Two women and a pilot


At 10 o’clock of the morning of March 18, 1952, two women reached the 405th 7th hole at the Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Florida. They were good golfers. One of them, Bertha Johnson, had been Jacksonville City Champion in 1938 and, now aged in her early 50’s, was still good enough to compete in tournaments. She had been president of the Jacksonville Women’s Golf Association for two years after the end of World War 2. Bertha and her playing partner, 38 year old Mary Dempsey, drove off from the 7th tee and started walking towards their balls. They were oblivious of any danger – it was just another round of golf to be enjoyed.

The pilot was on a routine training flight from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station base that bordered the Timuquana Country Club.

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Photo of the Jackssonville Naval Air Station – the Timuquana Country Club course can be seen in the top-left corner.

He was worried – the oil pressure gauge on his Vought F4U Corsair fighter was registering a low reading and engine power was below normal. He called the base to request an emergency landing. The duty runway was cleared and prepared.

The pilot made his approach to the runway, but all was not right. The engine of the Corsair was behaving erratically, so the pilot didn’t have enough control to land the plane. He flew past the runway, turned right and hoped to make another approach with enough control to land. Suddenly, the Corsair’s engine died completely. The plane was now a glider – no power, no noise, and no chance of making it back to the runway. The pilot looked at what was available to land. Was there anywhere to land? He saw a strip of grass on the Timuquana Country Club – it was the 7th fairway.

 

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A flight of Vought F4U Corsairs from the Jacksonville NAS in flight.

A man driving a van was making a delivery from his fruit and vegetable stall on Roosevelt Boulevard to the Naval Air Station. He saw the Corsair come in low over the buildings with smoke pouring out of the engine cowling. “It’s going to crash”, he said to his wife. The Corsair pulled back up into the air a little, but no higher than the tree-tops. The man and his wife watched it disappear behind the trees.

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Layout of the 7th hole at the Timuquana Country Club. Changes to the tees have resulted in different yardage than was the case in 1952.

Johnson and Dempsey played their second shots about 220 yards from the 7th tee. They then strolled in a leisurely way down the centre of the fairway towards the green. Their caddie, 19 year old Theodore Rutledge, walked about 35 yards behind them, along the eastern side of the fairway. Rutledge looked up, and saw the Corsair. It was coming in silently against the wind, strangely unobtrusive, its long nose and black engine smoke obscuring the pilot’s forward vision. Rutledge yelled a warning to the Johnson and Dempsey, who didn’t hear him, and then ducked and ran.

The Corsair landed in the middle of the 7th fairway and hit the women from behind with the propellor. One body was thrown 35 feet, the other 65 feet. Johnson and Dempsey were killed instantly. The plane continued down the 7th fairway for another 155 yards, veering towards a clump of trees in the rough on the western side of the fairway. It crashed into the trees and the impact broke off the engine and the cowling. The pilot scrambled out of the wreckage and then watched the Corsair burst into flames. He was standing by the burning plane when the course superintendent arrived.

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Photo from the 7th fairway looking towards the green. The Corsair veered to the left and crashed into the trees.

“Are you hurt?”, asked the superintendent.
“No, thank God,” said the pilot. “I got out before the fire started”.
Rutledge rushed up and blurted out the news that two golfers had been killed.
The pilot went to pieces.

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Front page of the “Miami Daily News” of the 20th March 1952, with the fatal crash the top story.

Andrew Ward’s book “Golf’s Strangest Rounds” – Extraordinary but true stories from over a cenury of history”, Robson Books, London, 1999 p. 154-155 was the source for this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Abbott-Detroit Motor Car Company


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Abbott-Detroit radiator badge.

The Abbott-Detroit was a conventional car, initially powered by a 30hp 4-cylinder Continental engine, and with one body style, a 5-seater tourer priced at $1500. Founder Charles Abbott left his company in 1910, but by 1912 the range had been expanded to five styles on two wheelbases, 2972 and 3046mm (110 and 120inch), priced from $1275 for a 4-door roadster to $3000 for a 7-passenger limousine. That year the company built 1817 cars, its best output as it turned out, and the slogan was ‘Built for Permanence’.

