Category: Weird

Hoax Story – Dinosaur Hunting License

The area around Vernal, Utah is the only place in the world where it’s legal to hunt dinosaurs. Because Vernal is the only town that issues official Dinosaur Hunting Licenses.

The issuance of these licenses, printed on parchment-type paper, began in 1951, as the idea of Tenney T. Johnson. The Vernal Chamber of Commerce liked the concept so much that the next year it began handing out the licenses to tourists. Soon it was handing out over 60,000 of them a year.

Reportedly, some people would refuse them, saying, “we haven’t time to hunt.”

But surely dinosaurs are extinct, so there’s nothing to hunt. Well, maybe. Or maybe not. From a 1952 article:

Old-time Vernal residents say, with a glint in their eyes, that on moonlight nights when the wind just whispers over the desert, dinosaurs still roam on the outskirts of the town.”

However, not just any dinosaur can be hunted. The license confers the following specific privileges:

This license entitles the holder to hunt, pursue, shoot, kill and remove from that area known as Dinosaur Control Area of Uintah County… the following types of reptilian wild game.

A. TYRANNOSAURUS REX — 1 only (adult male).
B. DIPLODOCUS GIGANTICUS — 1 only (either sex) and not less than 5000 pounds live weight.
C. STEGOSAURS — 2 only (males) any size.
D. PTERODACTYLI — 4 only (without young).

Reportedly, you can still get these licenses at Dinosaurland in Vernal.

However, although it’s now been legal to hunt dinosaurs in Vernal for over 65 years, to date no dinosaurs have been killed.

Hoax Story – Wisconsin Concrete Deer Hoax

If you live in Wisconsin, you DO NOT need to remove the deer statues from your front lawn. They can stay where they are, no matter how tacky your neighbors might think they are.

Recently, some Wisconsin residents reported receiving a letter, apparently from the state’s Department of Natural Resources, informing them to “please remove any concrete deer ornaments from your lawn by November 1, 2015.”

The letter went on to explain that the Department would be conducting a state-wide deer count “and some yard ornaments may have been counted over the past two years by mistake.”

On Monday (Sep 29, 2015), the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources posted an official denial of this letter on its Facebook page:

DISPELLING A HOAX
Several of you have contacted us regarding a document that appears to be a letter from DNR asking people to remove concrete deer ornaments from their yards. This letter is a fake. It was not crafted, nor distributed by DNR. DNR is not asking the public to remove concrete deer ornaments or any other lawn ornaments from their yard.

So there you have it. The concrete deer can stay.

Hoax Story – Painted Ponies

In 1965, a Copenhagen newspaper ran an April Fool hoax claiming that the Danish parliament was going to require all black dogs to be painted white, in order to increase road safety by making the dogs more visible at night.

Fast forward to 2015. The Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society has launched a scheme to paint ponies with reflective blue stripes in order to allow motorists to see them more easily at night. The idea is that “motorists would not see the animal, but an ‘alien glow’ which should slow them down.” [BBC News, 10/2/2015]

Goes to show that, given enough time, all April Fool hoaxes eventually come true.

Hoax Story – The Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise Panic of 1969

Peanut butter and mayonnaise may not sound like an appetizing food combination to most people, but in some regions of the United States PB and mayo sandwiches have long been quite popular. In the late 1960s, however, fears arose that these two ingredients were being used for a purpose much more nefarious than making sandwiches. Drug experts warned that young people were injecting themselves with peanut butter and mayonnaise as a way to get high.

The media fanned the fears, printing alarmist headlines about the bizarre new trend that was said to be sweeping the nation’s youth. Concern quickly reached the highest levels of the government. References to kids shooting up PB and mayo can be found in both a Senate Committee report from October 1969, as well as in the Presidential papers of Richard Nixon from the same month.

Was there any substance to these fears? Were any teenagers really doing this? Or was the entire panic an example of an unfounded, drug-scare hysteria?

A Brief History of the Panic

The PB and mayo panic burst onto the national scene in October 1969. The American Academy of Pediatrics held its annual meeting that month in Chicago, and in attendance were two government drug experts: Ernest A. Carabillo Jr., a lawyer-pharmacist in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and Frank Gulich, a Chicago narcotics bureau official. They had come to talk about the problem of drug use among young people.

These two officials held a press conference together at which they dropped the bombshell about the worrying new trend they were seeing among America’s youth — of kids shooting up PB and mayo. They attributed the fad to an “underground recipe book” that was circulating among young people, selling for about $1. The book, they said, purported to describe various “culinary escapes from reality,” one of which was the injection of PB and mayo. Doing so, the book promised, would send a user “on a little trip.”

Of course, putting these substances directly in your veins can send you on a trip straight to the grave, and Carabillo warned that the dangerous practice had already caused “several documented cases” of fatalities.

The media lost no time spreading the word about this latest crazy drug fad. Headlines about the danger of shooting up PB and mayo appeared in newspapers throughout the United States.

Headlines from October, 1969

In subsequent months, other drug experts echoed Carabillo and Gulich’s warning. Albert Cook, director of narcotics for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, claimed in a November 1969 article in Ohio Schools magazine that he personally knew of a case where a youth had injected peanut butter.

In May 1970, Capt R. B. Jenkinson, commander of the criminal division of the Missouri Highway Patrol, warned lawmakers that, “Some Missouri youngsters have become severely ill from shooting peanut butter but none have died yet.”

And in August 1970, Rupert Salisury, associate dean of the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, claimed during a panel discussion on drugs at a medical conference that in Franklin County, Ohio five young people had died after injecting PB and mayo. “How unhappy they must be to do such ridiculous things,” he noted.

