboxes. The voluminous layers of fabric combined with a predilection for open fires and candles was a combination more disastrous than pineapple on pizza.

Not surprisingly, crinoline-related fires were alarmingly common. There was no such thing as a quiet night in when your outfit could transform into a towering inferno at any moment. The newspapers of the time were peppered with tales of ladies ‘going up in smoke’ at social gatherings, causing a sensation and sadly, often loss of life too.

"Lighting up the room" in those days could mean unintentionally becoming a walking fireball, rather than being the centre of attention for your fabulous outfit. It's one thing for your outfit to be "on fire", but quite another for it to literally catch alight! The flaming crinoline disasters remind us that fashion can indeed be a deadly game. Talk about being 'hot on the heels' of fashion trends, ladies!


When Makeup Was a Mask of Death

Don your gas masks, darlings! We're about to delve into the glamorous world of 18th and 19th century cosmetics, where 'drop-dead gorgeous' took on a rather literal meaning. We've all made beauty blunders (who can forget the horrors of over-plucked brows or neon eyeshadow?), but nothing tops this lethal fad.

In a desperate attempt to fit into society's chalky white beauty standards, women would casually brush their faces with makeup containing some of the era's finest toxins – lead and arsenic. The concoction promised a divine pallor, reminiscent of a delicate porcelain doll. The downside? The 'doll' look could easily turn into a 'ghoul' look, complete with a potential side order of paralysis and death.

One would think that rosy cheeks from good health would be desirable, but no! These ladies wanted to look like they'd just seen a ghost, not like they'd spent a jolly day in the great outdoors. Who needs a natural tan when you can sport a deathly pallor, eh?

But really, who hasn't tried a questionable beauty trend in the name of fashion? I mean, green clay masks do make us look like swamp creatures for 15 minutes, but thankfully they don't knock on death's door! So, the next time you grumble about the lengthy routine of cleansing, toning, and moisturising, remember – at least it's not laced with arsenic. Or lead. Or death. And that's a beauty routine we can all get behind!


The Deadly Nightcap of the 1700s


Here's a bedtime ritual from the 1700s that certainly wasn't the stuff of dreams. The era was marked by a rather peculiar health trend - drinking mercury as a remedy for various ailments. Not your usual herbal tea or a spoonful of honey to soothe a sore throat. Instead, a swift shot of liquid mercury to cure what ails you. Talk about a metallic aftertaste!

Mercury, lovingly referred to as quicksilver, was seen as the ultimate quick-fix to numerous health woes. I suppose when your medical go-to is a liquid metal notorious for its toxicity, 'quicksilver' seems a fitting name. Think of it as an early version of 'fast-acting relief' – if by fast-acting you mean swiftly sending you on a one-way journey to the afterlife.

So, in an age where folks were merrily sipping cholera-infested water and decorating their faces with lethal cosmetics, a nightly dose of mercury probably seemed rather mild in comparison. But this strange health fad only succeeded in making bedtime all the more deadly.

Next time you're considering a cheeky nightcap, remember our friends from the 1700s and opt for a warm cuppa or a splash of whisky instead. Anything but a lethal dose of mercury, really. It’s sure to give you a more peaceful night's sleep – and ensure you wake up the next morning! Nighty-night, sleep tight, and don’t let the mercury bite!

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