Signalman Jack: The Baboon Who Worked for the Railroad

James Wide, who worked for the Cape Government Railways in South Africa in the mid-1800s, developed a reputation for fearlessness. He had a habit of jumping from one railway car to the next while he was on the job, even if the train was moving. This recklessness earned him the nickname of “Jumper”, but it nearly cost him his life in 1877 when he fell beneath a moving train while jumping between cars.

Jumper survived the fall, but he was badly injured. The train severed both of his legs at the knee.

Fearful of losing his job (there was no workers’ compensation in those days), Jumper made himself a pair of wooden peg legs and took a post at Uitenhage station. He also made himself a wooden trolley to help himself get around faster, but he was still unable to perform some of his duties due to his disability.

Jumper had to figure out a way to get his job done, but how? Inspiration struck when he visited a local market and saw a chacma baboon named Jack leading an ox cart and managing the oxen quite deftly. Jumper was impressed with the baboon’s abilities and persuaded his owner to sell Jack to him to help him at work.

Jack lived with Jumper in his house, and first started helping Jumper out by pushing him around on his trolley. Jumper soon realized, though, that Jack was capable of doing more. He taught him to deliver keys to the conductor of a train when he heard a special signal. Jack got so good at this that he could eventually perform the task without any prompts.

Jack even learned how to work the railway’s signals, under supervision from Jumper of course. Jack also became very good at this job, too.

Jack became something of a celebrity, and people came from all around the Cape Town area to see the baboon signalman. But the idea of a monkey running the trains upset one concerned citizen, who wrote a formal letter of complaint to the authorities.

A manager was sent to Uitenhage station immediately, and Jumper (along with Jack) was fired. Jumper begged the manager to reconsider his decision, and convinced to test Jack’s competency to operate the signals.

Possibly to amuse himself, the manager agreed. He must have been surprised when Jack passed all his test with flying colors. The baboon even checked to make sure his work was correct before proceeding.

Jumper got his job back, and Jack was officially hired by the railroad. He was the first and only known baboon in history to work for a railroad. He was paid 20 cents a day and half a bottle of beer every week. He continued in this capacity for nine more years, never making a mistake.

Jack eventually died from tuberculosis in 1890. His skull is on display at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown, South Africa.

The Mysterious Smuttynose Murders

In the mid 1860s, married couple John and Maren Hontvet emigrated from Norway to Boston, hoping to find a better life. Being from sparsely populated Norway, they found city life in Boston to be too chaotic, so they saved up and bought a house on Smuttynose Island in Maine.

After their move, John bought a boat and became a fisherman. His business did so well that he decided to hire help. He took on a man named Louis Wagner in 1872, a German immigrant, and paid him by giving him free room and board. Wagner had been struggling to get by, so he accepted the job even though he did not receive any pay.

Hiring Wagner would prove to be a fateful mistake for the Hontvets.

In the fall of 1873, a large contingent of Hontvet relatives joined John and Maren on Smuttynose Island. With so much family available to work, Wagner was not needed anymore. He was dismissed from his job.

On a fishing trip to the city of Portsmouth on March 5, 1873, John and his crew ran into Wagner again. They needed temporary help with their current job and offered him the work. He agreed but did not show up for work the next day.

Meanwhile, Maren Hontvet, her sister Karen, and her sister-in-law Anethe were staying together at the Hontvet’s house while their husbands were away in Portsmouth. The Hontvet house was the only occupied residence on Smuttynose at the time, so Maren was probably lonely.

In the middle of the night, somebody came into the house through the kitchen door. Karen, who was sleeping on a cot in the kitchen, surprised the intruder, who probably did not expect to find anyone there. Whoever it was, he picked up a kitchen chair and started beating her with it. Karen was screaming, “John is killing me!” the whole time, probably because the only person she expected to come through that door was John Hontvet.

Maren and Anethe were sleeping in the bedroom when they heard the commotion. Maren managed to drag Karen into the bedroom and lock the door. Knowing that the intruder would break down the door eventually, Anethe tried to escape through the window. Unfortunately, the intruder had also left the house and had found the Hontvet’s ice-chopping axe.

Maren heard Anethe shout the name “Louis” before the man killed her with the axe. He then came back into the house and began breaking down the bedroom door. After trying and failing to rouse the beaten Karen, Maren climbed out the window alone just as the killer burst through the bedroom door. Maren heard Karen give one final scream as the man killed her, too, with the axe.

