The Body Art Expo, which bills itself as the world's largest tattoo convention, has set up shop this weekend on family-friendly Navy Pier. Tattoos have come a long way since being a sure sign of irresponsible behavior or youthful mistakes. Here are 10 things that may be indelibly inked on your memory:
1/ It's too bad that tattoo machines don't come with spell check, as there are few errors so bad as the ones inked on a person's skin. Pro basketball player Kevin Durant experienced that firsthand last year after unveiling an ornate illustration and Bible verse on his back that misspelled "mature." Durant has lots of company. Soccer superstar David Beckham's wife's name is misspelled (in Hindi) on his arm, actress Hayden Panettiere's ink misspelled the Italian phrase "live without regrets" — we can't make this up — and singer Britney Spears' attempt to ink the Japanese characters for mysterious on her lower back ended up just "strange." In 2012, Jerri Peterson's attempt to memorialize her moment in the sun became "Oylmpic torch bearer."
2/ The word "tattoo" comes from the Polynesian word "tatu" or "tatau," but the practice of permanently inking human skin is not unique to the South Pacific and appears to have developed independently in cultures around the world.
3/ The fear of nuclear attack during the Cold War inspired officials to call for every American to be tattooed with his or her blood type. Chicago civil defense leaders said they favored tattooing on the left underarm rather than on legs or arms, which might be blown off in an atomic blast. When the Tribune's "Inquiring Camera Girl" asked people about the idea in 1950, the paper printed five responses, and not one opposed the notion. Law student Francis O'Byrne said: "I think the tattoo should be put in a less conspicuous spot than under the arm because many women will object because of strapless evening gowns." The blood type tattoo idea never really took off.
4/ According to a 2012 Harris Poll, a fifth of all Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 14 percent in 2008, but 38 percent of 30-somethings say they have a tat. For the first time, more women reported having a tattoo than men, 23 percent to 19 percent. The U.S. tattoo industry — 21,000 parlors strong — brings in $2 billion annually.
5/ One of the first tattooed ladies in the United States, Nora Hildebrandt, sported 365 tats as a Barnum & Bailey Circus attraction during the 1890s and claimed she was forcibly inked while a captive of Native Americans. The truth was that her father, a German immigrant who also was one of the nation's first tattoo artists, had no qualms about perfecting his craft on his own daughter.
6/ Traumatic tattoos can occur if you fall on a rough surface, such as an asphalt parking lot, and debris is embedded under your skin. If it isn't removed, it can permanently color your skin. A similar effect can be caused by firecrackers or other such explosions. Such unintentional "natural tattoos" were common among coal miners, whose frequent cuts were dirtied by coal dust and rarely cleaned properly.
7/ In 2012, the mayor of Osaka, Japan, banned all city employees, including teachers, from having tattoos, which were considered by authorities to be a sign of the organized crime syndicate Yakuza. In January 2014, a 23-year-old school clerk became the first person punished under the ban. Her salary was docked for a month.
8/ Tattooing was prohibited in New York City from 1961 to 1997, supposedly to prevent the spread of hepatitis B. But cultural objections appeared to be at work as well. One judge who upheld the ban wrote that "the decoration, so-called, of the human body by tattoo designs is, in our culture, a barbaric survival, often associated with a morbid or abnormal personality."
9/ The Maori of the South Pacific are famous for their intricate facial tattoos, called ta moko, and in the custom of preserving human heads, called mokomokai. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when Europeans started trading guns for mokomokai, it got so bad that slaves, who wouldn't traditionally be honored with a moko, would be tattooed and decapitated and their heads cashed in for guns. H.G. Robley, an early ethnographer, wrote in 1896 about a European man declining to buy a head because the artistry wasn't good enough. Acknowledging the point, the local chief gestured to his followers, asked the European if any of their tattoos sufficed and promised to prepare and dry the head quickly.
10/ Among the news coming out of the Reagan administration in 1987 was the fact that Secretary of State George Shultz had a tiger tattooed on his rear end. Confirmation came from Shultz's wife, Helena, as she chatted with reporters on a plane bound for China. "He got it at Princeton," she explained, adding: "When the children were young, they used to run up and touch it and he would growl and they would run away."
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Chicago Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the newspaper's weekend editor.
SOURCES: "American Sideshow: An Encyclopedia of History's Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers" by Marc Hartzman; "Maori Tattooing" by H.G. Robley; "Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community" by Margo DeMello; Chicago Tribune; The New York Times; The Guardian; Business Wire; Japan Economic Newswire; The Telegraph; Harris Poll; reason.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun