The Road Built in An Hour, 1910
In the USA in 1910 the motorcar’s popularity was really taking off with the launch of the Model T Ford two years earlier. In Iowa State, before the U.S. Highway System came into being in 1926, roads were maintained and promoted by local organisations which sought to drive traffic into their communities.
Yet there was one major obstacle on the road to prosperity; Iowa was gaining a nasty reputation for the poor state of its roads. They would become impassable for weeks at a time due to snow and mud, farmers weren’t able to get their products to the nearest rail station and it slowed and even halted mail delivery at times. Iowa got nicknamed the ‘gumbo state’ (gumbo being a thick brown stew).
At a Good Roads Convention in Des Moines on March 8–9, 1910 it was decided that a well maintained River-to-River Road from Davenport to Council Bluffs would help change Iowa’s reputation.
To that end 10,000 Iowans turned out one day under the White Pole Auto Club’s banner and with thousands of picks, shovels, ploughs, and scrapers they made tremendous progress.
Amazingly, these men completed the road in just one hour; all 380 miles (612 km) of it, and with road signs erected by the day’s end!
Now Iowa possessed a road that within a year was widely recognised as the standard of the world. “This is a real road, and even when the ocean-to-ocean highway shall be a fact in the luxurious future, transcontinental automobile travelers may continue to look forward to this particular stretch in pleasant anticipation.” wrote Victor Eubank, after completing the pioneering Raymond and Whitcomb cross-country tour in 1912.
Armoured Bulldozer Rampage, 2004
A man by the name of Marvin Heemeyer sat in his Komatsu D355A Bulldozer as he used his workshop crane to lower twelve tonnes of composite armour on top of him, effectively entombing himself. With the fate he had decided for himself however, he wasn’t concerned.
This was the culmination of an eighteen month project to build himself a ‘Killdozer’; a behemoth complete with gun ports (for three rifles), cameras and air-conditioning. Heemeyer’s plan was to treat the town of Granby, USA to a destructive rampage in revenge for a series of injustices he felt he had suffered. So what had led Heemeyer to this moment?
‘Marv’, a man described by many as ‘likeable’ and ‘affable’, had bought some land in Granby for $48,000 in 1992 to build an air muffler workshop. Later he agreed to sell his land to a Cody Docheff for $250,000, but changed his mind. Why, is unclear but he then demanded $375,000 before raising the price again to $1,000,000, pricing himself out of a deal that would help facilitate the construction of a concrete factory next to his business. In 2001, local authorities approved the construction of the concrete factory anyway.
Heemeyer attempted to appeal the decision but was unsuccessful. It was claimed by Heemeyer that the construction blocked access to the shop. He was also fined $2,500 for various violations, including “not being hooked up to the sewer line” When he mailed in the cheque, it included a note with “Cowards” scrawled on it; clearly, Heemeyer was pissed. “I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable”, he wrote. “Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things.”
On June the 4th, 2004, Heemeyer was ready. He smashed his killdozer through his workshop wall and, predictably, lumbered towards his first target the concrete factory. Over the next two hours, police tried to stop him but the killdozer’s armour was impervious to anything they could throw at it, including gunfire, explosives and stun grenades thrown down its exhaust chute. It was all the cops could do to keep everyone out of Heemeyer’s destructive path.
In the end, Heemeyer’s trail of destruction was halted when his armoured brute fell into the cellar of a hardware store he’d demolished. Unable to get out, and unwilling to go to jail, cops heard a solitary gunshot go off inside the killdozer. Heemeyer had damaged thirteen buildings, including the town hall and caused $7,000,000 worth of damage.
Heemeyer’s legacy is controversial; for some he is remembered as a folk hero, who stood up to ‘the man’ that had tried to bully him in the interests of big business, and point out that Heemeyer avoided killing anyone. Yet for others he was a terrorist and the fact there were no casualties was more by luck than design.
The Death of Mary Reeser, 1951
On the morning of July 2, 1951, Mary Reeser’s landlady arrived at her door with a telegram. Trying the door, she found the metal doorknob to be uncomfortably warm to the touch and called the police. They entered the room and were greeted with a disturbing scene.
Reeser’s remains, which were largely ashes, were found among the remains of a chair in which she had been sitting. Only part of her slippered left foot and her backbone remained along with her skull. Plastic household objects at a distance from the seat of the fire were softened and had lost their shapes. Reeser’s skull had survived and was found among the ashes, but shrunken ‘to the size of a teacup’.
Physical Anthropologist Professor Krogman who was asked to look into the case on record saying “I find it hard to believe that a human body, once ignited, will literally consume itself — burn itself out, as does a candle wick, guttering in the last residual pool of melted wax… Just what did happen on the night of July 1, 1951, in St. Petersburg, Florida? We may never know, though this case still haunts me.”
