Auctions, Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Indianapolis, Medicine, Music, Pop Culture

Elvis Presley — are you kidding?

Elvis Presley Autopsy Tools.

Original publish date August 10, 2010 Reissue date: August 27, 2020

Recently the Leslie Hindman auction house in Chicago caused a flap when it was announced that they would be auctioning off the instruments used to embalm Elvis Presley after his untimely death at the age of 42. The auction house was planning to sell the macabre Elvis relics in two separate lots: one with a pre-sale value of $4,000 to $6,000, and the other estimated at $6,000 to $8,000. Elvis may have left the building, but the man’s ability to get people “all shook up” has not diminished as the announcement sent shock waves through the media and wrought havoc among fans, collectors, historians and auctioneers alike.
The items in question, which included a comb, eye liner, rubber gloves, forceps, needle injectors, an arterial tube, aneurysm hooks, and a toe tag, came from an unidentified former employee who worked for the Memphis funeral home where Elvis’ body was last attended to. They were used only once — to embalm Elvis’ body, apply makeup to his face, and dye his graying hair to the jet-black color his fans knew so well. The replacement toe tag, marked “John Doe,” was attached to the King’s body after an eager fan stole Elvis’s original tag during the chaos at the hospital where he was taken. Other items in the grouping include the coffin shipping invoice, autopsy room preparation paperwork and the hanger that Elvis Presley’s funeral suit and tie arrived on.


Elvis Presley’s last concert at MSA in Indianapolis.

According to the auction house, the items were used to prepare the King’s body for a private viewing for family and friends only in the morning after his death. Presley died August 16, 1977, in the bathroom of his Graceland estate of an irregular heartbeat. “The senior embalmer at the Memphis Funeral Home at the time of Presley’s death saved the items for the last 33 years and decided to sell them after he realized someone might value them,” said Mary Williams, director of books and manuscripts for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.
Presley’s autopsy involved draining all body fluids and removal of all vital organs which were then sent to a pathology lab for testing to ascertain the cause of death. The coroner, Dr. Jerry Francisco, along with Dr. Eric Muirhead and Dr. Noel Florredo, presided over the autopsy of Presley. The trio initially concealed the facts by attributing the cause of death to a massive heart attack. They later claimed their motive “was not to tarnish the image by a scandal of a drug habit.” For decades, when asked about the rumors that Elvis is not dead, Francisco consistently replied, “If Elvis is NOT dead, he’s walking around without his major organs as Elvis’ brain and heart are still in storage at Memphis Memorial Hospital.”
When the sale was announced, a spokesman for the auction house admitted the auction may be controversial as some people “are going to be disappointed” by the sale of these items. However, Elvis memorabilia remains in strong demand with a lock of his hair selling for $18,300, a red ultra-suede shirt worn by Elvis in publicity photos garnering a $34,000 bid, and an inscribed record sleeve selling for $10,370 at a Hindman’s auction in October 2009. The proposed sale of these creepy collectibles combined with the fact that he’s been dead for 33 years, keeps Presley intact as one of the highest grossing celebrities, bringing in $55 million in 2009 according to Forbes.com. Presley’s posthumous popularity notwithstanding, why would anyone want to buy these things?


Luckily, that question will remain unanswered because these sad rock-n-roll souvenirs were removed from the August 12th auction after doubts were raised about their provenance and authenticity. According to the auction house, the items have been given back to the Memphis Funeral Home, following a dispute between the home and the potential consignor. “Due to questions of ownership, the retired embalmer and his son have decided to turn over the property to the Memphis Funeral Home and its parent company, Service Corporation International, with the intention of donation,” Hindman said in a post on their Web site.
Shortly after the auction was announced, the Memphis Funeral Home claimed that those tools were taken without the home’s consent. The funeral home thought the embalmer was dead, but he’s not. He’s in his 80s. The funeral home contacted the elderly man and told him he can’t sell the items and if they were not returned, legal steps would be taken to reclaim them. According to funeral home president E.C. Daves, “We are awaiting word from the Elvis Presley estate on its preferences for the items. The items could be donated to a funeral history museum in Houston or they could be destroyed. Either way, the funeral home is not going to do anything until the Presley estate agrees with it.”


