Back to Top

Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Author Archives: Steve Silverman

Will Written on Egg Shell

It was reported that on November 23, 1926, one of the strangest wills ever was exhibited in the Probate Court in London.

John Barnes, the pilot of a boat on the Manchester Ship Canal, wrote an ordinary will in 1920. He left a portion of his estate to his second wife Margaret and the remainder to the children from his first marriage. Had this been Barnes’s only will, it probably would have gone uncontested. Yet, shortly after Barnes passed away, his wife made an unusual discovery atop a wardrobe in his bedroom: It was an eggshell on which the following words were written: “17-1925. Mag. Everything I possess. J. B.”

There was no doubt that the handwriting on the shell were that of the deceased. In addition, he commonly referred to Margaret as Mag. The real question was whether or not he intended this unusual document to supersede that formally drawn up last will and testament.

It was a case that Lord Maryvale, who presided over the case, took quite seriously. It was established in court that Barnes was in the habit of carrying eggs with him in a small pouch in a bag. Yet, Maryvale ruled against Mrs. Barnes. First, while Barnes was a “seaman at sea,” he was able to spend a portion of his time ashore and was not a soldier engaged in actual military service, which he felt was essential for the validity of the will. In addition, the words “Mag. Everything I possess,” were insufficient to prove that John Barnes wanted all of his possessions to go to his wife.

Frame number 16 from the 1942 filmstrip “Victory in an eggshell” that was prepared by the FSA (Farm Security Administration). From the Library of Congress.
 

Tells Amazing Tale of Mars

On August 13, 1906, Syracuse, New York resident Sackville G. Leyson, who just happened to be the president of the Society for Psychical Research, told of his recent trip to Mars. Although Mars is 140 million miles or 225 million km from Earth, Leyson claimed that his spirit went there and back in 40 minutes while his body lay still.

Here is what he said he saw:

“When I approached Mars it looked like a big globe of fire, and it seemed as if I were about to plunge into a molten mass. It was surrounded by blood-red clouds mixed with others of greenish hue.”

He continued, “There are two tribes of people on Mars – one so large I only came up to their knees and the other so small that they only came up to my knees. None wore clothing. All were covered in hair.

“The larger species had huge ears, a nose like a lion, and only one eye, in the middle of the forehead. Their lungs do not move up and down in breathing, but expand crosswise.

“The little men lived in holes in the ground or rocks. The larger ones had houses made of rocks. The little ones had webbed feet and slipped over a mosslike substance as though skating. They could walk up perpendicular walls like flies.

“The small ones have two eyes, one in each temple. They had no noses, but there was a hole in each cheek.

“The trees looked as if made of rubber. I saw none decayed. There was a substance which looked like snow, but which was not cold and was easy and soft to walk on.

“Down in a deep chasm I saw men working with some sort of machines which were guiding lights across transparent rocks. The rays seem to be reflected clear to the atmosphere of earth.”

Clearly, it is a good thing that Leyson made this trip when he did. Now the man is, in fact, planning trips to Mars, we know exactly what to expect.

Shadow Over Mars was featured in the Fall 1944 issue of Startling Stories.
Shadow Over Mars was featured in the Fall 1944 issue of Startling Stories. The entire issue can be read at archive.org.
 

Podcast #129 – Soul Searching

There are some people who go through life virtually unnoticed. They are born onto this Earth, live a quiet and unassuming life, and then, in the end, seem to vanish as if they had never existed.

One such man was James Kidd, who was born to Ellen and William Kidd in Ogdensburg, NY on August 18, 1878. There is very little known about James Kidd and, what is known, was not pieced together until after he passed.

The 1940 U.S. census shows that he had a fourth-grade education, worked as a pump man in the copper mining industry and earned $1,754 ($31,800 today) that year. Yet, he lived the life of a pauper. Jim slept on park benches, went hungry at times, and traveled across the country by sneaking aboard freight trains. He would chew the same piece of gum over and over again, storing it in a small tin aspirin box that he carried in his pocket.

In 1967, miner Mike Pesely recalled, “I knew him when I was a high school boy. I used to walk past the shack on my way to the swimming hole. I always called him ‘Captain Kidd.’ I liked him. You know how kids are always hungry? Well, he would give me peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I think that’s what he ate mostly, too. He did for himself, always; he called himself ‘an old bachelor.’ He read a lot. He was quiet, was sort of jolly, and he liked to talk to kids. He never wore a necktie, always had his shirt buttoned up at the throat. And I remember his hat. Most people put a crease in their hats, but he didn’t. He just wore it standing straight up.”

Photograph of James Kidd recovered from his safe deposit box.
Photograph of James Kidd recovered from his safe deposit box. Image from the March 3, 1967 issue of Life Magazine.

Few ever saw Jim without that old grey Fedora upon his head. On the rare occasion when he did remove it, a balding scalp surrounded by graying hair was revealed. He never married, had no known relatives or close friends, and kept to himself. Jim never obtained a driver’s license and had no military record. It was said that he loved to gamble, but entered each game knowing exactly how much he was prepared to lose.

Beginning in September 1920, James Kidd was employed by the Miami Copper Company in Arizona. His job was to keep the wastewater pumps running smoothly. In November 1941, a rubber belt flew off one of the pumps and Kidd struggled to shut off a critical valve so that the entire building wouldn’t become flooded. He was able to get the stubborn valve closed but, in doing so, the wrench slipped and he was thrust toward the pump. He was stopped from near-certain death by an 8-inch (20 cm) diameter pipe which caused significant bruising to his chest.

Some days later, Kidd was back on the job when he suddenly fell and lost consciousness. It was later, during a workmen’s compensation hearing, that the only record of his actual words was made: “I could feel it then—I had no strength or mental condition. I don’t know which.” He continued, “It seemed impossible to try to do something for myself. I don’t remember where my hands were, but there is a four-inch water line that sticks above the ground, and my shoes are longer than my toes and may have doubled against me. I never looked to see but I do know I was in that position and couldn’t do anything for myself. I had no control over my legs, I couldn’t do a thing. When I became more conscious I realized if I could get on my side, it might do me good. I don’t know how I got there, or which side, I forget, and then after a certain time, which I don’t know for sure, I regained more consciousness and in time, I can’t remember the time, I felt able to get up again.”

