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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

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.)
 

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.