Now, maybe you’re thinking, “But you never answered the question, who would buy this stuff?” Well, before the items were pulled from the sale, Hindman’s auction house specialist Williams explained, “It’s really about owning a piece of the celebrity themselves… and how much closer can you get than the actual embalming instruments?” Okay that’s a creepy statement. However, I can help add some clarity to the issue for you. If you’ve been paying attention to past columns, you’ve learned that I’ve been an antique dealer for 30 years and a memorabilia collector for even longer than that. As with many collectors, I’ve bought, traded and sold many collections over the years.


One of those collections was a group of crime related autographs, artwork and paintings featuring infamous names like serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, Manson family members Charles Manson, Tex Watson and Squeaky Fromme and political assassins James Earl Ray, Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Charles Guiteau. I have owned signatures of Bob Ford, the “dirty little coward” who killed Jesse James and a personal check signed and written out by Bruce Lee made payable to and endorsed by his hairstylist Jay Sebring, who died alongside Sharon Tate in the Manson family massacre. Most of these items lost their appeal to me as I grew older but the urge of the infamous and their misdeeds never fully went away, for I still own a signed photo of John Wilkes Booth and a few other assorted macabre mementos from our country’s history.
I have seen many similar grisly relics offered for sale in the past, and held many of these macabre items in my hands including several items connected to the Lincoln assassination conspirators, the blood stained glasses that John Lennon wore the night he was murdered, the “Double Fantasy” record album Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman just a short time before Chapman killed Lennon, the watch that was in Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne’s pocket when he died in a plane crash, the watch Buddy Holly wore on his wrist when he likewise perished in a plane crash, and countless locks of hair and death masks from celebrities in every field across the board. Within the “hobby” they are commonly known as “blood relics” and they are in high demand. Whether you agree or disagree with their relevance, there exists a lucrative market for these sad souvenirs.
Collecting is an addiction. There is the thrill of the chase, the negotiation for acquisition, the elaborate planning for display and the final realization that you now possess the object of your desired search. For those collectors whose fandom goes beyond collecting rare records, signed merchandise and other conventional methods of capturing a performer’s essence, it’s only natural that they would be interested in something that would bring them a little closer to the performer. And friends, it doesn’t get much “closer” than this. So ask yourself: if you had the chance to own, possess or simply handle one of these unique items, what would you do?

Civil War, Creepy history, Ghosts, Irvington Ghost Tours, Travel

Haunted Antique Mall.

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Original publish date:  October 5, 2010              Reissue / Updated: August 6, 2020

Here’s a one tank trip that might just help make your autumn season a little bit better. It combines many things that I like and perhaps a couple of things you might fancy as well; History, Antiques and ghosts! Recently my wife Rhonda and I took a trip down to New Albany, Indiana (just a stones throw from Louisville) to visit a place I’d long heard about but had yet to visit, Aunt Arties Antique Mall at 128 W. Main Street in New Albany.
Judy Gwinn is the owner of the old Ohio River Opera House and has turned the stately old building into one of the nicest antique malls in Southern Indiana. For antiquers, it is like stepping a decade back in time to a multi-dealer co-op with 3 floors of collectibles that would please most any collector. In short, it’s a mall full of quality merchandise the likes of which we all used to find in the days before Ebay.
“There are a lot of strange things that go on in this old building,” Judy says, “It has a vibe all its own.” Gwinn has operated the antique mall for nearly 10 years now and has witnessed many unexplained occurrences over the past decade. Lucky for Judy and her dealers, the ghosts of Aunt Arties aren’t poltergeists so breakage has not been a problem, “Although they sometimes move things around the building.”

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Woodward Hall New Albany, Indiana

