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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Author Archives: Steve Silverman

The Monster Crash at Crush

Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, people purposely smashed two locomotives head-on at high speed solely for entertainment purposes. At a time with no movies, TV, or radio, tens of thousands of people would show up to these events.

The brainchild behind this crazy idea was a Chicago railroad equipment salesman and former railroad conductor named A.L. Streeter. He attempted to have one of the railroads in his home state smash the two engines together, but none seemed interested.

Streeter approached the financially-strapped Cleveland, Canton and Southern Railroad and they agreed to give his idea a chance. The plan was to put two of their older locomotives back in service, get them in tip-top shape, and then crash them at high speed on the railroad’s Waynesburg track, which was located southeast of Canton, Ohio.

Streeter set the admission price at 75-cents (approximately $22.50 today) and anticipated at least 20,000 people in attendance. A fence was set up along the track to both keep customers safe and to ensure that they paid their way into the venue.

When smash-up day July 20, 1895 finally arrived, everything was set to go. Trainloads of spectators arrived every fifteen minutes and the crowd began to swell. The two engines, now renamed “Protection” and “Free Trade” after the opposing political beliefs of the time, sat on the tracks awaiting word that they should back up to their starting points, open throttle, and barrel toward each other.

That would never happen. It was estimated that only 200 people paid to see the show. The rest opted to either watch from the distance or bypass the fence. Unable to get the crowd back behind the fence, Streeter canceled the planned wreck for safety sake. That also meant that Streeter lacked the funds to pay the railroad the $2,400 (about $72,000 today) fee that they had charged to destroy the trains. Streeter personally lost an estimated $800, which would be about $24,000 today.

In 1896 the Columbus, Hocking Valley, and Toledo Railroad built a brand-new recreational park to entice people to ride its rails on the weekends. They chose a picturesque location approximately 25-miles (40 kilometers) south of Columbus, Ohio and named the new destination spot Buckeye Park. In addition to making use of a natural spring lake for swimming and boating, they built a toboggan slide, a few buildings for entertainment, and a playground for the kiddies. Those all sound like fine bits of entertainment but what they really needed was something big to promote their new pleasure destination. You know, something huge. Something that would instantly grab the public’s attention. Something like smashing two locomotives into each other on opening day.

Today we celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday of May, but in 1896 most localities celebrated it on Saturday May 30th. As the traditional kickoff to the summer season, it was also a great date for a railway collision.

The railroad’s PR machine was put into action at full throttle. Newspapers across the nation ran story after story on the planned crash. It was promoted as a scientific experiment, one in which observers armed with their notebooks and Kodak cameras could observe a real train collision under controlled conditions. The fact that the railroad charged the audience to ride on their trains to the event, that they had to pay an admission fee, and buy refreshments from the booths that they set up was supposedly only being done to cover the cost of the experiment.

Yeah. Right. Who were they fooling? Scientific experiment my foot…

Estimates of the crowd in attendance for the big event varied from a low of 18,000 to a high of 25,000 people. Two obsolete 35-ton locomotives were chosen for the impending duel. Formerly known simply as numbers 12 and 21, the locomotives were rechristened the A.L. Streeter and the W.H. Fisher, who was an official with the railroad. Each would pull three cars and a caboose to their demise.

The two locomotives at Buckeye Park just prior to the collision.
The two locomotives at Buckeye Park just prior to the collision. Image from The National Magazine (Volume 5, Number 2, November 1896)

Prior testing had determined that the two engines accelerated at different rates. As a result, the W.H. Fisher was placed 3,600 feet south of the starting point and the A.L. Streeter at a point 3,000 feet north.

Using a newfangled invention called the telephone, the two conductors were given the signal to open throttle at 4:10 PM. As the trains started toward each other, the conductors jumped off to safety. To keep up the illusion of impending doom, Streeter placed two dummies dressed in conductor garb on each train.

And then… Wham!

The collision of the two trains at Buckeye Park just at the moment of impact.
The collision of the two trains at Buckeye Park just at the moment of impact. Image from The National Magazine (Volume 5, Number 2, November 1896)

The two trains smashed into each other within 100-feet (30 m) of their calculated point of impact. The locomotives both rose up into the air and came to rest in an almost A-shaped configuration. One could still clearly read the names A.L. Streeter and W.H. Fisher on the coal cars, while the trailing gondolas had all been totally destroyed.

Image of the Buckeye Park Crash taken about 1-second after the collision.
Image of the Buckeye Park Crash taken about 1-second after the collision. 
Image from The National Magazine (Volume 5, Number 2, November 1896)

One injury did mar the event: T.P. Peck, chief clerk in the general passenger office, was struck by a flying bolt and suffered a compound fracture below his right knee. Yet, Streeter’s staged train crash was, well, a smashing success. It was deemed so successful that officials in attendance from other railroads recruited him to do additional crashes in Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York.

The Buckeye Park crash about two minutes after the collision.
The Buckeye Park crash about two minutes after the collision. Image from The National Magazine (Volume 5, Number 2, November 1896) 

And, as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Soon other promoters were planning their own train crashes.

Buckeye Park Crash 1896
People climbing on the wreck of the two trains after the smoke cleared. (Reddit image.)

One of these was a man named William George Crush. He had been hired in August 1893 by the Missouri – Kansas – Texas Railroad – better known as the Katy – to be their General Passenger Agent for the entire state of Texas. That’s not a job that you hear much about today, but in the heyday of the railroads, this was a position of incredible importance. It was W.G. Crush’s name that appeared on just about every ticket, poster, timetable, or advertisement that the Katy produced during his tenure. Crush was basically the invisible wall between the riders and upper management at the railroad.

