Weird Universe Blog — March 3, 2024

Norma and Normman

In the summer of 1945, the Cleveland Health Museum put a statue of "Norma" on display. Norma was said to be the "norm or average American woman of 18 to 20 years of age." Accompanying her was a statue of Normman, her equally average brother. The two statues had been sculpted by Abram Belskie, based on data gathered by Dr. Robert L. Dickinson.

The statues were celebrated at the time but seem like oddities now because a) their idea of 'average' didn't include any minorities, and b) they seem to represent a mid-20th-century obsession with being average or normal.

As the saying goes, the real weirdos are those who think they're normal.

Natural History magazine - June 1945

More details from The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness by Todd Rose:

The Cleveland Plain Dealer announced on its front page a contest co-sponsored with the Cleveland Health Museum and in association with the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland, the School of Medicine and the Cleveland Board of Education. Winners of the contest would get $100, $50 and $25 war bonds, and 10 additional lucky women would get $10 worth of war stamps. The contest? To submit body dimensions that most closely matched the typical woman, "Norma," as represented by a statue on display at the Cleveland Health Museum. . .

In addition to displaying the sculpture, the Cleveland Health Museum began selling miniature reproductions of Norma, promoting her as the "Ideal Girl," launching a Norma craze. A notable physical anthropologist argued that Norma's physique was "a kind of perfection of bodily form," artists proclaimed her beauty an "excellent standard" and physical education instructors used her as a model for how young women should look, suggesting exercise based on a student's deviation from the ideal. A preacher even gave a sermon on her presumably normal religious beliefs. By the time the craze had peaked, Norma was featured in Time magazine, in newspaper cartoons, and on an episode of a CBS documentary series, This American Look, where her dimensions were read aloud so the audience could find out if they, too, had a normal body.

On Nov. 23, 1945, the Plain Dealer announced its winner, a slim brunette theatre cashier named Martha Skidmore. The newspaper reported that Skidmore liked to dance, swim and bowl — in other words, that her tastes were as pleasingly normal as her figure, which was held up as the paragon of the female form.

Martha Skidmore, "Norma" Contest Winner. Cleveland Plain Dealer - Sep 23, 1945

Posted By: Alex - Sun Mar 03, 2024 - Comments (0)
Category: Awards, Prizes, Competitions and Contests | Statues and Monuments | 1940s

March 2, 2024

Falsies on Freeway

Falsies, or miniature Kendall paracones?

Los Angeles Times - Oct 26, 1954

Rushville Republican - Oct 26, 1954

Posted By: Alex - Sat Mar 02, 2024 - Comments (0)
Category: Transportation | 1950s

Special Driver Gloves for Signalling

Full patent here.

Posted By: Paul - Sat Mar 02, 2024 - Comments (0)
Category: Inventions | Patents | Signage | 1920s | Cars

March 1, 2024

The Kendall Paracone

In the early years of the American space program there was a lot of concern about how to get stranded astronauts safely back to Earth. One idea was the "Kendall Paracone," proposed by Robert Kendall of McDonnell Douglass.

Kendall imagined astronauts dropping from space back to earth inside of a giant, gas-inflatable shuttlecock. The shape of the shuttlecock would ensure that it always remained nose down, preventing the device from tipping over and roasting the astronaut during re-entry. It also required no parachute. It would simply plunge all the way to the ground, slowing down naturally from air resistance just as badminton shuttlecocks do. Shock absorbers in the nose would dampen the final impact.

Coos Bay World - Oct 29, 1976

"astronaut escape sequence"
"Techniques for space and hypersonic flight escape, SAE Transactions, Vol 76, Section 3

Kendall thought his paracone system could also stop helicopters from crashing:

Aeronautical Engineering - Jan 1978

Posted By: Alex - Fri Mar 01, 2024 - Comments (3)
Category: Spaceflight, Astronautics, and Astronomy

February 29, 2024

Leap Year Lawsuit

In 1997 John Melo was sentenced to "ten years to ten years and one day" for home invasion. Seven years later he filed a motion in the Massachusetts Superior Court complaining that the Department of Correction "had miscalculated the length of his sentence because it had failed to credit one day for each February 29 ('leap year' day) he had served to date."

The defendant argues that the policy and practice of the DOC not to recognize and credit the additional day in a "leap year" is incorrect. He argues that a "year," as imposed by the sentence of ten years to ten years and one day, consists of 365 days each, not the 366 days contained in a leap year.

The Superior Court ruled against him, noting he had been "sentenced to a term of years, not to a term of days." It also concluded that his lawsuit shouldn't have been allowed in the first place.


His case was a longshot, but it's true that leap years can be more beneficial to some than to others. Salaried employees essentially have to work an extra day for free, whereas hourly employees get an extra payday. And banks often don't include February 29 when they calculate the interest they owe their customers, thereby giving themselves an extra day of profit at everyone else's expense.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Feb 29, 2024 - Comments (3)
Category: Lawsuits

The Complacent Americans

One such gem is a Civil Defense "scare" album called THE COMPLACENT AMERICANS that simply must be heard to be believed. This LP - with its bright orange mushroom cloud cover and its hyperbolic advisories to sensitive listeners - could well have been produced by that genius of exploitation William Castle. But actually it was recorded under the stately auspices of the Office of Civil Defense, a sub-branch of the U.S. government (later replaced by FEMA).

Posted By: Paul - Thu Feb 29, 2024 - Comments (0)
Category: PSA’s | War | Vinyl Albums and Other Media Recordings | Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters | 1960s

February 28, 2024

Forehand Guns

The choice of dog killers and stagecoach robbers.

Recreation magazine - Aug 1899

Recreation magazine - Dec 1899

Posted By: Alex - Wed Feb 28, 2024 - Comments (5)
Category: Advertising | Weapons | Nineteenth Century

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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.

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