The Princess Who Smoked Cigars

Born in Austria on February 26, 1836, to a Hungarian count and an Austrian princess, Pauline Clémentine von Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein eventually became famous in Paris, where she had significant social and cultural influence. When her husband Prince de Metternich (who happened to be her uncle as well) was appointed the Austrian Ambassador to Napoléon III’s court in 1859, the twenty-three year-old moved to France, where she quickly adopted the Parisian lifestyle. In French high society, Pauline became famous for her ready wit, her fashion-forward style, and her cigars. Most women of her status could not dream of smoking cigars, but Pauline could get away with it, somehow charming many of her contemporaries with her "shocking" habits including Napoléon III’s wife, the Empress Eugénie. Many, of course, disapproved. But Pauline's friendships in high places kept her important -- and accepted -- in Parisian high society.

Pauline’s penchant for eccentricity and rule-breaking translated into her wardrobe, which became a regular talking point in the fashion and society columns. Englishman Charles Frederick Worth was Pauline's dressmaker and she enjoyed debuting his more out-there sartorial innovations. In fact, Princess Pauline introduced Worth to his most famous client, her dear friend Empress Eugénie.

The princess (and her prince) fled Paris during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. After the war, Napoléon III was out of power, as was his court where Pauline had thrived. The House of Worth survived the power transition and remained at the forefront of high society, but Pauline did not, and she lived a quiet, private life until her death in 1921.

"We've seen the worst that human beings are capable of. We've seen what happens when leaders abandon common decency in favor of rage and hate. Through the lens of history, the Holocaust happened yesterday, the civil rights movement was this morning, so we are not as out of the woods as we might have thought."

H. Max Joseph, an American filmmaker and television host

"Legend: a lie that has attained the dignity of age."

H.L. Mencken, an American journalist, cultural critic, and satirist (1880 - 1956)

A Puzzling Cold Case

In Ramsgate, a town on the coast of southeastern England, on September 20th, 1930, a mysterious murder occurred. At 6p.m., a 12-year-old girl was sent across the street to buy a blancmange powder (used to make jellies) from the neighborhood sweetshop. When the owner, 82-year-old Margery Wren, came to the door, the girl was shocked to see blood streaming down her face.

Wren was taken to the hospital and she suffered for five days before dying of her wounds. She had eight wounds and bruises on her face, and the top of her head had seven more. Wren gave multiple, conflicting statements including that she had fallen over the fire tongs, that a man had attacked her with the tongs, that he had a white bag, that it was another man with a red face, that it had been two men, and that it had been an accident. Note these were all made to people other than the police -- Wren refused to make a statement to the police. When the Ramsgate vicar visited, she promised him she would make a statement after he left, but she never did. At one point Wren said she knew her attacker but that “I don’t wish him to suffer. He must bear his sins.” Just before she died she said, “He tried to borrow 10 pounds.”

Wren had been seen alive and well at about 5:15pm by another schoolgirl. That meant she was attacked between about 5:30pm and 6pm. However no one reported seeing a man entering the premises. In the end, the police had three main suspects who stood to benefit from Wren's death, but no hard evidence to tie any specific one man to the crime. The case was never solved.

The Peanut Butter Court Cases

With peanut butter's growing popularity in the 1950s, poor-quality products flooded the markets, hoping to cash in on the new food trend. Companies used cheaper hydrogenated oils instead of the more expensive peanut oil, and used glycerin as a sweetener.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that some products labeled as “peanut butter” only contained 75% peanuts. The FDA proposed a standard of 95% peanuts in peanut butter in 1959. Manufacturers did not like this -- arguing that customers preferred a more spreadable, and sweeter, product. The spreadable-ness of peanut butter became the focal point of a 12-year "Peanut Butter Case" which wound its way through the American legal system.

To compromise with the manufacturers the FDA initially agreed to lower its peanut butter standard to 90% peanuts. The manufacturers wanted 87% and when the FDA did not budge they took it to court. After too many years and a US Appeals Court appeal, the 90% peanut standard was upheld.

The last woman to be executed in Europe through a judicial system is Elena Ceausescu. She was the wife of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and they were both killed by firing squad on December 25th, 1989. The conviction was for genocide, undermining the national economy and other offences.

Woman wearing a batula -- a traditional face covering of Bedouian women from the Persian Gulf region. Photograph taken in Muscat, Oman, 1905.

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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