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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Watch-Sized Radios Possible

 

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

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

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

ENIAC is First Computer

 

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

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

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

ENIAC was the first electronic computer. Wikipedia image.

Robert Oppenheimer Falls Asleep on His Date

 

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

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

And to think we trusted him with nuclear weapons…

J. Robert Oppenheimer. Image from Wikipedia.

Burglars Stole the Paper, Too

 

It was reported on August 11, 1959 that Fred Ernst, owner of the California Copy Corp. in Los Angeles, California, had three photocopy machine stolen two weeks prior. 

Ernst told police, “They can’t use the machines because no one else in Los Angeles has photocopy paper for those units.” 

He may have thought that he had gotten the last laugh, but in the end, the thieves did. They once again broke into his business and this time they stole $1000 (nearly $9,000 today) worth of that specially sized photocopy paper.

Classified advertisement for the California Copy Corp. that appeared on page 64 of the April 6, 1959 publication of the Los Angeles Times.

She Thought Robber Was Fooled

 

On November 20, 1950, a man with a revolver entered Milt’s Food Market in Chicago just prior to closing for the evening. He demanded all of the money from the cash register. 

That’s when Mrs. Renée Biliack, the proprietor’s wife, slammed the cash register closed and informed the thief that the register was self-locking. She claimed to be unable to access the contents of the register. 

So, the thief opted for the next best thing and ordered her to hand over her purse. And that was exactly what she did. 

After the thief exited the premises, Mrs. Biliack summoned her husband, Milton, and explained how she had outsmarted the thief. 

That’s when her husband gave her the bad news. Just prior to the robbery, he had taken the money from the register and placed it in her purse for safekeeping.

View of the interior of a Washington, DC grocery store in the 1920s. Library of Congress image.

Snitch Gets the Last Laugh

 

It was reported on January 10, 1930 that 45-year-old Claude Record informed the Denver, Colorado police that, as an out of town visitor, he was surprised to see just how many speakeasies there were. He was so sure of himself, that he told them that he could lead them to half a dozen speakeasies in ten minutes. 

So, a deal was made. Record would go in undercover and make a purchase using $2 (approximately $31 today) that they provided him with. As he emerged from each speakeasy, the deal was that he would meet up with Patrolman George Hart who was waiting in a nearby alley. 

Ofc. Hart waited and waited in the freezing cold for his snitch to bring the evidence. Five minutes went by, then ten minutes, fifteen minutes, thirty minutes. After waiting close to an hour, Hart concluded that something had gone wrong and proceeded to the hotel where Record was staying. That’s where he found Hart drunk in his room and the $2 was long gone. He was jailed for questioning.

Woman hiding flask in her Russian boot during Prohibition in Washington, DC, January 21, 1922. Note the swastikas in the tile floor, prior to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. Library of Congress image.

Fails to Win Back Wife After Two Suicide Attempts

 

Tt was reported that Stanley G. Peralta, a 19-year-old draftsman from Pasadena, California was so distraught over his 17-year-old wife Luella leaving him that he attempted suicide twice at 2:30 AM on January 31, 1956. The couple had married on February 10, 1954, when Stanley was 17 and Luella was 16. At the time of this incident, the couple had a 20-month-old son named Roland. 

As Peralta was driving eastbound on Colorado Street (today Colorado Boulevard), he opened the car door and rolled into the path of oncoming traffic, hoping to be struck and killed. When the other car swerved and missed him, Peralta stood up and ran after his car that was still coasting down the street. He then threw himself under the vehicle’s rear wheel. 

The car stopped when it crashed into a storefront at 1706 E. Colorado Street. (Today a Chick-fil-A sits at that location.) When officers arrived on the scene, they found a despondent Peralta sitting in the backseat of his car. He was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital where he was treated for cuts and bruises and then released. 

His wife Luella, who met reporters at her mother’s home at 126 N. Meredith Ave., insisted that her husband’s dual attempted suicide would have no bearing on her decision to leave her him.

17-year-old Mrs. Luella Peralta and her 20-month-old son Roland Peralta pictured shortly after Stanley Peralta unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide twice. Image from the USC Libraries Special Collections

Kissing Barred on Bavarian Trains

 

It was announced on September 25, 1912 that the Bavarian railroad had placed a ban on kissing on its trains or on railroad property. 

