Depths Of... Skeletons

BOO! Happy spooky season!

annie rauwerda
October 12, 2021

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Hi!

I’m Annie Rauwerda, and I started @depthsofwikipedia on InstagramTwitter, and TikTok to highlight my favorite trivia and internet rabbit holes. I partnered with Bullish Studio to round up bizarre trivia about a new topic each week.

This week's topic: Skeletons — featuring an interview with one of my favorite Wikipedians (and creator of a certain infamous skeleton's Wikipedia page) Yitzi Litt.

Heads up — this is a long one, so it may cut off in your inbox. Before I dive into the newsletter, a few announcements: 

  • I'm doing a comedy show Tuesday (tonight!) at Caveat in Manhattan! I'll be with a bunch of cool performers. You can buy tickets here for $18! 
  • Also, thank you to everyone who showed up to my Wikipedia trivia at the WikiConference North America on Friday! I had so much fun.

Alright, now let's get spooky!

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Skeletons... by the numbers: 

  • 20: The number of years a human skeleton sat — fully clothed — in the home of a legally blind hoarder who had no idea it was there. The body belonged to the woman's son, and she reportedly thought he had just moved out. Yikes!!!
  • 8%: The percentage of people with missing or extra ribs, according to one study
  • 1982: The year Poltergeist came out. The movie used real skeletons as props because they were cheaper than plastic (!!?). 
  • 111: The age of a Japanese man who, in 2010, became the oldest man in Tokyo. However, city officials later realized he'd been dead for 30 years! His skeleton was still in his home, and his family had been collecting his pension. The incident triggered an audit of Japan's elderly population. 
  • 3: The number of weeks it takes for a human body to decompose into a skeleton.
  • "At least 3": The number of times a teenager injected himself with mercury in an attempt to convert his bones to metal (he had just seen X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The same kid had previously sought out spider bites so that he could become Spiderman. Please do not try this at home!!!!

A skeleton that's more cute than creepy

The Skeleton Army: fighting for the right to a cold beer 

You might know the Salvation Army — the sprawling Evangelical organization with thrift stores, rehab centers, and global missions. They also get volunteers to ring bells outside the grocery store at Christmas. Today, the nonprofit is not too keen on drinking. But in the 1880s, they were super anti-alcohol. Enter: the Skeleton Army

Dedicated to harassing the Salvation Army, the Skeleton Army would disrupt anti-alcohol protests to promote the three Bs: "Beef," "Beer" and "Bacca." This was a play on the Salvation Army's "Soup," "Soap" and "Salvation" slogan.

The skeleton riots continued for a decade, resulting in an unknown number of injuries and deaths (!). 

The Bone Wars: a period of ruthless fossil hunting

The Bone Wars is a rousing Wikipedia read. In the late 1800s, two paleontologists developed such a nasty rivalry that they resorting to bribery, theft, and destruction of bones. They drained their savings on self-financed digs, and their efforts led to the discovery of 136 new species of dinosaurs.

But it took paleontologists over 100 years to sort out the mess they made. They misidentified hundreds of species, often just making things up. One would hastily release a report, and sometimes the other would reconfigure the bones and release a counter-report. Check out the full article here!

The cult of the Home Depot skeleton

"When it debuted last year, the Home Depot’s 12-foot-tall skeleton was quickly dubbed the most-coveted Halloween decoration. But just as soon as it appeared, it disappeared — selling out almost instantly. A 30,000-member Facebook group emerged where the lucky could explain how they got their hands on one and the not-so-lucky could detail their pursuit of the perfect dupe. This year, the skeleton (alongside “Inferno,” a creepier, pumpkin-headed counterpart) was rereleased in July — and the two sold out soon after." 

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ICYMI:

Here are the posts that the internet liked the most! I've been more active on Twitter and TikTok lately— both because of Instagram's outages and because I got Zucked!! I get my account back on Friday. 

My most-liked post on both Instagram and Twitter: 

An honorable mention tweet (not mine, but I wish it was):

Random things I enjoyed this week:

Interview with the Wikipedian behind iconic bisexual lighting skeleton

Yitzi Litt is a 20-year-old Wikipedian with many, many interests. Hailing from Norfolk, Virginia, he's created a slew of Wikipedia articles, including the one on bisexual lighting. His friend made the iconic skeleton image: 

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Over email, Yitzi talked to me about everything from his talk at Wikimania 2021, to his penchant for creepy images, and even to the time a bad Ambien reaction led him to unknowingly write a fake Wikipedia article. 

Annie: When did you start editing Wikipedia and what topics do you prefer to edit? 

