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5 Boogers That Changed the World

May 24, 2010

We all have them, and while we usually empty them into a tissue and toss it in the trash, it might give us pause to know that sometimes that stuff in our nose has the power to change the world. Here’s a (mercifully) short list of some history-making mucus.

Hitler’s Booger

Let’s get this one out of the way, because this is the most famous booger ever conceived.

Short story: During the Beer-Hall Putsch, Hitler made so especially rabid point on Patriotism that (for lack of a better word) snot streamed down from his nose. Ernst Röhm, Rudolf Hess, and the enigmatic rebel, Ludwig Maximilian Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, were so taken with his passion that they decided to join his cause. The rest, sadly, is history.

Xia Gun-Li (乾燥鼻粘液)

Never heard of Xia Gun-Li? I don’t blame you, but his impact on history makes him one of the most criminally overlooked people in any annals, recorded or not.

Born 190 BC in the tiny village of Tu-Tinyu, he rose to fame by becoming the lover (at 14!?!–and she was nearing 80!) of the then-Emperor’s daughter (and escaped her bedroom in several close-calls: some stories that merit several retellings in themselves–but we’ll stick, nobly to boogers). He had a penchant for commanding people, also, strategy, and in one of the most bizarre turns of rags-to-riches stories ever told, he actually led the cavalry at the epic Siege of Jipeng (the Emperor’s daughter must have put in a good word).

On the fateful day, as legend goes, Gun-Li had his forces at the ready–waiting for him to give the word–and right as he was about to yell the 2nd-Century-BC word for “Charge,” he detected a faint discharge from his nose (or got stuffed up–details are, understandably, hazy). So, in one of those moments that exist only in cheesy movies, contemplated the frailty of human life–and surrendered his command without a drop of spilled blood.

But the story doesn’t end there—and gets more interesting: After the battle, Gun-Li gave up his life of war and retired to the Huang mountains to become a poet. His most successful poem was about—you guessed it: the booger. (Of course, it was a little more tastefully referred to in his poem, Reflections on the Day of Battle.) The actual piece exists only through word of mouth, but the most popular version goes something like:

Men stand at arms,

I see the sweat drip off one’s nose,

While the longbill frolics in the pond,

I see the enemy pikes readied,

Their throngs coursing through the middle of their faces,

And my own, full nose,

From it, I could not go on.

The poem was a wild success and renewed interest in Gun-Li. The newly installed Emperor (once Gun-Li’s hated enemy) himself made the nose-dripper court poet, and Gun-Li lived out the rest of his days in luxury before dying quietly in his sleep. By the way, the lost battle led directly to the Qin Dynasty taking power.

Booger Gardens

Did you know about the healing properties of mucus? It’s not something Miss Gunther taught in health class, but that stuff that clogs your nose is rich in something called “glycoprotein,” which is the active ingredient in Glycogen, an experimental drug that (supposedly) cures narcolepsy.

The drug’s not available in the U.S. (yet), but it’s wildly successful in Norway, where there’s now over several 1,000 acres dedicated to “Snot Farms”—that’s right, and it’s exactly what it (ick) sounds like (Norwegian matrons need something to do, right?). In 1977 Danish researcher Dr. Hork Thorwald was experimenting with the immunoglobulins found in glycoprotein when he discovered that ingesting an ounce (don’t ask how he discovered it) would affect the hypocretins widely believed to cause narcolepsy. A patent, furious marketing campaign, and millions of krones later, Thorwald decided to open up “Narco-Land”—Norway’s booger-themed response to Disney World.

And it’s now the most successful theme park in Scandanavia, where kids can frolic with such booger-themed mascots as “Snorks the Colloid” (Snorks? Colloid?), Mollenar Mucosa, and their arch-enemy Thor Asthma. I’d hate to see what the snack bar serves.

“Captain Loogie”

Would you believe that Hawaii wouldn’t have been our 50th state were it not for boogers? It’s sad but true (though somehow edifying).

Captain James Cook, famed navigator, explorer, and discoverer of the Hawaiian Islands (which he originally named the Sandwich Isles, after his patron) earned his commission in a way as dramatic as his exploits.

Cook made a name for himself during the Seven Years’ War mapping out the St. Lawrence, but he got that job by besting a fellow soldier in a spitting contest. When his commander was faced with the choice of tasking one of his eager men with the task, he let the decision lie with whichever man could hock a loogie the farthest (not exactly the most proper military procedure, but hey, it worked, didn’t it?).

The night of the competition, Cook and some friends broke into the company’s supplies and concocted a drink now (albeit in its own circles) known as the “Green Whale’s Beard” by mixing every foul liquor they had on hand—and a dash of whale blubber. The drink made Cook’s spit so thick that it actually solidified in his mouth and almost choked him. Friends were able to scoop the goop from Cook’s throat and warned him not to try such a stupid stunt again. But Cook, never the one to back down from a fight, had another go, and, in one of the most dramatic events of the war, let fly a hock that traveled so far, it became the stuff of gooey legends.

In the end, Cook’s cartography skills brought him to the attention of General Wolfe and in turn the Admiralty and Royal Society–who granted him his precious commission.

And the booger? Cook’s commander was so impressed that he ordered his own statue to be melted down so that the spit could be immediately bronzed. Years later, the coveted phlegm, which was captured by the French, was smuggled out of the Louvre by none other than the infamous model-for-James-Bond Sidney Reilly (in his career-making assignment) to be placed on display at the British museum—and became the biggest attraction of its day. Ick. Thankfully now it’s tucked safely(?) away in the archives.

Abraham Lincoln

Yup: You got ‘em, I got ‘em, we all have ‘em, and, yes, even the Great Emancipator had ‘em. In fact, he had ‘em bad his whole life. Lincoln suffered from an affliction called Adenovirus serotype 14, which causes excessive mucus build-up (Lincoln half-heartedly referred to his suffering as being “in the Days of Apnia“)—and the thought of delivering a speech with snot dripping down his philtrum was an image that gave Father Abraham a fear of public speaking that haunted him until the very end.

Ever since the beginning of the Civil War, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was looming in Lincoln’s mind, but the stress of the conflict brought on a particularly bad bout of mucus—so bad that it lasted for two (likely more—the data’s sketchy) full years. On the occasions when he did have to speak, Lincoln stuffed raw birch sap up his nose to block the build-up, but it wasn’t until September 21, 1863, the night before the Emancipation Speech, that he was able to get a large enough supply (shipped in from Northern Sympathizers in Georgia, no less) to stave his nostrils. However, the sap, even though it had the consistency of a lead bullet and was inserted by Lincoln’s personal doctor), fell out.

When they dropped, Lincoln apparently was the only one who heard it, and so self-conscious about his condition that he pretended to double-check his notes (The Snot Heard ’round the World, sorry, had to), and quickly finished up his speech. Scholars maintain that it was due only to the “boogers” in his nose that he failed to include the border states as liberating slaves in his speech. Heavy stuff.

So there you have it. Next time you casually throw away that big blow, maybe you’ll pause a moment, and think that maybe, just maybe, that green slug in the can might just change the world.



2 Responses to “ 5 Boogers That Changed the World ”

  1. anncine on May 24, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Enlightening as usual, Nat :) I actually once witnessed a five year old child have the most massive (snot) evacuation that I had ever seen. Gross. Great post as promised!

  2. Sara on May 24, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Not to be a one-upper, but Mrs. Gunther DID teach the healing properties of mucus and, Boy, that was a worthwhile class!