World Champion kidnapping


Juan Manuel Fangio (1911-1995) is considered one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all-time, winning five World Championship titles (1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957).  As well as driving in Formula 1, Moss also competed in sports car racing, which was not unusual amongst drivers of that era, compared to modern Formula 1 drivers. This interest in sports car racing lead to the most unusual incident of Fangio’s career – his kidnapping prior to the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix.

The Cuban Grand Prix was created by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1957 – the aim of the event was to increase tourism to the island, especially for visitors from the United States. Cuba had no purpose built racing circuits, so a street circuit was constructed in the Malecón district of the capital, Havana. The main straight was the esplanade near the sea, with the return section a block further inland.

Map of the circuit used for the Cuban Grand Prix in 1957 and 1958.

The race was held on the 25th of February 1957. Fangio was contracted to drive a Maserati 250F in the upcoming Formula 1 season, so he naturally drove a Maserati in the Grand Prix. His 300S finished first, ahead of Carroll Shelby driving a Ferrari 410S and Alfonso de Portago in a Ferrari 860 Monza.

Fangio prior to the start of the 1957 Cuban Grand Prix.

Having won the inaugural Grand Prix, Fangio accepted an invitation to return for the 1958 race, to be held on the 28th of February. Sparing no expense, Batista arranged for all of the international drivers to stay in the prestigious Hotel Lincoln in central Havana. On the eve of the grand prix, Fangio walked into the lobby of the hotel on his way to dinner, only to be confronted by a young man in a leather jacket brandishing a pistol. According to reports from the time, the slightly nervous assailant barked: “Fangio, you must come with me. I am a member of the 26th of July revolutionary movement.”

The 26th of July Movement was a revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro. The name commemorates an attack on the  Santiago de Cuba army barracks on July 26, 1953. The movement began formally in 1955, and its aim was the overthrow of the Batista regime.

One of Fangio’s companions picked up a paperweight and moved to throw it at the intruder, but the pistol jerked round. “Stay still,” the kidnapper said. “If you move, I shoot.” And with that Fangio accompanied the young man to a waiting car. The 26th of July Movement’s aim was simple – by capturing the biggest name in motorsport the revolutionaries would show up the government and attract worldwide publicity to their cause. Yet despite the news of the kidnapping spreading across the globe, Batista refused to be outdone and ordered the race to continue as usual while a team of police hunted down the kidnappers. Now under arrest and in an unknown location Fangio was taking it all in his stride and was being treated to a meal of steak and potatoes before getting a good nights’ sleep.



The front page of the French newspaper “France-soir”, with the kidnapping of Fangio being the top story.

As per Batista’s orders, the race started as planned, with Maurice Trintignant taking the place of the absent Fangio. A huge crowd attended due to a public holiday, and with no designated spectator stands, they stood on the side of the road, or watched from the balconies of adjacent units and apartments. From the start, Ferrari drivers Stirling Moss and Masten Gregory battled for the lead. After only a few laps, spectators started to notice that all drivers were having trouble controlling their cars on a track that had become very slippery. The cause was soon discovered – Robert Mieres had retired from the race on lap 5 due to a broken oil line in his Porsche, but not before he had laid down a greasy strip of oil all around the circuit.

Disaster then struck – local driver Armando Garcia Cifuentes lost control of his yellow and black Ferrari and went head on into a bunch of spectators lining the circuit. Over 30 people were injured and seven killed as the car took out a makeshift bridge and flew over the crash barriers.  The race was then immediately red-flagged after just 6 laps, with Moss declared the winner, ahead of Gregory and Caroll Shelby in 3rd place. Cifuentes, seriously injured in the crash, was taken to hospital lying on the bonnet of one of the competing cars. He was charged with manslaughter, but was cleared after a government enquiry.

British Pathe newsreel footage of the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix – including Fangio before his kidnapping and the Cifuentes accident.

Fangio was delivered to the Argentinian embassy after the race, which had turned into a disaster for the Batista regime. The 26th of July movement had received worldwide publicity, while the recriminations started regarding the lack of safety protection for spectators.

