June 27, 1893: Pardon Me Boy, Is That the Chadron Choo Choo?

The streets of Chadron, Nebraska, were filled with people on a bright June morning. Spectators climbed atop roofs; they hung out of second-floor windows. Jester’s Freak Band, a cornet group, provided lively music. The prize was $1500 and a fancy saddle; the challenge, a 1,000-mile race from Chadron, Nebraska, to Chicago Illinois, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show near the site of the 1893 World’s Fair. Ten riders took the challenge.

The rules were fairly simple. Each rider was allowed to begin the race with two horses; he was required to stop at various checkpoints along the way; and he must finish the race riding one of the original horses.

The competitors were a questionable lot – various drifters and ne’er-do-wells, such as “Rattlesnake Jim” Stephens and “Doc” Middleton, a “reformed” horse thief. Rules were broken; animals were injured. A newspaper from along the route reported that “ladies are pulling hairs from the manes and tails of the horses as mementos, and if they have a hair left when they reach Chicago it will be surprising.”

Only six of the original ten riders finished the race. The first-place finisher was a railroader named Berry who, riding a horse named Poison, rode triumphantly into Buffalo Bill’s Wild West arena on the morning of June 27 where he was greeted by a crowd of 10,000 people including Buffalo Bill himself.  In a lavish ceremony, Berry was awarded the saddle.

But the winner never received his cash prize. Race promoters discovered that shortly after the beginning of the race, he and his horses had secretly traveled the first 100 miles of the race aboard an eastbound train.

Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people. — W C Fields

 

June 26, 1927: Look Ma, No Hands

In 1927, thrill-seekers plunked down their quarters to take a ride on the Cyclone, a new attraction at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Noting the success of the Thunderbolt in 1925 and the Tornado in 1926, Jack and Irving Rosenthal jumped into the roller coaster business to the tune of about $175,000, and the Cyclone was built.   It would take only 700,000 riders to recoup their investment. The Cyclone was built on the site of America’s first roller coaster, known as Switchback Railway, which had opened in 1884.

The Cyclone remained extremely popular through the years and has accumulated its share of legends. One is from 1948, when a coal miner with aphonia, the loss of speaking ability, took a ride. He had not spoken in years, but screamed as the Cyclone plummeted down the first drop, and said “I feel sick” as his train returned to the station, whereupon he fainted.

Statistics were never kept to tell us how many other people got sick on the Cyclone or how many threw up.  And of course there were more serious incidents. Two men were killed in separate incidents during the 1980s, both Darwin Award contenders who felt the need to stand up during the ride. One fell out and the other was whacked by a crossbeam.

The Cyclone began to deteriorate during the 1960s and was shut down in 1969. Two years later, the city of New York bought it for one million dollars. It was condemned a short time later and, in 1972, it was nearly destroyed to make way for an expansion of the New York Aquarium. A “Save the Cyclone” campaign did just that, and it was refurbished and reopened in 1975. The Cyclone was declared a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

That quarter ticket now costs nine dollars.

 

I write so slowly, I could write with my own blood and not hurt myself. ― Fran Lebowitz

June 25, 1987: Ronald Reagan Never Noodled

In addition to his significant and far-reaching designation of ketchup as a vegetable, President Ronald Reagan had another major food moment on June 25, 1987, when he issued the Presidential Proclamation (number 5672, if you’re keeping track) calling for the celebration of National Catfish Day, a day to recognize the value of farm-raised catfish – not the ordinary bottom-feeding catfish found in any catfish hole, but those fine-finned fellows raised on pristine family farms.

More and more Americans, said the Prez, are discovering this uniquely American food delicacy. “They thrive” – the catfish, not the Americans – “in clean freshwater ponds on many American farms, where they are surface-fed soybean meal, corn, fish meal, vitamins, and minerals. Farm-raised catfish not only furnish American consumers with a tasty delicacy but also provide a nutritious, low-calorie source of protein that is also low in cholesterol.”

Top with a dollop of ketchup and you’re on your way to seafood Shangri-la.

Noodling is fishing for catfish using only bare hands, practiced primarily in the southern United States. The noodler places his hand inside a discovered catfish hole. — Wikipedia  And hopes for the best, one would presume.

June 24, 1947: Bad Dream at 9,000 Feet

At about three in the afternoon on June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a recreational private pilot, was heading toward Yakima, Washington. Flying at 9,000 feet, Arnold saw nine objects flying in formation out of the side window of his airplane. He watched them bob, weave, and dart about – showing off at an incredible speed. These strange craft were not your traditional flying machine shape; they had no nose or tail, but rather were perfectly round, metallic and highly polished.  Arnold radioed in his sighting. It must have been a slow news day for when he landed at the Pendleton field in Oregon, he found a full news conference waiting for him. It was there that Arnold used the words that found legs with scary space phenomena enthusiasts everywhere. He said that these strange flying objects looked like saucers skipping across water.

