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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

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.

Send-A-Dame Chain Letter

 

Students at the University of California at Berkeley came up with a unique approach to dating in May 1935. It was all the idea of senior Eldon Grimm and it became known as the “send-a-dame chain letter.”

Basically, it worked like this: A male student would receive a list of five female students. After he made a date with the first girl on the list, he would cross her name off and add that of another girl. He would then send his updated list of five of his male friends who would do the same thing.

Grimm calculated that with 6,000 young women enrolled, each would get 26,000 dates from the 10,000 men on campus, assuming the chain remained unbroken.

Miss June Sears said, “I think it should be adopted at all universities.” She continued, “It would certainly bring the students together.”

Sorority member Miss Mary Kirk commented that “It looks as though we might be chained for life.” She figured that she could probably handle 26,000 dates, but at the rate of one date each day, it may take her seventy years to do so.

February 1943 image of Jerry Senise and his friend Mary Lou Grubles of Blue Island, Illinois as they dance to music on the radio before going out on a date. (Library of Congress image.)

Wife’s First Husband Found Alive

 

Vincent P. Smith, a fifty-one-year-old Pennsylvania railroad car inspector, filed suit for annulment of his marriage to fifty-four-year-old Nettie A. Smith after he learned that her first husband, Harry C. Smith, was still alive.

Mrs. Smith said that she hadn’t seen her first husband in thirty-five years. The two had lived in Frederick, Maryland until they separated, after which she returned to her former home in Derry, Pennsylvania.

Believing that her first husband was dead, she married William Scully. She was to meet up with Scully after he went to California, but he was killed in an earthquake.

“Seem like I was destined to be a widow twice,” Mrs. Smith stated. She then moved to Wall, Pennsylvania where she operated a boarding house and met her third husband, Vincent Smith. They were married on September 11, 1907.

Her current husband heard reports that his wife’s first husband was still alive. He traveled from their home in Swissvale, Pennsylvania to Frederick where he met a man who provided him information confirming that this was true. Realizing that his wife was still married to her first husband, Vincent Smith filed for the annulment shortly after their silver wedding anniversary.

“I’d never feel right making up with Nettie now,” Smith told the press. “Even if she should get a divorce after the annulment and be free to marry me again, I couldn’t go through with it.”

The annulment was granted by the court on February 20, 1935.

Woke Up Beside a Dead Man

 

Forty-five-year-old German grocer Henry J. Steinberg operated a store at the corner of Glenmore and Georgia Avenues in Brooklyn, New York. On New Year’s Eve of 1899, he told his wife of seven weeks that he needed to go out and make a call. It was late so she went to sleep in their apartment over the store.

Located in the back of the store was a small room where Steinberg’s 19-year-old employee Henry Meyer slept. Early on the morning of the New Year, Meyer found his employer asleep in his bed. He decided not to wake him up and got into the bed beside him.

Meyer awoke and opened the store as scheduled. He then went to wake up Steinberg but was unable to do so. He soon realized that he was dead and ran upstairs to let his wife know.  When the police arrived, they found a bullet had passed through his left breast and discovered a revolver by his side. On a nearby table was a letter to Steinberg’s wife complaining about how poorly his business had been doing.

There are no stores at the corner of Glenmore and Georgia Avenues in Brooklyn today. The area is now a mixture of light industrial buildings and school bus parking.

One-Week with the Beatles?

 

On Sunday, August 1, 1965, 17-year-old Cheryl Bedrock of 636 Floral Ave. in Elizabeth, New Jersey received the call of a lifetime. The caller identified himself as Beatle Paul McCartney and told Cheryl that she had won first prize in “The Golden Rolls-Royce Contest.”

She was about to spend an entire week with the Beatles.

Cheryl’s mother got on the phone and spoke to a second man. He said that he was the Beatles manager Brian Epstein and told Cheryl that she be flying aboard BOAC out of Kennedy airport the next Saturday. Upon hanging up, a call was made to BOAC and they confirmed that they had a New York-to-London reservation for Cheryl.

After hanging up, one of Cheryl’s uncles decided to do some further checking. While there had been, in fact, a plane reservation made in Cheryl’s name, records showed that it had been made by her mother, which they knew was untrue. A call to Brian Epstein’s New York office told the uncle that they had never heard of the contest.

Cheryl’s brother Lewis told the press, “If it is a hoax, it’s really amazing. My mother is skeptical about anything like this, and if they convinced her over the phone they must have been good.”