The building, originally known as Woodward Hall, was built in 1853 and purposely situated a block from the river on the corner of State and Main, “J.K. Woodward built it so that his wife and kids did not have to deal with the drunks and neer-do-wells that often prowled the docks down by the river in the years before the Civil War. He wanted a safe place for his family to enjoy themselves.” said Judy. In its lifetime just about every famous person who passed through New Albany appeared on the 3rd floor Opera House including the famed Siamese twins Eng and Chang, P.T.Barnum’s diminutive protege Tom Thumb and his friend, Commodore Foote, Opera star Adelina Patti, Philosopher/Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and self taught former slave turned master musician Blind Tom who was billed as the “Negro piano prodigy.” Not every performer to grace the stage of old Woodward Hall was famous though. The venue attracted countless numbers of minstrel shows, political debates, religious revivals, social lectures and dramatic productions.
The lower 2 levels housed a dry goods / department store well into the 20th century in what was once the largest city in the state before the Civil War. Although Judy is responsible for its current look, it has been used as an antique store since the late 1980s. Along with the city’s reputation as a river community, New Albany also has a rich history as a factory town and will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2013.
z utc posterThe Opera House hosted the first performance of the inflammatory anti-slavery play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and its location straddling the North-South boundary caused quite a stir in the days leading up to the Civil War. During the “War of the Rebellion”, the building was used as “Hospital No. 9” and soldiers from both sides of the conflict could often be found lying side-by-side within its walls. In April of 1862, the steamer “H.J. Adams” delivered 200 wounded soldiers to the converted Opera House fresh from the killing fields of Shiloh. In these years before sterilization set the standard of hospital care, a wounded soldier sent to Hospital No. 9, as with any hospital North or South of the Mason-Dixon line, might as well have been handed a death sentence. Many a soldier in Hospital No. 9 would write letters telling friends and family that he was on the mend from a minor battle wound one day, only to die unexpectedly the next day from disease.
Judy and the girls that work in the mall feel that some of these performers and soldiers have never left the building. “I never believed in ghosts until I bought this building. Neither did my husband, but after all of the strange things we’ve experienced in this building, We have changed my minds,” Judy Gwinn said. However, she is no longer afraid of being thought of as a crackpot because she is not the only person to witness these unexplained happenings.
z 5c05d88edef32.imageJudy recalls how in 2001, her youngest son David was down in the building’s cellar “fishing” for old bottles in a cistern that he had removed the concrete covering from. “He was laying on his stomach down there alone when he suddenly felt someone tap him on the shoulder” she says, “he looked around expecting to see the source of the poking, but saw that he was still down there alone. Since that time, David does not like to be in the basement by himself.”
Judy recalls one time when she and her sister were walking down the stairway from the second to the first floor when she suddenly lost her balance and began to fall. “Something pulled me back and saved me from falling and serious injury. I shook for several minutes after that one.” says Judy.
img485Spirits of a Civil War soldier and a woman in an old fashioned Antebellum Era dress have been seen lounging around the cafe area by a few folks. “Every once in awhile, we’ll get a psychic coming through here telling us that they see the spirits of several Civil War soldiers around the entire building and sense sadness in the basement area.” says Gwinn.
On one occasion, Judy was down in the cellar with a group of 4 people when the youngest person down there, an 11-year-old girl wandered a few feet away from the group. “We all watched as a bright white orb of light appeared and went right through that little girl.” she says, “I have seen shadows go through walls and felt the tapping on my own shoulder. Whatever it is, I’m not scared of it anymore.”
Judy Gwinn might not be afraid of the ghosts that linger within the walls of Aunt Arties Antique Mall, but others might have a different opinion. Judy confesses that some people have walked in the doors and turned around and walked right back out. She’s seen more than a few people start walking up the stairs only to suddenly stop and walk carefully back down the stairway. When asked about the basement, Judy says, “Oh my, I don’t think we could ever use this area for anything more than storage. Its just too creepy and I’m not even sure that the employees want to come down here.”

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Tim Poynter delivering a presentation at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis.

Update: This article originally ran 10 years ago. Aunt Arties closed its doors on New Years Eve of 2014 and the remaining contents were auctioned off in February of 2015. After Rhonda and I visited the store in the Fall of 2010, we took another trip down with several intuitives, including Tim Poynter and Jill Werner. My decision to rerun this story came after the following facebook post from Tim: “Aunt Arties was once a stop on the underground railroad with a reputation of being haunted by a Lady in blue/gray. When we arrived the spirit of a young soldier started following one of the group around. He was very smitten with Jill and had big puppy dog eyes. I noticed the lady spirit on the stairway overseeing our groups investigation. We spent some time on each floor looking for spirits. Near the end of our visit I noticed several spirits of slaves that had been buried on the property still residing in the basement even after all those years. They has perished from injuries received from their perilous journey to freedom. They were still very afraid of our attention to their being there. I remember being overwhelmed with their fear and mistrust. The connection with spirit often comes with much more than we expect. After understanding that we were not a threat they became more forth-giving of their trip to freedom. Even though they had died, they died as free men. I helped them understand that the only thing holding them there was their own energy and off they went. We that were born to freedom seldom understand it’s true value. Those that restrict the freedom of others don’t understand the mark they leave on their own soul.” Well said, Tim, well said.

Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Medicine, Pop Culture

The Red Stripe Iron Lung legend.

