Drunken Aviator Lands in City Centre, 1956

In perhaps the greatest ‘hold my beer’ escapade to date, Thomas Fitzpatrick stole a plane to prove he could fly from Jersey to New York in just 15 minutes. Read about how he won his crazy bet.

Bulky sedans rumbled sedately along the right-angled streets, and haggard creatures of the night here and there passed under the patchy street lighting past rows of rectilinear brownstone tenements.

It was the witching hour on St Nics Avenue in New York City’s heart. Of course in the city that never sleeps life still stirred, and it was about to get a serious wake up call.

Jimmy was wiping down the bar waiting for the last of his patrons to stumble out after a long night. The edge of his lips curled up with a wry smile; earlier that night one of his favourite patrons, a gung-ho flyboy named Thomas ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick made a bet that he could fly from New Jersey to New York City in 15 minutes. ‘I’ll land out there to prove it, how ‘bout that?’ slurred Fitz. ‘OK ya crazy, drunken Irishman’ laughed Jimmy ‘Hold my beer, will ya?.’ And, with a leery grin, Fitzpatrick plodded out the door.

Good laughs, thought Jimmy.

That was almost an hour ago. A barking dog out the window broke his reverie and Jimmy looked up to see a late night walker and his dog facing opposite directions; the man was pulled back by his leashed dog.

The mut was staring back up the street and whined, its head tilted with that gaze of rapt concentration only a dog can do. “Come on!” the guy bawled, looking bewildered.

Then Jim detected the sound of an engine, but it was no automobile; it was more of a deep buzz, and it quickly got louder.

That sound was one of a small plane approaching and, crazy as it sounds, Fitzpatrick was making his approach to land the thing on the Avenue.

One or two cars screeched to a halt as the small aircraft buzzed overhead. Bedroom lights flicked on and anyone quick enough caught a fleeting glimpse of Fitzpatrick as he zipped by.

Jimmy slammed the door open in time to witness, mouth agape, the plane touchdown and whizz past his bar before coming to a stop.

So Fitz won the bet after all!

The stolen plane on St Nics Avenue, complete with chalk outline (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)

After leaving the bar, Fitzpatrick had hightailed it 15 miles across the state line to Teterboro Airport and there, stole an aircraft.

What the wager was is unknown but he won his bet and his antics made newspaper headlines. The New York Times called the flight a “feat of aeronautics” and a “fine landing”, and a plane parked in the middle of the street made for quite a sight in the morning.

For his illegal flight, he was fined $100 after the plane’s owner refused to press charges.

Incredibly Fitzpatrick performed the same stunt again in 1958 because in another bar someone questioned the story. For that, he was sentenced to 6 months incarceration, blaming his antics on the “lousy drink

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Grim Reaper Refuses to Let Death Row Escapee Live, 1980

One man’s fate to die on a date in 1980 was so strong even escaping Death Row could not postpone his mortality. Read here how he met his end.

Such is the antisocial, troublesome character of some people you meet that you just know they’re destined to be dead or in prison before they reach their 40th birthday, and so was the case for Troy Leon Gregg – despite his best efforts otherwise.

Convicted of murdering two men whom he had hitched a ride with in order to rob them, Gregg was clearly a nasty piece of work. For that, he’d become the first man to end a de facto moratorium on the death penalty imposed four years prior.

Four years later on death row and it was 1980 and his long-awaited date with the Grim Reaper was looming imminently, yet Gregg had plans to give him the slip and make a flight for freedom.

On the eve of his execution date Gregg, with three other condemned murderers, sawed through their cell bars, walked along a ledge to a fire escape and, after altering their prison clothing to resemble correctional officer uniforms, left in a car parked in the visitors’ parking lot by one of their aunts.

Success! Gregg and his companions pulled off the first death row breakout in Georgia’s history.

Yet Gregg just couldn’t keep his nose out of trouble. He wound up that night roughhousing it at some biker bar and getting hammered. He started harassing a waitress and hit her when she turned down his advances.

One biker didn’t like what he saw and this guy was the kind of bad-ass, greasy biker who didn’t screw around; Gregg was beaten to death. A number of patrons then helped dump his body in the lake round back.

So, the grim reaper caught up with Gregg regardless. The other escapees were recaptured three days later.

Troy Leon Gregg may have escaped the electric chair, but he didn’t escape his death sentence (thecrimemag.com)
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Andorra’s 44 Years of World War finally Ended, 1958

The time one disregarded European state forgot to end the ‘Great War’

For its main belligerents, World-War-I lasted from 1914 until 1918, yet bizarrely Germany remained at war, technically, with one country for another 40 years.

