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New York City’s Mad Bomber and His Patriotic Break

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On November 16, 1940, an unattended wooden toolbox was discovered on a windowsill in the Consolidated Edison Company building at 4 Irving Place in Manhattan. The headquarters of the utility giant is huge, taking up an entire block, and it was bustling that day. No one had seen who left the box behind, where they had come from, or where they went. When it was opened, workers discovered a small homemade pipe bomb. Around the outside of the device was a note, hand-written in neat block lettering:

“CON EDISON CROOKS, THIS IS FOR YOU."

The workers who discovered it called the police.

The NYPD bomb squad, which had just lost two of its officers in July as they tried to defuse a bomb planted in the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, concluded that the device was a dud -- perhaps an intentional one, since the bomber’s note would have been destroyed in the explosion. Investigators found no fingerprints on either the bomb or the box and no other clues as to who left it. A check of Con Ed’s records for recently dismissed employees or others who might have had a grudge yielded no leads, so the investigation was closed, and the incident was forgotten.

The next year, another bomb, wrapped in a wool sock, was found lying on 19th Street just a few blocks from the Con Ed building. This one was also a dud, and its crude alarm-clock detonator had not been wound. There was no note, but the bomb squad investigators recognized the construction as similar to the first Con Ed bomb. They wondered if it was the same person, and whether the would-be bomber had simply aborted their plan before getting to the offices. Again, there were no leads, so police shelved the case for more pressing matters.

Months later, as the U.S. prepared to enter World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a package arrived at NYPD headquarters. It was from the bomber, but it wasn’t another explosive. Rather, it was news that they would be retiring for the war. Written in the same neat block letters as the note on the first bomb, it read:

"I WILL MAKE NO MORE BOMB UNITS FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR—MY PATRIOTIC FEELINGS HAVE MADE ME DECIDE THIS—LATER I WILL BRING THE CON EDISON TO JUSTICE—THEY WILL PAY FOR THEIR DASTARDLY DEEDS."

It was signed with the initials F.P. Whoever they were, F.P. stayed true to their word: No bombs were planted for the duration of the war, or for several years after.

The peace ended on March 29, 1950, when a third unexploded bomb was found in Grand Central Station. Its construction was similar to the Con Ed bombs, but more sophisticated. The bomber, investigators thought, had used his downtime to hone his craft.

Later that year, the string of duds ended, and were replaced by well-made devices that actually blew up. Several people suffered minor injuries when a bomb exploded in a Grand Central Station bathroom. Five were hurt when one detonated at a screening of White Christmas at Radio City Music Hall. An elderly bathroom attendant was seriously injured when yet another device, planted in a restroom at Grand Central, exploded. And six more people were hurt -- three seriously -- by a bomb tucked inside a seat at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theater.

In all, the Mad Bomber (as the public and newspapers started calling F.P.) planted 33 bombs over a 16-year period. Twenty-two of them exploded, injuring 15 people.

With help from a Manhattan criminal psychiatrist, the police were able to work up a profile of the bomber. A secretary at Con Ed later cracked the case wide open by connecting details the bomber mentioned in a letter to a newspaper with an accident at one of the company’s plants two decades prior. This led police to George Metesky, a former Con Ed boiler cleaner who’d been injured on the job, fired, and denied disability benefits. When police knocked on his door, Metesky, a short, older gentleman in a bathrobe, answered, “I think I know why you fellows are here. You think I’m the Mad Bomber.”

Metesky calmly and politely confessed to the bombings, explaining that F.P. stood for “fair play." Police found a workshop in his garage where he had built his bombs, as well as plans for an even bigger device that he was going to plant in the New York Coliseum. Metesky was declared unfit to stand trial and committed to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Beacon, NY. He was unresponsive to treatment -- he believed the psychiatrists were part of a conspiracy against him -- but was otherwise a model patient who spent most of his time trying to secure a jury trial so he could air his grievances with Con Ed. In conversations with the psychiatrist who helped capture him, Metesky claimed that he deliberately planned the blasts to avoid any fatalities, and regretted that he had hurt people. Upon his release from Matteawan in 1973, the Mad Bomber went back to his family's Connecticut home, where he died in 1994 at the age of 90.

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Food
The Gooey History of the Fluffernutter Sandwich

Open any pantry in New England and chances are you’ll find at least one jar of Marshmallow Fluff. Not just any old marshmallow crème, but Fluff; the one manufactured by Durkee-Mower of Lynn, Massachusetts since 1920, and the preferred brand of the northeast. With its familiar red lid and classic blue label, it's long been a favorite guilty pleasure and a kitchen staple beloved throughout the region.