Mr. Crush believed that if the Katy could stage a stunt similar to the one that had just been completed by Streeter at Buckeye Park, the Katy line could grab a stronghold on the Texas railroad market.

Image of William George (W. G.) Crush
William George Crush was the General Passenger Agent for the Katy in 1896. Image if from the Find-A-Grave website.

On August 6, 1896, a formal announcement was made in the press that the Katy would be purposely colliding two trains together. Once again, this was all to be done in the name of science. Each train would consist of a locomotive, a tender, and six cars. As the trains smashed into each other at high speed, the data collected could be used to build safer locomotives and cars.

I’ll say it once again: Yeah. Right. Scientific experiment my foot…

Scheduled for 4:00 in the afternoon on September 15th, the railroad chose the perfect spot in West, Texas, which is approximately 18 miles (29 km) north of Waco. The track in this location was perfectly straight and flat, while a small valley formed by three hills created a natural amphitheater.

In an August 13, 1896 interview with the Dallas News, Crush stated, “There will be no harm done save the smashing to pieces of two 40 ton passenger engines, a dozen cars and the tearing up of several hundred yards of track and road bed. The engines will be used for scrap iron if they are damaged beyond repair, and the track will be cleared and mended in a jiffy.”

He continued, “The day before the collision the track over which the engines will run will be timed so that the point of contact maybe definitely ascertained. In this way we will know almost within 10 yards where the meeting will take place. By means of a telegraph wire put up for the occasion the engineers will be given the signal to start, and each throttle will be pulled simultaneously. The engineers will remain on the engines until each has attained the speed of 10 miles an hour, at which point they will pull the throttle wide open and step off.”

Crush went on to further state, “Railroad men from all over the West will be on hand to see and photographic observations will be taken every second for ten seconds before the collision. Engine builders are now deeply interested in furnishing engines with appliance which will lessen the shock of collisions, and consequently make them less dangerous to human life.”

When questioned about the cost of the head-on collision, Crush said “All told, about $20,000. Of course there will be some salvage.”

$20,000. That’s nearly $600,000 adjusted for inflation. That’s a monsterous price to pay for one single collision. How could the railroad cover such an enormous expense?

That’s very simple. The only way for most people to get to the show was via the Katy railroad. Tickets ranged in price from a low of $2.00 from Austin to $3.50 from Houston. That sounds like a bargain, but translate that into modern values and round trip tickets to the venue were going to cost you somewhere between $60 and $105. Add to that all of the money spent on site for food, drinks, and sideshow entertainment and it becomes very clear that if the predicted number of people attended the event, the Katy stood to earn a lot of money.

Crash at Crush advertisement.
Advertisement for the Great Collision at Crush, Texas from the September 8, 1896 publication of the Houston Post, page 7.

Crush said, “Ever since we decided to give the exhibition public interest in the matter has increased, and in order to let all see it will run excursions from all along our lines at rates, say less than one fare for the round trip. In fact, from all indications, there will be 15,000 or 20,000 people present to see it. The place selected for the exhibition is a natural amphitheater, and nobody will have any trouble in viewing the entire exhibition. We will make it a regular picnic day.”

Preparation of the crash site began immediately. Crews laid down four miles of track, built a grandstand for honored guests, two telegraph offices, three stands for noted speakers, and an observation stand for photographers and members of the press. A large tent was borrowed from the Ringling Brothers Circus to use as a restaurant. For water, two wells were dug on site while arrangements were made to transport 16,000 gallons of artesian water cooled with ice from Waco. Lastly, a large carnival midway, complete with hucksters, drink stands, and game booths, was set up.

A.D. Arbegast, general foreman of the Katy’s Texas bridge and building department, stated, “… we are now at work on 30 privilege stands, to be arraigned in Midway Plaisance Style, like the Chicago plaisance. In these places will be located all the amusement on the ground. There will be freaks there from all over the world, and a better plaisance show has never been seen in Texas. This feature alone will be worth going to Crush to see.”

As of September 3rd, Crush was still confident that an enormous number of people would attend the event: “My estimate of the crowd remains undiminished. We will have at least 25,000, and probably as many as 40,000 people on the ground to witness the collision. We are making arrangements to handle 40,000 comfortably. Nobody will be discommoded. So far as experience can provide for the peace and safety of the passengers it will be done.”

The Katy repair shop crew set to work rebuilding two of the line’s outdated locomotives. Chosen for total destruction were engines 123 and 124, which were now renumbered 999 and 1001, respectively. The 999 was painted bright green with yellow stripes, with other colors of the rainbow highlighting its cowcatcher, gears, and trimmings. The 1001 was painted a contrasting red color. Both had the Katy logo emblazoned on either side of the cab. To further promote the collision, the two locomotives were placed on tour and displayed in towns throughout the state.

Two of the Katy’s finest engineers were chosen to run the engines. The 999 was to be driven by engineer Charlie Stanton with Frank Barnes as his fireman. Charlie Cain would be at the throttle of the 1001 with fireman S.M. Dickerson to assist him.

Ad for the Crash at Crush.
This advertisement for the collision appeared on page 8 of the Houston Post on September 14, 1896.

