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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

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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The Wrong Man

Here’s an odd one that took place on May 3, 1952 in Ramsgate, England.

21-year-old Mrs. June Rivers was awoken that evening as her husband came in drunk from a wedding reception that he attended with his friend 23-year-old William Roland Williams.

Image of Mrs. June Rivers that appeared on page 89 of the June 10, 1952 issue of the NY Daily News.

The two had the typical marital relations before husband got up and said he would go downstairs and get her some tea. When he returned a short time later, she questioned where the cup of tea was, to which he responded, “What tea?”

He told her that she must have been dreaming, since he never said that he would get her a cup of tea. But she was adamant that he had promised and clearly remember the smell of beer and mustard pickles on his breath.


Image of William Roland Williams that appeared on page 89 of the June 10, 1952 issue of the NY Daily News.

It turns out that she had slept with the wrong man. Her husband’s friend William had come back to their house after the wedding to get his bicycle and drunkenly stumbled upstairs to their bedroom and climbed into the bed with her. Williams admitted, “I started kissing her and she responded.” He added, “I don’t know what made me do such a thing. I am sure that if I had not had so much to drink that I would not have done it.”

Williams was charged with “having carnal knowledge of June Pauline Rivers without her consent by impersonating her husband.”

They were all in court on July 9 when Williams claimed that Mrs. Rivers knew that he was in the bedroom with her and that she was an old flame of his. He added that he had kissed her several times since her marriage and that she had told him multiple times that she hated her husband.

It took the jury 20 minutes to find Mr. Williams innocent of the charges.

 

The Missing Groom

Robert C. Buttolph and Leona Benell were scheduled to be married on March 8 of 1911 at 4 PM at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Manhattan.

After a great evening with family, Robert agreed to meet Leona the next day, the morning of their wedding, at 10 AM. Robert didn’t show up and the family began a search for him. They were unable to locate him, so the police were called in.

Did he get cold feet and run away? Was Robert mugged or murdered? Did he jump off the nearby arch of the Riverside Drive viaduct?

It was none of these. At 2 PM that afternoon, Robert walked right into his parents’ apartment. It turns out that he had stopped off to visit a friend the previous night and fell asleep there. He was such an abnormally sound sleeper that he slept right through to that afternoon.

The couple was married at the church at 4 PM that day, just as scheduled.


 

Toothless Dog Charged in Biting

This story takes place on September 13, 1930 in a Minneapolis, Minnesota courtroom. There, a man named Morris Epstein was suing Ben Stillman because his police dog had bitten him.  Epstein asked for $75 ($1,100 today) for his pain and suffering.

Stillman objected, not only because he didn’t want to pay the money, but because there was  absolutely no way the dog could have done so much damage. To prove it, Stillman showed the judge the dog’s mouth. He was completely toothless. The judge ruled in favor of Stillman and his unnamed dog.

Champion Dog Foods ad that appeared on page 88 of the Beckert’s Seed Store catalog.
 

Dog Choked by Fishing Line

In a story dated April 5, 1921, a man brought his dog into the Animal Rescue League in Washington, DC to have his pet euthanized.

Lion, who was a large, furry combination of part sheepdog and part Saint Bernard, was suffering badly. He wouldn’t eat, lacked energy, and stood with his head hanging low.

After a brief examination, attendants at the facility discovered that he was being strangled by a piece of fishing line that was wrapped around his throat. It had to have happened while Lion was a small puppy, since his skin had grown around it. The fishing line was cut and the excess skin was burned away.

The dog suddenly regained his pep and offers poured in to give him a new home. It was ultimately decided to keep him in the Animal League facility.

Kellogg's Gro-Pup Dog Food
Ad for Kellogg’s Gro-Pup Dog Food that appeared on page 275 of the May 1945 issue of the Ladies Home Journal.
 

Rock Group Heart Should Have a Heart Attack

On April 6, 1976, the Ottawa Journal published an article penned by Ian Haysom on the rock group Heart, who have sold more than 35 million records to date, that was titled “Call them Vancouver superflops.” He just tore into just how bad he thought that Heart was.

The story begins, “Take Heart. As far away as possible. And, for Ottawa’s and Canada’s sake, don’t let them encroach upon our sensibilities again. Plug their ventricles, twist their arteries, allow them to expire quickly.”

He described their performance at the National Art Centre the previous evening as “It was painful, ugly, excruciating, and artistically disgusting.” He continued, “Suffice to say that almost everything they try they do badly. They can’t sing, they can’t play their instruments and they can’t entertain.”

The only person in the band that he had anything positive to say about was lead singer Ann Wilson, who many today consider to be one of the best female rock vocalists ever.  “Only Ann Wilson, a female parody of Mick Jagger with as much talent over-all as he possesses in his lower lip, approaches that thing called ability. She plays the flute passably well and struts sexily about the stage, which at least takes attention away from the music, such as it is.”