Well, it really was a hoax, but when the promoters of the Beatles legendary August 15, 1965 Shea Stadium concert caught wind of what had happened, they provided Cheryl with two free tickets and limousine service to the show.

Merged photograph showing The Beatles on stage at the King’s Hall, Belfast in 1964. Image from Flickr.

She Won’t Get Fooled Again

 

While Jane Waters was working in a Chicago auto agency in 1952, an elderly man walked in with a “package for the boss.” He said that $6.75 (approximately $65.00 today) was due, which she gladly paid. It turns out that the package contained an old oil can that was filled with water. Her boss refused to reimburse her for the costly mistake. 

Fast forward to November 17, 1955. Ms. Waters was now employed at the Sugar–McMahon Ford Dealership at 4868 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. Once again, a man walked into the dealership with “a package for the boss.” This time he said that $6.00 was due. 

Ms. Waters was not about to be fooled again. She politely asked the man to wait as she stepped into the dealership’s office and telephoned the police.

As officers arrested the phony deliveryman, identified as Oscar Tilden, he stated, “Almost four million people in Chicago and I bump into her again.”

1951 Ford Ranch Wagon. Image from Flickr.

Stole 55 Right-Footed Shoes

 

On April 11, 1935, William Lipson, a shoe salesman from Providence, Rhode Island parked his car outside of a Waterbury, Connecticut hotel.

He later discovered that someone had stolen 55 shoes from the vehicle. Lipson reported the theft to the police.

Upon hearing of the crime, Detective John Galvin stated, “Maybe we had better look for a man with a pair of new shoes.” To which Lipson replied, “O, no, that is, unless the thief is a one-legged man, for you see, they were sample shoes and no two are alike.”

In fact, as samples, all 55 shoes were for the right foot.

Advertisement for the Moc-A-Wauk shoe that appeared on page 867 of the July 1921 issue of the St Nicholas magazine.

Life-Size Statue Found on Subway Platform

 

One would expect many things to be left behind by riders on New York City’s subways: cell phones, umbrellas, coats and similar items. Imagine the surprise of transit workers when they found a life-size statue of St. Anthony holding the Christ child in his arms abandoned on the mezzanine level of the East Broadway station of the IND Sixth Avenue Line on Christmas Eve of 1963. There the brown plaster statue sat in its crate, standing 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and weighing in at a whopping 250 pounds (113.4 kg). With no one there to claim it, the statue was hauled off to the Transit Authority’s lost and found department at 370 Jay Street.

Two days later, a Haitian man named Etienne Agnan walked in to claim the statue. Agnan, who had moved to New York City four months prior, explained that he had done some statue work for St. Teresa’s church on the corner of Rutgers and Henry streets. For his efforts, church officials rewarded Agnan with the statue of St. Anthony, which he planned to take to upper Manhattan for some repair work before shipping it off to Haiti.

So, Agnan lugged the massive statue into the subway but soon realized that there was no way that he could easily get it onto the train. He opted to leave the statue on the mezzanine level while he ran upstairs to seek outside transportation. By the time he returned, subway workers had already hauled the statue off to the lost and found.

Personally, I think it would’ve opted for a U-Haul instead.

The plaster statue of St. Anthony that was found on the mezzanine level of the East Broadway station of the IND Sixth Avenue Line on Christmas Eve of 1963.
The plaster statue of St. Anthony that was found on the mezzanine level of the East Broadway station of the IND Sixth Avenue Line on Christmas Eve of 1963. Image originally appeared on page 4 of the New York Daily News on December 27, 1963.

Elephant Falls from Elevated Trolley

 

In our next story, Frans Althoff, director of the Althoff Circus in Germany, came up with what he thought would be the perfect publicity stunt. On July 21, 1950, he intended to lead a 4-year-old elephant into one of the cars of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, which is an inverted monorail. Basically, the cars hang from a rail that is above them.

The 450-pound (approximately 204 kg) elephant was so upset by the motion of the car that she became agitated and began to move around wildly. Suddenly, she broke through one of the windows and fell an estimated 39 feet (12 m) into the Wuppertal River below. Amazingly, the elephant, who was quickly nicknamed Tuffi – the Italian word for diving – suffered only minor injuries. Several of the car’s human occupants were also bruised in the ruckus.

Tuffi would later be sold to the Cirque Alexis Gruss in 1968 and died there in 1989 at 43 years of age.

Tuffi jumping from the monorail car.
This widely reproduced photograph of Tuffi jumping from the monorail car is a superimposed picture created after the incident occurred.