Maren ran in her nightgown, barefoot and carrying the family dog, until she found a place under a rock to hide. She stayed there all night in the freezing weather. At dawn, she crossed a breakwater to the island of Malaga. She was rescued there.

Louis Wagner was accused of the murder. It was discovered that a rowboat had been stolen from Portsmouth the night before. The authorities believed that he rowed from Portsmouth to Smuttynose, committed the murders, and then fled to Boston, where he was arrested.

After a nine-day trial, Wagner was convicted of the murders. A bloody shirt and a button from one of Maren’s shirts was found among his possessions. That, and the fact that Anethe apparently recognized him before he killed her was enough evidence to convict him.

Despite an escape attempt that ended in his recapture, Louis Wagner eventually paid the ultimate price for his crimes. He was hanged on March 26, 1875. He professed his innocence until the end.

Even though Wagner was convicted of the crime, some people still doubt his guilt to this day. Some say that Maren Hontvet was the killer, since she was the only living eyewitness. Some also accuse John Hontvet, since Karen seemed to think John was the person attacking her with the chair. Those who believe this theory say that Maven was simply covering for him.

Though most believe that the right man was convicted, the Smuttynose murders continue to be seen by many as one the greatest unsolved American murder mysteries.

The Surgical Technician Who Saved Thousands

It was difficult for African Americans to get into medical school in the 1930s, especially in the southern United States, but that is exactly what Vivien Thomas wanted to do. He had received a good education at his high school in Nashville and began saving money so he could fulfil his dreams.

He found work as a carpenter at Vanderbilt University, and enrolled as a premedical student at the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College. Then the Great Depression hit in 1929, and Thomas was laid off.

Thomas could no longer afford paying for his education, but he managed to find work as a surgical research technician at Vanderbilt, working for Dr. Alfred Blalock, a respected surgeon. Sadly, Thomas was only paid a janitor’s salary because of the racism that was so prevalent at the time. However, he was doing work on the same level as someone with a Ph.D. Some of his early research on the causes of shock helped save the lives of thousands of soldiers during World War II.

When Dr. Blalock transferred to Johns Hopkins Medical School, he had become so dependent on Thomas’ skill that he insisted he move with him. It was during his tenure at Johns Hopkins that Dr. Blalock and Dr. Helen Taussig were credited with developing a surgical technique for blue baby syndrome, a genetic defect that causes a lack of oxygen in the blood. However, the true hero behind the cure was none other than Vivien Thomas.

Thomas had spent numerous hours experimenting on dogs to develop the surgical procedure. He also spent time in Dr. Taussig’s lab, examining heart specimens. It was his idea to divert blood past the constriction in a major blood vessel that caused the syndrome.

During the first blue baby surgery, Blalock relied heavily on Thomas’ help. Thomas stood right next to Blalock, and the doctor kept asking his technician if he was performing it correctly. Thomas continued to advise on the surgeries, sometimes working up to 16 hours a day as he also had to perform his research duties for Blalock.

Vivien Thomas was not recognized at the time for his contributions to the groundbreaking surgical technique. He also trained hundreds of surgeons as the supervisor of surgical research at Johns Hopkins, but he was never allowed to perform an operation himself. He never got to achieve his dream of attending medical school.

It wasn’t until the late 1960s that a group of Thomas’ former students decided that he should be recognized for what he had done. His portrait was commissioned and still hangs at the Johns Hopkins Hospital next to that of Blalock. In 1976, he received an honorary doctorate.

Vivien Thomas died in 1985 at the age of 75. Though he achieved much in his lifetime, one has to wonder how many more people he might have saved had he been able to go to medical school and realize his dream of becoming a surgeon himself.

St. Louis’ Tragically Haunted Mansion

In 1868, a wealthy St. Louis beer brewer by the name of William Lemp purchased his father-in-law’s mansion and renovated it to suit his tastes before moving in with his wife, Julia. This was a huge step for the Lemp family, since William’s father had immigrated to the United States from Germany only 30 years before. In that time, the Lemps had developed a brewing empire and become millionaires. Sadly, the happiness of this family was not to last.

