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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

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Podcast 128: The Prick of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast 127: The Case of the Doctor-Doctor Kidnapping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast 126: The Transatlantic Taxi Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast 125: The Snoring War

As I started to research today’s story, I began to reflect on my life before I owned a home. For more than twenty years I had lived in various apartments. One of my rules for choosing an apartment was that it had to be on the top floor. My rationale for this was noise. The constant thumping of people walking around above my head made it very difficult for me to get any sleep.

Of course, living above others doesn’t always work out. Once I lived above a heavy smoker and the smell would seep through the floor and stink up my apartment. Perhaps the oddest problem, however, occurred in the mid-1990’s with a couple that lived directly under me. Let’s just say that the female half of that relationship was a screamer and leave it at that. After about two months of listening to them, the problem was resolved when the two were evicted for non-payment of their rent.

Well, today’s story is also about apartment living, but it didn’t involve me in the slightest. First, a little background. Way back in 1869, William A. Engelman, who had earned his wealth by selling horses to the Union Army during the Civil War, purchased several hundred acres of beachfront property in Gravesend, Brooklyn. He named it Brighton Beach, supposedly after the resort town in England. In 1871, he built the Ocean Hotel and in 1878 completed Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion and Ocean Pier, which attracted thousands of affluent people seeking to escape the crowded city. One could get to Brighton Beach by several rail lines or via the then newly completed Ocean Parkway, which had no homes along it at the time and allowed families to take a leisurely, scenic path to the oceanfront.

One of the guests who greatly enjoyed his stay at the Ocean Hotel was robber baron Auston Corbin, who had consolidated all of the rail lines in the area into the Long Island Rail Road, and he decided to purchase his own chunk of beachfront and build his own grand resort. He named it the Manhattan Beach Hotel and, being an anti-semite, he forbid Jews from staying there.

Not to be outdone, William Engelman built the even larger Brighton Beach Hotel in 1878. He soon added the Brighton Beach Racetrack, followed by the Brighton Theater and the Brighton Music Hall. Unfortunately, the hotel was built too close to the ocean and the constant battering of the waves threatened to undermine the very foundation of the hotel. In what would prove to be one of the major engineering feats of its day, the entire hotel, estimated to weigh in excess of 8-million pounds, was placed on to 112 rail cars and pulled along 24 sets of railroad tracks by two-sets of three locomotives and moved 600-feet (approximately 180 meters) inland.

Colorized image of the Brighton Beach Hotel from 1903.
Colorized image of the Brighton Beach Hotel from 1903. (Original black and white image is from the Library of Congress.)

The incredible success of these hotels was not too last. There was no single factor that killed off their popularity. It was partly due to the carnival-like atmosphere of nearby Coney Island spilling over into Brighton Beach, the construction of lower-priced hotels, a 1908 law that forbid betting at racetracks, the Great Depression, the suburbanization of Brooklyn and a host of other reasons.

Those grand Victorian hotels are long gone and the only remianing evidence of this once spectacular vacation area is the boardwalk itself.

Image of Brighton Beach taken between 1915 and 1920.
Image of Brighton Beach taken between 1915 and 1920 that has been colorized. (Original black and white image from the Library of Congress.)

In 1955, the late Brooklyn developer Alexander Muss took a long-term lease on 21-acres of property that faced the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. His grand plan was to construct high-rise housing on much of this land, but a 1961 rezoning law limited them to building just two tall buildings.

Called the Seacoast Towers, the first 16-story building was completed in 1961, followed by a second twenty-story tower in 1962. The complex, which sat directly on the location of the former Brighton Beach Hotel, contained a total of 590 apartments.

An ad in the January 3, 1961 publication of The New York Times describes Seacoast Towers as follows:

“Correction. It is not true that our 4-room (one-bedroom) apartments rent at $250. This misconception is understandable considering the outstanding features of our 16-story luxury apartments… the only apartments in Brooklyn directly on the ocean… just 37 steps from boardwalk, beach and ocean… magnificent lobby designed by Maurice Lapidus… striking canopied entrance… doorman service… men’s and women’s private beach locker rooms… Private 14-foot terraces for every apartment… and more. The truth is that our 4-room apartments rent for only $160. Why not come up today and see for yourself. Mail chute – Oak parquet floors – pre-war room sizes – 12 cu. ft. GE refrigerator-freezer – gallery-foyer – separate dining room – oversized kitchen with brunch tables. Seacoast Towers. Brighton 14th Street at the Boardwalk-Brooklyn.”

Sounds spectacular, doesn’t it? A one-bedoom, spacious apartment that overlooks the ocean for just $160 per month, which would be approximately $1350.00/month today.

Perhaps the details that are most important to the story that you are about to hear appeared on May 10, 1959 on the front page of the real estate section of The New York Times. It reads, “Airspace within the walls was designed to make the building virtually soundproof. Vermiculite ceilings also help to reduce sound transmission between floors.”

Soundproof is not exactly the first word that one thinks of when you start to hear the details of an argument that occurred between two of the residents of Seacoast Towers. It’s the story of two guys named Sam. The first is 55-year-old Sam Scheir, who lived with his wife and daughter in apartment 16-V at 35 Seacoast Terrace – the taller of the two apartment buildings. Scheir was the maître d’ at the Hotel Diplomat in Manhattan and typically arrived home around 2 AM each morning. Exhausted, he would typically fall into a deep sleep and snore loudly. To keep confusion between the two Sams to a minimum, I will refer to Scheir as Snoring Sam for the remainder of the story.

Next up we have Sam #2: 46-year-old Samuel Gutwirth, who was a publicist and had to wake up early each morning to make his business rounds. When the Gutwirths rented their apartment in the supposedly soundproof building, they got the surprise of their lifetime when they discovered that a thin wall separated their apartment from the next. He claimed to be able to hear mild whispers from the adjoining apartments. Worse yet, the Gutwirth’s bed was positioned on the other side of the wall from where Snoring Sam’s bed was located. And just like clockwork, every morning around 2:30, the Gutwirths were awoken by the loud sounds being generated from Snoring Sam’s slumber. Sam Gutwirth had no choice but to bang against the wall to wake Snoring Sam up. So, I will refer to Sam #2 as Banging Sam.

Banging Sam Gutwirth removing his earplugs.
Banging Sam Gutwirth removing his earplugs. Image appeared on page 32 of the February 14, 1964 publication of the New York Daily News.

This snoring-and-banging, back-and-forth ritual continued until January 20, 1964. That’s when Snoring Sam dragged Banging Sam into Brooklyn Criminal Court charging him with making unnecessary noise. He claimed that Banging Sam had been knocking on his bedroom wall five or six times each night for the previous six months.

Banging Sam was forced to hire a lawyer to represent him, a man named Joseph Mandell. He told Judge Matthew Fagan, “Mr. Scheir is a snorer of gigantic proportions and gives off an animalistic roar with the quality of a lion’s roar that vibrates the rooms. The very anticipation of their beginning at about 2:30 AM every day has shaken my client and his wife, deprived them of sleep, injured their health, and, in fact, constitute an assault upon their persons.”

The judge questioned Snoring Sam as to whether he did really snore, to which he replied, “I don’t know. I’m asleep.” He added, “How would you like it if every time you settled down for a good snooze, some idiot started pounding?”

In his defense, Banging Sam told the judge that he and his wife Ida, “simply can’t put up with it. I banged on the wall to try and shut him up.”

Snoring Sam finally conceded that he was, in fact, a snorer and had been doing so for many years. However, he felt that snoring was a natural act and one that simply cannot be avoided or controlled, while Banging Sam’s actions were a deliberate and calculated attempt to unnerve Mr. and Mrs. Snoring Sam. He told the court, “He is undermining my health and the health of my family.” He added, “It is his intention to force us out of our apartment.”

It’s not that Banging Sam didn’t try to talk over the problem with Snoring Sam. He suggested that he consult a doctor about his problem, possibly wear a snore-warning device, switch bedrooms with his daughter, or simply move his bed to the opposite side of the room. Snoring Sam refused to do any of these things.

What a mess. If you were Judge Fagan, how would you rule in this unusual case? Well, he did the next best thing: he pushed a decision off into the future and told the two to return back to court on February 13th. He suggested that Banging Sam file a cross-complaint, which he did do, and when they return to court, he asked them to bring their wives. The judge wanted to hear their sides of the story. He also asked that the two consult their landlord, Seacoast Homes, Inc., to see if they could do something to help solve this problem.

It wasn’t long before this absurd story was picked up by the wire services and told in newspapers all across the country. The very next day after the court hearing, the New York Daily News ran a lengthy story featuring comments from both sides of this snoring war.

Banging Sam told reporter Michael Mok, “Let me put it this way. He can’t help his snoring but at least he could move his bed. It’s cheek by jowl with mine and when I said to him that maybe he might move it, he said the best thing I could do would be to get earplugs.” He added, “My problem is that my wife simply can’t put up with it. Now what are we to do? I banged on the wall to try and shut him up, but that only woke him from a deep sleep.”

In response, Snoring Sam stated, “I mean, how on earth would you like it if every time you settle down for a snooze, some idiot started pounding rump-titty-rump-titty-rump-rump-rump – or shave-and-a-hair-cut-two-bits?”

A photograph accompanying the article showed Banging Sam and his wife Ida in bed with a giant reel-to-reel tape recorder and a Type 1551-A sound level meter – which the article claimed cost $460 (about $3,800 today) on the open market – sitting on the nightstand. They claimed to have hired a man to operate this equipment and measure how loud the snoring was, but while waiting for Snoring Sam to arrive home, the operator fell asleep and awoke Banging Sam with his own loud snores.

Sam and Ida Gutwirth in their Seacoast Tower apartment with a sound level meter and tape recorder by their bed.
Sam and Ida Gutwirth in their Seacoast Tower apartment with a sound level meter and tape recorder by their bed. Image appeared on page 4 of the New York Daily News on January 21, 1964.

The Daily News reporter borrowed the equipment to try it out at various other locales. He determined that Snoring Sam was producing sounds that were equivalent to those produced by a hungry, growling labrador retriever and a midget tap dancing. He also determined that Snoring Sam was only slightly quieter than a news copy boy cracking Brazil nuts open. No, I am not making this up…

When the court date of February 13, 1964 finally arrived, Judge Fagan was not present. He must have decided to run as far away from this case as possible to avoid having to make a decision. Instead, Judge Arthur Dunaif presided over the proceedings. Snoring Sam was there with his newly hired lawyer, Irving J. Linder, but Banging Sam was a no-show.

Snoring Sam told the court that he wished to withdraw his complaint against Banging Sam and the judge agreed. The whole thing was thrown out.

So, why this sudden change of heart?

Upon exiting the courtroom, Snoring Sam Scheir told newsmen that everything was resolved because someone had built a thick sound barrier between the two apartments. The odd thing is that no one would take credit for building this new wall. Snoring Sam denied having anything to do with it. Banging Sam Gutwirth said that he certainly didn’t do it. And both the management at Seacoast Homes and the builders, Alexander Muss & Sons, also denied having had built it.

Today, Seacoast Towers is a luxury co-op building. I did a quick check on Zillow and current selling prices range between $381,200 for a 1-bedroom, 1-bath to a high of $729,000 for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit.

Yet, the only review on Yelp awarded 35 Seacoast Terrace a one-star rating and states, “Very thin walls, stupid neighbor watching TV all day! Cigarette smell in the corridor! Old building.” I guess that they never did soundproof the remaining walls in the building and is the reason why, when my wife and I bought our house, I insisted that there be some space between us and our neighbors.

On that note, I hope that everyone gets some nice, quiet slumber time tonight. Sweet dreams…

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

 

Podcast 124: Flying Blind

On March 22, 1952, 25-year-old Lt. (jg) Howard Thayer was flying as part of a bombing mission to destroy enemy rail and truck lines near the strategically important harbor of Wonsan, North Korea. Then, suddenly, he heard a scream come over his radio, “I’m blind! For God’s sake, help me; I’m blind!”

Thayer immediately looked all around for a plane that was trailing smoke, but saw none. Above him he spotted a Douglas AD Skyraider that appeared to be headed nearly straight upward toward the clouds. It was a dark, overcast day and Thayer knew that if this plane was being piloted by the man who made that plea, he would surely lose sight of the aircraft once it entered the clouds. Thayer needed to act quickly.

“Plane in trouble, rock your wings. Plane in trouble, rock your wings.”

Initially there was no response, but then he observed a repeated back-and-forth rocking motion. Yet, the plane continued its upward climb and was just seconds from disappearing into the cloud canopy.

“Put your nose down – put your nose down.” Thayer continued, “Push over. I’m coming up.”

The Skyraider was still climbing as Thayer pushed full throttle to catch up with the plane. As he approached the aircraft, he realized that this out-of-control bomber was not being flown by just any anonymous pilot. Instead, he was 22-year-old Ensign Kenneth A. Schechter, who just happened to be Howie Thayer’s roommate on the USS Valley Forge, the aircraft carrier from which both had launched. The two had trained together at the Alameda Naval Air Force base and had since become the closest of friends.

“This is Thayer – this is Thayer! Put your nose down quick! Get it over!”

As Thayer pulled in close to the plane, he could see that Schechter was gravely wounded. An enemy anti-aircraft shell had exploded near his head and shattered the cockpit canopy. Ken was barely conscious and was struggling to talk over his radio as the air whipped past him and the loud engine roar drowned out all other sound. Kind of like driving a car at 200 mph (322 km/h) with the top down, but in far, far worse condition.

Yet, somehow Ken was finally starting to make sense of what his friend Thayer was telling him to do.

“You’re doing all right now. Pull back a little; we can level off now.”

Schechter pushed his stick forward and relying solely on his sense of how gravity pulling on his body, he was able to level his plane out.

As Howie Thayer pulled within 100-feet (approximately 30-meters) of Schechter, he could now see how badly injured his face was. Fragments from the blast had caught under Ken’s eye and ripped the skin all the way across to his right cheek. He was bleeding profusely and had lost total vision. Ken Schechter was flying blind.

Thayer thought to himself, “My God, My God! How is he alive?”

Schechter was struggling to figure out what had happened and decided that if he could get some fresh air, maybe he could think more clearly. He reached for the canopy release lever and pulled on it. Nothing happened. He tried again and still nothing. That was when he finally realized that the canopy had been totally blown away. His next move was to reach for his canteen. After removing the top, Ken poured water over his face. This cleared the blood away from his eyes just long enough so that he could see the instrument panel in front of him. And, then, in an instant his vision was gone.

Schechter blurted over the radio, “Get me down Howie. Get me down, Howie.”

Thayer replied, “Roger.” He then spotted a partial bombload under Schechter’s wings. “Drop your ordnance.” Howie understood the request and he released the bombs.

Their next move was to circle back and head over the bomb-line into safe territory. Their initial destination was an island known as Yo-Do, located in Wonsan harbor, which was often used as a station during helicopter rescue missions. Thayer quickly realized that Schechter was so severely injured that there was no way they would make the distance to Yo-Do.

Thayer constantly scanned the shoreline for American ships, knowing that once he sighted them, he could be certain that they were back in friendly territory. He radioed, “We’re approaching Wonsan now. Get ready to bail out.”

Schechter refused to do so. He knew that, even under the best of conditions, jumping into the choppy waters was a risky move. In fact, during his second mission in Korea, he had flown near pilot Lt. Cmdr. Tom Pugh, whose plane had been hit. Pugh landed on the water and signaled to Schechter that he was safe before flying off, but two hours later Pugh was dead. Pugh’s life jacket had failed, his immersion suit had leaked, he never made it to his liferaft, and the helicopter sent to pick him up had failed. Ken Schechter was in far worse shape and knew that he had no chance of surviving in the icy water below. He radioed back to Thayer, “Negative. Negative. Not gonna bail out. Get me down.”

The decision was made to head for an American airbase nicknamed Geronimo that was about 30 miles (48 km) south of the enemy line.

“We’re at the battle line now, Ken. Will head you for Geronimo. Hold on, boy!” Thayer then questioned, “Can you make it, Ken?” To which he replied, “Get me down, you miserable ape, or you’ll have to inventory my gear,” referring to the fact that each had designated the other to handle their affairs should one of them be killed in action.