This gooey, spreadable, marshmallow-infused confection is used in countless recipes and found in a variety of baked goods—from whoopie pies and Rice Krispies Treats to chocolate fudge and beyond. And in the beyond lies perhaps the most treasured concoction of all: the Fluffernutter sandwich—a classic New England treat made with white bread, peanut butter, and, you guessed it, Fluff. No jelly required. Or wanted.

There are several claims to the origin of the sandwich. The first begins with Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere—or, not Paul exactly, but his great-great-great-grandchildren Emma and Amory Curtis of Melrose, Massachusetts. Both siblings were highly intelligent and forward-thinkers, and Amory was even accepted into MIT. But when the family couldn’t afford to send him, he founded a Boston-based company in the 1890s that specialized in soda fountain equipment.

He sold the business in 1901 and used the proceeds to buy the entire east side of Crystal Street in Melrose. Soon after he built a house and, in his basement, he created a marshmallow spread known as Snowflake Marshmallow Crème (later called SMAC), which actually predated Fluff. By the early 1910s, the Curtis Marshmallow Factory was established and Snowflake became the first commercially successful shelf-stable marshmallow crème.

Although other companies were manufacturing similar products, it was Emma who set the Curtis brand apart from the rest. She had a knack for marketing and thought up many different ways to popularize their marshmallow crème, including the creation of one-of-a-kind recipes, like sandwiches that featured nuts and marshmallow crème. She shared her culinary gems in a weekly newspaper column and radio show. By 1915, Snowflake was selling nationwide.

During World War I, when Americans were urged to sacrifice meat one day a week, Emma published a recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow crème sandwich. She named her creation the "Liberty Sandwich," as a person could still obtain his or her daily nutrients while simultaneously supporting the wartime cause. Some have pointed to Emma’s 1918 published recipe as the earliest known example of a Fluffernutter, but the earliest recipe mental_floss can find comes from three years prior. In 1915, the confectioners trade journal Candy and Ice Cream published a list of lunch offerings that candy shops could advertise beyond hot soup. One of them was the "Mallonut Sandwich," which involved peanut butter and "marshmallow whip or mallo topping," spread on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.

Another origin story comes from Somerville, Massachusetts, home to entrepreneur Archibald Query. Query began making his own version of marshmallow crème and selling it door-to-door in 1917. Due to sugar shortages during World War I, his business began to fail. Query quickly sold the rights to his recipe to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower in 1920. The cost? A modest $500 for what would go on to become the Marshmallow Fluff empire.

Although the business partners promoted the sandwich treat early in the company’s history, the delicious snack wasn’t officially called the Fluffernutter until the 1960s, when Durkee-Mower hired a PR firm to help them market the sandwich, which resulted in a particularly catchy jingle explaining the recipe.

So who owns the bragging rights? While some anonymous candy shop owner was likely the first to actually put the two together, Emma Curtis created the early precursors and brought the concept to a national audience, and Durkee-Mower added the now-ubiquitous crème and catchy name. And the Fluffernutter has never lost its popularity.

In 2006, the Massachusetts state legislature spent a full week deliberating over whether or not the Fluffernutter should be named the official state sandwich. On one side, some argued that marshmallow crème and peanut butter added to the epidemic of childhood obesity. The history-bound fanatics that stood against them contended that the Fluffernutter was a proud culinary legacy. One state representative even proclaimed, "I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff." True dedication, but the bill has been stalled for more than a decade despite several revivals and subsequent petitions from loyal fans.

But Fluff lovers needn’t despair. There’s a National Fluffernutter Day (October 8) for hardcore fans, and the town of Somerville, Massachusetts still celebrates its Fluff pride with an annual What the Fluff? festival.

"Everyone feels like Fluff is part of their childhood," said self-proclaimed Fluff expert and the festival's executive director, Mimi Graney, in an interview with Boston Magazine. "Whether born in the 1940s or '50s, or '60s, or later—everyone feels nostalgic for Fluff. I think New Englanders in general have a particular fondness for it."

Today, the Fluffernutter sandwich is as much of a part of New England cuisine as baked beans or blueberry pie. While some people live and die by the traditional combination, the sandwich now comes in all shapes and sizes, with the addition of salty and savory toppings as a favorite twist. Wheat bread is as popular as white, and many like to grill their sandwiches for a touch of bistro flair. But don't ask a New Englander to swap out their favorite brand of marshmallow crème. That’s just asking too Fluffing much.

