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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

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.

 

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.
 

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)
 

Got Just What He Asked For

For Christmas in 1958, Racine, Wisconsin resident Warren David jokingly told his wife what he dreamed of getting for Christmas. She went out of her way to make sure that his wish would come true.

Mrs. David arranged to have a large package topped with a giant ribbon delivered to their home on Christmas Eve. When Mr. David opened the present, out popped the cute blonde doll that he had requested.

This living doll was really 17-year-old Judy Dexter, who worked as a secretary at a local department store. His wife, Judy, and the store’s owner conspired to pull off this practical joke. Mrs. David insisted that her husband exchange the gift for a different item.

1952 Christmas Celebration St Petersburg
1952 image of young women celebrating Christmas with Santa Claus in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Jean MacAlpine is second from left, Ann Hart is third from left, and Peggy Landers is forth from left. (Black & white photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. )
 

World’s First Commercial Airline

The idea for the first heavier-than-air commercial airline came from the mind of Percival Elliott Fansler. Fansler was the sales manager for the Jacksonville branch of a tractor company when he came across an article describing a 1912 long-distance flight from Omaha to New Orleans. In the story, the airplane’s designer, Thomas W. Benoist, discussed the potential costs of carrying packages, mail, and passengers.

Thomas W. Benoist
This image of Thomas Wesley Benoist appears on the website airandspacemuseum.org.

Fansler noted that the numbers that Benoist was quoting were very competitive with the rates that railroads were charging and decided to contact Benoist to discuss the possibility of setting up a scheduled airline service. The two men got together and decided that there needed to be “a real commercial line from somewhere to somewhere else.”

And just where would that somewhere and somewhere else be? Well, Fansler had the answer. St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. The two cities are fairly close to one another, but since St. Petersburg sits on a peninsula located between Tampa and the Gulf of Mexico, travel between the two locales in the early part of the twentieth century took quite some time. Your best bet would have been a 2-hour steamboat ride across the bay or a 5-hour trip by train. With automobiles still in their infancy, a trip by car on primitive roads was estimated to take nearly an entire day. But what if you could fly across the channel in far less time?

Together, these two aviation pioneers started the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. The City of St. Petersburg agreed to contribute $40 per day for a period of three months as long as the airline flew two flights every weekday, whether they had a paid passenger or not. The contract with the city was signed on December 17, 1913, which just happened to be the 10th anniversary of the Wright brothers historic flight.

St. Petersburg Tampa Airboat Ad
This advertisement for the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Benoist hired flight pioneer Tony Jannus to pilot the plane across the bay. An auction was then held for the first round-trip ticket and the winner was former St. Petersburg mayor Abram C. Pheil. He paid $400 (approximately $9,700 adjusted for inflation) for the privilege of becoming the first paid commercial flight passenger.

Word quickly spread of the planned flight and on the morning of January 1, 1914 a crowd of more than 3,000 people gathered on the beach in St. Petersburg – near the present location of the St. Petersburg Museum of History – and watched the inaugural flight of the newly formed airline.

The 21-mile (34-kilometer) flight took 23-minutes, but was not without its hiccups. First, the plane never lifted more than 50-feet (15.2 meters) above the water surface. More significantly, the engine chain slipped off of the propeller shaft and Tony Jannus had to set the plane down on the water. Both pilot and passenger rolled up their sleeves and fixed the engine so that they could complete the flight.

Tony Jannus and Albert Perry
Tony Jannus (left) made history on March 1, 1912 when he piloted Albert Berry to make the first parachute jump from an airplane ever. The parachute is in the conical shaped container under the plane.

The next day, Mae Peabody of Dubuque, Iowa, became the first woman to take a commercial flight. The cost for a one-way ticket was $5.00 ($122 today) and they sold out 16-weeks of flights almost immediately. It was so successful that a second plane was added, piloted by Tony Jannus’ brother Roger, and they extended some of the flights to Sarasota.

Mae Peabody and Tony Jannus
The first woman to buy a ticket on an airplane was Mae Peabody of Dubuque, Iowa. She can be seen here with pilot Tony Jannus.

The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line continued operation until May 5th. During the four months that the airline was in business, they made 172 flights carrying a total of 1,205 passengers. 86% of its scheduled flights were completed with an estimated 90% of the flights paid for. Service ended due to two factors: First, all of the snow bunnies headed back north for the summer and demand for flights dropped off significantly. And, since the city’s funding had expired, running the airline was no longer profitable. While the airline was dissolved, it did prove for the first time that airline service could be practical, reliable, and, most importantly, safe.

Nearly all of those involved met untimely deaths within a short period after this historic flight:

• Pilot Tony Jannus was killed on October 12, 1916 while training two Russian pilots and crashing into the Black Sea.

• His brother Roger was killed while flying an air patrol over France on September 4, 1918.

• Airplane designer Benoist died on June 14, 1917 when he stepped off of a streetcar in Sandusky, Ohio and struck his head against a utility pole.

• As for the historic plane that he designed, it didn’t last much longer. It was sold off and was destroyed after crashing into Pennsylvania’s Conneaut Lake.

• Passenger Pheil succumbed to cancer at age 55 on November 1, 1922.

• The man who thought up the idea of a commercial airline – Percival Fansler – practiced as an engineer for multiple companies before becoming the editor of a technical journal in New York City. He died in 1937 at 56-years of age.