As Thayer directed Ken to turn his plane right, he could see Schechter’s head fall forward and then as he attempted to straighten it upward, his head flopped over to the left. It was clear that there was no way that he was going to make it Geronimo. Thayer began to search for a place for Schechter to put his plane down, whether that be a rice paddy, a beach, or a flat field.

He spotted a clear spot ahead and as Thayer got closer, he realized that it was an abandoned airstrip that had been nicknamed the Jersey Bounce. While there were no aircraft there, Thayer observed that a few small buildings still remained. Hopefully that also meant that a few men remained behind to care for the facility and that they would be able to get Schechter immediately to a military hospital, should he survive the landing. With a short runway less than 2,000 feet (610 meters) in length and with Schechter severely injured, the odds were clearly stacked against him.

“We’re approaching Jersey Bounce, Ken. Will make a two-seven-zero turn and set you down.”

Schechter replied, “Roger. Let’s go.”

As they approached the runway, Thayer began to calmly provide his friend with exacting instructions. “Left wing down slowly, nose over easy. Little more.” He continued, “Gear down.”

Schechter abruptly replied, “To hell with that!” He had remembered that in an emergency landing such as this, it was far safer to land on the plane’s belly. To use the landing gear could risk ripping off one of the wings or possibly flipping the plane over.

Thayer understood. “Roger. Gear up.” He continued, “We’re headed straight. Hundred yards to runway. You’re 50 feet off the ground. Pull back a little. Easy. Easy. That’s good. You’re level. You’re OK. You’re 30 feet off the ground. You’re OK. Twenty feet. Kill it a little. You’re setting down. OK. OK. OK. Cut.”

As Schechter tensed up while awaiting contact with the ground, the plane landed on its belly and slid along the gravel runway. About forty-five minutes after being hit, his plane came to a stop about halfway down the runway. Thayer radioed, “You’re on the ground,” and then began to circle round and round to make sure that his friend was okay. As Schechter clumsily pulled himself out of his cockpit, Thayer could see a car race down the runway toward the plane. Two men helped Ken into the vehicle and sped off toward one of the buildings near the end of the runway.

Howie Thayer’s job was done and he headed back to the Valley Forge and landed about twenty minutes later. As soon as he climbed out of his cockpit, Thayer was puzzled to have a number of senior pilots and officers come right out to meet him. He quickly learned that nearly everyone aboard the carrier had been listening nervously to the voice transmissions between the two pilots as the whole rescue unfolded. In addition, a transcription machine had recorded everything, providing for a permanent record of exactly what the two had said.

As for Ken Schechter, he was immediately transported by helicopter from Jersey Bounce to Geronimo. Doctors removed some of the larger pieces of shrapnel, but determined that he was in need of a skilled eye surgeon and had him flown to naval hospital ship Consolation, which was anchored in the Pusan harbor in South Korea at the time. From there, it was on to hospitals in Japan, Oakland, and San Diego. In all, he would spend six months in various military hospitals. While he recovered vision in his left eye, he never regained sight in his right, which meant a permanent end to his military career as a pilot.

Two years later, their story became the basis for the Hollywood movie “Men of the Fighting Lady.” Thayer was portrayed by Van Johnson and Dewey Martin played the part of Schechter. As one would expect, the film to great license with the story, which included Schechter’s plane landing back on the carrier in a giant flaming wreck.

Interestingly, the plane that Shechter had crash landed had its propeller replaced, flown back to the Valley Forge for repairs, and was then placed back in service.

Howie Thayer would once again perform a similar rescue on June 27, 1953. This time a plane piloted by Lieutenant John J. Chambers was hit, not only wounding him in the arms and legs, but damaging his radio and flight instruments. Thayer had to use hand signals to guide Chambers to a safe landing on an airstrip some 40-miles (65 km) away.

Sadly, in January of 1961, while on a night mission, Thayer was guiding a fellow pilot whose plane had experienced an electrical system failure. While on landing approach, both pilots crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. Their remains were never to be recovered. For all of his heroic actions, Howard Thayer was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2009.

On June 28, 1995, Ken Schechter was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Howie Thayer’s three adult children were present as he received the award aboard the aircraft carrier Constellation in San Diego. During his acceptance speech, Ken stated to them, “I hope you will see this ceremony as your ceremony, because that’s certainly the way I feel about it.”

Kenneth Allen Schechter was born in Harlem, NY on January 31, 1930, the son of European immigrants. After graduating from Stanford and the Harvard Business School, he spent most of his career as an insurance agent. He died of complications due to prostate cancer on December 11, 2013 at the age of 83.

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

 

The First Jewish Couple Married on National TV

Useless Information Podcast Script
Original Podcast Air Date: April 23, 2019 (Part 1) and May 5, 2019 (Part 2)

Today I have a very special podcast for you. It is an interview that I did the other day with cartoonist Leigh Rubin. His syndicated Rubes cartoon is published in hundreds of newspapers daily. Now, right at this very moment that I am recording this, Leigh is at RIT. That’s the Rochester Institute of Technology where he has been honored with the title of being their cartoonist in residence.

Well, Leigh contacted me about a month ago with a great story about his parents, who just happened to be the first Jewish couple to ever be married on television. The show was Bride and Groom and every couple that was married on the show was sent home with a 16mm Kinescope print of their wedding. Well, the Rubens still had the film and they had it transferred to DVD and I was able to rip the audio from the recording. And while some of it is not perfect, in fact some of it was not usable at all, you’ll be able to attend the October 25, 1951 wedding of Natalie and Stanley Rubin.

Rubes cartoon by Leigh Rubin. (Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin –
https://www.rubescartoons.com)

Steve Silverman: So, Leigh, your dad was Stanley Howard Ruben. What did he do for a living?

Leigh Rubin: My dad was an advertising executive. He was one of those New York City madmen. I mean, for real back in the ‘50s and was actually the president of the Advertising Club of Men and Women of New York and would, you know, get kids in high school into advertising and they would have guests come and speak. Hugh Hefner was one of their guests shilling his new magazine and the guy that started Diners Club and have these different people come to pitch their ideas.

Steve Silverman: So, how did you guys end up in California?

Leigh Rubin: My older brother Paul. He had some health issues and the doctor said better to go towards a drier climate and so they, you know, loaded up the car and moved outside Beverly, but it was more like Buena Park. They moved out to California and… Actually, but my dad came out several months before because my mom had to sell the house. We lived on Long Island in Huntington and so he went through a variety of kind of odd jobs. You know, the candy counter, which was a terrible thing for him since he loved candy, at some at some place and I think another place called Green Dollar Nursery. Another of a kind of a big chain or big store – kind of like Kmart – back in the day, called the Big A where you’d walk into this big giant A. This is all in Southern California.

Steve Silverman: And this was in advertising he was doing?

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, yeah. He and he got into advertising. In around 1965 or 6, he got a job through a mutual friend of his at Max Factor, the cosmetics company, and he stayed there for probably a good, I think, 8 to 10 years before they sold out to Revlon and then he started his own printing company.

Steve Silverman: Did he do the printing until he retired?

Leigh Rubin: He did stay there. We moved actually from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley and he started his own printing company and it was a family business. So, my mom, sister, brother and I all worked there and I worked there for 21 years and my brother kind of came and went and then he did come back for a while and my sister went off to do her thing. But yeah, he did retire in the 90s after selling that. Actually, I retired in the 90s after it was of the act of God, the big Northridge earthquake kind of put an end to the freeways so I couldn’t get to work anymore. Which was fine because I was phasing out of that out anyway.

Steve Silverman: So, like me, your Jewish.

Leigh Rubin: Right.

Steve Silverman: Were your parents religious?

Leigh Rubin: My father became a little more practicing during like the high holy days. You know, we did Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hanukah were the big three. And Hanukah isn’t technically not even supposed to be all that important, but you know, that’s where all the fun gifts are and you get the play with the dreidel and eat potato pancakes. And my mom was raised much more religiously. She and her family emigrated from Eastern Europe. You know with that I am met my great-grandmother and I was quite young but, you know, from Lithuania, Russia area and emigrated. You know, it was the typical Fiddler on the Roof story. Very similar to that.

Steve Silverman: Yeah. We had spoken a few weeks ago it was amazing how, you know, our histories are so similar. And it is very typical of what the Jewish people did. You know, they were basically forced out of your Russia and Europe and most of them ended up, somehow, in United States.

Leigh Rubin: It’s funny, my grandma, Grandma Rose. She was… She passed away when I was probably 7 or 8, but she spoke with the typical hello dahling, you know that kind of an accent and smoked and drank Schnapps and apparently was the quite the funny person and, apparently, my mom had told me this, that she had one of those amazing memories where she could, I guess, around in the garment district of New York, she could, she would see these nice designer clothes and just duplicate them mentally and then go copy that. So the story, the family legend is people knew she was coming around they would like take the stuff out of the window. So that she wouldn’t be able to copy it.

Steve Silverman: You know what’s interesting is that my grandfather, he just passed away a few years ago. He was 108 years old.

Leigh Rubin: Wow.

Steve Silverman: And, what’s really surprising, is I didn’t know, I mean it never really occurred to me because my great-grandmother died when I was very young, that she never spoke English. They spoke Yiddish and I never knew until my grandfather was probably over 100 years old that he spoke Yiddish. I had never heard him speak a word of it ever.

Leigh Rubin: Wow.

Steve Silverman: He was totally assimilated into the US. You know, he wore American flag on his shirt or lapel or whatever at all times and was just so proud to be an American. I never knew that he spoke Yiddish.

Leigh Rubin: Wow. And did you ever ask him about it afterwards? I mean, did he did you ever speak Yiddish to?

Steve Silverman: Never. I mean I think of both of us are pretty typical of a lot of Jews in this country that we are very assimilated into society. It is just odd. Yesterday at work someone wish me a Happy Passover and I said, “When’s Passover?” and she goes “Oh, it’s tomorrow,” and as was like “Oh, okay.” A lot of times my wife will have to tell me when Hanukkah is. I’m not really, I don’t really keep track of that stuff. It’s just not a part of my life.

Leigh Rubin: My brother tends to keep a little, well he’s not super religious about it and I knew it was Passover because I dug up a very old Passover cartoon of how to do gefilte fish and I posted on Facebook today. And apparently it’s going over quite well, So, it’s pretty, pretty funny cartoon I did 31 years ago.

Gefilte fish cartoon that Leigh Rubin mentioned during our discussion. (Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin –
https://www.rubescartoons.com

Steve Silverman: I have to check that one out. I think there’s a lot of people who don’t know what gefilte fish is. To me it’s just looks like white turds. That’s a whole other story.

Leigh Rubin: No, I’ve heard it described the same way lately. Yeah. It’s not bad. Some people find it distasteful. I just have pleasant memories of Passover with my family.

Steve Silverman: My parents, when I was a little kid they celebrated but they moved out of New York City when I was like seven or eight years old and after that I think maybe did it once or twice after and that was about it. I think without the family around there really wasn’t much need to do it. You know.

Leigh Rubin: Sure.

Steve Silverman: So, let’s talk about your parents on the show.

Leigh Rubin: Sure.

Steve Silverman: So, your parents were on the show Bride and Groom and it originally started as a radio show. It started on November 26, 1945 and ran on radio through September 15, 1950. And what I found out is that about a thousand couples were married on that radio show. That’s kind of incredible.

Leigh Rubin: That is.

Steve Silverman: It’s like early reality TV but on radio.

Leigh Rubin: Including Dick Van Dyke was one of those married on radio.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, I found that out. I was quite surprised by that. Well the show then switched to TV during the 1950-51 season with and it was on CBS and then eventually moved to NBC. Looking back, I know that there were a lot of shows like this, but the show was only 15 minutes long, where today you would never find a show less than a half-hour.

Leigh Rubin: That was 15 minutes including commercials.

Steve Silverman: Yeah. I counted up the show that your parents were on 2 minutes and 41 seconds of it. That’s almost 3 minutes of the 15 minutes was just for the advertisement for the napkin sponsor.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. Hudson Rainbow Napkins. Which I find hilarious and are looking at these beautiful napkins in these colors, yet it’s in black-and-white.

Steve Silverman: Right. And I like to they put like a green fern to imply that it was green. So, it’s pretty funny they couldn’t show the colors so they put something down on the napkins to indicate what the color would be.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. It’s great. This was wonderful.

Click on the YouTube video above to see the complete Bride and Groom episode of Stanley and Natalie Rubin’s wedding.

Steve Silverman: So normally I have a separate Retrosponsor, but since it was already built into the show here is an ad for Hudson paper napkins.

John Nelson (Bride and Groom Host): Right now I’d like to remind you, however, that if your Halloween is only a few days away and so if you’re planning a Halloween party for yourself or for the kids, why not make your table center a flower piece jack-o’-lantern and serve Halloween rounds: black-and-white sandwiches made with cream cheese and olives, devil’s food cupcakes decorated with gumdrops and, of course, Hudson Rainbow Napkins to make your table a riot of color. You get three gay colors in every box: daffodil yellow, party pink is as fresh and lovely as a rose, and misty green as delicate as any table group. You’ll be amazed at the gaiety and charm these soft, colorful napkins make on your party table. So anytime you want add a colorful note to your table, get economical Hudson Rainbow Napkins in the pink and blue box. They’re at your grocer’s today. Hudson Rainbow Napkins.

Steve Silverman: The interesting thing is that at that point everyone was still using cloth napkins. It was very hard to convince people to use paper napkins and that’s why Hudson took these ads to get people to use their product. I’m not sure if they’re still made or not. I could really find anything around. I think the paper company is still around, but I’m not sure they make napkins anymore.

Leigh Rubin: Right.

Steve Silverman: So, do you know why your parents wrote into the show? Do you have any idea?

Leigh Rubin: You know, I was speaking with my brother about this and I think he said it was at the suggestion of my grandfather. You know, my dad’s side, and he suggested writing in and, if this is accurate, he may have helped them write or craft the letter that got them to get. He was a very good writer. I think he graduated from City College of New York. You know magna cum laude and, whatever. He was a smart guy and he suggested that maybe he saw something, a notice in the paper. They must add a TV.

Steve Silverman: Yeah that’s true. Although my grandfather at that time, the one passed away recently, he did have a TV store for a while. You know, people would stand out on the street and watch the TV’s. They’d all gather around the TVs that were in the window of the store and watch it from there because most people didn’t have TVs in their homes. They were very, very expensive.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. Yeah. In fact, my grandparents lived in Hicksville, New York, and they had one of those, I think was one of those Levittown type homes and the TV was built into the wall. Because I remembered seeing that. It was kind of neat when I was a little kid.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. So, your mother wrote into the show and do you know what was their rationale for doing? Were they looking for fame, the gifts, or just kind of for fun?

Leigh Rubin: I think it was just for fun. I mean they were pretty cool like that. I mean just as an aside, you know a little bit, kind of a fun adventure and TV was a new thing and my dad was into advertising. And, just as a little bit later, one day in the 50s, after they were married, they both got fired the same day or lost their jobs the same day, I don’t recall and you know what they did? They just went on a road trip and drove to Denver. This is before the early days of the highway system. I think it’s pretty fun. That’s kind of adventurous for back in the day.

Steve Silverman: That’s pretty amazing. I’d be freaking out. You know, what are we going to do for money? You know…

Leigh Rubin: They just figure it out. They didn’t have a ton of money, either. I mean I know that.

Steve Silverman: I know that she mom writes into the show, and I assume that initially there chosen for the show but then they receive a call from the producer and what did the producer say?

Leigh Rubin: Apparently they got a call from the producer of the show and there was some issue about them being Jewish and married on television and my mother had called her rabbi at the time and somehow they worked this out so was, so it became this historical moment in American television where they became the first Jewish couple ever to be married on national television.

Steve Silverman: So I want to play a clip of them getting married on TV. It runs about 3-1/2 minutes or so, which is probably one of the shortest marriage ceremonies ever. And let’s take a listen:

Rabbi: Stanley H. Ruben. Do you of your own free will and consent take Natalie R. Leipmann to be your wife? And do you promise to love, honor, cherish her throughout life? If so, answer yes.

