New York and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Between April 13 and 14th, 1925, it seems that of the New York metropolitan area just had a bad day. It wasn’t one thing in particular, but whole host of petty annoyances.

Say it Ain't SoProfessor Shaw vented spleen at New York’s men, “Man is becoming effeminate,” he claimed. “There are now flappers in both sexes…the haberdasher sells the man lilac pajamas, embroidered bathrobes, silk slippers and cosmetics. He goes home with them, the women see them and get jealous, so they invent a new style, going the man one better.”

Prof. Charles G. ShawShaw predicted a dismal future. “Women now does man’s work and gets man’s pay….Hence she is easing up on her man’s purse. That makes him ease up on his efforts. Men used to pay the car fare and the restaurant check. But girls now have their own nickels and dollars. Marriage is becoming just a way station where the train stops. It is less like the Grand Central Terminal of the old-fashioned women’s ambition.” Shaw attributed it all to the decline of the stiff collars that had rubbed men’s necks raw for 100 years, “[w]hen man changed his stiff collar and starched shirt for a soft collar and silk shirt, it was too attractive and women copied it.”Van Heusen Collar

Edwin H. Anderson, director of the New York Public Library, felt the NYPL was under siege. Said Anderson “The latest craze to strike libraries is the cross word puzzle. There is much to be said for such puzzles as recreation, in the hospital, on an ocean voyage or a railway journey, or as a cure for insomnia, but when prizes are offered for solutions, and the puzzle fans swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as to drive away readers and students who need these books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the library’s duty to protect its legitimate readers.” Henceforth, Anderson assured the public, dictionaries and encyclopedias will only be issued to those who would assure the librarians that they “were not wanted for puzzle purposes.”


Library Director Raps Puzzle Fans

Up in the Central Park Zoo, “Duke,” a five year old baboon in tore the door from his cage and after tearing the head from a ring tailed monkey, declared his sovereignty over the Monkey House. Crowds fled screaming for the exits, as Duke bombarded them with ring tailed monkey parts. Five hours later, after police surrounded the building, three revolver shots brought Duke to the ground, dead.


On Staten Island, residents read in their papers that Governor Al Smith had yet to sign Staten Island Tunnel Bill, which promised to bring passenger rail access directly to the Island. Subscribers complained grumpily that it seemed as if they’d never get rail access to Manhattan and Brooklyn.

At No. 8 Stagg Street, in Brooklyn, little John Wojdag, age 4, went missing. He’d been at the supper table, but as children are want to do, had wandered off. His father, Victor, heard a scream and went dashing outside, only to be told by another small boy that little John had fallen down the sewer on Union Avenue. The elder Woljdag went down the sewer, followed by teams of firemen to search the sewers for the missing boy. The child could not be found, and Victor wrung his hands in despair. Only then did little John appear from behind a nearby house, nonchalantly sucking a lollipop and wondering what the commotion was about.

A mile or so away, near the Manhattan Bridge, cab driver James A. Carroll was having quite a time. The high voltage trolley power wire, which supplied electricity to the trolleys heading over the Manhattan Bridge’s 3 cent streetcar line, had snapped the windshield of his cab, and coiled around the metal radiator. His passengers, two women, screamed and became hysterical. Not hysterical enough, it seems, to jump into another cab, presumably after paying the fare, once the electricity had been shut off. Carroll was treated at the Cumberland Street Hospital.

Frederick Selfort, twenty-five, of No. 124 94th Street in Astoria, was shot in the arm at 45th and Broadway. No one heard the shot fired, and Selfort had no enemies. He hailed a cab (presumably not James A. Carroll’s) and was driven to the hospital, were his condition was not serious.

Theresa McCormack, forty-five, of Portland, Oregon, was sentenced to forty-five days in prison for unlawfully soliciting alms in the guise of a Benedictine nun.  It seems she’d had a habit of doing so, having been the subject of numerous complaints. McCormack made no confession.

Even Babe Ruth could have a bad day. It was Opening Day, and everyone who was anyone was out to see the game.


Gate Crasher

The Yankees played the Senators, Wally Pipp played well at first, and Everett Scott held his own at shortstop, playing in his record 1,291 straight game, a streak fans were pretty sure would never be surpassed. Scott had shown up, but the Babe hadn’t. Ruth was in the hospital with a high fever, complaining that they were feeding him broth and hominy when all he wanted was some red meat.

