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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Author Archives: Steve Silverman

Man Sucked into Jet Engine

On May 14, 1956 Airman Third Class Fred E. Higinbotham was working with his fellow Air Force crew to refuel an F-86F Sabre jet on the island of Okinawa in Japan. Their goal was to move quickly and get the jet back in the air as soon as possible.

Higinbotham’s job was to secure a static line cable onto the nose gear of the plane as soon as it stopped. This line prevented the buildup of static electricity which could produce sparks and potentially ignite the fumes produced during the refueling process.

The Air Force had strict rules in place that prohibited anyone from getting too close to the intake duct of the fighter’s jet engine. Since this was their last servicing job for the day, the crew was anxious to get the job done.

As part of the post-flight procedure, the pilot advanced the throttle to 65% power, which he was supposed to do for a period of two minutes before shutting the engine down. Just as this was happening, Higinbotham felt the tug of the jet’s intake on his back, but continued to hold on to the static cable. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he had gotten too close to the engine’s intake.

Suddenly, his hat was pulled off of his head and Higginbotham instinctively turned around to grab it. The next thing you know, he was flying through the air and was sucked right into the jet engine. One would have expected Higginbotham to have been torn to shreds by the blades of the engine, but that didn’t happen.

Instead, he was stopped by the engine’s power take-off case cover, which projected outward from the blades in a cone shape. He used all his might to keep away from the whirling blades, which were just 6” (15 cm) from his head.

About thirty seconds after the pilot advanced the throttle, he felt a bump in the engine’s operation. He also spotted a mechanic frantically waving a rag in the air to get his attention. That worked. The pilot immediately cut power to the engine and the rotors began to slow down.

Just as Higginbotham started to back out of the engine, someone grabbed his legs and pulled him out of the engine completely. Amazingly, he still had the static cable in his hands, although it was wrapped twice around both his waist and legs. Later investigation determined that the cable had become fully extended when Higginbotham was sucked into the engine and that most likely saved his life.

Higginbotham’s injuries were minor: he had some cable burns and minor abrasions, but that’s it. He was released from the hospital and was back on the job the very next day.

Fred Higinbotham was sucked into a jet engine and survived.
Image of Fred Higinbotham from the February 3, 1957 publication of the Sunday magazine American Weekly on page 15.
 

Held on for Dear Life

When Lieutenant Lewis J. Connors was given the okay by the control tower operator in Chicago on April 30, 1938 to take off in the Army BY-9 monoplane that he was piloting, nothing initially seemed out of the ordinary.

That was until the air traffic controller noticed something attached to the outside of the plane. No, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He grabbed his binoculars. Yes, he wasn’t crazy. There was a man clinging to the outside of the plane as it approached nearly 1,000 feet (0.3 kilometer) in altitude. He frantically radioed Lieutenant Connors: “You’ve a passenger astride the fuselage. Please set down.”

Connors immediately circled the aircraft around and made a smooth landing. And that’s when Private First Class Frank H. Krebs let go of the airplane and fell to the ground, his fingers white from the firm grip that he had on the smooth fuselage.

Krebs summarized for the press what had happened, “There was a passenger on that ship headed for St. Louis. He had forgotten to sign required papers releasing the army from responsibility during the flight.

“I grabbed the releases and ran for the plane. I’d just stepped on the wing when the control tower gave Lieutenant Connors the signal to take off. I was too startled to jump until too late. My one chance was to slide onto the fuselage.

“I did that, and I’ll bet no cow puncher ever rode a bronco with more determination. Next time I hope that they’ve give me a saddle.”

Lieutenant Lewis J. Connors
This image of Lieutenant Lewis J. Connors appeared in the May 1, 1938 issue of the Chicago Tribune on page 3.
 

The First Transatlantic Airplane Race

 In May of 1929, Old Orchard Beach in Maine was the site for an airplane race that pitted the smaller, more nimble American Green Flash against larger, more powerful French Yellow Bird. Anticipation mounted for weeks as the two planes attempted to get off the ground. 

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Intelligence Related to Breast Size

An Associated Press story from August 31, 1964 discussed the findings of a study done by Dr. Erwin O. Strassman, who was a clinical professor at the Baylor University College of Medicine in Texas.

In what I consider to be purely junk science, Dr. Strassman found that in a study of 717 childless women, there was definite correlation between breast size and intelligence.

“The bigger the brain, the smaller the breasts, and vice versa, the bigger the breasts, the smaller the I.Q.”