Fangio would go to compete in the 1958 Formula One World Championship – his final race French Grand Prix, where he finished 4th. Batista would be overthrown by Castro in December 1958. No Cuban Grand Prix was held in 1959, with the final race being held in February 1960, with Stirling Moss winning again.

The following sources were used in the creation of this blog post.

https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/classic-wheels/archive-the-man-who-kidnapped-fangio

https://www.espn.com.au/f1/story/_/id/28999493/when-f1-legend-fangio-was-kidnapped-cuba

Bordering on the ridiculous


In mid-December of 1959, the Border team hosted Natal in the Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier domestic first-class cricket competition. The previous year Border had the better of a drawn game, so playing Natal at their home ground, the Jan Smuts Ground in East London gave them cause for confidence.

The match commenced on Saturday, the 19th of December, and the pitch had been affected by rain, so it was important to win the toss. Border did so, and had no hesitation in putting Natal into bat on the treacherous pitch. The Natal batsman struggled immediately – the first four in the batting order had represented South Africa in international Test cricket, but could only manage 15 runs between them. Natal were at one stage 50 for eight wickets, but wicketkeeper Malcolm Smith flung his bat for 33, which took the innings total to 90. It could have been worse, as the Border fielders dropped five catches.

However, Natal’s 90 looked like Mt Everest when it was Border’s turn to bat. Only four batsmen scored in the innings. The main destroyer of the innings was all-rounder Trevor Goddard, who returned the incredible bowling analysis of 11 overs, 9 maidens, 3 runs and 6 wickets. Goddard had only two scoring shots of his bowling – a two in the sixth over and a single in the seventh over, and he finished the innings off with a hat-trick – Griffith, Knott and During. During top scored with 9, more than half of the Border total of 16.

Trevor Goddard – Natal all-rounder who recorded incredible bowling figures in the Border 1st innings



Natal went into bat again, and by the close of play had scored 39 for the loss of three wickets. 23 wickets had fallen for 145 runs in four play – Natal had scored 90 in 110 minutes, Border 16 in 80 minutes and Natal 39 for 3 in 55 minutes.

There was no play on Sunday, and when the match resumed on Monday, the pitch had become perfect for batting. Kim Elgie made 162*, and when Goddard declared the innings closed at 294 for 8 wickets, Border were left the daunting task of scoring 369 runs to win, or to bat out the rest of the game to earn a draw.

While the poor wicket played a major part in their abysmal first innings score, there was no excuse for their second innings effort on a pitch that was playing normally. They improved on their first effort, but only just – scoring just 20 runs, losing the match by 350 runs. This time is was fast bowler Geoff Griffin doing the damage, recording an analysis of 13 overs, 6 maidens, 11 runs and 7 wickets.

Natal fast bowler Geogg Griffin ran through the 2nd Border innings.

At one point Border were 11 runs scored for the loss of 7 wickets, and there was a real chance that the lowest ever innings score in a first-class match (12) would be beaten. However Peter Tainton batted sensibly for 57 minutes, and was 7* when the final wicket fell, showing that there was nothing wrong with the pitch. Three Border batsman (Commins, Muzzell and Knott) failed to score a run in either innings, and During’s first innings boundary was the only four that they hit in the entire game. Border’s aggregate score of 34, made in less than three hours, is still the record lowest aggregate by one team in a first-class match. In their next match, against Western Province, Border showed what an aberration this match was by scoring 163 and 116.

The full scorecard of the match can be seen here.

Since 1959-60, there has been only one lower first-class total – 14 by Surrey against Essex at Chelmsford in 1983.

Lowest first-class match aggregates by one team:

34        (16 & 18)         Border v Natal                                     East London    1959-60

42        (27 & 15)         Northamptonshire v Yorkshire           Northampton  1908

47        (12 & 35)         Oxford University v MCC                    Oxford             1877

The following books were used for the creation of this blog post:

Andrew Ward, “Cricket’s Strangest Matches”, Robson Books, London 2000, p. 186-187.

Patrick Murphy, Fifty Incredible Cricket Matches”, Stanley Paul Books, London 1987, p. 212-215.

