8 of Evel Knievel’s Most Memorable Stunts

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Born on this day in 1938, Robert "Evel" Knievel was a stuntman who entertained audiences with his daredevil motorcycle jumps. After his first jump in 1965, Knievel upped the ante, making multiple record-breaking jumps (and breaking countless bones), all while wearing his signature leather jumpsuits. To celebrate what would have been his 80th birthday, we've compiled a list of eight of Knievel’s best motorcycle jumps, from the fountain at Las Vegas’s Caesar's Palace to London's Wembley Stadium.

1. CAESAR'S PALACE

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in 1967, a crowd of thousands watched as Knievel attempted to ride his motorcycle across the Caesar's Palace fountain in Las Vegas, Nevada. As he made the 141-foot jump, the crowd watched in horror as Knievel botched the landing. His body bounced on the ground like a rag doll, and an ambulance drove him to a local hospital. The stuntman suffered multiple fractures and a concussion, but his jump made him famous when ABC aired video of the botched stunt.

2. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

In 1971, Knievel entertained an audience at the Auto Thrill Show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, he successfully jumped over a line of nine cars and a van. And in his characteristically flashy style, he wore a red, white, and blue leather jumpsuit.

3. LOS ANGELES COLISEUM

Knievel completed a perfect motorcycle jump in downtown Los Angeles in 1973. Held at the L.A. Coliseum, the event featured Knievel riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle over 50 smashed cars stacked in a pile. Some 35,000 spectators in the coliseum cheered as he safely made his landing and set a record that would stand for 35 years.

4. TWO LIONS AND A BOX OF RATTLESNAKES

In 1965, the motorcyclist performed his first public stunt. He organized an event in Moses Lake, Washington featuring two mountain lions and a box of rattlesnakes. Driving his Honda motorcycle, Knievel cleared a 90-foot box of serpents and then jumped over a couple of lions. Reflecting later on the beginning of his career, he remembered that although he was unharmed, the jump didn’t go as smoothly as planned. "I jumped 50 rattlesnakes in a 90-foot box and two mountain lions, but smashed into the edge of the box. All the snakes got out and the people had to run down the mountain," he said.

5. COW PALACE

In 1972, Knievel broke a record by jumping over 15 cars in an arena near San Francisco, but after the successful landing, he crashed and skidded through the short tunnel leading to the concessions. The crowd rushed after him, expecting him to be dead, but Knievel stood up (despite a newly broken ankle) and told the crowd: "If someone breaks this indoor record by jumping more than 15 cars, I’ll jump 16 or whatever the number … even if it kills me."

6. SNAKE RIVER CANYON

Idaho’s Snake River Canyon was the site of Knievel’s best-known stunt. Because he couldn’t get governmental approval to ride a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, he settled for his second choice: Snake River Canyon. In 1974, Knievel tried to jump from one side of the canyon to the other—a 1600-foot wide gap—but he didn’t ride a regular motorcycle. Instead, he used a steam-powered rocket dubbed the Skycycle X-2. After taking off, his parachute deployed too early, and the wind anticlimactically blew him back toward the rocks. In September 2016, stunt performer Eddie Braun successfully jumped over Snake River Canyon in a replica of Knievel's Skycycle.

7. WEMBLEY STADIUM

In May 1975, after his disappointing performance at Snake River Canyon, Knievel went to London’s Wembley Stadium to jump over a line of 13 single-decker buses. An estimated 80,000 people watched him as he attempted this 100-mile-per-hour jump. Unfortunately, he crash-landed on the last bus and bounced until he hit the ground. Despite his injuries, he asked to be helped up, took the microphone, and made an announcement. "I will never, ever, ever jump again," he told the crowd. "I'm through."

8. KINGS ISLAND

Although Knievel told the London audience that he was done after his Wembley jump, he came out of retirement a few months later. In October 1975, he rode his motorcycle over 14 Greyhound buses at Ohio’s Kings Island amusement park. After clearing 133 feet, Knievel landed safely, and the televised event earned huge ratings. Knievel continued performing stunts and doing speaking tours until the early '80s, mostly while traveling with his daredevil son, Robbie Knievel.

This article originally ran in 2016.

The Disputed Origins of Publix’s Chicken Tender Subs

Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After Popeyes released its new chicken sandwich last week, a heated battle broke out on Twitter over which fast food chain offers the best one. Favorites included Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and KFC, but the Publix chicken tender sub was mostly absent from the dialogue. Maybe it’s because Publix is a supermarket rather than a fast food restaurant, or maybe the southern chain is too specific to Florida and its neighboring states to warrant a national ranking.

Either way, the chicken tender sub is a cult culinary classic among Publix customers—there’s even an independently run website devoted to announcing when the subs are on sale (they aren’t right now), and affiliated Facebook and Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers. So whom do sub devotees have to thank for inventing the Publix food mashup from heaven? A Facebook user named Dave Charls says, “Me!,” but Publix begs to differ.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in May of this year, a man named Dave Charls posted a message on the “Are Publix Chicken Tender Subs On Sale?” Facebook page recounting his origin story for the menu item, which allegedly took place in 1997 or 1998. At Charls explains it, he and his co-worker Kevin convinced their friend Philip, a deli worker at the Fleming Island Publix location, to assemble a sub with chicken tenders and ring it up as one item—something that deli workers had refused to do for Dave and Kevin in the past. According to Dave, Philip then convinced his manager to make it a special, publicized it via chalkboard sign, and the idea spread like hot sauce.

“You’re welcome,” Charls said. “It was actually Kevin’s idea and Philip brought it to life.”