He then concluded “I cannot conceive of such complete cremation without more burning of the apartment itself. In fact the apartment and everything in it should have been consumed… I regard it as the most amazing thing I have ever seen. As I review it, the short hairs on my neck bristle with vague fear. Were I living in the Middle Ages, I’d mutter something about black magic” Ms Reeser was the victim of a bizarre phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).
That SHC even exists, the scientific community is sceptical. Can a human body really just set alight by itself? Wouldn’t there be a number of cases around the world of people combusting in public?
Of over a hundred cases investigated, none have been observed. Victims are frequently elderly, female and prodigious drinkers. They are also usually near a heat source. There is probably no single explanation for each case of SHC but the general consensus is that an external source starts a fire on the person and then body fat acts as a sort of ‘candle wax’ to the human ‘wick’. Other pseudo-scientific theories exist.
Charge of The Savoia Cavalleria at Izbushensky, 1942
It was August 1942 and the tide of WW2 was just beginning to turn in favour of the Allies after the surging, seemingly unstoppable Axis Operation Barbarossa petered out.
Now the Soviets turned the tables with an offensive of their own. The Italian 2nd Infantry Division manned a sector on the Don River and when the Soviets launched an assault on their positions, the Italians couldn’t fend them off; after two days they were routed and needed help fast.
High command ordered the ‘Savoia Cavalleria’ cavalry regiment to the rescue. This unit, still mounted on horseback from a bygone age, was about to perform one of the most extraordinary acts of the war. On the 23rd it moved to occupy a position, stopping short 1000m (1100yrds) and unaware that two thousand Soviet infantry were already there. Early the next day a troop moved in to recce the position and made contact with the enemy, who, now aware of the cavalrymen’s presence, opened heavy fire.
Realising they were in a tight spot and faced annihilation if they didn’t attack immediately regimental commander Colonel Alessandro ordered his men into a do-or-die charge. The situation was desperate yet the cavalrymen had one ace up their sleeve.
A winding gorge nearby came out on the Soviet’s flank and 2nd Squadron quickly launched themselves down the gorge. Pouring out at the other end they fell upon the alarmed Soviets, sabres thrashing wildly and hand grenades flying among their ranks. Corporal Lolli, unable to draw, as his sabre was stuck in its sheath, charged holding high a hand grenade; Trumpeter Carenzi, having to handle both trumpet and pistol, unintentionally shot his own horse in the head. Some horses, even though riddled by bullets, would keep galloping for hundreds of metres, squirting blood at every beat, suddenly collapsing only a while after their actual death.
After having crossed just about half of the Soviet line the strength of the squadron was already reduced by half, and the commander himself was grounded. Realising 2nd Squadron was getting shredded to pieces, Allesandro ordered his 3rd Squadron into the fray. This they did and, with their blood up, they eschewed the gorge’s cover and charged headlong forwards.
For the loss of 32 soldiers, and 100 slain horses, the ‘Savoia Cavalleria’ Regiment managed to kill and capture hundreds of Soviets and bought time for the routed 2nd Division to seek safety. German liaison troops looking on were full of admiration for what the cavalry had just achieved. Addressing Allesandro, they said “Colonel, these kinds of things, we cannot do them anymore”. The Italians had just performed the last ever major cavalry charge in history.
The Business Plot, 1933
It was November the 24th, 1934 and retired General Smedley Butler sat before a closed session of the Congressional Special Committee on Un-American Activities in New York.
This man had served in numerous military operations around the world, including WW1. With two Medal of Honours to his name, he was America’s most decorated soldier and his reputation was above reproach. However, news outlets such as the NewYork Times, dismissed his story as a “giant hoax” the moment it came out.
Prefacing his remarks by saying “ I have one interest in all of this, and that is to try to do my best to see that a democracy is maintained in this country.” Butler then gave an incredible testimony that Gerald C. MacGuire attempted to recruit him to lead a coup, promising him an army of 500,000 men for a march on Washington, DC, and financial backing.
The pretext for the coup would be that the president’s health was failing. Butler said the plotters felt his good reputation and popularity were vital in attracting support amongst the general public and saw him as easier to manipulate than others.
Given a successful coup, Butler said that the plan was for him to have held near-absolute power in the newly created position of ‘Secretary of General Affairs’, while Roosevelt would have assumed a figurehead role.
Those implicated in the plot by Butler all denied any involvement. MacGuire was the only figure identified by Butler who testified before the committee. Others Butler accused were not called to appear to testify because the “committee has had no evidence before it that would in the slightest degree warrant calling before it such men”.
While historians have questioned whether or not a coup was actually close to execution, most agree that some sort of plot was contemplated and discussed. Butler’s testimony can be viewed here.