Original publish date:  May 7, 2020

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Last month the General Motors Kokomo plant began mass production of the Ventec Life Systems V+Pro critical care ventilator under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The announcement stirred up memories of World War II plant production in paces like Indianapolis, Anderson, Marion, Muncie, Fort Wayne and other Hoosier cities and towns. The news also stirred up memories of a subject I’ve written about before: Polio. Perhaps America’s last great pandemic fight. I traveled down to Warm Springs, Georgia a decade ago to visit the campus of the Polio hospital there and met with several former patients, doctors and nurses along the way.

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General Motors Ventec Life Systems V+Pro critical care ventilators

One of the subjects I meant to cover, but never got around to, was an urban legend from my childhood. Now seems as good a time as any to cover it. In 1927, cigarette manufacturers introduced new cellophane packaging for their over-the-counter individual packs of cigarettes. Along with the cellophane came a red waxed “paper” opener strip around the top of the pack to tear open the wrapper. Those red stripes have all but disappeared from cigarette packs today, but for over 60 years, they were as ubiquitous as the pull tab on a pop top can.

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Rolls of Red Tear Strips for Cigarette Packs.

For many years, the legend was that if you saved the “red tear strip” on your cigarette wrappers you could redeem them later in life to use for time on an iron lung machine should you ever get Polio, lung cancer or any other health problem that might require you to use the machine. The red tear strip may have been the very first of the so-called “redemption rumors” that have been floating around as urban legends since before the Civil War. Redemption rumors usually claim that corporations will exchange product packaging material (bar codes, can tabs, gum wrappers, cigarette packages, etc.) for medical equipment (wheelchairs, iron lungs, dialysis machines, etc.) donated to hospitals or individuals.
z s-l400The big problem with these rumors is that they are not tied to the companies that actually have such programs, so that they motivate people to collect huge numbers of bottle caps, empty packets and the like to no avail. The biggest companies are usually the most frequently targeted, recent years those have been mostly soft drinks, beer, cigarettes, and tea. Sadly, before kidney dialysis came along you typically were told to save cigarette packs to earn time on an iron lung. z imagesKnowing the damage smoking causes to the lungs, these red stripe redemption rumors truly proved to be a “sick bargain”.
Most redemption rumors were false, but not all of them. From 1948 till 1979 the makers of Vets Dog Food made a one to two cent donation to train seeing-eye dogs for every Vets label redeemed. z 2b2a6e631f3a51c1e7d80a92a61ff9e5Today Heinz baby food labels can be redeemed to benefit children’s hospitals and Campbell’s soup labels can be used to buy school equipment. In Indianapolis, funds received from the recycling of pop tabs add up to between $30,000 and $50,000 annually for Riley Children’s Hospital. All this money helps with the operating expenses of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana and traditionally covers the cost of operating 3 rooms in the House for an entire year. With redemption rumors, it can sometimes be hard to separate fact from fiction.
The Red Stripe / Iron Lung legend went nowhere and resulted only in kitchen drawers full of angry little strips of blood red cellophane exploding and filling the air every time a drawer was opened too quickly; static electricity causing them to adhere firmly to every flat surface in sight. The legend took root during the height of the Polio epidemic in the 1930s, 40s and 50s when images of helpless little children confined in menacing looking steel tubes viewing life only through the confines of a tilted rear view mirror placed inches above their chin were routinely found in every newspaper and magazine of the day.
z 166832_originalEven though it was a hoax, it didn’t mean it was a bad idea. In the 1950s, the Betty Crocker franchise started a coupon program run by General Mills. Most folks redeemed the coupons for kitchen utensils, but beginning in 1969 General Mills OK’d several fundraising campaigns in which coupons were used to purchase some 300 kidney dialysis machines. The company soon stopped dialysis drives due partly to complaints that it was “trading in human misery.” The program ceased operation in 2006.
Humans, like most mammals, breathe by negative pressure breathing in which the rib cage expands and the diaphragm contracts, expanding the chest cavity. This causes the pressure in the chest cavity to decrease, and the lungs expand to fill the space. This, in turn, causes the pressure of the air inside the lungs to decrease (it becomes negative, relative to the atmosphere), and air flows into the lungs from the atmosphere: inhalation. When the diaphragm relaxes, the reverse happens and the person exhales. If a person loses part or all of the ability to control the muscles involved, breathing becomes difficult or impossible.
Due to the eradication of Polio in most of the world, the iron lung has become largely obsolete in modern medicine. Not to mention, superior breathing therapies have been developed and modern ventilators, like those General Motors is creating in Kokomo, are more efficient at a fraction of the cost and size. Although a common sight to our grandparents generation, the iron lung is unfamiliar to our modern eyes. An iron lung is a ponderous sight to behold, as is the patient contained within it.
z ironlunglgThe most common iron lung, known as a “Drinker respirator”, was designed to provide temporary breathing support for people suffering paralysis of the diaphragm and intracostal muscles, which are essential for respiration. Developed in 1929, it came to be an important tool for the care of sufferers of paralytic polio. Strictly defined, “the iron lung is a large horizontal cylinder, in which a person is laid, with their head protruding from a hole in the end of the cylinder, so that their nose and mouth are outside the cylinder, exposed to ambient air, and the rest of their body sealed inside the cylinder, where air pressure is continuously cycled up and down, to stimulate breathing. To cause the patient to inhale, air is pumped out of the cylinder, causing a slight vacuum, which causes the patient’s chest and abdomen to expand (drawing air from outside the cylinder, through the patient’s exposed nose or mouth, into their lungs). Then, for the patient to exhale, the air inside the cylinder is compressed slightly (or allowed to equalize to ambient room pressure), causing the patient’s chest and abdomen to partially collapse, forcing air out of the lungs, as the patient exhales the breath through their exposed mouth and nose, outside the cylinder.” (The Iron Lung, Science Museum Group, Kensington, London, England, U.K)

