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Bad Jacks

The brutal unsolved murders by the individual commonly referred to as Jack the Ripper is one of the most famous criminal cases in history.  In 1888, Jack the Ripper violently murdered at least five women in London’s Whitechapel district.  Some authors claim there were many more victims, several even speculate on the real identity of the murderer.  However, the case remains unsolved.

Since his horrifying murder spree, newspapers columnists have used the name Jack as a place name whenever the culprit of a crime was unknown.  There have been many bad Jacks such as “Jack the Kisser,” a man who kissed unwilling women, “Jack the Peeper,” what we now call a “Peeping Tom,” “Jack the Smasher,” who broke into homes and destroyed everything within without taking a single item.  One irritated newspaper columnist argued that “the ‘Jack’ business has become a fad among the vicious and nothing short of a few doses of cold lead will cure it.”

There was another Jack, who had his own unique crime spree.  Unlike Jack the Ripper, our Jack struck in broad daylight rather than at night.  Like Jack the Ripper, our Jack attacked and disappeared seemingly without a trace.  Jack the Ripper’s murder spree, by most accounts, only lasted a few weeks and occurred within a small geographic region.  Our Jack victimized girls in multiple cities and in multiple states.  The first reports of our Jack were in Brooklyn, New York. 

On Thursday morning, January 8, 1891, Miss Lulu Hewitt walked the several blocks from her home on Schermerhorn Street to her school at the corner of 3rd Avenue and State Street in Brooklyn.  During her walk, Lulu felt something cold touch her neck, but thought little of it since it was a cold morning.  When she arrived at school, her friends pointed out that something of hers was missing.  She remembered that a man, whom she was unable to describe except that he was tall and slim, had passed unusually close to her while she was walking.

A week later, January 15, a young girl named Mamie McMurray peered into a store window on Grand Street.  After a few minutes, she realized something of hers was missing.  Mamie was focused on the items displayed in the shop’s window and failed to notice anyone approach her.  She looked around but saw nothing and no one unusual. 

On January 20, two young girls, Eva Whitehead and Nellie Kaiser, left their school at noon to visit Eva’s aunt’s home for lunch.  Eva’s aunt lived just a few houses down from the school.  In the middle of a crosswalk, Eva felt a slight tug and thought something had gotten caught on one of her jacket’s buttons.  She adjusted her jacket and continued to her aunt’s home.  When she and Nellie arrived, Eva’s aunt pointed out something was out of place.  Only then did Eva realize someone had tried to steal something from her.  Jack had failed this time.  Eva remembered that a tall, slim man had brushed close by her side in the crosswalk.  Nellie was unaware that anything had happened and had not noticed the man.  

At about 8:30 a.m. on January 26, Gertrude Breast left her home and walked toward her school.  During her walk, she noticed a man whom she had seen on several occasions.  She had previously suspected that the man was watching her.  As she neared her school, she noticed someone was walking unnaturally close to her.  She turned and saw the man whom she had suspected of watching her.  The man, armed with a large knife or a pair of scissors, grabbed the object of his obsession, cut it free, and quickly walked away.  Gertrude was in shock.  She was the first to give a proper description to police.  She said the man was “about 30 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches, medium build, light mustache, black derby hat, blue pea jacket.”  Even with Gertrude’s description, police were unable to locate a suspect. 

At first, police doubted that the attacks had taken place.  However, three young boys had seen Gertrude’s attacker, armed as Gertrude had described, just before the attack.  During their investigation, police learned of other girls who had been Jack’s victims.  In the Summer of 1890, Florence Billings had an almost identical encounter with Jack.  Unlike Gertrude, she was unable to provide a description of Jack.

Jack seemed to disappear for a while.  He, or most likely a copycat, began his dastardly deeds again in 1914, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  This Jack used the darkness of “5 and 10 cent ‘movie’ theaters” to commit his crimes.  Jack sat in theaters and watched as the crowd entered and took their seats.  Then, he selected his victims and calmly sat directly behind them.  Only after the film ended would the girls realize that they had been victimized.  These incidents became so frequent that movie theaters in the region began showing warnings on their movie screens before the feature presentation.

