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There were quite a few fliers who claimed to have solved aviation sooner than the Wright brothers–Gustave Whitehead and Samuel Pierpont Langley and many more–but only one was a cousin to Buffalo Bill Cody and died while cooking naked, a recluse in Hawaii. His name was W.D. Custead. As the Texas Reader recalls, the end was bitter for the once-enterprising aviator:

“On March 17, 1933 a Hawaiian newspaper reported that the Hermit of Nankuli had been found dead in his shack. He was known for living in almost absolute seclusion and being hostile to visitors. Those who did chance to visit were shocked to find that he wore no clothing when at home.

What readers of the Hawaiian newspaper didn’t know was that this ignominious end was not William Custead’s only fifteen minutes of fame. Thirty-five years earlier newspapers across Texas were celebrating his prowess as an inventor.”

Custead presented his airship plans to the War Department in 1899 and then continued to tinker with his flying machine. In 1903, the Wrights won the race to the sky (though some wonder), and the foiled, despondent aviator responded by walking out on his family and becoming an itinerant, ultimately landing in Hawaii.

A brief article follows from the April 13, 1900 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about Custead before his dreams nosed down.

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From the March 31, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“A girl who eats paper is the newest attraction in a dime museum in Boston.”

From the November 7, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Paris — The world’s record for blood transfusion by one person is credited to Raymond Briez. He has just submitted to the operation for the hundredth time. Since November, 1924, Briez has given five and a half gallons of his blood for suffering human beings, without recompense of any kind except the satisfaction of having done a good deed.”

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First William James Sidis amazed the world, then he disappointed it.

A Harvard student in 1910 at just 11 years old, he was considered the most astounding prodigy of early 20th-century America, a genius of mathematics and much more, reading at two and typing at three, who had been trained methodically from birth by his father, a psychiatrist and professor. It was a lot to live up to. There was a dalliance with radical politics at the end of his teens that threw him off the path to greatness, resulting in a sedition trial. In the aftermath, he quietly disappeared into an undistinguished life.

When it was learned in 1937 that Sidis was living a threadbare existence of no great import, merely a clerk, he was treated to a public accounting which was laced with no small amount of schadenfreude. He sued the New Yorker over an article by Gerald L. Manley and James Thurber (gated) which detailed his failed promise. He was paid $3,000 to settle the case by the magazine’s publishers just prior to his death in 1944.

Two articles follow from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle about Sidis’ uncommon life.

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From the March 20, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

From the July 18, 1944 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

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From the May 30, 1871 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“During the days of the resurrectionists or body-snatchers, when graveyards were subjected to pillage for supplying anatomists with subjects for dissection, the teeth from the dead bodies formed a frequent article of sale for dentists. Sometimes graves were opened for the teeth alone, as being small and easily concealed articles. Mr. Cooper, the surgeon, relates an instance of a man feigning to look for a burial place for his wife, and thus obtaining access to the vault of a meeting-house, the trap-door of which he unbolted; at night he let himself down into the vault, and pocketed the front teeth of the whole of the buried congregation, by which he cleared fifty pounds!”

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From the February 12, 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“After the death of the President, his body was carted about the nation in the world’s largest funeral march. A man was detailed daily to brush the dust from his face after he had lain in state in various cities.

His body was moved 19 times between the time of his burial and 1900.”

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Tubes would eventually bring mail to every home, but they weren’t of the pneumatic variety. In a predictive piece he wrote for the December 30, 1900 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, U.S. Postmaster General Charles Emory Smith offered that the type of pneumatic tubing system utilized in early-1900s New York City might someday be linked to every individual residence. He was right in the big picture, even if he got the details wrong.

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From the January 23, 1899 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Havana — General Fitzburgh Lee in command of Havana province, has ordered the men of his corps, at the request of the Chief Surgeon, not to keep human skulls and bones in their tents. The soldiers have been taking skulls and cross bones from the piles near Quemados and Colon Cemeteries, their custom being to rent a grave for a year or so from the managers of the cemetery and then dig up the bones and pile them outside.”

