Freak Streak of Coincidences Saves Choir from Death, 1950

The ‘Miracle of March the 1st’ was so incredibly fluky, that if you’d been there it would have you believing in God for sure!

It was a frigid evening on the first day of March in 1950 and the clock was ticking towards utter tragedy for the fifteen members of the West Side Baptist Church choir, in Beatrice, Nebraska.

The modest-sized, white wooden slatted church had been silently filling with leaking natural gas since the Reverend Walter Klempel had lit the furnace earlier in the afternoon in preparation for the evening’s choir practice.

By the time the scheduled choir practice came around, at the usual 7:20 pm, the church was full of highly combustible gas.

Five minutes later it happened; the building exploded so violently it blew the church to pieces and rocked the town, shattering nearby windows and knocking the nearby radio station off air.

Beatrice church after the gas explosion (beatricedailysun.com)

The tight-knit community feared the worst as blaring sirens heralded the arrival of the first fire engines. First responders and neighbours searched through the wreckage yet inexplicably and with a huge sense of relief they found no bodies amongst the debris. So where on earth was the choir?

Bizarrely none of them had arrived because a weird run of coincidences had caused them all to be running late. It was a miracle, and if this didn’t affirm one’s faith in divine intervention, whatever would? What caused this miracle?

Incredibly all fifteen members had been running late because of trivial delays.

Reverend Klempel for example, who had lit the furnace causing the gas leak in the first place, was due to return with his wife and daughter yet the young girl noticed her dress was stained as they were leaving. This caused her mother to pick out another dress and begin ironing it. They were still home then the church exploded.

For Joyce Black, who actually lived just across the street from the church, she was feeling “plain lazy” that evening. She wanted to remain snuggled up in her warm house against the biting wind outside and delay her departure until the last minute. Joyce was only reluctantly peeling off her blanket to get moving when the deafening crack of a hundred timbers planks shattering to pieces terrified the bejesus out of her.

The pianist Marilyn Paul usually arrived 30 minutes early. She took a nap after dinner however and overslept. Her mother, the choir director, struggled to rouse Marilyn until 7:15 pm. Marilyn was still struggling to get ready when she and her mother heard the blast.

Another member, Herbert Kipf, was actually on his way ahead of schedule when he remembered an important letter he needed to write, so he turned back home to do so. Another had their car breakdown, delaying three members.

Another two young ladies were held back listening to something interesting on the radio. The rest of the choir were delayed by similarly banal reasons converging into the extraordinary.

The ‘Miracle of March the 1st’ is still spoken of with reverence to this day in Beatrice.

UK’s Terrible Twin Town, 2006

It was an awkward moment when Mantao representative George McLauchlan crossed the Atlantic to present a commemorative clock to Bideford town’s officials, only for them to not have a clue why. Find out what happened here.

Before Mr Riley’s visit… (eveningstandard.co.uk)

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

He approached Bideford Town Hall entrance, an elizabethanesque building fronting the River Torridge.

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

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

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

Yet Bideford’s officials didn’t have any idea what Riley was on about; the only town Bideford was twinned with was one in France.

They’d never even heard of Mantao. “I said thank you but had to let him down gently. It seemed even more cruel not to. He seemed a little puzzled and said our name was on all their road signs. I couldn’t really offer any consolation so he said he was going home to look into it.

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

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

…and after. (bbc.co.uk)

Farmer’s Field Becomes Volcano in a Day, 1943

Of all the trials and tribulations a farmer must face, a field of theirs erupting into a volcano takes some beating. But that is exactly what happened to a Mexican farmer one February day.

How do you think you would handle a volcano bursting up in your back garden in one day? It might make acquiring the services of a decent landscape gardener much trickier, for starters.

A Mexican farmer by the name of Dionisio Pulido suffered a similar dilemma when a cinder cone volcano spewed up in his cornfield, 200 miles (320km) west of Mexico City in 1943.

For weeks prior locals reported a queer sound like thunder, yet observed no stormy clouds in the sky to explain the rumbling.