Publix, however, told the Tampa Bay Times that its recorded documentation for a chicken tender sub recipe and procedure goes all the way back to 1992 or 1993. Based on that information, Publix spokesperson Brian West confirmed that Charls's heroic account of the origin is more fairytale than fact (though West, unfortunately, doesn’t have an equally thrilling origin story—or any story at all—with which to replace it).

Charls didn’t respond to a request from the Tampa Bay Times for comment, so we may never know how much of his claim is actually true. It’s possible, of course, that Publix’s 1992 (or 1993) chicken tender sub recipe hadn’t gained momentum by the time Kevin’s moment of culinary genius struck in 1997 (or 1998), and the lack of date specificity suggests that neither party knows exactly how it went down. What is incontrovertible, however, is the deliciousness of Publix's beloved sub sandwich.

"I'm just happy to live in the same timeline as this beautiful sandwich," says die-hard Pub Sub fan (and Mental Floss video producer/editor) Justin Dodd. “Copyright claims aside, it's truly a wonderful thing."

Hard Sell: A History of the Pet Rock

Amazon
Amazon

You may have heard the story of the Pet Rock, the Mexican beach stone that could be purchased in bulk for less than a penny, retailed for $3.95, and made inventor Gary Dahl a millionaire during a kind of novelty gift hysteria in late 1975. But Dahl didn’t really get rich off of the rock.

He got rich off of a cardboard box.

Dahl was working as a freelance advertising copywriter in California that year when, while having drinks at a bar with friends, the conversation turned to the destructive nature of pets. Dogs and cats ruined furniture. Worse, they required constant attention, from being walked to being fed to cleaning up after them. Dahl said that he didn’t have to worry about any of that because he had a “pet rock.”

It was, of course, a joke. And it got a laugh. But Dahl decided there could be more to it than that. He went home and began writing an owner’s manual for this hypothetical pet rock, which detailed how best to handle it, the tricks it could perform (“play dead” being the most popular), and how it could remain a faithful companion due to its “long life span.” The gag was not so much the rock itself but the way it was presented. In addition to the manual, Dahl conceived of a cardboard box with air holes that resembled the kind used by pet shops. It also bore a passing resemblance to a McDonald's Happy Meal container.

 

Dahl's motivation in making a serious effort to monetize his pet rock idea was due in large part to his precarious financial situation at the time—he was struggling to keep up with his bills. He recruited George Coakley and John Heagerty, two colleagues, to come on as investors. They both signed on, with Coakley investing $10,000—a not-inconsiderable sum in 1975, especially when the intention was to sell virtually worthless rocks.

The Pet Rock packaging is pictured
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dahl, however, knew what he was marketing. Like chattering teeth, the Hula Hoop, and other fads, the Pet Rock was the beneficiary of good timing. Vietnam had ended but Watergate was still fresh; the country’s mood was slightly downcast, and Dahl believed people would see the inane nature of the Pet Rock and recognize the humor of it. He boxed the rocks with the manual and packed them in excelsior, which may be best known as comic book legend Stan Lee’s catchphrase but also means a softwood shaving pile meant for protecting fragile items. The rocks were purchased from a local sand and gravel company, which sourced them from Mexico’s Rosarita Beach. Dahl debuted the rock at a gift show in San Francisco in August of 1975, then waited for a reaction.

He got one. People understood the appeal right away and he began taking orders. Neiman Marcus wanted 1000 rocks. Bloomingdale’s later signed on. Newsweek did a story with a picture, which spread the word. Dahl had retail and media credibility for what was superficially a nonsense product. His bar joke was turning into a national phenomenon.

When the holiday season arrived, Dahl estimated he was selling up to 100,000 Pet Rocks a day. Ultimately, he would sell between 1.3 and 1.5 million of them within a period of just a few months. Coakley made $200,000 back on his initial $10,000 investment. Dahl gifted both Coakley and Heagerty with Mercedes. Making 95 cents in profit on each Pet Rock sold, Dahl earned over $1 million. He launched his own firm, Rock Bottom Productions, which was itself another joke. “You’ve reached Rock Bottom” is how the receptionist answered their phone.

 

The fad did not last—by definition, they’re not designed to—but Dahl was satisfied. His two investors were not; they "claimed they had received too small a share of the profits" and later sued Dahl for more revenue. After a judgment in the investors' favor, Dahl wrote them a six-figure check.

The Pet Rock is pictured
Amazon

There were attempts to prolong the life of the rock by offering a Bicentennial version in 1976—it had the American flag painted on it—and mail-order college degrees for them. Dahl sold Pet Rock T-shirts and Pet Rock shampoo. There were also copycat gifts, since Dahl could not really patent a rock. (He might have been able to obtain a utility patent because of the rock’s particular purpose as a companion, but he did not.) The humor was transient, however, and people had moved on.

Dahl had other ideas. There was the Official Sand Breeding Kit, which claimed to provide guidance on growing sand, and Canned Earthquake, which consisted of a coffee can that had a wind-up mechanism that caused it to jump around on a table. Neither was particularly successful. Dahl’s real passion, though, was buying and renovating a bar in Los Gatos, which he named Carrie Nation’s Saloon.

This was not without its problems, as people who believed they had the next Pet Rock would often stop by the bar to try and secure an audience with Dahl for his insight. Many times, their idea consisted of packaging bull or elephant excrement. There were also proposals to market a pet stick. Dahl had no patience for these inventors, believing the Pet Rock could not be duplicated. Later, he went back to advertising after taking what he described as an “eight-year vacation” following the success of his project.

The Pet Rock can still be found online, though it’s no longer Dahl’s business. He died in 2015. Of the unsold rocks he had left over at the end of the fad, he was indifferent. If they didn’t sell, he said, he would just use them to repave his driveway.

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