Stan Ruben: Yes.

Rabbi: Natalie R. Leipmann. Do you of your own free will and consent take Stanley H. Ruben to be your husband and do you promise to love, honor, and cherish him through life? If so, answer yes.

Natalie Leipmann: Yes.

Rabbi: Stanley, you will place this ring upon her finger and repeat the words after me. Harei at mekudeshet li

Stan Ruben: Harei at mekudeshet li

Rabbi: b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.

Stan Ruben: b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.

Rabbi: Which means, that by means of that symbolic ring, is she consecrated unto you as your lawfully wedding wife according to the law of Moses and the custom in Israel. And you will place this ring upon his finger and repeat the words after me. Behold

Natalie Leipmann: Behold

Rabbi: By this ring

Natalie Leipmann: By this ring

Rabbi: Art thou consecrated unto me

Natalie Leipmann: Art thou consecrated unto me

Rabbi: As my lawfully wedded husband

Natalie Leipmann: As my lawfully wedded husband

Rabbi: According to the law of Moses and the custom in Israel.

Natalie Leipmann: According to the law of Moses and the custom in Israel.

Rabbi: And now that you have spoken the words and performed the rights which unite your lives, I do hereby in conformity with the faith of Israel and the laws of our state declare your marriage to be valid and binding. And I pronounce you Stanley H. Ruben and you Natalie R. Leipmann, to be husband and wife before God and man and may our heavenly father deny unto you and shelter you in all your ways. [Hebrew prayer] May God bless you and may he keep you. May God call the light of his countenance to shine upon you. May he be gracious unto you. May god lift up the light of his favor upon you and may he grant you peace.

Stan and Natalie Rubin on their wedding day on the set of Bride and Groom on their wedding day.
Stan and Natalie Rubin on their wedding day on the set of Bride and Groom on their wedding day. (Photo courtesy of Leigh Rubin.)

Steve Silverman: My wife said that your parents were both very attractive. They were perfect for TV, but she also noticed, and I actually noticed this also, that your father was the less religious person and your father recited his lines in Hebrew and your mom, who was very religious or brought up to be religious, she saying her lines in English. I thought that was kind of unusual.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, and it was funny because when my mom did go to temple it was like men on one side and women on the other side. My dad hadn’t, so my dad… Really that’s the only time I can recall him ever seeing him speak Hebrew. So, there you go. It’s kinda funny how that how that worked out.

Steve Silverman: Like when I was bar mitzvahed, everything was in Hebrew, but I had no idea what I was saying and looking back, I wish I did.

Leigh Rubin: I feel exactly the same way.

Steve Silverman: Did they really marry on the show or was this just a reenactment?

Leigh Rubin: No, this was their real marriage. That was it. Right on the show. You watched it and you were there, sort of, you know, 60-odd years later.

Steve Silverman: What was interesting, I thought, was that the radio show was done in California, but this was actually filmed in New York. Am I correct?

Leigh Rubin: That was CBS Studios in New York. Yeah, yeah it is. And thank your wife because they really were a gorgeous couple.

Steve Silverman: It’s odd. I look at pictures of my parents when they were young. I am like wow!, they are pretty good looking. But you know, I only really remember them as being much older and you know time has its now takes its effect on you. It takes its toll on people, you know. On the show, your mother mentioned that she was ill and was in the hospital when your parents met. Do you know what she was ill with?

Leigh Rubin: Wow, I sure don’t. I do not know. I would probably have to ask my brother. I don’t even know if he knows.

Steve Silverman: So let’s listen to a clip where they describe how they met and discuss Natalie’s stay in the hospital.

John Nelson: Tell me just how did this romance begin, Natalie?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, my cousin was overseas with the Signal Corp in Europe during the last war. He sent a snapshot home of himself and his buddy. I remarked in my letter to him about his buddy and several weeks later I received a letter from this boy Stan Rubin who lived in the neighborhood. We corresponded for over a year and he came home.

John Nelson: Stan, I imagine that you were pretty anxious to meet this very pretty Natalie.

Stan Rubin: Yes, I was. When I got home, I did call her up and found she had a steady beau, so she didn’t offer me much encouragement. I finally did get to see her when some friend told me she was ill in hospital.

John Nelson: Oh, my.

Natalie Leipmann: Well, he came to see me and brought me a box of candy and a bouquet of red roses.

John Nelson: Very thoughtful, Stan. Did that create the impression you wanted?

Stan Rubin: Well, I’m afraid not John. She was too ill to eat the candy so I ate it and the flowers gave her rose fever.

Steve Silverman: So, your mom mentioned on the show that she had a cousin who was in World War II overseas and she received a picture from him and there was another guy in the picture who happen to be your dad. Am I understanding that correctly? That’s how they met?

Leigh Rubin: I believe that is correct. I think it was her cousin. I don’t recall his name, but so family legend has it.

Steve Silverman: But she does mention on the show that she had another beau with at time. Do you know if it was a serious relationship or just kind of a boyfriend kind of thing?

Leigh Rubin: Well, I know that before my dad she was, she did date a guy that was in the trucking industry and had, I guess was fairly well off but she just didn’t love the guy so she married for love and not money.

Steve Silverman: That’s good to know. So let’s listen to one more clip from Bride and Groom where they discussed their first date.

John Nelson: Stan, what did you think when you finally saw Natalie in person?

Stan Rubin: I was surprised to see that she had grown up to be such a lovely girl.

John Nelson: And, Natalie how did you feel about Stan?

Natalie Leipmann: Well he was exactly what I expected from his letters. He came to see me all the time that I was ill. When I was better, he took me out on our first date.

John Nelson: And what did you do on his first date?

Natalie Leipmann: We went dancing and I remarked that he was a wonderful dancer. He said that this was due to the fact that he had gone to dancing school when he was a little boy. We compared notes and we found out that we both went to the same dancing school.

John Nelson: You mean you and Stan were friends as children and you had forgotten about him?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, I knew him, but he didn’t know me. He was eleven and he was a big man and I was a little girl, only six at the time. He moved out of the neighborhood and out of my life by four and I was heartbroken.

John Nelson: Oh, my. Would you say that your first date was a success?

Natalie Leipmann: Oh, definitely. I liked him right away.

John Nelson: Did you think he was pretty romantic?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, he didn’t rush me. He was very wonderful and…

John Nelson: What did he do the first evening he said good night?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, he shook hands the first evening, but he kissed me on our second date.

John Nelson: Stan, when did you realize that you are beginning to fall in love with Natalie?

Stan Rubin: I guess it was just after that first date, John. We knew that someday I believe that we would be married.

John Nelson: Natalie do you remember, speaking of being married, what Stan said when he proposed?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, Stan’s a man of action but few words. He didn’t actually propose. He asked my mother if he could marry me. She consented. They chose an engagement ring and, together with his parents, they planned a surprise engagement party, which was exactly what I wanted.

John Nelson: A surprise on you.

Natalie and Stan Rubin on their wedding day. (Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin.)

Steve Silverman: On the show your mom said the of father proposed by asking your grandmother and then arranging a surprise with your dad’s parents, but she doesn’t mention your maternal grandfather. Was he still alive at the time or had he passed on?

Leigh Rubin: He had passed on in 1950.

Steve Silverman: Okay, so he was recently deceased at that point then.

Leigh Rubin: He was, right. Yes. I have heard nothing but great things about him. I have some fantastic from him. He served in World War I and then he worked for customs in New York City for quite a few years. I was I never had a chance to meet him. I did meet my maternal grandmother and both my grandparents on my dad side.

John Nelson: Phil, what’s the name of the love song that’s Natalie and Stan have asked you to sing?

Phil Hanna: John, they’ve asked for new song. One that is most appropriate for this occasion, The Promise of Our Wedding Day.
John Nelson: Now as our bride and groom leave for the ceremony Phil Hanna sings their love song. [Song is played in the audio.]

Steve Silverman: So, the song they chose was The Promise of Our Wedding Day. Not exactly a classic, if you ask me. I don’t ever heard it before or since. Did they really choose that song or was a basically chosen for them?

Leigh Rubin: You know, this is one of those things I have no idea. I’d never heard that song either, before. I have no clue where that came from. Maybe this was a standard thing on Bride and Groom. You know, we know the guy that wrote it. Let’s give him, let’s throw some royalties his way. I have no idea.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, that was kind my impression that every episode they had a new song and they are trying to promote one. Maybe their hope was that one of them would become a hit at some point, you know.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, get some staff writer in there and make little extra money. I don’t know. You know, I don’t know. It is TV it is, to me, this is… This is what. It’s as real as it gets and their marriage lasted until 2015 when they both passed in 15 toward the end. So, I mean that was a lot better than some of these other more modern TV marriages.

Steve Silverman: Certainly. Well, the interesting thing is that a lot of people went on the show because of the prizes. I mean, they gave everybody a free car, they gave them a honeymoon, they gave them things like refrigerators and stoves and TVs which were brand-new and crazy expensive. So, they were given all these things. I mean, you’re starting out in life you don’t have any of these so it’s a good way to just get going in life. You know.

Leigh Rubin: You know they didn’t get to keep the car. That was used to go to the Grossinger.

Steve Silverman: Wow. You’d never know that from the… I mean I watched a bunch of these besides your parents. You’d never know that. You think they actually won the car.

John Nelson: And then here come our bride and groom. Congratulations Stan.

Stan Rubin: Thank you.

John Nelson: You’re a lovely, lovely bride, Natalie. We have some things we think you like that will make your home a little nicer. When start right out in the kitchen with a wonderful gift, this gleaming and shiny new Tappan gas range. Stan, you won’t have to pick to see what’s cooking because it has the famous window in the oven door and the tell your set time and temperature guide in many other exclusive Tappan features.

Phil Hanna: And for your table, a complete service of four of Gorham Sterling Silver. The Greenbrier pattern that you chose is just one of the many elegant designs created by Gorham since 1831.

John Nelson: I will always travel in style with this nationally famous Samsonite luggage. You’ll find Samsonite as roomy and durable, as well as ultra-smart in appearance.

Phil Hanna: And there’s at least a hundred uses for this Sew-Gem sewing machine which features Suzie, the right-hand miracle stitcher. When friends admire your wardrobe and home accessories, you’ll say thanks to Suzie at Sew-Gem.

John Nelson: And over here a full year’s supply of our sponsor’s four wonderful Hudson napkins. Hudson rainbow napkins to add for colorful notes or a colorful note to your table settings, Hudson guest napkins for special occasions, Hudson Demask napkins for your dressiest parties and the famous Hudson table napkins to keep your family’s close cleaner every day. All four Hudson paper napkins to dress up your table to cut down on your work Natalie.

Phil Hanna: And here is a handsome Spartan stop 17-inch table model television set. And it will bring you many fine hours of entertainment because Spartan stabilized drift lock control assures the clearest, steadiest picture that you’ve ever seen.

John Nelson: And we’ve also planned an exciting honeymoon for you two. One that I just know that you’re going to enjoy and remember always. You’ll drive in a luxury 4-door Pontiac Chieftain to the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York to the Grossinger Hotel and Country Club where you will be guests of owner Jenny Grossinger. This fabulous 700-acre resort has an 18-hole golf course, as well as a tremendous artificial ice-skating rink and there’s an ice carnival every weekend, too. Their world-famous slogan “Grossinger’s has Everything” becomes a reality there with dancing, fishing, boating, riding, tennis, and many other diversions at your disposal. You enjoy hiking and driving through the surrounding Catskill Mountains was splendid fall colors. I know you’ll have a wonderfully happy honeymoon at Grossingers and, as a matter fact, it will be the perfect spot to celebrate your wedding anniversaries in the years to come.

Steve Silverman: Do you know if any the prizes still exist?

Leigh Rubin: Yes, they do. They had this incredibly durable Samsonite card table with the four chairs that you’d see. That green. That 1950s green kind of top on it and those chairs last forever. And, in fact, I think at one point some of the legs became a little wobbly, but it was the typical square folding table and, I mean, we grew up with it and had it. My sister actually may still have that.

Steve Silverman: They were getting Keepsake wedding rings.

John Nelson: These beautiful Keepsake matched wedding rings set to preserve the memory of this very precious moment. Keepsake are yours to cherish as long as the wedding vows are kept.

Steve Silverman: Did they wear them for the remainder of their lives or did they go out and buy new ones?

Leigh Rubin: No, they did and they were real and I’m actually wearing my dad’s wedding ring that is shown in the video. I have it on my right hand.

Steve Silverman: I was trying to figure out from the later news segment as to whether or not they were still the same rings. Because they focused on their hand, you know, they were holding hands and I could see the rings but I couldn’t see clear enough to find out they were the rings from the show. So I guess they were?

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. Yeah. Just a very simple gold band and I’ve always kind of treasured it. I got it, you know my sister was in charge of that and I said, do you mind if I hang onto that. So, I’ve worn it pretty much ever since he passed.

Image Caption: BRIDE AND GROOM… After taking their vows on the “Bride and Groom” television show on C.B.S.-TV, Stanley Rubin (left) and his pretty bride spent their honeymoon at Grossinger’s. Here, the couple accept congratulations from Paul Grossinger. (From the Grossinger News. Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin.)

Steve Silverman: I did notice that their honeymoon was at Grossinger’s Hotel and Country Club, which, oddly, I grew up not too far from that. Now the interesting thing is that I went through a whole bunch of the shows are posted on YouTube and archive.org and no one else was sent to Grossinger’s. They were all sent to the Poconos and places like that. Now Grossingers happened to have been a kosher Jewish hotel. Did your parents choose that or did the producers of the show choose that.

Leigh Rubin: That’s a good question and I’m just going to guess that it had to do that they were Jewish and that was a Jewish one of those places. They make reference to not maybe not Grossinger or maybe maybe they do do Grossinger’s on the Marvelous Mrs. Meisel. You know, where these were because there was obviously anti-Semitism and there was certainly only exclusionary rules that that barred people of color and religion from even going to some of these places, so they started their own. Or, Grossinger did and I know there were other ones. There’s a wonderful documentary on one of these places. I can’t remember the name of it on Amazon now. The last one.

Steve Silverman: Kutshers you’re talking about.

Leigh Rubin: Yes, yes. It was very, really informative.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, I watch that with my wife. I grew probably about 10 miles from Kutshers and I wouldn’t say I had been there a lot. The hotel I went to the most was the Concord hotel, but none of them exist anymore. I mean Kutshers is now shut down. Grossingers recently, in the last year they basically ripped the whole thing down. It was sitting, probably since the mid-1980s, abandoned, which is kind of sad. It was, when you drove into the town to Liberty, New York it’s sat up on this hill. You could see these buildings from miles away and they just, I mean just rotting away. And, it was very sad. There was always talk about them renovating them and reopening the hotel but it just never happened.

Leigh Rubin: Well, it’s a very expensive proposition. But how cool would it be? And it’s nice that there some of it still documented. My dad collected swizzle sticks. And he still he had those and I think my sister has those now from the Grossinger.

Steve Silverman: My brother collects a lot of the old hotel stuff. He still lives down there, so he has more of a connection than I do.

Leigh Rubin: Sure.

Steve Silverman: Did your parents keep kosher or not?

Leigh Rubin: No. No. That was pretty much my great-grandmother on my mom’s side that did that, but no they didn’t. We were typical children of the late 50s into the 60s. Great food though. My mom was a wonderful cook and we, you know that’s when families pretty much eight dinner together.

Steve Silverman: You’re lucky because, I mean I love my mom, but she was the worst cook. She always joked that she could burn water.

Leigh Rubin: I can’t say that about my mom.

Colorized photograph of Stan and Natalie Rubin at CBS Studios on their wedding day.

Steve Silverman: Well, I mean all those hotels are gone and I saw a comment that it was really the three A’s that shut them down: one was aircraft to fly anywhere, you didn’t need to go to the Catskills. The second was air-conditioned. By having air conditioning, you could now go to places you couldn’t before and those hotels certainly weren’t air-conditioned. And the third was that Jewish people just assimilated into society. So, it was aircraft, air conditioning and assimilation that brought the end of the Catskills.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, probably all the you know the civil rights laws and all that you know people just go where they want to go.