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1913 Abbott-Detroit 44-50 tourer.

Abbot-Detroits were of very conventional appearance, apart from the 1913 Battleship Roadster which had a striking vee radiator. A 6-cylinder engine, also by Continental, joined the range in 1914 when the company was reorganised. New owner Edward F Gerber left in 1915 and was replaced by RA Palmer, who had formerly managed Cartercar. He changed the name to Consolidated Car Co, and expanded the range to include the Model 8-80, powered by a Herschell-Spillman V8. The four was dropped after 1915. In order to increase production Palmer relocated the company to Cleveland in April 1917, a few days before America entered World War 1, changing the name of both company and car to Abbott. He acquired a large factory taken on a ten-year lease, but sales never justified the move and were lower than they had been in Detroit.

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1917 Abbott-Detroit Model 6-44 roadster.

Very few of the 8-80 were made and none at Cleveland, where a small number of sizes were built before Abbott went bankrupt in January 1918. Just 312 cars were made that year, with total production of Abbott-Detroit and Abbott cars over a nine-year period being just over 12,000 units. The Cleveland plant was acquired by the National Electric Lamp Works, and it is believed that a few cars were assembled by them with leftover parts.

The source for this blog entry was Nick Georgano’s book “The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile”, Stationery Office, London, 2000, p. 5

The strange disappearance of Private Gerry Irwin


I have always had an interest in UFO’s or Unidentified Flying Objects, and have read reports of some of the more famous sightings, as well as the claims that humans have been abducted by the beings on these craft before being returned to Earth. Unfortunately, despite all of the thousands of reported sightings and details of abduction encounters, physical evidence has always been lacking. Also, many of these encounters seem to take place in country locations in the middle of the night – if the aliens are so keen to make contact with us, why don’t they land one of their craft in the centre of a busy city in the middle of the day in front of multiple witnesses? Also, with the explosion of mobile phones and other personal recording devices, the amount of new, well-focused footage of possible sightings hasn’t exploded.

Despite my skepticism, I still like to read about such cases. One of the more unusual ones that I have just come across was the experience of US Army Private First Class Gerry Irwin on a winter’s night in Utah in the late 1950’s.

Gerry Irwin was a Nike missile technician at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. On February 28, 1959, he was driving back from Nampa, Idaho, where he had been on leave. At Cedar City, Utah, he turned southeast on to Route 14. About six miles from the turnoff, he spotted a glowing object that seemed to come to earth in a field just off the road. Thinking he had seen an airplane crash, or at least a forced landing, he stopped to see if he could give assistance. He wrote a note and placed it on the steering wheel of his car:

“Have gone to investigate possible plane crash. Please call law enforcement officers.”

Then, he wrote STOP in large letters on the side of his car.

About thirty minutes later, a fish and game inspector happened to being driving past, and stopped at Irwin’s car. He saw the note, and took it to the Cedar City Sheriff’s Office, where Sheriff Otto Pfief gathered a party of volunteers and returned to the site. When they searched, they found no trace of a plane crash, but they found Private Gerry Irwin unconscious in a field by the side of the road. . Ninety minutes had passed since he had first seen the glowing object.

Irwin was taken to the hospital in Cedar City, where a Dr. Broadbent could find nothing physically wrong with him. Irwin was merely asleep, and could not be awakened Dr. Broadbent could find no explanation for this, so his diagnosis was “hysteria”, meaning that his condition could not be attributed to any organic disease.

When Private Irwin eventually awoke, he felt perfectly well, but he was mystified by the glowing object he had seen. He was also confused by the fact that his jacket was missing. The sheriff’s search party stated that he was not wearing it when they found him.

Irwin was flown back to Fort Bliss and placed under observation at William Beaumont Army Hospital for several days, after which he was released as fit to return to duty.

