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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

That’s a Lot of Ants…

On January 7th of 1950, it was reported that Railway Express Clerk Steve Flaherty had a 70 lb (32 kg) box of ants that was sitting on his desk in the basement of Pennsylvania Station in Pittsburgh. 70 pounds of ants. That is a lot of ants! He had brought them in from the warehouse because he was afraid that they would freeze to death if left there.

The package was addressed to the Union Fire Brick Company, but Steve was unable to contact anyone there by phone because the fire brick company was closed for the weekend.

He said, “ I don’t know whether them ants is alive or dead in there. I sure wouldn’t know what to feed them.”

It was later determined that the ants were purchased buy an executive at the fire brick company for his daughter. The ants were in a glass box, which allowed viewers to see them digging tunnels under the surface. They had been shipped by a California company who is marketing them as an “Ant Circus.” If only they had changed the name to an “Ant Farm” and then they could have made millions of dollars.

1966 Ant Farm Ad
Classic advertisement for an Ant Farm that appeared on page 79 of the Famous Monsters of Filmland 1966 Yearbook.
 

6-Year-Old Goes on a Buying Spree

On April 29th 1933, 6-year-old Bertha Deshefy, who resided at 317 Nepperhan Avenue in Yonkers, NY, decided to go on a spending spree. In just four short hours, Bertha managed to purchase $110 (that’s approximately $2,100 today) worth of candy, ice cream, and toys at stores in her neighborhood.

Bertha started her buying spree with the help of her friend Helen Semendie, but pretty soon more and more “friends” were helping her. Some of these friends, if you can call them that, spent her money on slot machines in an effort to win various prizes.

This image of 
Bertha Deshefy appeared on page 5 of the June 4, 1933 publication of the Salt Lake Tribune’s Magazine Section.

David Astor, a store proprietor at 218 Warburton Avenue became suspicious when he saw such a young child with nearly $20 on her. He called police and soon dad was notified.

It turns out that Dad had been saving the money at home and Bertha had found the hidden stash. She blew through $110 of the $130 originally in the money roll.

“You just can’t keep up with this younger generation,” said police Sergeant William Coney. He continued, “They are stepping faster than ever.”

 

The Sign Said Free TV

Do you remember when, years ago, the signs outside most motels advertised free TV, air conditioning, and a swimming pool? Well, someone took that sign seriously on January 6, 1961. That’s when a man reserved ten rooms at the Holiday Inn Motel in Jackson, Michigan under the name of a well-known local company.

With ten keys now in hand, the man went room-to-room and stole all of the 17-inch television sets. After all, the sign did say “Free TV.”

Vintage motel postcard advertising air conditioning, telephones, and TV.  Image appears on the website http://archive.doobybrain.com/2013/03/01/the-american-motel-a-collection-of-vintage-motel-postcards-from-around-the-us/
 

Kept Alive by Pumping Arms

Today we take for granted that we can keep people alive via artificial respiration. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back in April of 1927, newspapers across the country reported on the progress of 18-year old Walter L. Boothe, who was being cared for in a hospital in Roanoke Virginia. Walter had become injured in a car accident on May 29, 1926. He recovered from his injuries and went back to work, only to fall ill months later.

This image is labeled “Artificial respiration by rolling a man prone on a barrel.” It is part of the Wikimedia Commons collection.

Partial paralysis soon set in and doctors determined that a fractured and dislocated vertebrae near the base of his skull was the cause. He failed to improve, so six weeks later it was decided that surgery was his only option. It was during that procedure that his lungs collapsed and he could no longer breathe on his own.

With no machine to keep Walter alive, his friends were called into action. Two-by-two, working in a 30-minute shifts, friends stood on either side of him pumping his arms up and down.

Crazy as this may seem, it did keep him alive. Friends continue this day-after-day, 24 hours a day, with the hope that he would improve. Sadly, he continued to weaken and on May 7th, 378 hours (nearly 16 days) after the up-and-down pumping of his arms had started, Walter took his last breath.

 

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.
 

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.
 

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.
 

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.