Since doctors had diagnosed Jim as having suffered a heart attack, coupled with the fact that he had never filed a report after being whacked in the chest by that pipe, his claim was rejected. The company offered him a job as a watchman but opted, instead, to retire and move to Phoenix. It was there that Jim was able to rent a small apartment at 335 North 9th Avenue for $4.00 per week (about $43/week today). Claiming that he lacked the funds to pay the rent, his landlord allowed him to do small jobs to help offset the cost.

Draft registration card for James Kidd.
Draft registration card for James Kidd.

It was on the evening of November 8, 1949, that Jim borrowed a pickaxe from an acquaintance and indicated that he would be headed toward a couple of claims that he had made in the Globe-Miami area, which lies some 80-miles (130 km) east of Phoenix. At 6:00 the next morning, a car pulled up outside, Jim locked the door to his room, got into the car, and drove off. James Kidd was never to be seen again. To this day, no one knows who picked him up or where he was dropped off.

Clearly, having always been a bit of a loner, it should come as no surprise that no one noticed for quite some time that Kidd had never returned. It wouldn’t be until December 29th that his landlord would inform Phoenix police that he was missing. A search of his apartment by officers revealed nothing unusual. Everything seemed as it should have been, as if he had intended to return within a short period of time.

The search did uncover one interesting fact: James Kidd was not as poor as he had let others believe. A checkbook showed that he had over $3,800 (over $40,000 adjusted for inflation) sitting in an account at the Valley National Bank. In addition, he had received a dividend check for $382.50 a few weeks prior to his disappearance. A man named Pete Oviedo later recalled that Jim had told him, “I never would make any money working; it would have to be through stocks or prospecting.” Apparently, James Kidd was true to his word and dabbled a bit in both.

With no known relatives, there was no pressure to locate his body or disperse of his estate, so the investigation into his death was brought to a close in 1954. James Kidd was officially declared dead.

That would seem to be the end of the story, but everything changed in 1956 when Arizona passed the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act, which required that all property that has been unclaimed for seven years needed to be turned over to the state of Arizona within ninety days.

Suddenly, a deluge of unclaimed estates landed on the desk of Geraldine C. Swift, Arizona’s Estate Tax Commissioner at the time. That included the estate of James Kidd.

Initially, Mrs. Swift’s office did little other than document Kidd’s estate. The situation changed in 1957 when a safe deposit box that had been rented by him showed up in her office. The box contained things like a few faded photographs, a transcript from his workmen’s comp hearing, and three stock sell orders. Most importantly, there was a bulky envelope on which the words “Buying slips from E. F. Hutton Company, Keep” was written. It suddenly became clear that James Kidd had thousands of shares of stock, some of which were still issuing dividends. In other words, James Kidd was far from a poor retired pumpman – he was very well off.

Surely James Kidd had to have had some relatives, no matter how far distant, and Mrs. Swift set out to locate them. She ran inquiries with the post office, the Social Security Administration, the U. S. Census Bureau, and even hired a private investigation firm to assist in the search. No heir was ever located.

Meanwhile, his estate continued to grow. Mrs. Swift later stated, “In February 1963, the state examiners were in my office making their yearly check and they said, ‘You’ve had this estate for 5 years, why don’t you dispose of it?’” She added, “Well, that seemed sensible to me. But I’d thought I go through everything in the deposit box one more time.”

On the day that Mrs. Swift’s team opted to enter the vault of the First National Bank at 1st Street and Washington Avenues in Phoenix, work crews had turned the power off to the building. Armed with flashlights, they began to inventory everything in Kidd’s box. It occurred to her that no one had ever bothered to look through all of those buying slips in that bulky envelope. As she began to look through the slips, a small piece of paper fell out of the stack. It was a piece of lined notebook paper, marked page 498, that had been torn from a ledger. She stated, “And then, tucked away in an envelope with rolled-up brokers’ receipts I found it—that will. I had mixed emotions. For a minute I could have eaten it.”

That’s right, she had found what may have been James Kidd’s will. It read: “this is my first and only will and is dated the second of January, 1946. I have no heirs and have not been married in my life and after all my funeral expenses have been paid and #100. one hundred dollars to some preacher of the gospel to say fare well at my grave sell all my property which is all in cash and stocks with E. F. Hutton Co Phoenix some in safety deposit box, and have this balance money to go in a research or some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death I think in time there can be a Photograph of soul leaving the human at death, James Kidd.”

Reflecting on this discovery several years later, Mrs. Swift commented, “My first reaction was I just couldn’t believe it was real, it must be a joke. And then I thought I’d better look at it again. I looked, and I thought, well, it’s dated, January 2, 1946, and it was signed in his handwriting. We had a signature card for his bank account at the Valley National Bank; it was actually in his safe deposit box. I knew his signature so well. It was exactly the same on both documents. I recognized his handwriting, and after reading it three times, and holding this tiny little thing in my hand, I thought: Now here it is. What am I going to do with it? But of course, I knew. I knew, naturally that I was going to keep it. You know, if it had been a normal will, and to think it had been in there all this time… But to read this in this dark room by flashlight! I mean, everything the way it was, it was a very eerie feeling. I just sat there and thought that I just had to be dreaming.

“It was quite a feeling, really. It rocked me—it rocked me. To think it had been in my possession all these years. Then, of course, I was very happy to think that here’s a man who writes a will and I’m so happy that I found it. And I’ll see that his wish is carried out. You know, you have the funny feeling in the beginning, the very eerie feeling… but then you have your true feeling: Well, I’m the administrator of this law, and naturally I want to put it into the proper hands.”

Mrs. Swift turned to the Attorney General’s office for help in trying to figure out how to best execute the highly unusual will. While some of the staff were of the opinion that the will was invalid and should either be ignored or destroyed, while Mrs. Swift insisted that the document should be executed just as James Kidd wished.

Unable to agree on how to proceed, a petition was made to the Arizona Superior Court to rule on the validity of the will. Judge Robert L. Myers was appointed to handle the case. Initially, the question he needed to rule on was straightforward: Was this a valid will and, if so, how should the money, now valued at $174,065.69 (over $1.4 million today), be distributed?

It wasn’t long before the press picked up on the story of a missing man who had left a fortune to be used in the search for the human soul. The Phoenix Gazette was the first to report on the story and soon it had hit newspapers all over the world.

Initially, there were just two challenges to the will: On March 5, 1964, the University of Life Church in Phoenix filed a petition with the court claiming that they, as a religious organization, were best suited to do the scientific soul searching. This was followed by a group that claimed to relatives of James Kidd who sought to have the will invalidated, in which case the funds would be distributed to them.