The first tragedy to strike the Lemps occurred when William and Julia’s oldest son, Frederick, died in 1901 at the age of 28 from heart failure. William did not handle the death well and began to withdraw from public life. His despair only increased when his best friend, Frederick Pabst, died a few years later.

Williams tried his best to continue running the family business, but his depression overcame him. He shot himself in the head in February of 1904, just a month after his friend’s death.

The Lemp’s second son, William Jr., took over running the business and inherited the family fortune, which he and his wife, Lillian, soon began spending as fast as they could. Their spending habits weren’t their only problem, though. William Jr. was cheating on his wife with any woman willing to sleep with him, including prostitutes. He fathered a child with Down’s Syndrome with one of his paramours and then kept the poor child hidden away in the attic of the Lemp Mansion to keep him from public view.

Finally, in 1908 William and Lillian divorced. At the same time, the Lemp’s fortunes were going downhill as their brewery faced increased competition from a local brewing conglomerate. In 1919, Prohibition put the nail in the coffin of the Lemp brewing empire and they closed their doors. One year later, William Jr.’s sister, Elsa Lemp Wright, shot and killed herself over her own failed marriage.

Even after all this, early death continued to plague the family. William, Jr., depressed over the loss of his family’s business, shot himself in the heart and died in 1922. He committed suicide in the Lemp Mansion, in the same place his father had killed himself. His brother Charles then moved into the grand house.

Charles lived there with William Jr.’s illegimate child until the unfortunate child, now a 30-year-old man, died in the attic. Shortly after this death, Charles shot and killed his beloved pet dog and then killed himself in his bedroom on the second floor of the Lemp Mansion in 1949. The Lemp family line died out when the last brother, Edwin, died in 1970 of natural causes.

After Charles’ death, the mansion was turned into a boarding house. But people who stayed there complained about hearing strange noises and ghostly footsteps. Soon, no one wanted to stay there and the house deteriorated.

In 1975, the Lemp Mansion was saved when a new family bought it and turned it into a restaurant and inn. The hauntings continued, though. Workmen who were working on the mansion’s renovations would be so afraid that they would leave and refuse to return.

The Lemp Mansion is still in operation as an inn and restaurant and is still said to be haunted. People claim to have seen William Jr.’s illegitimate son on the third floor. William Jr. is even said to peep at women while they are bathing. People have also heard strange voices and noises in William Sr.’s office, where he and his son both died.

Today, the house is said to be one of the most haunted places in the United States. If you aren’t afraid of ghosts, you can still stay the night there. If that’s too scary for you, you can still eat at the restaurant or just book a tour. You just might meet one of the unfortunate members of the Lemp family during your visit.

The Crazy Attempted Assassination of Andrew Jackson

Many presidents have been the victims of assassination attempts, both successful and unsuccessful. The would-be assassins have ranged from disappointed job seekers to the truly mentally ill. Perhaps the most interesting aspiring president-killer was the man who perpetrated the first attempt on a president’s life. The man’s name was Richard Lawrence, and the president he tried to kill was Andrew Jackson.

On January 30, 1835, President Jackson was leaving the Capitol building, where he had attended the funeral of a South Carolina congressman. Jackson had made many political enemies at this point, but no one was expecting him to be attacked by an unemployed painter named Richard Lawrence.

Lawrence pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired at the president. By some stroke of luck, the bullet failed to discharge. Jackson did not run for cover, though. Instead, he charged at Lawrence and beat him with his cane. Lawrence managed to fire his gun one more time while he was being attacked, but the gun misfired again. The multiple misfires were nothing short of miraculous since the gun was tested later and was found to be functioning properly.

As if all this wasn’t strange enough, Richard Lawrence’s mental state was soon to make the whole business really crazy.

Several years before the assassination attempt, Lawrence had begun acting strangely. He started to become paranoid and thought the government was preventing him from returning to England, where he was born. The government, of course, had no interest in the comings and goings of an unimportant house painter.

He also quit his job around the same time. He told his family that he no longer needed to work because he was King Richard III of England. (Side note: King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.) He started saying that he owned estates in England and that he was owed money from the government of the United States since they were his colonies. He blamed President Jackson for the government’s failure to pay him because Jackson opposed the establishment of a national bank.