However, by the end of 1970, the panic had subsided. The fear that this was a widespread trend among young people simply faded away. It was hardly ever mentioned again by drug officials.

Mechanism of Action

A mystery lurked at the heart of the PB and mayo panic. Could peanut butter and mayonnaise actually cause a high if injected? Or was the practice (assuming that young people were, in fact, doing this) absolutely pointless, achieving nothing but to risk death?

It was difficult for the experts to answer this because they had no research to guide them. So, they tried to guess as best they could, and some reasoned that perhaps the fad had caught on because a teenager somewhere had discovered that intravenous PB and mayo really did produce a high.

One speculation was that, as the peanut oil broke down in the body, the fat globules triggered hallucinations. Or, at least, they caused an altered state of consciousness.

Another theory, detailed in a November, 1969 Chicago Tribune article, was that the gooey substances, once injected into the bloodstream, reduced circulation to the brain and thereby caused a sensation of light-headedness, or a high.

But other experts dismissed the possibility out of hand that PB and mayo would produce any kind of high. They insisted that the only ‘kick’ a user would experience would be that of a heart attack.

Another mystery was why the fad featured both PB and mayo? Were both ingredients required to get a high? Did the mayonnaise perhaps help to emulsify the peanut butter? Or was the combination simply inspired by the sandwich?

Contemporary commentators never addressed this question. However, after 1970, references to people dying by injecting peanut butter still, on occasion, cropped up in the media, but the combination with mayonnaise disappeared. Nor are there any references to people injecting mayonnaise alone. So, we have to conclude that peanut butter was the most important ingredient. The role played by the mayonnaise is unknown.

The Search for a Legal High

The PB and mayo panic was part of a much larger cultural phenomenon. This was the fear that young people, finding it difficult to obtain drugs such as marijuana and LSD, were seeking out alternative ways to get high… ways that were technically legal, but which nevertheless might produce the desired effect, even if the risks associated with such experimentation were very high.

Newspaper articles from the 1960s and 70s regularly detailed a whole laundry list of methods that young people were said to be using to escape reality. Some were well known, such as inhaling gasoline or glue. But there many other, more exotic techniques. These included smoking periwinkle leaves, eating morning glory seeds, smoking cigarettes sprayed with underarm deodorant, spraying Black Flag Roach Killer directly into their nostrils, and inhaling furniture polish.

And then there was the Great Banana Peel hoax. In 1967, a rumor had swept the nation alleging that bananas could be used to get high. The technique, it was said, was to scrape the inside of a banana peel, boil the residue, dry it out, and then roll it into a joint and smoke it.

The claim that this was possible was a joke started, most likely, by the staff of the East Village Other magazine. But quite a few people were fooled into thinking that it might be true, including federal authorities who decided that they needed to study bananas to check if they actually did have any psychedelic properties.

The memory of the banana peel hoax hung heavily over the PB and mayo panic. The authors of that hoax had probably intended it to spoof what they considered to be the irrational hysteria among authority figures about drug use. But drug officials had interpreted it quite differently. From their point of view, the lesson of the hoax was that teenagers were stupid enough to be fooled into trying just about anything to get high, and they repeatedly made this point (specifically invoking the banana-peel hoax) when warning about the danger of intravenous PB and mayo.

Smoking banana peels, of course, was harmless. Injecting peanut butter and mayonnais, however, could be fatal. Drug officials feared that teenagers wouldn’t recognize that difference.

A Huge Misunderstanding?

In hindsight, the PB and mayo panic seems absurd. It’s difficult to believe that anyone would ever have seriously believed that injecting these substances could get them high. So, surely this was never a fad among teenagers. The drug officials must have been mistaken.

That’s the conclusion of the staff at the Erowid organization. (Wikipedia describes Erowid as “a non-profit educational organization that provides information about psychoactive plants and chemicals as well as activities and technologies that can produce altered states of consciousness.”) In a September 2018 blog post, an Erowid crew member (username ‘earth’) argued that the PB and mayo panic was “a good example of false and essentially baseless Drug War hysteria.”

The Erowid article notes that there’s absolutely no documentation in the medical literature about anyone shooting up peanut butter and mayonnaise. A search of PubMed yields no references to such cases. If there really had been a trend among teenagers of abusing PB and mayo, it seems odd that this would never have been mentioned in medical journals.

The Erowid blogger speculated that the entire panic was probably a case of misunderstanding. “Peanut butter” and “mayonnaise” are apparently slang terms for other drugs. For instance, ‘peanut butter’ has, at times, been used as a name for brown-colored methamphetamine, while ‘mayonnaise’ has been used to refer to heroin and cocaine. So perhaps, back in 1969, drug officials heard teens using these terms and took them literally. They imagined that kids were shooting up PB and mayo, whereas the kids were actually talking about more traditional drugs.

Another Possibility…

Erowid’s analysis makes a lot of sense. To extend it further, one could note that although some officials back in 1969 and ’70 claimed to know about cases of kids dying after injecting peanut butter and mayo, they never offered specific details. All discussion of the trend was wrapped in a shroud of vagueness. And what was the “underground recipe book” that Carabillo and Gulich referred to? That’s never been identified.

Furthermore, a search of newspaper archives similarly yields no reported cases of death by PB and mayo. Or even from PB alone. There are, however, plenty of news reports about people either choking to death on peanut butter or having severe allergic reactions to it. Death by peanut butter injection seems unusual enough that, if it had been regularly occurring, it should have produced at least one news report.

However, the newspaper search did turn up several references to injecting PB and mayo from the months before October 1969, when Carabillo and Gulich gave their press conference, and these complicate Erowid’s speculation that the entire panic was based on a misunderstanding.