But it wasn’t long before others would challenge the will, including the Barrow Neurological Institute, the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and the Psychical Research Foundation out of Durham, North Carolina.

“I know of no precedence for the case nationally,” Judge Myers told the press. “Mr. Kidd assumes in his will that man does have a soul. This Court is concerned only with the legal problems of the will, whether anyone can prove the soul scientifically to the Court, or will research the existence of the soul.”

As the case dragged on, Myers ruled that Kidd’s will was legit and set formal hearings for March 6, 1967. The court was suddenly buried in a deluge of mail from all over the world. Unable to answer each letter individually, a form letter was prepared that advised each claimant that they had the right to counsel and, after paying a $15 ($115 today) filing fee, would be able to present their case at the hearings.

Judge Robert L. Myers seating behind a stack of letters received from claimants all around the world.
Judge Robert L. Myers seating behind a stack of letters received from claimants all around the world. Image from the March 3, 1967 issue of Life Magazine.

While there were legitimate claimants, the most unusual ones are far more interesting. Here is a small sampling of some of the correspondence that the court received:

“I believe I am the only logical existing person to fulfill the requirements asked for by Mr. Kidd,” wrote a man from Detroit. “I only need about $36,000 to $50,000 of the money to develop an extra sensatory [sic] perception machine through which Mr. Kidd’s soul may send a message to earth.”

A woman from Long Beach, California wrote, “I have been testing and refining my formula of axiomatic acid-proof revelation against all comers for the last 25 years. But whether I am interested in Mr. Kidd’s prize will depend largely upon the rules of judging.”

This idea that this was some sort of contest appeared to be a common thread in the letters:

“Dear Sir, I wrote you yesterday seeking information as to where I could send in my answer to the Kidd Mystery Contest, and I FORGOT to put a stamp on the return envelope. Here it is again, and thanks.”

“Your Honor: I would like to try for the great prize offered for the person that can prove that life is eternal, etc.”

“The human being has two souls, a white soul and a black soul, a negative and a positive one,” wrote a man from Brazil. “Which one do you want me to prove the existence of?”

One woman was quite blunt: “I wouldn’t be human if I did not wish for some of Mr. Kidd’s loot to buy me a new set of teeth.”

As the case began to take on a bit of a circus atmosphere, Judge Myers did what he needed to do. He stayed focused on his role. “It is the job of a probate judge to carry out the wishes of a testator, insofar as he can.” He added, “If anyone can fulfill James Kidd’s stipulations, my job is to see that it is done.”

After several delays, Judge Myers opened the hearing on June 6, 1967 with the following statement: “Probate Cause Number 58416 in the matter of the estate of James Kidd. This is the time set for the hearing on the petition of Claimant Number Nine, the American Society for Psychical Research.” His honor had set aside eighteen days for all to present their claims. When a lawyer for the Society informed the judge that he anticipated that their presentation would take two days, it was clear that it was going to take far more time than the judge had anticipated.

John G. Fuller, in his 1969 book “The Great Soul Trial, offers nearly 200-pages of blow-by-blow testimony by some of the bigger players in the case. Yet, once again, it’s the quirkier ones that grabbed headlines in the newspapers. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Mrs. Jean Bright, a mother of five from Encino, claimed that she was in contact with the soul of San Fernando dentist Dr. Earl S. Marshall, who had passed away on April 25, 1965. Six weeks later, she made her first contact with him during a muscular spasm. To prove that she was in contact with him while giving her testimony, she wore earplugs and placed a portable noisy hairdryer over her head so that she would be unable to hear the questions being asked. And, so that she wouldn’t be able to read lips, the questioner stood behind her. By nodding or shaking her head she was able to answer 15 of the 18 questions correctly.

Mrs. Jean Bright testified in court with a noisy hairdryer over her head.
Mrs. Jean Bright testified in court with a noisy hairdryer over her head. Rosemary Phillips is behind her asking the questions. Image appeared on page 1 of the San Fernando Valley section of the August 10, 1967 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

57-year-old Nora Higgins of Branscomb, California told the court that she had seen the spirit of James Kidd about a week prior to the hearing. She described how it happened: “I had just finished my housework and had walked into my bedroom when I saw a man standing there. I said, ‘Good morning, who are you?’” He just stood there and smiled back at her. She continued, “I was suddenly impressed that this was James Kidd. But in about half a minute he disappeared into a white fluorescent light and went up through the ceiling.” During her testimony, Mrs. Higgins stated that Kidd was in the courtroom “pacing up and down with his hands behind his back, shaking his head at the proceedings.” She also claimed that most of the time he was seated at a table directly in front of Judge Myers, although she was the only person who could see him.

Chicago resident Fred B. Nordstrom sought advice from those that knew the most about the heavens: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Houston, Texas. They politely wrote back, “We regret commitments to the Apollo project do not leave sufficient time to give the necessary depth evaluation. We must leave pedagogical research to others.”

In the end, 133 soul searchers from all walks of life offered up an estimated 800,000 words of testimony. The hearing took thirteen weeks and cost the residents of Maricopa County an estimated $10,000 (over $75,000 today).

On October 20, 1967, Judge Myers handed down his decision. “Considering the language of the last will and testament of the deceased as a whole, it was the intention and desire of the deceased that the residue and remainder of his estate be used for the purpose of research which may lead to some scientific proof of a soul of the individual human which leaves the body at death…. It is incumbent on the Court to ensure that the residue and remainder of the estate of the deceased be used in such a manner as to benefit mankind as a whole to the greatest degree possible.”

He continued, “This can be best accomplished by the distribution of the said funds for the purpose of research which may lead to some scientific proof of a soul of the individual human which leaves the body at death…. Such research can be best done in the combined field of medical science, psychiatry, and psychology, and can best be performed and carried on by the Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix, Arizona.”

With 132 disappointed petitioners, it was clear that the decision would be appealed. While the Arizona Court of Appeals agreed with Judge Myers’ decision, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on January 19, 1971 that the Barrow Neurological Institute should not get the funds. Instead, they sent the case back to Judge Myers and directed him to choose from one of four claimants. Finally, on July 17, 1971, Myers awarded Kidd’s estate to the American Society for Psychical Research in New York City. In the 21 years, 8 months, and 8 days since James Kidd had disappeared, his estate had grown in value to $297,000 ($1.86 million today).

So, how was it spent?

