Visiting the morgue or a prison might not be the modern sightseer’s idea of a good time, but to Victorians, these were perfectly pleasant ways to spend their free time.
Parisians were very proud of their sewerage system. An entryway on the Boulevard de Sebastopol invited sightseers on tours given by “sewermen” on the weekends. Carts pushed by hand were installed first, then mechanized carts, and finally full trolleys that were eventually followed by the subway.
An Afternoon At The Morgue
In the late 1800s, spectators came by the thousands to view unidentified dead bodies at the Paris morgue. Located behind Notre Dame cathedral, the morgue was mentioned in many travel guidebooks of the era. Vendors sold fruit, pastries, and toys to the crowds who came to gossip about the corpses, which were laid out on slabs for viewing behind a glass window. The morgue didn’t close to the public until 1907.
A botanical fever gripped England in the 19th century. Pteridomania was the name for the concentrated interest on ferns and fern collecting. Dedicated pteridomaniacs scoured their own backyards and the globe in search of new specimens. Fern gathering outings became a convenient excuse for the sexes to mingle, and overnight excursions may have even lead to several marriages.
While a trip down the Nile still seems like an exciting and interesting way to spend vacation time, Victorians took their fascination with Egypt to a different level. There are rumors that the Victorians regularly staged private parties where mummies were unwrapped and guests were allowed to take whatever was found in their linens home. Unwrapping events did occur, but the majority were in an academic context. The Victorian fixation with Egypt was undeniable, however, and Nile cruises were a popular vacation choice.
With the expansion of London’s population during the Industrial Age came a widening gap between the classes. Wealthy Londoners began to try their hand at slumming, a kind of urban tourism that gave them a chance to experience life in the lower classes. An 1884 issue of the New York Times commented on the practice: “…it became fashionable to go ‘slumming’ ladies and gentlemen were induced to don common clothes and go out in the highways and byways to see people of whom they had heard, but of whom they were as ignorant as if they were inhabitants of a strange country.”
Terrifying Amusement Park Rides
A French engineer named Charles Carron designed a ride that was never built, but exemplified the kind of lengths Victorians would go to for a thrill. Carron’s giant bullet enclosed 15 riders in a capsule that would be dropped nearly 1,000 feet. Although this vision was never realized, the mechanics of many early rides were less than sound. Even the first Ferris Wheel, which debuted at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, rained rusty bolts on spectators.
The Beach, But With As Many Clothes As Possible
Trips to the seaside were enormously popular in Victorian England, but they came with certain restrictions. Women wore sack-like garments in the water, and many beaches were segregated by gender. Bathing machines were designed with the intention of protecting women’s modesty at the shore. These four-wheeled boxes were wheeled into the water, so their occupants could step out in their bathing garments far from prying eyes.
Hospitals And Asylums
Bethlem Hospital of London opened its doors to the public to raise funds up until 1770, but interest in touring asylums continued into the 19th century. North American guidebooks of the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s recommended that tourists seek out a number of medical establishments, including the Worcester State Hospital and Perkins School For The Blind.
Along the same vein as asylums and hospitals, prison buildings drew visitors purely for their unprecedented scope and size. Charles Dickens was reported to have visited prisons on his tour of the United States.
Taking The Waters
The medical advice to “take the waters” for six weeks or so was common and recommended for treatment of a variety of ailments. Water was considered a cure-all for everything from cancer to the hiccups, and spa villages appeared across 20 states in America by the 1850s.