In March 1969, LaVerne G. Stordock, a narcotics agent for the Wisconsin attorney general’s office, gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin during which he mentioned that, while speaking at high schools, he had twice been asked by students whether it was possible to get high by injecting peanut butter. He confessed that he didn’t know. He had never heard of such a thing.

There’s no reason to doubt Stordock. He was simply reporting what he had heard from high school students. And the fact that students were asking this question suggests that some kind of crazy rumor must have been circulating among them. Perhaps it was students who heard ‘peanut butter’ and ‘mayonnaise’ used as drug slang and took the terms literally.

Another early reference to intravenous peanut butter can be found in an April 1969 article about the Arizona Ranch School, located in Tucson, Arizona. The school housed boys with histories of behavioral problems. Its director, Marshall Chazen, noted that drugs were an ongoing problem among the students. “They sniff glue,” he said, “and they sniff gasoline and they take cough syrup. Some of them even inject peanut butter–the fat globules can make them high. They’ll do anything.”

Chazen’s remark seems more credible than the later claims about PB and mayo abuse made by drug officials. He wasn’t making a vague assertion about unspecified cases. Nor was he asserting that there was a national trend of shooting up peanut butter. He was simply saying that, at his own school, he had seen examples of this odd (and desperate) way of trying to get high. This same article was reprinted in a newspaper in September 1969, with Chazen’s remark highlighted as a pull-quote.

The Clarksville Leaf Chronicle – Sep 28, 1969

Finally, in July 1969 the Washington Post ran an article about teen drug use in which they interviewed Dr. Donald Luria, president of the New York State Council on Drug Addiction. Luria stated that there was a trend among young people toward “more bizarre and combinations of drugs.” He then added, “Kids have injected peanut butter and mayonnaise into their veins. This can kill them.” This appears to have been the earliest reference, in print, to the combination of PB and mayo as intravenous drugs.

So, what appears to have happened is that there may have been a few, isolated cases of young people suffering from drug addiction who injected themselves with peanut butter. Why they would have done this is a mystery, but then people with drug problems are known to make some spectacularly bad decisions. There may also have been a rumor circulating among young people alleging that intravenous peanut butter had hallucinogenic properties.

Word of these cases and of the rumor evidently began to circulate within the drug-enforcement community, and the scope of the problem steadily grew with each retelling. By October 1969, when Carabillo and Gulich gave their press conference, the abuse of PB and mayo had expanded in the minds of officials to become a worrying, national trend.

So, yes. It’s possible that a few kids once injected themselves with peanut butter. Was mayonnaise also used? Again, it’s possible, though there’s no evidence of that. However, the idea that there was a widespread problem with kids shooting up PB and mayo seems to have been an exaggerated fantasy dreamed up by drug officials.

Further References
  • Gill, Donna. (Nov 15, 1969). “Why U.S. Turns On with Pot or Anything.” Chicago Tribune.
  • Kleiner, Dick .(Apr 23, 1969). “Ranch Haven For Disturbed Youths.” The Port Huron Times Herald.
  • MacPherson, Myra. (July 7, 1969). “Parents, Children and Pot.” The Washington Post.
  • Schroeder, John. (Mar 19, 1969). “Young Know About Drugs, But Not About Their Harm.” Waukesha Daily Freeman.
  • Wolf, Jacob. (May 6, 1970). “State Urged To Delay New Drug Control Law.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

That Time Colonel Sanders Tried to Kill the Competition by Literally Trying to Murder the Manager of the Competition

Born September 9, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana, Harland Sanders’ wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon. His father passed away when he was six and his mother had to work several jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, he was tasked with looking after his two younger siblings and taking care of the home, which is where his passion and skill at cooking first began.

From here, needing to help provide for the family, he entered the workforce at the age of ten as a farmhand making two dollars (about $60 today) per month. At 15, he was working on a streetcar, taking fares and making change. When he was 16, he went looking for adventure and forged documents saying he was of age to enter the Army. He ultimately served for three months in Cuba before being honorably discharged.

After this, he made his way to Alabama and over the next twenty plus years worked at variety of jobs including railroad worker, insurance salesmen, country lawyer, Ohio River steamboat ferry operator, a tire salesman, fireman, and secretary to the Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, Indiana. At the end of this, for six years he was the operator of a gas station- his longest tenured job- before it was closed due to the Great Depression…

And so it was that in 1930, at the age of 40, broke, and having already failed several times in the workforce, he made his way to Corbin, Kentucky where the Shell Oil Company agreed to allow him and his family to live at a recently built gas station if he would help run it.

This brings us to the story of the hour- that time the Colonel got in a gun fight with a rival gas station worker resulting in the death of one of those involved.

So what happened? It all started with an advertising sign.

You see, the manager at the neighboring Standard Oil gas station, Matt Stewart, decided one day to paint over a nearby Shell advertising sign. This resulted in Sanders re-painting the sign… only to see Stewart paint over it again- this time in plain site of Sanders and two Shell district managers who were meeting with the Colonel at the time.

It was on.

As anyone would do upon witnessing such a dastardly deed, the trio grabbed their guns and headed out to confront Stewart.

A heated argument ensued with guns on both sides being pulled and the whole thing devolving into a firefight in which Sanders successfully shot Stewart, but not before one of the Shell managers, Robert Gibson, was himself shot and killed.

Luckily for Sanders and all of us who enjoy KFC, however, as Stewart had shot at the trio first, Sanders would get off scot-free. It was self-defense, you see… Despite, you know, the trio being the ones to approach the lone Stewart packing their guns.

And so it was that Stewart went to jail for murdering Gibson. His sentence was 18 years, but he died two years in, killed by a deputy sheriff, with rumors swirling that the sheriff had been paid by Gibson’s family to off Stewart, though the sheriff wasn’t charged with any crime here.

