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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Author Archives: Steve Silverman

Submarine Rodeo

 

On July 8, 1961, the Pleasant Lake Lyons Club in Indiana held their annual Submarine Rodeo scuba competition. Each year, this event attracted several thousand enthusiastic fans to watch the various diving events that were scheduled.

Some of the contests included the Weight Carry, the Recovery Dive contest, and a Compass Course event.

But, the highlight of this event was the last contest of the day. It was a diving contest that involved homemade midget submarines. These various crafts had been built from old aircraft parts, boilers, and steam fittings. Contestants in this contest came from great distances to compete. Basically, the divers had to use all of their diving skills to capture one of these elusive submarines.

According to the article, the first Submarine Rodeo was held in 1959 at Pleasant Lake. The contest continued through the mid-1960s, although it is unclear when they held it for the last time. It was reported that one of the big problems with these homemade submarines was that Lloyd’s of London refused to insure any of them.

Advertisement for the 1963 Pleasant Lake Submarine Rodeo that appeared on page 12 of the July 17, 1963 issue of the Steuben Republican. (Click on image to enlarge.)

The Ghost Plane

 

On August 30, 1955, a pilotless airplane circled Sydney, Australia and its suburbs for nearly three hours. Today, we live in a time of remote-control planes, but that was not why this airplane was flying around without a pilot.

Thirty-year-old trainee-pilot Anthony Thrower was practicing his takeoff and landings at the Bankstown Aerodrome when suddenly “The motor went dead when I was 10 feet [3 m] over the runway. I got down safely and applied the brakes. I decided to start the Auster by myself.”

That’s when he swung the propeller around to start the engine. As soon the engine turned over, the brakes on the airplane failed and it took to the sky without him aboard.

“I tried to hold it by a strut but I couldn’t make it.” And, “Away she went…”

He began to run toward the control tower in an effort to alert them as the plane flew in the opposite direction. And then, “I looked over my shoulder and got a terrific fright. The plane had turned right around and was chasing me.”

Thrower was unharmed and eventually, the plane climbed to an altitude of 10,000 feet (3 km) before leveling out. Royal Australian Air Force jets were called in to pursue the runaway plane but were unable to bring it down.  Eventually, the wind pushed the plane out toward the sea where two Australian Navy Sea Furies shot it down.

Lieutenants John Bluett, RN, and Peter McNay, RN, reliving their successful action against Anthony Thrower’s pilotless Auster in 1955. Image appears on the Australian Navy website.

Legal to Fly Airplanes on Sunday

 

The first documented blue law within the state of Pennsylvania, which placed restrictions on Sunday activity, was passed in 1779. Further restrictions were put into place in 1794 “for the prevention of vice and immorality, and of unlawful gaming, and to restrain disorderly sports and dissipation.” It strictly forbids “any worldly employment or business whatsoever on the Lord’s day, commonly call Sunday, works of necessity and charity only accepted.” This included, “any unlawful game, hunting, shooting, sport or diversion whatsoever.”

Of course, the times change and there were challenges to the law, especially as more modern forms of transportation came about. In particular, a new situation arose in 1919 when members of a Sunday observance association filed charges against Lieut. John C. Howard for carrying passengers in an airplane on the Sabbath.

On October 25, Philadelphia City Solicitor John P. Connelly offered up his opinion on the matter. He stated, “I cannot see how travel in the air on Sunday is calculated to interfere with the rest, quiet and right of citizenship to worship any more than travel by trolley cars, taxicabs, hired carriages or automobiles.” He added, “… travel by streetcars, by steam railways, by hired cabs, and in these later days, by taxicabs and other vehicles, both upon land and water, and for pleasure or necessity, has become universal, and has come to be tacitly if not explicitly regarded as within the exceptions to the Act of 1794.”

A decision was handed down on November 6 by an unnamed police magistrate, who had pondered over this violation for ten days, concluded that flying an airplane on Sunday in no way violates the Pennsylvania blue laws.

“Birds fly on Sunday and I therefore do not see how the law is violated by a birdman who runs an air taxicab on the Sabbath.”

Lillian Boyer was an early “wing-walker.” Photograph from the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive on Flickr.

Podcast #140 – The Flying Housewife

 

Let’s suppose you wanted to take an airplane flight around the globe. And, since you are probably like me and don’t have access to high-speed military jets, you would need to make the flight using commercial airlines. That means they would have to deal with the hassles of delayed flights, waiting in airport terminals for connecting flights, dealing with immigration along the way, and all of the other hassles associated with flying. Just how long do you think it would take you? Could you do it in a day? In two days? Well, one man has set the record for doing so. If you hang around for a bit, I will let you know just how long it took him at the end of this podcast.

Of course, flying around the world today is far easier than it was in the early days of aviation. One of the earlier pioneers in flying was a British woman named Richarda Morrow-Tait, whose efforts to fly around the world are nearly forgotten today.

Born Prudence Richarda Evelyn Routh on November 22, 1923, she wasn’t exactly what her father had hoped for. “As far back as I can remember, it was always said that my father was so angry when I turned out to be a girl that he refused to speak to me on the day I was born. He’d already had two girls and I was to be called Richard – that’s how I was christened Richarda. So I was a third daughter. But no matter how depressing that could very well turn out to be – I did have one terrific consolation. I was born on a Thursday.” We shall see in a short bit how being born on a Thursday would play an important part in her life.

Colorized photograph of Richarda "Dikki" Morrow-Tait.
Colorized photograph of Richarda “Dikki” Morrow-Tait.

In 1943, Richarda, who went by the nickname of Dikki, was working as a temporary stenographer and assigned to assist a mechanical engineer named Norman Morrow-Tait who worked in the British government’s Ministry of Supply at Cambridge  Norman was more than a decade older than the redheaded Dikki, but the two immediately hit it off and were soon married.

Dikki long had an interest in learning to fly an airplane and in 1945, her husband suggested that she should do so. She first took to the air in January 1946 and continued to take lessons on weekends. Dikki soon became the first woman to obtain a civil flying license in Britain since the war had ended.

Right around the time that she began her flying lessons, Dikki became pregnant. On October 10, 1946, she gave birth to a baby girl who the couple named Anna Victoria Airy Morrow-Tait. Yet, motherhood was not about to stop Dikki from taking to the sky.

On May 31, 1948, 24-year-old Richarda Morrow-Tait announced to the world that she was going to attempt to be the first woman to fly an airplane around the world. To do so, she purchased a surplus Percival Proctor IV, a 210 hp, single-engine plane which had been used as a communications aircraft during the war. For the round-the-world trip, it was outfitted with extra fuel tanks, which gave it an estimated range of 1850 miles (2977 km). Dikki named the plane “Thursday’s Child,” both because she was born a Thursday and for the verse in the folk song Mondays Child:

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go…

And boy did she have far to go…

While Dikki had mastered the flying of the plane, she was in need of a good navigator. While the Morrow-Taits were at a party they bumped into 25-year-old Michael Townsend, who had been a childhood friend of Dikki’s. At the time, Townsend was a geology student at Cambridge and a former member of the Royal Air Force. He agreed to accompany Dikki on the flight and spent four months preparing for it.

Their first setback occurred on August 14, 1948, while Dikki was practicing for the flight. While piloting another plane, Dikki crash-landed at the airport in Cambridge. She was unhurt, but this event seemed to cast a dark shadow on what was to come.

On Wednesday, August 18, 1948, as her husband and daughter Anna watched from the ground, Richarda Morrow-Tait and Michael Townsend lifted off from Cambridge and flew to Croyden Airport in London to officially begin their flight around the globe. They anticipated completing the flight in six weeks. Norman Morrow-Tait told the press “I have given her every encouragement to make this flight.” He continued, “I used to fly myself and know how much flying can mean to anyone. Dikki is a wonderful person full of determination and courage.”

Unfortunately, upon landing in Marseille, France, visibility was poor and the propeller, undercarriage, and one of the wings were damaged during landing. The next day, she announced that she was abandoning her attempted flight and would return to England once repairs to the plane were completed. Well, that decision did not last long. Two days later, on Friday, August 20, Dikki announced that she would continue on with the planned flight.

Richarda "Dikki" Morrow-Tait and her navigator Michael Tait.
Richarda “Dikki” Morrow-Tait and her navigator Michael Tait. Image appeared on page 1 the November 27, 1948 issue of the Edmonton Journal.

On Saturday, August 28, she finally was able to take off from Marseille and successfully landed later that same day in Malta. From there it was on to Cyprus, Iraq, Bahrain, Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), Karachi in Pakistan, and Delhi in India.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until September 7. That is when her airplane was damaged during landing at Dum Dum airport in Calcutta. Dikki and Townsend would have to wait seven weeks for parts to arrive and for the plane to be repaired. So much for completing their flight in six weeks.

Finally, on October 22, they lifted off for Rangoon (today Yangon in Myanmar), followed by successful hops to Vietnam, Hong Kong, and five stops in Japan as she piloted the plane up the Japanese archipelago. 

Her next flight was going to the longest over water: from Hokkaido, Japan to Shemya Island, located at the western tip of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Due to the great length of the flight, Dikki agreed to be escorted by a US Air Force B-17 bomber. Dikki and Townsend took off from Hokkaido on November 3 and encountered several storms along their flight path. At about 9 hours into their flight, the B-17 lost contact with the single-engine plane. Were Dikki and Townsend okay? Did their plane go down at sea? No one could say for sure until they surprisingly landed the plane on Shemya Island. Total flight time: 13 hours and 20 minutes. It turns out that they had lost contact with their escort plane after their radio was knocked out as they passed through a storm.  Dikki told reporters, “Over the Pacific, we landed with only five gallons of gas, or 20 minutes flying time. I think we ran the last of it entirely Ave Marias.”