Bill Frindall, “The Wisden Book of Cricket Records”, Headline Publishing, London, 1998, p. 19.

The last bare-knuckle prizefights


Prizefighting was a sport with its origins in the mists of time. In Britain it developed into a popular spectator sport, with heavy betting on the bouts, by the 18th century. By the Regency period it had achieved a certain level of respectability with patronage from the highest echelons of royalty downwards.

Bare-knuckle fights were beginning to be considered dangerous by the 1870s and were gradually replaced by more formal fights, with padded gloves, under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. By 1889, the year of the last recognized international bare-knuckle contest, the days of rough prizefighting were over.

The Marquis of Queensbury rules, which became the established rules for all boxing matches.

Regulations for conducting bare-knuckle fights, which went on for as long as the contestants could stand up unaided, were stipulated by the so-called London Prize Ring Rules, which had been adopted throughout the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom. A round ended if there was a knockdown, and the decked boxer would have 30 seconds to make it back onto his feet and back to the middle of the line in the centre of the ring known as the “scratch”. If he did this, then the next round would commence. The longest bout lasted for 276 rounds, when Jack Jones beat Patsy Tunney in in 4 hrs 30 minutes in Cheshire in 1825.  When Tom Sayers and John C Heenan took part in the first recognized “World Title” fight in England 1860, the result was a draw after 37 rounds, when the local police stormed the ring to stop the bout. A similar situation occurred in the United States, and sometimes boxers were prosecuted for assault.

An illustrated drawing of the Heenan versus Smith bout.


And so on to 1889. When Jem Smith defeated Frank Slavin at Bruges, Belgium in 1889, the bout was the very last internationally recognized bare-knuckle fight ever staged. The final bare-knuckle fight occurred at Richburg, Mississippi on the 8th of July 1889, and was between local contender John L “Strong Boy” Sullivan and Jake Kilrain, who had fought Smith to a draw in a 106 round fight in 1887.

Smith and Kilrain prior to their 1887 championship bout.

Sullivan had been enticed to fight Kilrain by a $10,000 purse offered by Richard Fox, proprietor of the National Police Gazette magazine. Due to prizefighting being illegal, Richburg was chosen as the location due to its inaccessible nature, and the ring was constructed in an open field. Between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators attended, all arriving by specially chartered trains.

The fight was an exhausting affair, conducted in the middle of summer, with the temperature being over 37 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). After 10 rounds, it became clear that Sullivan was the stronger boxer, and Kilrain resorted to evasive tactics, in an attempt to tire out Sullvan. However, Sullivan was persistent, and Kilrain’s seconds threw in the towel after 75 rounds, when Kilrain was barely conscious.

Photo of the Sullivan-Kilrain fight, showing the isolated location of the bout and the large crowd in attendance.



The sources for this blog post were “The Guiness Book of Lasts” by Christopher Slee, Guinness Publishing, London, 1994 p. 183-184, and

Paul Beston’s blog post “Boxing’s Longest Day”

The strange life of Lawrence Joseph Bader


Larry Bader appeared to have it all – a good career, a beautiful wife, three children and another child on the way. But appearances were deceptive, with Bader accruing a large debt which his salary could not pay. On May 15, 1957 the 30 year old Akron, Ohio kitchen appliance salesmen and amateur archer went on a short fishing trip. He never returned-leading to one of the more bizarre disappearances of recent memory.

Larry Bader giving a demonstration of his archery skills.

Bader rented a boat at the Rocky River near Cleveland that afternoon, and was warned about an upcoming storm. The deteriorating weather didn’t seem to faze Bader – at 4:30p.m. he shoved off in the rented motor boat.

The storm came up three hours later. The next morning, Bader’s boat was found on the rocks at Perkins Beach. Bader was not in it. The Coast Guard said the lake had been so rough no man could have survived overboard.

Four days later, a fascinating, debonair and well-dressed man entered the Roundtable Bar on the corner of 19th and Harney Streets in Omaha, Nebraska. He gave his name as John “Fritz” Johnson. He became a radio station announcer, sports director of a television station, and one of the best known, best liked and most flamboyant personalities in Omaha. 

