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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

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.

Suicide Prevented by Cork Leg

 

39-year-old Russell B. Hayward had become despondent as his excessive drug use took control of his life. So, on July 12, 1924, as hundreds of people were standing on the seawall or strolling through New York’s Battery Park, he decided to end it all and took a flying leap into the bay below.

As much as Hayward tried, he was unable to sink below the surface because he had forgotten to remove his artificial leg, which was made from cork.

Brooklyn resident James Weiber, who operated a stand that rented binoculars, spotted the leg bobbing up and down in the water. Without hesitation, Weiber jumped into the water fully clothed and swam out to Hayward in an effort to save his life.

It wouldn’t be easy. Hayward kept poking Weiber with his cork leg in an effort to keep them away. Weiber refused to give up and eventually was able to grab hold of Hayward. After grabbing onto a line tossed from an excursion boat, the two were drawn into safety. Police then escorted Hayward to Bellevue Hospital for care.

A. A. Marks offered this artificial leg with a rubber foot in 1888. Image from archive.org.

17-Year Christmas Card Mystery

 

It was reported on January 11, 1961 that Mr. and Mrs. Leo M. Dooley of 2190 Twenty-Fourth St. SW. in Akron, Ohio had been receiving a Christmas card every year since 1943 and had no clue who was sending them. The Dooley’s received the first greeting card from this unknown family before their then 17-year-old son Larry had been born.

“We have no idea who ‘Jackie, Herman and children’ are, and we’ve never sent a card in return,” Mrs. Dooley told the Akron Beacon Journal. She added that whoever was sending the cards “must be good-natured people. When I send Christmas cards four or five times and get none in return, I stop.”

In the article, the Dooley’s speculated as to who could possibly be sending these cards. They figured that it probably was not a relative but could have been a long-lost friend. Or, since Mr. Dooley had worked at B. F. Goodrich Company for more than 30 years, it could be from someone from work. Then, there was the possibility that it was from an old boyfriend or girlfriend. Whatever the situation, the Dooleys wanted to meet the family and were kind enough to invite them to dinner.

Well, a little publicity goes a long way. The very next day the mystery was solved. The cards were being sent by Mr. and Mrs. Marion H. Watson and their 5 children. It turns out that Mr. Dooley was Marion Watson’s foreman at the B. F. Goodrich plant. In that role, Mr. Dooley signed about 40 company cards every December, which a secretary addressed and mailed to each of the personnel who worked under him.

It’s not as if Mr. Dooley didn’t know Marion Watson personally. He definitely did. The problem was that Mr. Watson used the name Marion at work but went by his middle name of Herman at home. In addition, Mrs. Watson’s first name is Martha but she used the name Jackie instead.

As for the dinner that Mrs. Dooley promised the mystery family, Mrs. Watson took a rain check because she was dieting at the time. Instead, the two families planned for a summer picnic.

One of the mysterious Christmas cards received over a 17-year period by the Dooley family in Akron, Ohio.
One of the mysterious Christmas cards received over a 17-year period by the Dooley family in Akron, Ohio. They had no idea who Jackie, Herman or the children were. Image appeared on page 1 of the Akron Beacon Journal on January 11, 1961.

Parachute Drops Christmas Gifts

 

It was reported on December 19, 1944 that a seven-foot nylon parachute with a package attached to it had fallen to the ground in Detroit, Michigan the previous Sunday. Inside the package was a camera, hand-made locket, two prayer books, and a note. The note read “Hi sweetheart. Honey, I’m sorry, but this will have to do for a part of your Christmas present. I love you, Jim.”

An inscription inside one of the prayer books identified this mysterious package as being the property of Pfc. Wesley De Quinn, who had been overseas for more than a year. At the time that this package dropped from the sky, Jim, as he was commonly referred to as, was in the jungles of New Guinea.

Police were able to locate his wife, Barbara De Quinn, and she was able to positively identify the contents of the package as having been from her husband. The parachute had landed in someone’s yard about 6-miles (9.7 km) from their home.

Army officials stated that they intended to keep the parachute but planned to turn over the gifts to Mrs. De Quinn. They were uncertain as to who had dropped the package and promised to investigate.