Richarda "Dikki" Morrow-Tait.
Richarda “Dikki” Morrow-Tait. Image appeared on page 1 the August 13, 1949 issue of the Edmonton Journal.

On November 11, they left Shemya and headed east along the Aleutian chain. They stopped at Adak and Cold Bay as they made their way to Anchorage. As they approached the Elmendorf Air Force Base there, they encountered thick fog, which greatly reduced visibility. To make matters worse, the lights on the field had failed. Two B-17’s and a Civil Aeronautics Authority airplane took off to help Dikki find the field. She made several passes with the plane but was unable to land. To help bring the plane in, cars were sent out to line the runway so that Dikki could use their headlights as a guide. An ambulance and rescue vehicles were put on alert.  Once again, she successfully landed the plane.  “It’s sure good to be down. I only had enough gas left to circle the field twice more.” Dicki added, “They talked us in three times before we made it and I was extremely frightened. I didn’t care how I landed as long as I got down.” 

They were delayed for ten days in Anchorage because their plane was experiencing engine trouble, most likely due to the extreme cold. Once repairs were complete, Dikki took off for Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon territory. Since there was concern over the engine’s reliability, the decision was made to follow the highways just in case they would need to make an emergency landing. Sadly, on what just happened to be Dikki’s twenty-fifth birthday, that was exactly what happened.  Just prior to noon on November 22, 1948, sub-zero weather caused her plane’s carburetor to ice up and she was forced to crash-land near Tanacross, Alaska. The army plane that accompanied her dropped emergency supplies, while the Alaska Highway Patrol picked up the flyers and drove them into Tanacross.  The two were uninjured, but her plane lay in ruins along the Alaskan Highway. Both the plane’s landing gear and the wings were severely damaged.  Low on funds, they could neither afford to truck the plane to Canada for repairs nor ship the necessary parts to Alaska. Dikki stated, “What I need for a birthday present is a miracle.”

At first, Dikki said she would abandon her plan to complete the flight, but she soon changed her mind. Dikki stated, “Personally I would love to go back home, but I will not abandon the flight under any circumstances. My biggest problem is obtaining finances, not securing the parts for my plane.” She estimated that the cost to repair the plane would be around $2000 (approximately $21,500 today), money that she did not have.

A trucker in Fairbanks offered to crate up the plane and ship it down to Edmonton for repairs, but it would take some time for it to be dismantled and haul it down there. In the meantime, on November 27, Dikki and Townsend were flown aboard an American B-17 bomber to Edmonton. Shortly after that, Townsend decided to return to England to complete his studies at Cambridge University. Dikki told reporters, “When Michael leaves me I will have to get another navigator or go on alone but I definitely will fly home.”

It wouldn’t be until January 24, 1949, that her wrecked plane would arrive in Edmonton. The damage was far worse than she had anticipated. Dikki stated, “I was shocked when I inspected the plane.” A repair shop inspected the place and estimated the cost of repair to be $3800 (which is nearly $41,000 today.) 

Nearly penniless at this point, Dikki could not imagine how she could possibly earn that much money. Since the time of the crash, she had earned small sums working in an Alaskan nightclub, doing some public speaking, and even modeling, something that she had done before she had married. But none of these jobs could earn enough to pay for the repair of her plane. She made the decision to abandon the plane in Edmonton.

This does not mean that Dikki had given up on her dream to fly around the world. “I am scouring the continent in an effort to find a company which will give me a plane to fly back to England for advertising purposes.”

In mid-February, she hitchhiked back up to Alaska to raise some additional funds. Unfortunately, along the way, someone stole all the money she had managed to accumulate up until that point. To make matters worse, US immigration officials there denied her readmission into Alaska. Ultimately, they granted her a two-week stay.

Colorized photograph of Richarda "Dikki" Morrow-Tait.
Colorized photograph of Richarda “Dikki” Morrow-Tait.

In early March, she headed for Seattle, Washington. On March 21, it was announced that, with the help of a Seattle dentist and others, a replacement airplane had been located. It was a surplus Army BT-13 Vultee Valiant which had been sold off at the end of World War II. While the cost for the plane was $600 (approximately $6500 today), the catch was that, since it formally was a US military plane, it could only be owned by a US citizen and piloted by an American license holder. Those technicalities could be easily overcome, but the real problem for Dikki was raising the $600.

It was in Seattle that she also found her new navigator. He was Jack Ellis, a native Londoner and former RAF navigator. Ellis saw this opportunity as an inexpensive way to go back to England and see his wife. He said, “It’s a flight I want to finish. I want to go back to England for a visit.”

By the end of March, Dikki had raised the money needed to purchase the plane. Surprisingly, two different Vancouver residents offered her $300 each. In addition, a Victoria couple sent in a check for $50 to The Vancouver Sun.  “I am very grateful to Vancouver people. I couldn’t have done it without them.” She added, “I have my American license. I shall start my familiarization flights at Boeing Field Friday.” In mid-April, Dikki paid the $600 for a plane that she could never own. She named it “Next Thursday’s Child.”

Richarda "Dikki" Morrow- Tait's airplane "Next Thursday's Child."
Richarda “Dikki” Morrow- Tait’s airplane “Next Thursday’s Child.” Image appeared on page 1 the August 13, 1949 issue of the Edmonton Journal.

On April 16, 1949, she returned to Edmonton so that technicians could remove the extra fuel tank from her scrapped plane and install it in her new machine. Two days later, she took off from Edmonton and headed right back to Alaska, circled over the spot where she had crashed, and then began her journey back to England. 

Would everything go smoothly after this? Of course not. Unfortunately, the airplane’s fuel tanks were leaking, so she was forced to make the trip up to Alaska in small hops of two to three hours each. Eight days later she was back in Edmonton to have the fuel tanks repaired. That would ground her there for the next twenty-five days.

Finally, at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 19, 1949, Dikki and her navigator Jack Ellis were cleared for takeoff. After crossing the border and clearing customs in Cut Bank, Montana, they made a short layover in Williston, North Dakota before taking off for Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This time everything seemed to be going smoothly. That was until she landed at Wold-Chamberlain Field (now the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport) in Minneapolis. On Saturday, May 21, customs inspectors there ordered her plane grounded “until further orders.” Stout chains and a padlock were placed on the airplane. Initially, agents there said that they had no idea why that order had been issued. Dikki later learned that the papers that had been filled out back in Cut Bank, Montana were not in order. She said, “There are lots of rules and regulations that have to be complied with. This will be straightened out.” It turns out that federal regulations at the time forbid taking an American airplane outside of the United States for a period longer than six months. After being delayed for two days, Dikki was able to post guarantees that the plane would be returned and it was released into her possession. She resumed her flight on Tuesday, May 24.

Chains being applied to Richarda "Dikki" Morrow-Tait's airplane in Minneapolis.
Chains being applied to Richarda “Dikki” Morrow-Tait’s airplane in Minneapolis. Image appeared on page 2 the May 21, 1949 issue of the Minneapolis Star.

Two days later, on May 26, her plane was impounded once again in Chicago. This time, the Civil Aeronautics Administration claimed that Dikki’s registration for the airplane had been improperly completed. It indicated that she was the owner, which was forbidden because she was not a United States citizen. Also, they refused to issue a certificate of airworthiness because they deemed the extra fuel tank as being unsafe.

This would prove to be quite the predicament because not only was her airplane grounded, but it was low on fuel and Dikki didn’t even have enough money to pay for her meals. Could this be the end of her round-the-world flight? Just what would she do next?

The world will get to know the answer in the early morning hours of May 28, 1949. That was when Dikki and Jack Ellis snuck out to the hangar where their plane was being stored, hopped aboard, basically Dikki stuck her middle finger up at the entire situation, and took off for who knows where… Dikki had previously stated that her next stop would be Buffalo, New York, but many thought that she would hop over the border into Canada to avoid any legal consequences for her actions. Charles Biggs, an inspector for the Civil Aeronautics Administration, stated that she “has created an international incident, and is in violation of four rules.”

She soon landed the plane in Toronto, but Canadian authorities ordered her to go back to the United States. She stated, “They weren’t very interested in me. They told me I’d better get back to the United States in my plane.”

Richarda “Dikki” Morrow- Tait. Image appeared on page 1 the May 21, 1949 issue of the Star Tribune.

Instead of going back to Chicago, Dikki headed for her original destination of Buffalo. There, she was informed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) that she needed to meet five different requirements before they would allow her to continue with her flight. First, she needed to sell her plane back to the Seattle resident who had sold it to her so that it could be registered in the name of a US citizen. Second, Dikki needed to obtain an export license. Next, she was required to obtain CAA approval for the installation of an additional gas tank and, once that was obtained, a CAA engineer would need to come from New York to inspect the installation, and finally, Dikki needed to obtain a certificate of airworthiness for her airplane. 

As Dikki worked to meet all of these CAA requirements, a new problem arose. Jack Ellis’ wife had arrived in Toronto from England, so he decided that it was time to jump ship, leaving Dikki once again without a navigator. Luckily, her first navigator, Michael Townsend, had recently completed his studies at Cambridge and he was willing to fly to Buffalo and rejoin Dikki on her quest to become the first woman to pilot a plane around the world. “He came out to meet me – which was pretty big of him because he flew by commercial airlines and that cost a lot.”