Lawyers claimed about one-third of the estate in fees and the society turned over an additional $65,000 to a researcher in North Carolina who never discovered anything worth publishing. As for the society itself, they spent the majority of the money on a study of deathbed experiences in both the United States and India. Approximately 1,000 phone calls were made and nearly 5,000 questionnaires were mailed to doctors and nurses in both countries. In papers filed with Judge Myers in June 1975, they reported that they had been unable to prove the existence of the human soul.

Laura Knipe, an executive with the Society, told the New York Daily News on September 8, 1985: “We’re still working on an answer.” She added, “One day we’ll know. One way or the other.”

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

Not Dead Yet…

On October 16, 1974, a man’s bullet-riddled body was discovered on Rainbow Beach in Chicago where East 78th Street meets Lake Michigan. Mrs. Sarah Edwards identified the body as that of her husband, Charles Edwards. She then paid $353 (about $1,800 today) to the Collins Funeral Home to cover the cost of his cremation and burial.

Police became suspicious when fingerprints identified the man as being that of 33-year-old Jerome Baker Ware. After Ware’s wife Ernestine was shown photographs of the body, she confirmed that was that of her husband James, who she had previously reported missing.

So just what was going on here? It turns out that 22-year-old Karl Jones, who had been previously arrested under the pseudonym of Charles Edwards, wanted to basically disappear and get a fresh start in life.

When the body of Jerome Baker Ware turned up, he had his girlfriend, 22-year-old Patricia Moore pretend to be his widow, Mrs. Sarah Edwards, and arrange for the cremation.

Clearly, their plan backfired and Jones was arrested for obstruction of justice. Police stated that Jones had nothing to do with the murder of Ware.

 

Jailed for Writing Fiction

On March 18, 1943, 45-year-old author George G. Gorman was in federal court being tried for writing a work of fiction.

Apparently, Gorman wrote a short story titled “The Red-Headed Widow and Her Borrowed Lovers” under the pseudonym of G. Jackson Gregory and then sold it to one of those “true” detective magazines. In other words, he claimed that his fictitious story was true, so he was charged with using the males to defraud.

During his trial, it was learned that Gorman had been the subject of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not oddity in the 1930s because he had not had a good night’s sleep in thirteen years. His lawyer, Abe Goldman, suggested to the judge that this could partially be responsible for the reason why Gorman wrote the fictitious story.

Judge Merrill E. Otis stated, “I don’t sleep so well myself at times. And I’ve understood that Thomas Edison didn’t sleep much, either.”

The judge sentenced Gorman to one year and a day in an institution or penitentiary, where he would receive medical care. He explained that he didn’t believe the offense to be a serious one and would consider parole of Gorman after one-third of the sentence had been served.

Gorman ended up in the hospital section of the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he underwent what was reported to be serious surgery.

George G. Gorman was sentence to prison time for submitting a work of fiction as a true story.
Today it is well known that many of the stories in the various detective magazines were works of fiction. George G. Gorman was sentence to prison time for submitting a work of fiction as a true story. Image from archive.org
 

Edwin Land’s Invention

From February 4, 1936, we have the story of twenty-five-year-old Edwin H Land who took a leave of absence during his senior year at Harvard to set up a laboratory to advance an invention that he had been working on for ten years.

He had developed a piece of glass on which he aligned billions of tiny crystals in the same direction and embedded them in a cellulose matrix. Giant companies like AT&T and Kodak had been testing his invention and were extremely excited by it. He claimed that his invention had more than 800 commercial uses.

He was right. Today it is found in sunglasses, cameras, cell phones, and is used extensively in manufacturing and scientific experiments.

Land, whose name is mostly forgotten today, had invented the first artificial polarizing material. Up through the 1970s, Land was kind of what Steve Jobs became to Apple. Throngs of reporters and consumers eagerly lined up to hear Land announces his company’s latest and greatest inventions every year. His company was named Polaroid.

Polaroid 80B Highlander instant camera made in the USA, circa 1959. Image from Wikimedia.
 

Podcast 128: The Prick of Death

The Howrah railway station sits just across the Hoogly river from Calcutta and is considered to be the busiest station in India. It was here, on November 26, 1933, that Amarendra Chandra Pande arrived as he began his journey from Calcutta to his family home in Pakur. He was accompanied by several female relatives, most important of which was his aunt, a rich widow named Rani Surjabati. Also, there to see Amar off was his half-brother Benoyendra, which was an unusual act of kindness for him. Benoy was eleven years older than Amar and the two had little in common. While the older Benoy was a free-spending playboy and kind of the black sheep of the family, Amar was the one who was loved and respected by all.

Just as Amar’s party moved through the booking area of the station, a man walking in the opposite direction suddenly brushed up against him. Detecting a sharp sting in his right arm, Amar blurted, “Someone has pricked me.” His aunt would later testify that “A short, black man with an oval face brushed up against him.”

Amar rolled up his sleeve to examine the wound. While the puncture was small, a colorless liquid was oozing out. Nearly all of those in his entourage expressed concern. It was suggested that he should cancel his planned trip and immediately seek medical attention. His brother Benoy was the only one who didn’t seem concerned at all. He made light of the injury as he grabbed Amar’s arm and began to massage the puncture site.

Over the course of the entire train ride to Pakur, his relatives continued to push Amar to change his mind and see a doctor. A few days later he finally agreed and took a train back to Calcutta to do just that. Upon examination, the doctor noted that the pricked spot appeared to be “something like the mark of a hypodermic needle.” A blood sample was taken and sent off to a laboratory for testing.

Howrah Railway Station circa 1945
The scene of the crime. Howrah Railway Station circa 1945. Image from Wikimedia.

Amar quickly took a turn for the worse. He developed a high fever and his tongue blackened as his face, groin, and armpits began to swell. Amarandra would not recover and passed away on December 4, 1933. The task of cremating Amar’s body fell upon his irresponsible brother Benoy and, having had little respect for his younger brother, he opted to bribe an official to have the body disposed of quickly. As a result, an autopsy was never performed.

Several days later the results of that blood sample were finally reported. Amar had died from bubonic plague and it was thought that he had been infected when that unidentified man pricked him in the arm at Howrah station. His death was now believed to be a murder.

The Black Death had all been thought eradicated in 1933. The last person thought infected in the region had passed away several years prior. And, if Amar was, in fact, injected with the plague, one had to question where one could obtain such a deadly bacterium.

It turns out that there was only one place: Since 1896, all research related to the plague in India was strictly controlled by the Haffkine Institute in Bombay (Mumbai today). Under absolutely no circumstance would the Institute supply plague cultures to private companies or individuals.