Steve Silverman: Sure.

Leigh Rubin: I mean my parents did drive down to Florida in the 50s and I won’t repeat what the sign said here, but some of them were not very kind to people of color or Jews.

Steve Silverman: So, a news clip was broadcast sixty-three years after their wedding and they died after that within a short period. Were either them ill when there on that show the time?

Leigh Rubin: My mother had COPD. Probably from the Northridge earthquake. Picked up a lot of dust and both of my parents got Valley fever. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that.

Steve Silverman: I’m not.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, it sucks. It’s a spore. You might want to look that up to see that I’m get that correct, that gets kicked up. It’s in the ground it’s fine, but when it gets kicked up and people bring it in, it gets into your lungs. And it can be deadly. My mom never smoked a day in her life and then she got COPD and, you know, she had to be on oxygen more and more, and toward the end all the time.

Steve Silverman: And how long did she suffer from that?

Leigh Rubin: For quite a few years, but it got progressively worse.

Steve Silverman: Right. Because on the show, on the interview that she did she sounds perfectly fine.

Click on the YouTube video above to watch the interview that the Stan and Natalie Rubin did with Cody Stark in 2014.

Announcer 1: Well, a local couple is remembering their very special wedding ceremony. They tied the knot on a CBS show back in the 50s.

Announcer 2: Cody Stark with their unique nuptials and why the wedding almost didn’t happen.

Cody Stark: You know that couple is see at the mall and they been together forever, but there still holding hands? Well, this is that couple.


Natalie Leipmann (2014): People stop us all the time. They think it’s so cute.

Cody Stark: They were married on the CBS show sixty-three years ago called Bride and Groom hosted by fellow named John Nelson.

John Nelson: Theirs is a romance that is as delightful as a fairytale. And after we’ve heard them tell their story, will be guests at their wedding. And I want to remind you of the fact that all of this is brought to you by my good friends, the makers of these wonderful Hudson paper napkins.

Stan Rubin (2014): The reason we got on the show is that they asked us to write a love story and how you met.

Cody Stark: And how they met was quite a tale. They were introduced by one of his army buddies, which was one of her relatives, but they actually met years before when they were kids.

Natalie Leipmann (1951): We compared notes and we found out that we both went to the same dancing school.

John Nelson (1951): You mean you and Stan were friends as children and had forgotten about it?

Natalie Leipmann (1951): Well, I knew him, but he didn’t know me.

Cody Stark: The thing is, the perfect couple with the perfect story on the wedding show almost didn’t happen and not because they are cold feet, but because they were Jewish. The producers call them at the last minute to tell them.

Stan Rubin (2014): That’s when they said that Jewish people couldn’t be, wouldn’t be allowed on it.

Natalie Leipmann Rubin (2014): Well, my Rabbi pushed for it and got us on the program.

Cody Stark: After the controversy was cleared up, they had a lovely TV wedding, the rabbi, the chuppa, of course a smooch. And don’t forget those lovely parting gifts like a TV and some luggage. The key to such a long and loving relationship can probably be found between Natalie then and now.

Natalie Leipmann (1951): Whatever Stan wants is what I want most. I want to do anything that he wants always.

Natalie Leipmann Rubin (2014): You just agree, don’t argue, just say yes, and then do what you want anyhow.

Announcer (1951): This is the CBS television network.

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

 

The Coal Mountain Casanova

Back in 1952, a man named Jesse L. Garrett of Scott Depot, West Virginia, was watching Groucho Marx on television. The comedian was interviewing a woman who had previously appeared on his show and later married one of the men who had seen her on the air at the time. Garrett said, “I thought if a woman could do it, so could a man.” 

So, in June of 1952 he wrote to the editor of the Rockport Democrat in Indiana and expressed his interest in advertising in the newspaper for a wife. He was very particular in what he was looking for: he expressed a preference for a Midwestern woman, and one who would make for “an intellectual wife, companion and mother of my two sons.” He felt that “A woman from a rural community would be more like my way of thinking.”  

Jesse preferred “a farm woman of good standing… A woman with some financial backing so that life would not be uneven and our social standings would be about the same.” 

He added, “I prefer a woman about 135 pounds, a little more or less, and between the ages of 35 and 45.” He also insisted that she be a good cook. “No others need apply.” 

Garrett explained that he picked the Rockport newspaper for the advertisement because he had once lived there. He was a thin, balding, 49-year-old man who stood 6-feet, 2-inches tall (188 cm) and described himself as “not bad to look at, love any kind of fun, have a fair education and am at home in hogpen or in a mansion’s drawing room.” 

He had left Indiana years earlier. “I hitchhiked out of there one winter day with only 49-cents in my pocket, vowing that I might starve to death, but I wasn’t going to freeze. I headed south, and when I got to Belle and saw the DuPont plant there, I went in, told them I was broke, and they gave me a job.” 

He saved up his money and eventually had enough to open a grocery store on US Route 60 near St. Albans, West Virginia. The store was named after his ex-wife Georgie, who he had recently divorced on March 14, 1951 after 14-years of marriage.  Shortly after the divorce, the store was sold and Jesse Garrett officially became a retired man. 

But he was not without an income or assets. Rentals of houses that he owned provided Jesse with a steady income and he claimed to be worth in excess of $28,000, which would be more than a quarter of a million dollars today when adjusted for inflation. 

As he embarked on this journey to find Ms. Right, Jesse was certain to carry his divorce papers with him to prove to his prospective bride that he wasn’t to blame for the breakup of his first marriage. He insisted that his next wife would need the approval of his two sons, 10-year-old Jimmy and 11-year old Jesse, Jr., for whom he had been granted full custody. They were quoted in the press as stating, “We don’t want a fat mama.” 

Jessie Garrett looking at one his many replies with his sons James, Jr. (left) and Jimmie (right). Image appeared on page 7 of the June 18, 1952 publication of the Salisbury Daily Times.

This story of a hometown boy who made it good was soon making headlines from coast-to-coast. Responses began to pour in. “I received between 3,100 and 3,300 letters, phone calls, and telegrams. A few were from men who wanted me to help them find a wife, but all the rest were from women. I got letters from women in London, Mexico, Guadalcanal, Canada, and about every state in this country.”   

Jesse was shocked by how many lonely women there were. “I had no expectation I would get the response I did. I was dumbfounded and mortified to learn that there were so many women who want husbands.”  

The press caught up with the ex-Mrs. Garrett and she made it clear that Jesse was no bargain, even with all the money that he claimed to have. Georgie didn’t elaborate, but her warning message to all of the women out there was perfectly clear. She did state, “I’m not sure about his exact age.” Noting that he lacked a birth certificate, she added, “I know he was 49 for a year or two while he and I were married.” My calculations indicate that he was really a couple of months shy of his 54th birthday at the time. 

Just for the record, the former Georgie Garrett was 32-years-old, weighed 100 pounds (45 kg) and stood 59-1/2” (151 cm) tall. In other words, the boys didn’t have a fat mama.  

With thousands of women expressing interest in a possible marriage, Jesse began the process of selecting the bride-to-be. He did express disappointment that only one woman from Rockport had contacted him, but she was quickly knocked out of the running. 

“About 65 per cent of them are sincere and the rest are mercenary. I found six of them interesting and am arranging to interview them. I would like to be married in the next three or four days, and I see no reason why I won’t.” 

Many women went out of their way to catch Jesse’s interest. Some sent photographs of themselves in bathing suits, of their children, their homes, their cars, and more. He said that he wasn’t interested in women who sexually teased him or those from Canada who wrote in French. Even a woman worth $2,500,000 didn’t make the cut. 

Here is a sampling of some of the correspondence that he received: 

A woman in Indiana wrote, “I’m babbling like a little, old West Virginia Brook at the thought of marrying you.” Jesse’s sarcastic response was, “I bet she is – what does she know about a West Virginia Brook anyway?” 

“How about letting a Texas gal enter the competition? I assure you that I am no unattractive old hag. I weigh 130 but could reduce some, of course.” 

Another from Indianapolis said, “I was reared on a farm but am citified now. I am a good-looker and I don’t pat myself on the back either.” 

A telegram from Lubbock, Texas was short and to the point. “If decision not made, contact 128-pound vision of loveliness.”  

Then there was a 29-year-old Wisconsin woman who penned, “I know you want a woman who would be responsive to you, gentle yet warm and exciting. Someone who would welcome you with warm lips and arms. You sound like quite a man – six foot two – just right for me as I’m five foot eight. If you’re interested, I’ll come see you on my vacation, the first two weeks in July.” 

Clearly unhappy with some of Jesse’s female specifications, a lady from Minnesota wrote, “Don’t forget, you’re not buying a horse or cow. And listen, boy, you’re no spring chicken yourself. 

Dozens of others who were anxious to meet Jesse called a nearby store, one of the few places with a telephone. About one dozen showed up at the local post office, one woman said that she would be there soon. “I will look for you Saturday, June 28, at 8 p.m. at the O. Henry Inn on Triplett Street. I will be wearing a green dress. You wear a brown suit so I’ll know you.” 

Not all were serious inquiries.  For example, here is one from Cleveland that was “writ by hand” on a paper bag. “I love children if you keep them away from me. I just lost four teeth in front and one of my eyes is crossed, but I can hoe taters, man.” 

Jesse interviewed twenty-six applicants and decided that Mrs. Maxine Berry, a 30-year-old redhead, would make the perfect wife and mother to his children. Unfortunately, she got cold feet and removed her name from his list of possibilities. 

On June 23rd, twelve days after Jesse’s story broke in the national news, date #25 announced that she had accepted Jesse’s proposal of marriage.  She was 33-year-old Mrs. Etta R. Crosbie, who worked in the classified ad department of the Elkhart Truth newspaper.  Mrs. Crosbie said that she had answered Garrett on a dare.   

Mrs. Etta R. Crosbie of Elkhart, Indiana with her daughter Karin on the left and son Quin on the right. Image appeared on page 12 of the June 26, 1952 issue of the Mount Vernon Register News.

Mrs. Crosbie said, “I know how to write a letter. I work on a newspaper and I know you’ve got to sell yourself. I even tore my picture in two. Anything to arouse interest.” She mentioned in the letter that this “is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever done.” 

Jesse told the press that prettier women were willing to marry him, “However, she is one of the sweetest and most sincere ladies I’ve ever met. She’ll be a real mother, and that’s what counts.” 

A brunette with hazel eyes, Mrs. Crosbie described herself as “thin, a sort of athletic build, 5 feet 7-½ inches tall, a 27-inch waist, quite good size bust, and small hips.” 

Etta had married her first husband, Rollo M. Crosbie in 1938. Sadly, he passed away on October 6, 1947 at the young age of 33.  She was alone to raise her two children, Quin and Karin, who were aged ten and five, respectively, at the time that she accepted Jesse Garrett’s proposal. 

She said, “The children think it’s fun and trust their mother’s judgment. Those who know me as a serious person cannot understand how I could do a thing like this, but I know it’s right.” 

And, yes, the two Garrett boys had a hand in choosing their soon-to-be stepmother.  “The boys were along when Mr. Garrett visited me a few days ago. I believe they decided I was O.K.”  In other words, Etta wasn’t going to be a fat mama. 

Jesse was quoted as stating, “She’s good looking and smart. She is a good mother, an efficient housewife, and competent in business affairs. She has held a good job as a newspaper ad-taker for eight years. She isn’t mercenary and is not a social climber. She is charming and gracious. She is an all-around good woman, a fine woman for any man to have around the house.” 

Etta R. Crosbie and Jesse L. Garrett with their children: Karin Crosbie (lower Right) and Jimmy Garrett, Quin Crosbie, and Jesse Garrett, Jr. (left to right in the back row). Image from the June 26, 1952 issue of the Cedar Rapids Gazette on page 30.

The plan was for the two to wed as soon as possible. Garrett said that they had an offer from WFMB, at the time the only television station in Indianapolis, to wed on the air. At first Mrs. Crosbie was game to the televised nuptials, but quickly cooled to the idea. 

The couple arrived at Garrett’s West Virginia home on Wednesday, June 25th. Etta stayed at Jesse’s house that evening while he stayed with friends. 

The issue as to where the couple would ultimately settle popped up quite a bit in the press.  Etta preferred to live in Indiana, stating, “The mountains make me think I’m smothering.” Jesse was initially a bit more open minded, “I could be happy with her no matter where we were,” but seemed to be leaning toward residing in West Virginia. 

On Friday the couple made their way to the Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, West Virginia to get their obligatory blood tests.  After that, they headed to the county courthouse to obtain a marriage license, but several legal difficulties prevented them from doing so. First, Etta was not a resident of the state.  Second, they were told that they would have to wait three days before they could wed. And, finally, they wished to be married by a justice of the peace, which was not permitted under West Virginia law. 

They were thinking of heading to Kentucky to marry, but for some unknown reason that plan fell through.   

Jesse said, “I’m determined to marry that woman if I have to go to the ends of the world.” 

By Tuesday the couple was back in Indiana, attempting to obtain a marriage license in Jeffersonville.  That didn’t work out, so the next day they were back in Rockport, but the county clerk there would not accept their West Virginia blood tests.  

The couple’s next stop was the nearby small town of English. The Justice of the Peace there, George Megenity, was willing to perform the ceremony, mainly because the deputy county clerk had failed to notice that their blood test was from out of state. 

Finally, on Wednesday, July 2, 1952 at 12:45 PM the couple became Mr. and Mrs. Jesse L. Garrett.  The wedding took place at the law office of Henry Mock with Mr. Mock and reporter John M. Flanigan acting as witnesses.  

The bride wore a yellow dress with a floral pattern on it and a white hat, gloves, and shoes. Due to the extreme heat of the day, the groom opted not to wear a jacket, but did put on a tie for the occasion. A five-diamond wedding band sealed the deal as all of the couple’s children looked on. 

From there, the newlyweds and their children left for a short honeymoon in Elkhart. After that, the plan was for them all to head back to the Garrett home in West Virginia.  

Where they were going to live permanently was still undecided.  Mrs. Garrett stated, “I am willing to do what is best for all concerned, but things are too indefinite now. I can’t say where we will live.”  Her new husband said that upon his return back home, “I will either dispose of my property or talk my wife into settling.” 

That was never to happen. One month later, on August 5th, it was revealed in the press that Etta never came back to West Virginia with Jesse. The total length of time that the two were married before they went their separate ways was two days and seven hours. Jesse blamed it on her refusal to move to West Virginia, but, while he never mentioned it, he clearly refused to live in Indiana. 

“I’ll probably divorce Etta. A lawyer friend told me I can go to Florida and get a divorce in six weeks. I might as well. You can’t keep a home going when your wife is 500 miles away.” 

Jesse obtained a lawyer and filed for divorce. Etta, in turn, filed a cross divorce complaint against him. The divorce was granted on March 22, 1953 and Jesse was ordered to pay Etta $40/month alimony.  That would be approximately $380/month today adjusted for inflation. 

From there, it appears that Jesse Garrett’s life seemed to spiral out of control. His supposed life savings seemed to vanish overnight. “The $28,000 just melted away… A whack here and a whack there.” He explained, “The money went quick. First, I spent what cash I had; then I spent what was set aside for my boys’ education; then I sold some notes I had; and I mortgaged my house. Now they’re foreclosing on me.” The reason his home was being foreclosed upon was that he had borrowed $3,500 from a Charleston loan company and was unable to repay the loan.  

On February 26, 1955, Domestic Relations Judge Herbert Richardson found Jesse to be in contempt of a court order by leaving the state without permission, disposing of personal property, and for refusing to make those mandatory $40/month alimony payments. 

As two process servers emerged from the courthouse, they spotted Jesse standing on a corner. Jesse refused to submit to arrest and snatched the handcuffs right out of the arresting officer’s hands. Next thing you know, a wrestling match broke out between the three men.  Two additional officers raced over from the courthouse and ended the scuffle.  As Jesse was being led off to jail, he blurted out, “Call the newspapers; call the newspapers!” 