Instead, magma surging up towards the surface from deep below was triggering an ever-rising crescendo of micro-earthquakes which, on the eve of the eruption, had reached 25–30 per day.

Late in the afternoon of the 20th of February Pulido and his family were working the land when a thunder was felt, the trees trembled and the ground suddenly swelled. A jagged cleft between 2–2.5 m (6.5–8.2ft) wide opened up the fiery guts of the earth beneath.

Pulido reported: “…a kind of smoke or fine dust – grey, like ashes – began to rise up in a portion of the crack that I had not previously seen …Immediately more smoke began to rise with a hiss or whistle, loud and continuous; and there was a smell of sulfur.

Aghast, he and his family fled to town.

Paricutin rose 50 meters (165ft) in its first 24 hours (mexicodailynews.com)

As night drew in, witnesses described how “red flames of fire rose into the darkened sky, some rising 800m (2600ft) or more into the air, that burst like golden marigolds, and a rain like fireworks fell to the ground.

24 hours later the Parícutin volcano had risen 50 meters (165ft) and, by the end of the week, it had burgeoned up to 150m (490ft), clouding the valley in smoke and ash.

Paricutin continued its baby growth for another nine years to reach its present height of 424m (1390ft).

The damage she did to the surrounding area forced residents to flee and two new towns were built to accommodate them.

In 1997, CNN included Parícutin in its list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

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Ancient Law Causes Queen to Drown, 1880

When a pregnant young queen started to drown, her attendants wouldn’t help. Find out why.

The protocol around royalty which governs how they interact with commoners is usually ancient, rigid and ensures royal family members’ inviolability.

On one occasion however it caused an entirely avoidable tragedy for the Chakri royal dynasty of Siam, modern-day Thailand.

Queen Sunanda Kumariratana was just 19 years old when she travelled to see the newly built and bountiful Bang Pa-In palace be opened by her husband and King — Rama V, but reaching the palace required crossing the Chao Phraya River.

She made her way down to the water’s edge.

Squawks and cries of life rang out sporadically in the thick heat that beat down in the surrounding jungle, and dangerous currents whooshed and sploshed water downstream after heavy rains.

A boat was waiting to ferry the vulnerable young queen, her two-year-old little princess and unborn child to the other side. The boat would be towed in turn by a larger one which would ferry the queen’s retinue.

What should’ve been a joyous day for the King and his family was struck by tragedy; as the boat was hauled across the strong current, it capsized.

The Queen and two-year-old infant daughter were dumped in the river and flailed their arms as they attempted to stop from sinking under. Her entourage, horrified and aghast, failed to act, however.

A no contact rule in the Kingdom of Siam forbade any commoner from touching royal family members under any circumstances and under pain of death. So, with no rope, the head guard felt he could do nothing except look on as the queen slowly drowned.

For this absurd episode, the King imprisoned the guard who did nothing to rescue the favourite of his three queen consorts, yet the poor servant was merely guilty of sticking to the laws of his king.

Queen Sunanda and the Bang Pa-In Palace (historycollection.com

Gigantic Popsicle Floods Manhattan Square, 2005

Who’ve guessed Snapple’s attempt to erect the world’s largest popsicle in the world would result in Manhattan’s denizens fleeing the streets to save their footwear from getting gunged? Read on to find out what occurred.

It was the height of a June Summer in the heart of Downtown Manhattan, New York where the possibly underemployed directors of Snapple, a soft drink manufacturer, made a brave but foolhardy attempt to surpass a Guinness record for ‘World’s Largest Popsicle’.

Snapple mixed and froze a gargantuan icy doppelganger of its new kiwi-strawberry ‘Snapple on Ice’ then the frozen treat was hauled by freezer truck from Edison, N.J to the Big Apple.

Crowds thronged Union Square with the hustle and bustle of city life around them and enjoyed the shade its trees offered from the sweltering sunshine of June the 20th.

The popsicle had arrived; this monolith of sweet, sticky ice 7.7m (25ft) high and weighing in at 17.5 tonnes was being raised by a crane to be stood upright, and with much fanfare.

