5 Oddball Tales from History You’ve Likely Never Heard (Part 9)

Continuing on from Part 8 here are five more oddball hidden gems from history which you’ll be able to bedazzle your friends and relatives with.

Drunken Aviator Lands in City Centre, 1956

Bulky sedans rumbled sedately along the right-angled streets, and haggard creatures of the night here and there passed under the patchy street lighting past rows of rectilinear brownstone tenements. It was the witching hour on St Nics Avenue in New York City’s heart. Of course in the city that never sleeps life still stirred, and it was about to get a serious wake up call.

Jimmy was wiping down the bar waiting for the last of his patrons to stumble out after a long night. The edge of his lips curled up with a wry smile; earlier that night one of his favourite patrons, a gung-ho flyboy named Thomas ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick made a bet that he could fly from New Jersey to New York City in 15 minutes. “I’ll land out there to prove it, how ‘bout that?” slurred Fitz. “OK ya crazy, drunken Irishman” laughed Jimmy “Hold my beer then.” And, with a leery grin Fitzpatrick plodded out the door. Good laughs, thought Jimmy.

That was two hours ago. A barking dog out the window broke his reverie and Jimmy looked up to see a late night walker and his dog facing opposite directions; the man was pulled back by his leashed dog. The mut was staring back up the street and whined, its head tilted with that gaze of rapt concentration only a dog can do. “Come on!” the guy bawled, looking bewildered.

Then Jim detected the sound of an engine, but it was no automobile; it was more of a deep buzz, and it quickly got louder. That sound was one of a small plane approaching and crazy as it sounds Fitzpatrick was making his approach to land the thing on the Avenue.

One or two cars screeched to a halt as the small aircraft buzzed overhead. Bedroom lights flicked on and anyone quick enough caught a fleeting glimpse of Fitzpatrick as he zipped by. Jimmy slammed the door open in time to witness, mouth agape, the plane touchdown and whizz past his bar before coming to a stop. So Fitz won the bet after all!

After leaving the bar, Fitzpatrick had hightailed it 15 miles across the state line to Teterboro Airport and there, stole an aircraft. What the wager was is unknown but he won his bet and his antics made newspaper headlines. The New York Times called the flight a “feat of aeronautics” and a “fine landing”, and a plane parked in the middle of the street made for quite a sight in the morning.

For his illegal flight, he was fined $100 after the plane’s owner refused to press charges. Incredibly Fitzpatrick performed the same stunt again in 1958 because in another bar someone questioned the story. For that, he was sentenced to 6 months incarceration, blaming his antics on the “lousy drink”.

Erfurt Latrine Disaster, 1184

A complex, multi-ethnic patchwork of kingdoms made up the Holy Roman Empire that was the most powerful Christian kingdom to arise from the ashes of the Dark Ages. Politically it was a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances and rivalries as it’s greatest nobles incessantly manoeuvred for power.

In the year 1184 AD a feud between two of the empire’s most powerful leaders of the land was now reaching boiling point. On one side was Louis the Pious, Landgrave of Thuringia. On the other side was the Archbishop Conrad of Mainz.

This political schism was in danger of wrenching apart the mighty empire from within and could be ignored no longer. On the way towards Poland on a military campaign King Heinrich VI of Germany halted in the Thuringian capital of Erfurt to call a meeting of nobles and end the dispute before it spiralled out of control.

So it was that a hundred or so of the empire’s most important Dukes, Counts and clergymen congregated in the meeting hall of the Church of St Peter in the summer of 1184. Yet there was a hidden danger unbeknown to all and it would shortly spell the doom of many present.

The noblemen took their seats whilst the King sat apart from the highborn rabble in an alcove. The floor was wooden and creaked loudly as men moved over it. They took their seats and some looked down nervously, feeling how loose it felt, yet said nothing.

That floor was all that separated these dozens of men from a cellar below. The cellar however was a massive latrine filled with tonnes and tonnes of liquid smelly brown stuff, and must have been metres deep. Indeed one would imagine the stench was overwhelming the moment they entered the room; it is anyone’s guess why they chose to meet there in the first place.

