THE GREAT MOLASSES FLOOD OF 1919
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
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,
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