Then the big day came. On September 15th, train after train pulled alongside a newly constructed platform that measured 2,100 feet in length (0.64 km). The signs at the depot indicated that they had arrived at the town of Crush, Texas, a town that would only exist for a single day.

As anticipation grew, the planned start time of 4 PM came and went as more and more people unloaded from the trains. Estimates in the newspapers at the time placed the attendance at somewhere between a low of 24,000 and a high of 30,000 people. The bean counters for the Katy must have had big smiles on their faces. From a financial point of view, the crash that was about to occur at Crush, Texas was a smashing success. That smile would soon be wiped from their faces.

The Dallas News described the smash-up as follows: “At 5 o’clock the two trains met at the point of the collision and they were photographed. Then one of the trains backed up the hill on the north and the other one up the hill on the south. Everything was now ready. The smoke was pouring from their funnels in a great black streak, and the popping of the steam could be distinctly heard for the distance of a mile. People were standing on tip-toe, from every point of vantage, trying to see every movement of the wheels that were so soon to roll to destruction.

The two locomotives shaking hands.
The two locomotives meeting up at the point of the collision so that photographs can be taken. This image can be found on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/texascollectionbaylor/18684893411/in/photolist-uqAdMJ-8bcjz6-a9ef3g-ut7XQF-usuHGJ-tvTLLq-ubk1Mj

“The officials of the road were grouped about the little telegraph office not fifty feet from the place of waiting for the whistle which would tell them that the trains are ready to start on the fatal journey. At 10 minutes after 5 Crush raised his hat and a great cheer went up from the throats of all the people.”

The article continues, “The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, but growing nearer and more distinct with each fleeting second, was like the gathering force of a cyclone. Nearer and nearer they came, the whistles of each blowing repeatedly, and the torpedoes which had been placed on the track exploding in almost a continuous round like the rattle of musketry. Every eye was strained and every nerve on edge. They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed to within a quarter of a mile of each other. Nearer and nearer, as they approach the fatal meeting place the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder, and hundreds who had come miles to see found their hearts growing faint within them, and were compelled to turn away from the awful spectacle.”

The two trains barreled toward each other at estimated speed of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) and then…

Wham!

The Crash at crush. The two trains just as they struck.

The two locomotives meeting up at the point of the collision so that photographs can be taken. This image can be found on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/texascollectionbaylor/18677821822/in/photolist-ubk1Mj-uqAdMJ-tvTLLq-usuHGJ-ut7XQF

The noise was deafening. The locomotives crumpled inward as the trailing cattle cars were reduced to splinters. There was a moment of silence and then, when it seemed like it was all over, the boiler of the 999 exploded. Flying missiles of steel and wood, both small and large in size, began to rain down on the crowd. It didn’t matter if you were young or old, male or female, rich or poor. There was simply no way to escape from the locomotive shrapnel.

Emma Frances Overstreet, the wife of a local farmer, was watching the crash from what seemed like a safe distance of 1,000-feet (305 meters) when she was suddenly hit by flying debris. Hitting behind her right ear, she was immediately knocked unconscious and died from her injuries.

Ernest Barnell of Bremond, Texas was perched up in a tree even farther from the crash site and was struck in the head by a flying chain. The chain hit with such a strong force that it became embedded in the tree. Sadly, he also succumbed to his injuries the following morning.

One man who was close to the crash was photographer Jarvis Deane of Waco. Deane was in the photographers’ stand attempting to snap a picture when he was struck in the eye, which doctors were forced to remove. In doing so, they discovered that he had been hit by a bolt that measured 2-inches in length and ⅜-inch in diameter. That would be approximately 5 cm x 9.55 mm. Luckily for Dean, if you can call it that, the nut was still attached to the bolt and it snagged on his eye socket, preventing the bolt from becoming lodged in his brain.

Louis Bergstrom of Waco, another photographer who was on the platform with J.C. Deane, also sustained slight injuries from the shrapnel.

Jarvis Deane shot this photograph just as the two trains exploded. This image can be found on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/texascollectionbaylor/18494864220/in/photolist-ubk1Mj-uqAdMJ-tvTLLq-usuHGJ-ut7XQF

Then there was 14-year-old Roy Kendrick, who was also from Waco. He was struck by a flying piece of timber which caused a severe leg wound. His father would later file a lawsuit against the railroad for $500.

There were other injuries reported, but none were fatal. One man lost a piece of his chin, another had a scalp wound, while yet another struck in the chest with incredible force by a piece of timber. A man named John Besey had his arm lacerated by a piece of steel. He opted to take it home as a souvenir. In fact, even as people were suffering, thousands of people ran toward the wreck and grabbed a piece of it to commemorate the event.

Crash at Crush - Before the Crowd Got to the Wreck
The crowd running toward the wreck of the two trains. Image can be found on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/texascollectionbaylor/18059912424/in/photolist-ubk1Mj-uqAdMJ-tvTLLq-usuHGJ-ut7XQF

It was all over, but getting home wouldn’t be easy. The trains were slow to arrive and when they did, it was utter chaos. Information was difficult to come by, the train cars were packed nearly to the point of suffocation, and many people ended up in the wrong town. Yet, by 11 PM that evening, the last train pulled out and the town of Crush, Texas ceased to exist.

The next day it was learned that there was one more casualty to add to the list, although the locomotive smash-up could not be blamed for it. John Morris, a livery man from Ferris, was killed after he fell between the coach and caboose of one the outbound trains.