Babe in Bed

Even without the Babe, things weren’t all bad. Urban Shocker, one of the last pitchers who could legally throw a spitball, gave up one run on seven scattered hits as the Yankees won 5-1.


The Headless Hamlet

Over the weekend, we paid a visit to St. Paul’s churchyard. Located between Versey and Fulton Streets, the spire of St. Paul’s Church still rises above the Broadway. George Washington worshiped there while New York was still the Nation’s capital, and for the eight months after September 11, 2001 St. Paul’s served as a place for emergency workers to stop off for a meal or to sleep. The pews inside still proudly bear the gouges from the firemen’s gear.

Lacking a celebrity burial – Trinity Church’s graveyard is home Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton and a whole host of other prominent Americans – St. Paul’s graveyard is comprised of more middle class residents like jockey Samuel Purdy. A famous horseman in his day, Purdy’s prized mount was American Eclipse, undefeated in nearly nine years of racing. In 1823, with sectional tensions rising between North and South in the wake of the Missouri Compromise, the South’s legendary horseman, Colonel William R. Johnson, challenged Purdy and American Eclipse to a best of three races against Sir Henry, his prized four year old. After losing the first race, American Eclipse came back to win the next too, proving the superiority of Northern horseflesh.

photo 1

Purdy’s Grave Marker

Purdy, from what the historical record tells us, was buried complete. Not so George Frederick Cooke.  Cooke was one of the great Shakespearian actors of the English stage, and his acting style influenced later Shakespeareans, including Edmund Keane, widely considered the finest of them all.

After a few London performances received less than stellar reviews, Cooke left England and took to the stage in New York, where he was properly appreciated. One overwrought New Yorker gushed “[t]hrobbing invades the heart, when narrating the career of this extraordinary man, of herculean constitution, so abundant in recuperative energies; of faculties so rare, and so sublime…”  After a long career playing the Bard’s major male characters, ranging from King Lear to Hamlet, Cooke died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1812, and was buried in New York’s strangers’ burial ground.

In 1824, Keane was touring America, and on Cooke’s behalf paid for a new burial and a handsome monument at St. Paul’s. The body was dug up, and placed at the medical offices of Dr. John W. Francis, M.D. pending the reinternment, which took place a few days later. Apparently, Dr. Francis and Edmund Keane kept a few souvenirs, and Cooke’s skull and big toe never quite made it into the casket.

Cooke's New Monument

Cooke’s New Monument

Some short time thereafter, Keane was playing Hamlet at the Park Theater, and was missing the play’s most dramatic prop, the skull of poor Yorick. The call went forth to Dr. Francis, the nearest physician, to find out if the good doctor had a skull that Keane could borrow. Dr. Francis supplied the skull of George Cooke and once more the great Shakespearean was on the boards.

No one, it seems, was particularly bothered that Dr. Francis had neglected to place Cooke’s skull inside his casket. Indeed, during a meeting of the Bread and Cheese Club, Daniel Webster and James Fenimore Cooper subjected the skull to a complete phrenological examination to the amusement of the gathered guests – Francis recalled that “[t]his scientific exploration added to the variety and gratification of that memorable meeting.”

As for the big toe, Keane took that back to England and put it on display. Guests at the Keane home were regularly advised to go down on bended knee and kiss the precious relic, and not a few did so. Finally, fed up with the toe bone in her front parlor, Mrs. Keane threw it out the window.  

Closeup of Cooke's Monument

All photos ours, except…

[Photo at right: from]


American Nurse Plane

In the five years since Charles Lindbergh flew Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, he’d attracted imitators, many of whom sought publicity by using some sort of publicity in their trans-Atlantic flights. Amelia Earhart had become the first woman to cross in 1928, although as a passenger, not a pilot. She did it on her own in 1932. One year later, 24 Italian seaplanes crossed in the first mass trans-Atlantic flight. Carrying four members of the Hutchinson family and their dog, the appropriately named flying boat, Flying Family attempted to cross the North Atlantic in 1932, only to be forced down off of Greenland.

Hutchinson Family

The Flying Family

So it was that when a physician, veteran pilot, girl parachute jumper, and a woodchuck took off on a non-stop journey from New York City to Rome in a 1931 Bellanca Skyrocket J-400 Long Distance Special, it generated news. The physician, Dr. Leon M. Pisculli of Yonkers, had a theory that many pilots were dying on long distance flights because of a buildup of carbon monoxide in the plane’s cabin, and he’d planned the flight as an experiment.