Although Jack put a cold blade next to the throats and necks of numerous young girls, he was no murderer.  Jack never physically harmed his victims.  Most of them only realized they had been victimized well after the attack had taken place.  Incidents such as these occurred in multiple cities in the United States.  Many more cases certainly occurred but were never reported to police or printed in newspapers.  Jack had a condition known as trichophilia.  Jack’s obsession was cutting and collecting long braided hair.  Because of his infatuation, newspapers dubbed him “Jack the Snipper.”

Sources:

1.  Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, February 20, 1889, p.4.

2.  The Brooklyn Citizen, January 21, 1891, p.1.

3.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 28, 1891, p.6.

4.  The Hope Pioneer (Hope, North Dakota), April 22, 1892, p.2.

5.  The Des Moines Register, June 5, 1905, p.5.

6.  The Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1914, p.13.

7.  The Sacramento Star, April 28, 1914, p.8.

8.  The Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 1947, p.21.

9.  The News (Paterson, New Jersey), January 22, 1947, p.30.

10.  The Birmingham News, July 27, 1947, p.10.

Dellie and Moaning Minnie

When Dellie was young, four or five years old, she showed an early proclivity for dancing.  Her parents, Ann and Fritz, enrolled her in a dance school near their home in Omaha, Nebraska.  Her talent improved almost immediately, and continued to improve with each lesson.  Everyone was amazed at the young girl’s natural talent.  For Dellie, the simple act of walking across the small rooms in the family’s cramped home seemed graceful.  Rather than walking, she seemed to float and glide.  Her younger brother, however, was a frail, sickly child.  Dellie was confident and outgoing, while her brother was shy and full of self-doubt.  Where Dellie had a carefree disposition, her younger brother seemed to worry about everything.  Therefore, Dellie nicknamed him “Moaning Minnie.”

Ann and Fritz enrolled Moaning Minnie in the same dancing school as Dellie.  They hoped the continuous exercise would build his strength and confidence.  Dellie was a natural at the various dance steps, but Moaning Minnie had to practice constantly just to keep up.  When Dellie was eight years old and Moaning Minnie was five, their teacher suggested that the pair could have a successful stage career if they sought more professional training.  Following the teacher’s advice, the family moved from Omaha to New York City.

Just as their previous dance instructor had predicted, Dellie and Moaning Minnie excelled in New York.  In 1905, their dance instructor helped them secure a spot in a vaudeville act.  Dellie was nine years old and Moaning Minnie was six.  They rehearsed and performed constantly.  Well, Moaning Minnie rehearsed constantly.  Moaning Minnie later said that Dellie “hated to rehearse, but then, she didn’t need to.”  Moaning Minnie arrived at the venue hours before the first show of the day to rehearse his parts.  Dellie usually showed up minutes before she was to perform.  Patrons of the vaudeville shows paid almost all of their attention to Dellie and little to Moaning Minnie.  Critics pointed out Dellie’s beauty, but often referred to her brother as an “ugly duckling.”  Even with their differences, Dellie and Moaning Minnie were close, and remained close their entire lives. 

The siblings’ popularity grew with each performance.  Within just a few years, they had gone from playing seedy dives to playing theaters on Broadway and London’s West End.  They were in such demand that they had little time for anything other than performing complicated routines which involved singing, dancing, and acting.  Dellie still disliked rehearsing and referred to herself as “Dellie, the good-time Charlie,” a playgirl who liked to swear. 

Hollywood studio executives became aware of their talents.  They screen tested Dellie and Moaning Minnie as a duo and individually, but all parties, Dellie and Moaning Minnie included, were unhappy with the results.  One unimpressed RKO Pictures executive bluntly noted in the studio files that Moaning Minnie “can’t act…can’t sing…balding…can dance a little.”  In the vaudeville shows, Dellie and Moaning Minnie were able to judge how well their act was going by the reception of the audience.  The only audience they had for their screen tests were members of the crew who wished to be somewhere, anywhere else. 

In 1928, Dellie and Moaning Minnie performed in a play called Funny Face in the West End.  They were a hit.  The show ran for 263 performances.  On the final performance of the show, Dellie met Lord Charles Cavendish, the 9th Duke of Devonshire.  Dellie and Lord Cavendish quickly fell in love.  After a two-year courtship, Dellie proposed to Lord Cavendish, purportedly at a speakeasy.  Lord Cavendish immediately accepted, and they married on May 9, 1932.  Four days before their marriage, after performing with her brother for twenty-seven years, Dellie officially retired from the stage.  She had grown tired of the grueling schedule of theatrical life and retreated from public life.