The episode was not over yet, though. Some days later, Irwin fainted on base, and a few days after that he fainted while in the city of El Paso. He was taken to Southwest General Hospital where he was found once again to be asleep and unwakeable. About twenty four hours later, he awoke asking, “Were there any survivors?” He behaved as if he had lost all memory of the period between seeing the object on February 28th in Utah, and waking up on March 16th in El Paso.

Once again, he was taken to William Beaumont Army Hospital, where he was placed under observation by psychiatrists. After one month, extensive testing could find nothing wrong with him, so he was released on April 17. The next day, Irwin was seized by a powerful impulse that made him take a bus from El Paso to Cedar City, arriving on April 19. He then walked back to the field in which the Sheriff’s party had found him. He found his jacket on a bush. There was a pencil stuck in one of its buttonholes with a piece of paper wound tightly around it. Irwin burned the paper and then seemed to come out of some kind of trance. He could not recall the path back to the road or why he had come there. He made his way back to Cedar City and turned himself in to Sheriff Otto Pfief, who told Irwin about his first encounter on the 28th of February. Once again Irwin returned to Fort Bliss and was given psychological examinations. On July 10, he again entered William Beaumont Army Hospital. He was discharged again, but on August 1 he failed to report for duty, and one month later he was listed as a deserter. After this Private Gerry Irwin disappears from the public view, and his current (if he is still alive) whereabouts are unknown.  This case poses some interesting questions:

  • Irwin had been on leave in Nampa. Had he suffered some traumatic event while on leave, which caused him to have a hallucination or some other experience?
  • Was Irwin visiting family in Nampa? Wherever they lived, have they ever been located and contacted to help explain Irwin’s behaviour?
  • The US Army doesn’t usually let “deserters” just walk away. Did they ever locate him, and find out what actually happened?
  • What did Irwin mean when he said “Are there any survivors?” when he was in hospital?

The following books were used for this blog post:

Kevin D Randle, “The UFO Dossier: 100 Years of Government Secrets, Conspiracies and Cover-Ups”,  Visible Ink Press, 2015, pp 134-141

Richard M Dolan, “UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Coverup, 1941-1973”, Hampton Roads Publishing, 2002, pp-312-313

Damon Wilson, “The World’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries”, Barnes and Noble Publishing, 2004. pp. 34-36

Kelly D Bell, “A New Look at UFOs”, iUniverse Publishing, 2007, pp 63-64

 

The disappearance of Andrew Carnegie Whitfield


One of the more interesting examples of a person disappearing while in an aircraft is the case of Andrew Carnegie Whitfield over New York city in April 1938.

Whitfield was the nephew of the famous steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and had graduated from Princeton University. He was working as a businessman, and had recently married Elizabeth Halsey.

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Andrew Carnegie Whitfield, who disappeared in the sky above New York City in 1938.

 

Whitfield was a keen pilot, and had logged over 200 hours of flying in his Taylor Cub monoplane. On the 17th of April, Whitfield departed in his small plane from Roosevelt Field on Long Island. He planned to land at an airfield at Brentwood, approximately 22 miles away. The weather was perfect for flying, and Whitfield’s plane had more than enough fuel for a flight that should have taken approximately fifteen minutes. Whitfield never arrived as scheduled and has never been heard from again. An extensive search for him and his plane produced no evidence as to his whereabouts. There were unconfirmed sightings of Whitfield after his disappearance. The most bizarre was in August 1939, at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Railway police said that an unkempt Whitfield, still wearing his flying suit, was seen in a freight car on the outskirts of town. Whitfield saw the police, grinned and held out a bundle of money, before the train disappeared down the tracks.

 

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Roosevelt Field, Long Island – the starting point of Andrew Whitfield’s final flight.

