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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Lofty Facts About Colorado

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Even if you’ve never visited, you might know a few things about Colorado: maybe that it was the 38th territory to gain statehood, that it inspired the timeless John Denver tune “Rocky Mountain High” (now one of two official state songs), or that it’s widely accepted as our nation’s reigning pot capital.

There’s a lot more to the Centennial State than its high peaks, though. As the nation’s eighth-largest state (despite being only the 22nd most populous), Colorado represents a huge slice of U.S. and North American history—one that’s brimming with dino discoveries, rock 'n’ roll debuts, renowned Native heritage, and even a headless chicken.

1. The mile-high metropolitan center of Colorado isn’t just putting on high-altitude airs with its nickname. Stand on the 13th step leading up to the state capital building in Denver and you’ll know what being exactly one mile above sea level feels like.

2. While you're feeling high-up at the state capital building, check out the building's interior, much of which is decked out in beautiful Colorado Rose Onyx—actually, in all of it that exists, as far as we know.

3. Colorado’s achievements for height don’t begin and end in Denver—not by a mile. The state also boasts the U.S.’s highest sand dunes, its highest paved road, the contiguous United States' highest mountain peaks (with several dozen clearing the 14,000-foot mark), its highest alligator park, and its highest auto tunnel, among many other things. The long list isn’t too surprising, perhaps, given that Colorado sports 75% of all U.S. terrain that’s 10,000 feet above sea level or higher.

4. But it also holds a record for depth. As Guinness World Records reported, the “mother spring” in the spa community of Pagosa Springs—just one of many in a vast developed network—is a lovely but unassuming pool “35 feet across with an average depth of 20-30 ft [with] a hole in the bottom of two feet in diameter.”

After Guinness reps sent a 1002-foot plumb line down that hole, however, they “watched and waited in anticipation as the line went down … and down … and down,” until, maybe ten minutes later, “the line ran out without hitting any obstacles, and a new Guinness World Records achievement was verified.” For all we know, then, that mother spring is bottomless.

5. Famous for their resourcefulness and determination, Coloradans have secured a healthy number of world records for their state, including one for a 124-dB bark that took a total of 76 canine volunteers. Residents have also achieved recognition for the highest-ever score in the game “Oil Tycoon” (by an enormous margin), the largest assembled group of persons in gorilla costumes, the world’s most environmentally friendly bomb-detector, and more.

6. In 1970, the International Olympics Committee awarded Denver the honor and undertaking of hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics, something that the state had lobbied hard for alongside other domestic and international locations. Come 1972, though, state residents had the opportunity to vote on whether or not they’d allow the state to take on this very costly and possibly environmentally damaging task; almost 60% of voters decided the venture wasn’t worth it, making Colorado the only state to ever turn down the opportunity.

7. The separate indigenous groups that constitute the nomadic Ute tribe are famous for the sophisticated horsemanship they developed hundreds of years ago. In Colorado’s rich, vast, and valley-filled terrain, this allowed a significant advantage for both hunting and fighting; they were accomplished riders before many of their original and European-émigré neighbors.


8. As European settlers encroached increasingly on Ute territory in Colorado, the tribe's different groups attempted to discourage the new agriculture developments (which displaced grazing lands for their horses) and government surveyors however they could; sometimes, the struggles ended in violence.

After the U.S. government finally suppressed the so-called Ute uprising with a larger presence of soldiers, Chief Ouray and his second wife, Chipeta, traveled to Washington D.C., where he spoke before Congress on behalf of his people and to explain the situation in his homeland. Ouray signed a treaty with government officials before returning home, but, very sadly, it did not allow Ute tribe-members to remain in Colorado as they wanted; instead, they were displaced to Utah reservations en masse.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

9. As Matthew McConaughey once observed, the "man who invented the hamburger was smart," but the "man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius." Several persons from various states have claimed the latter honor, but one of the top contenders of record is Louis Ballast of Denver, who began selling them in 1935 "at the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In near Federal and Speer boulevards" in a restaurant often "referred to as The Barrel because it looked like one." Ballast reportedly "first tried Hershey bars and peanut butter as burger toppings, but neither impressed the customers," according to the Denver Post.

10. Infamous horror actor Lon Chaney, Sr., a.k.a. the "Man With a Thousand Faces," was born in Colorado Springs in 1883; just 70 years later, comedian Tim Allen came into the world in Denver. Which career best reflects the spirit of the Centennial State? Hard to say.

Getty Images // Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

11. M. P. Felch discovered the first known remains of a Stegosaurus hidden in Colorado's mountainous terrain in 1876, and the state also gave us the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton even found—nicknamed "Spike"—in 1992.

12. While all dinos do not get equal press, former residents of Colorado (based on fossil finds) include species such as Allosaurus, Amphicoelias, Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus,  Ceratosaurus, Cionodon, Denversaurus, Diplodocus, Dryosaurus, Epanterias, Haplocanthosaurus, Marshosaurus, Nanosaurus, Ornithomimus, Othnielia, Polyonax, Supersaurus, Torvosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, and Ultrasauros.

13. Led Zeppelin made their American debut in front of Colorado rock fans. According to promoter Barry Fey, organizers weren't sure how this British band—then relatively unknown in the U.S.—would play to crowds at Auditorium Arena in Denver on December 26, 1968. Nevertheless, it went off without a hitch; Fey recalled that, after the band's intro of, “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome, direct from England for their North America debut, Led Zeppelin!”:

There was a smattering of polite applause. Then, Robert Plant let it rip and everybody in the audience was stunned. Frankly, I don’t know how [the next band, Spirit] went on after that. You didn’t have to be a genius to know Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!

