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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

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.)
 

That’s a Lot of Ants…

On January 7th of 1950, it was reported that Railway Express Clerk Steve Flaherty had a 70 lb (32 kg) box of ants that was sitting on his desk in the basement of Pennsylvania Station in Pittsburgh. 70 pounds of ants. That is a lot of ants! He had brought them in from the warehouse because he was afraid that they would freeze to death if left there.

The package was addressed to the Union Fire Brick Company, but Steve was unable to contact anyone there by phone because the fire brick company was closed for the weekend.

He said, “ I don’t know whether them ants is alive or dead in there. I sure wouldn’t know what to feed them.”

It was later determined that the ants were purchased buy an executive at the fire brick company for his daughter. The ants were in a glass box, which allowed viewers to see them digging tunnels under the surface. They had been shipped by a California company who is marketing them as an “Ant Circus.” If only they had changed the name to an “Ant Farm” and then they could have made millions of dollars.

1966 Ant Farm Ad
Classic advertisement for an Ant Farm that appeared on page 79 of the Famous Monsters of Filmland 1966 Yearbook.
 

6-Year-Old Goes on a Buying Spree

On April 29th 1933, 6-year-old Bertha Deshefy, who resided at 317 Nepperhan Avenue in Yonkers, NY, decided to go on a spending spree. In just four short hours, Bertha managed to purchase $110 (that’s approximately $2,100 today) worth of candy, ice cream, and toys at stores in her neighborhood.

Bertha started her buying spree with the help of her friend Helen Semendie, but pretty soon more and more “friends” were helping her. Some of these friends, if you can call them that, spent her money on slot machines in an effort to win various prizes.

This image of 
Bertha Deshefy appeared on page 5 of the June 4, 1933 publication of the Salt Lake Tribune’s Magazine Section.

David Astor, a store proprietor at 218 Warburton Avenue became suspicious when he saw such a young child with nearly $20 on her. He called police and soon dad was notified.

It turns out that Dad had been saving the money at home and Bertha had found the hidden stash. She blew through $110 of the $130 originally in the money roll.

“You just can’t keep up with this younger generation,” said police Sergeant William Coney. He continued, “They are stepping faster than ever.”

 

The Sign Said Free TV

Do you remember when, years ago, the signs outside most motels advertised free TV, air conditioning, and a swimming pool? Well, someone took that sign seriously on January 6, 1961. That’s when a man reserved ten rooms at the Holiday Inn Motel in Jackson, Michigan under the name of a well-known local company.

With ten keys now in hand, the man went room-to-room and stole all of the 17-inch television sets. After all, the sign did say “Free TV.”

Vintage motel postcard advertising air conditioning, telephones, and TV.  Image appears on the website http://archive.doobybrain.com/2013/03/01/the-american-motel-a-collection-of-vintage-motel-postcards-from-around-the-us/
 

Kept Alive by Pumping Arms

Today we take for granted that we can keep people alive via artificial respiration. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back in April of 1927, newspapers across the country reported on the progress of 18-year old Walter L. Boothe, who was being cared for in a hospital in Roanoke Virginia. Walter had become injured in a car accident on May 29, 1926. He recovered from his injuries and went back to work, only to fall ill months later.

This image is labeled “Artificial respiration by rolling a man prone on a barrel.” It is part of the Wikimedia Commons collection.

Partial paralysis soon set in and doctors determined that a fractured and dislocated vertebrae near the base of his skull was the cause. He failed to improve, so six weeks later it was decided that surgery was his only option. It was during that procedure that his lungs collapsed and he could no longer breathe on his own.

With no machine to keep Walter alive, his friends were called into action. Two-by-two, working in a 30-minute shifts, friends stood on either side of him pumping his arms up and down.

Crazy as this may seem, it did keep him alive. Friends continue this day-after-day, 24 hours a day, with the hope that he would improve. Sadly, he continued to weaken and on May 7th, 378 hours (nearly 16 days) after the up-and-down pumping of his arms had started, Walter took his last breath.

 

Pennies Hoarded for Gold

Long before The Amityville Horror made the village famous, The New York Times reported on February 9, 1903 that its citizens were hoarding pennies. This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to you since people have been hoarding pennies for many years now. What’s odd about this story is that they were only hoarding shiny 1902 pennies and nothing else.

Why 1902 and why shiny? It was all traced back to a Fulton Fish Market dealer named Alvah W. Haff, who was a resident of Amityville. Since his wholesale fish business required him to give customers lots and lots of change, the Amityville bank will contact him when they had too many small coins on hand. Eleven days prior to the story being published, he obtained 3000 copper pennies from the bank. Since this occurred right after the holiday shopping season, the department stores had just given out tons of shiny new 1902 pennies as change for purchases made. Someone commented to Mr. Haff about the shiny pennies and he jokingly said that he was “going to take the coins and get the gold out of them.”