Fritz Johnson on the set of KETV-7 in Omaha, Nebraska

He told friends and acquaintances that he took up archery “to strengthen his back muscles after an injury”. With his background of hunting in Ohio, it is no surprise that he won the Nebraska state championship. Bader enthralled his friends with vivid stories of a boyhood in a Boston orphanage and 13 years in the Navy. He kept tropical fish — especially the Siamese fighting variety, the kind that devour each other. He wore an eyepatch after surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his left eye, which added to his large than life character.

In 1961, Bader married pretty Nancy Zimmer, a 20-year-old divorcee and photographer’s model. He adopted Nancy’s daughter by her previous marriage and in 1963 they had a son of their own.

Larry Bader was declared legally dead in an Akron court in 1960. By this time Mary lou Bader had settled down to the business of trying to rear four children alone.

In 1964 a Nebraska archery firm sent Bader to a sports show at Chicago’s McCormick Place to show off its equipment. One of the visitors at the show was from Akron, and he did a double take when he saw the Nebraska archery champion. He had, he was sure, just seen a dead ringer for the missing Larry Bader. The man called Bader’s brothers from Akron. They flew into Chicago, took a look at Fritz and said he was their long lost brother. Johnson’s fingerprints were sent to the FBI, who compared them with the fingerprints Bader gave when he joined the US navy as an 18 year old – they matched. Johnson claimed to have no memory of his life as Lawrence Bader, probably due to the eye surgery.

Now that Johnson’s true identity had been discovered, several quandries now appeared:

* Were the insurance policies worth roughly $40,000, which had been paid out to Mary Lou null and void?

* As Bader/Johnson had not legally divorced Mary Lou before marrying Nancy, was he a bigamist?

Johnson lost his job and his marriage to Nancy, and was reduced to working in a bar in Omaha, with most of his money going to support Mary Lou and Nancy. He and Mary Lou met in Chicago in August 1965, although Johnson insisted he had no recollection of meeting, marrying, or having a family with her.  In 1966, the cancer reappeared, this time in his liver, and Bader/Johnson died on the 16th of September, aged just 39.

So what was the real story behind the disappearance of Lawrence Bader and the appearance of John Johnson? Did Bader decide he was trapped in the life he was leading and saw only one way out – fake his own death and set up a new life somewhere else? Or was Bader suffering from dissociative amnesia, a rare condition where a person has no memory of their life owing to trauma or stress. In a dissociative fugue state, they have an urge to travel and may invent a new personality, settling in a new area with no recollection of how they got there.

The article by Chris Lilles “Man With Two Wives – Amnesia or Hoax? ” in LIFE Magazine 5 March 1965 was used the main source for this blog post.
The article can be read in full here.

Plymouth, Montserrat – the Pompeii of the Caribbean


Everyone is familiar with Pompeii, the Roman city that was entombed after nearby Mt Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. What is less well-known is that a similar experience happened to a modern-day city just over 20 years ago.

Montserrat is one of the Lesser Antilles Islands, an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, north of South America. Many of the islands are volcanic, and their location roughly traces the edge of the Caribbean Plate along its boundary with the tectonic plates (North and South American Plates) beneath the Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean Plate is overriding the North American Plate. As the plates collide, the mantle of the overriding Caribbean Plate melts, generating magma that rises to the surface and feeds many volcanoes in the region.

Map of the Caribbean showing the location of Montserrat.

Aside from a seventeenth-century eruption, Soufrière Hills, a volcano on the southern part of the island, had been mostly quiet during historical times.

All this changed in mid-1995. On the 18th of July 1995, an eruption of ash prompted an evacuation of almost 5,000 residents. The volcano grew a new dome on November 1995. By January 1996, the old dome was rapidly buried and between March and September of the same year, the first pyroclastic flows poured down the Tar river valley. This created a new delta and in April the south of the island was evacuated. The capital city of Plymouth was also abandoned, with government officials and many residents relocating to Brades, on the northwestern tip of the island in 1998, to this day, Brades is the “de facto” capital of the island, although a new capital is being built in the Little Bay area. Legislatively, Brades was never officially made the capital, so Plymouth is still the “de jure” capital, and the only capital city in the world that is officially abandoned.