Moaning Minnie’s future without the star of the show, Dellie, was anything but certain.  He had performed with Dellie so long that he could almost predict what she was going to do, even when she ad-libbed.  He struggled to find a replacement.  He decided that, rather than performing with a single partner as he had done with Dellie, he would search for the best person to fit the necessary role.  Finally, Moaning Minnie and another dancer rehearsed for a new Broadway production.  True to form, Dellie teased her brother in a telegram just before his first performance without her as a partner; “Now Minnie, don’t forget to moan.”

Moaning Minnie’s relentless rehearsals paid off.  The new show was a hit.  Moaning Minnie could have relaxed, but that was out of character.  Again, Hollywood studio executives at Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) asked him to sing and dance in films.  He agreed with the stipulation that during dance scenes, he would be filmed from head to toe to ensure audiences that he was doing all of the dancing and not a body double, and that the entire dance number would be one continuous shot.  Most dance sequences in films up to that point consisted of short dance clips spliced together, which, according to Moaning Minnie, lost the continuity and fluidity of the dance numbers.  The studio agreed.

In 1933, Moaning Minnie began a long and prosperous film career.  He always rehearsed for several weeks each of the complicated dance routines which only lasted a few minutes in the film.  During filming, his self-doubt was ever present.  He always thought he could perform the routine better and smoother.  Sometimes he did as many as forty takes on a single dance number, much to the chagrin of his dance partners and the film’s crew.  Anyone who ever worked with Moaning Minnie referred to him as a perfectionist.  Dellie, whose real name was Adele Marie Austerlitz, received film, radio, and television offers, but politely declined them all.  Sadly, no known film footage of Dellie and Moaning Minnie exists.   

It is hard to imagine that a man who projected such a calm, confident, and cool demeanor in films, television, and radio, was the same man whom Dellie had nicknamed Moaning Minnie because of his lack of self-confidence.  Whether with a leading lady or an inanimate object, such as golf clubs (Carefree, 1938), firecrackers (Holiday Inn, 1942), or a hat rack (Royal Wedding, 1951), Moaning Minnie always seemed to win over the crowd.  He appeared in countless live productions, over fifty film and television productions, and recorded several hit records in a career which spanned eight decades.  He danced and sang with such notables as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, and a host of others.  In 1990, Madonna mentioned in her song “Vogue” that Moaning Minnie and his most notable costar, Ginger Rogers, could “dance on air.”  You know Moaning Minnie, whose real name was Frederick Austerlitz, as …Fred Astaire.   

Sources:

1.  The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), June 8, 1937, p.8.

2.  The Charlotte News, October 6, 1945, p.20.

3.  Tallahassee Democrat, October 10, 1976, p.63.

4.  The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 23, 1987, p.46.

5.  YouTube.com. “Golf – Fred Astaire Dancing and Playing Golf.” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/34viwApgPyE.

6.  YouTube.com. “Fred Astaire ‘Say It with Firecrackers’.” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/2LxlaCBhekU.

7.  YouTube.com. “Dancing with A Hat Rack 1951 (Fred Astaire).” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/faN0kPOQykM.

8.  YouTube.com. “Madonna – Vogue (Official Music Video).” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/GuJQSAiODqI.

A Loss and a Gain

 

a loss and a gain

 

Sometimes a person can have talent, ambition, take all the right steps, and make all the right moves, but is unable to achieve success.  It usually takes an act beyond their control to reach their goal.  It can be a chance meeting or just being in the right place at the right time.  Oftentimes, it can be a coincidence, and other times it can be as the result of an accident.  George’s life changed as a result of one such accident. 

Shortly after 3:30 a.m. on Friday, November 19, 1954, George and Charles left Las Vegas, Nevada, en route to Universal-International Pictures at Studio City, Los Angeles, California.  George was going to the movie studio to record the theme song “Six Bridges to Cross,” for the motion picture of the same name.  George agreed to record the song because he was good friends with Tony Curtis, star of the picture, and Jeff Chandler, the song’s lyricist and narrator for the picture, and because it was a good professional move to have his voice heard during the opening credits.  George had made some television appearances, but most of his work was on the nightclub circuit.  This was to be George’s first credited recording for a motion picture, and he hoped this recording would elevate his career to new heights.

