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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

Not Dead Yet…

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jailed for Writing Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edwin Land’s Invention

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

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

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

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

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

50,000 Books Given Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In the Water Too Long…

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

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

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

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

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

Milk Bottle Shortage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idea Wasn’t a Bust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suits Made from Paper

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

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

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

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

Girls Stuck in Phone Booth

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

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

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

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


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

Woman Swallows a Live Mouse

Is was reported on August 11, 1959 that a 67-year-old widow named Florence Hill of Denver, Colorado was awoken by the sound of her dog Boots growling. Here’s how she described what had happened:

“I woke up from a nap the other night and there he was, this little mouse, on the sewing machine right beside my bed.

“I opened my mouth to yell and he jumped right in: I clinched my teeth right away and caught him by the tail. He was crawling and scratching to get away and he was going right down my throat. I just couldn’t keep hold of him.


Florence Hill swallowed a live mouse.
Florence Hill swallowed a live mouse. Image appeared on page 18 of the Semi-Weekly Spokesman-Review.

“I could feel him crawling all the way down.

Yes, you heard it correctly: she swallowed the live mouse.

She continued, “It was the most horrible night I’ve ever spent…

“I went to Denver General Hospital yesterday. They X-rayed me and didn’t find a thing wrong. They kept me there for six hours, then told me to eat and drink plenty and sent me home.

“I feel pretty good now.”

Syndicated sketch of  Florence Hill swallowing a mouse.
This syndicated sketch of Florence Hill swallowing the mouse appeared on page 8 of the December 6, 1959 issue of the Mexia Daily News.
 

Popping Popcorn Wrecks Building

On June 11, 1941 it was reported that a 40’ x 50’ (12.2 m x 15.25 m), five-story brick building owned by the Empire Storage and Ice Company in Kansas City collapsed unexpectedly.

It turns out that the building was filled with 30,000 bushels of popping corn that started to spontaneously combust and expand and expand and expand…

So powerful was the force that 2 railroad boxcars were overturned and nearly covered in corn and bricks.


Popcorn Stand in Globe Arizona in 1940
Popcorn Stand in Globe Arizona in 1940. Image from the Library of Congress.
 

Drivers Use Homeowner’s Yard as Roadway

It was reported on September 6, 1962 that Encino, California resident William Wiegand was having a major problem with his home at 3644 Sapphire Drive, which he had purchased two years prior.

His house was in what would appear to be a great location – on a dead-end street. It should have been quiet with very little traffic. That was not the case…

It seems that when his section of the housing development was built, the construction company built a temporary road connecting his street out to the main road – Sepulveda Boulevard – to allow their big trucks easy access.

When construction was completed, a fence was installed to limit access. Those that lived in the surrounding homes were given a key to the gate so that they could cut through to the main road.

Everyone else had to go the long way – about 5-miles (8 km) – out of their way, which no one wanted to do. As a result, the gate was constantly being wrecked by commuters seeking the shortest drive to work.

It was estimated that between 150 and 200 cars used this road every morning between 7:30 and 8:30 AM. The problem was that to do so, they needed to drive up the Wiegand’s driveway, narrowly pass between the house and a fence, and then drive right through their backyard.

Wiegand was forced to put up a fence in the back of his house to block out the bright headlights from all of those cars returning in the evening.

His insurance company canceled his policy after too many claims were submitted by motorists who had hit the house, but the developers helped to get the policy reinstated.

Unfortunately, access to the road was written into the deeds of 39 homeowners and it would require unanimous approval to get the road removed. Good luck with that one…

Yet, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. The city permit for the access road was set to expire in April 1963, at which point the road needed to be removed. A quick check with Google Maps shows that the road is long gone.

 

Plane Lands on Car

On November 18, 1951, in Salt Lake City, Utah, 47-year-old pilot Joe Wardle was flying his Piper Cub when the plane’s engine iced up and conked out.

He searched for a flat area to land and spotted a nearby highway that he could use as a runway. Without any engine power, Joe glided the plane safely down and made what he felt was a nearly perfect landing. He kept waiting for the plane to roll to a stop, but instead it kept going and going at a steady speed.

It took Joe a minute or two to figure out what was going on. When he finally peered around the nose of the plane, it became obvious. He had landed on the roof of a car driven by Ray Perry of Riverton, Utah. Somehow, the landing gear had hooked right on to the trunk of Perry’s car.

When Perry realized what had happened, he immediately slowed down and stopped his car.

Both men got out of their vehicles and were glad to see that neither was injured. Their next move was to lift the airplane off of the top of the car.

The automobile was barely damaged: it had just two little nicks on the trunk. As for the plane, it had a broken propeller and its landing gear was cracked.

My guess is that Wardle also opted to get that engine repaired…

Perhaps Joe Wardle's landing problems would have been solved if he had purchased one of these Aerocars.
Perhaps Joe Wardle’s landing problems would have been solved if he had purchased one of these Aerocars. This image appeared on page 38 of the November 1948 issue of Flying Magazine.
 

First Tire to Cross the Pacific?

Most people have some familiarity with how Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, yet few ever talk about those who were the first to do so across the Pacific.

That honor goes to Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon.

The two took off from Sabishiro Beach in Japan on October 4, 1931 in their plane that was named the Miss Veedol.

Shortly after they took flight, they purposely jettisoned their landing gear to both gain speed and save on fuel. It didn’t all go quite as planned. The struts failed to separate from the airplane, so Pangborn was forced to climb out on the wings barefoot to remove them.

41 hours and 13 minutes later, the two successfully made a belly landing on a patch of sagebrush in Wenatchee, Washington.

Sixteen months later, the captain of a schooner named the Presho spotted something floating in the water. It was a Firestone branded tire, which was identified by its serial number as having been part of the landing gear that had been jettisoned by the Miss Veedol shortly after takeoff. It had followed nearly the identical path across the Pacific that Pangborn and Herndon had taken, being found just 200 miles (320 km) away from their final landing location.

Advertisement for Champion Aviation Spark Plugs featuring Hugh Herndon (left) and Clyde Pangborn (right).
Advertisement for Champion Aviation Spark Plugs featuring Hugh Herndon (left) and Clyde Pangborn (right). From page 5 of the November 1931 issue of Aero-Digest.
 

The Scooter Romeo

22-year-old Kentucky native Jim Owen really went the distance for love. He met 21-year-old Ximena Villareal while she was an exchange student at the University of Kentucky. They dated for a few months before she returned home to Santiago, Chile. The two continued corresponding by mail and she asked him to come visit her.

Most people would hop on a plane. But not Jim Owen. He came up with a crazy idea to ride the 8000 mile (12,800 km) distance on a motorscooter. Jim convince a US distributor that will be a great sales promotion if they donated the bike to his cause. He also secured a $500 (approximately $4000 today) letter of credit and he was on his way.

“I’m not the type of person to jump on a motorscooter and ride thousands of miles to see a girl. We are not engaged or anything like that, but I like her a lot.” He continued, “I’m not adventurous by nature, and I’m certainly not athletic.”

He embarked in early May 1962 and his goal was to get to Santiago on December 31st so they could ring in the New Year together. The press never did a follow-up on the story, but it’s probably safe to assume that he made it there and the two were reunited.

Jim Owen on his motor scooter.  Image from the December, 29, 1962 issue of the Independent Journal (page 5).
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Jim Owen on his motor scooter. Image from the December, 29, 1962 issue of the Independent Journal (page 5).
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