The sweet celebration turned sickly, however, as it started to melt before it was even fully erect. Gallons of pink goo began to slosh down nearby streets and anyone who treasured their footwear fled the square. Cyclists and automobiles slipped in the ooze as fire trucks converged and the police closed off streets to contain the publicity stunt gone wrong.

The spectacle ended in farce when Snapple officials abandoned the Snapple-raising at a crowd-disappointing 25-degree angle, failing the record-breaking attempt in the process. The mushy giant block was then trucked away before it could do more damage and a television-sized ice sculpture in the shape of the Snapple logo took its place.

17.5 tonnes of popsicle flooded Downtown Manhattan in the Summer of 2005 (nbcnews.com)

The Last Cavalry Charge in History, 1942

Amidst the mechanisation of the Eastern Front in WW2, Italy’s much maligned military reputation received a shot in the arm when the Italian Savoia Cavalleria cavalry regiment daringly charged the Soviet army.

It was August 1942 and the tide of WW2 was just beginning to turn in favour of the Allies after the surging, seemingly unstoppable Axis ‘Operation Barbarossa’ petered out.

Now, the Soviets turned the tables with an offensive of their own. The Italian 2nd Infantry Division manned a sector on the Don River and when the Soviets launched an assault on their positions, the Italians couldn’t fend them off. After two days, they were routed and needed help fast.

High command ordered the Savoia Cavalleria cavalry regiment to the rescue. This unit, still mounted on horseback from a bygone age, was about to perform one of the most extraordinary acts of the war. On the 23rd it moved to occupy a position, stopping short 1000m (1100yrds) unaware that two thousand Soviet infantry already occupied the position. Early the next day a troop moved in to recce the position and made contact with the enemy. The Soviets, now aware of the cavalrymen’s presence, opened heavy fire.

Realising they were in a tight spot and faced annihilation if they didn’t attack immediately, regimental commander Colonel Alessandro ordered his men into a do-or-die charge. The situation was desperate yet the cavalrymen had one ace up their sleeve.

A winding gorge nearby came out on the Soviet’s flank and 2nd Squadron quickly launched themselves down the gorge. Pouring out at the other end they fell upon the alarmed Soviets, sabres thrashing wildly and hand grenades flying among their ranks. Corporal Lolli, unable to draw as his sabre was stuck in its sheath, charged holding high a hand grenade; Trumpeter Carenzi, having to handle both trumpet and pistol, unintentionally shot his own horse in the head. Some horses, even though riddled by bullets, would keep galloping for hundreds of metres, squirting blood at every beat, suddenly collapsing only a while after their actual death.

The cavalrymen fell upon the alarmed Soviets, sabres thrashing wildly and hand grenades flying among their ranks. (quora.com)

After having crossed just about half of the Soviet line the strength of the squadron was already reduced by half, and the commander himself was grounded. Realising 2nd Squadron was getting shredded to pieces, Allesandro ordered his 3rd Squadron into the fray. This they did and, with their blood up, they eschewed the gorge’s cover and charged headlong forwards.

For the loss of 32 soldiers and 100 slain horses, the Savoia Cavalleria Regiment managed to kill and capture hundreds of Soviets and bought time for the routed 2nd Division to seek safety. German liaison troops looking on were full of admiration for what the cavalry had just achieved. Addressing Allesandro, they said: “Colonel, these kinds of things, we cannot do them anymore”.

The Italians had just performed the last ever major cavalry charge in history.

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The Aristocrat Who Painted the Town Red, 1837

The legend of a Marquis’ drunken antics resulted in an epic night in town… painting it red despite the townsfolk’s spluttering rage. Read about the chaos this posh wild child caused.

One day in spring 1837 at the Thorpe End tollgate in the fine old English market town of Melton Mowbray, with its half-timbered Tudor townhouses and bustling square, a tollgate keeper lay a wary eye on an approaching party of men.