An ear splitting crack sounded out a split second warning before they were plunged into the dark pit below. Alarmed calls and shrieks thundered off the stone walls as men struggled and foundered in the thick liquid, fighting a losing battle to keep their heads above the surface. The survivors could only stare down breathlessly as they watched roughly 60 of their kin perish in the most humiliating manner a lord could possibly die.

The Erfurt Latrine Disaster sent a shock wave through the empire as the staggering death toll included the Counts of Abinberc, Thuringia, Hesse, Kirchberg and Wartburg. King Heinrich was said to have survived only because his alcove had a stone floor.

Child Drowned for an Hour Survives, 1986

On a hot June day the birds were singing, the bees buzzing, and mum’s voice on the phone wafted through the warm air, so warm after a late start to Summer.

Her reassuring tones set her blond haired toddler at ease to range the backyard’s expanse and soak up its lush colours. The green foliage was offset by a beautifully painted butterfly, drifting into focus for the keen eyed child. Two and a half year old Michelle Funk’s eyes sparkled in awe and the eyes on the butterfly’s wings waved back. She lunged to grope the floating beauty to hold it. The butterfly flittered on towards the sound of gushing water.

Could the intrepid infant reach the insect before the forest of grass which marked the garden boundary end the chase? Her mother’s voice was now almost drowned out by the babble of icy cold water below.

She got her break; in a chance moment the butterfly dipped in time for Michelle to swing her little arms up and capture her quarry. But the ground treacherously slipped downwards; her face an instant of triumph turned to alarm as she vanished under the grass blades towards the water’s edge …Michelle’s alert older brother hared back to the house.

At the Bells Canyon Creek bank Michelle tumbled down through the grass then plunged over the edge. There was no one to respond to her gurgled cries. As the warm sun rays glistened off the mountain melt water Michelle slipped under, lost.

The minutes ticked by; her skin now a ghostly white and her flame barely flickering. After 66 minutes a rescuer finally hauled her blue, lifeless form from the 4 Celcius (40 Fahrenheit) water. Could she be saved at all? If there was even the smallest chance it was worth the try.

They rushed her to hospital where a Dr Bolte was waiting. The extreme time Michelle had been submerged had surely drowned her. Many doctors, knowing how long she’d been submerged, would have declared her dead on arrival — indeed some of them thought Bolte crazy for even entertaining the notion she had a decent chance.

Yet one factor was in her favour; instead of sealing her fate, the icy submersion had slowed down her metabolism to the extent her body’s oxygen needs were suspended. What’s more by happenstance, Dr. Bolte had been preparing for such an emergency for months. He and his team went straight to work.

They started injecting warm fluids into Michelle’s veins and stomach and squeezed warmed air through a tube into her lungs, but three hours after the child had fallen into the creek she was still lifeless. Meanwhile Michelle’s parents and doctors feared her resuscitation would merely bring her back to a vegetative state. They persevered.

However it was when her body reached 25 Celcius (77 Fahrenheit) that Bolte allowed himself to think there was hope for the poor little thing yet. She gasped; moments later she opened her eyes; then her pupils, responding to the bright lights in the operating room, narrowed — a sign of returning brain function. And then, to everyone’s cheers and high fives, a faint heartbeat was detected.

Michelle was saved and made a full recovery with no lasting cognitive damage. Even the staid Journal of the American Medical Association described the case of Michelle Funk as ‘’miraculous’’. Her treatment went on to form the protocol for treating previously deadly cases of drowning.

UK Town Terrible Twin, 2006

The sky above was white and seagulls could be heard in the distance being a nuisance. David Riley was wearing his best suit and his best smile and cradled a fine wooden case in one arm. He strode jauntily along the pavement, a bespectacled American with a ready smile for anyone willing to meet his eye along the way.

