The con artist who sold the Brooklyn Bridge

From Crimereads: “The prisoner hauled before a Brooklyn judge in 1928 did not look the part of one of the most notorious criminals in history. He squinted at the world through round-framed spectacles. When he removed his broad-brimmed hat, the sudden exposure of the baldness beneath added years to his appearance. The man was sixty-eight, born the year before the outbreak of the Civil War. He had been arrested more than a dozen times and had spent years in New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison. In the press, he was crowned the “dean of confidence men” and “the biggest of the big-time” swindlers. His name was John McCarthy. And he was the con man who sold the Brooklyn Bridge.”

This town kept its nuclear bunker a secret for more than three decades

A diagram of the bunker, which was hidden beneath the resort's West Virginia Wing

From The Smithsonian: “West Virginia’s Greenbrier resort has been a playground for princes and politicians since its opening in 1778. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountain town of White Sulphur Springs, the Greenbrier has expanded over the centuries, so, when the resort broke ground on a new wing in late 1958, no one was surprised. But locals soon noticed something odd about the project. The hole dug for the foundation was enormous, and vast amounts of concrete arrived every day on trucks, along with puzzling items: 110 urinals, huge steel doors. But locals kept their suspicions private, and nearly 35 years passed before the rest of the country learned the truth: the bunker buried 720 feet underground was equipped to hold every single member of Congress.”

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Parents sue teacher for selling students’ artwork online

From the CBC: “A group of parents has filed a lawsuit against a Montreal-area high school art teacher and his school board after students found their classroom artwork available for purchase on the teacher’s personal website last month. The parents of 10 young students at Westwood Junior High School in Saint-Lazare, Que., an off-island suburb west of Montreal, filed the lawsuit for $1.575 million, or $155,000 per plaintiff plus punitive damages, against the teacher, Mario Perron, and the Lester B. Pearson School Board for copyright infringement. According to the lawsuit, the teacher assigned his 96 students a project called “Creepy Portrait” in January, in which students drew a portrait of a classmate or themselves inspired by the style of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The students submitted their projects in February and were shocked to stumble upon their classroom artwork being sold after finding their art teacher’s website.”

The butterfly in the prison yard: Life in an Iranian prison

From The Sunday Longread: “Conservationist Niloufar Bayani was released, along with three of her colleagues, after spending six years in a notorious Iranian prison. Six years passed after Bayani was arrested by the IRGC. Apart from a five-day period when she was released on furlough, she spent the entire time behind bars. The IRGC is a separate entity from Iran’s regular armed forces, operating as one of the most powerful paramilitary organizations in the Middle East and a locus of power that has control over much of Iran’s politics. “I was interrogated blindfolded while standing, spinning, or sit-and-standing,” Bayani wrote in letters published by the BBC. “Threatened with the arrest and torture of my 70-year-old mother and father… threatened with physical torture by being shown images and descriptions of torture devices…[and] heard hours of detailed descriptions of suffering and pain.”

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The cast and crew of Titanic were drugged with PCP

From CBC News: “We may soon learn more about what happened when dozens of crew members from the movie “Titanic” were fed soup laced with a hallucinogenic drug while filming in Nova Scotia. A new report from the province’s privacy commissioner told Halifax Regional Police to disclose more details about the August 1996 incident, which sent around 80 “Titanic” crew members to hospital in Dartmouth, N.S., including director James Cameron. Initially fearing food poisoning, all had in fact unknowingly eaten lobster chowder spiked with the drug phencyclidine, which is also known as PCP and angel dust. Speaking about the infamous incident, crew members have described a long and strange night of chaos and confusion that even involved a hospital conga line.”