Andorra is a European minnow state of 468 km (181 sq mi) and just 76,000 call it home.

It was also one of the first nations to declare war on the Germans and Austro-Hungarians yet, after the unfettered hurly-burly of mass war, the fact it didn’t possess an army meant Andorra’s govt. weren’t exactly central players in the peace talks of WWI’s end.

For this mountain enclave, ‘The Great War’ continued unabated until 1958, according to this report in the New York Times on September the 24th: 

World War I is over for this 191 square mile Pyrenees Republic. Andorra, a participant, was not invited to the Versailles Peace Conference ending World War I. The decree, ending the state of war was signed yesterday.”

Finally, these great nations could breathe a sigh of relief and begin to look to the future once again.

For Andorra, WW1 lasted 44 years! (du.edu)
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The 14 Year-Old Cop, 2009

The embarrassing episode for the Chicago Police Dept. when they discovered a teenager had managed to get hold of a uniform and go under cover as a cop. Find out what duties he performed during his ‘shift’ and try to figure out how he slipped through the net.

It was just past lunchtime and a young lad named Vincent Richardson, who stood at 5ft 3in (1.6m) tall, felt a tingle in his belly which he could not decide was down to nerves or excitement; it was his first day on the job. He did not let his nerves show though as he walked up to the rear entrance of a Chicago P.D. Grand Crossing District station.

He told an officer smoking by the entrance that it was his first day and could he enter the security code on the lock? The officer obliged and he slid in.

He approached the Sergeant’s Office to report for duty. The sergeant glanced up at the small-statured officer before him and noted his watchful brown eyes and coat collar turned up against the January cold.

Officer Richardson signed out a ticket book and radio, was assigned a partner, and began his first day on the beat.

For six hours that afternoon Richardson attended five traffic accidents and used the squad car’s computer to check license plates. It’s alleged he also took the wheel of the police car and may have helped handcuff a suspect.

His ruse was discovered by a supervisor who noticed Richardson was missing his badge, gun and a newspaper in place of a ballistic vest in his vest carrier.

To their great consternation Richardson was discovered to be just a 14-year-old high school kid. For the stunt, Richardson was placed on juvenile probation.

But he clearly got a taste for the uniform; amazingly he was caught impersonating a police officer again in 2013 and 2015. For the most recent felony he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Vincent Richardson aged 17 (chicago.cbslocal.com)
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Lawnchair Larry’s Balloon Flight 1982

To fly is a dream, and every kid imagines acquiring enough helium balloons for a little aerial adventure. Big kid Larry Walters actually pulled off the stunt for real in an epic flight over Los Angeles. Read about how he did it here.

Who hasn’t held a bunch of helium balloons as a kid and imagined the fun they could have if only they could gather enough balloons to lift off, see the world with a bird’s eye view for a brief while before landing again? Larry Walters was one of those kids.

As an adult, he tried to become a pilot but poor eyesight ruled that out, yet the dream to fly remained. Sitting in his backyard one day in Los Angeles, USA he devised a plan. He attached 43 weather balloons to his lawn chair (which he christened ‘Inspiration I’) and filled them with helium.

Perhaps Larry thought the whole endeavour would go like something out of a kid’s movie; he’d float up, enjoy the blissful views, wave at onlookers here and there, then drift down again. And what better than to do so with a nice bite to eat and beer – bliss. 

Suitably kitted out then, and with a pellet gun to shoot the balloons when it was time to descend, his friends cut the cord that anchored him to his jeep. 

What actually happened is he shot into the sky, climbing to 4,900m (16,000 feet) and drifted there for more than 45 minutes, frozen and frightened. He then crossed an aeroplane approach corridor to Long Beach Airport and two commercial jets reported the strange sight.

Eventually Larry gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons and descended. His balloons caught in a power line, causing a neighbourhood blackout for 20 minutes but he landed unharmed.

Larry attached 43 weather balloons to his lawn chair (groovyhistory.com)

Larry was arrested upon landing and fined $1,500. Talking to reporters, the Police stated: “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed. If he had a pilot’s license, we’d suspend that, but he doesn’t.” 

For his part, Larry declared “It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn’t done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm.” 

He was awarded the title of ‘At-Risk Survivor’ in the 1993 Darwin Awards but sadly committed suicide the very same year.

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Czech Cop Rampage Smashes Dozens of Cars, 2016

Although you expect police officers to be pillars of the community, they’re not all perfect. Some are occasionally corrupt, but disorderly and out of control? Never! That is until one day Officer Kadlec of Prague City Police Dept. decided to have a few drinks and get his fifteen minutes of fame. Find out the chaos he caused.