The trip should have taken them just over four and a half hours to complete.  George and Charles left Las Vegas following one of George’s performances as part of the Will Mastin Trio at the Last Frontier Hotel.  Unable to sleep from the adrenaline the show had produced, George told Charles that he could get some sleep.  He, George, would drive.  Charles climbed into the back seat of George’s convertible and quickly fell asleep.

Just after 7:00 a.m., with about an hour left in their trip, George drove down Kendall Drive in San Bernardino, California.  Up ahead, a car operated by 72-year-old Helen Boss was stopped in the middle of the road.  She and her passenger, 69-year-old Bessie Ross, had missed their turn and were preparing to turn the car around.  George saw no brake lights, nor did he see a blinker.  Once he realized the car was stopped in the highway, he slammed on the brakes.  It was too late.  George’s convertible slammed into the stopped car.  Mrs. Boss suffered a back injury and Mrs. Ross suffered a broken leg.  Charles was thrown from the back seat into the rear of the front seat and broke his jaw.  The force of the impact slammed George’s face into the hard-plastic and metal steering wheel.  George received several cuts on his face, but the most damaging was a severe gash to his left eye.

Paramedics rushed George, Charles, and the women from the stopped car to the hospital.  Dr. Frederick H. Hull, a well-known San Bernardino eye specialist, examined George’s eye.  Later that evening, Dr. Hull operated on George, but, unfortunately, Dr. Hull was unable to repair and save George’s left eye.  As a protective measure, Dr. Hull covered both of George’s eyes with bandages.

Entertainers and movie stars called the hospital to check on George.  So many of them called that the switchboard jammed.  George received hundreds of telegrams from entertainers, some he knew, most he had never met.  He received hundreds of letters from fans wishing him a speedy recovery.  In addition to telephone calls, telegrams, and letters, George received flowers and gifts from famous people, many of whom were not personal acquaintances.  Well-wishers included such notables as Judy Garland, Louella Parsons, Jack Benny, Mary Livingston, Jeff Chandler, Will Mastin, Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Cantor, and Red Skelton, just to name a few.

Some of his friends even offered to give George one of their own eyes.  However, whole eye transplants were, and remain, medically impossible.  During the operation, Dr. Hull repaired George’s eye socket so that he could eventually use a false eye, and the false eye would move in unison with his good eye.

George was in good spirits throughout his recovery.  When George awoke from surgery and realized his left eye had been removed, he quipped to nurse Iona Smith, “Thank God it was my eye and not my leg.”  He would not allow the loss of one eye hinder his career as a nightclub entertainer.  Three days after the operation, Dr. Hull removed the bandages from both of George’s eyes.  Nurse Smith said George “was very happy that he was able to see again.”  “God must have had His arms around me,” George said, “Otherwise, I would be blind today.”  “This can’t hurt me,” George said bravely, “I can still dance as well as I could before.  I can still sing as well.  Nothing has changed.”

Just as George had predicted, his return to the stage was triumphant.  In fact, he reemerged as a larger star than he had been before.  Suddenly, people with more clout in the entertainment industry started paying attention to George’s many talents.  Before the accident, George only appeared in three Hollywood “short” films.  Following the accident, however, George secured nightclub bookings in multiple cities for the Will Mastin Trio.  George received offers to appear on Broadway, television, and in movies.  He eventually starred in more than seventy television and film productions in a career which lasted until his death in 1990.

Following his accident, he also began a ten-year recording career with Decca Records, followed by another ten-year contract with Reprise Records, and shorter recording contracts with companies such as Verve Records, Motown Records, and MGM Records.  Although he had many hit songs, his only number one single came in 1972, some eighteen years after his accident.

Had George not lost his left eye as a result of an automobile accident, we might never have seen him in “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” and, “The Cannonball Run.”  We might never have heard him sing “Candy Man.”  The omission of Junior behind Sammy Davis’s name in the list of well-wishers was no accident.  You see, it was Sammy Davis’s son who lost his left eye in the car crash.  George was the middle name of Sammy Davis Jr.

