Author Archives: admin

Stagecoach Mary


The Old West seemed to breed larger than life legends. Wild Bill Hickok. Wyatt Earp. Billy the Kid. Calamity Jane. The list goes on and on.

Another name deserves inclusion. You must dig deep into history to find her story. But when you do, you’ll discover a truly remarkable tale. Let me introduce you to Stagecoach Mary.

Mary Fields began life as a slave in Tennessee sometime around 1832. As happened with so many enslaved people, details of her early life are fuzzy. In her early 30s when the Civil War ended, Mary worked her way to a new life in the north by serving as a laundress and servant on Mississippi River steamboats.

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Flour Sack Fashion


A good many summer vacations in my childhood were spent on my grandparents’ farm in northwest Missouri. It was the 1960s and the older people still “went visiting.” Grandma took me in tow when she made her weekly rounds calling on fellow rural ladies of a certain age.

Most farmhouses had an old pedal Singer sewing machine tucked in a corner somewhere. They’d been purchased when Woodrow Wilson was president and had seen continual use ever since. As we were leaving one particular matron’s home (departures were long, drawn out affairs back then, sometimes lasting a good half an hour) Grandma and our hostess got to talking about it. The old lady gently patted the cast iron relic and proudly said, “Mama sewed our flour sack dresses on this.” Continue reading

The Minie Ball Pregnancy


Every so often, history offers a story that’s so improbable there’s no way it could be true. Yet once in the proverbial blue moon one defies the odds and turns out to have really happened.

This story isn’t one of them.

It was, in fact, a prank that people accepted as fact for a century. But the story behind the story is enjoyable and the whole bizarre incident is a hoot and a half, so here goes.

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Win With …


What do presidential campaigns and the Christmas shopping season have in common? They both keep starting earlier and earlier.

Like it or not, the 2020 presidential campaign is underway. Political marketing types are busy devising slogans for their candidates. Which makes this a good time to look back at how slogans have evolved over the years. Long before there were car bumpers to attach stickers to, politicians were coming up with phrases designed to win votes. Some worked, some didn’t. See for yourself in this stroll down Political Memory Lane. Continue reading

The Hero Hooker


History is filled with stories of prostitutes who, despite their low social standing, did inspiring things. The Bible tells about Rahab, who harbored two Israeli spies inside Jericho. Gone With the Wind included the noble Belle Watling, whom some scholars believe was modelled on real-life Kentucky madam Belle Brezing.

And there was Annie Cook, the Hero Hooker of Memphis, Tennessee.

Never heard of her? That’s no surprise; she’s largely unknown outside the Bluff City. But her bravery touched countless hearts in her time. Continue reading

Boston’s Sticky Mess


Boston’s North End neighborhood had a sticky mess on its hands exactly 100 years ago this week. Literally.

This is the centennial of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. It sounds funny. But this deadly tragedy was no laughing matter.

The Purity Distilling Company had a facility in the North End. When molasses is fermented it puts the kick in alcoholic beverages such as rum and the “umph” in ethanol. Purity’s plant included a large tank for storing molasses. It worked well enough … until January 15, 1919. Continue reading

Holy Cow! History Update

What the heck has been going on?


Dear Frequent Reader:

You’ve probably been asking, “What the heck has happened to Holy Cow! History? He hasn’t posted since last summer. Has it gone away?”

No, it hasn’t. And I owe you both an apology and an explanation.

My elderly father became ill in early August. He passed away in October. As you can imagine, that consumed every minute. I should have posted something here explaining my prolonged silence, but I didn’t. And for that I ask your forgiveness.

But rest assured, Holy Cow! History hasn’t gone away. In fact, I’ve kept a list of new fascinating, forgotten stories and am eager to share them.

I’m moving cross country this weekend. So please indulge me just a little while longer; then it will be back to business as usual for Holy Cow! History by mid-January.

I’ve really missed sharing these forgotten tales from the past, stories that would have made grandma blush (see the photo above). So look for Holy Cow! History’s return next month. Till then,

Wishing Everyone a Fantastic 2019,

J. Mark

A President’s Prank


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

The Sweet Mistake


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