His results were published under the title “Physique, Temperament, and Intelligence in Infertile Women” in the International Journal of Fertility. As they always say, don’t believe everything that you read.

Breast Size vs. Intelligence Graph
According to Dr. Erwin O. Strassman, infertile women with larger breasts have a greater IQ.
 

Won Nose Job on TV

In March of 1957, 40-year-old Terry Phillips appeared on the British television show “State Your Case.” She competed against two other contestants as to who was most in need of the 100-pound (approximately $2,400 today) prize.

After the show, viewers mailed in their selection and Mrs. Phillips had won. She convinced the viewing audience that her nose was far too oversized and needed to be reduced. “I get chilblains in winter,” she said. “I scald it when I take a hot drink.”

After winning the prize, her 8-year-old daughter Shirley was upset and said, “Mummy, don’t have your nose cut off.” Her husband Bill agreed, so Terry decided to skip the surgery and donate the money to four different charities.

Bill said, “We’re all pleased she changed her mind. We’ve got sort of used to her nose over the years.”

 

Children Will Have Bugs Bunny Teeth

On April 7, 1949, Dr. George W. Hahn addressed a conference of approximately 4,000 dentists in Los Angeles with a dire warning: The laziness of modern mothers was causing their babies to get facial deformities and they will grow up to look like Bugs Bunny.

Basically, he had concluded that moms were pushing off their children’s feeding schedules, which was causing their teeth to protrude and were ultimately distorting their facial features.

“Like any other mammal, a child wants to nurse his mother when hungry. If he can’t nurse his mother, he sucks his thumb.”

Besides returning to a more normal feeding schedule, he also recommended outfitting your child with a pair of mittens made of coarse Turkish toweling to reduce that evil thumbsucking.

George Hahn - January 1978 The Angle Orthodontist
Dr. George W. Hahn. Image from the January 1978 issue of the Angle Orthodontist.
 

Elixir of Death

Sulfanilamide was considered a miracle drug when it was introduced in the mid-1930’s.  The S.E. Massengill Co. was the first to introduce sulfanilamide in a liquid form, but in their race to get it to market they never bothered to test the safety of the drug.  Within a few weeks, the AMA was notified of the deaths of six children within a ten day period, all of whom had consumed the elixir.  The FDA was contacted, but was basically powerless to do anything about it. Continue Reading

 

Placed Tooth in His Ear

8-year-old Pedro Lozado was sitting in a Chicago classroom on September 18, 1957 when he decided to yank a loose tooth out. He then showed his tooth to his classmates before – get this – inserting the tooth into his ear.

And that’s where the real problem began: The tooth was now stuck in Pedro’s ear.

Pedro brought his unusual predicament to the attention of his teacher, Ms. Mary Ford. At first she didn’t believe him, but upon close inspection observed that he was indeed telling the truth.

The Ryatts Comic 1963
The Ryatts by Cal Alley syndicated comic strip from December 7, 1963.

The school nurse was unavailable, so the principal called the police and requested that they take Pedro to the hospital. The police informed the administrator that they needed parental consent to do so. Since they didn’t their permission, the police opted to drive Pedro to his parents’ home.

For whatever the reason, his parents turned down the request for medical treatment and opted to extract the tooth themselves. Pedro’s mom stuck her finger in his ear and eventually the tooth fell out.

Pedro placed the tooth under his pillow that evening. My guess is that the tooth fairy made a very special visit to the Lozado household that evening.

 

Tried to Hide Her Report Card

So, did you ever receive a poor grade in school and were too afraid to let your parents know? This happened to 11-year-old Nellie Stevens of Indianapolis, Indiana.

She had been missing from her home for six days and a statewide search failed to find her. Luckily, on October 25, 1937, 15-year-old Frank Carleton followed a barking dog to a spot behind a vacant house and found Nellie lying on a blanket beneath some shrubs.

Nellie was rushed to City Hospital suffering from hunger, exposure, and shock. Her feet were frozen, but a full recovery was expected.

The cause of this whole mess? Nellie was too afraid to show her report card to her foster parents.

My 4th Grade Report Card
This is my real 4th grade report card. My teacher was Mrs. Goldsmith during the 1972-73 school year at the Kenneth L. Rutherford elementary school in Monticello, NY.
 

Teacher Punishes Students with an Electric Chair

25-year-old H.T. Upsahl, a science teacher in Barnesville, Minnesota, had his own ideas of how deal with classroom discipline. As a result, he was arrested on October 21, 1924 and charged with assault. You’re probably thinking that he hit a student, but that isn’t it at all. He was accused of using an electric chair to punish his students.