Map of Montserrat, showing the site of the abandoned capital of Plymouth, the “de facto” capital of Brades and the exclusion zone around the southern part of the island.

By 26 December 1997, when the most extreme explosive event occurred, approximately 90% of the resident population of over 10,000 had had to relocate at least once and over two-thirds had left the island. Virtually all the island’s important infrastructure was destroyed or put out of use. The private sector collapsed and the economy became largely dependent, directly or indirectly, on British aid funding public sector and related activities.

An area around the volcano, containing about two-thirds of the island, is vulnerable to volcanic hazard and is a no-go area. Around 40% of the island is unaffected by volcanic activity but these areas may be prone to ash falls and volcanic gases during any volcanic activity and if the wind is blowing from south to north. These sometimes cause cancellation of flights to and from the island.

Sign showing the beginning of the exclusion zone on the southern part of Montserrat.

In addition there are three areas around the coastline which are designated Maritime Exclusion Zones where no shipping should enter. The largest of these extends for 4km on the eastern side of the island and there are two on the western side of the island. The most southerly of the two extends for 2km off shore and the third for a half kilometre off shore.

An island-wide siren system is installed to warn of volcanic activity. The sirens are tested daily at 12:00 midday. Radio Montserrat (ZJB) also provides regular scientific updates and advice to listeners.

Drone footage showing the abandoned city of Plymouth – the devastation caused by the multiple eruptions can clearly be seen.

The following sites were used for the creation of this blog post:

https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-1995-eruption-of-the-soufriere-hills-volcano-in-montserrat.html

https://www.caribbeanislands.com/montserrat/

Mrs Scott’s Sad Mistake


Elizabeth Scott was the first women to be hanged in Victoria. Like Jean Lee, the last woman to be hanged in Victoria, Scott believed that her gender would save her from the gallows. Like Lee, she was sadly mistaken.

Scott had come to Australia with her parents in 1854, and within a year, aged just 14, she had married 28 year old Robert Scott. Scott was an unprepossessing man, coarse and vulgar and a drunkard. He had however, made some money from the Gold Rush that had enveloped Victoria in the early 1850’s, and Scott’s parents thought he was something of a catch. The couple ran a shanty pub for miners at Devil’s River, north-east of Melbourne, and by the time she was 20, Elizabeth had given birth to five children, of which only two survived.

Robert Scott’s drinking had gotten worse, and after 9 years, Elizabeth began to look for a way out of the marriage and escaping Devil’s River. She found it in a customer at the pub, 19 year old David Gedge, and the two started a passionate affair. Gedge wasn’t the only young man devoted to Elizabeth. Julian Cross, a labourer who worked at the pub, was besotted with Elizabeth as well. On the 13th of April, 1863, Elizabeth put the young men’s devotion to the ultimate test – to be involved in the murder of her husband, Robert Scott.

Gedge and Cross each had conflicting accounts about how Robert Scott died.
Gedge claimed that he was sitting by the kitchen fire in the Scott residence when Cross walked past, carrying a pistol, into Robert Scott’s room. There was a shot, Cross reappeared, pointed the pistol at Gedge and threatened to kill him if he left the residence to report the death.

Cross’s account was different – he said that Gedge had tried to shoot Robert Scott in his bed, but the gun had misfired. Gedge gave Cross the gun, and said it was his turn to shoot Robert Scott. Cross declined, but Elizabeth ordered him to shoot her husband. She poured Cross a large brandy to calm his nerves, and according to Cross, “I took up the gun and went into the bedroom and shot Scott.”

Elizabeth tried to pass the murder off as a suicide, but police quickly realised that it was a murder. Early next morning, they had a confession from Julian Cross implicating both David Genge and Elizabeth Scott. All three were sentenced to death by hanging.

Notification of the hangings of Elizabeth Scott, David Gedge and Julian Cross.