Barbara De Quin and daughter Susan are pictured with the parachute that delivered their Christmas gifts.
Barbara De Quin and daughter Susan are pictured with the parachute that delivered their Christmas gifts. Image appeared on page 11 of the December 19, 1944 publication of the New York Daily News.

Sacramental Wine for Jewish Families to Be Doubled

 

It was announced on December 22, 1932 that officials in Washington, D. C. had been approached to raise the maximum quota of sacramental wine permitted to Jewish families. Due to Prohibition, Jewish families were only allowed five gallons of wine for a family of five or more.

Dr. James M. Doran, Industrial Alcohol Commissioner, and Col. Amos W. W. Woodcock, Prohibition Director, were approached with the view that the quota should be doubled. Dr. Doran was thought to be in favor of the proposal, and those close to Woodcock believed that he would also be receptive to the recommendation.

In the end, it didn’t matter one way or the other. By the end of 1933, Prohibition was repealed and all families could consume as much wine as they liked, whether for religious purposes or not.

James M. Doran, Industrial Alcohol Commissioner during Prohibition
Image of James M. Doran, Industrial Alcohol Commissioner during Prohibition. Image appeared on page 29 of the December 23, 1932 issue of the New York Daily News.

Was the Heaviest Man Buried in a Piano Shipping Box?

 

Robert Earl Hughes was the heaviest man on Earth at the time of his death on July 10, 1958. It has been widely reported over the years that he was buried in a piano shipping box because no coffin was large enough to hold him. Was this really true?

The press described Hughes as having been a normal-sized baby at the time of his birth on June 4, 1926, in Monticello, Illinois. Personally, I consider 11-¼ lbs (5.1 kilograms) to be a very large baby. The story goes everything was fine until he suffered an attack of whooping cough at three-months of age. After that, his weight began to skyrocket. By age 6, Hughes weighed 203 lbs (92 kg); at 10 he was 378 lbs (171 kg); at 13 he was 546 lbs (248 kg), and at 25 he weighed in at 896 lbs (406 kg).

In 1953, he signed on with the Gooding Brothers amusement company as a sideshow attraction. He was billed as “The World’s Heaviest Man.”

Image of  Robert Earl Hughes.
Image of Robert Earl Hughes from Wikipedia.

He was still traveling with Gooding in July of 1958 when he fell ill at the Mermaid Festival in North Webster, Indiana. He was diagnosed with a case of the measles and rushed to nearby Elkhart General Hospital. Unable to care for him, he was sent to an osteopathic hospital in South Bend, but they also could not treat him. Finally, Hughes arrived at the Bremen Community Hospital and they agreed to care for him.

The biggest problem was that Hughes was so large that none of the hospitals had a gurney strong enough to carry his weight. In addition, it was clear that he could not pass through the doors into any of their hospital rooms nor did they had a bed big enough to hold him. Instead, a makeshift hospital room was set up inside of Hughes’ home, which was built atop a tractor-trailer bed and parked in the hospital’s parking lot.

In addition to the measles, it was determined that Hughes was also suffering from congestion and a heart condition. Initially, he seemed to respond well to treatment, but he passed away on Thursday, July 10, 1958. He was just 32-years-old. The cause of death was given as uremia.

The American Medical Association confirmed that he was the heaviest known man at the time of his death. He weighed 1,041 lbs (472 kilograms), had a 122 inch (3.09 meters) waist and measured 40 inches (1.02 meters) around each upper arm.

After being embalmed in his trailer-home, he was transported to the Brown Funeral Home in Mount Sterling, Illinois. His brother Guy told the press, “I asked Brown’s to arrange for building a special casket.” So, he was not buried, as widely reported, in a piano shipping box. The casket was constructed in Burlington, Iowa and measured 52-inches (132 cm) wide, 34-inches (86 cm) deep, and was of normal length.

Casketmaker Bill Walker is seen  prepping a large casket to hold the body of Robert Earl Hughes.
This image of casketmaker Bill Walker was syndicated in newspapers across the United States. He is seen here prepping a large casket to hold the body of Robert Earl Hughes, who was the heaviest man of Earth at the time of his death in 1958. (Image appeared on page 1 of the July 14, 1959 issue of the Holdenville Daily News.)