Lawrence then established the fatal belief that he would get his money if President Jackson were eliminated. His vice president, Martin Van Buren supported the establishment of the bank. He also began claiming that Jackson was responsible for the death of his father, though no one is sure on what basis he made this claim.

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of his life in the Government Hospital for the Insane.

Andrew Jackson finished out his term, never allowing a national bank to be established during his presidency.

What You Probably Don’t Know About Henry VIII

Few historical celebrities excite the modern imagination as much as Henry VIII. This most famous of English kings is probably best known for his marital escapades. Remember, he is the guy who regularly divorced and beheaded wives in his quest for a male heir to inherit his throne. But Henry was much more than a bad husband. Here are a few things you probably don’t know about him.

He was a pretty good composer and musician

Henry was a music lover. He surrounded himself with the best musicians he could find, but he could also play and write music himself. He kept such instruments as flutes, harpsichords, and bagpipes around, though he probably didn’t play all of them. At one point, it was believed that he wrote the song, “Greensleeves,” but historians now think this is untrue. He did, however, write several songs that were popular during his reign, including “Pastimes with Good Company” and “Helas Madame.”

He was an amateur doctor

Henry was a renowned hypochondriac. Medical science was not very advanced at the time, so Henry formulated his own medicines and preventative potions to keep himself healthy. He would dose himself at the slightest sign of illness or if anyone in his vicinity became ill. He would also prescribe his home remedies to friends and acquaintances. Whether his “patients” followed his advice is unknown.

He was a hoarder

 Kings typically have a lot of “stuff” because they are rich and because people like to give them gifts to keep them happy. But Henry took acquisitiveness to the next level. At the time of his death, he owned 50 palaces, which was a record for the monarchs of England. Many of his residences have since fallen apart because he had them built so quickly. He also had massive collections of such things as musical instruments, tapestries (the largest such collection ever recorded), and weapons. His hoarding habit was so bad that he left England in severe debt when he died.

He was quite the looker when he was young.

 Most of us only think of later portraits of Henry VIII when we imagine his appearance. The obese tyrant we see in these paintings is the furthest thing we could imagine from a ladies’ man. But Henry was actually quite attractive in his younger years. He was healthy, athletic, and over 6 feet tall. He is also described as having nice legs, an important feature in an era where men wore hose. It wasn’t until he injured himself in a tournament and had to stop regular exercise that he began putting on the weight. By the time he died, he was consuming over 5000 calories a day and weighing over 300 pounds.

He was never supposed to be king

 Henry was actually a younger son. He had an older brother named Arthur who was supposed to be king. However, Arthur died from an unknown cause at age 15, making Henry heir to the throne and changing his life forever. Incidentally, his brother Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon at the time of his death. Catherine would later become Henry’s first wife and the mother of the future Queen Mary, also known as Bloody Mary.

He Pulled Off The Greatest Heist In History And Then Vanished

It all began on Thanksgiving Eve in Portland, Oregon. A man in his mid-forties dressed in a freshly pressed white shirt and a dark suit approached the Northwest Orient Airlines flight counter.

Identifying himself as ‘Dan Cooper’, the man purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle, and boarded the plane with only a black suitcase.

The rest of the story sounds like fiction, but it all really happened…

Despite the holiday season, the plane was only a third of the way full. The man got comfortable by ordering a bourbon and soda and lighting up a cigarette. By all accounts, he appeared to be an upstanding businessman traveling for the holidays.

Flight 305 took off on time at approximately 2:50 pm. Just after the take off, Dan Cooper passed a note to a female flight attendant nearest to his seat. She tossed the note in her purse, assuming the message contained the phone number of a lonely businessman.

Note Pass

Noticing that the flight attendant had not taken the note seriously, the man leaned over and told her to read the note, informing her that he had a bomb. In this moment, the passenger known as Dan Cooper shifted from a normal businessman to a mid-air hijacker.

The flight attendant sat near Cooper as instructed in the note. She quietly asked him to see the bomb, which he did by subsequently opening his briefcase to reveal a red flash of eight cylinders attached to a wire leading to a large battery.


Once convinced, Cooper told the flight attendant his demands: $200,000, four parachutes, and a truck to refuel the plane after it landed in Seattle. The flight attendant calmly left Cooper in his seat and relayed the information to the cockpit. The pilot of the plane contacted Seattle-Tacoma air traffic control to report the situation, and the information was passed on to both local and federal authorities.