Moving back to the gas station, from here, Sanders ultimately got the bright idea of feeding the many motorists who would stop for gas and ask for recommendations on a good place to eat nearby.  He started by serving them in his own dining room, but then expanded to opening a cafe. With this going well, he bought out the motel across the street and turned it into a 142-seat restaurant.

By 1935 business was booming and the governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffon, officially bestowed Harland Sanders the title of “Colonel” “in recognition of his contributions to the state’s cuisine.” He would be commonly called “Colonel Sanders” from that point forward.

If you’re wondering, the honor of Kentucky Colonel began in 1813 and it started as a military role. After the War of 1812, Charles S. Todd was named a Kentucky Colonel so he would continue serve as a military liaison for the governor. By the late 19th century, it was more of a symbolic honor given to those chosen to “stand guard” at state functions and social events.  And if you’re further wondering why “colonel” is pronounced “kernel”, well, you’re going to have to wait for the Bonus Facts later because right now we’re going back to the story of the most famous Kentucky Colonel.

You might think after receiving this honor and with business booming it would be easy street for the new Colonel here, but instead Sanders would soon have major trouble keeping his business afloat. To begin with, a fire in 1939 burned down the entire restaurant, but he rebuilt it. A year later, along with a new motor court, Sanders Court and Cafe was back on its feet and selling chicken like gangbusters to travelers making their way on US 25 – a major north/south route in America.

Unfortunately for him, in the early 1950s, a junction on route 25 was relocated, significantly reducing traffic by his restaurant, causing his business to go down the tubes. The final nail in the coffin was when the route of the new Interstate 70 was announced and it did not swing by Sanders Court and Café either, but rather routed everyone about 7 miles away.

And so it was that at the age of 62, the Colonel sold his restaurant and motor court, barely making enough to pay off his debts, and hit the road with his pressure cooker, hoping to convince others to use his recipes in their restaurants in exchange for a small commission.

His general method here was to go to a restaurant, cook his chicken, including demonstrating how to use the pressure cooker. If the owner liked what he made, he’d then try to convince them to let him make the chicken for customers.

Incidentally during this tour is when he first met a young Dave Thomas, future founder of the Wendy’s franchise who would eventually play an integral role in saving KFC when it was going down the tubes, before himself founding Wendys- more on this in the Bonus Facts in a bit.

Going back to the Colonel, sleeping in his car and broke again, he finally got one Pete Harmon, owner of the Do Drop Inn in Salt Lake City, Utah decided to make a deal to license his recipe and chicken making method.

With a handshake agreement in 1952, Salt Lake City became the first city with a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

Within 7 years of this, Sanders had made over 200 such deals in the US and Canada.

Colonel Sanders was finally a permanent success and at the age of 74 in 1964 he decided to take it easy, selling the company for $2 million (about $16 million today) plus a salary of $40,000 per year (about $300,000 today) for the rest of his life in exchange for his staying on as the spokesman and the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Unfortunately for him, as so often happens when a founder of a company sells or involves outside investors, he was quickly at odds with the board running KFC over their changing of recipes, often to save money. He particularly hated their so-called “Original Recipe” chicken, which he called “fried doughball stuck on some chicken”. He also didn’t care for the changes to the gravy recipe, noting, “My God, that gravy is horrible. They buy tap water for 15 to 20 cents a thousand gallons and then they mix it with flour and starch and end up with pure wallpaper paste.”

Company executives responded publicly stating, “Let’s face it, the Colonel’s gravy was fantastic but you had to be a Rhodes Scholar to cook it.”

This eventually culminated in him trying to separate himself from KFC by starting a new chicken restaurant. When KFC interfered with his new business, he sued them for $122 million. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court with Sanders getting $1 million and allowed to continue to operate his new restaurant, which is still around today, called Claudia Sanders Dinner House, located in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Despite his issues with management, he spent the rest of his life traveling, talking chicken, and giving surprise inspections to KFC franchise locations, until the day he died at age of 90 in 1980.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Before we get into Dave Thomas’ fascinating story, let’s talk about why “Colonel” is pronounced “kernel” shall we?

“Colonel” ultimately derives from the Latin “columna,” meaning “pillar.” This gave rise to the Old Italian “compagna colonnella,” meaning “little-column company.”  This, in turn, gave us the rank of “colonnello” -the leader of a column.

Other nations adopted this ranking giving us the Middle French “Coronel.” This was pronounced pretty much like it looks at first, then later slurred down to “Kernel” by the English, but using the same spelling.

However, starting with the French around the 1540s, the spelling was changed back closer to the Italian spelling, which gave us “Colonel” in French.

Within a few decades, the English also followed suit and by the mid-seventeenth century, “colonel” was the most common way to spell the word in English. At that time, the common pronunciation was mixed between the older “kernel” and the new “colonel,” with the former winning out in the end, despite the way it’s spelled.

Moving on from there, as alluded to, the founder of Wendy’s, Dave Thomas, actually once saved KFC and used it as his launching point to creating his own franchise, which today has almost 7000 locations. So how’d he do this?

Much like the Colonel, Thomas entered the work force quite young, first working at a Knoxville restaurant at the young age of 12 years old, from which he was eventually fired due to a misunderstanding with his boss about a vacation.

At 15, he worked part time at the Hobby House Restaurant in Ft. Wayne when his adoptive father and step-family (Thomas never met or knew who his biological parents were as his mother gave him up as a baby owing to the Great Depression) decided to move. Feeling ready to strike it out on his own, he decided to drop out of high school and stay in Ft. Wayne.  He then moved into the YMCA and started working full time at the Hobby House.