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The Wright Brothers seemingly cease to exist the moment after the Flyer lifted off in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, frozen forever in the moment of their greatest accomplishment, the height of their careers. Wilbur, the elder, died of typhoid inside of a decade. Orville, who manned the landmark flights, never handled the controls again after 1918. (Howard Hughes was the pilot for his last air trip as a passenger in 1944.) Perhaps because of competing claims to the title of “first flight” or maybe because the supersonic age had passed him by, Orville’s obituary in the January 31, 1948 Brooklyn Daily Eagle didn’t have the fanfare one might expect. 

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From the June 24, 1946 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“Adelaide, Australia, reports that a blood donor had such a high percentage of alcohol in his veins that the recipient immediately became intoxicated.”

Just as talkies were announcing themselves across America, genius Russian silent film director Sergei Eisenstein was dejectedly departing Hollywood, no richer financially or creatively for his failed attempts at pleasing U.S. movie producers. An article in the May 1, 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle made clear his disenchantment with the business end of show business and the automaton nature of the burgeoning studio system.

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From the June 12, 1953 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Santiago, Chile — Alicia Torres, owner of a slaughter house charged with using dog meat in sausages, testified in her own defense that ‘dog meat is good for rheumatism.'”

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Even though the headline of this November 5, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article refers to plural “autoists,” Jimmy Burns is the lone driver named who made cross-country trips blindfolded, guided only by his trusty dog Pedro. No explanation for Burns’ behavior is provided.

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From the July 6, 1896 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“The officials of a company which makes a feature of insuring the lives of animals notified the management of Glen Island to-day that they would not pay the policy on the life of Franko, the monkey which committed suicide yesterday. They claim the suicide clause holds good in this instance the same as in the case of a man. It is claimed that Franko deliberately hanged himself and that back of the sad affair is a love story of strong interest which goes to show that Cupid darts can play havoc in a monkey’s cage as well as elsewhere. Franko was desperately in love with a female monkey in the same cage. Last week he was removed to another cage and suicide followed.”

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From the February 19, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Pittsburgh — Ten dollars added to his board bill for extra bologna eaten during the month was more than Ignac Merter could stand when he was leaving Mrs. Francis Petre’s boarding house at Ford City. He frankly imparted his feelings to the landlady, declaring he had paid all he owed and refused to pay the $10. Alleging he was hit with a club, he hauled the woman before a justice who held her in $300 on the charge of assault and battery.”

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While the early twentieth-century mobster Arnold Rothstein has entered into American culture in everything from The Great Gatsby to Boardwalk Empire, he most infamously left his mark on major-league baseball. The “Brain,” as he was often called, transformed the often chaotic world of crime into a corporate-type affair, becoming the first “legitimate businessman.” One Rothstein deal saw him and other gamblers entice members of the 1919 White Sox to throw the World Series, a scandal which nearly killed the sport. And then there was the unintended consequence of the fix which occurred when Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis, a federal judge, was subsequently named baseball’s first commissioner with the imperative to clean up the game. In addition to other policies, Landis was steadfast in not allowing players of color to participate in the league, keeping the sport segregated. It’s no sure bet the game would have been integrated without Landis, but there was no way it was happening with him. The following article from the November 5, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on the murder of Rothstein, not shockingly a gambling-related crime.

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From the July 11, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“James Driscoll, a boy 14 years old, who lives at 84 Lynch Street, when he stays home, eats and chews cigarettes. At least that is what his mother has to say about him. And according to her, he makes a regular diet of them, for he has the tobacco habit in an advanced degree.”

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Famed attorney Clarence Darrow was an extremist when it came to criminality, believing in circumstance but not culpability. He saw criminals the way the writer of a naturalist novel views characters, as prisoners of nature and nurture, incapable of circumventing either. Based on the remarks he made as reported in an article in the April 4, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Darrow would have treated all misdeeds as maladies, the perpetrators receiving treatment in hospitals rather than stretches in prison.