More than 1,500 people attended his funeral, which was held on July 12, 1958, in a tent at Bennville Cemetary in Bennville, Illinois. There were no pallbearers and a mechanical hoist was needed to lower the specially built coffin into the ground. His tombstone is engraved with the words “Worlds Heaviest Man, Weight 1,041 Pounds.”

That is a record that he no longer holds. Ten men and one woman have since weighed more. The heaviest man was Jon Brower Minnoch, who weighed in at 1,400 lbs (635 kg). He passed away on September 10, 1983 at 41 years of age. The heaviest woman was Carol Yager who weighed 1,200 lbs (544 kg). She passed away on July 18, 1994. She was just 34-years old.

One thing is clear: carrying that much weight translates into a shorter life. Of the twenty-two 1000-plus pound people listed on Wikipedia, the oldest lived to 63-years of age. The vast majority of those on the list who have passed away died while in their 30s or 40s. Very sad…

Wrote Will on the Back of a Wall Calendar

 

When Walter C. Wyland died on September 3, 1954 at the age of 42, the will that he had written way back in 1936 left nothing to Mrs. Doris M. Vroubel, who was his fiancée at the time of his passing. A widow, she lived right across the street from Mr. Wyland at 965 S. Catalina St. in Los Angeles, California.

One day, she was about to discard a 1953 calendar that had been hanging on the wall of Mr. Wyland’s home at 962 S. Catalina, when she noticed some writing on it. Penciled on the back of the calendar was Mr. Wyland’s will, which he had penned two days prior to his death. In it, he left all of the money that he had saved to Mrs. Vroubel. The catch was that it was not all in one account. Instead he had opened 102 bank accounts all over the world, including such faraway places as Honolulu and Manila in the Philippines. None of the accounts were overflowing with money. The Hawaiian account had $1.57, another in Salt Lake City contain $8.45 while one in Glens Falls, New York held $2.67. In total, the 102 accounts added up to less than $400 (that would be approximately $3775 today.)

Strangely, he had never been to many of these places and opened most accounts by mail. The good news was that while Mr. Wyland didn’t save much, he had set up a number of life insurance policies. His newly penned will, which was viewed by the courts as a codicil or addendum to his previous will, coupled with all that insurance money, provided Mrs. Vroubel with $20,000 (nearly $190,000 today).

He also named her 18-year-old son Maurice Vroubel as beneficiary to policies that yielded another $9500 (nearly $90,000 today).

Interestingly, his original will left just one dollar each to his father, mother, four sisters, and two brothers. The will that he wrote on the calendar confirmed these same meager amounts, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Additional insurance policies bequeathed to them an additional $30,000 ($283,000 today).

Walter C. Wyland's will was found written on the back of a wall calendar. His money had been deposited in 102 bank accounts around the world.
Walter C. Wyland’s will was found written on the back of a wall calendar. His money had been deposited in 102 bank accounts around the world. (1905 Metropolitan Racing Calendar is from the Library of Congress.)

Will Written on Egg Shell

 

It was reported that on November 23, 1926, one of the strangest wills ever was exhibited in the Probate Court in London.

John Barnes, the pilot of a boat on the Manchester Ship Canal, wrote an ordinary will in 1920. He left a portion of his estate to his second wife Margaret and the remainder to the children from his first marriage. Had this been Barnes’s only will, it probably would have gone uncontested. Yet, shortly after Barnes passed away, his wife made an unusual discovery atop a wardrobe in his bedroom: It was an eggshell on which the following words were written: “17-1925. Mag. Everything I possess. J. B.”

There was no doubt that the handwriting on the shell were that of the deceased. In addition, he commonly referred to Margaret as Mag. The real question was whether or not he intended this unusual document to supersede that formally drawn up last will and testament.

It was a case that Lord Maryvale, who presided over the case, took quite seriously. It was established in court that Barnes was in the habit of carrying eggs with him in a small pouch in a bag. Yet, Maryvale ruled against Mrs. Barnes. First, while Barnes was a “seaman at sea,” he was able to spend a portion of his time ashore and was not a soldier engaged in actual military service, which he felt was essential for the validity of the will. In addition, the words “Mag. Everything I possess,” were insufficient to prove that John Barnes wanted all of his possessions to go to his wife.

Frame number 16 from the 1942 filmstrip “Victory in an eggshell” that was prepared by the FSA (Farm Security Administration). From the Library of Congress.