The developing situation was happening calmly and quietly – the other 36 passengers on the plane were not aware of the situation transpiring, and were told by the aircrew that their entry into Seattle was delayed due to minor mechanical difficulties.

The president of the Northwest Orient airline approved the ransom payment and informed all staff to cooperate. The plane circled the Puget Sound for approximately two hours, allowing for the ransom money to be collected and for the local and federal authorities to prepare for the plane’s arrival.

In the midst of the chaos, the man called Dan Cooper remained collected and put on a pair of sunglasses to shield his eyes. During the 2-hour diversion, Cooper remained polite and well spoken, commenting that the land below looked like Tacoma, and ordered another bourbon and soda. After paying for the drink, he offered the change to the flight attendant as a tip.

MadMen Drinks

While the plane was flying circles over the Seattle area, the federal agents below were collecting 10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills from area banks. The bills were made to be tracked- each one was microfilmed for evidence of their future use by the hijacker. Military-grade parachutes were offered, but Cooper rejected them. Instead, he demanded civilian parachutes with a manually operated ripcord. Local authorities obtained the parachutes Cooper requested from a local skydiving school.

Money In Sky

With the demands of the hijacker met, the plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma airport at approximately 5:39 pm, nearly 3 hours after the original takeoff from Portland.

Upon arriving, Cooper instructed the pilot to drive the plane to a well-lit area of the tarmac and to turn off the cabin lights. He was trying to avoid being an easy target for police snipers.

An operations manager of the airlines delivered the $200,000 ransom money stuffed into a knapsack, as well as the requested parachutes to the plane. He made a point to be dressed in regular street clothes to avoid being mistaken as the police.

The ransom was delivered through stairs in the airplane. An FAA official requested to meet with Cooper onboard the plane but he denied the inquiry, his plan already in place. Everyone waited for Cooper’s next move.

After Cooper inspected the deliveries, he allowed the passengers and most of the flight attendants to leave the plane, all confused and frightened but physically safe. While the plane was being refueled, Cooper discussed his plan with the pilots in the cockpit. He requested that the plane remain unpressurized, the rear door remain open, the wing flaps lowered and the landing gear deployed.

Cooper demanded the plane fly toward Mexico City at the absolute lowest speed possible to remain in flight. The pilots pleaded that the aircraft would need refueling at 1,000 miles, to which Cooper seemed suspiciously indifferent. They decided that the refueling stop would be in Reno, Nevada, where the plane would land once again.

Refueling Plane

With Cooper’s strategy in place, Flight 305 took off at approximately 7:40 pm and headed south. The only people who remained on board were the hijacker, the two pilots, one flight attendant and a flight engineer.

Two F-106 fighter planes followed from the local air force base, with one flying above the plane and another flying below to stay out of sight from Cooper. After the takeoff was complete, Cooper instructed the four remaining hostages to stay in the cockpit. The remaining flight attendant noticed that Cooper was fiddling with something around his waist just before the cockpit door was closed.


With Cooper on his own in the cabin of the plane, the pilots, flight attendant and engineer waited patiently for the next landing in Reno. Not long after the cockpit doors were closed, a light came on indicating that the stair apparatus of the plane had been activated.

The crew offered to help Cooper navigate the complicated and dangerous equipment, but he refused. The plane stayed on the flight path and landed in Reno, Nevada at approximately 10:15 pm.

The pilots were incredibly able to land safely even with the stairs of the plane still open. After coming to a halt, the plane was immediately surrounded by local and federal authorities.

They stormed the airplane armed and prepared to arrest Cooper, only to find that he was somehow no longer aboard the plane. The hijacker and the ransom money had disappeared into thin air. Since everybody was locked in the cockpit during the flight, they were unable to witness Cooper’s escape.


Authorities immediately began collecting evidence, finding fingerprints. They found Cooper’s black tie with mother of pearl tie-clip and two of the original four parachutes. They figured that Cooper had most likely used one of the parachutes to skydive from the plane, and another as material to strap the ransom money to his body.

Eyewitnesses and anyone who directly interacted with the hijacker were interviewed, allowing for composite sketches to be developed shortly after.

DB Cooper

Developed by the words of witnesses, the hijacker now had a face that could be spread through the media. Authorities quickly began to question suspects, one of the first being an Oregon man named D.B. Cooper with a minor police record.