Flight navigator Michael Townsend.
Flight navigator Michael Townsend. Image appeared on page 1 the August 13, 1949 issue of the Edmonton Journal.

An anonymous benefactor provided Dikki with the $300 that she needed to pay off the fines that were levied on her for violation of federal regulations. She was finally able to resume flying on July 9.  Her first stop would be in Montreal, where she was once again grounded because her airplane was considered experimental, which was not permitted to fly over open water in Canada.  She was ordered to return to the United States.  So, she hopped back across the border and landed at the airport in Burlington, Vermont. They refused her admission into the country because her passport was not in order. Dikki had no choice but to fly back to Montréal. It wouldn’t be until August 1, after this latest legal mass was cleared up, that she was able to clear customs in Burlington and fly to Bangor, Maine. After two months of basically going nowhere, it finally seemed like she would be home soon.

From Bangor, she flew to Goose Bay in Labrador, Canada, and encountered more problems. Once again, Canadian authorities refused to allow Dikki to fly her plane over the Atlantic Ocean. She told the press, “The Canadian government refused to let me fly over their territory any longer.” She continued, “Department of transport officials told me to go on home and look after my baby. They said it would cost too much to start a search for me when I got lost.”

On August 12, the Royal Canadian Air Force sent one of its Lancaster bombers from Greenwood, Nova Scotia to escort Dikki’s plane back to Bangor, Maine. At 7:50 AM, Dikki piloted her plane down the runway and once she had gained enough altitude, the escort plane joined up with her. Not long into their flight, Dikki attempted to give the RAF plane the slip. She suddenly swung the plane’s nose around and changed course. Instead of heading for Maine, Dikki was now flying out over the Atlantic Ocean. For the next 6-½ hours, the bomber stayed right with her until she successfully landed her single-engine plane at Bluie West One, a United States airbase located in southern Greenland. She was now outside of Canadian jurisdiction, so the RAF bomber refueled and returned to the Canadian mainland.

Five days later, on August 17, a US Air Force B-17 escorted Dikki on a seven-hour flight from Greenland to Iceland. She landed the plane successfully and was almost home. Her husband Norman, who had been taking care of their daughter Anna for the past year, stated “I shall be very glad to see Dikki. But I shall be doubly glad to let her feed and bathe the baby. I’m tired of playing mother.” He added, “I am very proud of my wife. She is full of pep and very brave and I want her to finish this flight because it means so much to her. I fell in love with Dikki when she was seventeen and even then she was talking about this trip.”

After being held up in Iceland by bad weather, she took off on August 19, 1949, and landed back on European soil for refueling at Prestwick, Scotland. After going through customs and an inspection of the plane, she landed at Croydon Airport in London, making Richarda Morrow-Tait the first woman to ever pilot an airplane around the world, even if it took her one year and one day to complete the flight. As soon as she stepped out of the cockpit, her husband presented her with a bouquet of gladioli and the two embraced lovingly as photographers took pictures. She stated, “No woman had ever flown around the world, and I wanted to show what an ordinary housewife could do.”

Image of Richarda "Dikki" Morrow- Tait
Image of Richarda “Dikki” Morrow- Tait.

Dikki was uncertain what this flight around the world had cost, but her husband estimated it at $12,000 (nearly $225,000 today). While Dikki was technically required to return her airplane to the United States, she did not do so. Instead, she sold the plane to her Cambridge flying club who never used it and had it scrapped in 1952.

Yet, the story is not quite over. Dikki had acquired two mementos on her trip. The first was a tattoo that she had inked while in the United States. The second was even more surprising: she had not seen her husband in more than a year, yet she was pregnant. The father just happened to be her navigator Michael Townsend. She told the press, “We were to be away for six weeks. We reach Calcutta on the 18th day and we were stuck there for 6 weeks. It was there that Michael started being beastly to me.”

Their baby, Giles, would be born eight months after Dikki’s return to England. On June 10, 1950, Norman Morrow-Tait filed for divorce and soon Dikki was living off of public assistance. “I have an electric sewing machine. I make things for the neighbor’s kids for a few odd shillings. As for domesticity, I’ll meet any housewife with a cooker or a sweeper or down on my knees, even, and show her as good as she can give.”

On February 2, 1951, the divorce was granted, and the court ruled that Dikki would be responsible for the care and control of both her son Giles and daughter Anna. Yet, custody of the children was awarded to Norman Morrow-Tait. This meant that while Dikki would raise the children, her ex-husband had the final say in all decision-making.

Seven weeks later, on March 24, 1951, Dikki would marry Michael Townsend. They would remain married until her death from an incurable blood disease on December 17, 1982.

Dikki received very little acclaim for what she had done and her accomplishment is just a footnote to flying history today. Some have attributed this lack of recognition to her scandalous affair with Michael Townsend that grabbed bigger headlines than her round-the-world trip ever did.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from Dikki: “I had more trouble on the ground than I ever had in the air.”

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

Man Steals Railway

 

On July 3, 1938, Joseph Gemma, a resident of Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $500 ($9,200 today) for stealing “a railroad in broad daylight.” He had previously appealed his case to the state Supreme Court, but they upheld the lower court decision and ruled that he must pay the penalty for his crime.

And just how does one steal an entire railroad?

You do it in tiny little pieces. Gemma had created a false sales agreement for the abandoned Harrisville – Woonsocket Railroad two years prior, which supposedly allowed him to have a gang of workers remove 250 tons of rails, piece-by-piece, and sell the iron for scrap.

1943 photograph taken in Camden, Missouri. Looking east on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad where it crosses over the Wabash Railroad tracks. Library of Congress image.

Airplane Golf Match

 

On June 25, 1923, a very unique golf match was held at the Olympia Field Country Club in Chicago, Illinois. It was a round of airplane golf, which pitted a team of nine professional golfers against nine amateur golfers.

So, you are probably wondering how would aerial golf work? Well, not as well as the event planners had hoped. The basic idea was that there were two airplanes from which golf balls would be dropped down as near as possible to the putting greens on the course below. The professional golf balls had white ribbons attached to them and the amateur balls had red ribbons. Wherever these balls landed, the players on the ground would substitute undecorated balls and attempt to drop them into the hole with the fewest number of strokes.

Things got off to a rocky start when one of the two airplanes involved hit a sprinkler during a practice run. As a result, the other airplane had to drop golf balls for both teams.

At the end of the match, the amateurs won by sinking the golf balls in twenty-five strokes.  The professionals took twenty-six strokes to do the same, although it was pointed out that the white ribbons attached to their balls were wider than the red ribbons, causing their balls to travel a greater distance before striking the green.

J.S. Conroy piloted the airplane for the winning team in the airplane golf match held at the Olympia Field Country Club in Chicago, Illinois. Image appeared on page 13 of the June 30, 1923 issue of the Palladium-Item

Horseless Age Is Not Far Away

 

In 1912, Gleeson Murphy, vice-president of the General Motors Truck Company predicted that the age of the horseless city was not very far away.  He thought that the horse could disappear from city streets within the present generation.

“Today the horse is a municipal luxury. He cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the streets clean and is a menace to health, especially in the crowded city districts. The horse has retarded the proper sanitation of cities more than any other obstacle. We have tolerated the horse all these years because he has been a necessity, but his day of usefulness is past; he is going into decline. For thousands of years he has been a common beast of burden, but the horseless vehicle has been his undoing. His day of supremacy is now a matter of history.”

“Municipalities, corporations and even smaller firms, who have use for only a single job, are changing their horse equipment for the new as speedily as it can be brought about.”

“To make this statement that it is only a question of time before cities will take some legal action to remove the horse from the streets is not stating an improbability.” He continued, “It is simply a matter of education and time; but that time will surely come, and within the next decade or so.”

1914 photograph of the City Bakery horse-drawn delivery wagon. R.W. Scott (?), proprietor, standing beside the horse and Mrs. Scott (?) and a dog are sitting on the carriage seat. Image from the Galt Museum & Archives on Flickr.

Mother Tells Baby That Armed Robber is a TV Repairman

 

It was reported that on July 6, 1955, 24-year-old Mrs. Annette Kotler of Hartford, Connecticut heard someone knocking on the door of a second-floor apartment in her building at 390 Vine Street. The building was your typical two-story flat of that time period. When she heard the knock, Mrs. Kotler had been giving her three-year-old son Lawrence a bath and thought nothing of it. 

But just a short time later she heard someone knocking on her own kitchen door. She opened the door until the safety chain was stretched to its limit. There she saw a tall, thin man who was wearing a rainbow-colored.

He asked, “Can I have a drink of water?”

Suspicious, Mrs. Kotler attempted to close the door, but he stuck his foot out and prevented her from doing so. At that moment, he drew out a long-barreled revolver and told her to “Opened the door.” He threatened to shoot both Mrs. Kotler and her son if she did not.

She felt that she had no choice and opened the door to let him in. As the man walked into their dining room, she took her son into the bedroom and, in an effort to comfort him, told young Lawrence that it was only a “man who was here to fix the television set.” She gave him a toy, laid him down in his crib and he fell asleep.

The robber demanded money to which Mrs. Kotler replied, “I don’t have any.”

He asked, “Where is your pocketbook,” as he proceeded to open every drawer in the house in search of money.

Mrs. Kotler gave the bandit $3 in bills that she had in a kitchen cabinet, but he didn’t take the change that was there. He also demanded that she take off her wedding ring, but she refused. She told him that if he got any closer, she would let out a scream.