He concludes his brutal attack on the band with, “So have a heart, Heart, and have a heart attack for music’s sake.”

Ouch.

 

The Carpenters are the Disney Version of Music

Elton John was the best-selling musical act of the 70’s, but few people realize that the best-selling American band was the brother-sister act of the Carpenters. James D. Dilts offered up a review of a Carpenters concert in the August 3, 1972 issue of the Baltimore Sun and immediately observed how different it was from any other concert he had attended.  “I knew something was wrong as soon as I got to the gate. No suburban attack squads in tattered clothes roaming the fence, feinting at the entrance only to go over or under further down. No rocks. No epithets.”

President Richard Nixon with Karen and Richard Carpenter in the White House on August 1, 1972.
President Richard Nixon with Karen and Richard Carpenter in the White House on August 1, 1972. (National Archive image – from Wikimedia Commons.)

Even more unusual was how easy it was for him to get backstage. Roadies and managers do everything possible to keep fans from gaining access. Yet, it was very different this time. The group’s manager walked out to greet him and let Dilts in without any debate. Once the Carpenters hit the stage, it was more of the same. Some of the audience members were dressed in nice clothing, stayed in there seats, and there was no sign of drugs or alcohol.

Personally, the Carpenters have always been one of my guilty pleasures.  I know that their syrupy music makes some people want to puke, but in my mind no one can sing a depressing song better than Karen Carpenter.  Dilts offered up his opinion, “The Carpenters music bears the same relationship to American popular music, roughly, as Disneyland bears to American society. All the impurities, the vitality, the diversity, have been strained out and the bland remainder repackaged into a sort of Mickey Mouse version of the real thing.”

He concludes the article by stating, “I went straight home and put on the Rolling Stones to clear my mind.”

 

Carole King Can Barely Sing

A November 4, 1970 review of the album titled “Writer: Carole King” just tore into her singing ability.  

“It is notable that the title of this album is not ‘Singer: Carole King.’  Carole King may be an excellent writer, but as a singer, she is barely competent.  Her vocal range is very limited, she can’t sing any high notes, and at times her voice sounds flat and bored.”

Cover art for the album Writer:Carole King.
Cover art for the album Writer:Carole King.

The article continues, “The tunes and the instrumentation help make up for the fact that Carole King can barely sing, making this album enjoyable if somewhat vacuous.”

It concludes that the songs may appear on other artists’ albums in the future, “But this is probably the first and only album Carole King will ever make.”

You probably know the story about her next album titled Tapestry: It was the number 1 best selling album for fifteen consecutive weeks, had the second longest run of any album on the Billboard 200 chart after Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and to date has sold over 25 million copies.

 

No Locks at Denny’s

In December of 1988, the restaurant chain Denny’s decided to close all of its 1,221 stores for the Christmas holiday.  

This was not an easy decision for the company to make.  The chain was well-known for being open 24-hours-a-day, 365-days a year, so closing on Christmas day was predicted to cost the chain $5 million in sales.

They were faced with an even bigger problem: Since the chain never shut its doors, many of their restaurants were either built without locks on the doors or no one could find the keys to the locks that did exist.  The company had to install door locks in more than 700 of its restaurants just so that they close for that one day.

My wife and I stopped at our local Denny’s a few weeks ago and the first thing I did was check the door.  There was a lock there.

Picture taken at the Denny's restaurant on Wolf Road in Colonie, NY on November 30, 2018 confirming that there is a lock installed on the front door.
Picture taken at the Denny’s restaurant on Wolf Road in Colonie, NY on November 30, 2018 confirming that there is a lock installed on the front door.
 

Empty Christmas Envelopes

The post office in Spokane, Washington had an interesting problem.  On December 18, 1955, someone dropped off fifty envelopes to be mailed. All were properly addressed and stamped, but lacked one important piece: All of the envelopes were completely empty.

Apparently the mailer had forgotten to insert the Christmas cards or whatever they had intended to include.  There was no return address on any of the envelopes to help identify the sender and while you are about 63-years too late, should you know what should have gone into those envelopes, please be sure to contact the Spokane post office.

Christmas card given by garbage men from 1954.
Christmas card given by garbage men from 1954. (State Library of Queensland)
 

Santa Breaks Girl’s Heart

When the news broke in early December of 1928 that 7-year-old Tillie Oakley of Paris, Kentucky was seriously ill, readers across the country responded with disbelief.

It seemed as if an older girl at school told Tillie that Santa wasn’t real. Can you imagine that? Doubting Santa’s existence?  Everyone knows that he is real.

Needless to say, Tille ran home crying to her mother, but nothing she could say could convince Tillie that the older girl was wrong.