14. Setting aside the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872, Colorado has produced plenty of real, gem-quality and industrial-quality diamonds in its day, many near "Diamond Peak."

15. It was also the site of a huge silver boom. After the precious metal was discovered near Leadville in 1879, prospectors rushed the region hoping to find their own fortunes. Many did, too: by the time the price of silver collapsed in the early 1890s, over $80 million worth of silver had been dug up.

16. As a result of these booms, Colorado has almost as many "dead" towns as live ones. In addition to the discovery of silver and diamonds, Colorado also drew waves of settlers and fortune-seekers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Settlements and trading posts sprang up to support gold miners, fur trappers, and various other entrepreneurial types; by the time the dust had mostly settled in the mid-20th century, however, Coloradans found themselves left with as many as 500 ghost settlements


Wikimedia Commons // CC 2.0

17. According to some, access to the massive amount of oil shale under Colorado and Utah's Rocky Mountains could make the U.S. one of the top two oil-producers in the world. Understandably, though, Coloradans and environmentalists around the country still have some concerns.

18. Marijuana was legalized there in 2014, but if pot's not your thing, the state is also a beer-drinker's paradise. At last count, the state housed 289 different breweries, the third-highest number in the country. It also hosts the annual Great American Beer Festival, a three-day event in which hundreds of beer experts and thousands of fans flock to Denver from around the world in shared appreciation of real liquid gold: beer. 

19. Daveco Liquors in Thornton, Colorado, prides itself on being the "World's Largest Liquor Store." The shop covers an area of 100,073.1 square feet (almost 2.3 acres). So, if you're the indecisive type, maybe skip a visit to Daveco before your next Colorado barbeque.

20. Mike the Headless Wonder Chicken was born in the state … and lost his head there, too. Also known as Miracle Mike, this special chicken met his end in 1945 when Fruita, CO farmer Lloyd Olsen set out to kill the bird for his and his wife's evening meal. When Olsen chopped off Mike's head, though (which he later saved as proof), he missed Mike's jugular vein and left one ear and most of Mike's brain stem intact. From then on, the chicken was (mostly) able to function as his kind usually do.

Over the next 18 months, Miracle Mike—who was fed through the throat with a dropper by the Olsens and his manager—toured the nation, earning a quarter per viewer for his owners and even putting on several pounds post-decapitation. Sadly, Mike finally choked to death in a hotel room one night, but he otherwise spent the last, fame-filled period of his life as a "robust chicken—a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head," according to Olsen. 

21. Wellesley professor Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America the Beautiful,” a poem that would evolve into the famous tune, while “[celebrating] the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike’s Peak” in 1893. They made the ascent by prairie wagon. Moved by “the sea-like expanse of fertile country ... under those ample skies,” she said, “the opening lines of the hymn floated into [her] mind.” 


22. San Francisco's Lombard Street may be extra-twisty, but it's small potatoes (curly fries?) compared to the 26.5-mile stretch of Denver's Colfax Avenue, the longest continuous street in America

23. With its rich history of horsemanship, it's no surprise that Colorado held the first-ever rodeo on record in Deer Trail on the Fourth of July, 1869, or that the state continues to host the most rodeo events per year in the country.

24. Would-be cowboys better be sober. In this state, riding a horse while intoxicated is considered a traffic offense (not to mention dangerous, and pretty rude to the horse).

25. Coloradans take the treatment of the environment seriously too. In Colorado, it is reportedly unlawful for any person to "willfully mar, mutilate, deface, disfigure, or injure beyond normal use any rocks, trees, shrubbery, wild flowers, or other features of the natural environment in recreation areas of the state." All things considered, it seems like a pretty reasonable request (as does the bylaw that restricts llamas from being grazed in public areas).

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15 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels
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Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.

1. THEY CAN JUMP REALLY, REALLY FAR.

A flying squirrel soars through the air
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In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].

2. THEY'RE VERY ORGANIZED …

A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.
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In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A recent study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.

3. … BUT THEIR FORGETFULNESS HELPS TREES GROW.

Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down
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Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.

4. THEY HELP TRUFFLES THRIVE.

A man holds a truffle up for the camera.
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The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.

5. THEY'RE ONE OF THE FEW MAMMALS THAT CAN SPRINT DOWN A TREE HEAD-FIRST.

A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.
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You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.

6. SEVERAL TOWNS COMPETE FOR THE TITLE OF 'HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL.'

A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.
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Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.

7. THEY CAN AID STROKE RESEARCH.

An illustration of different regions of the brain lighting up in blue
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Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.

8. THEIR FUR MAY HAVE SPREAD LEPROSY IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

A woman in a fur vest with a hood faces away from the camera and stares out over the water.
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If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!

9. THEY'RE MORE POWERFUL THAN HACKERS.

A squirrel runs across a power line.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.

10. THEY CAN HEAT UP THEIR TAILS TO WARD OFF PREDATORS.

A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.

11. THEY HELP SCIENTISTS KNOW WHETHER A FOREST IS HEALTHY.

A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.
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Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].

12. THEY CAN LIE.

A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.
iStock

Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.

13. THEY WERE ONCE AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR PET.

A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.

14. THE MERE SIGHT OF JUST ONE COULD ONCE ATTRACT A CROWD.

A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.

15. IN THE 19TH CENTURY, THEY WERE TASKED WITH TEACHING COMPASSION.

A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.

BONUS: THEY USED TO HATE TAX SEASON TOO.

A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

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The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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