She estimated that the robber was in the apartment for about fifteen minutes before leaving. He warned her, “If you call the police, I will return tonight and kill you and your baby.”

Mrs. Kotler ignored his threat and first called her husband and two neighbors before notifying the police.

One month later, Mrs. Kotler claimed that on August 3, 1955, she had been assaulted in the hallway of her home. She claimed that she had gone shopping with her mother, Mrs. Sadie Gypstein, and had parked her car outside while her mother waited in the car. As Mrs. Kotler entered the rear hallway, a young man hit her on her left shoulder. Mrs. Kotler was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and examined, but the doctor observed no bruises or injuries.

That was the fifth complaint that Mrs. Kotler had made to the police over the previous twelve months.

My dad’s oldest brother Marvin was a radio and television repairman. I found his faded business card while cleaning out my grandparents’ summer bungalow.

Early Long-Distance Learning Fails

 

A story on September 2, 1956 tells about the failure of an early long-distance learning experiment. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s educational television station, WQED – which would later be the home of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood – joined with local boards of educations to experiment with teaching French, reading, and arithmetic via television.

Dr. Edith Kern was administering a French examination from WQED’s studio to 650 fifth-grade pupils located in sixteen different schools in western Pennsylvania when she reached question number 38 on the 44 question test. Suddenly, all of the TV screens went blank. It wouldn’t be until Dr. Kern reached question number 41 that she would reappear on the screen.

As you know, teachers are incredibly mean and everything is always the student’s fault. So, she marked those missing questions wrong on every student’s paper. No, that’s not really what happened. Those 3 missing questions were skipped when the exams are graded.

The loss of signal during the exam was blamed on a power company line failure.

1963 photograph of the teaching television studio, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania. Library of Congress image.

Dead Man Helps Revive Wife

 

On October 30, 1931, it was reported that 80-year-old (he was really 79) Llewellyn Hall slumped over in a rocking chair inside of his Cleveland, Ohio home. His wife Emma checked for a pulse but could find none. She contacted the police rescue squad who raced to the scene, but they were unable to revive Llewellyn.

On the way to the morgue, the crew stopped at the hospital so that they could obtain an official death certificate. Physicians there confirmed that there was no heartbeat but opted to try a stimulant to see if they could possibly revive Llewellyn. Suddenly, his eyelids began to blink. The doctors then proceeded to apply artificial respiration and Llewellyn sat up.

“I guess I must’ve been out for a while,” he told the doctors. The police were kind enough to drive Llewellyn back home. Upon arrival, he was surprised to find that mourners had already arrived to offer his wife their condolences. As soon as his wife Emma laid eyes on her husband, she fainted. Llewellyn, the supposedly dead man, had to help revive his wife.

Llewelyn Hall’s death certificate. He passed away at January 6, 1933 at 80 years of age. (Click to enlarge.)

Podcast # 139 – The Fight for Hildy McCoy

 

Imagine you are in this situation: It is the early 1950s and you are a young woman in your early twenties. You are unmarried and suddenly you find out that you are pregnant. What would you do?  

Well, this was the exact situation that a young Boston resident named Marjorie McCoy found herself in.   At the time, she was a student at the Children’s Hospital School of Nursing and when she learned that she was pregnant, her mom took her to see the family doctor, Dr. Herman Sands. He suggested that the best solution would be to place the child up for adoption and they agreed.

Dr. Sands referred them to Salem, Massachusetts attorney Philip Strome, who could “handle the whole matter and keep things quiet.” Strome found the perfect couple to adopt the baby: 39-year-old Melvin Ellis and his 31-year-old wife Frances.  Melvin owned Bentley’s Cleansers, a dry-cleaning plant in Boston, and was reported to have had an annual income in excess of $10,000 ($97,000 adjusted for inflation).  The two had married in 1946 but soon learned that they would be unable to have a child of their own. Desperate to adopt, they offered to pay all of Marjorie’s medical costs plus any legal fees incurred. 

Marjorie and her mom agreed to the terms of the deal. To avoid the embarrassment of being pregnant out of wedlock, Marjorie headed out to California to stay with her married sister.  As the birth approached, she returned back east and waited out her time in a rented room located on Beacon Street in the Back Bay section of Boston.

It was on February 23, 1951, in Boston’s Kenmore Hospital, that Marjorie would deliver a healthy six-pound girl. The baby was whisked away without Marjorie ever laying sight on the newborn. Ten days later, in attorney Strome’s office, Mr. and Mrs. Ellis would sign the papers to adopt their new daughter, who was now named Hildy. Next, Dr. Sands took the papers to Marjorie and she added her signature. It was a double-blind signing so that Marjorie would not learn the names of the adoptive parents and vice versa.

And with that, if this were the typical adoption, everyone involved would have gone on to happily live their lives. But that was not to be the case.

A few weeks later, Hildy’s adoption would be thrown into chaos. Marjorie was informed by attorney Philip Strome that there had been a technical glitch in the adoption proceedings because her first signature had not been notarized and dated. So, Marjorie went to Strome’s office on March 27, 1951 to sign a new set of documents. While doing so, Marjorie, who was Catholic, learned that the Ellises were not. In fact, they were Jewish. This greatly disturbed Marjorie. She desired that her daughter be placed in a Catholic home. Marjorie became apprehensive at signing the new documents, but Strome assured her that the adoption would not be finalized for another year and that she would “have time to think it over and change her mind.” So, she signed the papers and left his office.

Hildy McCoy. Image appeared on page 1 of the March 17, 1957 publication of the Miami News.

At some point in April, Marjorie once again went to see Dr. Sands and informed him that she didn’t approve of Hildy being raised in a Jewish household by parents who had both been previously divorced and wished to have the adoption reversed. What’s interesting here is that Marjorie still had no desire to keep Hildy. She wanted another couple to adopt the child and raise her as a Catholic. As a result, Marjorie requested that the court allow her to withdraw her consent.

Coincidentally, just months before, the Massachusetts legislature had enacted a statute that read, in part: “In making orders for adoption the judge, when practicable, must give custody only to persons of the same religious faith as that of the child.” And, let’s face it, what were the chances of there not being a single Catholic couple in the entire state of Massachusetts who would be willing to adopt a newborn blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl? At the time of Hildy’s birth, neither Marjorie nor the Ellises knew of this new legislation, but the law was clearly on Marjorie’s side.

Marjorie and the Ellises met for the first time in May 1951. What exactly happened during this meeting depends on whose side seemed more plausible. Marjorie’s attorney insisted that they requested the child be returned but the Ellises refused and the meeting ended with both sides angrily in complete disagreement. Yet, Mrs. Ellis told the press, “It was all quite friendly. We discussed the petition, and when we left, Marjorie said to me, ‘I hope you can keep the child. I can’t go on paying for this all my life.’”

In early 1952, the Ellises sought court intervention to resolve the problem, but the judge advised the couple to await the outcome of a similar case involving a Catholic mother and Protestant foster parents that had been winding its way through the Massachusetts courts. In June, this particular case was decided in favor of the adoptive couple. The Ellises took this as a good sign that they would prevail in court. Sidentoe: Hildy’s real father was a Protestant, but Marjorie had no interest in marrying him.

It would not be until June 1953 that the case would be heard by Dedham Probate Judge James F. Reynolds. This would be the first time that Marjorie McCoy would see her daughter Hildy. After a 4-1/2 day hearing, Judge Reynolds ruled against the Ellises. He determined that it would be in Hildy’s best interest if the adoption was nullified and the child returned to Marjorie McCoy so that she could place her with the Catholic Charitable Bureau. 

Needless to say, the Ellises were in deep shock. Hildy was now two years old and the couple was the only parents she had ever known. Regarding Marjorie, Mrs. Ellis stated, “If she has said to me at our first meeting, ‘I will fight for my baby – for myself,’ I would have had to give her back.”

It was shortly after this decision, on July 21, 1953, that Marjorie McCoy married Gerald Doherty, who was not Hildy’s father. They would soon start a family of their own, but Hildy was not to factor into that equation.

The Ellises’ battle to adopt Hildy did not end with Judge Reynolds’ decision. They appealed the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. It was on October 6, 1954, when Hildy was 3-1/2 years old, that the story finally broke in the newspapers. Soon, the adoption of Hildy McCoy would become front-page headlines not for days, weeks, or months, but for years. It would become the most controversial and most widely reported adoption story of the 1950s.

Mrs. Ellis stated, “Hildy is our whole life. It will be cruel and inhuman to take her away. This is the only family she has ever known.”

Hildy with Melvin and Frances Ellis. Image appeared on page 1 of the October 7, 1954 publication of the Boston Globe.

The full bench of the Massachusetts Supreme Court handed down their decision on February 14, 1955. They upheld Judge Reynolds’ ruling and ordered that the Ellises return Hildy to her natural mother. Keep in mind that the judges were strictly focused on the law, which did allow the natural mother of the child to withdraw her petition for adoption for a period of one year. All of the justices involved, although deemed heartless by the press, were simply interpreting the regulations as written.

On April 26, Marjorie McCoy Doherty and two social workers arrived at 231 St. Paul Street in Brookline, Massachusetts to remove Hildy from the Ellises’ home. Marjorie told Mrs. Ellis, “I’ve come for the child.” Mrs. Ellis refused their request as Hildy, dressed for bed, held on to her adoptive mother’s skirt. The three women soon left, only to return a short time later with a police officer. He made no attempt to take the child and told Mrs. Ellis that he was only there to inform the Ellises that the court had ordered the return of Hildy to her natural mother. Shortly after the four left, Mrs. Ellis wrapped Hildy in blankets and drove 68 miles (110 km) to her brother’s home in Newport, Rhode Island.