The good doctor set about assembling his crew. Finding the pilot was easy, William Ulbrich was a Dane who’d been anxious to try his luck across the Atlantic. Dr. Pisculli also had little difficulty recruiting a woodchuck. While driving through Mineola, the doctor spotted a one with a broken leg and nursed it back to health. Named “Tailwind” the woodchuck’s legendary sensitivity to carbon monoxide would serve as an early indicator of noxious fumes.[1]

Finding a nurse proved a challenge. In addition to helping the doctor with his experiments, the nurse would be expected to serve as a co-pilot. She also would need to be willing to parachute out of the plane over Florence, Italy, as a nursing tribute to Florence Nightingale. Only two women in the entire United States had nurse’s training, a pilot’s license, and a working knowledge of parachutes. Gladys Bramhall Wilner, known as “Peggy,” expressed interest, but on second thought, she declined.

Edna Newcomer

Edna Newcomer

That left Edna Newcomer. A nurse turned parachutist aviatrix, Edna happened to be a showgirl too, adding some some glitz to the flight, as well as numerous comments about her million dollar legs.

Pisculli christened the plane The American Nurse in Edna’s honor, painted it white and stocked it full of everything he thought he could possibly need, up to and including honey to go in the tea that would keep everyone awake for the 32 hour flight. Shortly after midnight on September 13, 1932, The American Nurse was fueled and made ready. At daybreak Pisculli, Ulbricht, Newcomer, and Tailwind the woodchuck clambered aboard, and the plane took off into the rising sun.

Some 22 hours later, the British steamer Ashburton sighted it. “The airplane circled the ship four times at a low altitude,” Ashburton reported by telegraph. “It was burning three green lights. [meaning all was going smoothly] We signaled the pilot by blue flare. The engine was working smoothly. The plane disappeared in an east by southeast direction.”

That was the last confirmed sighting of The American Nurse. Due in Rome at 8 p.m. local time, the plane never arrived. Unconfirmed reports from Lisbon and Sardinia reported hearing the plane’s motor, but an intensive search for wreckage, ordered by Mussolini’s Chief of Aviation turned up nothing. The American Nurse was never found.

Off to rome

From left to right, Pisculli, Newcomer, and Ulbrich. Not pictured (unfortunately), Tailwind the Woodchuck.

[1] We have no personal knowledge of the effects of carbon monoxide on woodchucks, but such was the doctor’s rationale for bringing Tailwind along. In an abundance of caution, we urge the readership to conduct their own research before performing woodchuck related flying experiments.


Aha – after posting, courtesy of the Smithsonian, we found a picture of Nurse Newcomer, Dr. Pisculli, and Tailwind the Woodchuck, courtesy of the good folks at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum!


Al Capone’s Putter

In the 1920s the miniature golf craze hit America, and by 1930 there were some 40,000 courses, known variously as Lilliput Links, Tom Thumb Golf, Rinky-Dink Golf, Garden Golf and Baby Golf. There was money to be made in the “sport” and by 1930 anything that smelled potentially lucrative was sure to draw the attention of the criminal underworld.

Capone Mini-Golf

On October 1, 1930, two men from Chicago checked into a hotel in downtown Manhattan, where they were recognized by Ray Doyle, reporter for the New York Mirror recognized them as two of Al Capone’s torpedoes.  It seemed that Capone was branching out, and his lieutenants weren’t shy about broadcasting the fact. “Al Capone has new ideas and a new fancy. He has gone into the little golf game in a big way. For several months past Al has been purchasing large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.”


“Our observations showed a huge profit in the operation of the business,” Capone’s lieutenant continued, “It is more profitable than rum running. It was also keep us away from all police and Grand Jury investigations, which are a nuisance to us and waste of time to all concerned.”

It helped too that Capone enjoyed the game. According to Capone’s henchman, “Al has gone nut about this miniature golf. When he and I were traveling between New York, Miami and Chicago in recent months, we went in for twosomes a lot. I beat him at it. But he is fast becoming a star.”

Alas, before he could become a miniature golf impresario, Capone went off to jail, and emerged from Alcatraz nearly a decade later as a broken man.

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