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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Pennies Hoarded for Gold

 

Long before The Amityville Horror made the village famous, The New York Times reported on February 9, 1903 that its citizens were hoarding pennies. This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to you since people have been hoarding pennies for many years now. What’s odd about this story is that they were only hoarding shiny 1902 pennies and nothing else.

Why 1902 and why shiny? It was all traced back to a Fulton Fish Market dealer named Alvah W. Haff, who was a resident of Amityville. Since his wholesale fish business required him to give customers lots and lots of change, the Amityville bank will contact him when they had too many small coins on hand. Eleven days prior to the story being published, he obtained 3000 copper pennies from the bank. Since this occurred right after the holiday shopping season, the department stores had just given out tons of shiny new 1902 pennies as change for purchases made. Someone commented to Mr. Haff about the shiny pennies and he jokingly said that he was “going to take the coins and get the gold out of them.”

Could brand new 1902 pennies really contain gold?  Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Next thing you know, a story started to spread to the coins were so shiny because a careless smelter had accidentally dropped a bar of gold into the molten copper. Suddenly, people were checking every penny they were given and keeping the shiny 1902 model to cash in for the gold.

And analysis made by the public schools chemistry class confirmed what you probably knew all along: the pennies contain no gold. Every penny was still worth one penny.

Officer, I am Being Followed…

 

This bizarre story made the national news on December 24, 1954. It was reported that two motorcycle officers in Vernon, California pulled a car driven by 48-year-old Virgil Grover Attebery over to the side of the road.

Attebery looked very concerned and told the officers, “Somebody’s been tailing me clear from Los Angeles.” The officers were attentive as he continued, “I want you guys to look into it.”

The officers didn’t have to search far. There was, in fact, a car that had been following Attebery for miles. What was incredibly unusual about this vehicle was that it was driverless. Apparently Attebery had backed into the car, locked bumpers with it, and then towed it along as he made his way. To make matters worse, the car that he had been dragging was owned by a policeman named Ray Rapier.

The two officers booked Atteberry on suspicion of drunk driving.

Attebery Sketch - 1954_12_25 Philadelphia Inquirer p9
This sketch that appeared on page 9 of the December 25, 1954 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer sums up the story well.

Self-Service Gasoline

 

When Frank Ulrich opened the first successful self-service gasoline station in Los Angeles back in 1947, he probably couldn’t imagine the uproar that it would cause. By eliminating the high cost of paying attendants to fill your tank, he was able to pass the savings on to his customers. His slogan was “Save five cents, serve yourself. Why pay more?” With a gallon of gas costing less than 20-cents in 1947, saving a nickel was a big deal.

Word of his success began to spread across the country and soon others began to copy Ulrich’s model. One of these men was Irving Reingold. He opened a 24-pump self-service station on Route 17 in Hackensack, New Jersey. Everyone else was selling gas at an agreed upon 21.8-cents per gallon, while Reingold was able to undercut them at 18.9-cents.

Soon cars were lining up for cheaper gas, but the other dealers were very unhappy with the competition. Using the pretext of fire safety, the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association convinced the state legislature to ban self-service gasoline stations, a law that is still on the books today.

Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline
Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline in Rapid City, SD that appeared on page 11 of the May 5, 1950 issue of the Rapid City Journal.

John Dressler, president of the association at the time stated, “The only motive behind the bill was the safety of the public, because from experience we learned that the handling of gasoline is a potential hazard.”

A July 3, 1948 story in Connecticut’s Sunday Herald interviewed Bridgeport gasoline dealers and all were in agreement that self-service gasoline was probably never going to happen in their state.

Larry Keller, proprietor of Pop’s Gulf Station said. “Our business would suffer from 30 to 60 days, but after that time the novelty would wear off and people would come back for service.”

James Duva, owner of Duva’s Service Station added, “the whole city would be endangered if every Tom, Dick, and Harry operated the pumps.”

Red Dial, of Dial’s Sunoco station, was in total agreement. “Customers don’t save money anyway with the self-service idea. They save a few cents on the gas and spend dollars on cleaning their clothes which they dirtied while checking their own oil, or on repairs of the cars which the service attendant could have pointed out and fixed earlier.”

I did a quick check on Google Maps for the locations of these three dealers. Today only one is still a gas station and it is – you guessed it – self service.

Self Service Gasoline - 1950_08_27 - Long Beach Independent p15
Advertisement for Self-Service Gasoline that appeared on page 15 of the August 27, 1950 publication of the Long Beach Independent.

Both Children Born in a Yellow Cab

 

On October 18, 1922 Mrs. Rose Simon, who lived at 354 East 53rd Street in Chicago gave was a passenger in the backseat of a Yellow cab when she gave birth to a daughter. Both were taken to University Hospital and were reported to be in excellent health.