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From the August 24, 1912 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Denver, Col. — If the strange request of William J. Abrams, a blind man of Denver, is granted, he hopes to see through the eyes of Lewis J. Weichter, condemned to be hanged at Canon City next week for murder. Abrams asks that after the execution the eyes of the condemned man be grafted upon his own.

If the request is granted, surgeons will be in the death chamber when the trap is sprung. Immediately after Weichter has been officially pronounced dead, his eyes will be removed and placed in a saline solution, after which the surgeons will hurry to a hospital nearby where the corneas from Weichter’s eyes will be grafted into the sightless eyes of Abrams.”

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By the time he filed his final patent in 1928, an “Apparatus for aerial transportation,” the 72-year-old inventor Nikola Tesla was a punchline at best and a forgotten man at worst, and he would remain so for the final 15 years of his life, until he died alone and without money in the New Yorker Hotel. His swan song was a small plane which purportedly could rise from an open window like a helicopter and transport two people cheaply and efficiently to their destination. It would revolutionize travel. Alas, unlike a swan, it wouldn’t have been able to fly even if it had been built, which it wasn’t. An article in the February 23, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the dubious machine.

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From the January 24, 1913 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Iowa City, Iowa — A woodchopper working near a cemetery here yesterday found the bones of two human legs imbedded in a tree he had just felled. Forestry students from the State University, who examined the bones, said that they probably have been there for at least thirty years. It is thought that medical students at the university placed the bones there.”

Brilliant writer though he was, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was gullible to lots of complete bullshit, mostly centered around spiritualist shenanigans, even believing frenemy Harry Houdini was doomed to an early death due to his skepticism. In an article in the April 10, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes explained his vision of the afterlife, which he believed to be a childless place where a man could trade in his wife for a new model.

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From the March 14, 1913 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Rutland, Vt. — George C.  Chalmers, president of the Rutland Business Men’s Association, underwent a peculiar operation here for the removal of a button from his nose. He has been in poor health for some time and recently came to believe that the nasal trouble, with which he was afflicted, might be due to a button which he had pushed into his nose when he was a child, fifty-four years ago. He told a physician of the circumstance and the latter agreed that the button was the root of the trouble. Upon removal, the button was found to have become so encrusted that it had increased from a quarter-inch to an inch in diameter.”

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A century ago, Gobi Desert dwellers didn’t desire dinosaur eggs for their historical value but for their utility, often fashioning from them jewelry or other trinkets to wear or trade. In 1923, a motorcar-powered expedition, which numbered naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews as one of its leaders, was the first to ever secure the prehistoric eggs and bring them back to America. It was a sensation, of course. Chapman, a showman at heart who was not immune to utility himself, parlayed the jaw-dropping find into international celebrity, the directorship of the American Museum of Natural History and a young trophy wife. It’s conjectured by some that he was the model for Indiana Jones, but most likely that character is a composite of numerous explorers. A couple years after his dino-egg windfall, the scientist returned to the Gobi and purchased an armful of shells from a Mongolian villager for a bar of soap (see caption of fourth photo from top). One odd thing about the October 29, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article below, which heralded Chapman’s discovery, is its surprise that dinosaurs laid eggs. It doesn’t mention what the prevailing theory had been.

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From the June 16, 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Milwaukee — Tales of crude sorcery used in a purported attempt to prevent childbirth and to bring a ‘curse’ on a household were told today in two warrants issued for Mrs. Anna Jurich.

The complainant, Mrs. Sophie Obradovich, 37-year-old mother of four children, said she sought out Mrs. Jurich to prevent the birth of a fifth child.

The weird ritual which Mrs. Obradovich said the woman used included administering massages and bandages, cutting off corners of pillows and slitting a mattress.

After she refused to pay a $50 fee, Mrs. Obradovich said, the woman put a ‘curse’ on the household and threw a witch-ball containing finger ad toenail parings, human hair, colored string and other alleged black luck omens through the window.”

 

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