Could brand new 1902 pennies really contain gold?  Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Next thing you know, a story started to spread to the coins were so shiny because a careless smelter had accidentally dropped a bar of gold into the molten copper. Suddenly, people were checking every penny they were given and keeping the shiny 1902 model to cash in for the gold.

And analysis made by the public schools chemistry class confirmed what you probably knew all along: the pennies contain no gold. Every penny was still worth one penny.

 

Officer, I am Being Followed…

This bizarre story made the national news on December 24, 1954. It was reported that two motorcycle officers in Vernon, California pulled a car driven by 48-year-old Virgil Grover Attebery over to the side of the road.

Attebery looked very concerned and told the officers, “Somebody’s been tailing me clear from Los Angeles.” The officers were attentive as he continued, “I want you guys to look into it.”

The officers didn’t have to search far. There was, in fact, a car that had been following Attebery for miles. What was incredibly unusual about this vehicle was that it was driverless. Apparently Attebery had backed into the car, locked bumpers with it, and then towed it along as he made his way. To make matters worse, the car that he had been dragging was owned by a policeman named Ray Rapier.

The two officers booked Atteberry on suspicion of drunk driving.

Attebery Sketch - 1954_12_25 Philadelphia Inquirer p9
This sketch that appeared on page 9 of the December 25, 1954 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer sums up the story well.
 

Self-Service Gasoline

When Frank Ulrich opened the first successful self-service gasoline station in Los Angeles back in 1947, he probably couldn’t imagine the uproar that it would cause. By eliminating the high cost of paying attendants to fill your tank, he was able to pass the savings on to his customers. His slogan was “Save five cents, serve yourself. Why pay more?” With a gallon of gas costing less than 20-cents in 1947, saving a nickel was a big deal.

Word of his success began to spread across the country and soon others began to copy Ulrich’s model. One of these men was Irving Reingold. He opened a 24-pump self-service station on Route 17 in Hackensack, New Jersey. Everyone else was selling gas at an agreed upon 21.8-cents per gallon, while Reingold was able to undercut them at 18.9-cents.

Soon cars were lining up for cheaper gas, but the other dealers were very unhappy with the competition. Using the pretext of fire safety, the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association convinced the state legislature to ban self-service gasoline stations, a law that is still on the books today.

Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline
Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline in Rapid City, SD that appeared on page 11 of the May 5, 1950 issue of the Rapid City Journal.

John Dressler, president of the association at the time stated, “The only motive behind the bill was the safety of the public, because from experience we learned that the handling of gasoline is a potential hazard.”

A July 3, 1948 story in Connecticut’s Sunday Herald interviewed Bridgeport gasoline dealers and all were in agreement that self-service gasoline was probably never going to happen in their state.

Larry Keller, proprietor of Pop’s Gulf Station said. “Our business would suffer from 30 to 60 days, but after that time the novelty would wear off and people would come back for service.”

James Duva, owner of Duva’s Service Station added, “the whole city would be endangered if every Tom, Dick, and Harry operated the pumps.”

Red Dial, of Dial’s Sunoco station, was in total agreement. “Customers don’t save money anyway with the self-service idea. They save a few cents on the gas and spend dollars on cleaning their clothes which they dirtied while checking their own oil, or on repairs of the cars which the service attendant could have pointed out and fixed earlier.”

I did a quick check on Google Maps for the locations of these three dealers. Today only one is still a gas station and it is – you guessed it – self service.

Self Service Gasoline - 1950_08_27 - Long Beach Independent p15
Advertisement for Self-Service Gasoline that appeared on page 15 of the August 27, 1950 publication of the Long Beach Independent.
 

Both Children Born in a Yellow Cab

On October 18, 1922 Mrs. Rose Simon, who lived at 354 East 53rd Street in Chicago gave was a passenger in the backseat of a Yellow cab when she gave birth to a daughter. Both were taken to University Hospital and were reported to be in excellent health.

Giving birth to a baby in the back of a cab has certainly happened before, so just what makes this story unique?

Very simple: Eight years earlier, on October 3, 1914, Rose was a passenger in another cab while on her way to St. Luke’s Hospital when she suddenly went into labor. That time she gave birth to a baby boy.

Yellow Cab Photo
Photo of Yellow Cab drivers that appeared on page 12 of the February 17, 1964 publication of the Press Sun and Bulletin in Binghamton, NY.