Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 29

Today in 1961, as a direct result of the tragedy of the prior evening, Student Activities Supervisor Walt Machlin, of The College of William and Mary, announced that, until a safer alternative to shoe polish could be found, all blackface performances would be banned on campus. He was quoted by the William and Mary Campus Gazette as saying, "It's all fun and games, until someone gets hurt. This time, unfortunately, two very creative, talented young men did get hurt. The administration cannot, in good conscience, allow such performances to go on, when the risk of personal injury is so high."

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March 28

On this day in 1961, Edward "Teddy" Thorpe and Robert McNamara, freshmen at The College of William and Mary, who had both pledged Alpha Tau Omega with legacy status, had to be rushed to Williamsburg General Hospital, where they were treated for severe burns. The two well-liked young men had entered the Spring Fling Talent Spectacular on campus. Their act - a song, dance, and slapstick routine that called to mind Old Dixie - was made all the more amusing by the fact that the two rapscallions had applied black shoe polish to their faces and hands, and donned curly wigs. The energetic crowd loved the act, and all went well, until the high content of nitrobenzene in the shoe polish started to cause both young men discomfort and, eventually, pain. They were rushed to the E.R., where Burn Unit staff were able to flush away and neutralize the offending chemical, and treat Teddy and Robert's legions with a soothing balm. Spring Fling judges voted unanimously to award the young men the grand prize and, considering what they'd endured, none of the other acts balked. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

March 27

On this day in 2013,  Jordan and Sally Miles, of Bellows Falls, VT travelled to New York City to see Hands on a Hardbody, the Broadway show with music by Trey Anastasio of Phish fame. Staunch supporters of the sharing economy, the young couple had arranged to stay at an Air BnB in the East New York section of Brooklyn. When their Amtrak train arrived at Grand Central Station on the night of the 27th, they used the Uber app to arrange for a ride to their lodgings. The first car assigned to them cancelled almost immediately, so they tried again. Again, the Uber driver opted to reject the trip. They were tired, and it was getting late, so they gave in and decided to stand in line at Grand Central's Yellow Taxi queue, and take a traditional cab to their destination. When their turn came, the driver of their taxi stopped as soon as he heard their destination, and informed them he could not possibly go to East New York, because it was too far, and he would never get another fare from that particular neighborhood back into the City. He offered to drop them off by one of the 8th Avenue subway stations, where they could catch the A train to East New York. Anxious to get to their Air BnB and get some sleep, they agreed. A little over an hour later, they emerged from the Liberty Avenue subway station, and looked around: a Jamaican beef patty and coco bread bakery on one corner, a beauty salon specializing in braiding and weaves on another, a bodega catty corner to that, and directly across the street? A Baptist church. Sally and Jordan looked at one another and came to the same, scary conclusion, but Sally gave voice to it first, "Honey," she said, "the real reason that driver wouldn't take us all the way here is that....this is a slum!"

The young couple slept in shifts that night, making sure one of them was always awake to ward off any intruders. The next morning, they left Air BnB duplex apartment, and checked into The Crosby Street Hotel, in SOHO. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26

On this day in 1846, The Boston Evening Star ran a front page story about a 13 year old, negro shoeshine boy, Nathan Miller, having been killed during an altercation with seven university students, in the Jamaica Plain area. The story focused not on the seven students - all full-grown men in their 20s, and all from fine New England families - but on allegations, made by unnamed sources, that Miller had been less than reputable in his business practices, had overcharged for his services, and was known to argue with patrons who had expressed their dissatisfaction in his shoeshines. In the weeks to come, the university students told their story to the press several times - about having been attacked by Miller when they refused to pay for what they considered to be poor shine jobs, and having accidentally beaten him to death while defending themselves from what they perceived to be a serious threat from the 13 year old. Thanks to public outcry from those who'd read the facts about the night in question, and about Nathan Miller's record as a street urchin, a scoundrel and an unsavory character who was prone to violent outbursts, local authorities decided that charging the young men with a crime would only serve as an unpleasant reminder of the harrowing experience they would surely carry with them forever.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 25

On this day in 2015  Russell Bradford, Jr., of Nantucket, MA filed a complaint with The Better Business Bureau against GeneSurf. According to Murphy, the personal genealogy testing company was providing customers with wildly inaccurate data. Having received a  genetic testing kit as a birthday gift, Mr. Murphy had supplied GeneSurf with a saliva sample, carefully following the directions. Five weeks later he received the results of his test, which included 2.3% Ashkenazi Jew and 1.7% North African. Having come from Mayflower families on both sides, and being able to trace his roots in New England as far back as the 1760s, there was no way Bradford could overlook such a grave error, let alone allow GeneSurf to continue duping consumers. After filing the complaint, he signed in to Yelp and left a negative review.

Friday, March 24, 2017

March 24

On this day in 1978, Margot Grimstead-Harris of Atlanta, Georgia found out that the cost of the double surgery for which she'd prepared herself for well over a year would not be covered by Blue Cross.  Her health insurance, which she accessed through her husband's job, as an executive for Dixie Bev, a subsidiary of the Coca Cola Company, had previously covered the costs of an emergency appendectomy, gall bladder removal, and a hospital stay, as well as extensive physical rehabilitation,  when Margot had been involved in a minor automobile accident on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This time, however, Blue Cross informed her that the costs associated with a procedure which they deemed elective were not covered by her otherwise comprehensive policy. Furious that she was facing such a barrier to her continued good health, despite the fact that her husband was having $45 deducted from his pay every month for health insurance, Margot sat down to write a strong letter explaining that there was nothing "elective" about a woman of her social standing undergoing painful, invasive surgery, complete with anesthesia, to reduce the size of her chin and smooth out the lines around her eyes. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 23

On this day in 2001, David Gruber, star of the reality tv series, "Junk Finders!" discovered an old general store in Causeyville, Mississippi, which was a treasure trove of collectables. The store, which first opened its doors in 1887, and was the first negro-owned business in the county, had fallen on hard times, as the town's population had dwindled to just a few families. Fifth generation store owner, Clevon Wattell, was being forced into bankruptcy, and liquidating the store's contents, including a collection of vintage tobacco advertisements in pristine condition. Gruber offered Mr. Wattell $50 for the entire lot, but was annoyed to have his offer refused. Tobacco-related items were highly collectable, and Gruber was determined to secure the collection of rare pieces, which he intended to sell at auction, so he raised his offer to $75. To Gruber's growing frustration, Wattell again refused, citing that his grandson's internet research had valued each of the 20 or so pieces of advertising art at no less than $350 a piece. Gruber conceded that, of course their would be a mark-up when he placed the pieces up for auction, but that his time and effort had a significant dollar value attached to them and that, at the end of the day, by paying his final offer of $300 for the lot, he would be left with barely a profit. It was clear to him that Wattell did not have an understanding of buying and selling, let alone market-driven pricing. To Gruber's consternation, Mr. Wattell refused the offer, and Gruber's TV crew was forced to scrap the footage, as it would be of no use to their show. 

Interestingly enough, while Clevon Wattell did not appear on Junk Finders!, he did appear, a few months later, on an episode of Antiques Road Show in which his collection of rare, vintage tobacco advertising art, in mint condition, was appraised at a value of $10,000.