There were a lot of things I wanted to believe in as a child. I wanted to believe that the 5 cent stamp I asked my dad for was really going to win me a pair of roller skates from some obscure company in New Jersey. Those X Ray Specs never were ordered as I was told they would not work. Some inexpensive chemistry set didn’t produce a new miraculous invention I had set up in my basement after I had saved up $6.99. But the triumph of marketing over reality came to a head one day when I ordered something called Sea Monkeys that were depicted with the sweetest faces, almost like a Barbie family from Mars.
Their illustrated faces looked so downright happy on the back of that comic book I envisioned them to be like the typical family I didn’t have. Father Sea Monkey goes to the office in the morning, Mom Sea Monkey plays the perfect Mother, and the wee children Sea Monkeys are off to Sea Monkey school after their lovely Sea Monkey morning meal. SeaMonkey cartoon characters were their first lesson in false advertising. What do Sea-Monkeys look like? Nothing like the ads.
To be honest, each time I ordered them, and then years later for my children, they were nothing like they professed to be. Each package we ordered was certainly not exciting, and even though they were once launched into space in 1998 to experiment their hardiness, they died within a couple of days in my home. Dead pets are bad for business, but people kept buying them. These days Sea Monkeys come with their own replacement guarantee.
Should I tell you we were all disappointed by a snake oil salesman named Harold von Braunhut? They were actually just dormant eggs of lowly brine shrimp that came to life when water was added with the added story that they only inhabited Okanagan Lake. Yes, the gentleman was a showman that figured that since ant farms were so popular then Sea Monkeys were going to be the next big thing. His extravagant claims for the crustaceans for example was that they would come back from the dead and that they could be trained and hypnotized were convincing because they were sort of true. The Brine Shrimp do follow light.
He was not only responsible for that particular life disappointment but also another one called the X Ray Specs. When the Sea Monkey crowd turned 12 they lost interest in monkeys and went for the mail order X-Ray Spex — “guaranteed” to let you see through people’s clothes. Actually they were nothing but feathers between two pieces of glass stuck together.Von Braunhut’s X-Ray Specs are still selling after 50 years of pulling the wool over children’s eyes, and maybe some adults too. The holder of 195 patents, Von Braunhut had an uncanny flair for dreaming up inexpensive products aimed at the youth market. The former manager of novelty acts was also a master of advertising hyperbole with his attractive ads on the back of comic books sure to entice kids.
Von Braunhut, whose reported involvement with white supremacist groups, tarnished his reputation as a noted contributor to pop culture, died Nov. 28, 2003 at his home in Indian Head, Md. Before his fatal fall at age 77, he was working on his next two inventions: a pet lobster and an instant frog. Thankfully, Von Braunhut‘s estate lost control of the Sea-Monkey conglomerate, and the product is no longer associated with his family.
So there you have it – once again children were disappointed unnecessarily when really the truth wasn’t a big deal except that maybe things were not as they seemed. As a child I longed for magic in my life. I finally realized that the mice from Cinderella were never going to make me an amazing ball gown or in later years the Mice Circus in Coraline were never going to perform for me. Until yesterday…
I live in an old limestone house built over 150 years ago. The odd field mouse gets in and makes himself at home once in a while. There isn’t much you can do about the fact with three foot stone walls that now have tiny openings. My husband put a toaster strudel in for breakfast and within 30 seconds he could smell singed fur and the toaster began rattling like there was an earthquake. For all the times I dreamt as a child about Sea Monkeys and dancing mice that minute in time produced a fantasy come true. Like the hit of a loud beginning operatic note a tiny mouse jumped out of that toaster like an aerialist and pranced and danced his way across the kitchen counter to safety.
Just a heads up you are never too old to believe– and maybe I should reorder a package of those Sea Monkeys, or go down to the riverbank and see if Hammy Hamster’s friends are there. You never know!!
See you next week!
CLIPPED FROMThe MercuryPottstown, Pennsylvania11 Mar 1965, Thu • Page 12