Two weeks later, on May 11, the Ellises’ attorney, James Zisman, requested that the Massachusetts Supreme Court issue a stay of execution on Judge Reynolds decision. Zisman stated, “It would be a sad situation, a tragedy, to uproot this child from its present surroundings and send her to an institution.” He continued, “Mr. and Mrs. Ellis will take this child to the Catholic Church and bring her up in the Catholic faith. Their love for this child is so great that they would bring her up under the supervision of the local Catholic priest, send her to a parochial school, even place her in a convent school where she would come home only on weekends.” The court declined this request.

The Ellises may have lost the case but they were not about to turn over Hildy without a fight. They continued to ignore the court order requiring them to return Hildy to her natural mother, so on Wednesday, June 15th, Judge Reynolds had finally had enough. He set a deadline for that Friday at 2 PM for the Ellises to turn over Hildy McCoy. If they failed to do so, the couple would be placed in jail. He stated, “The mother has been trying to get the child back into her possession since the child was six weeks old. If these people had turned the child over to the mother then they would not have become so attached to her.”

The next day, June 16, 1955, Supreme Court Justice Harold B. Williams issued a stay of execution of Judge Reynolds’ court order and scheduled a hearing for June 22. On June 28, the Supreme Court dismissed the couple’s petition and ordered that Hildy be turned over to her natural mother within 24 hours or they would “go to jail.”

Well, that day came and went. The Ellises were nowhere to be found. They had gone into hiding. In a phone interview with a reporter, Mr. Ellis stated, “I’m scared stiff of jail, but I’m like any other father when they take his child away.” He added, “We’ll fight to the finish, hoping that we can have Hildy, or at least that the mother will take her into her own home instead of a foster home. I don’t know what we’ll do.”

Melvin Ellis. Image appeared on page 1 of the March 17, 1957 publication of the Miami News.

In the meantime, attorney Zisman once again approached the Massachusetts Supreme Court arguing that Judge Reynolds had acted improperly by ordering the arrest of the Ellises without a proper hearing. The couple was granted a two-week delay while the lower court’s ruling was reviewed.

Hildy McCoy. Image appeared on page 1 of the May 24, 1957 publication of the Tampa Bay Times.

This wasn’t about to stop Judge Reynolds. He was growing tired of all of the stalling. While his order to have the Ellises arrested may have been placed on hold for two weeks, that decision had nothing to do with Hildy herself. On July 9, he ordered that sheriffs in all Massachusetts counties find Mr. and Mrs. Ellis and take Hildy into custody. “We command you that the body of female McCoy, also known as Hildy C. Ellis, of Brookline, minor child of Marjorie McCoy Doherty, you take and have before the judge of the Probate Cord at Dedham immediately after receipt of the writ to do and receive what the judge shall then and there consider concerning her in this behalf.”

On July 18, Attorney Zisman filed six new petitions with the Norfolk Probate Court claiming that Marjorie had given false testimony and that she had “deliberately imposed a fraud upon the court.” Basically, two nurses who had spoken with her at the time of Hildy’s birth signed affidavits claiming that Marjorie was aware from the very beginning that the Ellises were Jewish. 

Nurse Jessie C. Santoro said that Marjorie had asked her to go check out the couple and “let me know what they’re like.” When Santoro returned, she reported that they were “a lovely Jewish couple.” She added, “You know the baby is going to a Jewish home. Are you going to have her baptized?” To this Marjorie replied, “My only concern is to get this thing over with and get my own life straightened out.”

Frances Ellis helping Hildy with her hair. Image appeared on page 104 of the April 8, 1957 publication of the Life Magazine.

The other nurse was Dorothy H. Ingersoll. She told of how she took the baby to Marjorie’s bedside the day after Hildy was born. Marjorie quickly turned her head away and would not look at the newborn. Ms. Ingersoll then stated, “Your baby is going to Jewish people,” to which Marjorie replied, “What’s wrong with that?”

Judge Reynolds informed attorney Zisman that he would hear no new motions concerning the case until the Ellises and Hildy appeared before him. “I want the Ellises brought before the court, and the baby before the court. I will hear all matters when everyone is before the court.”

As you can probably guess, the Ellises were no-shows. As a result, on November 3, 1955 Judge Reynolds dismissed all six of those newly filed petitions and noted that “The petitioners have not been deprived of their day in court.” After this, the Ellises filed another appeal with the state Supreme Court.

This game of ricocheting back and forth between Judge Reynolds and the Massachusetts Supreme Court would continue, so I won’t bore you with the details. In total, twenty-two different appeals were filed and then denied by the state Supreme Court. Their last decision was handed down on September 28, 1956. The final legal door had been shut on the Ellises.

The couple now legally had no choice but to turn 5 ½-year-old Hildy over to her natural mother, who would, in turn, put her up for adoption. The only problem was that the Ellises had not been spotted since that day when Marjorie and the two social workers showed up at the Ellis home. Seventeen months had since elapsed.  Were they still in Massachusetts?  Were the Ellises still even within the United States? Just where were they?

A big legal change occurred in March 1957. That was when Massachusetts Associate Justice Edward A. Counihan concluded that the Ellises had committed the crime of kidnapping and an indictment was handed down.

Not long after this, Melvin Ellis made the mistake of trying to purchase a new car in Miami Beach, Florida. Since he was trading in his old vehicle, the dealer made a routine check to confirm that there were no liens on the car. That’s when the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles informed the dealer that the couple was wanted on a kidnapping charge.

At approximately 2 PM on Friday, March 15, 1957, Ellis arrived at the dealer to pick up his new car, unaware that a trap had been set. Shortly after walking into the dealership’s showroom, he was approached by two officers and taken into custody. Ellis was escorted to Miami police headquarters where he was fingerprinted, mugshot taken and placed into a cell. A short time later, a detective went to the Ellises’ Normandy Isle apartment and arrested Mrs. Ellis. Neither would have to spend very long in custody. Their Florida attorney, Benjamin Cohen, quickly arranged for their release without bail. A hearing was set for the following Monday.

Attorney Ben Cohen (left) with Melvin and Frances Ellis. Image appeared on page 3 of the March 19, 1957 publication of the Boston Globe.

At the hearing on March 18, 1957, Massachusetts State Police Detective Lieutenant William H. Delay requested that the Ellises be held on a $5,000 bond, but the magistrate opted to once again release the couple into the custody of attorney Cohen.

Mr. Ellis told the press, “Never once during all the courtroom proceedings in Massachusetts did the court ever consider Hildy’s welfare. I don’t care if I go to jail. The main thing is the girl’s happiness and she wouldn’t be happy in a Catholic orphanage and any other kind of orphanage.” He continued, “We are not criminals. We have not done anything wrong. We just want our girl. We are not running any more. This is a last stand – a final battleground for Hildy’s life and her future. We do not want this sword hanging over us.”

Melvin Ellis. Image appeared on page 3 of the March 18, 1957 publication of the Boston Globe.

The couple had been in hiding for nearly two years. So, just where were they all this time? First, as previously mentioned, after Marjorie and the two social workers arrived at the Ellises’ home on April 26, 1955, Mrs. Ellis and Hildy went to Newport, Rhode Island, where they stayed for three weeks. After that, they went to stay with friends in Sharon, Massachusetts. The couple did return back to their home in Brookline for a short period, but went back into hiding when the couple was ordered to turn over Hildy or risk going to jail. From there, they proceeded to Tuckahoe, New York and then moved on to a five-week stay with relatives in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Next was White Plains, New York, followed by a six-month stint in Manhattan, and finally a short stay in Scarsdale, New York. Finally, in April 1956, the couple decided that they needed to move out of the northeastern United States. It was at that point that the couple headed to Florida. They moved into their Normandy Isle apartment in May.

As for employment, Melvin Ellis was forced to sell his lucrative dry-cleaning business. At the time of his arrest, he was working as a traveling salesman for a New York clothing firm, selling both sportswear and lingerie. Hildy was enrolled as a first-grader in the private Lear School in Miami Beach.

Hildy (left) and her friend, Susie Ellis, playing with a pair of slacks from Melvin Ellis’ sample bag. Image appeared on page 104 of the April 8, 1957 publication of the Life Magazine.

The battle to return Hildy, Frances, and Melvin Ellis back to the state of Massachusetts had begun. In one corner, you had the public opinion which overwhelmingly supported allowing the Ellises to adopt Hildy. In the opposing corner, there was the state of Massachusetts, which sought their immediate return so that the various court decisions could be executed.

It was estimated that the Governor of Florida’s office received 10,000 letters, telegrams, or signed petitions from people opposing the extradition of the Ellises. In comparison, an estimated 100 letters were received expressing their belief that they should be returned to Massachusetts and that Hildy should be returned to her natural mother.