 

After Andrew had disappeared, it was discovered that he checked into a hotel in Garden City on Long Island under the alias Albert C. White on the day he vanished. He paid $4 in advance for the room and never checked out. His personal belongings, including his passport; clothing; cuff links engraved with his initials; two $6000 life insurance policies in his name listing his wife, Elizabeth Halsey Whitfield, as the beneficiary; and several stocks and bonds made out in Andrew’s and Elizabeth’s names; were left behind in the hotel room. Phone records also indicated that he called his home while his family was out looking for him, and a telephone operator says she heard him say over the phone, “Well, I am going to carry out my plan.”

Based on this alleged comment, police and other investigators believed that instead of travelling to Brentwood, Whitfield had turned the Cub over the Atlantic Ocean, and committed suicide by crashing the plane into the water. However, despite an extensive search, no wreckage was ever found. There was also no evidence that at the time of Whitfield’s disappearance that he was having any personal or business problems, which may have lead him to consider taking his own life. Whitfield was planning on moving to Pennsylvania with his new bride later in the year.

I think that based on the evidence found in the hotel room and the comment overhead by the telephone operator, that Whitfield had decided to take his own life. With the amount of fuel that the plane had, I think that Whitfield would have flown west until he was in a mountainous and inaccessible area, and then crashed the plane. There are several examples of planes which disappeared in remote and uninhabited parts of the United States – is Whitfield’s plane one of those?

The source for this blog post was Jay Robert Nash’s book “Among The Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present”, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Maryland, USA, 1978, pp. 333-334.

 

 

The man who sold the Eiffel Tower – twice!


Circus promoter PT Barnum is alleged to have said “There’s a sucker born every minute”, and as long as there are gullible people, there are cons and crooks who will exploit that stupidity for their own financial gain. One of the most famous of these cons was Victor Lusing.

“Count” Victor Lustig was born in Bohemia, on January 4, 1890, in what is now known as the Czech Republic. He was originally known as Robert V. Miller, one of several children born into the upper-middle class Miller family. His father was the mayor of the small town of Hostinne, Czechoslovakia, and under his care Lustig proved to be a bright child with a penchant for trouble.

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“Count” Victor Lusig

By the time he was 19, Lustig was taking time away from his studies at the University of Paris to gamble in poker, bridge and billiards. Around this age he also earned a scar across the left side of his face from a jealous man, who though Lustig was paying too much attention to the man’s girlfriend. Using his quick wit and his fluency in the Czech, German, English, French and Italian languages, Lustig left school and began committing dozens of petty crimes under countless aliases across Europe. His favorite, however, was that of “Count” Victor Lustig. Under this name he traveled Trans-Atlantic cruise ships, gambling and bilking wealthy passengers out of their money. When World War I put an end to pleasure cruises, Lustig’s con career also dried up. He decided to head to the United States, during the height of Prohibition.

By 1922, Lustig had conned his way to Missouri, where he learned of a repossessed ranch. Posing under the alias Robert Duval, Lustig offered the American Savings Bank $22,000 in Liberty bonds, and convinced them to exchange an additional $10,000 of the bonds for cash, so that he would have some extra capital to run the ranch. The deal was struck, and the money was placed in two identical envelopes. Through a sleight of hand, however, Lustig had switched envelopes and made off with both the bonds and the cash. He was tracked to Kansas City, where he was arrested, but Lustig managed to talk his way out of an indictment and walked free.

In May of 1925, Lustig traveled to Paris to plan another con, the one which would make him famous. While reading the newspaper, Lustig noticed an article about the run-down condition of the Eiffel Tower. At the time, the Eiffel Tower had become an expensive nuisance left over from the 1889 Paris Exposition. The original plan was to move the monument, but time and money prevented the transfer. The tower had instead fallen into disrepair, and Parisians lobbied for its removal. Lustig saw an opportunity, and forged government credentials naming him Deputy Director General of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes. He met with a small group of scrap metal dealers, and explained that the city wanted to sell the Eiffel tower for scrap but that officials wanted to keep the plans a secret to avoid backlash from citizens.

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The Eiffel Tower, the site of Lusig’s most brazen confidence trick.