The complaint was filed by the father of 14-year-old Earl Tenneson, claiming that his son suffered severe burns on his body “through high voltage applied to the chair” back on October 16th.

Upsahl Electric Chair
This is a photograph of the actual "electric chair" used by Mr. Upsahl to punish his students. An artist has added the sketches of the teacher and students. From the November 12, 1924 publication of the Albany Democrat on page 6.

In his defense, 25-year-old Upsahl said that several students had volunteered to try out the chair, all without harm. “We’ve rigged up a common office chair to test a coil of very high frequency for experimental purposes.” He continued, “It is impossible to hurt anyone with high frequency.”

Upsahl warned the boys that if they misbehaved, they would get the chair. Three did, including the younger Tenneson, and all willingly accepted the punishment.

The charges against Upsahl were dropped after the state’s attorney, G.W. Hammett, determined that the boy had not been seriously burned. Barnesworth administrators took no action to dismiss Upsahl.

 

Le Mars Trilogy: Part 3 – Maybelle Trow Knox

During desperate times some people are forced to do desperate things. The trick is to not get caught. Let’s just say that Maybelle Trow Knox was not very good at that last part.  An interesting story that involves a speakeasy raid, double identities, forged documents, a missing mom, and more…

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Her First Husband Was Still Alive

Just twelve days after the wedding between Ann Ross Birdwell and Jack Marshall, the couple received word that Jack’s nephew Gene was alive and was about to be released from a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan.

The problem was that Gene was not only Jack’s nephew, but he was also Ann’s first husband. After receiving word the previous October that her husband had been killed on a flight over Borneo, she decided to marry her late-husband’s uncle. Now she was in quite a pickle.

Eights days after receiving the news – on September 7, 1945 – the newlyweds had their marriage annulled by a judge in Kansas City. Ann was once again the legal wife of her first husband Staff Sergeant Gene D. Birdwell

Staff Sergeant Gene D. Birdwell
Staff Sergeant Gene D. Birdwell awaiting a physical at the Letterman Hospital in San Francisco. Image is on sale on E-Bay. Click on image to see full listing.
 

Sees Dead Husband on Movie Screen

The marriage between Bobette and Joseph Griffin was annulled by Superior Court Judge John C. Lewe on November 20, 1936 in Chicago. The couple had married back in July and split up two weeks later on August 1st, shortly after leaving a movie theater in Washington, DC.

One would think that they must have had a big fight or something similar, but it was nothing like that. While watching the movie “The Great Ziegfeld,” Bobbette was shocked to see her first husband Thomas W. Murray up on the screen. They had married in New York in 1929 and separated in 1931.

“In 1933 the papers carried his name as one of the killed in the Los Angeles quake.” Bobbette continued, “I was shocked. I called Murray in Hollywood. I left Washington that night.”

After the annulment, she planned to divorce her first husband and then remarry Mr. Griffin “If he still wants me.”

The Great Ziegfeld
Movie Poster for The Great Ziegfeld. A check of the Internet Movie Database does not show any credit for Thomas W. Murray. He could have been an uncredited extra or worked under an assumed name.
 

Thought His First Wife Was Dead

Back in 1915, Albert F. Rudesheim married Miss Julia Mocska in Schenectady, New York. Their marriage was a happy one, but after the birth of their second child, Julia suffered a mental breakdown. She was committed to a mental institution in Utica, NY.

Albert opted to head west and landed in Denver, Colorado. While there, he learned through his brother that his wife had passed away, which was confirmed by a newspaper clipping.

In 1924, Albert was married once again to Miss Marie Delores Hertzog. Together, the couple had a baby boy.

Then, in 1928, his mother, who was on her deathbed at the time, revealed that his first wife was still alive.

On October 4, 1929, Albert filed papers to annul his second marriage so that he could take care of his first wife and their two children, now aged 10 and 13.

Of course, one can’t help but wonder why he didn’t stay and care for Julia and the two children the first time. Seems a bit suspicious to me…

Marriage Annulled
 

Le Mars Trilogy: Part 2 – Farmers in Revolt

 

The Great Depression was an awful time for farmers in Iowa.  It culminated with the near hanging of a judge in Le Mars. It just happens that the farm involved was owned by the T.M. Zink estate, the same man who left his savings for the establishment of a womanless library.

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