Many others expressed their opinions by writing to their local newspapers. Here is just a sampling of those letters to editors:

  • April 5, 1957 – Miami Herald – “Evidently you didn’t bother trying to find the facts in this case or you deliberately withheld them in order to create sympathy toward the Ellises.”  “…the Ellises illegally obtained the child from Dr. Herman Sand and also paid him a large sum of money for the favor, in spite of the fact that Dr. Sand promised Marjorie McCoy, the child’s real mother, he would make sure the child will be placed in a Catholic home.” Anthony Cook
  • April 8, 1957 – Miami Herald – “Think of the scars that would be inflicted permanently if Hildy were separated suddenly from all the love and security she has known for years. There is more to motherhood than the act of conceiving.” The letter continues, “We are all talking tolerance: why don’t we practice it? Let this Jewish couple bring up their child as a Catholic. I cannot believe in my heart that any religion would willfully gamble a helpless child’s chance for happiness.” A Mother.
  • May 3, 1957 – Brooklyn Daily – “After the passing of these past years of Hildy’s life, the unwed mother who bore her, now married, decides to have this little one return, – not to her but, instead, – to a home for children and to be adopted, all over again, by a couple of her own Faith. To make of this little one an actual pawn, a chess piece to be moved [hither and yon] on the board-of-living is not a sporting or good game but, it is a crooked and, an absolute STEAL.” L. M. K.

Of course, public opinion does not always predict the outcome of legal matters. Almost immediately after the arrest of the Ellises, the State of Massachusetts had rendition papers drawn up seeking the couple’s return to face kidnapping charges. Under Florida law at the time, Massachusetts had until midnight on April 17 to submit the signed extradition documents. Foster Furcolo, who was the Massachusetts governor at the time, made it clear that he would sign the papers, but that process did not go smoothly. The first set of papers drawn up was rejected on March 27 on technical grounds. The second set was rejected on April 16 due to an incorrect date. Finally, on April 17 Governor Furcolo signed the third revision and it was flown to Florida and submitted just prior to the midnight deadline.

Florida Governor LeRoy Collins set a hearing on the extradition for May 23 in Tallahassee. The million-dollar question was whether Governor Collins would give in to public pressure or, instead, side with the state of Massachusetts and send the Ellises back to face the music.

Just prior to the hearing, Melvin Ellis told the press, “If by serving a couple of years in prison I might settle the thing I would not mind so much. But the thought of giving her up is more than I can bear. We are pinning our faith on the Lord and Governor Collins.”

Mrs. Ellises’ biggest fear wasn’t the kidnapping charge. Instead, she was concerned that the hearing would drag on and she would be unable to return in time to see and hear Hildy perform her part in the Lear’s School presentation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was part of her 1st grade moving up ceremony. “Hildy will feel terrible if we’re both not there, but even if Melvin has to stay in Tallahassee I’ve got to get back for the exercises.”

Mr. & Mrs. Ellis (top of stairs), their attorney Ben Cohen (far right) and others boarding an airplane to attend the extradition hearing in Tallahassee. Image appeared on page 2 of the May 22, 1957 publication of the Miami News.

And then the day came. Thursday, May 23, 1957. Governor Collins began the hearing before a standing-room-only crowd of approximately 125 people. Lawyers for both sides presented their case. The session was surprisingly short, clocking in at two hours in length. Governor Collins said that he based his decision on both legal and humanitarian grounds: he granted the Ellises Florida sanctuary and refused to honor the extradition request from Massachusetts.

Reporters questioned Mrs. Ellis shortly after the decision. When asked how she felt, she replied a “little numb.” Mrs. Ellis added, “Now I can sleep tonight.” When asked about attending Hildy’s first-grade graduation, she replied, “I was going to make it if I had to walk back to Miami.”

Frances and Melvin Ellis with Hildy shortly after Governor Collins granted the couple sanctuary in Florida. Image appeared on page 1 of the May 24, 1957 publication of the Miami News.

And she did make it. And so did the press. Here’s a bit of a story that appeared on May 24, 1957 in the Miami News: “Hildy McCoy Ellis ‘graduated’ today from the first to second grade at the Lear School, Miami Beach, in probably the world’s most widely publicized kiddie baccalaureate.” The article continues, “Some of the children marveled at the presence of newsreel and television cameras and blinked in the strong lights. But most of them thought it was part of the coverage of the Lear School annual event.”

This may have been a great day of celebration, but the Ellises’ legal problems were not over. They may have avoided being extradited to face the kidnapping charges, but the issue of Hildy’s legal adoption had not been settled. The Boston Roman Catholic archdiocese strongly opposed the adoption. On June 11, 1957, the Massachusetts Public Welfare Department submitted to the state of Florida twelve objections to the adoption and recommended that Mr. and Mrs. Ellis not be permitted to adopt Hildy. 

Both sides would get to present their cases before Circuit Judge John W. Prunty on July 8, 1957, as Hildy remained in the judge’s chambers playing with her 12-year-old next-door neighbor, Vicki Miller. Hildy was totally oblivious to what was going on outside in the courtroom. Two days later, Judge Prunty decreed that Hildy “shall hereafter be known as Hildy Ellis.” After more than six years of fighting for and fearing the loss of Hildy, she was now the legal daughter of Frances and Melvin Ellis.

Frances and Melvin Ellis kissing Hildy goodnight. Image appeared on page 109 of the April 8, 1957 publication of the Life Magazine.

On July 11, 1957, Hildy’s natural mother Marjorie broke her silence for the first time. “I am grateful to Massachusetts justice for upholding my right to provide for my baby in accordance with conscience. She is now a growing girl. I would not wish to see her further hurt by more of the publicity that was threatened to her and to me six years ago. Some day she will learn the facts about her mother’s desire to protect her with the privacy that others were willing to destroy. Meanwhile, with prayers I hope many will share, I entrust her to [the] loving protection of God. The rest is in the hands of my attorneys.”

After this, the press would follow up on Hildy’s story on special occasions like her birthday and the anniversary of her adoption. Yet, there was little to report. Everything seemed to be going well before the story faded into history.

Melvin Ellis told reporters that the fight to adopt Hildy had cost him over $60,000, which would be nearly $600,000 today. He added, “But you can bet it was worth it.”

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

1966 colorized Montgomery Blair High School yearbook photo of Hildy Ellis.
1968 colorized Montgomery Blair High School yearbook photo of Hildy Ellis.

Watch-Sized Radios Possible

 

On November 8, 1948, Dr. Joseph A. Becker, a physicist at Bell Labs, introduce a new invention at a meeting of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

He claimed that this invention would replace those bulky vacuum tubes found in all of the electronics of the day – which included ENIAC, radios, and the newly invented televisions – and would someday make it possible to have a radio so small they could wear it like a wristwatch. The name of this new miniature electronic component was called the transistor.

This Transistor Age comic appeared in an advertisement for the Walter Ashe Radio Co. in St Louis, MO on page 115 of the August 1955 issue of QST magazine.

ENIAC is First Computer

 

On April 14, 1946, Dr. Arthur W. Burks did something that we take for granted today. He walked over to a machine that his school had developed with the assistance of the Army Ordnance Department and asked it to multiply 97,367 by itself 5000 times. In less time than it takes to blink an eye, the machine produced an answer.

This machine was named the “Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer” or, as it is more commonly known, ENIAC, and it is considered to be the first electronic computer ever.

You can forget putting this thing in your pocket-it would even fit in most people’s homes. ENIAC filled up nearly all of the 30 x 60’ room that housed it (9.1 x 18.3 m) and consisted of 18,000 vacuum tubes, more than half a million solder joints, and took more than 200,000 man-hours to build. The cost to construct it was estimated to be about $400,000, which is approximately $5.3 million today.

ENIAC was the first electronic computer. Wikipedia image.

Robert Oppenheimer Falls Asleep on His Date

 

Physicist Robert Oppenheimer’s name has long been synonymous with the development of the atomic bomb, but he wasn’t always good at dating. It was reported on December 8, 1945, that when he was much younger he had taken a girl out on a date and his car ran out of gas. Since it was a chilly night, he insisted that his date where his coat to stay warm.

So, Bob went to get some gas. His date waited an hour and he never returned, so she went to the police to inform them of his disappearance. The search for the missing Oppenheimer was not difficult. The police found him home asleep in his bed. He apparently forgot about his date and his car.

And to think we trusted him with nuclear weapons…

J. Robert Oppenheimer. Image from Wikipedia.

Podcast #138 – Titanic’s Orphans

 

One of the first stories that I recorded for this podcast back in January of 2008 was that of Violet Jessop being the only person to survive the collisions of the three sister ships: the Olympic, Titanic, and the Britannic. (Link below.) Well, twelve years later, it is time for another story about the Titanic. I know that so much has been told and retold about the Titanic over the years that it is my hope that I selected one that you have not heard before.

To begin, I would like to introduce you to two women: 49-year-old Mrs. Lily Potter and her daughter Olive Earnshaw, who was 23 years old when the Titanic disaster occurred.  At the time, Olive’s marriage had failed and she had filed for divorce. Her mom, who had been widowed two years prior, came up with the perfect solution for the two of them to get away from it all: they would embark on a tour of Europe and the Middle East beginning in December 1911.  And, to make their trip even more enjoyable, they invited 24-year-old Margaret Bechstein Hays to accompany them.  Olive and Margaret had become good friends while attending the Briarcliff School in New York. 

Titanic passenger Margaret Bechstein Hays.
Margaret Bechstein Hays. Image from Find-A-Grave.

They had already arranged passage home on another ship, but as they were about to leave Turkey, they learned that if they postponed their voyage by one week, they could sail on the maiden voyage of the grand RMS Titanic. It was a decision that would ultimately make the three women footnotes to history.

The Titanic set sail from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912, and made a quick stop that evening in Cherbourg, France to pick up additional passengers. It was there that Lily, Olive, and Margaret first boarded the smaller SS Nomadic tender which transported them out to the Titanic, which had been unable to dock due to its immense size.