As investigators scoured through the Institute’s records, one name stood out among the rest. His name was Dr. Taranath Bhattacharjee and he had tried on multiple occasions to obtain a viable culture of the plague to test a theory that he had. Further digging uncovered the fact that Taranath’s closest friend was none other than Benoyendra Pande, Amar’s half-brother.

Suddenly, all of the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together…

Benoy was twenty-seven and Amar sixteen years of age when their wealthy father died in 1929. The estate was split somewhat equally between the two brothers and included a significant annual income from the rental of real estate. Benoy was a known partier who generously shared his lifestyle with his close friends, of which Taranath, the doctor, was a recipient. Of course, to call any of them close friends was a bit of an exaggeration. They were more like parasites who always lived in fear that their source of easy money was about to be cut off.

When Amar turned eighteen in 1931, he began to take steps to regain control of his portion of his estate, which had been handled by the irresponsible Benoy until then. Benoy fought him at every step along the way. At some point, Benoy had become so determined to gain possession of his brother’s money that his close friends began to suggest ways to bump off Amar. It was suggested that Amar be pushed in front of a moving train or that Benoy hire some thug to strangle Amar, but it would be Taranath who offered up what he felt would be the perfect crime. To avoid arousing suspicion, Taranath stated that Amar needed to die of natural causes. The plague was the perfect choice.

The doctor knew of about a dozen laboratories in India where the bacilli were being cultured. He wrote to each one stating his qualifications, sometimes greatly exaggerated them, and explaining the testing that he wished to do. While a few were willing to allow him to do his tests at their facilities, none were willing to allow the cultures or the infected rats out of the laboratory.

Having been unable to obtain a plague culture, it was alleged that Taranath set his sights on the next best thing: tetanus. Since it was unlikely to cause an epidemic, he concluded that it would be less closely guarded and far easier to obtain.

Their plan was simple: Benoy obtained a pair of glasses and proceeded to smear the tetanus germs across its nosepiece. While on a family vacation in the fall of 1932, he asked Amar to go for a short walk. The conversation turned to that of eyeglasses and Amar agreed to try them on. Just at the eyeglasses were settling into place, Benoy jammed them down on Amar’s nose and pierced the skin.

The next day, Amar was taken to a local doctor and diagnosed with tetanus. His aunt wired Benoy and requested that he bring the family physician. Yet, when Benoy arrived, he had brought Taranath instead. Taranath insisted that the administration of the tetanus antitoxin be stopped and injections of morphine be used instead. The local doctor held his ground and refused to give in.

Frustrated, Benoy soon showed up with another doctor, Dr. Dhar, who injected Amar with a serum that he had obtained in Calcutta. He would soon develop an abscess at this site of this injection. Later, Benoy arrived with both Dr. Dhar and Taranath in tow to administer additional selected medicines. By this time, Amar’s aunt and sisters had grown suspicious of Benoy’s actions and would not allow his personal doctors to treat Amar. Amar would slowly regain his health over the next few months, but in the end, it is said that he was left with a permanently damaged heart.

With the tetanus infection having failed, Benoy and Taranath returned to their original plan. They would once again attempt to obtain a plague culture.

On April 30, 1933, Benoy traveled to Bombay to meet with a doctor at the Haffkine Institute. He said that he had been sent in advance to find out whether the institute would allow a fellow doctor, as if he were one, to use their facilities to test a curative drug for the plague. He was informed that approval of the Institute’s director would be required.

In May, Taranth finally found a doctor who was willing to work with him, but under no circumstance was Taranth allowed to handle the plague culture. When his experiment failed, the doctor that he had been working under refused to secure a second culture for testing.

On July 1st, Benoy was once again in Bombay waving wads of cash in an effort to convince two veterinarians to obtain a plague culture from the Haffkine Institute. They also refused.

Shortly after this rejection, Benoy found a doctor at the Arthur Road (now Kasturba) Hospital who took interest in Taranath’s research. He assigned an assistant to work with Taranath and a live plague culture was obtained from the Haffkine Institute. Benoy and Taranath purchased some white rats from a bird dealer and the supposed testing began, although the assistant later testified that he never observed any type of medicine ever being applied. On July 12th, Taranath told the assistant that he had urgent work that he needed to attend to back in Calcutta and needed to leave right away. He would not return. That night, both Taranath and Benoy skipped town.

It was around this time that Benoy attempted to obtain a life insurance policy worth 51,000 rupees on his brother with the stipulation that the policy not be contested after Amar’s death. He was denied coverage.

With the plague culture now in their possession, Benoy needed to lure Amar back to Calcutta. He tried to persuade his aunt to send a telegram, but she outright refused. So, he sent a bogus message using her name instead. Amar arrived in Calcutta on November 19, 1933.

While he was there, Amar went to the theater with five female relatives. Benoy was spotted hovering around the premises with a man whose description was nearly identical to that of the man who fatally pricked Amar. It was thought that the man had been hired by Benoy to administer that shot-in-the-arm that evening but it was not done because Amar was too closely surrounded by his relatives when they emerged from the theater. Instead, Benoy and that unknown assailant would complete their dastardly deed a few days later at the railroad station.

It took investigators about ten weeks to piece this entire sequence of events together. Benoy was arrested on February 16, 1934, followed by Taranath two days later. Also charged with the murder were Dr. Dhar, who had administered that fake dose of tetanus antiserum and Dr. Sivapada Bhattacharjee, who wrote out the death certificate claiming that Amar had died from sepsis pneumonia.

During the trial, eighty-five witnesses were called to testify and more than three-hundred exhibits were introduced. The prosecutor stated that the case was “unparalleled in the annals of crime of India in its enormity and well-planned scientific design.”

It took the jury just four hours to unanimously find Benoy and Taranath guilty of murder and recommended mercy, while the other two doctors were acquitted of the charges. The judge stated, “This is the coldest-blooded crime I have ever come across” and, on February 16, 1935 – one year to the day after Benoy’s arrest – the two men were sentenced to death.

An appeal was immediately filed. On January 9, 1936, the lower court’s decision was affirmed, but the decision was made to set aside the death sentences. Instead, Benoy and Taranath were sentenced to transportation for life to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

50,000 Books Given Away

If you would have been in Boston in July of 1964, you could have gotten some great deals on used books.

The Brattle Book Shop, which had been around for 139 years at that point had to move at the Sears Crescent building, it’s home since 1825. Due to a fire months earlier, and major renovations being done to the building, the rent was going up tenfold, something that owner George Gloss could not afford.