It’s amazing what a few years can do.  Instead of boasting about what a great catch he was, he was now pointing out how poor and feeble he had become.  “My sister put me in business at Scott Depot. I get $20 a week and room and board for me and my two boys. That woman has an income of $420 a month. She’s 33 years old and I’m 52 and half blind. They want me to pay her $40 a month. I can’t and I won’t. Not a penny!”  

He added, “I guess I’ll just have to get me a couple of pistols and rob a bank somewhere.”   

Jesse stated, “I’ll stay in this jail until the bars rot off. I’m only making $20 a week and can’t afford to pay her.” 

Five days later, he posted bond and was released. His bondsman, Mark Wisman, must have had second thoughts and dropped his surety. Next thing you know, on Sunday March 13th, Jesse was right back in jail.  He was released the next day on a new surety. 

After that, Jesse vanished.  He was due back in court on March 21, 1955, but was a no show. In a registered letter that Jesse sent to the court from Nashville, he stated, “Please postpone my case for 30 days. There is serious illness here.” The judge wasn’t buying it and ordered Garrett’s arrest. Instead, the court was bombarded with letters and postcards that Jesse penned claiming everything from being framed to kidnapping to outright robbery. On September 25, 1955, Judge Richardson declared his bond forfeited and Jesse’s story was dropped from the headlines. I was unable to locate any further information on how this matter was resolved, so if anybody out there knows, please let me know. 

Birth certificate for Jesse Lee Garrett, Jr.

The next time that Jesse would be in the press again was on September 4, 1974, but it had nothing to do with his marriage to Etta Crosbie. This time, Jesse and his son Jesse, Jr. were arrested as part of a drug sting.  Basically, there were two men in Arizona who smuggled marijuana into the United States in 600-pound (272 kg) lots and once it was shipped to the East Coast, the Garretts and others would distribute it to West Virginia and Virginia. Jesse, Jr. was sentenced to five years in prison with just 270 days served and the remainder a combination of a suspended sentence and probation.  As for his dad, he told Judge K. K. Hall, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ll do whatever the district attorney tells me…”  Jesse, Sr. was sentenced to three years’ probation. 

Henrietta “Etta” Rems Crosbie passed away on January 8, 2008. She was 89-years-old. 

Jesse L. Garrett, Sr. passed away on July 15, 1980 at 81 years of age.  He is buried in the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Rockport, Indiana, the same city in which he was hoping to find Ms. Right. The epitaph on his tombstone reads, “We Miss You Dad, Jesse Jim.” 

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

Image of Jesse L. Garrett’s tombstone in the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Rockport, Indiana. Image from Find-A-Grave.
 

Salem Trade School Interview

About three years ago I recorded the podcast on the Salem Trade School. It’s a fantastic story. If you have never heard about the Salem Trade School before, I strongly encourage you to go back and listen to it. Here is the original episode:

Briefly, in the late 1920’s the Salem Trade School played football against many of the high schools around Salem, Massachusetts. They were awful, losing game-after-game, year-after-year. Then, they surprisingly won one game and it was discovered that the Salem Trade School was completely fictional.

The school really didn’t exist and it was soon learned that the team was basically a money-making scheme that had been put together by a man named Harold Burgess.  

A couple of months after I posted that episode, I received an email from a man named John Murphy, who’s dad had played on the team. John and I have spoken a number of times since the podcast was originally posted and I asked him if I could record our latest conversation and he graciously agreed.

Here is Part 1 of my interview with John Murphy where he discusses the Salem Trade School:

John was also involved in the initial launching of FIRST Robotics, where he worked with famed inventor Dean Kamen (Segway) for two years. In Part 2 of my interview with John, he discusses FIRST and how he became involved with it.

 

A Punishment That Went Horribly Wrong

The subject of today’s story is a young woman named Linda Marie Ault. Shortly after her graduation from Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona, 17-year-old Linda married Ronald Wayne Loomis on August 8, 1964. The marriage wouldn’t last.

Wedding photograph of Linda Marie Ault Loomis that appeared in the August 8, 1964 publication of the Arizona Daily Star on page 10.

In 1966, Linda moved back in with her parents, Dorothy and Joseph Ault, who had by this time had relocated to 4720 E. Beverly in Phoenix. It’s always difficult to know what really goes on behind closed doors, but various newspaper accounts piece together an image in which the Ault household became a generational battle between traditional, conservative parents and a liberal daughter who reached adulthood during the 1960’s sexual revolution.

Mrs. Ault blamed the failure of her daughter’s marriage mainly on the fact that Linda had been intimate with at least a half dozen men during that time period. Her promiscuity continued after moving back home and what Mrs. Ault referred to as “traditional” methods were used to avoid any chance of pregnancy. This included having Linda constantly walk upright for about a week. Another time she had to ride horseback for approximately one month.

Linda enrolled as a student at Arizona State University, but the Aults were having a very difficult time getting her to study. Instead, Linda increasingly worked on making herself more enticing to the opposite sex. At one point she was awarded a scholarship, but instead requested that she be allowed to use the money to purchase contact lenses so that she could ditch her cat’s eye style glasses.

During the spring of 1967, Linda called the police to report a domestic disturbance at the Ault house. Sheriff Deputy Jack Barnaby responded and witnessed “one of the most violent family fights I have ever seen.” He added that Mrs. Ault was “extremely belligerent and that she had threatened to commit suicide.”  After this incident Mrs. Ault underwent psychiatric treatment and was considered to be just fine.

Some ten months later, on the evening of Friday February 2, 1968, Linda left the house to go to a dance. When she didn’t return home that night, her parents became concerned and made a telephone call to one her friends who informed them that Linda had left the dance with a man. The Aults became frantic and spent the remainder of the night driving through the Tempe-Phoenix area searching for her car but were unsuccessful.

Linda walked back into the house at 9:30 the next morning with a big smile on her face. When asked to explain where she had been, Linda stated that she had spent an intimate night at the apartment of a Williams Air Force Base Lieutenant named Joseph Cunningham.

Linda argued that she was 21-years-old and that she could do as she pleased. This made her parents even more furious and they forced Linda to telephone Lieutenant Cunningham and tell him that he had to marry her. The plan was very simple: The two would head off to Las Vegas for a quickie marriage and should Linda eventually be found not to be expecting a child, the marriage could be annulled.

Lieutenant Cunningham agreed to come to the house to talk things over, but if he had any thought about talking himself out of the impending nuptials, he was mistaken. Mr. Ault decided that he needed some sort of forceful persuasion to make sure that the two really married. Shortly after the telephone conversation ended, he drove to a pawn shop and purchased a 22-caliber revolver. He stated, “The main reason I got the gun was to get the man to marry Linda.” He added, “If we could show him the gun he’ll take her to Las Vegas and marry her.”

That was never to happen. While Mr. Ault was out shopping for the weapon, Lieutenant Cunningham called back and told Mrs. Ault that he wouldn’t be coming to their house to discuss what happened because he was already married.

So much for the shotgun wedding idea…

For the next day-or-so the Aults continued to press their daughter to express remorse for what she had done, but Linda was not giving in. One of the first things that her parents did was to take her over to her college and force Linda to withdraw from her classes. This was followed by walking around the neighborhood and forcing her to remain standing on her feet all day Saturday in an effort to abort a possible pregnancy.

At one point Linda started “to run and wouldn’t listen to me,” so Mrs. Ault picked up a branch from a Mesquite tree and whacked her on the back of her head twice. Linda then ran to a nearby gas station at 4300 East Baseline and called the police for help. Responding officer K.A. Roberts later testified that he had observed a blood trail that started at the back of Linda’s head, ran down her neck, and then separated into a V-shaped pattern between her shoulders. Linda refused to sign a complaint against her mother and returned back home.

1960 photograph of the 8th Grade Class at Flowing Wells High School. Linda Marie Ault is in the back row, fourth in from the far right.

Later that evening, Mr. Ault discovered Linda with a dull butcher knife pointed toward her stomach claiming that she didn’t have the strength to kill herself. Dad commented, “Oh, you’re grandstanding again.” He grabbed the knife and hid it away to prevent any further harm. He also hid his newly purchased gun under his mattress, just in case she decided to try to use it to grab their attention with it once again.

By Sunday morning, Linda still had not expressed any remorse for her actions, so the parents decided that they had to teach her a valuable lesson. One that would be memorable. One that she would forever regret. One that would cause her to truly reflect on what she had done.

Their solution: Linda would have to kill her beloved dog Beauty, a black and white mongrel that she had owned for about two years. Mrs. Ault stated, “I told Linda that after all she put so many people through, and her not suffer, that maybe she would suffer over an animal.”

Shortly before 11 A.M., Linda walked with Beauty one last time to a spot about 500 feet (150 meters) on the desert floor behind their home. As Linda and Mrs. Ault took turns digging a grave to bury Beauty in, Mr. Ault fired the gun into a cactus to be certain that it operated properly.  He then loaded the revolver with 7 rounds and left the hammer on an empty chamber. “I told her to just pull the hammer back and trigger.”

At this point Mr. Ault walked about 50-feet (15 meters) to tie the couple’s other dog to a bush. Mrs. Ault then knelt down next to the grave that they had dug and held Beauty by her leash. She was looking down toward the dog but through the corner of her eye could see the barrel of the gun coming toward the dog. She said, “You have to put it right against her head.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Mrs. Ault could see Linda withdrawing the gun away from Beauty’s head and sensed that her daughter was hesitating on pulling the trigger.

And the… BOOM!

Mrs. Ault suddenly screamed, “My God, my God! She shot herself!”

Instead of shooting her dog, Linda had turned the gun toward her right temple and pulled the trigger.

“She’s shot herself! Baby, baby, help me!”

Mister Ault ran toward his daughter and carried her back to the house. Mrs. Ault dialed the operator in a frantic attempt to get an ambulance or the police, but time was ticking away fast.

Sheriff’s deputy Jack Barnaby arrived on the scene a short time later and cautiously entered the house with his gun ready. He had been the officer who had responded to that violent fight at the Ault home some ten months earlier, so he didn’t know what to expect. He found that no one was home.

That was because the Aults had made the decision to drive Linda directly to the Tempe Community Hospital themselves. Her condition was so grave that she was transferred her to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.

Sadly, she did not survive. Linda died the next morning on February 5, 1968. She was 21-years-old.

Mrs. Ault was quoted as saying, “I thought she was just stalling.” She continued, “I killed her, I killed her. It’s just like I killed her myself.”

This photograph of Linda Marie Ault appeared in newspapers across the country shortly after the news of her tragic death broke. From page 1 of the February 8, 1968 issue of the Fort Lauderdale News.

While the couple lived just outside the Phoenix city limits, the shooting took place within its boundaries. As a result, the couple was questioned by Phoenix police and were fully cooperative. Mr. Ault stated, “I handed her the gun. I didn’t think she would do anything like that.”

The press quickly picked up on the story about about the college sophomore who opted to take her life over that of her innocent dog. Suddenly, Mr. and Mrs. Ault were thrust into the national spotlight. When questioned by reporters, Mr. Ault replied, “We told the police and the Sheriff’s office everything. You can get it all from them.”

Two days later the Aults were testifying at a coroner’s inquest. The couple was questioned by Chief Deputy County Attorney Moise Berger, who asked Mrs. Ault, “Did you or did you not know that she was four days past her menstrual period and there was no possibility she was pregnant?”  Mrs. Ault replied that she was aware of that fact.

When asked why Linda agreed to calling and asking Lieutenant Cunningham to marry her, Mrs. Ault stated, “She finally understood there was more involved than just him and her in an act like that. You have responsibilities.”

Just before he left the witness stand, Mr. Ault asked to make a statement: “I don’t believe my daughter meant to kill herself. I don’t think she thought her father would load the gun, that he would let her shoot the dog.”

The hearing lasted approximately two hours and the jury of five men and one woman ruled that Linda had chosen to take her own life. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Joseph and Dorothy Ault waiting for the coroner’s inquest to begin. Page 1 image from the Arizona Republic on February 8, 1968.

One would think that would have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Attorney Berger said that there were still some unanswered questions and that the investigation would continue.

And that’s exactly what they did. At 5 P.M. on February 9th – 4 days after their daughter’s death – three sheriff’s deputies arrested the Aults at their home. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter and were held on $20,000 bond. Adjusted for inflation, that is approximately $143,000 each today. The couple both plead innocent to the charges, but should they ultimately be convicted, they were facing a sentence of 1 to 10 years in prison.

The rationale for the charges were that the couple were well aware that their daughter had attempted to take her own life with the kitchen knife the night before the shooting. By handing Linda a loaded gun the next day, the couple had broken Arizona law by knowingly assisting another person to commit suicide. Attorney Berger stated, “basically the facts show they were aware of their daughter’s emotional state and did give her a loaded gun. This does show a failure to exercise due caution under the circumstances.”

The Aults’ lawyer argued that their bond was excessively high. Mr. Ault had been a 20-year employee of the El Paso Natural Gas Company and both husband and wife had strong roots in the community. Neither could be considered flight risks, so bond was reduced to $2,500 each and they were released pending trial.

As if things weren’t bad enough for the Aults, on February 27th their 21-year-old son Howard Eugene, a Vietnam veteran, was sentenced to a term of one year to one year and a day in prison for forging a check on October 7, 1967. Surprisingly, the judge admitted that Howard’s chances for probation were weakened by the legal mess that his parents were in.

Just as the Aults’ trial was to begin on May 21st, Superior Court Judge William A. Holohan ruled that all of the testimony that the couple had given during that initial coroner’s inquest could not be introduced as evidence at their manslaughter trial. The rationale for this ruling was that the Aults had been advised by Justice of the Peace Stanley Kimball over the telephone that it wasn’t necessary for the couple to have an attorney at the inquest. Yet, they clearly should have had one.

After one-and-a-half days of testimony before a jury of five women and seven men, the prosecution rested its case. The defense then argued that the county had failed to prove that the couple was guilty of involuntary manslaughter and the judge agreed. He dismissed the jury and directed a verdict of acquittal.

While the Aults may have been cleared of any charges in a court of law, I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for them to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives. It’s an incredible burden to carry and not one that I would wish upon anyone.

I’ll conclude with a message of appreciation that appeared on page 44 of the February 15, 1968 publication of the Arizona Republic: “We wish to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the acts of kindness, messages of sympathy and the beautiful floral offerings received from our many friends in our time of sorrow in the loss of our beloved daughter and sister, Linda Marie Ault.  The Ault family”

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

 

Christmas Time in Santa Heim

Years ago while I was a freshman at the University at Buffalo, a few of my friends had a wee bit too much to drink one night and decided to go in search of a Christmas tree for our dorm suite. I awoke the next morning to find what could only be described as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Branches were few and far between, while their tree decorating was exactly what you would expect from a bunch of drunk teenage males. They used toilet paper as a substitute for garland, Playboy pictures hung from the branches, and empty beer cans were used as ornaments. I couldn’t help but laugh every time that I walked by it.

Today my wife and I own enough ornaments to decorate half-a-dozen Christmas trees, yet we only have one. My guess is that we are not alone in that respect, yet historically it was not always that way.

Prior to the late 1800’s, most Christmas trees in the United States were decorated with fruits, nuts, and paper ornaments. The introduction of glass ornaments to tree decorating can be traced back to the early 1800’s when glassblowers in Lauscha, Germany developed reflective panoramic balls intended for window and garden display. By the mid-1800’s, they had created smaller versions designed for use on Christmas trees. These early “kugels” were typically made in the shape of grapes, acorns, and mushrooms and were silvered on the inside with lead or zinc.  These evolved into the shiny, thin glass ornaments that we are so familiar with today.

Yet, these new glass ornaments were slow to catch on. In 1880, a man named Frank Winfield Woolworth – better known to the world as F.W. Woolworth – approached a Philadelphia importer in search of cheap Christmas toys for his newly started business. Instead, the importer showed Woolworth a bunch of colored glass Christmas ornaments that were unlike anything he had ever seen before.  Woolworth told the importer that he wasn’t interested because he was certain that they wouldn’t sell. Not only would no one know what they were, but he was concerned about breakage while being shipped to his store.