The Titanic sailing in ocean.
The Titanic sailing in ocean. Library of Congress image.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg at 11:40 PM on Sunday, April 14th, all three women had already retired to their cabins for the evening.  Upon hearing the engines cease operation, the two younger women, who were in cabin C-54, went to check on Olive’s mom in C-50. While they were assured by a steward that there was nothing to worry about, the three got dressed, wrapped Margaret’s Pomeranian named Bebe in a blanket, and headed to the C-deck. All three proceeded to put on lifejackets, boarded lifeboat #7, and, at 12:40 AM, it became the first lifeboat to set sail.

It is very well known that the Titanic only carried enough lifeboats to accommodate about half of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew that were on board. Had the ship carried her full complement of 3,339 people, that fraction drops to about one-third. Even worse, the majority of the lifeboats that were launched were not filled to capacity. For example, the boat containing Lily, Olive, Margaret and Bebe had a capacity of sixty-five, yet it sailed off with only twenty-eight passengers aboard.

The last lifeboat to be successfully lowered into the water was Collapsible D. Just as that boat was about to depart, a man appeared on the Titanic deck clutching two young boys in his arms.  Officers stepped forward to prevent him from boarding the boat, so he shouted down to the crew of the lifeboat to help save his babies. They agreed and he dropped the older boy down into the arms of a sailor.  After observing that he was safely caught, the man then dropped the other youngster. According to survivors, the man was last seen dropping to his knees, his hands clasped in prayer and with tears streaming down his face. 

After receiving the Titanic’s distress call, the RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene at 4:00 AM and its crew spent the next five hours rescuing survivors before its captain gave the order to set sail with 705 survivors aboard. More than 1,500 lives were lost. 

Titanic survivors in lifeboats on their way to the Carpathia.
Titanic survivors in lifeboats on their way to the Carpathia. Library of Congress image.

It was during the three-day voyage to New York aboard the Carpathia that Margaret Hays would take notice of the two young boys as they played with her dog. Since they were the only two children rescued without a parent or guardian, she took it upon herself to care for them. 

While little was known about the boys, it was clear from their striking resemblance that they were almost certainly brothers. One was roughly four years of age and the other two.  One survivor, Julian Pedro, said that the boys occupied the cabin next to his and that the man who accompanied them was named Hoffman, who he believed was their father. He described the father as being around 40-years of age, of medium height and build, with dark hair, a mustache, and a ruddy complexion.  While Hoffman had little interaction with others on the boat, survivors who did recall that he spoke French and believed that he was a widower. 

Ms. Hays, who also spoke fluent French, tried her best to learn what she could from the older boy but had no luck. To just about every question that she asked the boy, he would simply answer “Oui.”

Passenger list for the Carpathia as it arrived in New York with passengers rescued from the Titanic.
Passenger list for the Carpathia as it arrived in New York with passengers rescued from the Titanic. Lily Potter, Olive Earnshaw, and Margaret Hays are listed as number 8-10. Click on image to enlarge.

Upon arrival in New York, Margaret took the two children to her family’s home, which was located at 304 West 83rd Street in Manhattan. With the shocking sinking of the Titanic being front-page news nearly worldwide, the story of the “Two Waifs of the Sea” quickly spread worldwide. The press speculated that Margaret would probably adopt the two children. When interviewed, Ms. Hays told reporters, “I could not allow them to be sent to a foundling home.” She continued, “Just think of it – two little atoms of humanity, whose lives were been filled with happiness, who would’ve been gently brought up by loving parents, robbed of their names, condemned, through no fault of their own to become nameless things in an institution. I could not do that.”

Margaret, with the financial help of her parents, provided the boys with everything they would need until a relative could be found.  That is, should a relative ever be found. They provided the boys with food, shelter, toys and lots of love. The boys appeared incredibly happy and seemed oblivious to the great tragedy that took the life of their dad and so many others.

With their names unknown, the two orphan boys from the Titanic called Louis and Lola.
With their names unknown, the two orphan boys from the Titanic called Louis and Lola. Colorized image. Original from the Library of Congress.

Still unable to determine their names, the French consul in New York offered his assistance. He stated, “I’ve read in the papers that the older boy has said his name is Louis, but I can get nothing from him to prove it. It seems to me more likely that he answers oui-oui to everything. He was understood to say that his name was Louis, which might seem to have the same sound to an American. I have cabled to France and will do everything I can to find the relatives of the children, but as yet I have gained nothing from them to aid in the search.” 

The Children’s Aid Society arranged for a native Frenchman to visit the children and he concluded that the boys spoke with a dialect that was unmistakably from the southern portion of France.

And the search continued.

Colorized photo of the two Titanic waifs. Original photo from the Library of Congress.

Margaret’s father, Frank B. Hays, remarked, “We have no intention of keeping them beyond the time when their relatives are found or the search for them is given up. A Montréal family who were passengers on the Titanic are anxious to adopt them, and my daughter says they shall have the preference. Of course, many persons here in New York have also offered to take them. The published story that the children were in the same boat with my daughter and clung to her instinctively is a misstatement. My daughter left in the first lifeboat and the two children followed on later boats. The smaller boy was tossed from the deck of the Titanic into a lifeboat without a stitch of clothing. The older child wore only a shirt when he was taken aboard the Carpathia. The survivors of the Titanic on board formed a ladies’ committee, and as my daughter was the only one among them who had not suffered some personal loss through the disaster she was asked to care for the two children, and gladly did so. She was told that the two children had been in the second cabin of the Titanic in the care of a man named Hoffman, but we have been unable to get any clue to their whereabouts from the White Star line or anywhere else.”

Margaret Hays received more than 450 offers from all over the nation from people willing to adopt the two boys.  All of the inquiries were then forwarded to the Children’s Aid Society for handling. Offers came in from doctors, lawyers, a stockbroker, a French architect, and many others. Margaret’s personal preference, contradicting her father’s statement about the Montreal family, was that the boys be entrusted to the care of an unnamed friend, should a legitimate relative not be located.

Colorized photos of the two Titanic waifs.
Colorized photo of the two Titanic waifs. Original photo from the Library of Congress.

The first claim from a possible relative came within one-day of Carpathia arriving in New York with the survivors.  One year prior to the sinking of the Titanic, Mystic, Iowa resident Franck Lefebvre had emigrated to the United States from France.  He came in search of employment and, upon earning enough to send for his family, his wife and four youngest children secured passage on the Titanic. Upon hearing the news of the two unidentified French children, he headed for New York to determine if they were his or not. They proved not to be Lefebvre’s children. Sadly, the bodies of his wife and children were never recovered. 

There was quite a bit publicity regarding the two orphans in the French newspapers and one week after the Titanic’s sinking, a 21-year-old woman named Marcelle Navratil came forward believing that the two boys could be her missing sons.  She said that she had separated from her husband Michel and he disappeared with the children, telling friends that he was going to take them to the United States.  

Marcelle Caretto Navratil. Image from Find-A-Grave.

Mme. Navratil described her two boys as follows: the older is Michel, Jr, nicknamed Lolo, spoke with difficulty, and was a couple of months shy of his fourth birthday. His younger brother was Edmond, or Momo for short, who was two years old. Her physical descriptions of the two children also closely matched that of the two waifs.

Could she be their mother? That was still to be determined.  

The first problem was that there was no one with the name of Navratil registered as a passenger on the Titanic. Survivors clearly recalled that the man in charge of these two boys was named Hoffman, which was confirmed by an L. Hoffman on the passenger list. Mme. Navratil confirmed that her husband had a friend named Louis Hoffman, but that could be pure coincidence.

So, if the children were hers, it was possible that her husband either assumed his friend’s name for the voyage or that Hoffman himself had agreed to escort the children to the United States. 

The first step in resolving this mystery occurred in Monte Carlo.  Mme. Navratil provided a picture of her husband to the British consul there.  A ticket agent confirmed that he had sold tickets to the man in the photograph and the children who accompanied him for a voyage on the Titanic.

Colorized photo of Edmond and Michel Navratil, Jr. taken to aid in their identification after the sinking of the Titanic. Original image from Wikipedia.

The exact count is unknown, but it is estimated that 334 bodies were recovered from the wreck. 125 were buried at sea and the remaining 209 were transported to Halifax, Nova Scotia for burial. It was there that New York City resident Frederick Wenger traveled in hope of positively identifying the body of his brother-in-law, Sante Righini, which he was able to do. As Wenger moved among the many open caskets in search of Righini, another body grabbed his attention. “Why, I know that man,” he stated. “That is Louis Hoffman of Nice, France. His two little boys are in New York now.” Since Wenger was not aboard the Titanic, it is unclear how he was able to know what Hoffman looked like. 

With the incredible expanse of the Atlantic Ocean lying between Mme. Navratil and the two children, she needed to find a sure-fire way to prove that they were hers. She prepared a series of questions that only her children would know the answers to. The questions and corresponding answers were telegraphed to New York and Margaret Hays asked them to the older child in French. 

Q – “Qu’est-ce que maman t’a donne la veille de Paques?” (What did mamma give you for Easter?)

A – “Des chocolats.” (Chocolates.)

Q – “Dans quoi?” (In what?)

A – “Dans des ceufs de Paques.” (In Easter eggs.)

Q – “Qu’y avait-il sur les ceufs?” (What was on the eggs?)

A – “Un lapin.” (A rabbit.)

Q – “Qu’est-ce faisait maman avec le petits carres en bois?” (What did mamma do with the little blocks of wood?)

A – “Le chien qui boit (???) du lait avec le petit garcon.” (She made the dog who drank milk with the little boy. – This is referring to a jigsaw puzzle.)