Tony Jannus with Percy E. Fansler
Tony Jannus (left) with Percy E. Fansler just before their historic flight. Image from floridamemory.com
 

Pretended to be an Astronaut

On June 13, 1963, comedian Milton Berle was performing in a Houston, Texas nightclub when he decided to introduce astronaut Lt. Commander Jerry Clayton to his audience.

Perhaps you have never heard of an astronaut named Jerry Clayton. You are not alone. Neither had the four other astronauts or the NASA public affairs officer who were also seated in the audience that night. They quickly pointed out that Clayton was an imposter.

28-year-old Jerry G. Tees was arrested and charged with impersonating an officer for credit purposes, since he had obtained credit at a cafe. Bail was set at $5,000, which is approximately $40,000 today.
It turns out that Tees had been impersonating an astronaut for about a month and used it to his advantage. He was given food and drink, taken on fishing trips, and was offered cars, boats, and jobs. Over the previous ten years, he had impersonated other military officers, doctors, and businessmen.

He was quoted as saying, “I don’t know why I do it.” He added, “I just live in a dream world, I guess.”

Jerry G Tees - Astronaut Imposter
The real Jerry G Tees in handcuffs. This image appeared in the June 21, 1963 issue of the Star Tribune on page 47.
 

Man Sucked into Jet Engine

On May 14, 1956 Airman Third Class Fred E. Higinbotham was working with his fellow Air Force crew to refuel an F-86F Sabre jet on the island of Okinawa in Japan. Their goal was to move quickly and get the jet back in the air as soon as possible.

Higinbotham’s job was to secure a static line cable onto the nose gear of the plane as soon as it stopped. This line prevented the buildup of static electricity which could produce sparks and potentially ignite the fumes produced during the refueling process.

The Air Force had strict rules in place that prohibited anyone from getting too close to the intake duct of the fighter’s jet engine. Since this was their last servicing job for the day, the crew was anxious to get the job done.

As part of the post-flight procedure, the pilot advanced the throttle to 65% power, which he was supposed to do for a period of two minutes before shutting the engine down. Just as this was happening, Higinbotham felt the tug of the jet’s intake on his back, but continued to hold on to the static cable. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he had gotten too close to the engine’s intake.

Suddenly, his hat was pulled off of his head and Higginbotham instinctively turned around to grab it. The next thing you know, he was flying through the air and was sucked right into the jet engine. One would have expected Higginbotham to have been torn to shreds by the blades of the engine, but that didn’t happen.

Instead, he was stopped by the engine’s power take-off case cover, which projected outward from the blades in a cone shape. He used all his might to keep away from the whirling blades, which were just 6” (15 cm) from his head.

About thirty seconds after the pilot advanced the throttle, he felt a bump in the engine’s operation. He also spotted a mechanic frantically waving a rag in the air to get his attention. That worked. The pilot immediately cut power to the engine and the rotors began to slow down.

Just as Higginbotham started to back out of the engine, someone grabbed his legs and pulled him out of the engine completely. Amazingly, he still had the static cable in his hands, although it was wrapped twice around both his waist and legs. Later investigation determined that the cable had become fully extended when Higginbotham was sucked into the engine and that most likely saved his life.

Higginbotham’s injuries were minor: he had some cable burns and minor abrasions, but that’s it. He was released from the hospital and was back on the job the very next day.

Fred Higinbotham was sucked into a jet engine and survived.
Image of Fred Higinbotham from the February 3, 1957 publication of the Sunday magazine American Weekly on page 15.
 

Held on for Dear Life

When Lieutenant Lewis J. Connors was given the okay by the control tower operator in Chicago on April 30, 1938 to take off in the Army BY-9 monoplane that he was piloting, nothing initially seemed out of the ordinary.

That was until the air traffic controller noticed something attached to the outside of the plane. No, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He grabbed his binoculars. Yes, he wasn’t crazy. There was a man clinging to the outside of the plane as it approached nearly 1,000 feet (0.3 kilometer) in altitude. He frantically radioed Lieutenant Connors: “You’ve a passenger astride the fuselage. Please set down.”

Connors immediately circled the aircraft around and made a smooth landing. And that’s when Private First Class Frank H. Krebs let go of the airplane and fell to the ground, his fingers white from the firm grip that he had on the smooth fuselage.

Krebs summarized for the press what had happened, “There was a passenger on that ship headed for St. Louis. He had forgotten to sign required papers releasing the army from responsibility during the flight.

“I grabbed the releases and ran for the plane. I’d just stepped on the wing when the control tower gave Lieutenant Connors the signal to take off. I was too startled to jump until too late. My one chance was to slide onto the fuselage.

“I did that, and I’ll bet no cow puncher ever rode a bronco with more determination. Next time I hope that they’ve give me a saddle.”

Lieutenant Lewis J. Connors
This image of Lieutenant Lewis J. Connors appeared in the May 1, 1938 issue of the Chicago Tribune on page 3.
 

Intelligence Related to Breast Size

An Associated Press story from August 31, 1964 discussed the findings of a study done by Dr. Erwin O. Strassman, who was a clinical professor at the Baylor University College of Medicine in Texas.

In what I consider to be purely junk science, Dr. Strassman found that in a study of 717 childless women, there was definite correlation between breast size and intelligence.

“The bigger the brain, the smaller the breasts, and vice versa, the bigger the breasts, the smaller the I.Q.”

His results were published under the title “Physique, Temperament, and Intelligence in Infertile Women” in the International Journal of Fertility. As they always say, don’t believe everything that you read.

Breast Size vs. Intelligence Graph
According to Dr. Erwin O. Strassman, infertile women with larger breasts have a greater IQ.