The importer made Woolworth a deal that he couldn’t refuse. Not only could Woolworth mark these up high enough to make a handsome profit, he guaranteed that if Woolworth didn’t sell $25 worth, he could get a full refund.  What did he have to lose? Woolworth agreed.

Two days after first placing these ornaments on display in his store, Woolworth had sold his initial inventory out. For the following Christmas, Woolworth ordered a large number of the glass ornaments, but, once again, he sold out. Once Woolworth’s business had grown large enough, he was able to knock out the middleman and import the ornaments directly from Germany. It’s hard to believe that Woolworth’s incredible fortune was largely due to that initial success with glass Christmas ornaments.

Customers shopping at a Woolworth's store in Washington, DC for Christmas gifts in December, 1941.
Customers shopping at a Woolworth’s store in Washington, DC for Christmas gifts in December, 1941. (Image from the Library of Congress.)

Prior to 1939, an estimated 50- to 80-million ornaments were imported annually to the United States.  The bulk of these were made in Germany and a large percentage of them were sold by Woolworths and similar stores. Then the Second World War broke out and the supply of German Christmas ornaments came to an abrupt halt. It was the perfect opportunity for a new American industry.

Perhaps the man who most benefited from this need for domestically manufactured Christmas ornaments Harry Harrison Heim. Born in Baltimore on March 14, 1883, he made his way west prior to World War I to work as a display manager for the Marston department store in San Diego. The Great Depression forced the closure of a dress shop that he operated there and, in 1932, he relocated back to Baltimore so that a family member could receive medical treatment at Johns Hopkins.  

World War I draft registration card for Harry Harrison Heim showing that he woked for the Marston department store in San Diego, California.
World War I draft registration card for Harry Harrison Heim showing that he woked for the Marston department store in San Diego, California.

Harry, along with his son Harry, Jr., scraped by doing whatever kind of store and nightclub decorating work they could find. Times were certainly tough.  Then, while working on a Christmas decorating job, he made the serendipitous observation that would forever change his life. It was a simple Christmas decoration that had been made from three brightly colored cellophane straws.  He went home and used that inspiration to create a Japanese-themed Christmas ornament, which proved to be a tremendous success. Then sales came to an abrupt halt in 1938 with the rise of anti-Japanese sentiment.

His company, Santa Novelties, Inc., was on the verge of going under, so Heim looked elsewhere to supplement his sales. He began to focus on the manufacture of hand-blown glass balls. Initial attempts to create the glass ornaments were not successful – in fact, Harry, Jr. was nearly blinded in one factory accident – but soon they were able to get it right.

World War II draft card for Harry Heim.
World War II draft card for Harry Heim. Note that he lists his place of employment as Santa Novelties, Inc at 3900 Lombard Street in Baltimore.

Heim lated stated, “I knew nothing about it. I hired a glass blower and he didn’t know anything either. But we worked at it, and in six months offered our first balls. They were rotten.” He continued, “But we got encouragement because we were on the right track and finally hit the secret.”

He claimed to have been down to his last $50 when a company that was a bit down on its luck when its supply of German-made Christmas decorations dried up came a-knockin’.  F.W. Woolworth placed a very large order for his newly designed Christmas balls and saved Santa Novelties from bankruptcy. The company grew exponentially from that point on.  

Ornaments at the Santa Novelties plant are silvered by squirting a strong solution of silver nitrate inside.
Ornaments at the Santa Novelties plant are silvered by squirting a strong solution of silver nitrate inside. Image from the December 1949 issue of Popular Science.

By 1944, his company was producing 12-million Christmas tree balls each year with 90% of its output going to Woolworth’s.  Heim was suddenly rolling in the dough, but was experiencing growing pains. Basically, his business had outgrown the antiquated factory that he operated in a former brewery at 3900 East Lombard Street in Baltimore. He was in need of a larger facility.

That’s when fate stepped in.

About twenty miles northeast of Washington, D.C., lies the small town of Savage, Maryland. For nearly 200 years, this quaint village was home to the Savage Manufacturing Company.  They produced cotton duck, which is basically a heavy-duty canvas. Nearly all of what the company produced was sold to other manufacturers to turn into a finished product, whether that be as sailcloth for ships, coverings for fire hoses, or canvas for conveyor belts. World War II had been an incredibly prosperous time for the company, but they were unable to operate at a profit once the war had ended. On September 5, 1947, it was announced that the Savage Manufacturing Company was to permanently shut down.

Image of the Savage Manufacturing plant.
Image of the Savage Manufacturing plant that appeared on page 29 of the Baltimore Evening Sun on December 22, 1947.

This was devastating news for the residents of Savage. Not only did more than 350 of its employees live in Savage, but the company literally owned the town. Half of the homes in the town were owned and operated by the mill.  The company provided the electricity, water, sewage, garbage collection, police and fire protection, and operated both the town’s grocery and dry goods store. Savage was the ultimate company town. Without the company, one wondered what would happen to the town.

This is where Harry Heim entered the picture. He was in need of a larger manufacturing facility and here was the perfect business opportunity. In December 1947, Heim purchased the entire town – that included nearly 500 acres of land, the old cotton duck mill, 175 homes ranging in age of between 15 and 150-years old, and everything else that came along with it. The purchase price was a cool $450,000 (approximately $4.6-million today).

Heim made immediate plans to rehabilitate the town. Not only did this include moving his ever-growing business into the old mill, but he planned to transform Savage to make it look like a quintessential 19th-century town. About sixty of the homes were sold to their occupants at below market prices, while the remainder were to be fitted with modern kitchens and bathrooms, which many still lacked.

Yet, Heim had even grander plans for Savage. With a bit of Walt Disney imagination, he planned to turn the entire town into a permanent Christmas town.  It would be the biggest and best Christmas-themed destination in the entire United States.

“In this tract I’ll build a big Christmas Castle right in the center, cutting down only what trees are necessary.” He added, “I’ll erect scenes depicting nursery rhymes with life-size figures. All around the trees will be trimmed and lighted.”

He had one year to make this all happen. “I’ll cut roads in and out so the people can drive right through and maybe they’ll even be a miniature railroad to carry the children. For about six weeks every year it will be Christmas there.” He continued, “Many of the quaint houses will be freshened up and furnished with Christmas decorations and gardens.”

A few of the homes owned by the Savage mill in 1947.
A few of the homes owned by the Savage mill in 1947. (Baltimore Evening Sun, December 22, 1947, page 29.)

Six months later all of the old machinery from the mill was gone. Harry, Jr. was in charge of setting up the new manufacturing facility as the firm’s tractor trailers hauled in equipment day-after-day. Three buses drove workers back and forth to Baltimore as construction workers rehabilitated the town. Tourists began to trickle through Savage just to see what was happening. There was a sense of resurgence in the air as this old mill town was brought back to life.

Of course, Savage is not a very good name for a Christmas town, so Harry Heim had a better idea. You’re probably thinking something like Santaland or Christmas Village or something along those lines. Nope.  He renamed it after himself: Santa Heim. Harry explained that it made perfect sense, since Heim means home in German. This would be Santa’s home away from home. For two weeks out of every year, Santa would spend his time away from the North Pole in Santa Heim.  Santa Heim, Maryland. No that’s not good enough. He changed it to Santa Heim, Merryland.

And then the big day came: Santa Heim officially opened to the public on Saturday, December 11, 1948. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people were in attendance when Maryland Governor William Preston Lane officially dedicated the town to Christmas.

It was quite the site to see. An estimated 28,000 colored lights twinkled along the streets as speakers all around town played Christmas carols. All of the homes were decorated for Christmas, while a 20-foot (6-meter) tall illuminated star shined from atop the Christmas Heim ornament factory.

Santa arrived by helicopter and then boarded his sleigh that was pulled by live reindeer. Three trains coined the “Santa Heim Special” brought visitors in from Baltimore and Washington, DC. A replica of the Tom Thumb, the first commercial American locomotive ever, pulled thousands of children around the town on a miniature train. A circus tent was fill with life-size animated animals, while reindeer pens were set up near the town’s Baldwin Memorial Hall.  Inside that building one could find the obligatory gift shop.

Image of the Santa Heim Special. Note the billboard for Santa Heim on the right.
Image of the Santa Heim Special. Note the billboard for Santa Heim on the right. Image appeared in the December 20, 1948 issue of the Wilmington Daily News-Journal on page 8.

The 100-year-old post office was decked out in a fresh coat of red-and-white paint. Outside stood 10-foot (3-meter) tall candy canes. Thousands of letters poured in for Santa Claus from all over the country.  Here is a sampling of what the children had to say:

A girl named Judy wrote: “Dear Santa: I think you are a nice man. Will you please come and see me soon and bring me a bride doll with a husband, and anything else you can spare? Thank you.”

A really odd one came from a boy named Joe who wanted “a two-wheeler –  also a bale of hay.”

Santa with children in front of the Santa Heim Express locomotive.
Santa with children in front of the Santa Heim Express locomotive. Image appeared in the December 12, 1948 publication of the Baltimore Sun on page 32.

Then there was a boy from Texas who requested a “pair of pants and a washing machine –  and maybe an electric iron.” I think mom may have been looking over his shoulder as he penned that letter.

Another boy wrote, “My dad is sick and my mother can’t leave to get my ‘presidents [sic].’  All I will get is from the school and the Scouts  and the neibors [sic]. Wish I could get more, but know you are busy.”

A girl named Aletha was a bit demanding when she told Santa to drop his bag of toys “this minute” and come running to help her do her homework. “I don’t want anything else.”

Lastly, a girl wrote, “This is the last letter you will resive [sic] from me if you do not leave me a doll carpet sweeper. This is final. I love you and why don’t you love me?”  With that kind of attitude I am hoping that no one ever got her that doll carpet sweeper.

Overall, the opening of Christmas Heim was a phenomenal success. Even before Santa Heim closed for the season, Harry Heim was making plans for the following year. He envisioned the construction of what he called a ‘Crazy Town’, complete with the crooked roofs that you see illustrated in nursery rhymes.

After that first season, things did not go smoothly for Santa Heim. In April, Harry Heim was indicted for tax evasion. Basically, while filing its 1947 taxes, Heim’s company Santa Novelties requested a refund on taxes paid in 1946. The problem was that no taxes were ever paid.  Even worse, while the State of Maryland was investigating, they determined that Heim himself had paid no taxes on his 1947 income of $31,200. In the end, the judge fined Heim $100 after he paid the back taxes with interest. It was concluded that Santa Novelties had grown so fast – from $61,000 in sales in 1943 to $1,659,000 in 1948 – that the payment of taxes had been overlooked in all of the confusion.

Next, when Santa Heim reopened for the 1949 season, thousands of people showed up on that first Sunday to find the place closed by authorities. Santa Heim was found to be in violation of the county’s 1723 Blue Law preventing shows on Sundays. Oddly, the law had been modified at one point to allow movie theaters to operate on Sunday, but most other forms of entertainment were not permitted.

Shutting Santa down is not a good thing to do and the public clearly was not happy. Here are two letters to the editor that appeared in the Baltimore Evening Sun:

The first was penned by James Woods of Baltimore – “ I just read the article ‘Santa’s Blue Laws Thwart Santa.’  Things certainly are in a fine mess. I guess you’re supposed to be ignorant enough to think the movies, bars, sports centers and the Colts and Orioles are necessary work.  Isn’t it just a little more important, especially at this time of the year, that our children have a place like Santa Heim in which to enjoy themselves? I think it’s time for us to see what the political angle is on the Maryland blue laws. The blue laws should be enforced in full or written off the books.”

Next up is a letter written by Gladys Stewart of Glen Burnie –  “These children believe in an old tradition – Santa Claus. They are eager in their youth to learn about this old gentleman with the white whiskers, red nose and jolly face. We can’t deny them their belief. Couldn’t we overlook this law –  just for the Christmas season?”

This Sunday operation ban didn’t last long. On December 8, 1949, the State attorney for Howard county,  Daniel M. Murray, Jr., ruled that Santa Heim could reopen on Sundays as long as all the proceeds were donated to charity. Assuming that most of Santa Heim’s business was done on weekends, this had to have made a huge dent in its overall profitability.

One-year later, December 8, 1950, proved to be another big setback for Santa Heim. The fire marshal shut down its Christmas Carnival – the one with all of the animals and animatronics – after it was determined that one of the tents was a fire hazard. 70% of the material that the tent was made of was considered to be highly flammable, while dangerous wiring was exposed throughout the exhibit.  They quickly resolved this by covering the walls with a fireproof lining and removing the dangerous wiring and the tent was allowed to reopen two days later.

Advertisement for Santa Heim from 1950.
Advertisement for Santa Heim that appeared on page 46 of the Baltimore Evening Sun on December 1, 1950.

Santa Heim limped through that third season, but it was never to reopen.  Harry Heim had overextended himself and the checks began to bounce. The war was over and the retailers went elsewhere to get cheaper stock for their stores. Soon Harry’s pockets were empty and both Santa Heim and his Santa Novelties business were gone.

The factory closed on March 27, 1951. Everything in the town was sold off including all of the homes, the machinery used to make the ornaments, and the manufacturing plant itself. Today the factory is the home to the historic Savage Mill complex of shops and eateries.

The loss of Santa Heim and his business must have come as quite a blow to the man who had the honor of decorating the Christmas tree on the White House lawn in 1949.  Harry Heim passed away on February 1, 1953 at the age of 69. The papers said that he died of a heart attack, but one can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t from a broken heart.  He had tried so hard to bring the joy of Christmas to so many children.

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

 

The Adventure of a Lifetime

In 1957, three awning salesmen sat in a bar on the north side of Chicago and the subject of diamonds entered the conversation. Joseph Murano, 39 years of age, and Leslie Cohen, aged 42, listened attentively as the newly hired 39-year-old Joseph Schmitz described his 20-plus years of adventure on the high seas. He captivated his audience of two with endless stories of jungle exploration, covert meetings, and harrowing escapes.

Schmitz said that he was planning to purchase a small schooner and sail for Africa to join in on the illegal trade of diamonds. He felt that a smaller boat would allow him to slip into port under the cover of darkness, obtain the diamonds from Arab and Portuguese dealers, then ferry them north – possibly to Cairo or Casablanca – and sell them at a significant profit. He said, “If a man has the guts, he can make a fortune.” Even better would be if he could hook up with geologists that he was acquainted with, then he could knock out the middleman and become rich beyond his wildest dreams.

Image of Joseph Schmitz
Image of Joseph Schmitz that appeared on page 98 of the March 2, 1959 issue of Life magazine.

If this all sounds like a bunch of bull poop, it’s not. A couple of minor white lies were told, but most of what he said was true. Schmitz really had traveled the seas for a couple of decades, had a master mariner’s license, and had escaped from bad situations multiple times.

Needless to say, Murano and Cohen were hooked. Neither had ever sailed in anything more than a rowboat, but the thought of an overseas adventure and being part of the lucrative, even if illegal, diamond trade was far more appealing than their dead-end aluminum awning sales jobs. They wanted in.

Months later, after their adventure had ended, Cohen said, “We suddenly realized that we had been restless for some time and were ready for a little travel and change of scene.”

When the two questioned Schmitz as to when he planned to depart, he replied, “Not until next year. It will take me that long to save the money to buy my schooner.”

To which Cohen replied, “Next year! Let’s go now! We’ll put on with you as partners.”

Schmitz agreed. “It’s a deal. We’ll sail for Africa in August.”

None of these guys had much in the way of savings, so Cohen and Murano sold their most valuable assets to finance the trip: their cars. They then made a visit to their local sporting goods store to purchase everything that they thought would be needed for a trip like this, including the obligatory yachting caps and elephant guns.

Elephant guns?

“It seemed logical to me, Cohen stated. Every movie I’ve seen of Africa, there’s lions and tigers running around loose.”