The scene was at odds with itself. Their veneer of clean, tailored clothing, fine riding boots, well-groomed moustaches and strong jawlines made the tollkeeper conscious for a moment of his own grubby stubble. Yet, from their cultured tones, boozy banter spewed. Laughter and shouts echoed down the narrow carriageway and the band of staggering, swaggering men jostled after it.

The tollkeeper hailed hopefully to a young man he took to be the ringleader but the big droopy eyes which met his twinkled with mischief and he wore an ominous, leery grin. To the side were some ladders, brushes and pots of red paint to effect repairs. The leader turned his gaze to them and, before the tollkeeper could step in between, the party leapt and scooped up the paint and brushes.

They set upon the tollkeeper who, dismayed, shrieked calls to wrest them away, but to their whoops and cackles they doused the poor man in red paint. A sputtering, red-faced constable rushed over… and he was turned even more red-faced!

Like a crazed troop of monkeys the men now rampaged into the town, smashing, kicking and pulling down pieces of property. They sploshed doors, a carved swan and anyone who tried to halt them in red paint while indignant townsfolk looked on, mouths agape. They vandalised the Post Office and the Leicestershire Banking Company and tried to overturn a caravan in which a man was fast asleep.

The time the Marquess of Waterford and his cronies went crazy in Melton Mowbray gave rise to a common idiom (leicesterchronical.co.uk)

Help was called in and, finally, to the clacking thrum of nail soled boots on street cobbles, constables clamoured into the street and set upon them. Clubs cracked and thumped and swang through the air and the scoundrels were finally subdued. Now for the biggest shock; as onlookers gawped, the party’s leader was identified to be a nobleman no less – Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford.

The noble was sent to sober up in the local gaol but that wasn’t even the end of it.

Marquess Henry’s cronies came to his rescue, beating up two guards and holding a sharp blade to a guard’s throat for the cell key.

So the Marquess escaped …but scot-free?

Aristocrats stand as exemplars of grace, class and decorum. The Marquisate of Waterford is no exception; rows and rows of windows festoon the grand, Georgian facade of Curraghmore House – the family estate – and their noble lineage goes back to the 17th Century. At some point, an impish streak seeped into the bloodline when Henry entered the world; the trouble in Melton Mowbray is not the only time he brought his peerage into disrepute.

Once Marquess Henry sobered up he hastened to shell out for the damages but the townsfolk wouldn’t be placated so easily. Eventually Henry and his party were fined a considerable £100 each and ordered to contribute an idiom to the English language.

Saddam Hussein Given Keys to Detroit, 1980

Saddam Hussein was public enemy no.1 throughout the ’90s, In 1980, however, he received the ‘keys to Detroit city’. Read on to find out why.

From the day his tanks rolled over the Kuwaiti border in 1990 until he met his demise in 2006 Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, was public enemy no.1 in the USA.

First he invaded Iraq’s neighbour Kuwait in an act of naked aggression and conducted himself disgracefully during the 1st Gulf War. Then, for the rest of the ’90s Iraq remained a pariah state under his tyrannical rule until rancour across the West climaxed with the second Gulf War in 2003.

This time Saddam was firmly in the crosshairs; he was hunted down like a dog before being executed three years later.

What may surprise a lot of people then is that just ten years prior to the First Gulf War President Hussein was seen in a very different light within America. So much so, in fact, Saddam was bestowed the key to Detroit City — a symbolic meaning evoking medieval walled cities when the gates would be guarded during the day and locked at night.

The key symbolises the freedom of the recipient to enter and leave the city at will as a trusted friend of city residents.

In 1979 Reverend Jacob Yasso of the city’s Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church had sent a congratulatory message to the newly appointed president. 

Flattered, Hussein responded with a $250,000 donation to the church. A year later Yasso was welcomed to Hussein’s palace and there Yasso presented the president with a key to the city and kind words passed along by then-Detroit mayor, Coleman Young. Upon hearing of a debt on the church, Hussein soon sent another $200,000 Yasso’s way.

Looking back in a 2003 Associated Press interview Yasso recalled: “He was a very kind person, very generous, very cooperative with the West.”

