Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Galaxy Not So Far Away


There are freak accidents and then there are freak acts of temporal stupidity which change lives forever and alter their course towards an irrevocable dead end. That was the case in the early morning hours of December 4, 1982 when Thomas Hart and his wife were returning to their Westland home from an evening spent with friends. While driving along a poorly lit road a projectile slammed into the hood of their car and through the windshield striking Mr. Hart in the head before exiting through the back window. He was taken to Wayne County General Hospital with traumatic injuries to his brain and was kept alive via life support systems. Within 24 hours he showed no brain activity and his organs were harvested and donated at the request of his family.

Police recovered a mud-laden 14 pound Galaxy model bowling ball from the side of the road near the accident scene. They tracked its make and manufacturer to a Kmart limited distributor and the Michigan based chain store aided police in their investigation towards tracking down the owner. Since there were no bridges or overpasses in the area, officials believed that somebody had thrown it from a nearby wooded area or another vehicle. It took several newspaper accounts of the story before 5 young men came forward with details concerning the case.

They were returning from a bowling outing when 18 year old Charles Joseph Borg, Jr. of Wayne decided that he didn't want the "crummy ball" any more and decided to chuck it out the window. It is assumed that the men were intoxicated at the time and they claimed to have no knowledge of the fate of the ball until hearing about it through media reports. Shaken by the incident they turned themselves in for questioning where the details of the story were revealed.

Borg was later charged with manslaughter and plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter. On June 30, 1983, Wayne County Circuit Judge Richard Kaufman sentenced Borg to 2 six month terms 4 years apart (go figure that one out!) at the Detroit House of Corrections that would be sandwiched around 2 years of extensive probation and community service. Kaufman explained that even though the sentenced seemed harsh that many  would deem it too lenient in light of the loss of life. Borg was also ordered not to drink during this 5 year period or face violation of his sentence.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yule's Gold

Cash back rewards have been around in various forms dating back to at least the 1800s. In the 1890s stores began issuing trading stamps to customers who paid with cash instead of purchasing on credit tabs. The practice further caught on in the 1910s and 20s with the emergence of chain gas stations and grocery stores and expanded to all customers who shopped at the establishments.

The peak of the frenzy was between the 1930s where it was almost a prerequisite to have a stamp program to draw in customers. By the mid-1960s the craze has slowed and many corporations dropped the promotion in favor of research and marketing to heighten their store's appeal. Which actually might have been more a boon for the customer than the company line as it was estimated that the cost of the programs generally raised the participating store's prices by 4%.

The value of each stamp in the 1970s was approximately 10 cents or $120 total to fill up a booklet of 1200. Depending on the company and their redemption center, the filled booklets could be traded for anything from common small household appliances to life insurance policies and in some instances of finagling, just about anything. One such instance  involved an Erie, Pennsylvania school which collected over 5 million Green Stamps and purchased a pair of gorillas for a local zoo with the stamps.

In 1961 in the Detroit suburb of Northville, the Hawthorne-Northville Chapter of the Michigan Association for Emotionally Disturbed Children placed a bus on the patients' Christmas list as an humorous afterthought. As Charles E. Dell Jr., the chairman of the chapter's bus committee, recalled it, "They put a bus on the list almost as a joke." The joke became a reality when through volunteering efforts, word-of-mouth campaigns and eventually newspaper articles the chapter accumulated some 2,301,600 Gold Bell stamps from as far away as California.

Volunteers licked and stamped some 1,918 booklets and though they were still 247 books short of the prerequisite amount, with stamp donations still flooding their chapter headquarters, a deal was struck with the distribution company to deliver a bus by Christmas morning. The bus was to be utilized for field trips around the Detroit area.


FURTHER READING


1955

TRADING STAMPS: A Hidden Charge in the Grocery Bill, Time Magazine, November 28, 1955


1961

Children At Hospital Get New Bus; The Owosso Argus-Press, December 21, 1961

Trading Stamps Used To Buy Bus For Hospital; The St. Joseph News-Press, December 27, 1961


2004

The Trading Stamp Story by Jeff R. Lonto

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thomas Bradford's Spirit Test

The Ogden Standard-Examiner, February 21, 1921
Hauntings have been a part of the human landscape as far back as the written word carries its history. Most instances are cold and informal happenings as if two passing figures were situated on separate planes and unexpectedly intersected without cause or warning, momentarily touching one another.

Houdini attempted to make intelligent contact between the dead and the living by sending a message to his beloved when he crossed over into the shadow world. For ten years his wife Bess held séances on Halloween hoping to hear him whisper the agreed upon phrase "Rosabelle believe" to prove that there was life after death. Despite being unsuccessful he inspired others to claim the quest as their own, with failing returns.

Perhaps Houdini himself was inspired by another gentleman, Professor Thomas Lynn Bradford, a Detroit psychic and lecturer, who not only attempted to make contact from the other side but committed suicide to hasten the act and prove that life after death was possible. And according to his assistant he did just that.

Mr. Bradford, said to have been an electrical engineer and a one time athlete and actor as well, devoted much of his last years studying and writing about the occult, particularly the after-life. He theorized in his last written words that "all phenomena are outside the domain of the supernatural." and sought to prove this theory through "scientific facts." Having conjured up the postulate he intended to prove it through experimentation with his own life as the guinea pig. First though he'd need an assistant to receive his message from beyond.

