So now that the weekend is winding to a close, are we totally ready for some investigative journalism and intrigue and murder and animal cruelty and vermin?
I thought you might be. WHO ISN’T READY FOR THESE THINGS. Settle in, kiddos, this is a long one. It’s time for some LEARNING. Also some fun. And some intrigue. And some craziness.
OK, so on Thursday, we talked about the girls in LeRoy who are suffering from mass hysteria. Jim (oh, hey, do you know Jim? You should totally know Jim. Let me tell you some stories about Jim. Ready? Jim writes an amazing blog, first off. Sometimes it’s funny, and makes me laugh. Sometimes it’s touching and totally makes me tear up, right at my desk, and then I have to pretend there’s something at work that’s giving me allergies. And ALWAYS it is well-written. He writes beautifully and he loves his family and he seems like just the greatest guy. Also, his tweets make me laugh and he totally gets my random song-lyric quotes. I THINK JIM IS NEAT. So go up there and start reading his blog, and then go here and start following him on Twitter. BECAUSE I SAID SO, that’s why. Damn, why do I always have to explain myself to you?), because I mentioned him in the post and told him I wanted him to write me a murder mystery based on the fact that the two biggest things to ever come out of LeRoy are Jello and rat poison, wrote like a book-length comment about the rat poison they used to make in LeRoy. And then he and I started looking more into it, and listen: this can’t not be blogged about. This needs to be discussed.
Ladies and gentlemen and YOU, TOO, Ding Dong Joe, who fits neither of these categories, I bring you:
THE SAGA OF ROUGH ON RATS
(by Amy, and helpfully co-investigated by Jim, who you are all totally following on Twitter now, right? BECAUSE I TOLD YOU TO? Good, glad you listen to me.)
So, gather ’round, my little kumquats, and let me tell you all a story about a product SO TERRIFYING…SO DISTRESSING…SO LETHAL…that nothing – NAY NOTHING! – was safe from its EMBRACE OF DEATH.
Dun dun dunnnnnnnn.
The best part is, the whole thing that led us here seems to be a dead end. RESEARCH IS FUN!
OK, so on LeRoy, New York’s Wikipedia page, it says they are well-known for being a manufacturer of Rough on Rats, a rat poison that, as best as I can ascertain, was popular in the late 1800s-early 1900s.
However, nowhere else is LeRoy, New York, even mentioned in the saga of Rough on Rats. I think someone just added that to the Wikipedia entry to make LeRoy fancier. Mostly everything I read says that it was created and marketed out of New Jersey.
(Side note: one of the towns near where I grew up has a Wikipedia page and this local kid who was an extra in a movie ONE TIME keeps adding himself to the page like he’s a big cheese. “BIRTHPLACE OF BOBBY THOMPSON” or whatever. It makes me laugh. Yay for being Birthday Kid #3 in Are We There Yet, Bobby. I’m sure grand things are headed your way.)
Rough on Rats was – well, it was the funniest rat poison ever, let’s just get that out there right now. Except also the saddest.
Wait, I’m totally selling Rough on Rats short. It’s not just a rat poison.
First, the name of Rough on Rats was very auspiciously discovered when the creator was all, “Whatever should I call this new rat poison?” and his wife said, “This stuff IS TOTALLY CUCKOO BANANAS ROUGH ON RATS YO” and it stuck. Well, probably she said it stuffier, it was the late 1800s. Probably less yo’s. And most likely she was wearing a big hat while she said it.
WHAT? What could do ALL THAT? I am CONFUSED!
Want to know what Rough on Rats was?
According to Jim, (hee! Like that awful sitcom!) in one of the best blog comments ever:
“Composition of Rough on Rats:
Fine sand 1.59
Arsenious oxid 71.83
Barium oxid 20.22
Carbon dioxid 5.81”
So…anyone totally check this out and see what’s hinky? NO, not that there’s sand in it, but I did find that humorous. Also that “moisture” was so vague (what kind of moisture? What are you HIDING, Rough on Rats?) and that “oxide” didn’t have an “e” back then. Were the “e”s hard to come by? Expensive, maybe? I don’t know. NO. Check out the third, hugest element. “Arsenious oxid.” No, not Arsenio Hall, you moron. IT’S OVER 70% ARSENIC.