For more real stories about real people with a twist, order your copy of “Remember This?” at www.BradDison.com or listen to his podcast “Brad Dison’s Remember This?”  Brad earned his master’s degree in the subject from Louisiana Tech University. He has written four history books and has been published in newspapers and scholarly journals. Keep up with Brad’s column through the Facebook group “Remember This? by Brad Dison.”

 

Sources:

  1. The Napa Valley Register, November 20, 1954, p.1.
  2. 2. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 20, 1954, p.19.
  3. 3. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 21, 1954, p.17.
  4. 4. Daily News-Post and Monrovia News-Post, November 22, 1954, p.14.
  5. 5. Oakland Tribune, November 23, 1954, p.24.
  6. 6. Pasadena Independent, November 23, 1954, p.16.
  7. 7. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 23, 1954, p.26.
  8. 8. Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), December 1, 1954, p.4.
  9. 9. The Sacramento Bee, December 4, 1954, p.11.
  10. 10. The San Bernardino County Sun, December 4, 1954, p.29.
  11. 11. Valley Times (North Hollywood, California), December 7, 1954, p.2.
  12. 12. The Folsom Telegraph, December 16, 1954, p.11.
  13. 13. The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California), January 10, 1955, p.2.
  14. IMDb.com. “Sammy Davis Jr.” Accessed August 3, 2020. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002035/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1#actor.
  15. YouTube.com. “The Candy Man.” Accessed August 4, 2020. https://youtu.be/o5vFvt3fJpw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Archie’s Alter Ego

Archie's alter ego

On January 18, 1904, Archibald “Archie” Leach was born into a lower middle-class family in Bristol, England.  His father, Elias James Leach worked as a heat press operator in a garment factory.  His mother, Elsie Maria Leach, worked as a seamstress.  His parents’ first son, John, died from tuberculosis meningitis, commonly called TB, four years before Archie was born.  His parents struggled to cope with John’s death, even after the birth of Archie.  Archie’s dad tried to drown his sadness with alcohol and became withdrawn from everyone, even Archie.  His mother often suffered with bouts of deep depression where she was unable to function.  When Archie’s mother was not suffering from depression, she clung to Archie.  She filled young Archie’s head with hopes and dreams of one day being rich and famous.

When Archie was nine years old, he returned home from school to find his mother missing.  He asked his father where his mother had gone.  His father simply and vaguely replied that she had gone on holiday.  His father gave no other details and Archie knew not to press the matter.  Every so often, Archie would ask his father when his mother would return.  Archie wondered if he was responsible for driving his mother away.  Finally, his father told Archie that his mother had died.  Archie was stunned.  There had been no funeral and no grieving family members to console him or his father.  No one mentioned her at all.  She was just gone.  Archie was crushed.

Archie was not what teachers would call a good student.  He often acted out and was indifferent to his studies.  He had mood swings and was what some people called prickly.  Archie later described his early childhood with a hint of pain.  He described “the paucity of my own youth.  It lacked many advantages.”  Like his father, he was vague and evasive about the details.

In 1932, Archie invented an alter ego.  Archie said in later life, “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be, and I finally became that person.  Or he became me.  Or we met at some point.  It’s a relationship.”  Through lots of practice, he somewhat Americanized his British accent.  He had always dressed nicely, at his mother’s insistence, but now he dressed impeccably.  He mastered etiquette and manners.  He was kind, polite, and courteous.  Now, his alter ego just needed a good name.  After some consideration, Archie chose the first name for his alter ego from a part he had once played in a stage production, and the last name from a list of one syllable last names prepared by a movie studio.  Pretty soon, people all over the world knew and loved Archie’s alter ego.

In about 1938, several years after Archie had created his alter ego, he learned that his mother had not died as his father had told him.  Archie’s mother had not gone on holiday.  She was overcome by clinical depression and Archie’s father had had her committed to a local mental institution.  To his surprise, Archie learned that his mother was still in the mental institution.  Archie found and reunited with his mother.  He later said of their meeting, “I was known to most of the world by sight and by name, yet not to my mother.”  By the time of their reunion, Archie’s alter ego had achieved fame and fortune, the dream his mother had filled him with when he was a child.