In addition to being the first use of the term ‘flying saucers,’ it is generally considered to be the ShatnerTZ_5046first widely reported UFO sighting in the United States (even though our friend Harold Dahl saw his flying doughnut a few days earlier). Perhaps because there was a corroborative sighting ten days later (although people were now beginning to see UFOs more often than pigeons).  A United Airlines crew also spotted five to nine disk-like objects over Idaho that paced their plane for 10 to 15 minutes before suddenly disappearing. (This may have been the very flight on which William Shatner saw one of the actual aliens chewing on the wing – but that’s an allusion for another day.)

The United States Air Force officially classified Arnold’s sighting as a mirage.

And some ufologists (yes, ufologists) began to express doubts about the psychology of the man when he reported several other UFO sightings in the years that followed, particularly his report of two living transparent UFOs that he characterized as space animals with the ability to change their density.  And a fondness for chewing on the wings of airplanes.

 

Somebody told me it was frightening how much topsoil we are losing each year, but I told that story around the campfire and nobody got scared. ~ Jack Handey

June 23, 1626: Another Fish Story

A codfish was brought to market in Cambridge, England, on this day in 1626. Codfish were probably brought to market every day in 1626 – and in 1627 and throughout the centuries, but this was a rather unusual fish. Upon being opened, it was found to have a book in its stomach.  There are plenty of  fish in books, but how many books in fish are there?

The book had seen better days, but it remained readable. It had been written by one John Frith and included several essays on religious subjects evidently written by Frith when in prison. Oddly enough, he had been confined in a fish cellar where many of his fellow prisoners died from smelling too much salt cod. Frith got past the salt cod but was eventually taken to the Tower, and in 1533 was burned at the stake for unacceptable religious beliefs.  How he got his essays – which were no doubt inflammatory – into that cod is still a mystery.

The folks at Cambridge reprinted the work, which had been totally forgotten for a hundred years until it turned up inside the fish.  The reprint was called Vox Piscis, which would translate to “voice of the fish.”  There’s definitely a morale booster for writers here:  When Random House says no, go find yourself a big fish.

I know the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully. ― George W. Bush

June 22, 1774: Run Silent, Run Deep

In 1774, John Day, an ignorant but ingenious English millwright, fancied that he had devised a plan by which he could remain completely

underwater at any depth for at least 24 hours. The contraption he had devised for this feat would afford him a degree of comfort until, at his leisure, he returned to the surface.  Day could think of no useful purpose for his invention other than making money by wagering on his feat. He therefore contacted a local gambler who agreed to furnish funds for the construction of Day’s diving machine for a lion’s share of all the bets gained by it.

If nothing else, Day’s plan had the virtue of simplicity. His machine was merely a watertight box attached to a weight by means of screws. After entering the box and sealing the entrance, the vessel would be sunk and would remain underwater until, at the designated time, Day would remove the screws and he and the box would rise to the surface.

The machine was finished, bets were taken, and everyone convened at a designated spot on Plymouth Sound where the water was 132 feet deep. Day entered the compartment with a comfortable chair, a watch, some biscuits, a bottle of water and a candle.  Perhaps had he taken a basic science book with him — it may have enlightened him (if he read fast enough) but at that point it wouldn’t have helped.   The box was tightly closed and sunk 132 feet to the bottom from where neither it nor the unfortunate John Day ever arose.

I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.H. G. Wells

June 21, 1947: Plan 10 from Outer Space

In 1947, shortly after noon, Harold A. Dahl, who had spent the day scavenging for drifting logs in Puget Sound, near Tacoma, Washington, saw something. It wasn’t a drifting log.  Actually it was four or five somethings. They were shaped like doughnuts (he had already eaten, so it wasn’t his stomach’s imagination, and none of the objects were glazed or chocolate-covered).  They were overhead.  And they were flying in formation.

Dahl described these curiosities in detail. He said he could see blue sky through the holes in the center of the discs, and that there were portholes lining the inside of the ring. One of the craft appeared to be having engine trouble (if indeed it had an engine). A second doughnut came alongside, then retreated. At this point, things began being tossed out through the inner portholes of the troubled doughnut. Stuff began raining on and hitting the little boat, damaging its windshield, the wheel house and a light fixture, wounding Dahl’s son and killing his dog Shep.

