AND THE STRANGE VEHICLE THAT MADE IT POSSIBLE
Americans were saddened by the recent tragedy on Table Rock Lake outside Branson, Missouri. An amphibious duck, a six wheeled craft that travels on both land and water, sank during a storm killing 17 people. It put me in mind of a smaller version of the duck and the president who loved using it for his favorite prank.
For some reason that defies logic, German auto engineers once believed a lucrative commercial market awaited an amphibious vehicle. So in 1960 a small factory outside Berlin, West Germany began making the Amphicar (combining “amphibious” and “car” in a name as appealing as the product). Continue reading
A FORGETFUL CHILD CREATED A SUMMERTIME TREAT
There’s no denying it: the dog days of summer are upon us once again. As we sweat and swelter, many folks find comfort in a classic summertime treat. Yet few know a forgetful child invented it.
One day in 1905, 11 year-old Frank Epperson had a hankering for a sweet drink. He went to the back porch of his Oakland, California home and poured a packet of fruit flavoring into water (similar to today’s Kool-Aid). Then he mixed it with a wooden stirring stick. His mother called him for a chore and he promptly forgot about the drink. Continue reading
JUST WHEN HE WAS GOING UNDER, FATE LENT A HELPING HAND
Your great-grandparents once sang about a dandy named Champagne Charlie. A popular tune said:
Champagne Charlie is my name
Champagne Charlie is my name
There’s no drink as good as fizz, fizz, fizz
I’ll drink every drop there is, is, is.
All round town it is the same
By Pop! Pop! Pop! I rose to fame
I’m the idol of the barmaids
Champagne Charlie is my name.
Champagne Charlie actually existed. He brought champagne to America and his story is wilder than any tale Hollywood could concoct. Continue reading
THE UPROAR OVER FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT MOVING THANKSGIVING DAY
Franklin Roosevelt accomplished many things. He was elected president four times and led America out of the Great Depression and into victory in World War II.
Yet there was one thing even this most remarkable of presidents couldn’t do. As he learned the hard way, you don’t fool around with Thanksgiving. Continue reading
IT UNITES PEOPLE IN SURGARY HAPPINESS
Another Halloween has come and gone. If you’re wondering what to do with your leftover trick-or-teat candy, here’s a thought: perhaps you could share it with politicians in Washington. It seems there’s a stash of sweets hidden away on Capitol Hill. And here’s the story of how it came to be.
Back in the early 1960s, a fellow named George Murphy was looking for a new career. He’d been a movie star in the 30s and 40s, appearing in more than 40 films. With his acting career over, Murphy was in the market for a new line of work. He decided to use his celebrity status to seek public office (something Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger would later do). Murphy was elected United States Senator in 1964 and traded Tinsel Town for Capitol Hill. Continue reading
ONE MAN’S MEDDLING CAUSED A NATURAL NIGHTMARE
Autumn’s annual headache is about to begin. Starlings are preparing for their yearly get-togethers. They gather in huge flocks to pass winter by roosting together. We’re talking thousands upon thousands of birds all hunkered down in one place at one time.
I’ll probably detonate a full-scale nuclear meltdown for writing this, but here goes. Starlings are nasty animals. They are to the bird world what street gangs are to humans: mean, vicious punks bent on dominating their territory by violently running off everyone else. And when you have so many birds congregating in one place, their droppings pose a serious health hazard. Continue reading
A LIE MADE HIM THE FIRST WESTERN MOVIE STAR
You’ve heard of John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter and other cowboy movie stars. But decades earlier, one actor paved the way to fame in Westerns.
And a little lie made it possible. Here’s how it happened.
Like many ambitious young men, Max Aronson dreamed of hitting the big time in the Big Apple. He was from a Jewish family (both parents were European immigrants) and raised in the South. New York beckoned and in 1903, 23 year-old Max was working as a part-time model, part-time newspaper seller.
A FAMOUS POEM DIDN’T QUITE GET IT RIGHT
For decades, schoolchildren had to memorize a famous poem that begins with these words:
“Up from the meadows rich with corn,
clear in the cool September morn;
The clustered spires of Frederick stand,
green-walled by the hills of Maryland.”
It’s John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Barbara Fritchie,” an American classic. The story of how as Confederate troops are passing through her town, elderly Barbara Fritchie bravely snatches a banner that was shot down by Rebel bullets and shouts the poem’s famous lines. Continue reading
THE TRAGEDY THAT BROUGHT OUT THE WORST IN US
We’ve witnessed incredible heroism recently. When nature unleashed this summer’s seemingly endless string of natural disasters, Americans rolled into action: folks leaving jobs to fight wildfires, sportsmen using bass boats to rescue flood victims, even people opening their homes as havens for hurricane refugees. When nature is at its worst, Americans are at their very best.
Nearly 100 years ago, a tragedy captured the country’s attention like nothing before. For the first time, people could follow breaking news live as it unfolded. Yet opportunism also reared its ugly head amid a life-and-death struggle. This is the sad story of Floyd Collins. Continue reading
HIS REMARKABLE LIFE AFTER THE SONG
You heard the story so many times growing up, you can recite it by memory. How Francis Scott Key was detained on a boat by the British as they attacked Fort McHenry outside Baltimore. How he couldn’t tell during the dark night whether the Americans inside the fort had given up. How when dawn revealed the American flag still flying, he was so inspired he wrote a poem whose words became “The Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.
And it’s all true. But then, as soon as Key’s poem was published, he vanished from history as abruptly as he appeared. Which is a shame, according to Key scholar and filmmaker Philip Marshall. “Americans need to know that Key made a huge contribution to the American story, that he was also flawed and a real person just like anyone else.” Continue reading