Archie and his mother remained close for the rest of her life.  Once, while Archie and his mother were driving somewhere, she looked over at his graying hair.  She remarked that he should start dying his hair.  “Why?” he asked.  “You should.” She replied.  “It makes me look so old.”  She was 89 years old at the time.  Archie and his mother joined together in laughter.

In his 80s, some two decades after he had retired from acting, one reporter described Archie’s alter ego as having “thick, snow-white hair, lilting, affected accent, twinkling brown eyes, dimpled chin and a tan face that should be carved on Mount Rushmore.  He is terminally debonair, utterly witty, and smoother than a Brandy Alexander.”  Another reporter described Archie’s alter ego as “immortal—an ideal of sophistication…forever.”

On November 29, 1986, Archibald Leach died from a stroke while preparing for a theater appearance.  Archie’s alter ego starred in many notable pictures including “His Girl Friday,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and the Alfred Hitchcock classic “North by Northwest.”  Archie was nominated for two academy awards but never won.  In 1970, the Academy of Motion Pictures presented him with an honorary Oscar for “his unique mastery of the art of screen acting.”  Women adored, and men wanted to be, not Archibald “Archie” Leach.  Everyone, including Archie, preferred his alter ego…Cary Grant.

For more real stories about real people with a twist, preorder your copy of “Remember This?” at www.BradDison.com or listen to his podcast “Brad Dison’s Remember This?”  Brad earned his master’s degree in the subject from Louisiana Tech University. He has written four history books and has been published in newspapers and scholarly journals. Keep up with Brad’s column through the Facebook group “Remember This? by Brad Dison.”

Sources:

  1. The Greenville News, December 27, 1983, p.13.
  2. The Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), January 27, 1984, p.4.
  3. The Springfield News-Leader, December 1, 1986, p.17.
  4. YouTube.com. “Cary Grant: The Leading Man | the Hollywood Collection.” Accessed July 30, 2020. https://youtu.be/AhLR1SXjDmY.Archie's alter ego

Miller’s Might

Miller was a tall, broad, outdoorsman.  His father wanted him to become a doctor.  His mother wanted him to become a cellist.  Miller, however, wanted a life filled with adventure.  He served in both World Wars and was an avid sportsman.  Some of his favorite sports included watching bull fights, deep sea fishing, and hunting in remote locations around the world.

In the Winter of 1953-54, Miller and his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, enjoyed a vacation in Africa.  They spent the second week of January, 1954, at Amboselli National Park, whose main feature is Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on the African continent.  As a late Christmas present to his wife, Miller chartered a 600-mile flightseeing trip from Nairobi, capital city of Kenya, over Lake Victoria and Lake Albert, with the main attraction being the breath-taking 400-foot Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile River in Uganda.  Due to the length of the trip, a distance of over 1,000 miles, they planned to land at the halfway point, Masindi, to refuel the Cessna.

On Saturday, January 23, 1954, Miller and Mary met pilot Roy Marsh, a former Royal Air Force pilot, at the airport in Nairobi.  After stowing their luggage in the small, single-engine silver and blue Cessna, Roy, Miller, and Mary set out on the beginning of what turned out to be an unforgettable, yet exciting, adventure.  The trio took in the beautiful scenery as they flew over 500 miles toward Murchison Falls.  They flew over some of the most inaccessible spots in Uganda.  From the safety of their airplane, they gazed at crocodiles, elephants, buffaloes, lions, and a plethora of other wild game in their natural habitat.

Within three miles of Murchison Falls, they ran into trouble.  Without warning, a flock of Ibises, large black and white jungle birds with long, down-curved bills, descended toward the Cessna.  Flying through the flock was not an option.  Just one of the birds was large enough to crash the plane.  Roy flew lower to try to avoid the birds, but they descended as well.  Roy quickly looked in every direction but the plane was surrounded by the large birds.  As they neared treetop level, Roy realized they would have to land the plane.  Roy had to choose between landing on a small sandbar which was teeming with crocodiles or on an area covered by thick shrubs surrounded by a herd of elephants.  Roy chose the better of the two bad choices, the elephant herd.