Prague’s Vinohrady neighbourhood, Cz Rep: One Spring afternoon, above the gentle hubbub of city life, a loud noise broke the city’s normal calm indicating the chaos which had broken out in some quarter near; the blare of dozens of car alarms echoed down Vinohrady’s elegant, tree-lined avenues of fine, old, Austro-Hungarian terraces. The distant wail of sirens soon chimed in.

On Šumavská street a drunk and dishevelled out-of-uniform police instructor named Karel Kadlec was handcuffed and led away from the trail of carnage he’d just caused which disgraced his name and dealt a serious dent to his career in the process.

Wrecked automobiles on both sides of the street lay at odd angles and glass and bits of vehicle body parts littered the road; Kadlec had gotten boozed up and careered his SUV down the street, smashing and ramming as he went, to damage a total 51 vehicles. He caused over 2,000,000Kč (£70,000 in 2020) worth of damage but thankfully no casualties.

So what caused this cop to go haywire? Shamefully enough, he was actually on leave at the time due to a drink-driving accident the previous year, and on that occasion, he was caught driving without insurance too.

Kadlek had told reporters after that: “This is something I’d never like to experience again.

Just months later however he realised his career was about to come to an ignominious end, so he went out with a bang.

It was the day before Kadlec was due to face a disciplinary tribunal that Kadlec went berserk, yet after, he apologised for what he had done.

It didn’t save his career, however, his bosses had no choice than to fire him. Rumours are that his next job was a security guard, at a carpark.

Kadlek under arrest after being brought to a halt (dailymail.co.uk)
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Woman Breaks £30,000 Bracelet, Told to Pay, Faints, 2017

You know the rule; ‘you break it, you buy it’. But what happens when you break something worth over £30,000? Read on to find out.

The late evening breeze kept the humidity a notch above oppressive in Ruili city which is located in the Chinese Yunnan Province on the Myanmar border.

A slim, middle-aged woman with neck length hair, a blue short-sleeved blouse patterned with light flowers and dark blue trousers was arrested in her tracks as she ambled past a row of vendors, shops and stalls.

The wide-eyed tourist hailed from far away and like any visitor sought out the city’s sights, scenes and wares on offer. This hapless lady was about to pull off the worst ‘you broke it you buy it’ gaffe in living memory.

She peered into a shop and its owner bowed his head and smiled pleasantly in greeting. The vibrant colours of gems, precious stones and metals almost made her eyes pop out of her head in delight. The shop owner’s smile remained fixed as he looked on.

She admired the stock and asked questions here and there. Perhaps because they were closest to hand her gaze settled on the collection of bracelets under the counter.

She asked to take a closer look at one and marvelled at it, a green, glassy, opaque and rounded thing of beauty. ‘It’s one of my prized items, I only wish I could give it to my wife as a gift!’ declared the man on the other side of the counter proudly.

She slipped it onto her wrist, enjoying the cool, glass-like feel of it against her skin. ‘So how much is it?’ The owner took a short breath before he answered.

The bracelet was in fact one made of Jade, a generic term for two different gemstones, nephrite and jadeite. Known to humans for 7000 years, to the Chinese Jade symbolises good health and long life and can be worth more than solid gold.

‘For you madam, the price is 300,000 yen’ (£35,000 in 2020)

She stared back in stunned silence before wrenching the priceless article off.

In her haste to remove it, however, the smooth gemstone slipped from her fumbling fingers. Then, almost in slow motion it seemed, hit the floor and snapped in half.

She gasped, clutching her face and barely registered the jabbering between the shop staff in her disbelief. The shop owner was dismayed. ‘You must pay!’.

The shop staff clamoured around her and picked up the broken jade piece. The poor woman began to tremble, turned a sickly pale, then fainted, overcome by what she had got herself into.

A crowd gathered around the commotion, as crowds tend to do, and one person tried to revive her with a pinch to the upper lip whilst another supported her sagging body. She was taken to hospital to recover.

It was a financial disaster. After she came around, The shop owner offered a reduced price of 180,000 yen to settle the breakage but all she could afford was 10,000 yen — not even close to an acceptable offer for the store owner.

Eventually an agreement was made; independent valuers weighed in and valued the broken bracelet at 190,000 yen which the woman’s family agreed to pay.

That is one wonderful family; one can only assume that come the Chinese New Year family get together the woman was on washing up duty.

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)

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 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.

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