While dropping out of high school to work at a restaurant most decidedly wouldn’t work out for most in terms of long term fame and fortune, it was through his job at the Hobby House Restaurant that Sanders would meet none other than Colonel Sanders himself, who later became Thomas’ mentor.

Many years later, after a stint in the Korean war as a cook in the army for which he volunteered, in 1962, Thomas used the money he earned there to invest in and was placed in a managerial position over four of Colonel Sanders’ KFC’s that were failing.   He saw that one of the problems with KFC, and all fast food restaurants of the day, is that their menus were much too complicated.

He thus worked with Colonel Sanders to drastically simplify the menus at KFC, focusing on a few, select, signature meals.

It worked.

And soon business was booming and other fast food chains and restaurants quickly adopted the same approach, which is still common to this day. Not the last fast-food restaurant staple that Thomas would be responsible for, as we’ll get into momentarily.

But before that, we should also point out that Thomas was also the one who introduced the KFC trademark sign featuring a revolving red-striped bucket of chicken.

In any event, after he had turned these failing KFC restaurants around, he then sold his stake in them back to Colonel Sanders for a significant profit over what he originally paid, receiving $1.5 million in the sale (about $12 million today).

Rather than kicking back on a beach somewhere with a few scantily clad ladies and some margaritas for the rest of his life, Thomas instead took this money and ultimately opened the first “Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers” on November 15, 1969.

If you’re wondering here, the restaurant was named after his fourth child, Melinda Lou Thomas, who was nicknamed “Wendy” as in her formative years she pronounced her own name, Melinda, as “Wenda”.

Among the innovations Thomas would soon introduce at his restaurants were, among other things, being the first to successfully implement a drive through pickup in a restaurant, which is of course, now used by pretty much all fast food restaurants.

Wendy’s was also the first to successfully create a “fast food” style restaurant that didn’t pre-cook its food nor used pre-made frozen items.  He credits his ability to do this with knowledge gained in cooking for over 2000 soldiers daily while in the army.

Upon his death in 2002 of cancer, there were over 6000 Wendy’s restaurants across the world, and today, there are close to 7000, some of which are actually still owned and run by the original Wendy (Melinda Thomas) herself, along with her three sisters.

And incidentally, realizing that his later success as a high school dropout might convince other teenagers it was ok to quit school, in the early 1990s at the age of 61, Thomas became a student at Coconut Creek High School, ultimately earning his G.E.D. Along the way, he was voted by his classmates as “most likely to succeed.” Nailed it.

The post That Time Colonel Sanders Tried to Kill the Competition by Literally Trying to Murder the Manager of the Competition appeared first on Today I Found Out.

What Happens in the Real World if You Find a Buried Treasure?

Ever wonder what happens if you actually found a buried treasure or some sort of National Treasure-esk haul of ancient loot? Well, wonder no more.

To begin with, as ever in just about everything, the answer to that is complicated. The bottom line is that most countries have laws that regulate what has to be done when something precious is found. And disappointingly, usually, it has to be given to an authority for the sake of scientific research. As to whether you’ll get paid for it, well, we’ll get into that.

First, when objects like coins, jewelry or other objects made of precious metal are found and they are so old that no owner can be attributed to them, they are classed as a treasure trove. This is the legal term deriving from Anglo-Norman tresor trové which means ‘found treasure’. It is very close to the modern French trésor trouvé, which means … exactly the same: ‘found treasure’.

As mentioned, most countries have laws governing the finding of such “found treasure”.

As you might infer from the fact that there are set laws on the books pretty much in every nation of the world concerning treasure troves, this sort of thing actually isn’t totally uncommon, owing to the fact that burying treasure was once a relatively common thing. Such “treasures” are called hoards in archæology and as banks were not available to protect treasured items in ancient times, burying them to later unearth them was an easy solution.

Time periods with a high occurence of hoards can be interpreted as indicating times of unrest. If the person who buried the treasure does not come back to unbury it for various reasons like forgetting where it was, hurriedly having to relocate to another area or, you know, death by Viking or the sort, the hoard remains to be found by a lucky person.

Buried treasure could also be offerings to gods. Especially in hard to access places, this is a likely interpretation, as it would indicate no intention to retrieve the treasure.

Apart from hoards, burials are another source of artifacts such as coins, jewelry et cetera. Burial rites vary a lot across time and place. In many cultures it was customary to bury quite valuable objects with the deceased, for example ornate weapons or jewelry. Of course, this has attracted looters in ancient times as well as today.

So burials could contain valuable things, but really any place where humans did, well, anything, artifacts can potentially be found, like settlements, of course, or battlefields.

All these treasures from hoards, burials and other sources are lying there, waiting to be found.

Some have made it their hobby to search for these treasures with a metal detector, though interestingly this is not legal everywhere. But a metal detector is not always needed to unearth treasures. Sometimes objects are unearthed without anyone digging for it, be it by natural processes like freezing or erosion, but sometimes because of ploughing.

This is why walking across ploughed fields in a systematic fashion is a common method for looking for archeological digging sites. Objects found during these field surveys are precisely mapped and identified. And don’t expect anything fancy. Most of the time, it’s tessels from pots, pieces of badly corroded metal and other rather unspectacular seeming objects. Yet through the precise mapping and identification of objects, archæological sites can be identified, which can later be dug out by archæologists.

So finding treasures, while rare, is not unheard of. As noted, it happens often enough that regulating it was deemed necessary. And as we have seen, the practice of burying things for whatever reason means that there are indeed things to be found.

Found treasures were already regulated in Roman Law, which is the foundation of many modern legal systems. In Roman Law, found treasures could be kept if found on one’s own land. If found on another person’s land, the treasure had to be shared between land owner and finder.