Yitzi: I was an avid Wikipedia user ever since grade school. I used it to make delightfully terrible PowerPoint presentations about random interests of mine (like space, magnetism, and cockroaches). That kickstarted my love of the site, which has only grown since.While I had an account on the site for a while before that, I actually only started editing Wikipedia in earnest near the start of lockdown in 2020. For some time, a meme was going around about “the King’s Hand,” a surrealist meal a Twitter user had eaten in a dream and proceeded to bake in the waking world. I decided that such a masterpiece deserved a spot on Wikipedia — especially considering the surprisingly large amount of press coverage it had received — and wrote the entire page for it. The experience was great fun, and opened me up to the grand possibilities available as an editor of one of the most useful (and popular!) websites ever created.Since then, I’ve found myself focusing on an incredibly eclectic range of topics, covering everything from the Bible code to Dinosaur erotica (they are both excellent articles that could arguably be improved with more images). I mainly focus on what I perceive to be bizarre, awe-inducing, or misunderstood. In other words, I like to work on the sort of articles that made me fall in love with Wikipedia in the first place.

Annie: What are some of your favorite pages you’ve created or worked on? 

Yitzi: That’s a hard one! Some of my many favorites include, but are not limited to (and listed in no particular order): 

  • Tachyon: We all know that Einstein proved that nothing below the speed of light can be made to travel faster than light. But what if a particle starts off going faster than light? This page explores the hypothetical properties of such particles and their potential use in time-warping telephones that send messages into the past.
  • Missing Sock: One of the great mysteries of the cosmos, baffling the greatest minds in science and laundry since time immemorial.
  • Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came: A haunting narrative poem which almost everyone agrees is metaphorical in nature, but nobody can agree what it’s a metaphor for (I’m currently working on a personal artistic interpretation here).
  • Cats That Look Like Hitler: Exactly what it sounds like.
  • Joel S. Levine: A relatively obscure NASA scientist who saved the Declaration of Independence, did research with Carl Sagan on the possibility of nuclear winter, helped rescue 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground during the 2010 Copiapó mining accident, and a number of other insane scientific feats that had never (to my knowledge) been compiled into one place before I wrote the article. (I should mentioned, I believe the tag on the top of this article to be incorrect, but don’t want to remove it due to potential bias as a result of spending so much time working on this page. If any reader wants to give it a look-over on my behalf, I’d greatly appreciate it).
  • Meme Man: The unofficial mascot of surrealist memes, and the face of the “stonks” meme, brought to the attention of mass culture during the 2021 GameStop short squeeze. For some unfathomable reason, Meme Man now also has a character skin representation in Fortnite
  • Bisexual Lighting: This is here for obvious reasons.
  • Cursed Image: I’ve compiled some of the most cursed images I’ve come across on Wikimedia here (Trigger Warning for creepy imagery).
  • Liminality: If you enjoy liminal spaces, this Wikimedia collection is for you. 
  • Large Numbers: I recommend this article simply as a stepping stone into the incredibly mind-blowing world of ridiculously large numbers like Graham's numberBusy Beavers, and the Ackermann function. These are numbers so large they would give H. P. Lovecraft’s Outer Gods nightmares!

Annie: What do you do besides Wikipedia? 

Yitzi: I do quite a lot!

  • I’m a video game developer. In 2018, I published Nepenthe, a hand-drawn action-adventure game which was basically an excuse to pack as many dad jokes as I possibly could into a single game. In June 2019, I announced I was working on an experimental video game based on the poem “Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came,” titled “To The Dark Tower.” I still haven’t released the game, as I got stuck making the music for the very last section — which is otherwise finished — but you can wishlist the game here.
  • I’m always on the lookout for vaguely creepy things —  like the mysterious 2009 “I feel fantastic” viral YouTube video. In 2018, I tracked down and uploaded the full video, which is coming up on 1 million views! I also updated its Know Your Meme page, which led me to create a Know Your Meme page for my friend’s game The Endless Empty. Know Your Meme got me into wiki editing in general, and it was shortly afterward that I started contributing to Wikipedia.
  • As for what I’m doing now, I was recently hired by the startup SudShare, which brands itself as effectively Uber for laundry. They’re very close to being worthy of Wikipedia inclusion, so it might be worth looking us up in a month or so if you’re looking for a project to work on then. As a result, I’ve been doing some heavy reading on the history of laundry, which may eventually make its way to Wikipedia. 
  • I also try to do some amount of online activism, which on occasion has had some cool tangible results. For example, in July 2019, me and a group of my friends ended up getting the “LGBTQ+” tag added to Steam, which I’m still very proud of. In 2020, during the height of the BLM protest movement, I joined an Itch.io “Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality,” (before the bundle went viral) and ended up raising over $8 million for racial justice charities.