The Katy quickly settled all damage claims brought against the company. Jarvis Deane may have lost an eye, but he was able to resume his photography career. He ran a humorous ad in a Waco paper that read, “Having gotten all the loose screws and other hardware out of my head, am now ready for all photographic business. Deane, Waco’s High-Priced Photographer.”

Crash at Crush - 1896 - Crowd on wreck of the two trains.
The crowd climbing on the wreck of the two trains. Image can be found on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/texascollectionbaylor/18656262236/in/photolist-ubk1Mj-uqAdMJ-tvTLLq-usuHGJ-ut7XQF

One would think that this would have been the end of intentional train collisions, but it was not. Just one week later it was announced that the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad planned to do a repeat performance on October 6th. 20,000 people attended that event and not a single person was injured.

Smashing up trains proved to be such a crowd pleaser that Iowa resident Joseph Connelly decided to make it his career. Between 1896 and 1932 “Head-On Joe” staged as many as seventy-three train wrecks at various fairgrounds across the midwestern United States. Amazingly, not a single person was injured during any of these shows.

Only Mr. Crush had the misfortune of having it all go so very wrong. A number of recent articles state that the Katy immediately fired Crush, but quickly rehired him after learning that the Crash at Crush was good for the company’s bottom line. I was unable to find any mention of that in the newspaper articles published in the days after the crash took place. William George Crush retired from the Katy in 1940, having worked for the company for 46 years. He passed away three years later on April 12, 1943 at the age of 77 years.

Today, the Crash at Crush is basically forgotten, excluding a couple of historic markers that serve as reminders for those that visit the area.

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

 

The Sign Said Free TV

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

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

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

Kept Alive by Pumping Arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pennies Hoarded for Gold

Long before The Amityville Horror made the village famous, The New York Times reported on February 9, 1903 that its citizens were hoarding pennies. This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to you since people have been hoarding pennies for many years now. What’s odd about this story is that they were only hoarding shiny 1902 pennies and nothing else.

Why 1902 and why shiny? It was all traced back to a Fulton Fish Market dealer named Alvah W. Haff, who was a resident of Amityville. Since his wholesale fish business required him to give customers lots and lots of change, the Amityville bank will contact him when they had too many small coins on hand. Eleven days prior to the story being published, he obtained 3000 copper pennies from the bank. Since this occurred right after the holiday shopping season, the department stores had just given out tons of shiny new 1902 pennies as change for purchases made. Someone commented to Mr. Haff about the shiny pennies and he jokingly said that he was “going to take the coins and get the gold out of them.”

Could brand new 1902 pennies really contain gold?  Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Next thing you know, a story started to spread to the coins were so shiny because a careless smelter had accidentally dropped a bar of gold into the molten copper. Suddenly, people were checking every penny they were given and keeping the shiny 1902 model to cash in for the gold.

And analysis made by the public schools chemistry class confirmed what you probably knew all along: the pennies contain no gold. Every penny was still worth one penny.

 

Baby Moses

As I’ve mentioned many times over the years, I am a high school science teacher by day. While doing the research for today’s story, I was reminded of a something that happened many years ago at my job. A former superintendent told us that we could no longer have our annual holiday party anywhere within the county limits. The rationale was simple: We are role models for our students and we shouldn’t be seen consuming alcohol. The issue was quickly resolved with an agreement that we could have our celebration anywhere that we wished, but no student could be on staff at the restaurant at the time we were there.

There is no doubt that teaching is one of a number of professions where we are expected to have higher standards than other professions.

I like to joke that teachers don’t get pregnant, since that would imply that something is going on that shouldn’t be. Instead all teachers have their babies delivered the old fashioned way: by a stork.

Well, today’s story doesn’t involve a stork, but the baby was delivered in a more unusual way: By a dog.

So, let’s take a trip back in time to the Great Depression and make a visit to the Pearl River, Louisiana home of 24-year-old Effie Hinton Crawford and her husband 44-year-old Louis Elijah Crawford. The couple was the proud parents of two boys: four-year-old Louis, Jr. and 2-year-old James Edward Crawford.

Together, the four of them lived in a one-room, 25 x 14 foot (7.6 x 4.3 meters), clapboard-sided cabin. Their sole source of income was the $26/month that Louis earned by working for the federal government’s WPA or Works Progress Administration. That would be approximately $468/month today. Hurting badly for money, the couple made the decision to refrain from marital relations, since there was simply no way that they could afford to support a third child.

The home of Effie and Louis Crawford. This image appeared in the November 20, 1936 publication of the Klamath News on page 11.


Neither one could have imagined it, but the Crawford’s world would be turned completely upside-down and inside-out by an incident that occurred on November 11, 1936.

Mrs. Crawford said that she had been sitting on the porch of their home when her eyes caught an animal running through the weeds. Wild animals were nothing unusual when living deep in the piney woods, but there was something very different this time. Effie heard what sounded to be like a whimper and then observed that it was a dog carrying some sort of bundle with its teeth.

“It was just about the fall of the night.” She said, “This big, black dog came trotting through the brush with something white in his mouth. When he saw me, he stopped, and I was so scared all I could do was stand there.” She later stated, “I’d never seen the dog before. Most the dogs around here are hounds and this one looked like a brindle bull.”

“Then while I was looking the white thing moved and I heard a baby’s cry. When I realize it was a baby, I got a cold chill.” She described what happened next: “I ran off the porch. Put that down, you! Put it down! Clap my hands and made like I was going to hit him and that scared him off.”

