These Insane Viral Trends and Fads Overtook History Long Before the Internet
These Insane Viral Trends and Fads Overtook History Long Before the Internet

These Insane Viral Trends and Fads Overtook History Long Before the Internet

Khalid Elhassan - July 13, 2022

These Insane Viral Trends and Fads Overtook History Long Before the Internet
Crooks went to great lengths to snatch wigs. Atlas Obscura

1. A Viral Crime Wave of Wig Snatching

Nowadays, wigs are so cheap that you can get a realistic looking one for under ten bucks. There was a time, however, when wigs were necessities for the upper crust – and quite expensive necessities at that. In the eighteenth century, for example, to make a decent wig usually took “six men working six days from sunup to sundown“. As a result, a good wig could cost as much as an average workman earned in a year. Such a small fortune propped atop rich people’s heads made wigs an attractive target for crooks. The result was a viral crime wave of wig robberies.

These Insane Viral Trends and Fads Overtook History Long Before the Internet
Highwaymen wig-jack a victim. Gizmodo

Aristocrats with elaborate wigs became particularly attractive targets for highwaymen. Since only the wealthy could afford big wigs, wealthy nobles were nicknamed “bigwigs”, after the lucrative target atop their heads. Not all wig thieves used force. One account tells of a wig bandit so bold and skilled, that he was able to replace his target’s expensive wig with a cheap rug when the mark was distracted. The nobleman, oblivious to the switch that had taken place, would then walk away, unaware that he had just lost a fortune. Unfortunately for the wig snatchers, their gravy train came to a halt when wigs went out of fashion.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

America Comes Alive – “Kilroy Was Here”: A Story From WWII

Churchill, David, History and Societies, 18(1) 131-152 – Rethinking the State Monopolisation Thesis: the Historiography of Policing and Criminal Justice in Nineteenth Century England

Churchill, David, Social History, 392:2, 248-266 – ‘I Am Just the Man For Upsetting You Bloody Bobbies’: Popular Animosity Towards the Police in Late Nineteenth Century Leeds

Davis, Susan G., American Quarterly, Volume 34.2 (Summer 1982) – Making the Night Hideous: Christmas Revelry and Public Order in Nineteenth Century Philadelphia

Digital History – Holidays and the Invention of Tradition

Encyclopedia Britannica – Dancing Plague of 1518

Gizmodo – In the 18th Century, Wig-Stealing Bandits Roamed England’s Countryside

Guardian, The, July 5th, 2018 – Keep on Moving: The Bizarre Dance Epidemic of Summer 1518

Hacking, Ian – Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses (1998)

History Collection – Birds, Entrails, and Newborn Babies: 20 of the Strangest Fortune Telling Methods From History

History Link – Dance Marathons of the 1920s and 1930s

History Theater – Dance ‘Til You Drop

Life Magazine, July 15th, 1946 – Behind the Picture: Love Atop a Flagpole

Live Science – How “Kilroy Was Here” Changed the World

Long, Mark A. – Bad Fads (2002)

Los Angeles Times, June 4th, 2018 – Zoot Suit Riots: After 75 Years, LA Looks Back on a Violent Summer

Mexican Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer, 2000 – The Los Angeles ‘Zoot Suit Riots’ Revisited: Mexican and Latin American Perspectives

Marum, Andrew – Follies and Foibles: A View of 20th Century Fads (1984)

Mortal Journey – Flagpole Sitting (1920s)

Mortal Journey – Phone Booth Stuffing (1950s)

New York Times, September 16th, 1922 – City Has Wild Night of Straw Hat Riots

New York Tribune, September 16th, 1922 – Straw Hat Smashing Orgy Bares Heads From Battery to Bronx

Pagan, Eduardo Obregon – Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime LA (2004)

Pittsburgh Press, September 16th, 1910 – Straw Hat Riot

Sarasota Herald Tribune, October 13th, 1952 – Body of ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly Lies Unclaimed in Morgue

Sickles, Robert and Robert J. – The 1940s (2004)

Slate – The 1922 Straw Hat Riot Was One of the Weirdest Crime Sprees in American History

Smithsonian Magazine, February 27th, 2015 – The Great Goldfish Swallowing Craze of 1939 Never Really Ended

Social Science History, Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2000 – Los Angeles Geopolitics and the Zoot Suit Riot, 1943

ThoughtCo. – The Story Behind the Phrase ‘Kilroy Was Here’