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WelcomeToMissouri

Dear Frequent Reader:

You may be surprised to find there’s no Holy Cow! History story this week. Let me explain why.

As you read this, I will have just completed a 920 mile move from Columbia, South Carolina (where I have lived and worked for the past four years) to join my family in the Missouri Ozarks. It’s the first time I have lived in my native state for 32 years, and I’m delighted to be back among the people and places that mean the most to me. Continue reading

The Con Man’s Con Man

He Swindled Al Capone and Sold the Eiffel Tower – Twice!

Holy Cow

You’ve heard the old line about gullible suckers buying the Brooklyn Bridge, and smooth talkers selling swampland in Florida. Outlandish, right?

But in the 1920s and 30s, one con artist was so brazen, he actually sold Paris’ beloved Eiffel Tower … not once, but twice! He hustled money from the nastiest gangster of all time, Al Capone, and caused lawmen to pull out their hair in frustration.

That’s the remarkable legacy of “Count” Victor Lustig, the Con Man’s Con Man. Continue reading

How An Army Officer Missed Out On A Fortune

The one decision that cost him a bundle

 

Holy Cow

Every so often, inspiration strikes and inventors devise the gadgets that move society forward. Such as the automobile. The personal computer. The Pet Rock.

Inspiration visited a young army officer one day. The things he created found an eager market. But because of just one decision, he didn’t make a dime off them.

The next time you feel like you can’t catch a break, remember Henry Hopkins Sibley, and you’ll know what bad luck really is. Continue reading

Meet the Real Duncan Hines

How An Unlikely Career Made Him A Cake Mix King

Hines - holding cake

You turn into the supermarket’s cake mix aisle and find the Big Three brands on the shelf. There’s Pillsbury, whose Doughboy is a cartoon character. There’s Betty Crocker; sure, her pretty face is on the box. But it’s a portrait drawn from imagination, because she’s fictitious.

Then there’s the third brand. No cute mascot, no human likeness; just a simple name in simple font.

Duncan Hines is the only one of the trio who was a real person. Yet he had nothing to do with cake mixes, cooking or baking. Then how did his name wind up on a box sitting in your kitchen cabinet?

It’s an unlikely story that stemmed from a meandering career path which, among other things, had him rub elbows with a man who later became a household name and multimillionaire.

Get ready to meet the real Duncan Hines. Continue reading

The Man Who Said No To Hitler – And Lived To Tell About It

Adolf Hitler speaking at the Lustgarten, Berlin, 1938_

Every dictatorship shares one thing in common: unquestioning, blind obedience to the dictator from his subjects. Whether it’s the Castros’ Cuba, Kim Jong-un’s North Korea or Stalin’s Russia, it’s always the same – when the Boss says “Jump!” you ask “How high?”

Nazi Germany was particularly bad about that. It was All About Adolf, no ifs, ands or buts. Defying him was not only bad, bad things happened to those who did. Very bad things.

Which is why the story I’m about to share is so remarkable. Because in the closing days of World War II, one German not only said “no” to Hitler’s face, he even lived to tell about it. Continue reading

The Secret Behind Harry’s Famous Balcony

Why Truman Really Built It

Truman on the balcony

[Spoiler alert: the payoff to this remarkable story comes at its conclusion; please stick with it till the end to learn the secret.]

Early one evening in February 1946, Harry Truman summoned the White House’s chief usher to the second floor Oval Study. He pointed out the window through the South Portico to the Washington Monument and Potomac River beyond.

“That’s a magnificent sight,” he said. Then he dropped his bombshell.

“I’d like to take better advantage of the view. I’m going to put a balcony there.” Continue reading

Yetta Bronstein, the President We Never Had

How a pair of pranksters fooled the news media

Yetta button-2

The presidential primary season is entering its home stretch. We’ll soon know which candidates will carry the Republican and Democratic standards in this fall’s campaign. (Then again, this election cycle is so crazy, who knows? Both parties may still be picking their nominees come Election Day.)

Some 50 years ago, one presidential hopeful stood out from the pack. She was like no other candidate before or since. And the incredible thing was … she didn’t exist!

Meet Yetta Bronstein, the president we never had.

To understand this unorthodox candidate, you must first understand the genius who created her. Continue reading

The Craziest Protest You’ve Never Heard Of

What Happened When A Missouri County Went Rogue

Welcome to McDonald Territory

Let’s face it: 2016 is the Year of the Angry Voter. On the Left, Right and smack dab in the middle, many folks are fed up with politics as usual. In some cases, that frustration has even led to nasty demonstrations.

Which reminds me of the craziest protest you’ve never heard of. It started as a joke, had moments that were as zany as a Saturday Night Live sketch and ended, incredibly, in victory with the protesters making their point.

So get ready to discover what happened when McDonald County left the State of Missouri.

Continue reading

April 3, 1882: The End of Jesse James Was Just the Beginning

jesse-1April 3, 1882 was a bad day for Jesse James. A very bad day, in fact.

I’ve always been intrigued by his shooting. It happened in St. Joseph, Missouri, the city where I was born. St. Joe, which was the eastern terminus of the Pony Express, calls itself the place “where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended.” My Great Grandfather Elisha Powell even got a post-mortem peek at the famous outlaw as a 17 year-old boy when the body was on public display … my family’s only connection to that grisly time. (At least, as far as the old folks ever told us. Unpleasant things weren’t talked about back then.)

Continue reading

“I Didn’t Say That!”

15 Famous Quotes That Are Flat Wrong

Einstein - I didn't say that

They are so famous, a school child can recite them from memory. They’re repeated so often, they’ve become part of our cultural currency.

And they are flat wrong, too.

Dozens of legendary quotes from our past were actually misunderstood, taken out of context or, (the worst offense of the bunch) never uttered at all. Continue reading