He approached Bideford Town Hall entrance, an elizabethanesque building fronting the River Torridge. This should have been a special day for the resident of Manteo, N. Carolina. His small city of little over a thousand residents had been twinned with Bideford, England for some quarter century and announced this on large billboards to every visitor. Today Riley’s mission was to present Bideford Town Council with a commemorative clock to celebrate the link. Manteo’s town manager had emailed Bideford council heralding Riley’ visit a few weeks prior.

He was scheduled to meet town clerk George McLauchlan and was a little disappointed with the secretary’s nonplussed greeting. Riley took a seat to wait. McLauchlan, a sandy haired man in a crisp white shirt and light green tie, invited his visitor in, a bemused curl on his lips.

McLauchlan recalled: “He seemed like a nice guy and gave me a clock. It was a very nice clock. He said he was very proud to be twinned with us and offered a sincere thanks on behalf of the town’s population for representing them in the UK.”

Yet Bideford’s officials didn’t have any idea what Riley was on about; the only town Bideford was twinned with was one in France. They’d never even heard of Mantao. “I said thank you but had to let him down gently. It seemed even more cruel not to. He seemed a little puzzled and said our name was on all their road signs. I couldn’t really offer any consolation so he said he was going home to look into it.”

The only explanation for the mix-up could be that a resident of Bideford visited Manteo in the 1980s and said or did something which led the townsfolk to believe an official tie had been established.

In 2010 Bideford officials reciprocated the affection sent forth from the good folks of Mantao by formally twinning the two towns.

Model Citizen Returned to Prison, 2014

It was just another day for Rene Lima-Marin in his job helping to transform city skylines by installing glass windows into skyscrapers until an unknown caller buzzed his mobile phone. The woman on the line said she was from the Denver Public Defender’s office. As she talked Lima-Marin could feel his breathing turn shallow, his muscles tighten and his mind start to race.

For the slim Latino man, with his hair shaved high on the back and sides and an immaculately groomed goatee, the day had come he feared for years would. Now all those dreams and plans lay shattered like a window pane that slipped from his grasp.

The story started fourteen years before when 22 year old Lima-Marin and an accomplice were sentenced for committing robbery, burglary, and kidnapping during a series of video store robberies. These were to be served consecutively so, the US legal system being what it was, effectively locked the two up and threw away the key — The sentence was a whopping 98 years. It was basically game over for the two young men.

Yet maybe Lima-Marin had an angel guardian looking out for him or something. The court clerk mistakenly wrote ‘concurrently’ not ‘consecutively’ next to his sentence and Lima-Marin discovered he only had a 9 year stint to do (not so his accomplice however). Realising someone had blundered, he kept shtum and did his time.

2008 came around and Lima-Marin heard the main gate of Colorado’s Crowley County Correctional Facility slam behind him and his life, rebooted, in front of him. Was he going to take his second chance to live a good life as a rehabilitated man or would he slip back into his old ways?

He married his old girlfriend and became a father to her one-year-old son. He found a job, and then a better union job working construction on skyscrapers in the centre of Denver. The family went to church. They took older relatives in at their new, bigger house in a nice section of Aurora. They then had a child together, another boy.

Lima-Marin feared that the justice system would discover its mistake and destroy what he was building. But the years passed by and the fear receded as his life entered the humdrum slipstream of work, church and football training for his sons. After six years, this was surely proof he was rehabilitated.

The phone call from the Public Defender’s Office informed him that the Justice Department had discovered their mistake and, gut wrenching though it was, he was going to have to go back to serve out the rest of his life long sentence. How on earth was Lima-Marin going to break the news to his family? How were they all going to bear the heartache?

From there his fortunes fluctuated like a heart monitor does for someone whose life hangs on a knife edge; he went back to prison but, after a campaign for clemency lasting years, the state Governor pardoned him. Lima-Marin’s wife’s euphoric high upon hearing this seesawed to a scream of frustration when the news was followed up with the fact her husband had to fight his case against illegal immigration in an immigration centre.

The ending however was a happy one for Lima-Marin. He overcame the final hurdle by winning his case and walked away a free man, for good, from Aurora’s detention facility in 2018.

Click here for the final part 10

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