Annie: I loved your talk at Wikimania this year! For anyone who didn’t see it, what were the main points? 

Yitzi: There were three main points.

  1. The importance of weird topics in Wikipedia: They make Wikipedia great, improve user retention, and can have reverberations throughout history and culture, some of which result in events that are quite serious. 
  2. Common issues with representing the weird: How we classify weirdness is biased by our own history, culture, and interests. When writing about the weird, there is a tendency toward defamiliarization. This can be both a good and bad thing, depending on context. Wikipedia editors tend to have certain specific biases, such as viewing internet culture and memes as more obscure and less important than they are. This can lead to reduced coverage and lackluster work on the subject. Viewing a topic as weird or funny tends to lead to minimization of the topics’ importance, even though often understanding the odd is paramount. Humor is seen as taboo by many on Wikipedia, despite it being well recognized and studied in academia. This taboo can lead to minimization and backlash against important humor-related articles, such as cultures built around jokes and influential internet memes. 
  3. What can we do about it?: Interrogate your own reactions to the weird and funny. Pay attention when you write something off as “niche,” or “irrelevant/unworthy of coverage” — is it truly irrelevant, or is it only irrelevant to your particular interests and culture? Be careful about keeping consistent internal standards with regards to notability and criteria for deletion. If you’re fine with using sports and music articles as sources, but find yourself skeptical of a similar quality paper covering memes, it’s worth checking yourself for potential bias.

Annie: Okay, bisexual lighting! What brought it to your attention and what made you turn it into a page? Who made the skeleton art and how did they make it?

Yitzi: So a while back, I came across a meme referencing bisexual lighting (it might have been this one). Being in the target audience of bisexual people with a penchant for fun lighting, I went to look up more about this phenomenon on Wikipedia. I soon realized that the relevant page not only had insufficient citations, but was also missing an accompanying image. This seemed strange, considering it’s an entire article talking about visuals, with no visuals.

So, I sauntered over to Wikimedia and looked for images of bisexual people in bisexual lighting. Alas, I found what I considered to be a surprising dearth of bisexuality-related media. There were a few photos of allegedly bisexual genitalia (presumably taken from public domain pornography?), but none of those images seemed quite appropriate or properly lit. Meanwhile, a quick Google image search turned up millions of excellent example images of bisexual lighting. But of course none of those images were public domain, so they were effectively unusable for Wikipedia.

My friend @StarSkull999 offered to donate one of his 3D skeleton models to science (and bisexuality). With his artistic skills, the rendering power of the Unity game engine, and my Wikipedia knowledge combined, we finally uploaded… the bisexual lighting skeleton. It promptly went viral, of course.

There are now a surprisingly large number of proudly bisexual people using the image to represent themselves online, which is really cool. At one point Lil Nas X retweeted someone with a bisexual skeleton profile picture, and there’s at least one album using our bi skeleton as cover art. Every few days, I get a notification from a random friend that they’ve seen our skeleton in some viral tweet, Reddit post or elsewhere.

It’s still quite a surreal experience knowing that my most lasting internet legacy may just turn out to be a skeleton in bisexual lighting, gracing the page of a single Wikipedia article. 

Annie: For anyone who isn’t an active editor, what advice do you have on getting more involved in Wikipedia?

Yitzi: Community is key. Editing Wikipedia can be very confusing to beginners — and even experts sometimes! A community of friendly, more experienced peers is essential.

I highly recommend joining a community with at least some other editors in it. Wikipedia: Discord is a great place to start, though the atmosphere can be a bit intense sometimes, and it isn’t for everyone. You can also try searching for fellow editors on your preferred social media platform.

Annie: Anything else you'd like to mention?

Yitzi: I would like to add a rather silly story that I’ve never had a chance to share with anyone until now. At one point a few months ago, I was having trouble sleeping, and my doctor prescribed me Ambien. A few nights into taking it, I woke up one morning to realize that I’d somehow managed to write an entire fictitious Wikipedia article the previous night and had published it without anyone noticing the entire thing was fake! I franticly got in contact with some Wikipedia admins who kindly helped me take it down without banning me, or otherwise destroying my online reputation, on the condition that I don’t do something like that again.

Suffice it to say, I am no longer on Ambien. The article itself has mostly vanished from the internet, but you can still find a copy here.

That's all for today! As always, feel free to forward this to a friend and send your thoughts to [email protected]. I really like your emails! 

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