This might explain the behaviour of the man in Jesus’ parable of the hidden treasure:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.[1]

The man didn’t want to share the treasure with the owner of the field, so he hid his discovery and bought the field to be the sole beneficiary of the treasure.

In later times in Europe, found treasures would usually go to the owner of the land. In Europe’s feudal system, this meant either the monarch or the nobility who own the land, that is the landlord.

Nowadays, laws vary greatly. In the USA, the finder of a treasure has a good claim to it, only the original owner has a better claim. But in reality, it can get very very complicated with many parties involved with conflicting claims.[2] In the US legal system, nothing is ever easy. Certain states use old English common law which includes the treasure trove law. But the application of the English treasure trove law is piecemeal and conflicting.

Another applicable law is that for ‘mislaid’ items. This law has the aim to bring together a person or their descendant with their lost property. However, this law is not really suited for archæological artifacts as they are so old that making a connection between a person hundreds of years ago to the present landowner is usually a bit of a stretch.[3]

In any case, as the Archæology magazine explains, law in the United States has evolved towards granting the landowner the right to found objects on their property to the detriment of the finder:

“By rejecting treasure trove and similar finder’s rationales, those courts have fostered legal policies that discourage waton trespass to real property, and give protection to a landowner’s possessory claims to any artifacts that have been so embedded in the land as to become part of it. Rejection of the rules that reward finders at the expense of landowners also strengthens anti-looting provisions, and discourages casual, but potentially destructive unplanned searches. Indeed, removal of artifacts from the soil is now recognized in the majority of states either as illegal severance of chattels, trespass, or theft.[4]

In the United Kingdom, treasure troves belong to the crown, but surprisingly, finders are treated very well compared to in other countries. In the United Kingdom, with the exception of Scotland, someone who finds a treasure has to bring it to the attention of the local coroner. Yes, the same person investigating deaths. They will then decide if the find is indeed deemed a treasure. Then, the market value of the find will be determined by the Treasure Valuation Committee, a governmental institution. Museums can then buy the item. They will pay a reward to the finder that can not exceed the set market value. If no museum wants to purchase the treasure, the finder may keep it and do as they please with it. In other words, museums get a preemptive right to purchase a treasure.

The market value is above the amount an antique dealer would pay. As the antique dealer wants to resell items with a margin of profit at market value, they will pay an amount smaller than the market value. Therefore, selling an item directly at market value to a museum can potentially be more profitable for the finder, who skips the middle man and their profit margin.

Compared to other countries, it is a very good arrangement for finders. However, failure to submit found treasure will earn heavy penalties. For example, in 2019, two men were sentenced to ten and eight-and-a-half years of jail time respectively for not having reported a find from the Viking age they made in 2015 with metal detectors. Most of the treasure was lost, as the finders sold off many of the coins on the private market.[5]

The English law here is not applicable to Scotland. That said, treasures found in Scotland are also the property of the crown. Nevertheless, the process of what happens when someone finds a treasure is not dissimilar to what happens in the rest of the UK: The find gets assessed by an agency called the Treasure Trove Unit at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. They assess the find and send a report to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer, a governmental office, in which they claim the crown’s right to treasure trove or bona vacantia. The latter is applicable to abandoned goods. The treasure then gets offered to museums. If they are interested in acquiring a treasure, they pay a reward to the finder.[6]

A notable difference to the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom, is that in Scotland, treasure trove law not only applies to coins and other objects made of precious metals. All kinds of artifacts can be deemed treasure in Scottish law.

Moving on to Germany, they have laws called “Schatzregal” that regulate what to do with treasure. In this case, all kinds of objects can be seen as treasures: fossils, pottery tessels and of course coins, jewelry etc. It generally only applies to objects of scientific value. Every federal state has their own law that also regulates if a finder gets remuneration. Even though every state has their own law, contrasting with many other places, the gist is this: The state owns all treasures and hardly any state will pay a reward for objects. Bavaria is the odd one in the bunch and has no law regarding treasure troves at all.

Now you may ask, why is the state so precious about owning these treasures? Why can’t finders just do what they want with what they find?

The answer is that there is a conflict of interest at play: the interests of finders in remuneration clash with a societal interest in research.

Regulating what to do when artifacts are found is deemed as a necessity, because found objects could be of great scientific value.

A problem arises when amateur treasure hunters just dig up archæological sites, armed with metal detectors to find valuable artifacts like golden brooches or coins. The motives can be enrichment through the sale of artifacts or the thrill of finding a piece of history. This activity is highly damaging to archæological sites to the point of making the sites worthless for research.

To exemplify the problem, in Germany some ancient Celtic cities (called Oppida) have not been excavated by archæologists yet. As archæological technology is constantly evolving, some sites or sections of sites are deliberately kept untouched to leave something to future archæologists to do research on with new methods. This is because once a site is excavated, some of the information is irreparably lost. It is a destructive and irreversible process. After all, when a hole is dug, it is impossible to put the excavated earth back into the hole in the exact way it was found. This is why archæological digging involves painstakingly precise documention of all the findings and processes down to the very colour of different layers of dirt.

Another reason that known sites have not been dug out yet is also down to simple time and funding constraints.

Treasure hunters with metal detectors loot those places of their metal items. Archæologist Müller-Karpe says that one of the Oppida in Hessia has been robbed of an estimated 50,000 metal items, leaving the site virtually metal free.[7]

Looting not only precludes scientific research on the objects themselves, the looting also causes disturbance in the soil scrambling the traces that are still present.

