Electric Kissing Parties, Squiffy Ether Jag


One technique from the book “The Art of Kissing,” published by Hugh Morris in 1936, lends itself well to some sort of steampunk re-imagining:

“Some few years ago, a very peculiar kissing custom arose which deserves mention here because, from it, we can learn how to adapt the method to our modern devices. At that time, when young people got together, they held, what was then known as, “electric kissing parties.” Young people are ever on the outlook for novel ways of entertaining themselves. In fact, when ether was first developed as an anesthetic, the young bloods of the town used to form “ether-sniffing” parties in which they got a perfectly squiffy ether “jag.” But to return to the “electric kisses.” An excerpt from a contemporary writer will, perhaps, give us some idea of what happened: ‘The ladies and gentlemen range themselves about the room. In leap year the ladies select a partner, and together they shuffle about on the carpet until they are charged with electricity , the lights in the room having been first turned low. Then they kiss in the dark; and make the sparks fly for the amusement of the onlookers.’ The same sort of experiment could be performed nowadays, on cold, dry nights when the air is overloaded with electricity.”

You can read the rest of the experiment here. It starts off gently, suggesting that you generate static electricity from the carpet in order to make a spark fly between yours and your lover’s lips. Then things take a more dramatic turn! “Once you have practiced this for some time, you will become so innured to the slight shock that you will seek more potent electric shocks. These can be obtained with the use of an electric vibrator or in fact, any device that is worked from a battery and a coil which steps up the weak 3 volts of the battery.” You can see where this is leading… read on.

The image above — this is what I imagine a successful electric-kissing experiment might look like — comes from a book of alchemical collages by artist Max Ernst called “A Week of Kindness”, which was published only two years before “The Art of Kissing,” in 1934. Coincidence? I also want to mention that I searched high and low for this particular image for maybe 10 minutes before finally finding it on Mer’s Flickr Page. Even while she’s off adventuring in the American Wild, Mer finds a way to contribute to the blog. Mysterious forces are at work.

I learned about the kissing book through a website that’s been almost completely obliterated from the face of the Internet, called “Squiffy Ether Jag.” I found the site in 1998 it was my first introduction to Joseph Cornell (whose nostalgic shadowboxes were used as a page layout), the theremin, and many other magical things. Now it’s all gone. The site described itself in the following terms: “queer ether-sniffin’ artfaggy girl gangs skip home etc. to wreak havoc: victorian electronics, cracked carvival music, strange winged dreams and strangers’ fairytales, neo-pulp drive-in movie mania, and other Threats to the American Family result.” Reading this when I was 15 completely changed me. Nothing exists of this site now but some sad, broken Wayback Machine scraps. Anyone else here remember it?

4 Responses to “Electric Kissing Parties, Squiffy Ether Jag”

  1. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    The burned lip will always spurn the flame.

    Hehe. Oh electro-junkies, when will you ever learn…

    Of course, it also brings this to mind.

  2. Laure Says:

    I didnt really realize until I found this site that the things I like fall into a category and this magazine talks about it all.
    Now I know that other people too got tingly when David Bowie played Nikolai Tesla in the Prestige, and I thought I was weird.
    China Mievielle, Hayao Miyazki, how i collect vintage photographs (all those brass buttons and lace up boots, ugh), Its all connected! The new prospects that your site offers is dizzying. Not to mention all the Russian references, oh i could go on and on…

  3. Nadya Says:

    Laure, thanks for that. The feeling that you describe is exactly what happened to me when I discovered that Squiffy Ether Jag website. It’s nice to know that through this post about them, someone else had that feeling too!

    Ampersand: MY GOD, that video is perfect.

  4. jenni Says:

    Yeah! That’s my friend Tree’s site. It’s the best.