Effie attempted to restrain the dog, but she was unable to do so. Her attention then turned to what her senses had interpreted could be a baby. As she carefully unwrapped the filthy square of cotton, she discovered a small infant boy who appeared to be just days old facing downward toward the ground.

Her motherly instincts immediately kicked in and she raced the baby into the house. Effie wrapped the newborn in a clean towel and then proceeded to place him between the covers of the couple’s bed. For additional warmth, she lit a fire in their makeshift stove, which was little more than a modified oil drum. She next grabbed a baby bottle and prepared condensed milk to feed the child. Lastly, Mrs. Crawford summoned the help of Mrs. Lizzie Crawford, who was both a midwife and a distant relative. After examination, the 8-pound, rosy-cheeked, blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby was declared to be in relatively good health.

Effie Crawford with midwife/distant relative Lizzie Crawford shortly after the infant was found. This image appeared on the front page of the November 13, 1936 publication of the Wisconsin State Journal.


When her husband Louis arrived home later, she told him of this bizarre incident. At first he was certain that she must be joking around. But Effie wasn’t. Not this time. She led him over to the bed and there he saw the baby for the first time.

Clearly, this baby had to belong to someone. Mr. Crawford contacted Parish officials and told them of his wife’s discovery. It wasn’t long before word spread throughout the community and crowds started to gather around the Crawford home. It seemed like everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the baby.

This deeply religious group felt that the baby was a divine gift intended not only for the Crawfords, but for the community as a whole. Some fifty different people offered to adopt the baby, but Effie and Louis quickly decided that they wanted to become this child’s parents.

“We’re going to call him Moses because it was found by a miracle.” Effie declared. “It’s just like Moses in the bullrushes. I think we were meant to keep him.”

Miracle or not, the Crawfords were now celebrities. Word of her discovery quickly made the national papers and soon reporters were descending upon their small community.

Against the wishes of the Crawfords, the juvenile officer for St. Tammany parish, signed an order removing the baby from their household. Baby Moses was taken by welfare officer Mrs. Emily Hasbro and a WPA nurse to the Charity Hospital in New Orleans, some 40 miles (about 65 kilometers) away. Physicians examined the baby and confirmed that he was in good health, despite his exposure to the elements. He was placed in an incubator and the name Moses was written in large letters across its front.

Baby Moses in his primitive incubator at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.  This image appeared on page 3 of the November 18, 1936 issue of the Pensacola News Journal.


Investigators began their search for the parents of the child. Truck driver Sam Ferguson, a neighbor of the Crawfords, told of seeing a young couple walking on a road about one-mile from the Crawford home. He added that in addition to a small girl who walked alongside them, he observed that they had a large dog and that the woman was holding a small baby.

Word was immediately sent to all nearby police to keep an eye out for the suspected couple.

“We are looking for the couple,” Police Chief P. A. Saxon of nearby Slidell said. He added, “If they have a baby with them they are all right, but if they haven’t, we know we’ve got the right couple.” A statewide search failed to locate the suspected parents.

Effie continued her plea to get Baby Moses back. “I found that baby. I saved his life. I’m not going to give him up. I’ll move heaven and earth to get him back.”

Baby Moses being cared for at the Charity Hospital in New Orleans.  This image was syndicated through many newspapers, but this copy is from the premiere issue of Life Magazine on November 23, 1936. The image appeared on page 19.


On November 13th, Thomas Sancton, a reporter from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, entered the story. He wasn’t sure where the couple’s cabin was, so he stopped at the home of Louis’s uncle Fletcher Crawford to ask for directions.

Call it a hunch, a white lie, or whatever, but Sancton convinced Fletcher that Effie’s story was false. Fletcher took Sancton up to the house and upon entering, Effie asked, “What do you want?”

To which Fletcher replied, “Effie, here’s a newspaper reporter. He said you told how you are that mother of the baby you said you found with a dog the other night. Did you?”

Effie broke into tears and stated, “I ain’t told nobody nothing. Not nobody.” Effie then asked the reporter to step outside. She walked barefoot alongside him to the pigsty and admitted what had really happened.

“I don’t want them all to hear,” Effie said. “I told my husband. He knows.”

As she was telling her story, Louis Crawford came outside and the reporter asked how he felt about it, to which he replied, “I love Effie.”

Picture of the Crawford’s cabin in Pearl River, Louisiana. This is another image that was syndicated through newspapers nationwide, but this copy is from the premiere issue of Life Magazine on November 23, 1936. The image appeared on page 19.


The cat was now out of the bag. Effie now claimed that she had given birth to Baby Moses around 11 in the evening on Sunday November 8, 1936. But was she really the mother? Could this all be another lie so that she could convince the authorities to let her keep the baby? The only way to know for sure would be to have a doctor check to see if she had recently given birth.

Mrs. Crawford was taken to be examined by Dr. F. F. Young, Jr. and Dr. H. E. Gautreaux. What’s a bit unusual about these two doctors was that they were the Tammany parish coroner and assistant coroner, respectively. Their report stated that Effie Crawford had given birth to a baby “without the question of a doubt within the past few days.”

“It was about 11 o’clock and I have been laboring for about an hour. I had to take matches and light a little pile of straw to give me enough light. It was awful dark. After the child was born I wrapped it in a cloth and laid it behind a little building there and I went into the house.”

“In the morning Louis went to work with the WPA. I kept the baby in the house all day Monday, and hid him out behind the stove Monday night. Then went to work Tuesday. I was thinking all day of what to do. Then I thought of the dog.