Furthermore, looters will often falsify the origin of artifacts to make a sale appear legal. This is the case in Germany where treasure troves belong to the state in most federal states, but not Bavaria. Thus, objects are sold as originating from Bavaria on online selling platforms to make them appear like legal finds. Of course, obfuscating the true origin in this manner reduces its scientific value even more.

The artifacts also lose scientific value by being extracted from the soil without proper archæological documentation. Not only are the sites damaged, the artifacts themselves also lose some of their worth for science. Extracted from their context, in which layer of the earth they were found, the objects that could be found next to it, the exact positioning etc. All of this information is important to an archæologist.

The problem of the looting of archæological sites has become so prominent, that ongoing archæological digs are often kept as secret as possible and sometimes guarded to prevent looters using the opportunity to go snitch some stuff under cover of darkness from an already dug up site.

As you can see, it is a difficult problem where the interests of land owners, finders and the scientific community clash. Given the complication and many nations and states in the world, needless to say there is hardly a consensus from place to place in the law. That said, should you happen to find a buried treasure, the best place to find out the exact local law for free is probably your nearest public museum, whose officials often know the skinny on procedures and rules in the area.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

ABC News. 2019. “Treasure hunters jailed for failing to declare trove of Viking coins discovered using metal detectors.” ABC News, November. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-25/jail-time-men-found-viking-coins-metal-detectors/11736992.

Contributors to Wikimedia projects. 2020a. “Treasure Act 1996 – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Treasure_Act_1996&oldid=958466654.

———. 2020b. “Hoard – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hoard&oldid=975329745.

———. 2020c. “Treasure trove – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Treasure_trove&oldid=985004515.

“Found Something?” 2018. Treasure Trove in Scotland. https://treasuretrovescotland.co.uk/found-something.

“GROTTO AT SJ 7756 0290, Beckbury – 1367600 | Historic England.” 2020. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1367600.

Hermann, Jonas. 2015. “Benjamin Czerny: Mann findet riesigen Schatz und landet vor Gericht.” DIE WELT, February. https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/kurioses/article137783627/Mann-findet-riesigen-Schatz-und-landet-vor-Gericht.html.

Participation, Expert. 2016. “Treasure Act 1996.” Statute Law Database, October. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/24/contents.

Pruitt, Sarah. 2020. “Is This a New Templar Temple?” HISTORY. http://www.history.com/news/is-this-a-new-templar-temple.

“The Slow Death of Treasure Trove – Archaeology Magazine Archive.” 2020. https://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/trove.

“Treasure Trove in Scotland.” 2020. Treasure Trove in Scotland. https://treasuretrovescotland.co.uk.

  1. S. Legal, Inc. 2020. “Treasure Trove Law and Legal Definition | USLegal, Inc.” https://definitions.uslegal.com/t/treasure-trove.

[1] Matthew 13:44 (King James Bible)

[2] https://definitions.uslegal.com/t/treasure-trove/

[3] https://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/trove/

[4] id.

[5] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-25/jail-time-men-found-viking-coins-metal-detectors/11736992

[6] https://treasuretrovescotland.co.uk/found-something/

[7] https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/kurioses/article137783627/Mann-findet-riesigen-Schatz-und-landet-vor-Gericht.html

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The Curious Case of Exploding Whales

Whales are among the largest animals to have ever lived, with the Blue Whale, at a whopping 173 metric tons, holding the absolute record. Thus, the rare occasions when a dead whale washes ashore tend to cause massive headaches for the local population and authorities, not only due to the massive bulk and nauseating smell, but also the alarming tendency of whale carcasses to explode. Like most animals, as soon as a whale dies the bacteria in its gut begin to digest it from the inside, leading to a buildup of gas that causes the corpse to swell up and eventually burst. This is exactly what happened on January 29, 2004, when a 17-meter Sperm Whale washed ashore at Tainan City, Taiwan. The animal was lifted onto a trailer and was being driven to the Sutsao Wildlife Reservation Area for necropsy when it suddenly exploded in the middle of a busy city street, showering some 600 onlookers in blubber, blood, and whale guts. But not all whale explosions are caused natural processes; one bizarre incident in 1970 involved rather more human intervention, and would, for better or worse, help put a small Oregon town on the map.

On the morning November 9, 1970, beachcombers near the town of Florence – 200 kilometres south of Portland – stumbled upon a leviathan: a 14-metre long, 7 ton Sperm Whale carcass that had washed ashore the night before. While the massive corpse quickly attracted a crowd of curious onlookers, they were just as quickly repelled by the rapidly-worsening smell, and the local authorities were called in to deal with the problem. Curiously, at the time beaches fell under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Highway Division, who placed 41-year-old engineer George Thornton in charge of the cleanup. According to Thornton, he was only appointed because his supervisor, district engineer Dale Allen,

“…took off hunting when this thing broke – conveniently, I think. To be fair, they had already planned on going, but this thing made them all the more anxious to go.”

Left holding the bag, Thornton set about determining how best to dispose of the reeking mountain of blubber. The corpse couldn’t be buried as the tide would quickly uncover it, and it was too large to burn. Nor could it be simply cut apart, for the simple reason that no volunteers could be found to do so. After consulting with the US Navy, Thornton finally settled on a solution: dynamite. The idea was to blow the corpse into smaller, more manageable pieces that could then be cleaned up crabs, seagulls, and other marine scavengers.

But how much dynamite to use? As no formal guidelines for this kind of operation existed, Thornton was forced to use his intuition and eventually settled on 20 cases – or around half a ton. But as luck would have it, on the beach that day was local gun store and range owner Walter Umenhofer. Umenhofer, who had received explosives training during WWII, informed Thornton that 20 cases was far too much, and that 20 sticks – or around 4 kg – would be sufficient. But Thornton was none too keen on a bystander telling him how to do his job, and Umenhofer’s advice was ignored In an interview 25 years later Umenhofer stated:

“But the guy says, ‘Anyway, I’m gonna have everyone on top of those dunes far away.’ I says, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be the furtherest SOB down that way!’”