Eugene Fodor’s famous travel guide was written in part by CIA spies

From Why Is This Interesting: “Much is written in the press about the link between the Central Intelligence Agency and Hollywood, but what’s less well-known is the U.S. government’s influence on the travel industry. Eugene Fodor, publisher of one of the most successful guide book series of all time, was an officer for the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA) during WWII. He specialized in psychological warfare, interrogated prisoners, and wrote propaganda leaflets that were airdropped into the Neapolitan territories. After the war he founded his eponymous company where he employed not only traditional stringers to write copy but also, at the behest of the CIA,  spies—“travel writer” being a good cover for an agent sent into enemy territory.”

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OJ Simpson’s father was a San Francisco drag queen known as Mama

From SFist: “OJ Simpson’s father, who came out as gay and was largely absent from the family once Simpson turned four years old, became a local drag queen known as Mama Simpson. A documentary on OJ interviewed one of his childhood friends, Calvin Tennyson, who recalled a visit he and OJ made to Jimmy Lee Simpson’s apartment. “When his dad opened the door, he was in a bathrobe, which is not a crime. But then his dad kind of opened the door more, and there was a guy in the back in a bathrobe too. So it was obvious that his dad was gay.” A book about OJ quoted a source as saying Mama Simpson frequently dressed in drag and “everyone knew he was O.J.’s dad.”

What happened when a journalist went undercover as a high school student

From The Chronicle: “San Francisco Chronicle reporter Shann Nix probably should have been on her honeymoon in September 1992 when she took on an assignment she would still be thinking about decades later. Nix, then 26, changed her home answering machine, instructed her new husband to act like her father if he answered the phone and then went undercover for a month, posing as a student at George Washington High School in San Francisco. The result was the four-part “Undercover Student” project, a front-page exposé that today is both increasingly fascinating and increasingly shocking. It had an impact on a lot of people, including students who are now adults, and the reporter herself. And 32 years later, they still have a lot to say about it.”

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On being grateful

When I was a teenager and complained about something — the food, the weather, being bored — my mother (like many other parents, I suspect) had a response at the ready: “You should be thankful!” she would say — “there are…” and then she would fill in whatever was required — people starving in Africa, people with muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, people who couldn’t see or hear or walk, people in prison, etc. Of course, none of this made me feel any better, because I was a callow youth and arrogant enough to think that I deserved whatever I thought I was in need of (better food, more interesting surroundings, etc.) “I’m not going to suddenly feel better because someone I don’t know is worse off!” I remember yelling.

Now that I am older and wiser (definitely the first, and theoretically the latter) I have discovered a better way to feel gratitude for what I have, and that is to periodically lose it and then get it back. The first thing that made me come to this realization was when I got nasal polyps (benign) a few years ago, and as a result gradually lost the ability to breathe through my nose almost entirely. Have you ever thought about breathing through your nose? Probably not. It’s just something you do, you don’t think about it. By the way, did you know that most people only breathe through one nostril at a time, and it alternates automatically without you noticing? I didn’t either, until recently.

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First they vanished into the bush and then it got weird

From Slate: “The waves were already crashing over the Toyota’s hood when they found it. It was a blustery September Sunday in 2021, and the Hilux pickup sat far down the gray sand in a remote cove on the wild west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The truck was parked below the high-tide line, facing the sea, and was nearly swamped by the waves. The men couldn’t help but notice empty child seats strapped into the back. The disappearances were just the beginning of an ordeal that has not yet ended—a case that has only grown stranger and more ominous in the two and a half years since, prompting pleas from family, increasing public astonishment, online speculation, a shocking crime, and a community’s closing ranks around one of its own.”

Her Highness Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi is forced to couch-surf

From Town & Country: “As they say in Italian, “Finita la commedia”: The farce has come to an end; the party is over. Or so it seemed in April 2023, when a squadron of carabinieri arrived at the Villa Aurora, a crumbling mansion in the center of the Eternal City with the world’s only known Caravaggio ceiling painting. Their mission that day: escort off the premises its 74-year-old chatelaine, none other than the San Antonio–born Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, née Carpenter, the former model, actress, and real estate agent who had refused to leave the property amid a bitter inheritance dispute with her three stepsons.”

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