The next morning, even though Dahl had not publicly described the incident, a mysterious man in black visited Dahl. He was driving a new black 1947 Buick and had the air of a government official. “I know a great deal more about this experience of yours than you will want to believe,” the man said cryptically (and rather dramatically). He also made not-so-subtle threats that Dahl’s family might be in danger. As a result, Dahl later claimed the UFO sighting was a hoax, but even later suggested he had claimed it was a hoax to avoid bringing harm to his family. His son, however, claimed not to have been on the boat.  And Dahl’s dog wasn’t really named Shep.

None of this is fooling conspiracy theorists who have suggested one great big cover-up which they follow directly to the executive boardroom of none other than Krispy Kreme.

 

Inanimate objects are classified scientifically into three major categories – those that don’t work, those that break down, and those that get lost. ― Russell Baker

June 20, 1890: Painting Outside the Lines

Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, appeared as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in the July 1890 issue, released on June 20.

In the novel, the title character is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him. Dorian is also infatuated by Dorian’s beauty, especially the beauty in the painting, and more than annoyed that the man in the painting will remain the same, while Dorian himself will get old and wrinkled and forget people’s names and so forth. Obviously the only answer is to put his soul on the market, which he does, with the purchaser (you know who) promising that the painting will age while Dorian himself stays the same.

In an apparent effort to make the painting age as quickly as possible, Dorian embarks on a life of debauchery, and each sin takes its toll on the portrait.

The book had about the same effect on British critics as Dorian’s naughtiness had on the painting. “Vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous” and “discreditable” were a few of their nicer comments. “A tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents – a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction,” said the Daily Chronicle.   And this was after Wilde’s editor had already deleted a lot of “objectionable” text before it made its first appearance in Lippincott’s, eliminating titillating bits of debauchery and elements of homosexuality.

Deciding that the novel contained things that might upset an innocent woman, the editor cut further, removing many more decadent passages before the book was published in 1891.

June 19, 1885: Beware the French Bearing Gifts

In 1885, the French ship Isere sailed into New York Harbor carrying 214 crates filled with 350 libertypieces of a 305-foot high jigsaw that had been crafted in France and would, over the next four months, be re-assembled on an awaiting pedestal on Bedloe Island (now called Liberty Island) – there to stand for the next 132 years (so far).

Once constructed, this would, of course, be the Statue of Liberty or “Liberty Enlightening the World,” to those not on a first-name basis. It was a gift from France to the United States back during the two countries’ honeymoon days.   Actually it was something of a joint enterprise, the French providing the statue and the U.S. the pedestal on which it would stand.

French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi began designing the statue in 1876, working with Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower. Richard Morris Hunt, designer of New York City’s first apartment building, designed the pedestal. Given his background, one might have expected his pedestal to house several luxury apartments, a missed funding opportunity: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to rent 3BR LUX APT, LWR FLR, UNF, HRBR VIEW.”

As it was, funding of the statue was a bit of an issue. Both countries faced challenges in getting money for the project. The French charged public fees, held fundraising events, and used money from a lottery to finance the statue. One notable fundraising method in the U.S. was a traveling arm. The statue’s torch-bearing arm was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in 1876.  After the exhibition closed, it was transported to New York, where it remained on display in Madison Square Park for several years before being returned to France to be reunited with its torso. The French, in a bit of Gallic oneupsmanship, exhibited the head at the 1878 Paris World’s Fair.

The plan to display Lady Liberty’s breasts in Boston was banned before it got off the drawing board, and a nationwide tour of her feet failed to muster sufficient enthusiasm.

The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying, ‘Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.’ She’s got a baseball bat and yelling, ‘You want a piece of me?’ Robin Williams

June 18, 1913: They Call It Sam’s Song

Violinist, meat-packer, usher, tinsmith, elevator operator, and lyricist, Sammy Cahn (no relation to Kublai or Genghis) penned his first lyrics at the age of 16 – “Like Niagara Falls, I’m cahnFalling for You,” not one of his most notable successes. But he kept writing them, giving up those other professions, until he got it right, and got it right again, and again.

     Over the course of his career, Cahn was nominated for 23 Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy and a Grammy. In 1988, the Sammy Awards, for movie songs and scores, were created in his honor.

With Jimmy Van Heusen, Cahn wrote so many songs for Frank Sinatra that the two were almost considered to be his personal songwriters. Oscar winners “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way,” and “High Hopes” were all introduced in films by Sinatra.  Add “Love and Marriage,”  “The Tender Trap,” “My Kind of Town,” “Come Fly with Me” and a host of others.

     The pair also won an Oscar for “Call Me Irresponsible” and received nominations for “Pocketful of Miracles,” “The Second Time Around,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Cahn and Jule Styne added nominations for “I’ll Walk Alone,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and “It’s Magic.”

Cahn was born on June 18, 1913, and died in 1993.