(insh.world)
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HMS Curacoa Tragedy, 1942

The story of the light cruiser that was sliced in half by the colossal Queen Mary transatlantic liner.

It was late 1942 and the Battle of the Atlantic – the struggle to ferry millions of tonnes of equipment, war materials and men through a deadly gauntlet of U-Boat submarines – was in full flow.

When 10,000 men of the US 29th Division were needed across the Atlantic it was the RMS Queen Mary (QM) that was chosen for the task – a huge ship but also the fastest passenger liner of its age, holding the record for fastest Atlantic crossing from 1946 to 1952.

If that ship were to be torpedoed and sunk, the loss of all those men would be an absolute catastrophe, so the Queen Mary’s orders were to sail full speed ahead and in a ‘Zig-Zag’ formation to make it extremely hard for any submarine to sink her. This wasn’t just an operating procedure, naval regulations forbade her to slow down under any circumstances.

On the 2nd of October, she rendezvoused with an escort, HMS Curacoa, off the Irish coast and there a calamitous misunderstanding occurred. Each captain had different interpretations of ‘The Rule of the Road’, believing his ship had the right of way.

As the QM continued to zig-zag her officer of the watch saw that she and the Curacoa were getting too close for comfort and took evasive action. Yet the QM’s captain then intervened; disastrously he told his officer to: “Carry on with the zig-zag. These chaps are used to escorting; they will keep out of your way and won’t interfere with you.

QM started to turn starboard; Curacoa’s captain saw what was happening but by then it was too late; QM struck Curacoa amidships at full speed and sliced the cruiser in two ‘like a piece of butter, straight through the six-inch (15.2cm) armoured plating’.

The fatal moment of impact (news.daily.com)

The rear end sank almost immediately, but the rest of the ship stayed on the surface a few minutes longer. 

To imagine the mood on the QM’s bridge in the minutes after; the captain’s dismay and taut figures at station.

Acting under orders not to stop due to the risk of U-boat attacks, QM steamed onward with a damaged bow. She radioed the other warships of her escort and reported the collision.

101 survivors, including the captain, were eventually picked up yet 239 officers and men went down with their ship.

London Beer Flood, 1814

What occurred to cause a tidal-wave of beer to slosh down the slums of London? Read on to find out the devastation caused.

If we’ve all got to meet the reaper some day or other, some folks might say that drowning in beer isn’t the worst way to go.

It was 1814 and the Meux Brewery was one of the largest in London, UK, and its owner, Henry Meux Jr, had built a huge wooden vessel at the Horse Shoe Brewery 6.7m (22 feet) tall in order to store porter, a dark beer that was London’s most popular drink.

This giant vat was held together by no less than eighty tonnes of iron hoops, but on the afternoon of 17 October it was noticed that one of these hoops had slipped. This happened occasionally and when the storehouse clerk reported it, he was told “that no harm whatever would ensue” and that it would be fixed later.

Yet the vat was almost full and, an hour after the hoop slipped down, the vessel burst asunder without warning.

Some of the massive beer vats of London’s breweries (history.com)

The force of the liquid’s release damaged a neighbouring vat and several hogsheads of porter were also destroyed, and their contents all added to a terrific flood. Between 3600 and 9000 imperial barrels (600,000l to 1,500,000l or 150,000 to 390,000 US Gallons) were released.

The resultant tsunami of beer 4.6m (15 feet) high destroyed the rear wall of the brewery and swept into a street in St Giles Rookery.

Slum-dwellers were crushed or smashed by a violent mass of liquid and masonry. Others were drowned as the wave destroyed two houses and badly damaged others.

In the second destroyed house, a wake was being held by an Irish family for a two-year-old boy; Anne Saville, the boy’s mother, and four other mourners were tragically killed.

Furthermore, the land around the brewery, being low-lying and flat and with insufficient drainage, the beer flowed into many inhabited cellars.

A total of eight adults and children sadly perished.

Several hundred spectators came to view the scene, and stories later arose of hundreds of people collecting the beer and getting so drunk that one person died from alcohol poisoning.

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