In early 1921 the professor posted an ad in a local newspaper, under the pseudonym Professor Flynn, searching for "someone interested in spiritualistic science" to which a woman named Ruth Starkweather Doran replied. Mrs. Doran, about 40 years old, was from a prominent Detroit family with deep roots in the area. She had only recently returned to the area from Duluth and was doing historical research in the city. A writer and lecturer herself, Doran's curiosity was piqued by the odd advertisement and answered it on a whim. A member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, she was neither a believer in psychic phenomenon or a spiritualist but agreed to meet with Bradford to further investigate a subject she had never breached beforehand. After several meetings--Doran herself claimed that there was no pact and that there was in fact only one brief meeting--in which Bradford presumably explained his theory and plan of action, they chose a date for the final meeting, February 5, 1921.

Shortly before Doran arrived that evening for their last conference, Bradford finished typing his final thoughts for the manuscript to an unfinished book which lay beside the machine, leaving the sheath interred in the carriage, and readied himself for the death experiment. First though, he calmly assured Doran that he would contact her and gave her instructions on how to carry out the reunion. When Doran departed he sealed off the rented room, blew out the pilot to the heater, turned on the gas jets, situated himself in bed for one last repose and eventually succumbed to the fumes.

In the days after Bradford's death, Doran and a congregation of Spiritualist leaders gathered around the parlor in her home awaiting the message. While skepticism abounded even among the sect, Doran also distanced herself from any self-aggrandizement saying that her part was more so as a human being than a Spiritualist or a psychic. While a fortnight of vigils would take place the first few evenings were rather quiet and no contact had come. Though Doran reported that she felt a strange sensation during this time, as if Bradford's spirit was hovering just waiting to call from the beyond.

If Bradford was indeed destined to call there would be competition for his attention. While Ruth Doran and her team hunkered down waiting for a missive, another spiritualist in the same city named Lulu Mack, of 300 Brady Street, claimed to have already had contact with the dead professor.

The Pittsburgh Press, February 10, 1921
On February 9th, a mere 3 days after the passing of Bradford, Mack felt that she was being urged by a passed spirit to make contact. That evening she gathered her medium for a seance. During the event she claimed to hear the faint voice of Bradford. Not calling out to her but to himself, "Thomas Bradford. Thomas Bradford."

Unaware of Bradford's story, Mack questioned her reverend medium. Who responded that Bradford had yet to pass entirely and was still aware of Earthly things, though unlikely knew of his own demise. The low murmur of his voice could be attributed to the fact that he was not yet strong enough to communicate properly from his astral body as much of his energy had been expended on death itself. She believed that as his spirit grew stronger and was purified the probability of contact would increase. Perhaps in a few years or so.

The New York Times, February 18, 1921
On February 12th, a week after his suicide and the scheduled date for Bradford's return, Doran, upon notifying certain media and spiritualist sects, gathered a small group of friends in her home at 9 o'clock that evening for the event. Other spiritualist groups across the city also joined in, forming "concentration parties" to help strengthen the expected signal.

That evening she felt a presence in her dimly lit parlor. She stood staring into a dark corner for several minutes, placed her hands upon her temples and ordered the lights to be turned out. After a few moments of silence she professed to hearing his voice. It started out quite faint and grew even more distant but discernible nonetheless. "Write this!" she directed and one of the witnesses present transcribed the message that she dictated in a low voice. After a half hour she exclaimed that "The voice grows weaker." The clock then struck 10 o'clock and the lights were turned back on.

Appearing flush she looked over the notes, signed them to authenticate that she had dictated them accurately and began to recite the jotted passages:
"I am the professor who speaks to you from the Beyond. I have broken through the veil. The help of the living has greatly assisted me. 
"I simply went to sleep. I woke up and at first did not realize that I had passed on. I find no great change apparent. I expected things to be much different. They are not. Human forms are retained in outline but not in the physical. 
"I have not traveled far. I am still much in the darkness. I see many people. They appear natural. 
"There is a lightness of responsibility here unlike in life. One feels full of rapture and happiness. Persons of like natures associate. I am associated with other investigators. I do not repent my act. 
"My present plane is but the first series. I am still investigating the future planes regarding which we in this plane are as ignorant as are earthly beings of the life just beyond human life."
Once done reciting the message she fainted but soon came to and was asked, "Are you certain beyond doubt that you heard from Bradford?

To which she responded, "I am convinced. I never heard a spirit voice before. That was the professor, without doubt."

Whether or not it was is a matter of conjecture. A betting man might be inclined to disagree with that sentiment. In a town that produced the likes of Shirley Tapp and Rose Veres he might do so against his better judgement.

Later that year Mrs. Doran wrote in an exclusive article that she had regular contact with Bradford thereafter, even in apparition form. Among the wisdom imparted by Bradford was the sentiment that life would one day be eternal on both the spiritual and physical plain:
"Through spiritualism the world will be reclaimed: sin will be vanquished, suffering will end. The physical in man will cease to be, and physical death--and that is the only death--will be no more. Men will live on earth forever, even as they live forever in the spirit world."

FURTHER READING

Detroit Student Of Spirit Communication Ends Life, Perhaps In Effort To Test Theory; The New York Times, February 7, 1921

Missed Ghost Pact, Is Sorry; The Detroit Free Press, February 8, 1921

Widow Of Spiritualist Suicide To Claim Body; The Detroit Free Press, February 11, 1921

Kills Self To Send Spirit Message; "I've Got it!" Declares the Woman; The Southeast Missourian, February 22, 1921

Waiting For A Message From The Dead; The Turners Falls Reporter, March 16, 1921

Detroit Woman's Amazing Story Graphically Told In Special Article For Journal; Syracuse Daily Journal, April 4, 1921