What was it? An 18th-century offshoot of the Quakers. The communalistic religious community believed in celibacy and held weekly dances to “shake” out the lust.
Where is it now? New members were last admitted in 1957. Today, there are three surviving Shakers,
all of whom live in Maine. At their age, though, there’s probably not a whole lot of shakin’ going on.
Proximity to death? Unless woodworking and abstinence become popular pastimes again, they’re in
trouble. But who knows? Knitting came back.
Reason to keep it alive. Shakers invented the circular saw, the flat broom, and the clothespin. With any luck, the next generation will handcraft a line of simple yet functional jet packs!
What was it? Smallpox caused hundreds of millions of deaths during the 20th century. Worse still, it managed to infect -but not kill- a young Josef Stalin.
Where is it now? After being eradicated from humans in 1980, the virus lives on only in cultures stored in U.S. and Russian laboratories.
Proximity to death? Viral samples can stay frozen for decades.
Reason to keep it alive. Should the disease somehow enter the general population again, it may
be helpful in creating new vaccines.
THE IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER
What was it? The cousin of the pileated woodpecker that once thrived throughout the American South. It was so beautiful, it was called the Lord God Bird.
Where is it now? The bird was believed extinct for several decades due to deforestation. How-
ever, at least one male was sighted in 2004 and 2005 in Arkansas.
Proximity to death? We’re not biologists, but we’d be surprised if a lone male woodpecker managed to produce offspring.
Reason to keep it alive. Noah would’ve wanted it that way.
PUBLIC SCHOOL PADDLING
What was it? The biblically endorsed way not to spoil a child
Where is it now? Wooden paddle spankings are still legal in 19 American states. (For the record, you’re most likely to be paddled in Alabama.)
Proximity to death? In 2003, an average of 1,350 school paddlings occurred nationwide per day.
Reason to keep it alive. Studies have shown it’s completely ineffective for child-rearing, though it might be good practice for when little Jimmy pledges Kappa Sigma Rho.
The article above by Ryan Inzana appeared in the November-December 2016 issue of Mental Floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.