You know about arsenic, right? You’ve seen at least one murder mystery, or watched Arsenic and Old Lace, or made a joke about killing your boss with arsenic? Oh, wait, that’s just me? OK FINE. Arsenic – well, it’s bad news. Arsenic kills you dead dead dead. It’s ok in small doses – I read online today that you can build up an immunity to it if you take it in small doses and build up your immunity over time – NOT THAT I’M RECOMMENDING THAT (which, you know what that makes it, right? As Jim pointed out in my comments, “In other words. . . IOCAINE POWDER, BITCHES!!!! Inconceivable!!!”) but if you take too much – or, if, back in the day, you lived in a house where the WALLPAPER PASTE was made with arsenic (yeah, back in the day they thought a lot of things were awesome, like making your wallpaper paste with a deadly poison, or playing in the street with a stick and a hoop or some such nonsense) or you put too much Rough on Rats all over – you would die. Horribly. Even the DUST could kill you. If it got wet, it would make ARSINE GAS. ARSENIC DOES NOT DICK AROUND.
Symptoms of arsenic poisoning: headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, drowsiness, convulsions, vomiting, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach pain, more convulsions, coma, and death.
(I totally am giggling over the fact that there are “convulsions” and then “more convulsions” in this list. ALL THE EFFING CONVULSIONS.)
BUT! Even though it was made of death? Look at the advertising! It was…um…well, LOOK AT THE ADVERTISING!
I like this one because the cats look HORRIFIED. Mostly, though, now that we know what Rough on Rats was made of, I like to think mostly they’re all, “HOLY SHIT THERE IS DEADLY POISON ALL UP IN THE HOUSE WITH US HIDE YO WIFE HIDE YO KITTENS.”
And then there’s…um…this one.
I don’t…was a thing that people back in the day thought that Asians ate rodents? I don’t get this at all. Are they comparing the power of Rough on Rats to the ability of Asians to eat rodents? WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? Oh, wait, further research tells me this ad is comparing the rats to Asians and that both were considered vermin in the 1800s. Really? That’s true? For the love of Pete, 1800s, you were kind of the suck with your random racism and poisons all hanging out easily obtainable.
NEXT. So Rough on Rats was SO TOTALLY THE MOST AWESOME there was a SONG about it. No. I’m totally serious. A SONG. With SHEET MUSIC. And LYRICS. For a RAT POISON. This is probably the most exciting murderous product, like, ever.
I think you can click on this to enlarge it. If not, here’s the link.
Some highlights from the song:
- The music was written by “Jules Juniper.” As Jim says, “While we’re at it. . . isn’t Jules Juniper a pretty kickass name for our hero or villain?” YES, JIM. We couldn’t have written a better name if we TRIED. BEST NAME EVER.
- Sample lyrics: the rats “ate our meat, our bread, and shoes”, “One day my wife did chance to doze, they pinned my baby by the nose” (I don’t understand the italics, and also, your rat-infested house is SO BAD the rats GANGED UP ON YOUR BABY and NOSE-PINNED HIM?), Rough on Rats is so efficient you can “hang your dogs and drown your cats” (oh, please don’t, just feed them Rough on Rats, that ought to do it.)
This link says you can sing the song to the tune of “Little Brown Jug.” Now, if you’re as sheet-music-handicapped as I am: watch this YouTube video a couple of times, then read the lyrics of “Rough on Rats” by JULES JUNIPER (you totally need to jazz-hands after you say that name) to that tune. Aren’t I handy? YOU’RE WELCOME. And YES, it’s totally a bouncing-ball cartoon turtle singalong. Again, YOU’RE WELCOME.
Now, Jim has promised* (*not promised at all) to sing Rough on Rats on video while his daughter accompanies him on an instrument. I think he needs encouragement, though. I’m also pretty sure that if he does this, I may have promised a video in which I also do something. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in mine, though. Things like “playing the bongos” and “interpretive dance” were brought up. I haven’t 100% figured out how my stupid bargain-basement webcam works yet, but I think if Jim actually sings Rough on Rats on a video, I’ll have to figure it out and then interpretive-dance to the Rough on Rats theme song. I’ll even jazz-hands to JULES JUNIPER. A promise is a promise, after all.