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The Hospital in the Rock
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History
Budapest’s Former Top-Secret Hospital Inside a Cave
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The Hospital in the Rock

At the top of a hill in Budapest, overlooking the Danube River, sits Buda Castle, a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site visited by thousands of tourists every year. Directly underneath the castle, however, lies a less-frequented tourist attraction: a series of ancient, naturally formed caves with a colorful and sometimes disturbing history.

The entire cave system is over six miles long, and most of that has been left unchanged since it was used as cold storage (and a rumored dungeon) in the Middle Ages. Between 1939 and 2008, however, a half-mile stretch of those caves was built up and repurposed many times over. Known as Sziklakorhaz or The Hospital in the Rock, its many uses are a testament to the area’s involvement in World War II and the Cold War.

At the start of World War II, the location served as a single-room air raid center, but operating theaters, corridors, and wards were quickly added to create a much-needed hospital. By early 1944, the hospital had officially opened inside the cave, tending to wounded Hungarian and Nazi soldiers. After less than a year of operation, the facility found itself facing its largest challenge—the Siege of Budapest, which lasted seven weeks and was eventually won by Allied forces on their way to Berlin.

As one of the few area hospitals still operational, the Hospital in the Rock was well over capacity during the siege. Originally built to treat around 70 patients, close to 700 ended up crammed into the claustrophobic caves. The wounded lay three to a bed—if they were lucky enough to get a bed at all. Unsurprisingly, heat from all those bodies raised the ambient temperature to around 95°F, and smoking cigarettes was the number one way to pass the time. Add that to the putrid mix of death, decay, and infection and you’ve got an incredibly unpleasant wartime cocktail.

A recreation inside the museum. Image credit: The Hospital in the Rock 

After the siege, the Soviets took control of the caves (and Budapest itself) and gutted the hospital of most of its supplies. Between 1945 and 1948, the hospital produced a vaccination for typhus. As the icy grasp of the Cold War began to tighten, new wards were built, new equipment was installed, and the hospital was designated top-secret by the Soviets, referred to only by its official codename LOSK 0101/1.

Eleven years after facing the horrors of the Siege of Budapest, in 1956, the hospital hosted the casualties of another battle: The Hungarian Uprising. Thousands of Hungarians revolted against the Soviet policies of the Hungarian People’s Republic in a fierce, prolonged battle. Civilians and soldiers alike lay side-by-side in wards as surgeons attempted to save them. During the uprising, seven babies were also born in the hospital.

Surgeons lived on-site and rarely surfaced from the caves. The hospital’s chief surgeon at the time, Dr. András Máthé, famously had a strict "no amputation" rule, which seemed to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but in the end reportedly saved many patients' lives. (Máthé also reportedly wore a bullet that he’d removed from a patient’s head on a chain around his neck.)

The Hospital in the Rock ceased normal operations in December 1956, after the Soviets squashed the uprising, as the Soviets had new plans for the caves. With the Cold War now in full swing, the still-secret site was converted into a bunker that could serve as a hospital in case of nuclear attack. Diesel engines and an air conditioning system were added in the early '60s, so that even during a blackout, the hospital could still function for a couple of days.

The Hospital in the Rock

The official plan for the bunker was as follows: In the event of a nuclear attack, a selection of doctors and nurses would retreat to the bunker, where they would remain for 72 hours. Afterward, they were to go out and search for survivors. Special quarantined rooms, showering facilities, and even a barbershop were on site for survivors brought back to the site. (The only haircut available to them, however, was a shaved head; radioactive material is notoriously difficult to remove from hair.)

Thankfully, none of these nuclear procedures were ever put into practice. But the hospital was never formally decommissioned, and it wasn’t relieved of its top-secret status until the mid-2000s. For a while, it was still being used as a storage facility by Hungary’s Civil Defense Force. The bunker was maintained by a nearby family, who were sworn to secrecy. In 2004, it was decided that responsibility for the site fell solely on St. John’s Hospital in Budapest, who were seen as the de facto owners in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By 2008 the bunker was renovated, refurbished, and ready to be opened to the public. Today it operates as a museum, with exhibits detailing life in the hospital from various periods of its history, as well as the history of combat medicine as a whole. The sobering hour-long walk around the hospital concludes with a cautionary gaze into the atrocities of nuclear attacks, with the final walk to the exit featuring a gallery of art created by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Another part of the caves beneath Buda Castle. Image credit:Sahil Jatana via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The caves beneath Buda Castle have certainly had a bumpy history, and walking through them now is chilling (and not just because they keep the temperature at around 60°F). A tour through the narrow, oppressive hallways is a glimpse at our narrowly avoided nuclear future—definitely a sobering way to spend an afternoon.

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