This rule was put in place after a couple boarded 1 of their trains after a strenuous bicycling tour. The wife was exhausted and laid her head on her husband shoulder, as he placed his arm around her. 

This made some of the other riders uncomfortable and they summoned the conductor, claiming that they had witnessed the couple kissing. 

Can you believe that? Kissing in public? What’s this world coming to? 

The husband denied that they been kissing, but that didn’t stop the railroad from banning kissing outright.

Bride and groom kiss in Brisbane in 1946. Image from the State Library of Queensland

Married atop a Ferris Wheel

 

The first Ferris wheel was built by George Ferris for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in an attempt to out-Eiffel Gustav Eiffel and his famed Paris tower. It made its premiere to the world on June 21, 1893. When the fair ended, the wheel was dismantled and moved to Chicago’s North Side, where it operated from October 1895 through 1903, when it was moved one last time and reassembled in St. Louis for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.

On October 9th of that same year, Estelle Clayton of Wayne County, Missouri and Martin Good of New York City decided to have their wedding on top of one of the cars just as it was reaching the highest point along its circumference. When you take into consideration that each car on the original Ferris wheel was gigantic – each designed to hold 40 people seated or 60 standing – this wasn’t quite as dangerous as it may initially sound. 

Mr. Good was one of the assistant engineers involved in the erection of the wheel, during which he met Ms. Clayton, who was employed as a stenographer at the time.

On the big day, the wedding party – which consisted of the couple, a Reverend, the bridesmaid, the best man and six other people – climbed on top of one of the cars, careful not to take a wrong step backward and fall off. The photographer, R. R. Whiting, was perched atop the car ahead. 

Two complete loops were made: The first so that Whiting could line up the perfect shot in a second during which the ceremony took place. 

Everyone was amazingly calm during the entire event. A band down in the Plaza in front of the wheel played the wedding march, while thousands witnessed the ceremony from the ground. Once everyone was back on terra firma, the couple drove off in a white automobile, a rarity for 1904.

The original Ferris Wheel.
Ferris wheel and the corner of California State Building at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. Image from the Library of Congress.

Two Homes Built on Wrong Lots

 

In December 1956, builder Frank Troiani purchased two lots in the Arlington Crest subdivisions in Palatine, Illinois. The following summer, he proceeded to build two five-room brick bungalows that cost $19,000 ($171,000 today) each.

On August 17, 1957, Roy and Martha Carlson were driving down the nearby Northwest Highway when they noticed the homes being built. On September 7, they called the real estate office and notified them that Troiani’s homes were being built on lots that the Carlsons owned.

It was quickly determined that Troiani had built the homes on the wrong lots. It was an honest mistake. At the time of purchase, the real estate agent pointed to the lots and said that they were Troiani’s.

Troiani immediately made the Carlsons three different offers. He offered to exchange lots with the Carlsons, purchase their two lots, or sell them the two homes that he had built. They refused all of the offers.

Unable to resolve the situation, Troiani filed suit against the Carlsons on October 30, 1957. He asked the court to decide what should be done with the two homes and to prevent the Carlsons from selling or disposing of the homes before the situation was settled.

In court, Troiani made two additional offers. He offered the couple $4500 for their building lots or that they could take his two lots plus an additional $2000. Again, the Carlsons declined the offer.

Charles Woosters, attorney for the Carlsons, explained to Superior Judge John A. Sbarbaro that “It is their homesite, all they want is the privilege to build their homes on their lots. They want no money.” He added, “My clients want the two buildings removed from their property, and the ground left in its original condition, so they can build their own home there.”

Troiani upped his offer to $6000 for the two lots. Again, the Carlsons refused.

When the judge suggested that the Carlsons accept $8000 for the two lots, attorney Wooster said that he would pull out of the case if they did not accept the offer. The couple finally agreed to the settlement.

Mrs. Carlson said, “Our plans are all gone away. I guess it’s a deal.” 

Frank Troiani (left) shaking hands with Roy Carlson and his wife after agreeing to but two building lots from the Carlsons for $8,000. Image originally appeared on page 3 of the November 7, 1957 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

A Lady’s Age Is Her Own Business

 

Muriel Nicholson, whose husband operated a New York City car dealership, filed applications with the State Motor Vehicle Bureau to register three different automobiles. Each time she used a different birth date. One said that she was born on September 6, 1914, a second listed her birth date as September 26, 1915, and the last indicated a date of September 6, 1918. 