Roy flew just over the shrubs and slowed the engine to just above stall speed.  Just before the tires on the Cessna touched the shrubs, Roy pulled back on the controls, which forced the front of the airplane into the air, and they struck the ground on the underside of the plane.  The Cessna sustained only minor damage, and Roy, Miller, and Mary were unharmed.  Their adventure had just begun as dusk approached.

The crash survivors assessed their situation.  They were unable to call for help because the Cessna was not equipped with a radio.  They knew it would be hours before anyone realized their plane was missing.  They had emergency supplies but no water.  They set up a campsite, and Roy and Miller took turns going to the river for water.  Elephants trumpeted warnings to Roy and Miller as they walked to the river bank, which was crowded with hippos and crocodiles.  That night, they built a fire for warmth and to keep predators away.  Several times during the night, wild animals ventured near their campsite.  Miller, being an avid outdoorsman, used a trick he had learned years earlier on one of his many jungle safaris.  He howled like a wild dog, which all other animals detested.  Each time he howled, the other animals answered and gave away their positions.

Searchers began looking for the missing plane when they failed to land at Masindi for refueling.  A police boat left Butiaba, a small town on Lake Albert about sixty miles from Murchison Falls, but it would take several hours for it to reach the search area.  When the Cessna failed to return to Nairobi, the East African Airways ordered search planes from Entebbe to join the search on the following morning.  There was little anyone could do.

The next morning, search planes scoured the hills and forests around Murchison Falls for the downed aircraft.  British Overseas Airways Captain R.C. Jude diverted his airplane off course and joined the search.  He began his search at Murchison Falls and made larger and larger spirals until he located the downed Cessna.  He radioed in the location of the crash and notified them that he saw no signs of life.  He pointed out that the plane had sustained only minimal damage and reported that he suspected that the trio had survived.

Miller, Mary, and Roy did not wait around to be rescued.  After a weary night in the jungle, they walked to the river and saw a tourist boat heading back from Murchison Falls.  They yelled and waived to the boat and the captain sped to their location.  They explained their predicament and they joined the tourists for the remainder of their return trip to Butiaba.

Miller jokingly told reporters at Butiaba that his wife’s snoring attracted elephants to their campsite.  “We held our breaths about two hours while an elephant 12 paces away was silhouetted in the moonlight, listening to my wife’s snores.”  Mary retorted, “I never snore.  You’ve got a fixation about it.”  To which Miller replied with a sly grin, “So has that elephant.”

As Miller’s adventure seemed at an end, another adventure was beginning.  At about dusk, Miller and Mary boarded a DeHavilland Rapide, a twin-engine bi-wing airplane piloted by T.R. Cartwright enroute to Entebbe, a town about 175 miles to the southeast.  The pilot taxied the plane to the runway and increased its speed for takeoff.  As they sped down the runway the airplane hit a bump, bounced, hit another bump, and veered off of the runway where it rolled over and burst into flames.  Miller forced the rear door of the airplane open and he, Mary, and T.R. scrambled from the burning plane.  Miller sustained cuts, burns, and bruises.  Mary suffered two cracked ribs, an injured leg, and multiple bruises.  T.R. was uninjured.  Miller and Mary went to a local doctor, who bandaged the cuts and burns on Miller’s head.  The doctor suggested they X-ray his injured arm, but Miller just shrugged him off because he thought the injury was minor.

Through his entire weekend’s adventures, surviving two airplane crashes in two days, Miller kept his sense of humor.   Clutching a bunch of bananas in one hand and a bottle of gin in the other, Miller remarked with a smile, “My luck—she is running very good.”  Not wanting to test his luck further, he declined an offer for another airplane ride out of the jungle.

Miller was one of only a handful of people who were able to read their own obituary.  Many newspapers around the world got the news that Miller was missing and assumed he had perished in the first crash.  They compared Miller’s might to those of the characters in his books “From Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Old Man and the Sea.”  Miller was the middle name of…Ernest Hemingway.

 

Sources:

 

  1. Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 24, 1954, p.1.
  2. Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania), January 25, 1954, p.1.
  3. The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), January 25, 1954, p.1.
  4. The Shreveport Times, January 26, 1954, p.1.
  5. The Cincinnati Enquirer, January 27, 1954, p.4.
  6. Corsicana Daily Sun, January 27, 1954, p.4.