On the 11th of November 1863 at the Melbourne Goal, 17 years before bushranger Ned Kelly would stand on the same spot, all three were hanged simultaneously.

The hanging gallow at Melbourne Gaol.

To the end, Elizabeth Scott believed that she would be reprieved. After all, she had not pulled the trigger, and she was a woman – a beautiful woman.

When she appeared from her cell to be taken to the gallows, the spectators below gasped at her beauty. She was dressed in a long black coat, with her dark hair carefully braided. As she was placed between the two young men who were to die for her love, she carefully adjusted the noose so that it didn’t spoil the folds of her cloak. Then just before the hangman pulled the lever, she asked her lover, “David, will you not clear me?” She never heard his answer.

Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns – Cannibal Convicts, Macabre Murders, Wanton Women and Living Legends (Five Mile Press, Rowville, 2004, pp. 166-168) was used as the basis for this post.







The 1904 St Louis Olympic Games Marathon


The men’s marathon at the 1904 St Louis Olympic Games ranks high on the list for the most bizarre, unusual and controversial events ever held in Olympic Games history.

To begin with, the organisers of the marathon knew almost nothing about staging such an event. The course, which measured 39.99 kilometres (24.8 miles) in length included seven hills and was run on dusty roads, made dustier by the many cars which the judges, doctors and journalists used to follow the runners. The only water available to the runners was from a well located 19 kilometres (12 miles) from the main stadium where the race began and ended.

MarathonMap
Map of the course, from the front page of the St Louis Despatch newspaper.

The event attracted nearly all of the top American marathon runners, including:

Sam Mellor – winner of the 1902 Boston Marathon

John Lordon – winner of the 1903 Boston Marathon

Michael Spring – winner of the 1904 Boston Marathon

Thomas Hicks – 2nd in the 1904 Boston Marathon

Arthur Newton – 5th in the 1900 Paris Olympics marathon.

There were also some lesser-known and unusual entrants. One was 1.5 metre (5 foot) tall Felix Carvajal, a Cuban mail carrier, who had lost all of his money when playing craps in New Orleans after arriving from Havana. After hitchhiking to St Louis, he arrived on the starting line wearing heavy street shoes, long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a beret.

CarvajalMarathon
Felix Carjaval prior to the start of the marathon, after he cut off his pants at the knees.

Also entered were the first two black Africans to participate in the Olympics – Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani, who were Zulu tribesmen. They were not athletes – they had been brought to the United States as part of the Boer War Exhibition in the St Louis World’s Fair, which was held concurrently with the Olympic Games.

AfricanMarathon
Mashiani (L)  and Taunyane (R) prior to the start of the race.

 

The race was scheduled for the middle of the afternoon on the 30th of August, when temperatures would hit 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). It was not surprising when the hot conditions and tough course had an immediate impact on the competitors.

MarathonStart
The runners just before the start of the race.

 

John Lordon started vomiting after only 16 kilometres (10 miles) and had to withdraw. American runner William Garcia was discovered lying in the middle of the road, after collapsing due to inhaling dust kicked up by the cars following the runners. Sam Mellor, the leader at the halfway mark, retired after 25 kilometres (16 miles). Taunyane lost time when he was chased off the course and through a cornfield by two large dogs. The only runner who didn’t appear to be bothered was the Cuban Carvajal, who stopped a number of times to chat with spectators, discuss the progress of the race and practice his English. He also quenched his thirst by snatching a couple of peaches from an official in one of the cars, and by raiding a farmer’s orchard of some green apples, which gave him stomach cramps.

Marathon_race_during_1904_Summer_Olympics
Competitors during the race – the rough and dusty nature of the course can clearly be seen.

Back in the main stadium, the spectators were unaware of these incidents, although the more knowledgeable fans might have wondered why three hours had passed without any athletes entering the stadium. Finally, after 3 hours and 13 minutes, New York resident Fred Lorz entered the stadium, did the 5 laps required and crossed the finished line. He was declared the winner, and was about to be presented with the gold medal, when it was discovered that he had stopped running after 14 kilometres (9 miles), hitched a ride in a car for 17 kilometres (11 miles) and then started running again.
American Athletic Union officials were not amused, disqualified Lorz and gave him a lifetime ban from competing. The ban was lifted, and Lorz went on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.

