Jan. 4, 1935: Those humorless Nazis

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

In June 1934, Adolf Hitler broke onto the dark comedy scene with this howler: “At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense I tell you that the Nazi movement will go on for 1,000 years! … Don’t forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!”

Six months later, the Minneapolis Star published an editorial that took the Nazis to task for failing to see a joke at their expense. Was anyone still laughing at der Führer by then?

Those Humorless Nazis

A dead-serious War Production Board poster from 1942. (Image courtesy

People whose position of power is none too stable are notoriously unable to see a joke at their expense. The man with a loud but flimsy argument is generally poorly armed against fun aimed at himself.

Similarly, the Nazis of Germany, in high and mighty dudgeon, are going to banish from Germany forever (or at least until the Nazis are thrown out) a naturalized American girl who had the temerity to laugh at Nazi storm troop uniforms.

The poor girl probably couldn’t help herself, and forgot that in Germany you can’t do what in America is perfectly natural and also constitutional — laugh when the impulse strikes you to laugh. The inability of the Nazis to see a joke on themselves may help, eventually, to topple them. A sense of humor is a vital ingredient of stability. How else could the American democratic form of government have endured so long?

Tuesday, Sept. 2, 1924: A tall order

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

This likely apocryphal slice of life about a slice of pie deserves a better headline than the one served up by the Minneapolis Daily Star. Can you top it?

One Indian Word
Enough; Waiter
Learns Language

A new waiter came to the White Bus restaurant in Onamia, Minn., today. He was unacquainted with the Chippewa Indian language and was at a loss to understand the strange noises Indians made when they ordered dinner.

John Mah-gua, from the Mille Lacs lake reservation, came into the restaurant with a hunger for pie. When the new waiter heard the order he felt that it was too big for his restaurant to fill.

A woman with a prize-winning pie — and a prize-worthy frock — in 1926. (Photo courtesy

John asked for Mus-ke-Me-man-Bash-ski-me-ne-se-gan-be-tow-see-chi-gan-Bah-gway-zhe-gan. The new waiter caught his head in his hands and ran out to the kitchen to recuperate.

Then he called up H.D. Ayer at the Mille Lacs Trading Post and tried to repeat what the Indian had said.

“Send the Indian to the telephone, then I’ll tell you what it is he wants,” said Mr. Ayer.

“John Mah-gua want Musk-ke-ge-Me-man-Bash-ski-me-ne-se-gan-BeTow-see-chi-gan-Bah-gway-zhe-gan,” said the Indian. “

“Give him a slice of cranberry pie,” Mr. Ayer told the waiter, who was on the point of hysterics.

After his experience the new waiter declared that he would learn the pronunciation of that word if it killed him.

Here is the explanation: Mus-ke-ge-Me-Man means berry or bog berry; Bash-ski-me-ne-se-gan means jam; Be-tow-see-chi-gan means between two layers, and Bah-gway-zhe-gan means flour, or bog berry jam between two layers of flour.

Aug. 29, 1924: A telling signature

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

As part of its coverage of the Leopold and Loeb murder trial, the Minneapolis Daily Star asked a local handwriting expert to analyze Richard Loeb’s signature. Not surprisingly, the expert found evidence that the well-known “thrill killer” possessed a number of undesirable qualities. Somewhat surprisingly, “heart trouble” was among them.

Loeb Writing Sifted By
Minneapolis Pen Expert

Extravagance of Mind,
Erratic Temperament
Indicated by Signature

Insincerity, tenacity of purpose, love of admiration and self-complacency are the outstanding characteristics displayed in the handwriting of Dick Loeb, according to C.A. Frantz, handwriting expert of the Minneapolis Business college.

“The initial ‘A’ indicates a person suffering with heart trouble,” says Mr. Frantz, “while the initial ‘D’ indicates clean faculties. The slope of the writing indicates hopefulness. This is especially true of the word ‘Dick.’

“The letter ‘L’ indicates an extravagance of mind almost akin to mania. It also denotes a person who is visionary on religious subjects. It shows an unusually sensitive nature, self-satisfaction and an unbalanced mind. It also indicates a person who is nervous, erratic, of an unreasonable disposition, thoughtless of the comforts of others.

“The disconnected letters show a person not practical or logical in deductions. This person’s acts and words are largely inspirational. He is an idealist, guided by his imaginations, impressions and subconscious mind. They also indicate a person who has psychic powers.

“The open ‘O’ shows that the writer possesses little tact and that his remarks are often ill-timed and indiscreet.”