In early August they packed up everything and headed for the Long Island Sound that lies between New York and Connecticut. Upon arrival, Schmitz telephoned a New York advertising executive named Clayton Jaeger and set up a time to meet and discuss the sale of his 52-foot (15.8 meter) long boat named the Serene. The next day the three men went to meet up with Jaeger. Both Cohen and Murano were surprised by how small the boat appeared to be.

What it was lacking in size was made up for in niceties. In addition to having a full set of sails, each man could take comfort in the so-called “Saloon” below deck. There was also a captain’s cabin, a galley kitchen, the obligatory bathroom, and, should one find themselves adrift, a gas-powered engine.

Image of Joseph Murano
Image of Joseph Murano which appeared on page 98 of the March 2, 1959 issue of Life magazine.

As Murano and Cohen began to fully take in the pros and cons of what they were in for, Schmitz went below deck with Jaeger to discuss the terms of the sale. Once back on shore, Schmitz told the other two that a purchase price had been agreed upon and that they would be departing shortly. They spent the next few days gathering up the nautical equipment and food required for the long voyage. While they did purchase some perishables like eggs, potatoes, and tomatoes, Schmitz advised that they stock up on foods that wouldn’t spoil easily. That included cans of beans, sauerkraut, sardines, cheese, peanut butter, dried prunes, and soda crackers. He assured them that once they reached the African coast, they would be dining upon fresh meats and fruits.

Early on the morning of August 14, 1957, the three finally set out from City Island in the Bronx on what was certain to be the adventure of a lifetime.

While Schmitz had earlier implied that sailing a ship of this size was a fairly easy thing to do, Cohen and Murano quickly realized that it was anything but. They were totally unprepared for what was about to come. While still in calm waters, Schmitz attempted to give his two assistants a lesson in handling the lines. It was mass confusion. As Schmitz was blurting out commands that they could barely understand, the two novices were getting tangled up in the unfolding sails and ropes, smashing into the masts, and just plain getting beaten and bruised up by the whole experience.

“To turn one of these schooners around,” Murano later stated, “is a big operation – everybody jerking on the ropes and the captain making with the yacht lingo and all the time a big boom flying around that is liable to whack your head right off.”

Once the drill was over, the two went below deck to grab a beer. They didn’t have long to relax. Seemingly out of nowhere the floor of the saloon rose up and then crashed back down, sending Murano and Cohen flat down on to the carpeted floor.

The storm that they had sailed into seemed to increase in intensity with each passing hour. At one point Schmitz tied himself to the captain’s wheel and ordered his two inexperienced partners below deck until the storm had passed.

In the meantime, each would take turns crawling out on deck to spoon-feed Schmitz from a can of beans. At one point the schooner rolled so sharply that its mast nearly touched the water. Even worse, the cabin started to fill with water. Schmitz told the two men that they needed to start the engine up and pump the water out. But it wouldn’t turn over. It was later determined that the fuel lines had broken and much of the gasoline had leaked into the ship’s bilge. They proceeded to pump by hand, not realizing that they had pumped hundreds of gallons of fuel out of the boat.

When the storm finally passed three days later, the yacht was spotted by a Navy transport ship. It headed over to see if the three were in need of any help, but Schmitz assured them that everything was just fine. Cohen and Murano stood there stunned as they watched him turn down an offer of much needed assistance. Schmitz assured the two that he had been through far worse and that everything would be fine.

This image of Joseph Schmitz/Emanuel K. Bredel appeared on page 6 of the July 3, 1958 issue of the New York Daily News.

But he was wrong. The sails of the ship were in tatters and were getting worse with each passing day. Patches only go so far. Even worse, Schmitz calculated that the storm had blown the Serene way off course and they were near Bermuda. Murano and Cohen felt that anchoring there was the most logical thing to do, yet Schmitz vehemently argued against that idea. Not only did he lack the maps needed to navigate their waters safely, he felt that they could make better use of their time heading straight for the African coast. He also had the big advantage in the fact that he was the only one who knew how to sail the boat.

As they continued on their journey, another life-threatening situation appeared. They had sailed into dead, calm water. Sails need the wind to move and they were going nowhere. Under normal circumstances they would have started up the gas engine, but all of its fuel had been pumped overboard. As a result, day after day the Serene just sat there.

Cohen stated, “You’d go up on deck and see the same bean can bobbing right along with you in the same spot it had been when you tossed it overboard two days ago. I for one found this very dmoralizing.”

Image of Leslie Cohen
Image of Leslie Cohen that appeared in the March 2, 1959 issue of Life magazine on page 98.

While they didn’t challenge Schmitz on his navigational skills, the two began to suspect that they were simply sailing round and round in a circle. Murano stated “All we knew was we were supposed to be sailing due east and the sun was coming up in a different place every morning. That was fishy.”

Even worse, they were running out of food and drinking water. Murano had shed 50 pounds and Cohen dropped 30 (approximately 23 and 14 kg, respectively), making them far too weak to continually operate the hand pumps to empty the water out of the bilge.

Everything changed one morning. Schmitz pointed to his mariner’s license that he had tacked up on the wall. Everything looked legitimate on the document except for one small detail: it wasn’t Schmitz’s name on the license. Instead, it was for someone named Emanuel K. Bredel. Captain Schmitz was no more. The two underlings were to refer to him as Captain Bredel from that moment on. Not only did Schmitz have a new name, but so did the boat. The Serene was rechristened the V. Marcel.

The newly coined Captain Bredel estimated that they would reach the island of Madeira off the western coast of Africa within a day. This was great news for the starving crew, but they still had one more big problem to deal with.

They had sailed right into the path of Hurricane Carrie, which was the strongest tropical cyclone of the 1957 hurricane season. On September 21st of that year, Carrie was powerful enough to destroy the German barque Pamir. It went down in the Azores, just a few hundred miles away from the Serene’s location, killing 80 of its 86 men aboard. A small boat like the V. Marcel barely stood a chance.

Cohen knew that death was near and began to pen “The Last Days on Earth of Leslie Cohen.” Here are some excerpts from that document:

  • “Another day, another hurricane. This is the worst mistake two men ever made.”
  • “Bad storm again! God has never heard three bums pray as loud as we did last night!”
  • “Constantly wet. Working 18 hours a day. If I ever come out of this alive, I’ll never set foot on a boat again.”
  • “Rolling from side to side. Winds 70-90 miles per hour. Going nowhere. Murano says let the damn ship sink and get it over with. Bredel says no, he will make it or go down with the ship.”
  • “Bredel says we may skip Casablanca and go directly the Egypt. Not me, I’m dead.”

Yet, the V. Marcel somehow weathered the storm. On October 2nd, Murano was down in his bunk in one of those still half-asleep dazes when his brain latched on to an argument up on deck between Cohen and Bredel. “I tell you they’re right here,” Bredel shouted. “My calculations show we ought to see them any minute.”

This time Bredel was correct. The Canary Islands were spotted out in the distance. The storm had blown the V. Marcel approximately 300 miles (480 km) south of Madeira. Cohen and Murano’s 50-day nightmare seemed to be finally over.

But it wasn’t.

Bredel was in a fantastic mood and began planning for the completion of their voyage. Murano later commented, “Five minutes after we dropped anchor, he was over on somebody else’s boat yapping about yachts as if he’d just come back from a Sunday afternoon spin around the bay.”

Map showing the general path of the Serene as it made its way across the Atlantic Ocean.
Map showing the general path of the Serene as it made its way across the Atlantic Ocean.  Image appeared on page 3 of the November 3, 1957 publication of the New York Daily News.

Cohen and Murano had no desire to travel any farther with Bredel, but they lacked the resources needed to go their own way. They really had no choice but to get the ship back in working order. That included repairing the shredded sails, fixing the broken engine, and waterproofing the rigging using fat obtained from a local slaughterhouse.

Growing ever frustrated with Bredel, the two finally decided that they had had enough and quit. Being stranded in the Canaries in 1957 wasn’t the ideal situation, but it turns out that they weren’t alone. Two American men were sailing from Copenhagen to California, but thieves in Casablanca had robbed them blind. They agreed to provide Murano and Cohen with passage to the West Indies in exchange for stocking the boat with the necessary provisions. The two sold just about every possession that they had and soon set sail.

Their awful experience of sailing across the ocean with Bredel was now just a memory. At least that is what they thought. Their forty-four day trip to the West Indies was anything but pleasant, but when they finally arrived in Barbados, Cohen and Murano were greeted with the shock of a lifetime. While still in the Canaries, Murano had written to relatives back in Chicago requesting that they send money. The replies that he received were not what he had wanted to hear. Instead of sending money, he learned that all three of them were wanted by the FBI for the theft of the Serene.

It turns out that the Serene had never been for sale in the first place. When Bredel – his name truly was Emanuel K. Bredel – met with the boat’s owner, 35-year-old Clayton T.M. Jaeger, it was only to lease the boat. In exchange for a $571 fee, the two agreed upon a 10-day excursion, which was later extended to 17 days, that was to be strictly confined within the Long Island Sound.  Jaeger made it perfectly clear to Bredel that under no circumstances was he to sail the boat out into the open ocean. Its sails were simply not up to the task.

When the boat didn’t arrive back after its charter expired, Jaeger became concerned and contacted the Coast Guard. It wasn’t long before airplanes and cutters were searching every inlet along the Atlantic coast looking for the Serene. When they failed to spot her, thoughts of more sinister plans came to light. Could they have stolen the boat to smuggle drugs? Were they using it for gun running? How about Russian espionage? That’s when the FBI was called in to investigate.

When the boat was initially rented, Schmitz/Bredel gave his address as 3435 N. Bell Avenue in Chicago, but upon investigation it was learned that this was a former address of Bredel’s cousin Robert Schmitz and his family.

Emanuel K. Bredel posing for the cameras after his arrest.
Emanuel K. Bredel posing for the cameras after his arrest. Image appeared on page 6 of the New York Daily News on July 3, 1958.

Cohen and Murano used the last of their money to fly back to the States. Originally informed that they faced a maximum penalty of $10,000 ($88,000 adjusted for inflation) and 10 years in prison, the two must have been greatly relieved to find out that no charges were to be pressed against them. The FBI was only interested in locating Bredel, who just happened to be on probation from a twenty-year suspended sentence for forging checks.

Locating Bredel proved difficult because he had already left port. This time he took on an English teacher as his mate and was sighted in various locations throughout the Canary Islands. Authorities finally caught up with him on November 27th and, pending clarification of the true ownership of the Serene, the boat was confined to the naval yards in Las Palmas and placed under constant guard. Two Spanish crewmen and two Swedish women who were aboard at the time were released after it was determined that they had no involvement whatsoever in the theft of the boat.

Bredel was ordered to stay aboard the boat, but on Tuesday January 28, 1958 he gave them the slip by swimming underwater past the Spanish guards. He left everything behind including his personal belongings and the Serene itself.  A Spanish electrician named Severiano Goday Rodriguez, who in exchange for a promise of obtaining a job in New York, helped Bredel to stow away aboard a fishing boat which was headed about 300-miles (480 km) northward to the island of Madeira.

Upon arrival in Madeira, Spanish authorities turned Bredel away and he was forced to sail back to the Gran Canary island. He was arrested on February 23rd while socializing in a Las Palmas waterfront cafe. Spanish police were taking no chances this time: they locked him up in a real jail cell.

Once extradition proceedings were completed, U.S. Marshal Thomas J. Lunney and Assistant U.S. Attorney Herbert F. Roth traveled to the Canary Islands to bring the suspect back. After taking Bredel into their custody, the three boarded the SS Independence on June 26th and arrived back in the United States on July 2nd.

Emanuel K. Bredel (left) with U.S. Marshal Thomas J. Lunney.
Emanuel K. Bredel (left) with U.S. Marshal Thomas J. Lunney shortly after their arrival back in the United States aboard the Independence. Image appeared on page 3 of the July 3, 1958 issue of the Marion Star.

As the press dug into this bizarre story, it was learned that Bredel was a married man who had a wife named Mavis and two daughters in Johannesburg, South Africa. He told reporters that he had not heard from Mrs. Bredel since this whole diamond-hunting escapade began to unfold. He said, “She has no sense of humor, I suppose.”

His former boss at Trans-Lite, Milton Rifkin, stated: “It sounded like a television comedy to me. We discharged Cohen and Murano early last summer, and Schmidt left later. He sure had a winning personality.” He continued, “Next thing we knew, federal agents were here asking about the men, and we heard about the stolen yacht. Newspapers called us from all over the world. I don’t know what got into those fellows.”

Four charges were filed against Bredel: theft of the Serene, theft of Clayton Jaeger’s personal property, transporting stolen goods, and altering a Coast Guard certificate. He was held on $20,000 (about $172,000 today) bond and was facing a prison term of 30 years and/or a $30,000 fine. Being totally broke at this point, a Legal Aid Society attorney was assigned to defend him.

At all times, Bredel was the model prisoner. He made no attempts to escape, was polite, cooperative, and impressed just about everyone, particularly the judge assigned to his case.

Passenger list from July 2, 1958 for the U.S. Steamship Independence.  Emanuel K. Bredel is third down from the top.
Passenger list from July 2, 1958 for the U.S. Steamship Independence.  Emanuel K. Bredel is third down from the top.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges. On October 1st, a jury of two women and ten men deliberated for two hours before returning a guilty verdict.

When sentencing took place on November 5, 1958, Federal Judge Archie O. Dawson stated, “I told the jury that this case was similar to the one involving Capt. Kidd, who was tried here 150 years ago and, I think, was hanged on Governors Island for his crime.” He added, “I think he is a very brave man. If he had fought in the Navy, he might have got a medal.” Dawson sentenced Bredel to one year and one-day at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. “However, a fine is out of the question as this man is broke.”

As for the Serene itself, the boat never returned to the United States. The insurance company concluded that it would be too costly to do so and opted to sell it to a Texan visiting the Canary Islands. They paid its former owner Jaeger $12,000 (about $103,000 today) for his loss.

It probably shouldn’t come as much of surprise that Captain Bredel would make the national news one more time. This time it was not for stealing boats, but for stealing cars instead. On December 15, 1960, he was arrested for the theft of a Cadillac from a dealer in Westminster, Maryland and transporting the vehicle to New York.

Two months later, Bredel and two other men were indicted for operating a lucrative car theft ring. Their modus operandi was to steal late model Cadillacs, transport them to New York, and then sell the automobiles to unsuspecting used car dealers. All three were found guilty. One of his co-conspirators was given a four year sentence, the other two and one-half years. The judge recommended that both serve no more than six months in prison with the remainder of their sentences being suspended.

Bredel, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

He never did find those diamonds…

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

 

The Walking Murphys

The school district that I teach in recently asked me present a teacher training seminar on the best health and wellness apps that are out there. I spoke to a number of colleagues and installed the best of them on my phone.

So, two weekends ago, my wife and I were up in Warrensburg, NY, which is just a bit north of Lake George, for their annual town-wide garage sale, which they bill as the world’s largest. We go every year, mainly for the exercise, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give these various apps a test. I turned each one of them on as soon as I exited our car and we then proceeded to walk up and down the various side streets for hours.

When we were done for the day, I stopped each of the apps. At least that was what I had thought I had done. When we returned home, I realized that one of the apps kept running and recorded a walk in excess of 50 miles, 46 of which were done while seated in a car…

Well, today I have for you another story about walking that begins with someone riding in a car. During the morning of December 28, 1951, Mr. and Mrs. J. Warren Poley, Jr. and their daughter Donna, who resided at 1525 College Avenue in Trappe, Pennsylvania, decided to hop in the car and drive to nearby Norristown. The total distance is approximately a 12-mile (19.3 km) drive southeast along Route 422. As they left their home, they would first pass through the towns of Collegeville and then Tropper before reaching Norristown. So, basically, they drove from Trappe, through Collegeville, through Trooper and finally ended in Norristown.

It was in Trooper at 9:30 AM that Mrs. Poley first took notice of a family walking in the opposite direction of their travel. The family, which consisted of a father, mother, and two small children, appeared to be down on their luck. Later, as they drove home, the Poleys once again passed the family, who were now walking through Collegeville. A short time later, Mrs. Poley went for a short drive and again passed the plodding family. Seeing these poor people three times in such a short period of time just tore at Mrs. Poley’s heart.