Tilly stopped eating. With each passing day she became weaker and weaker. She was proof-positive that one really could suffer from a broken heart.  The local doctor was brought in to treat her, but nothing in his black bag could heal her. Nor could her parents, her minister, friends, or neighbors do anything to cure Tillie of what ailed her.

People from all over the country sent scores of telegrams and letters assuring the young girl that there really was a Santa Claus.  More than a dozen packages, some with a return address that simply read “From Santa Claus” were received.

But there was one big problem.  An investigation by the Associated Press determined that there was no Tille Oakley living in or near Paris, Kentucky.  The story was a complete fabrication. So, while there may be a Santa Claus, there certainly certainly was no Tillie Oakley.

Santa visiting children at Grace Brothers department store in Sydney, Australia in November 1946
Santa visiting children at Grace Brothers department store in Sydney, Australia in November 1946. (State Library at New South Wales)
 

Hitchhiking Father and Son Reunited

It was reported on February 8, 1962 that Lubbock, Texas salesman J.E. Ferguson stopped to pick up an elderly man who was hitchhiking on the northern outskirts of Seminole, Texas.

“It was a cold day, and I picked him up.” The man told Ferguson that his name was Wilkins, that he grew up in Coleman County, and that he was in his seventies. He dropped him off about forty-miles (65 km) away at a traffic light in Brownfield.

Brownfield is southwest of Lubbock, Texas.
Brownfield is southwest of Lubbock, Texas.

As he approached the last traffic light in Brownfield, he spotted another hitchhiker. “He was in shirt sleeves and shivering, so I picked him up.”

The new rider was about 40-years in age and said that his name was also Wilkins, which caused Ferguson to do a double-take. He then asked the younger man if he was from Coleman County, which he confirmed was true. After Ferguson described the elder man, the younger Wilkins said that sounded like his dad who he hadn’t seen in 14-years.

Ferguson spun the car around and headed back toward where he had dropped the father off. He stated, “I stopped and they had a reunion right there on the street.” He added, “I don’t usually pick up hitch-hikers, but this time I am glad that I did. They were really happy.”

 

Twins Hitchhiking Around the World

Between January and February of 1959, newspapers across the nation ran stories detailing how 21-year-old twins Ben and Glenn Powell were hitchhiking around the world. In just twelve-weeks the two had made it all the way from Chicago to Buenos Aires.

Glenn said, “We’ve always liked to travel even though we never had much money. So we decided to see the world as cheaply as possible by hitch-hiking,”

Ben added, “We traveled with the people and lived with people all through South America.” He continued, “Everywhere we tried to go quietly and give a good impression. We found that Latin Americans seem to think all Americans have a brand-new car and are rich. Now they have met two that aren’t rich and obviously don’t have a car.”

The two first thumbed their way to Dallas before crossing into Mexico. Lacking any knowledge of the Spanish language, they tried their best with the help of a Spanish phrasebook. As they traveled, their command of the language improved greatly. Somehow, they hooked up with a Texan who was transporting buses to Guatemala. Since his drivers couldn’t speak English and he couldn’t speak Spanish, the twins were able to step in and act as interpreters. Even if they didn’t speak perfect Spanish, it did get the two to Guatemala.

Occasionally they did have to pay for transportation, such as the time that they paid $2.15 each to fly from San Jose in Costa Rica to Panama. From Panama they hopped a banana boat that nearly sank as they made their way to Colombia. Then it was on to Ecuador, Peru, and Chile.

If you are wondering where they slept and how they obtained food, that was fairly simple. As Methodists, they were able to check in with local pastors wherever they went. In exchange for helping Methodist missionaries, the two were provided with meals and lodging.

Two guys hitchhiking.
Did these two guys ever get where they wanted to go? They should have talked to Ben and Glenn Powell who had great success in their effort to hitchhike around the world. (Wikimedia image.)
 

Uses Handcuffs to Hitch Rides

Everyone knows how dangerous it is to pick up a hitchhiker. Wilson Jennings of Paris, Tennessee may have come up with a possible solution this problem.

An article published by the Associated Press on June 7, 1934 described a unique method that Jennings had conceived of as he hitchhiked from Chicago to California. He stated, “If the idea works, handcuffs will be a big part of every hitchhiker’s equipment.”

That’s not a typo. He really did say handcuffs.

Here’s how it worked:

First, Jennings held up a sign that read, “Don’t be afraid to offer me a ride – you may handcuff me.”

After a motorist stopped to pick him up, the key was given to the driver who had the option of slapping on the cuffs or not. The driver would retain the key for the entire ride.

The aim of this unique approach was to alleviate any fears that a stopping driver would have. Personally, I would be suspect of anyone who held up such a sign. What would stop the hitch-hiker from slapping the handcuffs on me and then driving off with my car and money?

Image of Handcuffs.
Would you pick up a hitchhiker who offered to be handcuffed for the entire ride? (Wikimedia image.)