“When Lewis came home Tuesday I pulled back the bed covers and showed him the baby and told him how a big dog came through the woods with the baby in its mouth and how I took it away from him.”

Image of Baby Moses that appeared on page 80 of the New York Daily News on November 13, 1936. The paper gave the baby the more sensational name “Dog Baby.”


District Attorney C. Sidney Frederick told the press that Mrs. Crawford had broken no known criminal statute and would not be charged with a crime. As for the baby, custody would be decided by the parish juvenile authorities.

While the courts tried to hash out this mess and determine who should gain custody of the baby, there was trouble-a-brewing at the Crawford residence. That’s because Effie accused her husband’s younger brother Frank of being the baby daddy, which he vehemently denied.

“She named me because she saw I was smart and I was on to her ways. I never laid an hand on her except once to shove her out of my mother’s house.” Frank continued, “We never liked her. She was a come-here. And if he’s not going to leave her, he’ll vacate too. That ain’t even his house; it’s his sisters. He ain’t got nothing. The chickens even ain’t his.”

Frank added, regarding his brother, “He says the doctor says she’s in no condition to move. She’s sick, he says. Well, I wish she died while she was about it.”

He wasn’t alone. The entire Crawford clan, which included Louis’ seven brothers, two sisters, their wives and husbands, and a 62-year-old widowed mother who all wanted him to leave his two-timing wife. There was talk of tar and feathering her and ultimately running her out of the forest completely. Fearing for her life, Deputy Sheriff Clarence Crawford, a relative by marriage, was ordered to protect Effie from any violence.

This photo of Effie Crawford appeared on page 20 of the November 17, 1936 issue of the New York Daily News.


Louis was torn as to what he should do. At first, he stood by his wife and refused to give in to his family’s demands. He avowed that he would “stick with Effie through hell and high water until the end.” It wasn’t long before he changed his tune, later stating that he “would have to quit her when this thing’s over because it would ruin my character to live with her.”

On November 16, District Court Judge Robert D. Jones ruled that 8-day-old Baby Moses, who was still in the hospital suffering from a slight cold, could be returned to Effie Crawford as soon as physical conditions permitted.

The Judge stated, “This woman, misguided and errant though she was, has violated no prohibitory law of the state. Her actions were those of a woman driven frantic and desperate in fighting alone a battle in which she herself must have foreseen failure in defeat.”

He continued, “Many women would have abandoned their children rather than face the same terrifying circumstances. She is poor, as a thousands of others, but this cannot forfeit her rights.

Effie Crawford with a nurse and Baby Moses at the Charity Hospital in New Orleans. This image is from page 5 of the November 28, 1936 publication of the Fort Myers News-Press.


“Her amazing fortitude in giving birth to this child under the horrible circumstances which surround her, and her insistent plea for the right to resume her burden of a child’s care and protection, impel us to believe that here the child will find sanctuary and be under the protection of the one who will gladly sacrifice all, if necessary, in the full discharge of that self-imposed trust.”

“It is certain that only the mother who conceived and bore the child can give it the understanding, love and affection it will so sorely need in its early future to overcome the sombre circumstances of its birth.”

The couple reconciled and picked their baby up at the hospital on Wednesday November 25th 1936.

The Crawford family picking up their baby at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.  Dad Louis is carrying son James, mom Effie carries the newly named Bert J., and son Louis, Jr. is walking out front.  Image source:Page 5 of the November 28, 1936 issue of the Fort Myers News Press.


Effie said, “We are going to name him Bert J. Moses Crawford. The Bert J. don’t mean anything, but we don’t want people calling him Moses.” Louis added, “It’s our’n baby and I don’t care which one of Effie’s stories was true – whether the dog brought the baby or whether Effie had him out behind the woodshed.”

The Christmas of 1936 proved to be a great one for the Crawford family. Not only did they celebrate having their new child home for the first time, but gifts of food, money, and clothing poured in from all over the country. Not just for the baby, but for Effie, Louis, and their two older children also.

The press did a follow-up story on Bert’s 1st birthday and everything was still going well. Bert was learning how to walk and talk, while everyone seemed to have put it all behind them. Effie was now back in the good graces of her husband’s family and the community seemed to act as if nothing had ever happened at all.

As time marched on, all of the people mentioned in this story passed on. 51-year-old father Louis Elijah Crawford left us on June 25, 1944. After remarrying, Effie Crawford Schultz died at age 85 on November 12, 1997. And Burt J. Moses Crawford was 73-years-old when he passed away on February 10, 2010.

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

This photograph of Louis and Effie Crawford with Baby Moses appeared in papers nationwide just as the story broke. This particular copy was printed on page 19 of the November 23, 1936 issue of Life Magazine. 
 

Officer, I am Being Followed…

This bizarre story made the national news on December 24, 1954. It was reported that two motorcycle officers in Vernon, California pulled a car driven by 48-year-old Virgil Grover Attebery over to the side of the road.

Attebery looked very concerned and told the officers, “Somebody’s been tailing me clear from Los Angeles.” The officers were attentive as he continued, “I want you guys to look into it.”

The officers didn’t have to search far. There was, in fact, a car that had been following Attebery for miles. What was incredibly unusual about this vehicle was that it was driverless. Apparently Attebery had backed into the car, locked bumpers with it, and then towed it along as he made his way. To make matters worse, the car that he had been dragging was owned by a policeman named Ray Rapier.

