“Escorts at M.I.T. Dance Pay 1c a Pound on Girls, Tax on Hair”: The New York Times, December 18, 1932, page 3, column 1.
“Stomach Full of Tacks”: New York Herald Tribune, February 4, 1912, page 1, column 6.
“Champion Fly Catcher”: The New York Times, August 15, 1920, page 6, column 2.
“Tree Struck by Lightening Yields Baked Apples”: The New York Times, August 14, 1920, page 1, column 3.
“Kissed Wife, Fined $15.40” and “Crew Recovers False Teeth”: The New York Times, August 12, 1936, page 21, column 8.
“No Silk Underwear for Capone”: The New York Times, November 15, 1935, page 11, column 6.
“The Titanic Sunk”: The Times (London), April 16, 1912, page 10, column 1.
ones that almost got away.
While researching the many stories that I have written about over the years, I have always made it a habit to look around the printed page of old newspapers and magazines to see just what else was going on at the time. Yesterday’s news is today’s history. And, as expected, history is full of wars, murders, suicides, accidents, marriages, and death.
Every once in a while, in the course of my research, I come across a story that captures my attention and add it to a folder labeled “Possible Stories”. Finding additional information on these little tidbits has proved impossible. After years of filling this folder, I finally decided to just splice the best of them together into one bizarre essay of totally unrelated stories.
So, here we go…
Just a Penny a Pound
Our first story is one that I came across while researching the life of Robert Elliot Burns, author of the book I am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang. Just one column over from where my eyes were focused was a story titled Escorts at M.I.T. Dance Pay 1c a Pound on Girls, Tax on Hair. Yes, you read that correctly. Every male student that brought a girl to the December 17, 1932 “dorm” dance had to pay an admission fee based on his date’s weight. In addition, there was an added tax on the girl’s hair color. Brunettes were an added dime, blondes fifteen cents, and the rare redhead was twenty cents.
At the end of the night, the students were able to raise a whopping $26.42, excluding the hair color tax. And if you are one of the old timers that can do basic math without a calculator, that translates into 2,642 pounds of pure woman. The redheads proved to be the lightweights at an average of just 116 pounds per gal. The blondes came in second place with an average of 117.5 pounds. The brunettes were the heavyweights with a mean of 120 pounds. The lowest cost paid was $1.00 even for a brunette that weighed in at just 90 pounds. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the woman that cost the most that evening. That particular blonde cost her male companion a whopping $1.88.
How About a Tackotomy?
Our next story is one of life saving surgery. In 1912, a New Jersey shoemaker named Abraham Leconey was suffering from very bad stomach pains. Was it an ulcer? Was it the stomach flu? Was it just a bad meal? Doctors were unable to diagnose his condition. Poor Abe was given all types of medications, but nothing seemed to help.
Doctors were forced to turn to a relatively new medical instrument called the x-ray machine (ever hear of it?) to help them in their diagnosis. The x-ray image immediately revealed the cause of aching Abe’s pain. It seems that Abe had a habit of using his mouth as a tack box while he made the shoes at his workbench. Yes, he had swallowed one too many of tacks during his career. There were approximately one hundred tacks stuck into the wall of his stomach.
Make that one really big OUCH!
Leconey was scheduled for surgery to remove the prickly pieces of metal from his interior. The procedure was called a “tack lifting” at the time. No follow-up on the surgery was ever printed in the press, so one has to wonder if he survived the operation. He may have lived one hour, one day, or many years after this surgery, but with the passage of nearly a century of time, we can be most certain that he is no longer with us today.
The Fly Catcher
I am quite envious of messenger boy James Johnson. Back in the summer of 1920, he was able to catch 27-1/2 quarts of dead flies. That is an estimated 334,000 flies. What a catch! Yet, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to this. First of all, I can’t imagine living in a place that attracts that many flies. And, how does one catch so many in so little time? Then, once those little creatures are caught, just what do you do with hundreds of thousands of flies? Let’s face it; you can only do just so much fly-fishing. If there is a lucrative market for dead flies, then I need to consider switching jobs. There are dead flies all over the place, so if you are interested in buying them in bulk quantities, please let me know.
Freshly Baked Apples
The August 14, 1920 issue of The New York Times has an article that appears to have been of the utmost importance at the time. The fact that the publisher placed a bold box around this front-page story clearly suggests that the story was of national importance. You see, Mrs. Annie E. Byrnes of South Norwalk, Connecticut was serving freshly baked apples for breakfast. Yet, she did not cook them. She cheated and let nature do her work. Her tree was struck by lightening during the previous night and its fruit was cooked through and through. Mmm, mmm, mmm.
Oh, the dangers of kissing. Take for example, two of my students. They are always sucking brain. In plain English, this means that the girlfriend has sucked all of the knowledge out of her boyfriend’s brain. Her giant leap in IQ has left him as brainless as the Scarecrow in search of the grand old Wizard of Oz himself.
Of course, I am exaggerating things a bit here, but there are hidden dangers to sucking brain. Take for instance the case of a thirty-year-old Don Juan named Norman Horowitz of New York City. He was arrested in Westport, Connecticut on August 11, 1936 for kissing his wife.
Did they really have a law against kissing your wife in public? Were the people of Westport that prudish back then? No, not really. But, it was against the law to kiss your wife while driving and then swerve your car into oncoming traffic. That one big smooch not only got him in hot water with the law, but it also got him a fine $15.40 for his offense. That was five bucks for the hot passion and an added $10.40 in court costs.
And sometimes the headlines are the most bizarre part of the story. Right below the Kissed Wife, Fined $15.40 story, is one tidbit simply titled Crew Recovers False Teeth. Or, how about No Silk Underwear for Capone? But, my favorite headline has to be one that appeared in the April 16, 1912 issue of London’s The Times. It simply said "The Titanic Sunk". The two-sentence story ended with the line “No lives were lost.” I need not say more…
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
If you liked this story, please check out