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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Author Archives: Steve Silverman

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

Useless Information Podcast

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?

Continue Reading

 

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.

 

Needed a Husband to Pay Off Debt

In January of 1952, 39-year-old Jane Gorden was visiting friends in Shalimar, Florida when she decided to place an ad in the Montgomery, Alabama Advertiser for a husband to help pay off her $6,000 in debt (approximately $56,000 adjusted for inflation).  

During her one week search, she had rejected about fifteen men from Alabama and Florida, but was interested in another from Texas.

As to how she accumulated so much debt, $4,000 of it came from an apartment fire in 1949 that caused her to lose everything including all of her furniture and clothing.  The remaining $2,000 was from her identical twin’s medical bills, who had since passed on.

Couple Kissing
Jane Gorden (not in this image) placed an ad in the Montgomery, Alabama Advertiser seeking a husband to help pay off her debt.

 

Wife Must Be Of Sound Wind and Limb

Wanted – A wife. Must be between 40 and 65 years of age, sound of wind and limb, and of cheerful nature. I have comfortable home to offer and am eligible for old-age pension. See or write Ezra Worden, Three Lakes, Wis.

That was the ad that Ezra Worden wished to place in the classified section of the Rhinelander Daily News, but its editor decided that he was worthy of a complete story in their October 11, 1935 issue.

At the time Ezra was 74 years of age. He claimed to be in excellent health and said that he had recently picked 700 bushels of potatoes and during the last blueberry season he garnered 350 quarts of berries. He had been married twice before, his last marriage lasted thirty-seven years, but both wives had died.

Over 400 women from all over the country responded to Ezra’s request, but in the end he chose 52-year-old Mrs. Maggie Cornwall. She was twice widowed and lived nearby in Crescent, Wisconsin.

The two were married on the evening of November 5, 1935 in a ceremony that was witnessed by hundreds of people. A dance was held at the Three Lakes school gymnasium and the happy couple was left to live the rest of their lives together.

Did they succeed?

You betcha. When Ezra Worden died on October 20, 1951 at 90-years of age, the couple had been married for nearly sixteen years.

Ezra Worden's Grave
Ezra Worden tombstone at the Forest Home Cemetery in
Rhinelander, Wisconsin. (Image from Find-A-Grave – Click on image to go to listing.)

 

Don’t Drink Sunlight Dish Detergent

On July 15, 1982 the Maryland Poison Control Center in Baltimore reported that 33 adults and 46 children had consumed a brand new lemon-scented dishwashing liquid named Sunlight.

Apparently free samples of the new soap had been mailed by manufacturer Lever Brothers throughout the mid-Atlantic States and as part of their product launch. I even remember my mom getting a bottle in the mail.

The bright yellow bottles featured a picture of a lemon slice along text indicating that the soap was made with “Real Lemon Juice.” You know what happened next. The bottle clearly stated “Caution: Harmful if Swallowed,” but people went right ahead and used it as lemon juice.

Whether they added it to their iced tea or whatever, the results were not pleasant. Most typically experienced nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sore throats, but none were serious.

Should one accidentally consume it, Poison Control advised to simply drink lots of water or milk to dilute it. Better yet: don’t drink it at all.

Sunlight Coupon
Coupon for Sunlight Dish Detergent from the December 8, 1982 publication of the Morristown, NJ Daily Record.
 

Glue Sniffing Fad

On July 5, 1962, Arizona state authorities tried to calm the public by telling them that the latest craze of glue sniffing was just a fad.

While there were calls to ban the sale of glue to minors and the public was in somewhat of a panic over how to deal with this situation, statistics did not back it up.

Statewide, records showed that there had been no fatalities or permanent damage from the sniffing of glue. Sixty-eight juveniles had been arrested for doing illegal things as the result of glue sniffing, but it was pointed out that this was far less than the number of teens arrested for alcohol consumption.

