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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

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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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.”