The blast was set for the afternoon of November 12, and a crowd of around 75 bystanders gathered to watch from the nearby dunes. Covering the event were cameraman Doug Brazil and anchor Paul Linnman of KATU-TV Portland, whose broadcast was soon to become legendary. The dynamite went off at 3:45 PM, sending a fountain of smoke and blood 100 feet into the air, which Linnman described as resembling “a mighty burst of tomato juice.” In Brazil’s footage, the spectators can be heard cheering for a brief moment before, to everyone’s horror, a series of slapping sounds is heard as chunks of the carcass begin to rain down on the beach, turning, in Linneman’s immortal words:

“…land-lubber newsmen [into] land-blubber newsmen…for the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.” 

So powerful was the blast that it sent pieces of the whale flying more than half a mile. One piece of blubber the size of a car tyre flattened the roof of a brand-new Oldsmobile belonging to none other than explosives expert Walter Umenhofer, who had purchased the vehicle at a dealership sale called – and, we can’t make this stuff up- “Get a Whale of a Deal.”

Yet despite the massive explosion the whale was still mostly intact, the dynamite having only carved out a small section of the carcass. Worse still, the seagulls which were supposed to clean up the remains were nowhere to be seen, having been frightened away by the blast. Thornton was thus forced to send in Highway Division workers with earth-moving equipment to clear away the remaining pieces and bury them elsewhere on the beach. Nonetheless, Thornton was optimistic about the operation, later stating in an interview with the Eugene Register-Herald:

“It went just exactly right, except the blast funnelled a hole in the sand under the whale.”

He then added:

“I said to my supervisors, usually when something happens like this, the person ends up getting promoted. Sure enough, about six months later, I got promoted to Medford.”

But the situation was best summed up by Linnman, who ended his broadcast with:

“It might be concluded that, should a whale ever be washed ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they’ll certainly remember what not to do.”

The current policy of the Oregon State Parks Department regarding beached whales is to bury them on-site or, if the sand is too shallow, to relocate them to another beach.

The exploding whale of Florence soon became a part of Oregon folklore, and as the years passed the incident began to be regarded as little more than an urban legend. But the story took on a life of its own two decades later when it came to the attention of humorist Dave Barry, who recounted it in a May 20, 1990 edition of his column in the Miami Herald. The article, titled “The Far Side Comes to Life in Oregon,” contains such gems as:

“The responsibility for getting rid of the carcass was placed upon the Oregon State Highway Division, apparently on the theory that highways and whales are very similar in the sense of being large objects.”

“There was no sign of the sea gulls, who had no doubt permanently relocated in Brazil.”

“But this is no time for gaiety. This is a time to get hold of the folks at the Oregon State Highway division and ask them, when they get done cleaning up the beaches, to give us an estimate on the US Capitol.”

An uncredited version of Barry’s article soon began to circulate on the internet, leading many to believe that the incident had only recently taken place. According to Ed Schoaps, public affairs coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation:

“We started getting calls from curious reporters across the country right after the electronic bulletin board story appeared. They thought the whale had washed ashore recently, and were hot on the trail of a governmental blubber flub-up. They were disappointed that the story had 25 years of dust on it.”

Despite Schoaps’ endless clarifications, the calls kept coming, and Schoaps’ office phone soon became known as the “Blubber Hotline.”

“I still get regular calls about this story,” said Schoaps. “It amazes me that people are still calling about this story after nearly 25 years.”

Fifty years later, the Exploding Whale still evokes mixed feelings for those who were there. George Thornton remained convinced that the operation was a success but had been spun into a public relations disaster by hostile news reporters. When contacted by Paul Linnman in 1995 for his book The Exploding Whale and Other Remarkable Stories From the Evening News, Thornton declined to be interviewed, stating:

“Every time I talk with the media it tends to blow up in my face.”

Thornton retired from the Oregon Department of Transportation in 1990 after 43 years of service and died in 2013 at the age of 84.

While initially unimpressed by the mockery the exploding whale brought to their town, the residents of Florence eventually came to embrace the incident as a quirky part of their history, even voting in June of 2020 to name a new recreational area “Exploding Whale Memorial Park.”

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Barry, Dave, The Farside Comes to Life in Oregon, Miami Herald, May 20, 1990, https://www.theexplodingwhale.com/evidence/resources/dave-barry-article

Exploding Whale 1970, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPuaSY0cMK8

The Tale of the Exploding Whale, Xpat Magazine, September 2006, http://xpatmatt.com/the-tale-of-the-exploding-whale/

Pietch, Bryan, ’Exploding Whale’ Park Memorializes Blubber Blast 50 Years Later, The New York Times, June 20, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/20/us/exploding-whale-memorial-park.html

Bacon, Larry, When They Blow Up a Whale, They Really Blow it Up! Eugene Register-Guard, November 13, 1970,  https://news.google.com/newspapers id=KOdVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=IeEDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6114%2C3133152

Son of Blubber, https://web.archive.org/web/20110717092953/http://tafkac.org/animals/exploding.whale/son_of_blubber.html

John, Finn, Exploding Whale? It’s a True Oregon Tale, Offbeat Oregon History, October 19, 2008, http://www.offbeatoregon.com/H001_ExplodWhale.html

Tomlinson, Stuart, Exploding Whale Engineer George Thornton Has Died at Age 84, The Oregonian, October 30, 2013, https://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/2013/10/george_thornton_the_odot_engin.html

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