LorzMarathon
Newspaper report of Lorz’s “victory” in the Marathon.

With Lorz’s disqualification, the real winner was Thomas Hicks. If modern-day rules had been in place, Hicks would have also been disqualified. Second at the halfway mark, Hicks found himself in first place when Sam Mellor retired. 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the finish the heat started to get to Hicks, who begged to be allowed down and rest, but his handlers wouldn’t allow it, even though he had a lead of nearly 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles). To keep Hicks going, his handlers gave him a drink of a concoction made up of styrchnine sulfate mixed with raw egg whites. A few kilometres later he was given more strychnine, as well as some brandy, as well as being bathed in warm water.

Hick was forced to slow down to a walk when faced with a final, steep hill just 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) from the stadium, but a couple more doses of strychnine and brandy revived him enough to win by six minutes ahead of French competitor Albert Corey, with Albert Newton finishing third. Carvajal recovered from his stomach cramps to finish fourth. Only 14 of the 32 starters managed to complete the course, including Taunyane, who finished ninth, and Mashiani, who finished twelfth. Needless to say, Hicks was in a stupor after the race had finished. He had lost 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) during the event, and announced his retirement straight after the race had finished.

HicksAfterMarathon
Hicks resting after the finish of the race – he still appears to be suffering from the effects of the heat, course and what his handlers gave him to drink.

After the race had finished, the athletes who had suffered in competing my have received some satisfaction when they learned that two of the race officials in charge of patrolling the course were badly injured as well, when their car swerved to avoid one of the runners and careened down an embankment.

David Wallechinsky’s book “The Complete Book of the Olympics”, Penguin Books, 1984 p. 44-45 was used as the basis for this blog post.

September 3, 1967 – Sweden switches from the left to the right


No, this post isn’t about a major change in Swedish politics after an election.

Until 1967, Sweden drove on the left—opposite from its neighbouring countries (Denmark, Finland, and Norway). Swedish drivers who travelled abroad got into car accidents because of their unfamiliarity with the traffic patterns, as did tourists who came to Sweden.

Additionally, Swedish car companies such as SAAB and Volvo made cars that were meant to be driven on the right so they could be more easily exported to the rest of the right-driving world, but many of these cars found their way onto Swedish roads. Swedish drivers were thus seated closest to the outside edge of the road, making visibility difficult.

left-hand-traffic-728x499
Traffic in Stockholm in 1966, with cars travelling on the left hand side of the road.

To fix these problems, the Swedish government made the case for switching driving to the right side of the road, and put the decision up for a public vote.

The response was overwhelmingly negative, with most Swedes wanting to stick with what they were used to. The government just decided to move forward with their plan anyway.

The government went on a major publicity drive to help with the transition. They designed signs and stickers featuring a new “H” logo (short for höger, or “right”). They distributed pamphlets and made public service announcements on TV and radio.

Dagen-H
One of the more creative ways that the Swedish government publicised the switch from LHD to RHD

One TV station even ran a competition for a song to help make people aware of the upcoming switch. The winner was Håll dig till höger, Svensson (“Stick to the Right, Svensson”) by The Telstars.

There were multiple issues that need to be addressed. Buses had their doors open to the curb, so bus stops had to be moved to the other side of the road. Road signs face one way, on one side of the road, and they also have to be changed. Intersections need to be reconfigured, and new road lines need to be drawn. Car headlights illuminated the wrong area of the road, and thus had to be replaced.

September 3, 1967 was declared Dagen-H (or “H-Day”), short for Högertrafikomläggningen (“the right-hand traffic diversion”). All nonessential traffic was banned from the roads from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. If you were on the roads at that time, you had to come to a stop at precisely 4:50 a.m. and sit there for 10 minutes until precisely 5:00 a.m., at which point you had to move to the other side of the road.

