10 More Odd and Unusual Boating Events

Just a couple of days ago, we had 10 Strange and Wonderful Boat Races. Readers suggested other boat races, hinting that a list of ten was not enough. So here are ten more events in which you can enjoy some awesome and unusual boating, floating, and racing.

1. Aquatennial Milk Carton Boat Races

The Minneapolis Aquatennial festival features Milk Carton Boat Races which were held last weekend. Entrants who build boats floating on milk cartons can compete in different races and events, including one in which boats are decorated as cows! The festival itself continues through this Saturday. Photograph by gomattolson via Wikipedia.

2. Kaljakellunta

Kaljakellunta is a Finnish term that sort of translates to Beer-Floating. Held annually in waterways near Helsinki since 1997, it is essentially a party held on rubber rafts or other floats. Kaljakellunta 2012 will be on July 28th. If you are in Finland, or can read Finnish, you'll find more information at Facebook. A more comprehensive video that is a little NSFW can be found here.

3. Red Green Regatta

The Red Green Regatta in Fairbanks, Alaska, is not a race, but a showcase for boats made of duct tape. The 2012 race is this Sunday! There's still time to register, but do you have time to make a boat and get to Fairbanks? The rules for boat building are quite lenient; all that is required is that you use a minimum of one roll of duct tape. Prizes are awarded for creativity and construction, seaworthiness, and how the craft incorporates the Red Green theme. Red Green himself will be on hand to help select winners. Photograph by Andrew and Jennifer.

4. Seattle Seafair Milk Carton Derby


The Denny's Seafair Milk Carton Derby was held last weekend as part of Seattle's Seafair, which continues through July 29th. Although all boats are made of milk cartons, different sizes, speeds, and classes have their own races, as well as a special class of races for "entries where design took precedence over speed." See pictures from this year's derby here. Photograph by Flickr user scalpel3000.

5. Henley-on-Todd Regatta

The Henley-on-Todd Regatta will take place in Alice Springs, Australia, on Saturday, August 18th. This is a boat race without water, held on the dry Todd River bed. The annual event began in 1962 as a parody of the Henley-on-Thames race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, with the difference being that this race is in the desert. Having no body of water, the boats are bottomless so the sailors can race with their feet. There are competitions in many classes, for different size crews and even a motorized event, which is limited to members of the Rotary Clubs who sponsor the regatta. Photograph from Henley-on-Todd Inc.

6. Anything That Floats Regatta

The Anything That Floats Regatta takes place annually in Key Largo, Florida. This year's event is scheduled for August 17th and 18th. Build a boat out of anything and compete for the fastest in the races, best decorated boat, or best looking crew categories. Last year, there were also winners for categories such as most people on a boat without sinking and best hard luck story.

7. Viking Long Boat Races

The World Championship Viking Long Boat Races take place in Peel Harbour on the Isle of Man. This event has been held since 1963, and the 2012 event is this Saturday, July 21st. Seventy teams of ten people are expected, each heaving 11-foot-long oars in the manner of Vikings. This is one boat race in which the participants do not build their own boats; four existing Viking boats are used. Each weighs around 2.5 tonnes! Pictured is Team CabCard, which won the Best Newcomer award in 2010.

8. Redneck Regatta

The BAGM Redneck Regatta is part of the Celebrate De Pere festival in De Pere, Wisconsin in May. The boats are human powered and homemade, of very specific materials:

Allowable building materials include cardboard (including “sonotubes”), wood glue, duct tape or packing tape and spray paint. Nothing else!

Photograph by Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette.

9. De Soto Bottle Boat Regatta

The 2012 De Soto Bottle Boat Regatta in Bradenton, Florida, took place on April 14th. The annual event is sponsored by the Hernando DeSoto Historical Society. The boats are homemade and depend on plastic bottles for floatability. Prizes are awarded for the fastest to paddle across the finish line and for style, construction, and crew costumes. See more photographs of this year's race at the Bradenton Herald. Image from YouTube.

10. Chocolate Boat Regatta

In 2010, French master chocolatier Georges Larnicol made a boat out of chocolate as a publicity stunt. A year later, he went one better by staging a chocolate regatta, featuring seven chocolate boats, all made by his company. Three of the boats sank, but the crowd enjoyed it and the headlines were worth it. This is one regatta that is not likely to become an annual event.

8 Surprising Uses for Peeps

You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.


Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.


Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)


If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.


With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).


Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.


There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.


We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.


Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.


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