It was also noted that a number of cases were not reported to the police. Of those, there were reported cases of blindness, mental impairment, and addiction.
Most of the kids had been sniffing plastic model glue, which is more technically known as polystyrene cement. It’s active ingredient is Toluene and its effects were, in general, minor.

In 1967, Charles Miller, who was the president of Testor Corp, the leading manufacturer of model cars and airplanes, charged his employees to come up with a way to keep people from sniffing the glue to get high. Their solution was simple: horseradish was added to the glue. Miller shared this secret ingredient with all of his competitors and received a presidential letter of commendation for his efforts.

A bit of trivia about this is that Miller was the father of actress Susan St. James. She is mostly retired today, but you may remember her from her lead roles in McMillan and WIfe and Kate and Allie.

Vintage Model Glues
Vintage polystyrene glues from Pinterest.
 
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Exercise Fad is Dangerous

On October 27, 1939, the American Medical Association’s health magazine Hygeia printed a warning written by Dr. Henry A. Christian of Brookline, Massachusetts that the fad of excessive exercise was dangerous to one’s health.

In what is good news for all of you couch potatoes out there, the good doctor advised, “Moderate body activity, short of causing fatigue, is desirable for all, but this is entirely different from what is usually meant by exercise.”

He continued, “Most pernicious is the habit – so common in America – of the week-end or all-day golf game or the brief vacation with the days filled with incessant activity, often leads a life nearly devoid of physical exertion.”

Dr. Christian contended, “All too often people collapse or die as the result of unwanted exertion or precipitate an attack of serious heart disturbance, which then necessitates weeks of enforced rest.”

He did offer the following advice, “Here is a good rule to follow: If after one hour of relaxed rest, one is still conscious of considerable fatigue, next time shorten the amount or decrease the vigor of the exercise.”

Exercise an American Fetish
Exercise an American Fetish by Henry A. Christian appeared in the October 1939 issue of Hygeia on page 968. Click on the image to read the article.
 

The Case of the Phantom Vegetable Oil

Useless Information Podcast

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Anthony “Tino” De Angelis ran a global salad oil empire. Find out how Tino grew his business so quickly, his shocking downfall, how JFK’s assassination ties into the story, and the way that one of the world’s richest men today made a good chunk of change off of everyone else’s misfortune. Continue Reading

 

Safety Buttons Proven Unsafe

It seems like an annual event every Christmas here in the United States. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issues warnings about unsafe toys.

In 1974, the commission once again embarked upon a campaign with the important message to “Think Toy Safety.” Bumper stickers were printed up, ads were prepared for newspapers, radio, and television, and pamphlets were distributed to bring attention to potentially dangerous toys.

They missed one big one, however. They had 80,000 buttons made that said “For kid’s sake, think toy safety.” They should have taken their own advice. Safety tests showed that the paint used to manufacture the buttons had excessive amounts of lead, sharp edges, and small parts that a child could easily swallow. They were forced to recall all of the dangerous pins. Luckily, none had been distributed to the public yet. They were all still sitting in regional commission offices and easily collected.

A spokesman said that commission would have to pick up the $1,700 cost (about $8,400 adjusted for inflation), since they never specified in their contract with the manufacturer that the buttons had to be safe.

Think Toy Safety Buttons Recalled
In 1974 the Consumer Product Safety Commission had to recall 80,000 of their own Think Toy Safety buttons. Image appeared on page 1 of the November 17, 1974 issue of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.
 

Only Santa Fits Down Chimneys

It was reported that shortly after Christmas of 1960, 8-year-old London resident Alan Smith decided to emulate Santa by going down the chimney of a nearby house that was being demolished. He got down about halfway before getting stuck.

After being rescued by the fire department, Alan stated, “I can’t understand it. Santa is much fatter than me and he never gets stuck.”

My guess is that his parents had a long talk with him afterward explaining how Santa really gets down those chimneys.

Children Waiting for Santa
Just how does Santa get down the chimney? That is a secret that only he knows... (Black & white photonegative. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)