Weird History
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Extreme Historical Hobbies That Sound Made-Up - But Aren’t

December 28, 2020 957 votes 137 voters 7.5k views12 items

List RulesVote up the most over-the-top historical hobbies.

The ancient hobbies of years gone by are fascinating and fraught with interesting facts that many of us might not know today. People of the past didn’t have the modern luxuries most of the developed world has now, so for entertainment, a fair amount of imagination had to be invoked. Bizarre and outrageous hobbies arose during the time of ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, 19th-century Victorian England, and even during the 1950s in America. 

From Victorian mummy unwrapping parties, macabre 19th-century Parisian visits to the morgue, and even Egyptians taming cheetahs, throughout history, there have been more than the odd hobby or two. The fame of a few ancient hobbies has carried over into the 21st century, with many of them still being enacted in today’s modern times. Let’s take a look at some of the truly bizarre hobbies that sound made up but aren’t. 

  • Photo: Paul Dominique Philippoteaux / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Victorians Held Mummy 'Unwrapping' Parties

    When you think of mummies, you might immediately picture Ancient Egypt. What you might not directly associate them with are Victorians and parties. During the 19th century in Victorian England, the city’s elite would host mummy unwrapping parties. 

    England has always had an interest in Ancient Egypt, especially during this time. The rich and influential would have mummies found and brought to them, and many would indeed go to museums or private collections - but quite a few went to the mummy unwrapping parties.

    Those deemed important enough would receive an invitation to a party that was often hosted by someone who possessed an element of showmanship. Then the mummy would be unwrapped and somewhat degraded to entertain the audience.

    A famous surgeon, Thomas Pettigrew, was one of the more influential people who would host unwrapping parties for all those of high society who wished to partake in the mystery. However, it wasn’t long before these parties fell out of fashion. Some say it was because of a lack of interest, while others claimed the process was inhumane and that history should be preserved. Either way, the last unwrapping was done by Margaret Murray in 1908 in Manchester, England.

    Extreme pastime?
  • 2

    19th-Century Parisians Visited The Morgue

    One of the more macabre hobbies of the 19th century took place in France. What started as a way for Parisians to identity the remains of loved ones and friends became a source of entertainment. The pastime of viewing cadavers quickly became popular amongst many French citizens and foreigners, particularly the British.

    It is believed that the hobby began after an 1886 newspaper article declared a 4-year-old girl perished from only a bruise on her hand. Naturally, pandemonium ensued, with many flocking to the morgue to see the child that was put on display.

    It is thought that, by the end of the 19th century, the morgue in Paris was one of the most popular entertainment attractions in the country, if not most of Europe. Many who had visited the city considered it a must-see destination. Bodies were displayed for all to see freely, and for up to several days at a time. People could flock to the morgue and see the bodies displayed seven days a week from the dawn of the morning until the dusk of the evening.

    Today, morgues are still in use throughout the world to identify the deceased, but none are used as entertainment.

    Extreme pastime?
  • 3

    Americans Set Out Picnics To Watch A Civil War Battle

    The Battle of Bull Run was the first land battle of the US Civil War, and was witnessed by many Americans who set out picnics on the outskirts of the conflict.

    The gory and bloody events that transpired on the day were genuinely shocking to those who witnessed it, as many Americans believed the battle would be over quickly with not much bloodshed. This is partly why it’s thought so many people went out to picnic while the fighting was occurring: They truly believed the Union would win the fight. There remains much speculation surrounding why those in attendance chose to spend their Sunday at a war event.

    No matter why they decided to be there, they quickly regretted their decision once the fighting was underway. The rush to get away once the Union was defeated is described in many history books as being utter chaos, with horses breaking free and carriage wheels falling off. There were no more picnics at the sites of the Civil War battles after that day.

    Extreme pastime?
  • 4

    Americans In The 1950s Practiced 'Atomic Tourism'

    Following a 1951 detonation of an atomic warhead 1,060 feet above the desert floor in Las Vegas, NV, “Atomic Tourism” became all the rage in the 1950s.

    Las Vegas, a city known for capitalizing on profit through tourist attractions, quickly marketed itself as the country’s atomic tourist capital. Showgirls were dancing in mushroom cloud clothing, bartenders brewed up "atomic" cocktails, and specific destinations were allocated for people to go watch the detonations.

    Additionally, there were even event calendars and collectible postcards made for traveling tourists. Many Americans were swept up in the hype and would frequently visit Las Vegas, specifically to view the atomic clouds. However, the craze came to an end after the 1963 limited test ban, which prohibited above-ground nuclear testing at the Nevada site.

    Extreme pastime?