This Is the Only Place Where I Can Avoid Seeing the Damned Thing

Speaker: William Morris? Guy de Maupassant? Alexander Hadden? Elliot Paul? Gillian Widdicombe? Adlai Stevenson? Anonymous?

Landmark: Eiffel Tower? National Theatre in London? Palace of Culture in Warsaw? Empire State Building?

Dear Quote Investigator: Cultural critics have lamented that some massive structures dominating city skylines are unsightly, e.g., the Eiffel Tower, the National Theatre in London, and the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.

A popular anecdote states that a well-known literary figure frequently visited one of these ugly monuments. An acquaintance who found the luminary gazing out across the metropolis from the observation deck of the landmark inquired about motivation:

“As a regular visitor to this site, do you find this structure beautiful?”
“Of course not! This is the only place in the city where I can look out and avoid seeing this hideous thing.”

Would you please explore this acerbic tale?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1914 report from the Manchester Literary Club of England. The brief note described a meeting of the club during which a member named Alexander Hadden presented a paper about the city of Paris. The following passage about prominent writer and activist William Morris included a punchline that was spoiled by a typo. The word “can” was supposed to be “can’t”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Incidentally it was mentioned that William Morris was a frequent visitor to Paris, and when there his friends noticed that he spent a considerable part of his time high upon the Eiffel Tower. When asked the reason for this he replied, “That is the only place where you can see the damned thing.”

Morris died in 1896, so the citation above provides imperfect evidence. Nevertheless, Morris is the leading candidate for crafter of this quip. This anecdote has been difficult to trace because of its multiplicity of embodiments.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This Is the Only Place Where I Can Avoid Seeing the Damned Thing


  1. 1914, Report and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary Club for the Session 1913-14 with Rules and List of Members, Article Date: January 12, 1914, Comment on article titled: Paris by Alex. Hadden, Quote Page 434, Sherratt and Hughes, Manchester, England. (HathiTrust) link

Shaggy Dog Story

P. J. Faulkner? W. Buck Taylor? Bennett Cerf? Eric Partridge? Mary Morris? William Morris? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A shaggy dog story is a rambling tale consisting of largely inconsequential events that ends with an anticlimax or an unfunny punchline. Would you please explore the origin of the shaggy dog story?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Cincinnati Post” of Ohio in January 1906. QI conjectures that P. J. Faulkner who worked for the O’Dell Stock and Grain Company in Cincinnati presented the first shaggy dog story. Faulkner believed that his tale was hilarious, but his companions were angered by its pointlessness. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Faulkner was in a down-town cafe with some friends. He told them a story. “Did you ever hear the story of the shaggy dog?” he inquired.
“No!” they came back.
“No?” said he.
“No-o,” said they.

“Well, James Fernorten wanted a shaggy dog, and—Oh! but it’s funny!” (Much laughter by Faulkner. Friends glum.)

“So he went to his friend Mike, who, he had heard, had one.

“Gee! It’s funny!! (More laughter from Faulkner. Friends glummer.)

“But Mike’s dog. though shaggy some, was not so shaggy!” (Ha-ha-ha-he-he-ho-ho by Faulkner. Silence by friends.)

“Ain’t it funny?” he asked.
“We don’t see it,” said the friends innocently.
“Well, listen,” Faulkner went on.

“You see James Fernorten wanted a shaggy dog, and—Oh, but it’s funny!” (Much laughter by Faulkner. Friends still glum.)

Faulkner’s unhappy friends decided to creatively retaliate against him by placing an advertisement in a local paper. Details within the ad were carefully chosen to reflect the insipid story they found so aggravating:

Dog—shaggy dog; must be either black or brown, but not too shaggy; will pay good price. P. J. Faulkner, 3229 Fredonia-av., Avondale.

The ad was remarkably successful in eliciting responses, and Faulkner’s home was overwhelmed with miscellaneous dogs:

Dogs big, dogs small, dogs mangy, dogs shaggy, dogs hairless, sightless and lame; dogs white, dogs black, dogs brown and dogs spotted, dingy and faded; dogs fat, dogs lean, dogs barking and dogs with tin cans tied to tails—dogs, dogs, DOGS. They came to his house all day.

In addition, many dogs were offered to Faulkner by phone, and the exhausted man eventually decided to flee his home.

This article appeared in other newspapers such as “The Denver Post” of Colorado 2 which acknowledged the Cincinnati paper.

The article presented two shaggy dog tales with one nested inside the other. Faulkner told the first humorless tale, and a journalist told the second tale of comeuppance. The combination of the dual narratives was memorable, but over time the text evolved into a single story as shown below

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Shaggy Dog Story


  1. 1906 January 03, The Cincinnati Post, Advertises for a Dog and Gets One All Right, Quote Page 4, Column 4 and 5, Cincinnati, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1906 January 08, The Denver Post, Victim of Dog Trick, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Denver, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)

They Eked Out a Precarious Livelihood by Taking in Each Other’s Washing

Mark Twain? William Morris? Edward Dicey? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Skeptics have questioned the economic viability of small isolated or insular communities by derisively envisioning rudimentary economies based on simple tasks, e.g., individuals would wash clothes for one another. This notion has been credited to humorist Mark Twain and socialist activist William Morris. In modern times this scenario has been used to criticize measures of economic activity such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the book “The Battle-Fields of 1866” within an essay by Edward Dicey about Heligoland, a small German archipelago in the North Sea near Germany and Denmark. Dicey compared the activities on Heligoland to those on the Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

What the inhabitants do during the winter is a subject too awful for contemplation. Somebody once suggested that the dwellers in the Isle of Man earned a precarious livelihood by taking in each other’s washing. A similar occupation is the only one I can suggest for the Heligolanders. Robinson Crusoe upon his rock can hardly have been more cut off from the outer world.

The locution “somebody once suggested” indicates that the origin is anonymous. Dicey’s essay was dated September 8, 1866 and it was published contemporaneously in newspapers such as “The Sheffield Daily Telegraph” of Sheffield, England which acknowledged “The London Telegraph’s correspondent”. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Eked Out a Precarious Livelihood by Taking in Each Other’s Washing


  1. 1866, The Battle-Fields of 1866 by Edward Dicey, The Island of Heligoland, Location: Heligoland, Date: September 8, 1866, Start Page 247, Quote Page 254, Tinsley Brothers, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1866 September 17, The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Heligoland, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Yorkshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)