Instead of closing the business, he opted to move to a new store with lower rent. But to do so, he had to unload an incredibly large number of books quickly.

He initially lowered the price of all those books to $0.50, then $0.25, and finally a dime. But that didn’t get rid of enough books, so decided to give 50,000 books away for free.

The Brattle Book Shop is still in business today and is one of my favorite bookstores of all time. If you are ever in Boston and you love books, make sure you check out the store.

Brattle Book Shop in 1962.
1962 photograph of the Brattle Book Shop shortly before it was forced to move. The store is just to the left of the Coffee Shop in the foreground. The sign that sticks out from the bookstore reads: “Oldest Continuous Antiquarian Book Site in America 1825.” Library of Congress image.

 

In the Water Too Long…

Three members of the Polar Bear Club in Atlantic City, New Jersey participated in a swimming marathon on February 24, 1957. It did not go well.

The rules were simple. First, each man had to swim one mile in the 52° F (11.1 º C) frigid water. Next, each had to stand near shore in water up to their necks. The one who stayed in the water the longest won the contest. The award was $200 (approximately $1800 today), which was kicked in by tavern owner Sol Bogotin.

At the 55-minute mark, the body of 36-year-old Lucious Marcel suddenly stiffened up and he was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Six minutes later, 26-year-old Jack Morris did the same. Finally, four minutes after this, 23-year-old Al Black was able to walk water on his own and win the prize. An unnamed dog also wanted into the water to join in and first aid needed to be administered.

The two hospitalized men were treated for exposure and muscle contraction, while Al Black was just fine.

George S. Dougherty, a deputy police commissioner in New York City.
Photo shows George S. Dougherty, a deputy police commissioner in New York City in December, 1912. Image from the Library of Congress.
 

Milk Bottle Shortage

On November 14 of 1946, it was reported that there was a shortage of milk bottles in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

It seems that 85% of the bottles distributed by milkmen were never returned. The bottles were typically either discarded or repurposed.

Unfortunately, local dairies were unable to get new bottles due to a glass shortage. Dairyman William Thurman said that he ordered new bottles 6 months prior, but would not receive them for another 8 to 10 months. Paper milk cartons were not an option either, since it was also a shortage of paper at a time.

Phil Smith, of the Red Bank Dairy, stated, “It’s always the same few who return bottles, meticulously. The same many who don’t.”

F. J. Schapper of Sheffield Farms, said, “It’s obvious women are ashamed to return dirty milk bottles. We’ll take ‘em clean or dirty. We’ll take ‘em from under the foundation or fish ‘em out of the drink. We get ‘em back from the trash men and haul ‘em from the dumps.”

Sanitary Glass Milk Bottle
Milk bottle image appeared on page 170 of “Principles and practice of butter-making : a treatise on the chemical and physical properties of milk and its components, the handling of milk and cream, and the manufacture of butter therefrom. (1906)
 

Podcast 127: The Case of the Doctor-Doctor Kidnapping

During the early morning hours of July 12, 1933, a Northern Pacific passenger train that was headed for Duluth, Minnesota sideswiped a car that had been on the track approximately 4-miles (6.4 km) north of St. Paul. The train was brought to an immediate halt and the train crew ran over to offer assistance.

The sedan itself suffered minimal damage: As the train pushed the car into a ditch, its front fender and headlight were smashed in.

Image of the car in which Dr. Engberg was found.
Image of the car in which Dr. Engberg was found. From the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune (page 6).

The driver, on the other hand, was in far worse condition. Later identified as 45-year-old Dr. (Edward John) E. J. Engberg, the Secretary of the State Board of Medical Examiners, he was unconscious and bleeding from his mouth. A rusty .32 caliber revolver with its handle taped was found lying on the floor of the car between his feet. Two shots had been fired through the window and side of the sedan. In the back seat, police found a pair of surgeon’s rubber gloves, an ether mask, and a bloody towel. Extra bullets and a black mask were found in the pockets of his coat.

Dr.  E. J. Engberg
Image of Dr. E. J. Engberg that appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune.

The car that Dr. Engberg was found was owned by 34-year-old Dr. (Walter Henry) W. H. Hedberg, a local chiropractor. Police found the chiropractor lying unconscious in a ditch about 0.25 miles (0.4 km) away with a bullet wound in his ear.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is that the two men had never met each other before. Yet, their lives would cross paths in such an unusual way that the story would be told on the front pages of newspapers across the country.

After regaining consciousness, Engberg – the doctor – told police that he had received a call at his home the previous Friday night to come to the aid of a patient. This was not unusual at a time when doctors still made housecalls, but the doctor later came home and told his wife that he had been unable to locate the patient. A call received the next day said that another doctor had treated the patient, but that Engberg’s services would still be needed in the future.

Map of the crime.
This map showing the location of the crime is from the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune (page 6).

The doctor received another call at 8:30 P. M. on Tuesday, July 11th, the evening before he was knocked unconscious by the train. He drove in his automobile to the specified location where “The man leaped into my car. He stuck a gun against my side and warned me that I would not be harmed if I did as he directed. We drove a while and then met a car with other men.” Dr. Engberg told the police, “I asked what they wanted me to do and was told I was expected to perform a surgical operation on a man being held captive. Of course, I refused. I did not even see the man they wanted to be the victim of that mutilation.”

After his refusal, what was believed to have been an ether-soaked towel was wrapped around Dr. Engberg’s head and he lost consciousness. Physicians who later treated Dr. Engberg at the hospital stated that he had been forcibly injected by a hypodermic needle.

Of course, the intended target of the surgical mutilation chiropractor Dr. Hedberg. He told a similar story of being lured from his home by a telephone call seeking medical help. After arriving at the specified location, he was seized by three men. One wrapped a towel around his head as two others pressed their guns against him. Just as with Dr. Engberg, chiropractor Hedberg was injected with anesthesia and fell unconscious.

Dr. (Walter Henry) W. H. Hedberg
Image of Dr. (Walter Henry) W. H. Hedberg that appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune.

When the effects of the anesthesia began to wear off, the chiropractor reached up, turned off the car’s ignition, and tossed the keys outside of the automobile. This did not go over well with his captors and he ended up in a fight with one of them. As the tussle continued, chiropractor Hedberg reached for the door latch and the two fell out on to the road where he was briefly knocked unconscious. As he came to, he again struggled with his captors, at which point they fired two shots, one striking him in the earlobe. Believing that Hedberg’s wound had been fatal, they left his body lying in a ditch and drove off. Their next stop was to place Dr. Engberg in the car, set him up so that it looked like he had committed the attack on the chiropractor, and they then left him in the car awaiting the collision with the train.