H-Day went very smoothly, probably due to the majority drivers displaying excessive caution in the face of what was presumably a terrifying shift – what if someone forgot to changeover, and a head-on collision occurred? However, once everyone had gotten used to the change, accident levels rose to normal.

Several countries (Iceland, Nigeria and Ghana, to name a few) followed Sweden’s lead and changed from the left to the right, but in 2009 Samoa did the opposite, going from the right to the left.

LHDvRHD
Map showing the comparison between LHD & RHD countries in the world.

 

The Today I Found Out and 99percentinvisible web pages were used as sources for this blog post.

Hangers, speccies and screamers


One of the most, if not the most spectacular part of Australian rules football is the high mark, where players jump into the air to catch the ball, often jumping over or on opposition players to grab the ball.

Over the long history of the game, many of these great marks have been captured by photographers, who were in the right place and the right time to take a brilliant picture.

Here are some examples of the best hangers, speccies and screamers taken in Australian rules football history.

Edwards

Aaron Edwards (North Melbourne) versus Hawthorn (AFL – 2007)

Carlton

Unidentified Carlton player versus Melbourne (VFL – 1960’s)

Ryan

Bill Ryan (Geelong) versus St Kilda (VFL – 1968)

 

Gerovich

John Gerovich (South Fremantle) versus East Fremantle (WAFL – 1956)

 

Walker

Andrew Walker (Carlton) versus Essendon (AFL 2011)

 

Coleman

John Coleman (Essendon) versus North Melbourne (VFL 1950’s)

 

sampi-5580624.jpg

Ashley Sampi (West Coast Eagles) versus Melbourne (AFL 2004)

 

Holst

David Holst (Glenelg) versus Norwood (SANFL 1979)

 

Knights

Peter Knights (Hawthorn) versus Collingwood (VFL 1973)

 

Roach

Michael Roach (Richmond) versus Hawthorn (VFL 1980)

 

Dugdale

John Dugdale (North Melbourne) versus St Kilda (VFL 1961)

Oisne Aisne Military Cemetery – “Plot E”


Plots A-D of the Oise Aisne American Cemetary hold the remains of American soldiers who died fighting in a small portion of Northern France during World War I. However set across the street unmarked and completely surrounded by impassible shrubbery is Plot E, a semi-secret fifth plot that contains the nearly forgotten bodies of a number of American soldiers who were executed for crimes committed during and after World War II.

Over 6,000 soldiers are buried in the first four plots of the Oise Aisne Cemetery, but just 94 bodies are currently buried in the shunned fifth plot. While the small patch of land is technically on the grounds of the greater cemetery, it is not easily distinguished as it sits across the street, hidden behind the tall hedges that surround it. The only way into the secret cemetery is through the superintendent’s office.

 

The soldiers eventually interred in Plot E were tried for rape, murder, and in one case, desertion (although the remains of the deserter, Eddie Slovik, the only American executed for desertion in WWII, were returned to the states in 1987). After being convicted in U.S. courts martial held in Europe, the men were dishonorably discharged and executed via hanging or firing squad. In many cases, the men who were buried in Plot E were initially buried close to the site of their execution. Those bodies were later exhumed and moved to Oise Aisne in 1949 when the plot of shame was established.

 

PLotE
The lone headstone in Plot E.

 

Plot E has been referred to as an anti-memorial. No US flag is permitted to fly over the plot and the graves themselves, small in-ground stones the size of index cards, have no names; they are only differentiated by numbers. Even underground they are set apart with each body buried in Plot E positioned with its back to the main cemetery. The site does not exist on maps of the cemetery, and is not mentioned on the cemetery website.

 

Louis-Till-84-Grave-73
Marker for Private Louis Till, who was hanged in Italy in July 1945 after murdering an Italian woman, raping two others and then assaulting a US navy sailor.

 

Plot E has been described by one cemetery employee as a “house of shame” and “the perfect anti-memorial,” especially as the original intent was that none of the individual remains were ever to be identifiable by name.

“The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II” by French L.Maclean (Schiffer Publishing, 2013) was the basis for this blog post.