Upon returning to her residence, she told her husband that they needed to do something. “Those people are in trouble. I think they need help and I think we should do something about it.”

Next thing you know, Mr. Poley is driving in his car searching for the family of strangers. He didn’t have to go very far. He found them walking in front of the nearby grade school. Mr. Poley invited the family to dinner and they graciously accepted.

It was during that turkey meal that the sad story of this wandering family – that’s dad Robert Murphy, his wife Jean, three-year old daughter Jean, and two-year old son Robert, Jr. – began to be told.

Mr. Murphy explained that they had lived in Topeka, Kansas for the past six years and that their home had been destroyed by the raging floods that had recently swept through the region. They lost everything including their home and nearly all of their worldly belongings.

With no place to live, they made the decision to make their way to the home of Jean Murphy’s mom in Philadelphia. Without any money or modern mode of transportation, they were forced to make the approximately 1,200-mile (1,930 km) trek on foot. It took them 44 days to make the journey, arriving at her mom’s house on Christmas Eve. Call her Scrooge or whatever choice words you may have, but for some unknown reason she refused to let her daughter’s family stay with her.

Although he was a veteran of World War II and an electrician by trade, Robert Murphy was unable to secure work or find suitable lodging in Philadelphia. As a result, the Murphys became discouraged and began the long walk back to Kansas. It was while they were on this return trip that the Poleys saw the Murphys and invited them to dinner.

For a family that had suffered so much, they were in surprisingly good shape. They certainly had weather-beaten complexions, but they were well-dressed for the weather. Supposedly a wealthy man in Ohio had been very generous and provided each with warm clothes, gloves and boots. After bundling themselves back up, the Murphys said goodbye to the Poleys and continued on their journey back to Kansas.

Clearly, Mrs. Poley was a kind and warm-hearted person who generously opened her home up to strangers in need. But she felt the need to do more. After they left, she contacted the police and then local radio station WPAZ in Pottstown learned of their hardship and broadcast an appeal to the community for assistance. It wasn’t long before furniture, food, clothing, and money began to pour in.

None, however, were more generous than Raymond F. Kulp, an employee of the East Greenville Sanitary Company. Mr. Kulp owned a 72-acre farm nearby on Route 663 between New Hanover and Pennsburg. When he learned of the family’s plight, he immediately called the Pottstown Mercury newspaper and offered Robert Murphy a job on his farm. Not only that, but since his eight room farmhouse only housed his family of four – that’s Mr Kulp, his wife and their two sons – the Murphys were welcome to occupy four of the rooms.

Mr. Kulp stated, “We know what it is to have troubles.” He added, “When they arrive here, there will be a lot of surprises. People have been very good to them. They are donating household furnishings and food. One woman is sending a lot of canned goods. We had some furniture that we were going to leave in their part of the house. But guess they’ll have almost enough now. People have been so kind and offering them furnishings and help of any kind.”

Through the airing of their plight, Mrs. Poley learned that others had previously offered the Murphy family assistance.

Two days earlier – Wednesday night – the Murphys had been provided with a place to sleep by the Salvation Army in Philadelphia. By Thursday night they were staying at another Salvation Army facility in Norristown. They left that shelter right after breakfast.

By Friday morning, shortly before they were to be sighted by the Poleys, the Murphys were treated to breakfast by Ralph K. Harner, who was the chief of police in nearby West Norriton.

Harner told the press, “They weren’t hitch hiking when I saw them. They were just walking pathetically along the pavement. I took them to the state public assistance office in Norristown, and left them there while I went to court. When I returned, they had gone. The girl who interviewed them told me that aid wouldn’t be available for several days until they proved their identity – so they started out again on foot.”

He continued, “Mr. Murphy told the girl that he lost all his identification papers in the flood – including his service records. I wanted to give them $10 on my return from, but they were gone. It’s a strange heart-tuggin’ sight to see them trudging along. I think they’ll get plenty of rides along the way.”

It seemed like everyone was offering some sort of assistance, but there was one big problem. The Walking Murphys, as the press was now referring to them as, were long gone. Police were asked to watch for the family.

Calling all cars. Calling all cars. Be on the lookout for:

Robert Murphy – the father. He is described as being a tall, slender man with thick, dark hair highlighted with greying streaks. He is dressed in a faded suit, a dark sports shirt, a blue woolen mackinaw jacket, and black buckle galoshes.

Jean Murphy, the mother. Short in stature, heavyset, with a round face. She is dressed in a cotton dress and plain coat. A vari-colored bandana covers her head.

Their son Robert, Jr. is dressed in a woolen coat and a knit woolen cap, while their daughter Jean is kept warm by a woolen snow suit and a bandana.

Where were the Murphy’s?

Luckily, it didn’t take long to find them. On Sunday, December 30th a passing motorist was listened to radio station WHLM and heard the appeal to help locate the family. He spotted the Murphys walking in Williamsport, which is about 150-miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Mrs. Poley’s home, and he let them know about Mr. Kulp’s generous job/home offer. With everything that they owned being carried in two beat up suitcases and just 30-cents to their name, this news couldn’t have come at a better time.

This was the perfect feel-good story and, as you can imagine, it quickly broke nationwide. In an interview with the United Press, Robert Murphy said, “I’m so happy I can’t talk. We just had another disappointment last night. Someone told me I might get a job here, but it didn’t go through, and it took hours to get shelter for the night.”

Jean Murphy added, “It’s wonderful news. We were beginning to think no one cared what happened to us. Does someone really want us?” She continued, “That’s the way it was on our trip East. Only the people who had a lot of trouble themselves understood and helped us. I guess that’s how it always is.”

Of course, one has to wonder how the Murphys ended up in such dire straits. As the story broke nationally, members of the local press started doing some digging. As the reporters poked around into the Murphys’ past, they were left with far more questions than they had answers.

For example, they learned from Captain Newton McClements at the Salvation Army in Norristown that he had given Robert Murphy $2.50 (approximately $25.00 today) to cover train fare to Philadelphia.

Huh? What? They supposedly had just traveled from Philadelphia so why would they need train fare to go back?

Next, Murphy said that he had applied for Red Cross aid shortly after the flood had destroyed their nine-room home in Kansas. A check with the director of the midwestern office of the Red Cross, Robert Edson, could find no record of a Robert Murphy ever applying for aid either during or after the flood.

Then, during a radio interview on December 31, 1951, Mr. Murphy mentioned that he had studied to be an electrical engineer at the University of Kansas. Under re-questioning he changed his alma mater to Kansas State. Maybe that was just an error on his part, but local reporters were starting to think that the details of his story just didn’t add up.

During an interview with the Murphy’s at the Kulp farmhouse, WPAZ news director Sidney Omarr decided that it was time to ask the Murphys about the inconsistencies in their story and find out what was really true.

It turns out that none of it was. It was all one big lie.

The Murphys with WPAZ news director Sidney Omarr.
The Murphys with WPAZ news director Sidney Omarr.  That’s daughter Jean on his lap,  dad Robert on the left and mom Jean holding Robert, Jr. on the left.  (Image appeared on page 2 of the Akron Beacon Journal on January 2, 1952,)

They had never lost everything that they had owned in the Kansas floods. In fact, they had never lived there at all. The family started telling the Kansas flood story the previous August, but had received no public attention until Mrs. Poley befriended them. They would simply move from town to town telling their fictitious tale, maybe get a meal, some lodging, and a few bucks before moving on to the next town.

Not only had they not been in Kansas, they weren’t the Murphys. They were the Lillibridges. Dad was Robert Roy Lillibridge, who was born on December 9, 1911 in Baltimore, Maryland. Mom was Philadelphia native Jean McGlinchey. They had been married during the war and it was the second marriage for both. Why the name Murphy? It was Jean’s last name from her first marriage.

Nearly all of what Robert Lillibridge initially told the press proved to be fictitious. He was not a decorated World War II veteran. Instead, he had served in the Merchant Marine assisting with the war effort.

And what about his electrical engineering studies at the University of Kansas or Kansas State? His education ended in the eighth grade.

Once the hoax had been exposed, both Lillibridge and his wife admitted that they had been in prison one time each, but never elaborated on what the charges were.

Lillibridge said, “I am sorry about the whole thing. We intended to settle down here. Pottstown was the only place where people were really concerned about us.” He added, “I’ll tell the kids that we just forgot to take the stuff with us.”

Since there was no crime committed, after questioning, the Lillibridges were released by authorities and were once again back on the road. Behind them they left all of the money, clothing, food, and gifts that the people of Pottstown and the rest of the nation had donated to help them.

Mr. Kulp, whose offer of his home and a job went above and beyond what most people would do, offered up the following words: “We tried to do the right thing.” He added, “We feel awful. We opened our hearts and home to them and we thought they were good people. A lot of other people believed their story too. I don’t know what to say except that I pity their little children who are innocent.”

Letters written by readers to the Pottstown Mercury weren’t as kind:

“That so-called Murphy family should never have been brought back to Pottstown. It is such irresponsibility which weakens public faith in our community leaders.” (Mrs. Anne R.)

“It is hard to believe that residents in and around Pottstown would go so far out of their way to help the “Walking Murphys” when they don’t adequately take care of their own.” (Harold B. P.)

“It is unfortunate that people with so much charity in their hearts should be ‘taken in.’ I would like to say to them: Don’t be disillusioned, for every four deceitful people in this world there are four thousand honest ones. The Misfortune you have suffered should not deter you from lending a helping hand again.” (Mrs. Ruth S. W.)

“I think Fred Selby and the others of The Mercury should be congratulated for the wonderful job they have done with the so-called “Walking Murphys”. The two children are to be pitied. But as for him and her, walking is too good for them.” (Mrs. H. M.)

By the time that these and other letters had been published, the Lillibridge family had disappeared from the scene. Where they came from and to where they went is difficult to piece together, but here is what I learned, particularly regarding Robert Lillibridge:

On Tuesday, July 13, 1937, a then 25-year-old Lillibridge was found by a plant watchman in North Camden, New Jersey after he claimed to have leaped from a bridge into the Delaware River in an attempt to end his life. He was sentenced to thirty days in jail and given a suspended sentence. When asked by the prosecutor as to why he jumped, he replied, “I had an argument with my girlfriend.” He added, “As soon as I touched the water I knew I had made a mistake and prayed that I might have the strength to get to shore.”

On November 29th Lillibridge jumped off that same bridge a second time. While no one was witness to the jump, police found his sweater with three notes pinned to it hanging from the bridge railing. One of the notes said that he had “played the game of love twice with the same girl and he lost both times.” Another, addressed to a cousin in Baltimore, stated that when he received “this note he would be at the bottom of the river.” After a thorough search of the water by harbor police, no body was found.

His girlfriend was identified as Dorothy Huntingdon who was living at 2046 Martha Street in Philadelphia at the time. When questioned, she said that the two had a bit of an argument over her seeing another male friend. When Lillibridge left her home he seemed a bit down but never mentioned anything about committing suicide.

Four days later Lillibridge walked into a newspaper office in Philadelphia and surrendered. Once again, he claimed to have changed his mind as fell toward the water surface, swam to shore, and then hitchhiked to New York City.

These two jumps were treated as the real deal when they happened, but the lies that he told many years later as one of the Walking Murphys questions whether he ever really hit the water or was simply making it all up to draw attention to himself.

He may not have been wanted by his girlfriend Dorothy, but the Secret Service certainly did. After reading about his two suicide attempts, they issued a warrant that charged him with stealing and cashing in a WPA check that had been stolen from his roommate Alec Wood the previous February.

On September 17, 1943, he was in trouble with the law again on . This time the now 31-year-old Lillibridge was picked up for impersonating a member of the armed forces. Dressed in the same military garb that he had been arrested in, he testified that he had purchased the uniform so that he could re-enlist in the Army.

Wait! Didn’t he claim years later that he was in the Merchant Marine?

Just what is the truth and what are lies here? It really is hard to know because Lillibridge seemed to blur the lines between the two all of the time.

As for their Kansas flood hoax, it wasn’t the first time that they had attempted this.

The March 11, 1950 issue of the New York Daily News features a photograph of Robert Lillibridge, his wife Jean, 20-month old daughter Jean, and six-week old Robert, Jr. sitting in the Newark, New Jersey police headquarters. They may have used their real names this time, but the rest of their story has a familiar ring to it:

38-year-old Robert Lillibridge was an Air Force veteran who flew fifty-seven missions in the South Pacific which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. The text said that on March 4th, the six-family apartment house that they lived in down in Baltimore had burned to the ground. They lost everything including $150 that they had saved up in cash. All their belongings fit into two small bags.

Robert and Jean Lillibridge with their children.
Photograph of Robert and Jean Lillibridge with their children Jean and Robert, Jr.  Image appeared on page 4 of the New York Daily News on March 11, 1950.

Robert Lillibridge said that his brother James invited them to come stay with him at his home in Newark, but supposedly Jim never gave him the address. They walked all the way to New Jersey and had just 5-cents in their pocket when they made their way to the Newark police department for help. Police searched for the missing brother, but – this should come as no surprise – they could not locate him.

Two weeks later they were in the newspaper again. They had somehow found their way approximately 350-miles (560 km) northwest to Bradford, Pennsylvania and told the same hard luck story. The Salvation Army there fed the family, provided them with lodging, and paid for them to take a bus to Union City, Pennsylvania. There they hoped to hook up with an uncle named Lyle Lillibridge.

In November, 1951, the Murphy-Lillibridges walked into a restaurant in Everett, Pennsylvania that was owned by Mrs. Carma Winck. They told the same sad story about how the floods in Kansas had wiped away all that they owned. Mrs. Winck felt sorry for the fairly and provided them with a place to stay for several days. As they departed, the Everett Ministerial Association purchased bus tickets to Raleigh, North Carolina because they had relatives there who could help them.

Once they arrived in Raleigh, they headed about 40-miles (about 65 km) northwest to Efland, North Carolina. In a letter published by the Pottstown Mercury a couple of months after the hoax was revealed, Reverend James Johnson wrote the following:

“A month or two ago my wife and myself picked up four people and brought them to our house and gave them their dinner. They said that they had lost everything that they had in a flood in Topeka, Kansas and was going to Mobile, Alabama to his brother’s home.”

“He said that he was an electrician and his story seemed to be true. So after dinner I carried them in my car to a church 15 miles from here and told the story to the pastor of the church. He made up an offering of $36.00 and I carried them to the bus station and bought them two tickets to Mobile, Alabama.”

“I am almost sure that the people described in the newspaper clipping which I have enclosed are the same ones that we picked up. I now know why he did not want their picture taken. I have a friend in Norfolk, Virginia that picked them up and helped them too.”

Okay. So they had pulled this hoax or something similar to it many times before. But surely they wouldn’t do it again now they had been caught and the story was in the press nationwide.

They clearly didn’t learn their lesson.

On the evening of Monday, December 20, 1954, which is nearly three years after Mrs. Poley invited the so-called Murphys to dinner, it was reported that police in Youngstown, Ohio had picked up the Lillibridge family after they had been caught trying to thumb a ride on the outskirts of town.

The Lillibridges had quite the story to tell. They had been hitchhiking because their home in San Diego, California had burned to the ground. The family had been on the road for the past 105 days and were headed to Van Buren, Maine where wife Jean had an uncle.

The kindly policemen reached in their pockets and provided the Lillibridges with money and arranged for food to be brought into the station for the hungry family. The Salvation Army provided them with a place to stay for the evening. The next morning the police provided them with a road map and the Lillibridges were once again back on the road.

When the story of their generosity hit the local newspapers, the police realized that they had been had. One man said that he had picked up a family of the same description in nearby Hubbard, Ohio three days prior and provided them with assistance. The father, who can be presumed to Robert Lillibridge, told the kind gentleman that their home in Maine had burned and that they were headed to California. Another man said he had provided the family with a place to stay and $100. And finally, a woman said that she had seen the family in Canfield, Ohio two-years earlier. That time the Lillibridges claimed that their home in Florida had burned and that they were making their way to Kansas.

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

 

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.

 

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. 
 

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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