Weird News of the 1950s
September 1950: Bride-to-be Jacqueline Cadow reported that she was being terrorized by a "phantom whistler" who hid at night in the shrubbery outside her house and whistled a funeral dirge. Sometimes he also emitted a "blood-curdling moan." No one ever saw the whistler. Eventually the local Sheriff said he had solved the case, but he refused to disclose the whistler's identity because he didn't want to "embarrass" the people involved.
November 1950: A farmer in Luneberg, Germany reported that a number of his chickens had "exploded with a loud bang while running across the barnyard." Investigators concluded that the chickens must have eaten bits of carbide left behind by allied soldiers during recent maneuvers. When the carbide combined with water in their stomachs, the resulting gas caused them to blow up.
May 1951: Miami drugstore-owner Ralph Pearson revealed he had been practicing his skills as a hypnotist — on his customers. Through hypnotism he had transported his customers in their minds to other places, making them believe they were flying an airplane, or at a soda fountain kissing a woman. He also put his powers to practical use, such as by curing people of smoking, although he complained this was cutting into his cigarette sales.
October 1951: In return for a promise of big blowups of her picture at sewer conventions all over the country, 17-year-old aspiring actress Gaylia Davis of Detroit accepted the title of "Miss Sewer Cleaner of 1952." She reflected philosophically, "It may be a soggy title, but if it helps my career I don't care."
December 1951: The U.S. Army launched a cost-saving program that it called Operation Cost-Consciousness. It involved putting price tags on all the equipment so that the soldiers would be inspired to use it more "wisely and well." One staffer remarked, "It looks just like a department store here." Reportedly, the tactic did result in reduced costs, but it was nevertheless abandoned within a year.
January 1952: Having been selected as "Miss Kangaroo," Loretta North of Australia got to tour the United States in the company of two kangaroos, while doing publicity events to promote the movie Kangaroo (starring Maureen O'Hara and Peter Lawford). One of the kangaroos promptly died. Loretta had to be hospitalized for strep throat. And it proved impossible to toilet train the other kangaroo.
March 1952: The Fakir Rayo (stage name of Austrian-born Rudolf Schmidt), having spent sixty days in Lille, France with his tongue nailed to a board by a silver nail, declared by writing on a blackboard that he was moving his act, plank and all, to Paris. He was upset by the lack of support from the residents of Lille. Fewer than 100 of them had paid to see him.
April 1952: Inspired by a "love of photography and a hate of mice," a London photographer wired a mousetrap to a camera, so that when a mouse triggered the trap mechanism it simultaneously activated the camera shutter. The resulting photo appeared in papers around the world.
April 1952: In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Theodore Murphy complained to police that a man he did not know appeared at his apartment door, punched him in the face twice, and departed saying, "You know who I am."
May 1952: Male students at the University of Idaho conducted a "reverse panty-raid." They showed up "whoopin' and hollerin" at a female dormitory in the middle of the night, but instead of stealing panties from the girls, they auctioned underwear to them. They donated the proceeds to the Crippled Children's Fund. Signs at the event encouraged participation by declaring, "I'd give my panties for a crippled kid."
December 1952: Wisconsin farmer Walter Brandt testified that, six years into his marriage, he learned that the man living with him and his wife was not his wife's brother, as he had been told, but rather her undivorced husband. The truth had finally been revealed to him by his wife's sister. The judge granted Brandt an annulment.
December 29, 1953: Toronto boxer Les Stork entered the ring, took one look at his opponent, and passed out. It took a doctor ten minutes to revive him.
December 1953: The Hotel Terminus in Dijon, France upgraded its amenities to include free red and white wine on tap in every room. The wine flowed from barrels set up in the attic, through nylon pipes, into the rooms. Asked whether he was concerned that guests would drink him out of business, the owner of the hotel, Auguste Maillard, replied, "But no. Dijon is a mecca for connoisseurs. My guests are too much interested in savoring the flavor of the wine to get drunk."
February 1954: Mrs. Margaret Jordan, seeking an annulment of her marriage, testified that during her wedding banquet she had fallen asleep. When she woke, she discovered that the bridegroom and all the guests had left. She didn't see her husband until five years later.
April 1954: An American blanket manufacturer debuted a lead-lined "atom blanket" (price: $49.50) that it promised would shield those hiding beneath it from atomic radiation, fire, and shock 10 miles from the blast center of an A-bomb. Civil-defense experts, however, warned that basement shelters were more effective.
September 1955: An Italian shoemaker introduced "Defense Shoes" for women. The shoes, which had spikes on the heels and toes, were said to be designed to allow women to protect themselves from overzealous suitors.
1955: The CIA got into the movie business when it covertly produced an animated version of George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, which became the first animated feature film released in the UK. However, the agency slightly altered the storyline. In the book, the farm animals end up unable to tell the difference between their new rulers, the tyrannical pigs, and the previous ones, the exploitative humans. But in the film, the humans were removed in order to make the message more obviously anti-Communist by avoiding any possible comparison between capitalist humans and Communist pigs.
March 1955: In Memphis, Tennessee, a judge fined 36-year-old Gertrude Dorman $51 for setting her hotel bed on fire by smoking in bed, having been unconvinced by her testimony that "It was on fire when I got in bed."
November 1955: In Jonesboro, Arkansas, a woman pulled into a gas station and whispered to the attendant that she suspected the guy behind her, who had been following her closely, was drunk. The "guy behind her," it turned out, was a driverless pickup truck, its bumper locked with the woman's rear bumper. Police charged the woman with driving while intoxicated.
January 1957: Albert English, 70, went to court claiming he was owed back pay. He had worked 30 hours a week as a restaurant odd job man, but felt he should also be paid for the 61 hours weekly he spent "asleep with an ear cocked" in a bedroom behind the restaurant. The judge threw out the claim.
January 1957: Mrs. Rand, 30, was awarded a divorce after testifying that her husband became 'violent' over her method of toasting the bread at a party, and that he made a scene in the presence of guests and humiliated her by making the garlic toast himself.
April 1958: Jake Trussell, a reporter with the Kingsville Record, having had the chance to hold Jayne Mansfield's hand while posing for a photograph during a press conference, breathlessly shared the experience with his readers: "I must report exactly how it felt to hold her hand. The sensation I got was of a long personalized sort of slightly overheated peach fuzz expanse, or perhaps the snuggly softness of a glamorized baby duck's down. Anyway, it was a real gone sensation." Trussell's fellow reporters subsequently noted that the photo revealed Mansfield had been wearing gloves.
November 1959: In Memphis, Tennessee, brush salesman Stanley Brown paid a fine of $153 after a housewife reported to the police that he had tried to force her into a bathtub in order to demonstrate the efficacy of a back-scrubbing brush.

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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.