The two officers booked Atteberry on suspicion of drunk driving.

Attebery Sketch - 1954_12_25 Philadelphia Inquirer p9
This sketch that appeared on page 9 of the December 25, 1954 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer sums up the story well.
 

Self-Service Gasoline

When Frank Ulrich opened the first successful self-service gasoline station in Los Angeles back in 1947, he probably couldn’t imagine the uproar that it would cause. By eliminating the high cost of paying attendants to fill your tank, he was able to pass the savings on to his customers. His slogan was “Save five cents, serve yourself. Why pay more?” With a gallon of gas costing less than 20-cents in 1947, saving a nickel was a big deal.

Word of his success began to spread across the country and soon others began to copy Ulrich’s model. One of these men was Irving Reingold. He opened a 24-pump self-service station on Route 17 in Hackensack, New Jersey. Everyone else was selling gas at an agreed upon 21.8-cents per gallon, while Reingold was able to undercut them at 18.9-cents.

Soon cars were lining up for cheaper gas, but the other dealers were very unhappy with the competition. Using the pretext of fire safety, the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association convinced the state legislature to ban self-service gasoline stations, a law that is still on the books today.

Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline
Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline in Rapid City, SD that appeared on page 11 of the May 5, 1950 issue of the Rapid City Journal.

John Dressler, president of the association at the time stated, “The only motive behind the bill was the safety of the public, because from experience we learned that the handling of gasoline is a potential hazard.”

A July 3, 1948 story in Connecticut’s Sunday Herald interviewed Bridgeport gasoline dealers and all were in agreement that self-service gasoline was probably never going to happen in their state.

Larry Keller, proprietor of Pop’s Gulf Station said. “Our business would suffer from 30 to 60 days, but after that time the novelty would wear off and people would come back for service.”

James Duva, owner of Duva’s Service Station added, “the whole city would be endangered if every Tom, Dick, and Harry operated the pumps.”

Red Dial, of Dial’s Sunoco station, was in total agreement. “Customers don’t save money anyway with the self-service idea. They save a few cents on the gas and spend dollars on cleaning their clothes which they dirtied while checking their own oil, or on repairs of the cars which the service attendant could have pointed out and fixed earlier.”

I did a quick check on Google Maps for the locations of these three dealers. Today only one is still a gas station and it is – you guessed it – self service.

Self Service Gasoline - 1950_08_27 - Long Beach Independent p15
Advertisement for Self-Service Gasoline that appeared on page 15 of the August 27, 1950 publication of the Long Beach Independent.
 

Both Children Born in a Yellow Cab

On October 18, 1922 Mrs. Rose Simon, who lived at 354 East 53rd Street in Chicago gave was a passenger in the backseat of a Yellow cab when she gave birth to a daughter. Both were taken to University Hospital and were reported to be in excellent health.

Giving birth to a baby in the back of a cab has certainly happened before, so just what makes this story unique?

Very simple: Eight years earlier, on October 3, 1914, Rose was a passenger in another cab while on her way to St. Luke’s Hospital when she suddenly went into labor. That time she gave birth to a baby boy.

Yellow Cab Photo
Photo of Yellow Cab drivers that appeared on page 12 of the February 17, 1964 publication of the Press Sun and Bulletin in Binghamton, NY.
 

Mile-A-Minute Murphy

Useless Information Podcast

In the 1890’s, Charles M. Murphy was determined to ride a bicycle at 60 miles-per-hour by riding in the slipstream of the fastest locomotives of his day. It took him years to find a railroad willing to let him give it a try, and once he did, he was in for a painful ride that burned holes right through his clothing.

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Rubber Hose Cures Hiccups

So, what is your remedy for a case of the hiccups? Do you have someone scare you? Do you drink a glass of water quickly? Consume a spoonful of sugar? Or do you stick a rubber tube up your nose?

My guess is that you have never tried that last one. Yet, an article in the Associated Press on October 2, 1967 suggested the rubber hose method may be best.

A team, which consisted of three doctors at the University of Chicago and a colleague at Cairo University, found that hiccups could be cured by sticking a flexible rubber tube up a patient’s nose and stimulating the nerve endings of the pharynx.

The researchers found that this method was successful in 84 of the 85 patients that they tried it out on. They cautioned that this was not a do-it-yourself type cure. Due to potential danger, the procedure needed to be done by a trained doctor. Of course, by the time you get to the doctor’s office and sit in the waiting room for an hour before being finally called in to be seen by your physician, your hiccups will already be gone. No rubber hose needed.

 

Saved by a Giant Turtle

27-year-old South Korean Chung Nam Kim may have been one of the luckiest guys ever. He had been working aboard the Liberian Federal Nagara as a deckhand and painter. At some point between 2 and 3 AM on Friday August 22, 1969, Kim found himself suffering from a bad headache and decided that it would be best to go up on deck and grab some fresh air.

Suddenly, his foot slipped and Kim fell into the Pacific Ocean. No one witnessed his plunge, so he was as good as dead. Kim started swimming for land, but it was obvious that there was no way that he could ever make it.

“I was very afraid. I thought that I was dying… I couldn’t think of anything else. I was too exhausted.”

Just at the point when he was about to give up, he spotted something in the water.

“I thought I was dead. And then I touched this thing, and I first thought that it might be a shark and then I saw it was a turtle so I held on.”

