Saturday, March 21, 2015

Factoid of the day

Most people who were tarred and feathered, unless otherwise abused as well, survived. This seems impossible to us today. Tar, after all, melts above the boiling point of water. You'd be looking at second and third degree burns over most of the body, right?

Well, no.

The tar in question wasn't asphalt. It was pine tar, or pitch. The same stuff baseball players put on their bats (and their hands, if they're sneaky pitchers) which is sticky at blood temperature and molten in sauna temperatures. Further, you weren't dunked in it. Most often it was applied with a mop. Sailors handled molten tar regularly in the process of preserving wooden ships and their rigging, and sticking their hand in the tar bucket wasn't a punishment, it was part of their job.

So it might be more correct to imagine it being like superglue and feathers. Sticky, obnoxious to get off, but usually nonlethal.

(Note: did you know that cyanoacrylate, or superglue, if overheated, releases cyanide gas? Those superglue fingerprint fumers need to have good temperature control. Yes, surgical superglue still has the cyanide. The solvents are different so they're not poisonous or irritating to flesh.)

Now, back to work.


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