As police continued their investigation, they learned that chiropractor Hedberg had been visited in his office on July 5th by a woman who identified herself as Miss Irene Plazo. She requested that he perform an illegal operation and offered Hedberg $15 (nearly $300 today). She commented, “and there’s a lot more where this came from.” Hedberg soon learned that Miss Plazo had given him both a fictitious name and address and he refused to take part in whatever she had planned.

Mrs. Hedberg told police that, in addition to Miss Plazo showing up at her husband’s office, he had been receiving threatening phone calls and began to fear for his life. Just in case something should happen, he opted to take out a $30,000 (approximately $590,000 today) life insurance policy. Mrs. Hedberg commented, “I knew Dr. Hedberg was worried about something. There’s something crooked. I knew it would happen.”

Dr. Hedberg's home at 1714 Princeton Avenue in St. Paul
Image of Dr. Hedberg’s home at 1714 Princeton Avenue in St. Paul that appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune

The St. Paul police thought that this whole series of events could be the work of one of the chiropractor’s disgruntled patients. They began to scour his patient records to see if they could find any clues as to who may have engineered this bizarre plot.

Fast forward a little more than five weeks to Saturday, August 19, 1933. Chiropractor Hedberg called to his wife stating that he would be home in a half-hour but never arrived. A brakeman in the yards of the Chicago Great Western Railway spotted him early Sunday morning wandering between boxcars and warned Hedberg to stay off the tracks.

Early Monday morning, the police received an anonymous call that there was an injured man lying on the ground in the railroad yards. When they arrived, they discovered Hedberg in a semi-conscious state with five needle marks in his right arm. He had been injected with the barbiturate sodium amytal, the same drug believed to have been used on Dr. Engberg in that earlier attack.

While chiropractor Hedberg was in the hospital recovering, police announced that they had identified him as the sole assailant who had drugged Dr. Engberg. Officials initially considered a sanity hearing, but ultimately decided to file charges of kidnapping and intent to kill against the chiropractor.

The big question is why would chiropractor Hedberg want to kill Dr. Engberg? The two had clearly never met before. It turns out that Hedberg had been ordered by an attorney representing the State Board of Medical Examiners to remove a sign that read “physician” from a window in his chiropractic office. Hedberg became enraged and refused to remove the sign. Instead, he painted the word “chiropractor” above it in small letters above the word physician. Since Dr. Engberg was the secretary for the medical examiners’ board, Hedberg held him personally responsible.

Location of the original crime.
Location of the original crime. The dashed arrow points to the location where Dr. Engberg was found after the train hit the car. Image appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune.

Hedberg pleaded not guilty to the charges and the trial was scheduled for October 24, 1933. When Dr. Engberg was asked if Hedberg was the man who had attacked him, he replied, “Not a shadow of a doubt.” The chiropractor took the stand and stuck to his story of being attacked by several men. His wife told the court of the mysterious phone calls and that her husband had told her at one point that “lots of funny things have happened lately.”

As testimony neared its conclusion, one of the jurors was declared insane and dismissed. The decision was made to continue with just eleven jurors. On November 8th, two weeks after the trial had begun, the jury needed just three hours to issue their verdict: Hedberg was acquitted and sent home a free man.

Did he do it? I guess we will never know. The evidence seemed highly stacked against Hedberg, yet a jury of his peers concluded that he was innocent of the charges. In addition to having served as president of the Minnesota Chiropractic Association, he served twenty years on the board of directors for the Logan College of Chiropractic. He passed away on August 29, 1968 at 79 years of age.

As for Dr. Engberg, he would spend 31 years as the superintendent of the Faribault State School and Hospital before retiring in 1968. He was 83-years-old when he died on July 18, 1971.

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

Idea Wasn’t a Bust

It was reported on August 13, 1949 that engineer turned fashion designer Charles Langs was having a problem meeting demand for his new product that he named “The Posies.”

The idea for his invention came while he was on vacation in Florida with his wife Mary and their four children. Mary like to slip off the straps of her bathing suit while suntanning, but that made it difficult to sit up and care for her children while holding her top up at the same time.

He came up with a design that consisted of 2 cloth cups with ruffles that have adhesive around the edges. You simply stick them on and let the sun do the rest.

When he first launched the Posies, he anticipated selling just a few dozen. Yet, it wasn’t long before sales topped 500,000 units each week.

To meet this sudden demand, he contracted with two companies to produce the product and hired 45 women to ship the orders.

Langs insisted that he wanted nothing more than to return to his engineering job and was willing to sell the business to a reputable firm. His plea was noticed by the Textron company and they purchased his business and patents for $750,000 in September 1949 (approximately $8 million today).

Image of brassiere alternative Posies.
Image of brassiere alternative Posies.
 

Suits Made from Paper

A New York Times article from August 4, 1920 describes how Great Britain was importing a large quantity of men’s suits from Germany because they were much lower in cost to purchase. All of these suits were fashioned in the latest English styles of the day.

An entire suit could be purchased for between $0.46 and $1.95 each ($6-$25 today), which, according to the article, meant that a man could buy a new German suit every week for an entire year and the total cost would be less than 1 British-made woolen suit.

There was one big catch, however: The low-cost suits were made of paper.

1931 advertisement for wool suits.
Advertisement for wool suits that appeared on page 131 of the March 31 issue of Popular Mechanics.
 

Podcast 126: The Transatlantic Taxi Ride

When my wife and I arrived in Paris last summer, we needed transportation to the Airbnb that we had rented just outside the city. Not knowing how to get there by train yet, our only options were a cab or Uber. It was about a 40-minute ride from the airport, so we weren’t shocked by the high fare to get us there. Surprisingly, the cab was slightly lower in cost than the Uber.

But what if one wanted to go a much farther distance? A taxi wouldn’t make much sense. A train or airplane would be far cheaper and take significantly less time. The story I have for you today is a situation just like that.

So, let’s hop in our Delorean and take a trip back in time to April 21, 1966. Our destination is the dispatch center for the Black and White Cab Co. in Toledo, Ohio. An unnamed woman calls in and requests a taxi to take her from Toledo all the way out to San Francisco, California.

Since I know that a lot of my listeners don’t reside within the United States, I will tell you this: That is a very long distance. Depending on the path that you take to get there, it is roughly a distance of 2,400 miles or 3,860 kilometers. The cab company did their own estimate and came up with 2,428 miles.