Giving birth to a baby in the back of a cab has certainly happened before, so just what makes this story unique?

Very simple: Eight years earlier, on October 3, 1914, Rose was a passenger in another cab while on her way to St. Luke’s Hospital when she suddenly went into labor. That time she gave birth to a baby boy.

Yellow Cab Photo
Photo of Yellow Cab drivers that appeared on page 12 of the February 17, 1964 publication of the Press Sun and Bulletin in Binghamton, NY.

Mile-A-Minute Murphy

 
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In the 1890’s, Charles M. Murphy was determined to ride a bicycle at 60 miles-per-hour by riding in the slipstream of the fastest locomotives of his day. It took him years to find a railroad willing to let him give it a try, and once he did, he was in for a painful ride that burned holes right through his clothing.

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Rubber Hose Cures Hiccups

 

So, what is your remedy for a case of the hiccups? Do you have someone scare you? Do you drink a glass of water quickly? Consume a spoonful of sugar? Or do you stick a rubber tube up your nose?

My guess is that you have never tried that last one. Yet, an article in the Associated Press on October 2, 1967 suggested the rubber hose method may be best.

A team, which consisted of three doctors at the University of Chicago and a colleague at Cairo University, found that hiccups could be cured by sticking a flexible rubber tube up a patient’s nose and stimulating the nerve endings of the pharynx.

The researchers found that this method was successful in 84 of the 85 patients that they tried it out on. They cautioned that this was not a do-it-yourself type cure. Due to potential danger, the procedure needed to be done by a trained doctor. Of course, by the time you get to the doctor’s office and sit in the waiting room for an hour before being finally called in to be seen by your physician, your hiccups will already be gone. No rubber hose needed.

Saved by a Giant Turtle

 

27-year-old South Korean Chung Nam Kim may have been one of the luckiest guys ever. He had been working aboard the Liberian Federal Nagara as a deckhand and painter. At some point between 2 and 3 AM on Friday August 22, 1969, Kim found himself suffering from a bad headache and decided that it would be best to go up on deck and grab some fresh air.

Suddenly, his foot slipped and Kim fell into the Pacific Ocean. No one witnessed his plunge, so he was as good as dead. Kim started swimming for land, but it was obvious that there was no way that he could ever make it.

“I was very afraid. I thought that I was dying… I couldn’t think of anything else. I was too exhausted.”

Just at the point when he was about to give up, he spotted something in the water.

“I thought I was dead. And then I touched this thing, and I first thought that it might be a shark and then I saw it was a turtle so I held on.”

He threw his arm around the turtle and paddled slowly with the other arm. After about two hours of swimming with the turtle, he spotted what looked like a ship. It was the Swedish freighter Citadel, which was 113 miles (182 km) from the Nicaraguan coast at the time. He started waving his arms frantically to get their attention. At 4:45 PM that Friday, the crew of the Citadel spotted a man with his arm around a large turtle and pulled him out of the water. Kim was taken aboard and almost immediately passed out from exhaustion.

Could this be a whale of a fish story? Most likely not. Both the captain and the crew of the Citadel said that they had seen Kim clinging to the turtle. One crew member even managed to snap a few photographs of the rescue.

Chung Nam Kim
Turtle rider Chung Nam Kim and Captain Horst Wedder (center) tell their story to a news reporter. Image appeared on page 23 of the August 31, 1969 issue of the Statesman Journal.

More Intelligent People Have Gout

 

On June 30, 1959, a UPI article discussed how two US government scientists, Dewitt Stetten, Jr. and John Z. Hearon, were studying the relationship between gout and intelligence.

Gout is caused by the accumulation of crystals of uric acid in bone joints. A theory was put forward in 1955 that the uric acid also stimulated the brain. You can see where this is going: Those with gout should be smarter.

So, Stetten and Hearon decided to test out this theory. They went to the Army Recruitment Center in Fort Dix, NJ and measured the uric acid levels in 817 men. Next, they compared the results of these tests to the “Army Classification Battery,” a group of psychological tests given to test for intelligence and other abilities.

The two found that there was a slight correlation between uric acid levels and high intelligence. The two didn’t make any definite conclusions, but did recommend that further studies be done. The press was quick to point out that nineteen times as many men have gout than women, so that would naturally mean that there are nineteen intelligent men for every intelligent woman. I can tell you, just from my years of teaching, that is definitely not true. No scientific study needed prove that.

The Gout by James Gillray
1799 caricature "The Gout" by James Gillray. From Wikipedia.