D.B. Cooper was quickly cleared as a suspect, but one eager reporter accidentally switched the hijacker’s original pseudonym with the name of the innocent man. With a composite sketch and a name attached, the mystery of D.B. Cooper made a public debut.

DB Cooper on CNN

While multiple leads have been suggested and investigated, the pirate-in-the sky known incorrectly as D.B. Cooper has never been found. The search for Cooper was difficult since his estimated leap from the plane, as well as the area in which the plane was over, were uncertain and too broad to properly investigate.

Multiple search parties were dispersed to look for D.B. Cooper, but no conclusive evidence of his whereabouts or the ransom cash were found. Until the 1970s…

For years, the investigation struggled to find physical evidence of Cooper until 1978 when a hunter found a placard from the 727 plane explaining how to lower the stairs in case of emergency — the exact action taken by Cooper in order to jump from the plane.

Additional evidence was found 2 years later when a young boy, digging though the sandbank in order to build a fire, stumbled across three bundles of the ransom money.

To this day, the placard of the stair directions and bundles of ransom money remain as the only physical evidence in the case.

The legend of D.B. Cooper, the composed businessman with dangerous intentions, remains entrenched in American psyche. His split persona of calm and criminal, normal and extreme, have interested people for decades and spawned movies, books and television story lines.

As of 2016, the FBI closed the investigation after 45 years of searching. The question remains to this day: Who is the real D.B. Cooper and what was his fate after leaping from the plane?

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Most pet owners consider their animals to be members of the family. So, if something happens to a beloved pet, their human owners are usually devastated. We often assume that our animal companions feel some sort of affection for us, too. But one dog in particular proved the depths to which a dog’s devotion could go.

In the summer of 1923, Frank and Elizabeth Brazier set out from their home in Silverton, Oregon for trip to Indiana. With them for the ride was their collie mix, Bobbie. He spent most of the drive sitting on top of the luggage in the backseat.

Everything was going just fine until the couple stopped to put gas in their car when they were nearing their destination. While they were stopped, some stray dogs approached the Brazier’s car, growling and barking at Bobbie.

This terrified the poor dog, who took off running, with the mangy strays following after him. Worried about their beloved dog, the Braziers started a search. They drove all around town, made phone calls, and even placed an ad in the local newspaper. But no one ever called to say they had found him, and he never showed back up.

The heartbroken Braziers finally had to leave Indiana after their visit without Bobbie. They left instructions for their friends to keep Bobbie if someone should happen to find him after their departure. They were even prepared to pay for him to be returned home to Oregon by train if anyone found him, no matter the cost.

Six months after their return home, the Braziers had given up hope of ever seeing their dog again. But it was on that day that Elizabeth Brazier’s daughter from a previous marriage saw a dog who bore a striking resemblance to Bobbie roaming the streets of Silverton.

But it wasn’t just a dog that looked like Bobbie. It was Bobbie, though he now had matted fur and sore feet from his nearly 3000-mile trek from Indiana to Oregon.

But just how did Bobbie find his way home?

Once Bobbie’s story became national news, people began writing letters to the Braziers to tell them how they had helped Bobbie. As it turned out, he had some help from many friendly people he met along his way. He first lucked out by heading in the right direction, due west. Along the way, he somehow remembered the gas stations and inns the Braziers had stayed in on their way to Indiana. People at each location fed Bobbie and let him stay.

At a rate of about 14 miles per day, Bobbie walked his way back to Silverton, Oregon to be reunited with his ecstatic owners. Along the way, it is believed he swam across at least one river and crossed the Continental Divide in the middle of winter.

Bobbie became a celebrity almost overnight. Silverton gave him the key to the city, and he received bags full of fan mail. He was also given a special medal by the Humane Society. When he died in 1927, after an illness, he was buried with honors at the Humane Society’s Portland pet cemetery. Rin Tin Tin even placed a wreath on his grave. He is still celebrated every year in Silverton’s yearly children’s pet parade.

New Evidence May Point to Jack the Ripper’s Identity

Nearly 130 years after Jack the Ripper killed his last victim, new evidence has emerged that might finally unmask the identity of history’s most famous serial killer.

