Curly Howard was the youngest of the three Howard brothers. His real name was Jerome Lester Horwitz, but it was as Curly that he captured the hearts of America, becoming the best loved of the Three Stooges. His performance was notable for its physicality, even in the days of vaudeville, when comedy was more physical in general – one of his recurring set pieces was breaking things over his head.
Curly, more than the other Stooges, was also famous for his catchphrases, suck as his trademark ‘nyuk nyuk nyuk’ laugh or his exaggerated Brooklyn accent on words like certainly (‘soitenly’) and circumstance (‘soicumstance’). Unfortunately, his health was never good, and he died aged only 48 in January of 1952.
The “Old ’97” is one of those rare things to be better known by its nickname than its actual name. It was a train named the Fast Mail, which ran from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina. The Old ’97 had acquired a reputation as a train that never ran late – and it was attempting to live up to this reputation that doomed it.
On September 27, 1903, the engineer (that is, the driver) of the Old ’97, Joseph “Steve” Broadey was running at a faster than normal speed, attempting to make up lost time along the route, so that the train would arrive in Spencer on time. The train was an hour behind schedule leaving Monroe, which meant that to get to Spencer at the usual hour, the running speed would have to be increased from the normal 39 mph to at least 51 mph.
Unfortunately, the route between Monroe and Spencer was steep and winding, with many ascents and descents, and a number of tight curves. It was at one of these, a curve leading into a trestle bridge across the ravine of Cherrystone Creek (near Danville, Virginia), that the train came to grief, derailing and killing nine of those aboard it.
Broadey was unjustly blamed for the accident by his employers, who denied ordering him to make up the lost time. The fact that their lucrative mail-hauling contract specified penalty clauses for each minute the train ran late tends to undermine their position.
Topsy is the only elephant in world history to have been convicted of murder and deliberately executed for it. The animal was owned by the Forepaugh Circus at Coney Island’s Luna Park, and was approximately 28 years old at the time of her death.
A notoriously foul-tempered animal who had killed three men (one of whom, admittedly, was a sadistic trainer who had fed her a lit cigarette), the decision to execute Topsy was not taken lightly, and electrocution was chosen as a more humane alternative to hanging. Thomas Edison, who first suggested the method, also filmed it, producing a short feature entitled ‘Electrocuting An Elephant’ which has been used in a number of films and music clips over the years. Even a few seconds of the film will be sufficient to convince you that humane must have meant something different in 1903.