Tattoos to UndoOn June 9, 2021 by Elyse
Stay tuned until the end for some shameless self-promotion!
I’m way too old for teenage rebellion, but that didn’t stop me from walking into a tattoo studio recently. As I nervously contemplated which design I would spend the rest of my life staring at, I had no shortage of options. Did I want an inspirational “carpe diem?” A tried-and-true heart with “mother” written in it? A loved one’s birthday? A Chinese character that probably didn’t mean what I thought it did?
Naturally, I turned to my beloved historical newspapers for advice. As they do about everything from vaccines to pickpocketing, these articles of old had some. . . unique ideas. For anyone else looking for inky inspiration, I present some designs that have stood the test of time—but only because laser tattoo removal hadn’t been invented yet. If you end up with a tattoo you wish you could undo, remember, it’s all their fault.
Idea #1: History Lesson
They say those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. I guarantee that will never be a problem if you walk around with these:
Tattooed portraits of the last six French presidents were found on the skin of a burglar named Bertin arrested in Paris.– The Virginia Enterprise, November 27, 1908
Bertin must have been desperate to pass his high school history class.
The six presidents who governed France between 1879 and 1913. From Wikipedia.
Historical context recommended but not required: the Dreyfus affair.
At least one person in Paris will never, as long as he lives, forget the incidents of the Dreyfus case, as he is a walking pictorial history of that cause celebre.
Some time ago he was in one of the punishment companies in Africa, and an artistic comrade killed time by tattooing him all over his body and legs with no less than 120 illustrations of the prominent scenes in the case, including portraits of the leading personages connected with it and various allegorical and emblematic device as well. . .
[It] took about twenty months in the execution. . . What may be styled the two “pieces de resistance” are to be found on the back and on the portion of the body on the other side, which afforded the most space for the flights of the artist’s genius.– The Hood River Glacier, August 30, 1901
Talk about too much time on your hands.
Idea #2: Your Resume
If your mind, like mine, goes blank during job interviews, do I have a tattoo for you:
A peculiar fancy in tattooing was exhibited in special sessions yesterday by Henry Stevenson, a piano player. . . charged with stealing an automobile fire extinguisher from the car of Eli Sturgen at the Hudson Terminal building. . .
When a justice asked Stevenson if he had previously been convicted, the prisoner rolled up his sleeve and displayed “Workhouse, 1918.” tattooed on his right arm. Stevenson then said the tattoo record on his arm was not complete as he had served another term in 1919.
“Well, you’ll be able to add to that record the words: ‘Workhouse, 1920.’ at the end of the next four months,” commented Justice Freschi, announcing the latest sentence of four months on Blackwell’s Island.– The Atlanta Tri-Weekly Journal, August 17, 1920
Two more, and he’ll have workhouse bingo.
Idea #3: Celebrity Tribute
When sending a fan letter just isn’t enough to convey the depths of your devotion to your idol:
One of the most peculiar bits of tattooing ever carried around by an American naval sailor was the black eye of an old flatfoot [sailor] of the frigate days who died a few years ago on one of the receiving ships.
This tar [sailor] was an apprentice boy in the old navy, and one of his earliest shipmates was Midshipman Farragut. The apprentice gave Farragut some back talk during a cruise, and Farragut promptly knocked him down, giving him a black eye.
When Farragut became great and famous as an Admiral, the old flatfoot, on a spree ashore one day, had one of his mates devise with a tattooing needle a perfect representation of how his left eye looked when Farragut blacked it.– The Sun, May 24, 1898
Idea #4: Love Affairs
“What keeps me most busy is inscribing figures of a heart with the name of a girl underneath, but, alas! A large number of my clients who have this done come to me soon afterwards to have the name of the lady changed. One such customer has now made the change 31 times.”– Lake Wakatip Mail, May 3, 1938
I’d accuse him of having commitment issues—it’s an epidemic these days—but with 31 names, it’s more like over-commitment issues.
Another device which finds favor at present is that of a figure of Cupid disappearing into the recesses of a pewter pot, having cast aside his bow and quiver. This picture, which has been tattooed on the skin of many women, is entitled “Love Gone to Pot.”– The Evening Star, April 30, 1904
Romeo, I found your 32nd tattoo. You’re welcome.
To the concerned relatives reading, rest assured, I chose none of the above. Instead, I designed my tattoo myself and waited six years to get it, just to be sure. The best things in life are worth waiting for, y’know?
Dear readers, please forgive this brief interruption to your regularly scheduled history programming. When I’m not bringing you hilarious/cringeworthy/fascinating/lame/[insert your own adjective] blog posts, I dabble in plays and short stories. On that front, I have some exciting news to share: Last month, I was honored to have a story published in the speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, etc.) anthology “Hope Screams Eternal.”
And just when I thought my head couldn’t get any bigger, a video review made my week with a very kind shout out for yours truly. The reviewer even pronounced my name correctly! If speculative fiction is your cup of tea, please check out the anthology. I’m proud and grateful to both be in such fantastic company and have readers like you!
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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