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How the Titanic Almost Sank Hershey

In 1894, Milton Snavely Hershey founded the Hershey Company. It wasn’t his first foray into the candy field, but you might be able to guess that it was his most successful.

In 1905, the company opened a factory that could mass produce chocolate, allowing Milton and his employees to market and supply their tasty wares nationally.

By 1907, the Hershey Company had so many employees that an entire town was needed to house them all. The result, Hershey Park, included a swimming pool, a ballroom and even rides. It quickly became a tourist destination.

By 1911, the Hersheys were rich enough that they decided to spend the winter in Nice. Figuring they might as well enjoy themselves when they headed back home to deal with business in April, Hershey put a $300 deposit down on a luxurious return trip: a stateroom on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The first-class accommodations the Hersheys were planning on rivaled some of the finest hotel rooms in the world. The $3,000-$4,000 suite included a sitting room, a couple of bedrooms, dressing rooms, a private deck and a private bathroom. Some even had fireplaces.

Most stories say that Mrs. Hershey fell ill a few weeks before they were scheduled to come home, forcing them to make different travel arrangements. One version of the tale tells that a crisis at the plant caused Milton to head back home more than a week early. The company simply states that Hershey “[Found] it necessary to return earlier.”

No matter the reason, instead of stepping foot on the fated ship, the chocolate magnate and his wife sailed out on a German luxury liner called Amerika instead. They arrived home several days before the Titanic met its iceberg doom. In a strange coincidence, as the Amerika made its way back across the ocean, it sent a message to the Titanic, warning of large obstructions in the very area where the ship eventually went down.

Hershey wasn’t the only VIP who decided not to sail. J.P. Morgan also had a room booked and canceled at the last minute, as did Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clay Frick and George Vanderbilt II. Morgan had some last-minute business to attend to; Mrs. Frick injured her ankle; Vanderbilt supposedly refused to go based on a premonition his wife had. The premonition failed to save their luggage and their driver, Fred Wheeler, both of which perished in the crash.

Deposit photo by Chris Knight

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive
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Getty Images

Here's the most amazing thing you'll ever read about our 10th president:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.

How is this possible?

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back. They were profiled by The Times of London. And Snopes is also in on the fact.

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