He threw his arm around the turtle and paddled slowly with the other arm. After about two hours of swimming with the turtle, he spotted what looked like a ship. It was the Swedish freighter Citadel, which was 113 miles (182 km) from the Nicaraguan coast at the time. He started waving his arms frantically to get their attention. At 4:45 PM that Friday, the crew of the Citadel spotted a man with his arm around a large turtle and pulled him out of the water. Kim was taken aboard and almost immediately passed out from exhaustion.

Could this be a whale of a fish story? Most likely not. Both the captain and the crew of the Citadel said that they had seen Kim clinging to the turtle. One crew member even managed to snap a few photographs of the rescue.

Chung Nam Kim
Turtle rider Chung Nam Kim and Captain Horst Wedder (center) tell their story to a news reporter. Image appeared on page 23 of the August 31, 1969 issue of the Statesman Journal.
 

More Intelligent People Have Gout

On June 30, 1959, a UPI article discussed how two US government scientists, Dewitt Stetten, Jr. and John Z. Hearon, were studying the relationship between gout and intelligence.

Gout is caused by the accumulation of crystals of uric acid in bone joints. A theory was put forward in 1955 that the uric acid also stimulated the brain. You can see where this is going: Those with gout should be smarter.

So, Stetten and Hearon decided to test out this theory. They went to the Army Recruitment Center in Fort Dix, NJ and measured the uric acid levels in 817 men. Next, they compared the results of these tests to the “Army Classification Battery,” a group of psychological tests given to test for intelligence and other abilities.

The two found that there was a slight correlation between uric acid levels and high intelligence. The two didn’t make any definite conclusions, but did recommend that further studies be done. The press was quick to point out that nineteen times as many men have gout than women, so that would naturally mean that there are nineteen intelligent men for every intelligent woman. I can tell you, just from my years of teaching, that is definitely not true. No scientific study needed prove that.

The Gout by James Gillray
1799 caricature "The Gout" by James Gillray. From Wikipedia.
 

Cow Jumps Over the Moon

History was made on February 18, 1930 when a tri-motored Ford airplane flew as part of the exhibitions at the International Aircraft Exposition in St. Louis. That’s because this plane was transporting cargo that required extra special care. So special, in fact, that a portion of the plane had to be reconstructed to handle this cargo.

And it was big. And heavy. And alive. It was a 1000 lb. (453-kg) Guernsey cow named Elm Farm Ollie, who was owned by Sunnymede Farms in Bismarck, North Dakota. Valued at $2,000 (nearly $30,000 today), Ollie has the honor of being the first cow ever to fly in an airplane. Not only was she the first cow ever to fly, Ollie also became the first cow ever to be milked during a flight. Along for the flight were four reporters, a newsreel cameraman, a radio announcer, and two attendants to care and milk for Ollie.

And just why would anyone place a cow on an airplane in the first place? Basically to demonstrate that prize cattle can be transported from one place to another by air.

At an elevation of 5,000 feet (about 1.5-km), Ollie soared through the clouds at an estimated speed of 135 miles per hour (217 km/h) in her specially prepared stall. As she munched away on hay, Wisconsin resident Elsworth W. Bunce became the first man ever to milk a cow mid-flight. Quite the honor…

As the plane descended, 25 half-pint paper containers of milk were parachuted down to the crowd that was watching from below. One quart was set aside to be presented to Charles Lindbergh, who was scheduled to arrive at the show a day or two later.

Sunnymede Ollie
Image of Sunnymede Ollie from the March 4, 1930 issue of the Altoona Tribune on page 3.
 

Moons of Mars Made by Martians

On May 1, 1959, it was reported that Soviet scientist Iosif Shklovsky had found evidence that the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, may be artificial. In other words, they may have been placed in orbit by Martians.

Shklovsky had studied data that had been collected by others and concluded that Phobos, in particular, was most likely hollow inside with what could be something like a thin sheet metal exterior. Its behavior could not be explained by comparing it to any known natural satellite in our solar system. Instead, it behaved much like the artificial satellites that man had placed in orbit around Earth. The logical conclusion was that Martians had placed the two moons into orbit some two or three million years prior.

Further study later determined that the data that Shklovsky used to make these predictions, which he did not collect himself, had systematic errors. It’s not that Shklovsky did bad science – the whole Martian idea excluded – it’s just that he had really bad data to work with.

A number of space probes have since been sent to study these two moons. Today we are certain that they are solid, naturally made, and very similar to many of the asteroids out there.

Color image of Phobos
Color image of Phobos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 23, 2008. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona image.
 

Woman Befriends Rats

May 17, 1929 – A sanitary inspector in London visited the Platts Lane home of 80-year-old Rachel Willard after receiving numerous complaints from her neighbors. They had claimed that Mrs. Willard had not only been harboring rats in her garden, but that she was also providing them with food.

She refused admittance to the inspector and pushed two letters under the door, one of which read, “I refused admission to your officer because I consider as a free citizen I have fulfilled my duty to the little country rats who came into my garden – dear little voles – and also because I object to be considered the scapegoat of Platts Lane.”

Mrs. Willard was ordered to appear before a judge at the Hampstead Police Court in London. After the inspector testified that her home was infested with ordinary household rats, Mrs. Willard began her cross examination of the inspector. The judge had heard more than enough and opted to adjourn the case.

Rat
Sketch of a rat from the 1834 publication "A System of natural history : containing scientific and popular descriptions of man, quadrupeds, birds, fishes, reptiles and insects" on page 238.