 

One of the dealers bought the story and put down a cash bid to tear down the tower. Yet when he went to city officials to cash in on the deal, they had no idea what he was talking about. The dealer realised he was duped, and was so embarrassed that he refused to go to police. A month later, Lustig returned to Paris and ran the whole scam yet again. Lustig barely managed to elude authorities the second time around, and was forced to flee to America to prevent his own capture.

But Lustig seemed incapable of keeping a low profile, and in 1926 he became even more infamous for a con known as the Rumanian Box. Lustig had a cabinetmaker in New York City make a handcrafted mahogany box with a narrow slot cut in either end. One side of the box, Lustig had installed a series of complicated handles and levers. Lustig told his marks that the mahogany box was the world’s only “money-duplicating machine.” He would place an authentic $1,000 bill in one end, along with a piece of paper, and then turn a series of cranks and knobs. The only problem was that the process, he told his victims, took six hours to complete per bill.

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The Rumanian Money Box.

Together, he and his victim would wait six hours then Lustig would turn the crank to produce another, authentic $1,000 bill. Lustig would then have the victim take both bills to a local bank to confirm their authenticity. They were real bills in actuality, because Lustig had concealed a second real $1,000 bill in the box. Once his mark, sensing high profits, paid a remarkable sum for the box, Lustig would disappear-and no real money would ever come out of the box again.

By 1934, Lustig had gained too much attention as a counterfeiter in the U.S., and the Secret Service put together a special squad to find out who was flooding the United States market with counterfeit bills. Lustig was arrested, and a search revealed a set of money-printing plates and $51,000 in fake currency. Lustig was sent to the Federal House of Detention in New York City.

On December 5, 1935, he stood trial, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Lustig received and additional five years for his escape attempt a few months earlier. According to The Evening Independent in Massillon, Ohio, Lustig died in prison on March 11, 1947, after suffering a brain tumor. Other sources claim Lustig died from complications of pneumonia. Lustig was 57 years old at the time of his death. Secret Service agents said that the occasional counterfeit bill, known as “Count Lustig Money,” still managed to turn up in the years after his death.

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The Medical Centre for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, where Lustig died in 1947.

 

The biography of Lustig at http://www.biography.com was used as the basis for this blog post.

Fontaine locomotive – wheels on wheels


As the need for more powerful steam locomotives became obvious, engineers looked at various ways to improve the design and layout of locomotives to gain that extra power.

As with all forms of design and experimentation, there were several designers who looked “outside the square” for more power. One of these was Eugene Fontaine of Detroit, who came up with a very novel way of trying to increase the power of a steam locomotive.

 

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The 1881 Fontaine locomotive, with driving wheels placed on top of each other.

As can be seen from the above illustration, Fontaine’s answer was the arrangement of the driving wheels. Instead of having driving wheels driving in unison via coupling rods, Fontaine’s design featured driving wheels on top, resting on a smaller set of treads below, driving these by friction. These treads were an outward extension of a wheel, larger in diameter, which actually made contact with the track.

Track conditions were part of the reason for this unusual design. European designs, with large driving wheels and a high centre of gravity, were unstable on American tracks. Safe operation required a lower centre of gravity and smaller driving wheels. While compensation for the smaller driving wheels could be gained by increasing the revolutions of the engine, this put extra stress on the cylinders, pistons, wheels and valve gear.

Two prototype Fontaine locomotives were built in 1881 by the Grant Locomotive Works of Paterson, New Jersey for the Canada Southern Railway. A top speed of 90 mph was claimed, but it seems that this figure was never achieved. The Fontaine locomotive was tried on a wide range of passenger and freight trains, but the expected power advantages over conventional locomotives never materialised. After many modifications, the Fontaine locomotive was rebuilt as a standard 4-4-0 locomotive.

The main source for this entry was “World Railways of the Nineteenth Century – A Pictorial History in Victorian Engravings” by Jim Harter, JHU Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005, pp. 78-79