And here we have a little story about Rough on Rats from NEBRASKA. This shit totally got around. Wait, I just realized also this could kill bedbugs. Which would mean you would have to put it in your bed, right? Arsenic. In your BED. Where you SLEEP. This…this really was the worst idea ever, I’m not even kidding.
This story tells about how rats were “gobbling” a guy’s baby (ugh, really? Rats were seriously upsetting and carnivorous back in the day and there were SO MANY OF THEM) and due to a totally madcap turn of events the guy ended up incarcerated for protecting the home from rodents and this would not have HAPPENED had he had ROUGH ON RATS Y’ALL.
And HERE we have a very famous children’s rhyme from ago – “Willie and Three Other Brats”:
“Willie and three other brats,
Ate up all the Rough-On-Rats,
Papa said, when Mama cried,
“Don’t worry, dear, they’ll die outside.”
(Apparently one of the awesome things about Rough on Rats is that it made the rats go outside to die. I’m not quite sure how it accomplished that, either.)
WHO WAS SINGING THIS DITTY. People in the late 1800s were the freakiest.
SIDE NOTE! I totally have two vermin-poison stories. When my mom was little, she totally ate some rat poison. Back in the day (she was a wee one, so I’m thinking it was probably in the fifties?) rat poison came in these little trays. Her grandmother put one of them on the windowsill. She thought it was cereal so she ate a little. This scared the hell out of the grownups who probably thought she was about to go outside to die so they made her throw up for like an entire day. Needless to say she does not eat all the windowsill food nowadays.
Second SIDE NOTE! When I was a wee one, I was staying at my grandmother’s house, and she had this one closet that was full of games that I loved. I was playing in there and on the floor were some totally exciting candies! I was so jazzed. What a cool thing for my grandmother to leave for me! So of course I nommed one and after one chomp I was all “THIS IS THE GROSSEST CANDY EVER” and spit it out and hid the evidence of my chomping behind something. Then I felt bad so was all, “What’s up with the candy you hid for me in the closet? I think it went bad, it tasted horrendous” and my grandmother was all, “Um, who leaves candy for children on the floor of a closet, what are you…THOSE WERE MOTHBALLS” and then made me wash my mouth out with a washcloth for like a year even though I didn’t swallow any of the “candy” and told me not to tell my mom because she thought my mom would be upset but I totally told my mom anyway about ten years later and my mother wasn’t upset, she was confused what kind of child she’d raised who thought floor-candy was a good idea. One who loved CANDY, damn.
So, yeah, ANYWAY, back in the late 1800s/early 1900s, they were selling – over the counter, in drugstores – pretty much pure arsenic. And singing about it and rhyming about it and shit. ARSENIC. Which you could use to kill, oh, I don’t know, any vermin, ever, in your house. EVER. From ants to…muskrats? Who has muskrats in their house?
But here’s the thing. Even though Rough on Rats was NOT SPECIFICALLY MARKETED to kill humans? Humans, we are a tricksy bunch. And we figured out – hmm. If this shit can kill ALL THE THINGS, and humans are THINGS, well…what would happen if you Rough-on-Ratted someone’s COFFEE? Or MILKSHAKE?
First, people started “needing to get rid of their rodent problem”, then turning up as suicides. This became such a problem it was written up in medical journals, warning heedless druggists that Rough on Rats IS POISONOUS YOU GUYS BE WARY. Also, law journals, where sometimes? Druggists (apparently, you had to ask a druggist for Rough on Rats, much like Robotussin today, do you totally always feel like a methhead when you have to ask for your cough medicine over the counter? I do) were being held LEGALLY LIABLE for Rough on Rats murders. And having to take the stand, all “DID YOU KNOW ROUGH ON RATS WAS ALL ARSENIC” and they were like, “um…I guess? I thought he had a rat problem? What the hell, how was I to know he was a killer, it’s not like he wore his Ted Bundy t-shirt.”
But THEN Jim found me this. A WHOLE MURDER STORY ABOUT ROUGH ON RATS.
I know, I know, you hate clicking. THAT’S WHY I’M HERE. It’s totally worth a read, though. I love those TruCrime links, seriously. The word “salacious” was invented for that website.