Grandma’s illness:

Q – “A Nice, a la maison de maman, qui c’est qui etait malade?” (In Nice, in mamma’s home, who was it that was ill?)

A – “Grandmaman.” (Grandma.)

Q – “Ou c’est que tu allais avec Marie?” (Where did you go with Marie?)

A – “A la mer voir les aeroplanes.” (To the seashore to see the aeroplanes.)

Q – “Qui c’est qui dechirait les carres en bois?” (Who broke up the wooden blocks?)

A – “Maman.” (Mamma.)

Q – “Qui c’est qui s’appelle Marcelle?” (Who is called Marcelle?)

A – “C’est maman.” (It’s mamma.)

Nearly any doubt that anyone had about these being her two children was removed when five of the eight questions were answered correctly.

On April 24th, ten days after the Titanic impacted the iceberg, the offices of the White Star Line in New York City received an unsigned cablegram from Liverpool stating that the sender would be coming ASAP to claim the boys.

Frank Hays told reporters, “I heard the woman claiming to be the mother of the boys had sailed from Liverpool, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about her and don’t know whether it is a new woman in the case or Mme. Navratil of Nice, France. The White Star people can’t or won’t give me any information.”

His daughter Margaret, in turn, questioned the newspapermen as to what they may know: “Have you learned anything?” She continued, “Well, I don’t believe that Frenchwoman is the mother of these children at all. Her story is not plausible.”

To which her dad replied, “It certainly seems plausible to me. The children speak French and are of southern France type. They are of the age that Mme. Navratil states her children are. They must have been brought up near the water, as they are crazy over boats. And they are children of manifest refinement and as fond of automobiles as boats.”

After reading of Mdm. Navratil’s story, Rudolph Navratil of 317 East Ninth Street in Manhattan was convinced that the two boys belonged to his uncle, also named Rudolph Navratil, whom he had not seen in quite some time. “My uncle was about 45 years old, and he left Hungary when only 20. Since that time he has resided in several different countries, but most of the time in France.” 

He continued, “I’ve seen the pictures of the two Titanic waifs and can trace a strong family resemblance. There is not a shadow of doubt that the children are my uncle’s. The only doubt is as to whether it was my uncle who had them on board the Titanic or whether it was his friend Hoffman.” This lead seemed promising but was quickly proven wrong. Shortly after reading the claim in the newspaper, the elder Rudolph Navratil contacted his nephew and explained that he had moved to New York City eight years prior and never had any children.

Many of the initial headlines of the Titanic’s collision with an iceberg were incorrect. (Click on image to enlarge.)

On May 6th, Mme. Navratil boarded the RMS Oceanic at Cherbourg and began her trip to New York. While the White Star Line provided her with first-class accommodations, she mingled very little with the other passengers. 

While awaiting her arrival, the Children’s Aid Society placed the boys in the care of one of Mme. Navratil’s relatives, whose name was withheld from the press.  She was later identified as Rose Bruno, a cousin who worked as a governess in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

Finally, on May 15th – one full month after the Titanic sank to its icy grave, the Oceanic docked and Mme. Navratil was one of the first off of the ship. She was rushed through customs and then met at the pier by Margaret and her father Frank, cousin Rose, and a couple of others. After some brief introductions, they all took a cab to the offices of the Children’s Aid Society. There, she was hurried through a throng of reporters and photographers and led up to the nurses’ parlor on the fifth floor. The rest of the party fell back as Mme. Navratil turned the doorknob and pushed the door open.

Passenger arrival list for the Oceanic. Marcelle Navratil is on line #11, which is stamped “Non Immigrant Alien.” Click on image to enlarge.
Passenger arrival list for the Oceanic. Marcelle Navratil is on line #11, which is stamped “Non Immigrant Alien.” Click on image to enlarge.

As she entered the room, she first spotted her eldest son, Michel, dressed in a tan sailor suit, seated in the corner of a window with a picture alphabet book in his lap. Edmond was crawling on the floor attempting to put a child’s puzzle together.

She knelt to her knees and called to her children, “Mes enfants – Mes petits.” (My children, my little ones.)

Edmond let out a wail and ran towards his mother. “Oh, maman! Oh, Maman!” Michel quickly followed and they all embraced for quite some time.  

The three were alone in the room for nearly an hour, but she never asked them about the tragedy or their father.  “I do not want them to think about that. They must only be happy from now on – only happy; no more distress.”

Colorized photo of Marcelle Navratil and her sons Michel and Edmond. Original black and white image from the Library of Congress.

While Mme. Navratil was fluent in French and Italian, she spoke no English. Her statements were all translated into English for the benefit of the reporters and their readers.  

“I’m afraid they will both be frightened when they see the big ship on which I am to take them back home Saturday. As for me, of course, I am not frightened, not at all.”

When asked if she would agree to any of the offers of adoption, she replied “No, indeed! I couldn’t give them up.”

She then went on to describe how this whole mess began.  She had been born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents, but her family soon moved back to Genoa. It was there that she met her future husband, Hungarian Michel Navratil. He was a tailor by trade and the two married in 1907, when she was seventeen.  The couple ultimately settled down in Nice where his business prospered. 

The two were very happy until shortly after the birth of their second son, Edmond. That’s when, according to Mme. Navratil, everything started to turn sour. Her husband had become insanely jealous and their marriage quickly fell apart. She filed for a separation and was granted custody of the children. Dad was only permitted to see his children once a month. 

It was on April 7, 1912 – Easter Day – that Mme. Navratil sent her children to see her husband. 

“On Easter Sunday last, my children were taken to their father, and from that time to this, I have not seen them. I then heard that he had sailed from Cherbourg on the Titanic, and when I heard of the sinking of the steamship I almost lost my reason, for my babies, I thought, must have perished. Later came word that there were two children in New York, and when they told me how they looked like, I knew they must be mine.”

She did express that she believed that her husband had died in the wreck, but she had no proof, other than the positive identification by the ticket agent in Monte Carlo, that both he and Louis Hoffman were, in fact, the same person.

Michel Navratil. Image from Find-A-Grave.

On Saturday, May 18, Mme. Navratil and her two children would board the Oceanic and begin their return trip to Europe. Just before they set sail, she commented, “The people here have been very kind. I have not had many offers of help, but I have felt more than I can tell the sympathy for my babies and myself and the trouble strangers have taken to bring us together. I have had hundreds of letters of sympathy and even offers of marriage.” She continued, “We are simple folk, my children and I, and we need not much. God has been good enough to bring us together after so many terrible things.”

Colorized photo of Marcelle Navratil and her sons Edmond and Michel. Original black and white image from the Library of Congress.

But things were not well when they got back home. Her deceased husband had sold his business for about $8,000 ($215,000 today) and the money was never found. It was believed that he was carrying the cash with him to America and it went down with the ship. 

One year later, Mme. Navratil was working as a servant and struggling to make ends meet. Word that they were living in poverty somehow got back to New York and the Hays family once again stepped in to help.  Margaret told reporters, “Monday is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and the legal limit for filing claims expires then. To enable Mrs. Navratil to begin suit, I sent her the money necessary.” Her dad filed a claim for $30,000, but it is unclear if Mrs. Navratil ever received any compensation for her loss.

Margaret would marry Dr. Charles D. Easton of Newport, Rhode Island on April 24, 1913. In November 1914, she would once again meet up with Mme. Navratil and the two boys. The reunion was reported as being joyous. Sadly, Dr. Easton was 58 when he died after undergoing surgery on October 4, 1934. While vacationing with one of her two daughters and a granddaughter in Buenos Aires, Margaret suffered a heart attack and passed away on August 21, 1956. She was sixty-eight years old.

Grave of Margaret Bechstein Hays Easton. Image from Find-A-Grave.

Not much is known about Marcelle Caretto Navratil other than she worked hard, successfully raised her two sons and died in 1963.

Edmond would work as an interior decorator before becoming an architect and builder. When World War II broke out, he joined the French Army, was captured, and was placed in a German POW camp.  He was able to escape, but his health had greatly suffered during his internment and he died on July 7, 1953, at the age of 43.

Lastly, his brother Michel Navratil, Jr. became a psychology professor. It was while in college that he would meet his future Juliet. The couple married in 1932 and together they raised three children.

In 1987, Michel made his first trip back to the United States to mark the 75th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. He returned once again in 1996 and, along with two other female survivors, they cruised to the location of the wreck while attempts were being made to bring a portion of the ship to the surface. 

Before his return to France, he traveled to Halifax for the first time to visit his father’s grave in the Baron de Hirsh Cemetery.  When the bodies were recovered, the intent was to bury the Jewish victims there.  In an ironic twist, eight of the ten Titanic victims buried there were unidentified and the other two weren’t Jewish. Steward Frederick William Wormald was a member of the Church of England and Michel Navratil was Catholic.  The reason Navratil was buried in a Jewish cemetery was that he was originally identified Louis Hoffman, Hoffman being a Jewish surname. Today, his grave bears the name Michel Navratil.

His son Michel did reveal one family secret during his 1996 trip. The failure of his parents’ marriage was not due to jealousy over the birth of Edmond. “My mother never forgave herself for losing her children as a result of her love affair. In New York, there were many people who wanted to adopt us. The battle my mother had endured to win us back was to her like a divine punishment for what she had done.” 

Michel Marcelle Navratil, Jr. was 92 years old when he passed away on January 30, 2001. He was the last surviving male Titanic passenger. Four women outlived him.

Prior to his death, he was quoted as saying, “I don’t recall being afraid, I remember the pleasure really, of going plop into the lifeboat.”

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