Cow Jumps Over the Moon

 

History was made on February 18, 1930 when a tri-motored Ford airplane flew as part of the exhibitions at the International Aircraft Exposition in St. Louis. That’s because this plane was transporting cargo that required extra special care. So special, in fact, that a portion of the plane had to be reconstructed to handle this cargo.

And it was big. And heavy. And alive. It was a 1000 lb. (453-kg) Guernsey cow named Elm Farm Ollie, who was owned by Sunnymede Farms in Bismarck, North Dakota. Valued at $2,000 (nearly $30,000 today), Ollie has the honor of being the first cow ever to fly in an airplane. Not only was she the first cow ever to fly, Ollie also became the first cow ever to be milked during a flight. Along for the flight were four reporters, a newsreel cameraman, a radio announcer, and two attendants to care and milk for Ollie.

And just why would anyone place a cow on an airplane in the first place? Basically to demonstrate that prize cattle can be transported from one place to another by air.

At an elevation of 5,000 feet (about 1.5-km), Ollie soared through the clouds at an estimated speed of 135 miles per hour (217 km/h) in her specially prepared stall. As she munched away on hay, Wisconsin resident Elsworth W. Bunce became the first man ever to milk a cow mid-flight. Quite the honor…

As the plane descended, 25 half-pint paper containers of milk were parachuted down to the crowd that was watching from below. One quart was set aside to be presented to Charles Lindbergh, who was scheduled to arrive at the show a day or two later.

Sunnymede Ollie
Image of Sunnymede Ollie from the March 4, 1930 issue of the Altoona Tribune on page 3.

Moons of Mars Made by Martians

 

On May 1, 1959, it was reported that Soviet scientist Iosif Shklovsky had found evidence that the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, may be artificial. In other words, they may have been placed in orbit by Martians.

Shklovsky had studied data that had been collected by others and concluded that Phobos, in particular, was most likely hollow inside with what could be something like a thin sheet metal exterior. Its behavior could not be explained by comparing it to any known natural satellite in our solar system. Instead, it behaved much like the artificial satellites that man had placed in orbit around Earth. The logical conclusion was that Martians had placed the two moons into orbit some two or three million years prior.

Further study later determined that the data that Shklovsky used to make these predictions, which he did not collect himself, had systematic errors. It’s not that Shklovsky did bad science – the whole Martian idea excluded – it’s just that he had really bad data to work with.

A number of space probes have since been sent to study these two moons. Today we are certain that they are solid, naturally made, and very similar to many of the asteroids out there.

Color image of Phobos
Color image of Phobos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 23, 2008. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona image.

Woman Befriends Rats

 

May 17, 1929 – A sanitary inspector in London visited the Platts Lane home of 80-year-old Rachel Willard after receiving numerous complaints from her neighbors. They had claimed that Mrs. Willard had not only been harboring rats in her garden, but that she was also providing them with food.

She refused admittance to the inspector and pushed two letters under the door, one of which read, “I refused admission to your officer because I consider as a free citizen I have fulfilled my duty to the little country rats who came into my garden – dear little voles – and also because I object to be considered the scapegoat of Platts Lane.”

Mrs. Willard was ordered to appear before a judge at the Hampstead Police Court in London. After the inspector testified that her home was infested with ordinary household rats, Mrs. Willard began her cross examination of the inspector. The judge had heard more than enough and opted to adjourn the case.

Rat
Sketch of a rat from the 1834 publication "A System of natural history : containing scientific and popular descriptions of man, quadrupeds, birds, fishes, reptiles and insects" on page 238.

Dick the Dog

 
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Pennsylvania resident Jacob Silverman made national headlines back in 1922 for the crime of owning a dog named Dick within the commonwealth.  The law at the time required that Dick be killed simply because he was owned by Jacob. Could something be done to save Dick’s life?

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Loses Job for Taking Out a Personal Ad

 

In early August of 1956, 22-year-old Vida Hutto took an ad out in a Houston newspaper seeking a husband.  She was seeking a man who was “Fairly handsome, Protestant, dependable, likes to fish and earns at least $400 monthly.” That would be about $3700/month today.

Vida said that she decided to place the ad in the newspaper because she had tired of seeing all of her friends getting married while she remained single.  While she did have numerous male friends, none met her standards for a husband.

The text of her personal ad was fairly ordinary, but her boss flipped out when he learned of its existence.  Soon, the young stenographer was not only looking for a husband, she was also looking for a new job after he fired her.

Luckily, all of the publicity from her firing led to her phone ringing off the hook continuously.  If you would like to call her, the number in Houston is Hillcrest 2-3788. My guess is that she no longer has that number…

Vida Hutto
In 1956, 22-year-old Vida Hutto placed an ad in the newspaper for a husband. Image from the August 23, 1956 issue of the Ithaca Journal on page 16.