So…once upon a time in the thirties…in New Jersey…the home of Rough on Rats…there lived a woman named Mary Frances Creighton. She didn’t like her brother. He died one day. How handy! Then she got married. Her in-laws hated her. Well! They ALSO died! And then her father-in-law’s bulldog, what a pain in the butt THAT dog was! ALSO, how handy! People got suspicious and exhumations were done and holy mother there is a lot of arsenic in the systems of these people and/or pups, Frances! But she and her husband were found innocent, so all is well. They moved to Long Island. You know, as you do.
Frances and her husband and their two children, to save money, moved in with another family, the Appelgates, who had a teenage daughter as well. So, in one small house, you had two men, two women, two teenage daughters, and a teenage boy. THIS IS GOING SWIMMINGLY.
Everett Appelgate, who is pictured above, was a total smooth-talker. He smoothed his way into bed with ol’ Frances by complimenting her housekeeping skillzzzzz. His own wife, Ava, was very heavy-set and didn’t get out of bed much. I don’t know that I’d get out of bed for Everett, either, to tell you the truth, but whatever, it was the 30s, there wasn’t much on TV. WAIT. Was there even TV? If there wasn’t TV I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed at ALL. Also, apparently, in the 30s, that passed for a pickup line. “Hey, baby, you sure know your way around a dust mop.”
So Everett and Frances were all banging it (Frances’s husband John seems like a total loser who is not at all involved with anything in the real world and does not play into this story at all) and then Everett notices Frances’s daughter, Ruth. WHO WAS 14. Everett’s all, “I like me the young ladies.” So Everett started sleeping with Ruth while – I’m not even kidding – his wife was in the bed with them, and his own daughter was in the bed with them, and in the backyard, and in his car. Everett! A total peach of a fella!
Ruth thought she was pregnant. Frances, who at this point felt like a total jackhole, got upset with Ava over something – calling Ruth a whore? it’s kind of unclear – and decided that AVA MUST GO. (Not that Everett must go, which would have been my murder of choice. Preferably with a nice, sharp carving knife.) So what did our friend Frances do?
Made Everett take her to the drugstore for some Rough on Rats, of course.
She then fed Ava coffee and milkshakes and soup laced with arsenic over a number of days. Ava began to falter. It’s unclear whether or not Everett knew what Frances was up to; I think Everett was too busy HAVING ILLICIT SEX WITH A GIRL BARELY OUT OF KNEESOCKS. On the day Ava died, she saw “a pink piano in the corner of her room” then lapsed into a coma and died. Hee! A pink piano! That should be in the list of side effects! Liberace would love that!
Ava’s death didn’t seem suspect, until a savvy policeman recognized Frances’s name and said, “Wait a damn minute” and found the clippings from her earlier trial. They did an autopsy and found all the arsenic. Both Frances and Everett were tried for the murder. Everett claimed to know nothing of it, but on the stand TOTALLY BRAGGED ABOUT THE CHILD SEX, so the jury was all “um, whatever, he’s a total gross pervy perverson” and Frances told about seventeen different versions of her story, from “we did it together” to “he raped me and my child” to “I did it alone” to “I did it because he promised to marry Ruth if he was single and I didn’t want her raising her child an unwed mother.” They were both sentenced to death and electrocuted in 1936.
ROUGH ON RATS! And brothers! And in-laws! And bulldogs! And the wives of the men who seduced you because you are the best at polishing the silver (not a euphemism) and then sleep with your teenage daughter!
Nowadays, rat poison is not as exciting as all this. I don’t think you can just sell arsenic all willy-nilly. And it looks like this:
Which is ENTERTAINING, but not really as evocative as Rough on Rats. HAVOC!
So what’s the moral of this story? I don’t know, to be quite frank. The 1800s were full of insanity? You seemed to be able to purchase deadly poisons in your drugstores and your advertising was full of racism and you could get away with murdering people on a regular basis and the names of products were a lot more straightforward? (Oh, also, the other products the Rough on Rats company sold? Rough on Corns, Rough on Piles, Rough on Toothache, Rough on Dentist, and Rough on Itch. He had a good thing going and DAMMIT he was sticking with it.) There were songs with actual sheet music written about rat poison? Your wallpaper was adhered with deadly substances that could kill you if it happened to peel off? People were named Jules Juniper on purpose? People had so many animals in their houses they actually carried off their babies?
I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE MORAL OF THIS STORY IS. Maybe Jim does.
R-r-r-ough on Rats! Rough on Rats! ROUGH ON RATS!