The evidence, which first came to light in 1992, so it isn’t technically new. But the research that points to its authenticity is. It comes in the form of a diary which allegedly belonged to James Maybrick, a wealthy cotton merchant from Liverpool, England.

Nothing in Maybrick’s life would have connected him to the slayings were this diary not found. The journal does not explicitly state that it was written by Maybrick, but it contained enough detail about the life of the author to make it likely that it belonged to him. It also contained a chilling postscript that read: “I give my name that all know of me, so history do tell, what love can do to a gentleman born. Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.”

This would seem to be enough proof to close the case against Maybrick but for one problem. The authenticity of the diary has remained in doubt for the last 25 years. The man who claimed to have first found the diary died shortly after finding it, so no one knew exactly where it had been found. Many believed it was a sophisticated forgery. This view was strengthened when the man who presented the diary to the public, Michael Barrett, signed an affidavit saying he had faked the diary and made up the story.

After extensive research by several “Ripperologists,” there is new interest in the diary. First, Michael Barret later retracted his affidavit and began swearing that the diary was authentic. Second, the reason for Barrett’s wavering has recently come to light. It appears that he removed the diary illegally from the floorboards in Maybrick’s former home, where Barrett was performing some work. When it became clear that he might be prosecuted for this, he said he made the whole thing up.

Tests have been done on the diary to try to determine if the ink and paper were from the 19th century. While those tests were inconclusive, they also did not prove that it was a 20th-century forgery. In addition, a pocket watch was found in 1993, bearing an engraving which stated, “J. Maybrick” and “I am Jack.” It also had the initials of the five Ripper victims engraved inside. Tests showed that this was not a modern forgery.

Finally, circumstances in Maybrick’s life may show why the Ripper killings suddenly ended, a mystery that has boggled crime historians for over a century. The last acknowledged Ripper killing, that of Mary Kelly, took place in November 1888. It was a few months after this that Maybrick’s health declined suddenly. He died in April 1889, having been poisoned by his wife, Florence, who later went to prison for his murder. This would explain the sudden end to the Ripper’s killing spree.

Though this is not conclusive proof that Maybrick was the killer, it is certainly an interesting prospect. And if he was the killer, there may be some justice in the fact that he died as a murder victim himself. We may never know the true identity of Jack the Ripper, but for Ripperologists everywhere, this is certainly an exciting development.

The Joke That Became the Potato Chip

One would be forgiven for thinking that potato chips were invented by a snack food company. The salty snack, possibly the most popular snack food in the United States, does not really evoke connotations of fine dining. But the addictively crunchy fried treat was actually invented at an upscale restaurant. What’s more, they were never intended to be served more than once. They were invented as a joke to get back at an annoying customer.

In 1853, George Crum was employed as a chef at the Moon Lake Lodge’s restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York. This was a fine dining establishment in what was a popular resort area.

One of Crum’s specialties was his French-fried potatoes. He prepared them in a thick-cut fashion, which was the standard way to serve French fries at the time. Crum had no reason to serve them any other way because it seemed like every guest who tried his fries loved them.

One night, a new patron at the restaurant ordered a batch of Crum’s French fries. When his order arrived, the diner sent them back, saying they were too thick. He demanded that the chef cut them thinner. Wanting to please the guest, Crum obliged and cut the potatoes thinner. This second order was sent out and was promptly rejected by the patron again because they were too thick for his liking.

At this point, Crum knew he was dealing with someone who would be impossible to satisfy. So, he decided to amuse himself by playing a little joke on the restaurant guest. He sliced the potatoes as thinly as he possibly could and salted them heavily. Then he fried them so crisply that they could not be eaten with a fork (people only ate French fries with forks back then). He then sent the dish back out, ready to laugh at the customer’s reaction.

Imagine Crum’s surprise when the guest fell in love with the salty, thin potatoes. It didn’t take long before Crum’s potato chips became a popular menu item, known then as Saratoga Chips. Their popularity spread throughout the northern United States.

Crum eventually opened his own restaurant in 1860, which he called “Crumbs House.” Chips were on the menu, of course. But he was never able to patent his invention. At that time, people of color could not obtain patents, and George Crum was African American and Native American in ancestry. Sadly, for this reason, when potato chips first became a nation-wide snack in the 1920s, Crum did not receive any credit for their invention.

To this day, few people know the funny, yet elegant, origins of the simple, humble potato chip.