Weird News of the 1980s
March 1980: Multiple female students at Southern California universities complained that someone had surreptitiously painted their toenails as they were studying in the library. Police dubbed the perpetrator "Leonardo da Toenail." A man was eventually apprehended carrying 15 bottles of fingernail polish, but let go because police hadn't caught him in the act. Unable to stop himself, he was caught painting women's toenails again the following year and this time was ordered to a hearing at the city attorney's office, but he never showed up and was not seen again.
January 1982: During an Ozzy Osbourne concert in Des Moines, Iowa, a fan tossed a live bat onto the stage, and the singer proceeded to bite its head off. Osbourne later claimed that he thought it had been a toy bat when he put it in his mouth. As a precaution, Osbourne was subsequently given a series of shots for rabies. A negative reaction to these shots caused him to collapse on stage a week later.
May 1984: After being brought forward in a wheelchair to receive a blessing from Pope John Paul II, Jan Lavric was wheeled back, at which point he promptly stood up, folded the chair, and carried it away. "It must be a miracle," someone in the crowd gasped. Lavric later explained that it was no miracle. He was fully able-bodied. He had sat down in the wheelchair because it was the only seat left in the Vatican's audience chamber, and he had been too embarrassed to say anything when a Swiss Guard unexpectedly wheeled him forward.
May 1984: In Richmond, California, the neighbors of 71-year-old Alice Richie took her to court in an effort to halt her non-stop lawn watering. Richie had been watering her lawn every day, all day, rain or shine, for over a year — using over 20,000 gallons of water daily. Her yard had turned into a swamp, and the runoff was damaging the foundations of neighboring homes and causing algae to grow on driveways. The court ordered a flow restrictor put on her waterline, limiting her to 500 gallons a day. Richie never explained why she felt a need to water so much.
September 1984: Researcher Larry Rogers of Salinas, California announced that he had stumbled upon a formula, using a mixture of bacteria and grain wastes, that could make wheat bulletproof. He said that, in tests, the wheat had stopped a bullet from an M16 rifle. The hardened wheat could also serve as a building material, but still made a tasty noodle.
January 1985: The women of the Thurlow family proved they were serious fans of the TV show St. Elsewhere. Even as their house caught fire and started burning around them, they remained parked in front of the TV set, watching the latest episode through the haze of the smoke, unwilling to miss a single moment. The firefighters had to drag them away. As soon as the fire was extinguished, the women rushed back into the house and were able to catch the final 10 minutes.
February 1985: Soviet production of a live-action film about Bambi had to be halted when three of the deer who were playing Bambi and his friends disappeared. It turned out they had been stolen, then butchered and served as the main course at a birthday celebration. The culprits were sent to a labor camp as punishment for their crime.
July 1985: Jerome Moody drowned while attending a pool party at which over 100 New Orleans lifeguards were celebrating a summer season without any drownings. Moody, who had been drinking heavily, fell into the pool at the end of the party, just as the lifeguards were ordering everyone out of the water. By the time anyone noticed him in the pool, it was too late.
September 1986: The United Way charity released 1.5 million balloons in Cleveland's Public Square as a fundraising event. However, the charity hadn't thought through what would happen to the balloons after their release, and they soon started raining down all over the region, requiring a massive cleanup and even forcing parts of the local airport to temporarily shut down.
July 1987: Faced with major losses and a fraud scandal, the financial services firm E.F. Hutton sent all its employees a coloring book with crayons as a way of discussing the problems faced by the firm. The book included "cute drawings of houses, racing cars and children" while warning employees that they all had to work harder because "we're no longer the nicest house on the block." Soon after sending out the coloring book, the company was acquired by a rival and ceased to exist as an independent entity.
April 1988: As Arthur Culberth was shopping with his wife in a Miami Winn-Dixie grocery store, he popped a few grapes in his mouth from a pack in his cart. An off-duty cop saw what he did and challenged him to pay for the grapes right away. Culberth said he intended to pay when he checked out. The officer responded by leading Culberth out of the store in handcuffs. Culberth had to spend the night in jail, but the charges were eventually dropped.
April 1989: In an effort to show that "opera can be fun," the Norwegian National Opera hosted the world's first drive-in opera by broadcasting a performance of the Barber of Seville on a giant screen in downtown Oslo. However, the majority of the Norwegian audience, unfamiliar with the drive-in concept, showed up on foot. And many of the cars that did show up parked facing away from the screen.

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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.