The cab company clearly had both the drivers and cars needed to make such a trip, but who in their right mind would want to pay for a taxi to travel such a long distance? They figured $0.50 per mile and quoted her a flat-fee price of $1250. That would be about $9,800 today, adjusted for inflation.

In comparison, it was reported that a first-class airplane ticket would cost $141.12 and a 2-day train ride on a sleeper car would run $130.49. $130 to $140 vs $1250 is a huge difference.

Even though the quoted price was outrageous, the woman was insistent on having a taxicab take her to the West Coast. In addition, she had one other request: she wanted the cab to be driven by 43-year-old Paul Mertz because he had driven her to Detroit and Chicago over the previous week. Mertz had gained her trust and was shocked by her request to have him drive her to San Francisco. He stated, “I couldn’t believe my ears.”

In what would be Black and White Cab’s longest trip ever, they required the woman to pay for all other incidental costs, including meals and lodging. And to avoid fatigue, fellow Toledo driver 39-year-old Chester Reneau would accompany Mertz so that the two could take turns driving.

Taxi drivers Paul Mertz (left) and Chet Reneau (right).
Taxi drivers Paul Mertz (left) and Chet Reneau (right). Image appears in the April 25, 1966 issue of the San Francisco Examiner on page 7.

The terms were agreed to and the woman proceeded to write a check for $850 as a down payment. The remainder would be due upon their arrival in California.

Melvin Farrell, dispatcher for the cab company, told the press, “The person just wanted to rent a cab to go, she had the money and so she went.”

At 9:30 PM on that same day – April 21, 1966 – the three of them took off in the taxicab. Their first stop was about four-hours later at the woman’s home in Munster, Indiana. It was there that she picked up her luggage – enough to fill the entire trunk – and her pet Chihuahua, Tiny Mouse. He would ride with her in the backseat for the entire trip.

The woman expressed a fear of heights, so the drivers opted to drive along Route 66 through the Southwest, avoiding the more direct route through the Rocky Mountains.

As a whole, it was a fairly uneventful trip. For most of the ride, the woman slept in the backseat as the two drivers continued to push westward. The three sang songs together – mostly church hymns – and the driver in the passenger seat was asked to read aloud passages from the Bible.

Three motel stops were made: in Joplin, Missouri, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Needles, California so that their passenger could get some rest, but she would only sleep briefly and then ask to get back on the road. Another brief stop was made in Vega, Texas so that a doctor could treat the mystery woman for a minor illness.

By this time, the wire services had spread the story to newspapers nationwide. Just who was this unidentified woman? Where in San Francisco was she headed? Why did she choose such a slow, expensive method to cross the country? While readers pondered over this bizarre mystery, the cab continued along its journey to California.

One of those readers was a real estate agent named George Kehriotis, who resided at 636 35th Street in Richmond, California. Richmond is about 13 miles (21 km) northeast of San Francisco as the crow flies. Imagine his surprise as the Black and White taxicab that he had been reading about in the newspaper stopped right in front of his door at 6:55 AM on Monday, April 25, 1966. While the press reported that the entire trip had taken 80 hours, my calculations come up with a little under 85 hours or 3 days and 13 hours.

Kehriotis immediately recognized the woman, but would not reveal anything specific about her to the press. All he would say was that she was in her mid-50’s, the spouse of his wife’s uncle, had visited the Kehriotis home two years prior, and was involved in a legal battle with her husband’s family. Kehriotis stated, “She is exhausted and sleeping. She’s a very charming woman.”

Driver Mertz commented, “The trip in the cab with Ohio plates created considerable excitement, especially in the small towns. People looked at us as if we were nuts.” He continued, “and cops and highway patrolmen kept stopping us, asking to see our papers. When they found them in order, they said, ‘OK, you can go and good luck.’”

And with that, the remainder of the fare was paid and the two drivers began their long trek back to Toledo. Respecting their passenger’s privacy, they continued to remain silent as to her identity.

By the end of the day of her arrival, the San Francisco Examiner revealed that one of the drivers had registered their passenger at one of the motels along the way as “Mrs. Mary Matz, of Hammond, Indiana.” With her identity now revealed, 48-year-old Mrs. Matz agreed to an interview with the press. She was the fourth wife of 85-year-old Henry W. Matz, a retired Chicago funeral home director who was in poor health.

Photograph of Mrs. Mary Matz and her dog Tiny Mouse
Photograph of Mrs. Mary Matz and her dog Tiny Mouse shortly after her arrival in California. Image appeared on page 6 of the April 27, 1966 issue of the Austin American.

According to Henry’s son Clarence, the couple had separated five or six weeks prior. The elder Matz had recently been hospitalized, but had since been released and was staying with his son in Chicago.

After Mrs. Matz had a huge falling out with her husband’s family, she headed out west to the Kehriotis home because they were “the only relatives who’ve been nice to me.”

When questioned as to why she didn’t travel via a train or airplane, she said that it was for “health” reasons. Mrs. Matz explained that she feared becoming ill along the route. A taxi could stop at any point along the way, while a plane or train could not.

As to when she would be returning home, she couldn’t answer that question. Mrs. Matz indicated that would depend on when her doctor gave her the okay.

After a few days in the spotlight, Mrs. Matz would disappear from the headlines. According to her husband’s death certificate, she was still married to him when he passed away on June 16, 1969, but I was unable to find out what happened to Mary Matz afterward. If anyone knows, please let me know.

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

Girls Stuck in Phone Booth

It was reported on January 12, 1961 that two 15-year-old girls from McKeesport, Pennsylvania got stuck in a telephone booth. They were Christann Duran of 3842 Sarah Street and Peggy Woistman who lived at 941 Franklin Street.

They had squeezed themselves into a pay telephone booth located at the corner of Hartman Street and O’Neil Boulevard to make a call and couldn’t get the door open to get out when they were done.

They frantically hammered on the glass for assistance, but those who saw them just smiled or waved back before walking on by.

Ultimately, one of the girls was able to get her hand into her purse and pull out a dime to call the police. A patrolman arrived and had to remove the door from the phone booth. Which got me thinking: couldn’t they have simply dialed the operator for help?


Four women in telephone booths at the Hurricane Ballroom in 1943.
Phone booths are definitely a thing of the past. This photo shows four women in telephone booths at the Hurricane Ballroom in 1943. (Image from the Library of Congress.)