As a result of her deception, she was charged with three counts of falsifying data. If guilty, Mrs. Nicholson could have received a $500 fine ($4,700 today), one year in jail, or both.

On May 12, 1954, Mrs. Nicholson arrived at the Court of Special Sessions dressed in a gray suit with a fur collar, a pearl necklace and earrings, a black ribbon in her blonde hair, and a short black veil.

After considering the facts in the case, the three judges unanimously dismissed the charges against Mrs. Nicholson.

“We are unwilling to believe that such penalties were intended for one who only exaggerated her age between three and four years,” Justice Herman Hoffman stated. He added that “…the age element is only important as requiring proof from an applicant that she is not a minor.”

“It may be observed, in passing, that the courts are not unmindful that age – as far as our sisters are concerned – is singularly relative, and gallantry exacts an appreciation and understanding of our lady’s age as one of the most gracious in men.”

As for her real age, Mrs. Nicholson never revealed this detail in the courtroom. She did state, late on the evening of the decision, that she had been born in 1916.

Eleven days later, Mrs. Nicholson’s fame would bring her misfortune. Shortly after midnight on May 23, 1954, two bandits brandishing pistols entered the lobby of her apartment building at 10 East Eighty-fifth Street and demanded that the doorman take them to her apartment. Upon entering her sixth-floor apartment, the thugs tied up Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson, the doorman, and a maid. The telephone was ripped from the wall and at least $50 in cash and jewelry was stolen. The Nicholsons were able to free themselves and contacted police.

Muriel Nicholson holding her driver’s license. Image originally appeared on page 1 of the May 13, 1954 publication of he Boston Globe.

Mummies Found in Attic

 

On March 7, 1906, workmen remodeling a building that ran between 118 and 122 Elm Street in New York City found two small boxes that were covered with a thick layer of dust, indicating that they had been there undisturbed for quite some time. 

Upon opening the boxes, they discovered the mummified bodies of three infants, an adult’s skull, and the shriveled hand of an adult. 

The date of 1868 was written on both boxes, which means they could have been there for nearly forty years. 

No one knew who placed the human remains there or why they had been stored. The coroner found no indication of foul play.

Mummified cat and rat found in Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin during cleaning. Image dated 1890 – 1910. From the National Library of Ireland collection.

Beet Salad Could Be an Influenza Cure

 

On November 29, 1918, it was reported from The Hague in Holland that an unnamed Austrian doctor had discovered that beets, the root vegetable, was both an effective preventative and treatment for influenza. Supposedly, he had given his patients a plateful of beet salad just as a fever began to set in and the fever was reduced. 

As word of this simple elixir began to spread, the demand for beets in Holland skyrocketed, causing the price per beet to increase tenfold.

Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Library of Congress image.

Pimientos Could Be an Influenza Cure

 

It was reported on October 29, 1918 that employees of the Curtis Corporation, a tuna cannery in Long Beach, California, had been rendered immune to the influenza. Why? Simply because they had been exposed to the odor of pimientos, a sweet flavored pepper with a very mild heat. 

It was said that scientists had begun experiments to produce an effective anti-toxin from the pimientos. The article indicated that studies were underway to determine whether the eating of pimiento peppers could prevent the influenza.

The Red Cross Emergency Ambulance station of the District of Columbia Chapter is usually a busy place. But during the influenza epidemic of the autumn of 1918 it was worked over time. Library of Congress image.

Iodine and Creosote Influenza Cure

 

On October 11, 1918, it was reported that Dr. George F. Baer of the Homeopathic hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had discovered the perfect influenza cure.

Dr. Baer claimed that he had successfully administered his concoction on patients suffering from the disease and having a fever of 103°F (39.4°C) and that they had all recovered. The number of patients that underwent his treatment was not detailed.

Dr. Baer insisted that the exact formulation of his cure was to remain a scientific secret, but he was willing to reveal that it was a combination of iodine and creosote. (Creosote essentially being the tar given off in the process of burning wood.)

St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty Oct. 1918 Influenza epidemic. Image from the Library of Congress.