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Room Sized Ventilator.

In some cases, especially during the height of the Polio epidemic, larger “room-sized” iron lungs were also developed, allowing for simultaneous ventilation of several patients at once (each with their heads protruding from sealed openings in the outer wall), with sufficient space for a nurse or a respiratory therapist to be inside the sealed room, attending the patients. Rows of iron lungs filled hospital wards during the 1940s and 1950s, helping children and some adults, with bulbar polio and bulbospinal polio. A polio patient with a paralyzed diaphragm would typically spend two weeks inside an iron lung while recovering. The iron lung was used on patients before they were able to recover and either breathe on their own, or with the use of assistive respirators.
z im-73301By 2018, there were only 3 of these 700 pound behemoth iron lung machines operating in the United States. Some machines have a tray that slides out of the tube, others require the patient to climb into the bed of the pod, upon which the patient lays and is then pushed into the machine. The patient’s head is the only part of the body visible once the machine is closed, and the neck collar is adjusted to keep it airtight. Since the head is exposed, patients can eat and drink in the machine but, since both are done while laying down, swallowing can be a challenge and must be done carefully. Since the machine is pushing / pulling the patient, swallowing must occur while the machine is breathing out. Coughing and sneezing can be a challenge since both are involuntary and cannot be properly timed with the rhythm of the machine. The mechanics are under the bed, which produces a vibrating sensation for the patient.
z gettyimages-3331901Today’s ventilators, like those being made in Kokomo right now, are much more portable and are mostly described as “breathing machines” that can be carried as easily as a briefcase. For extreme breathing cases, smaller single-patient iron lungs, known as “Cuirass ventilators” (named for the Cuirass, a torso-covering body armor worn by armored knights), are used. The Cuirass ventilator encloses only the patient’s torso, chest or abdomen, but otherwise operates essentially the same as the original, full-sized iron lung. The lightweight variation of the cuirass is a jacket ventilator or poncho / raincoat ventilator, which uses a flexible, impermeable material (such as plastic or rubber) stretched over a metal or plastic frame placed over the patient’s torso.
Tracy Hamilton Talking on the TelephoneAnd, although the idea of the old fashioned iron lung mostly only survives in the collective public memory of baby boomers, the COVID-19 pandemic has revived some interest in the device. Thanks to the internet, public safety scams and urban legends proliferate our life daily. As silly as the idea of saving red stripes from packs of cigarettes to exchange for time in iron lungs sounded to the enlightened twenty years ago, when viewed through the periscope of new age social media theory today, it fits right in. And Covid-19 has reignited fears of epidemics past including Polio and the Spanish Flu (which allegedly originated in Kansas by the way). So, in short, there is nothing new under the sun and the takeaway from all of this is that, hopefully, this too shall pass.

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Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Hollywood, Pop Culture

Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

McCarthy

Original publish date: February 6, 2011           Reissue Date: April 16, 2020

September 11 is an important date in this country. Its a date as important to our generation as December 11, 1941 (Pearl Harbor) and November 23, 1963 (John F.Kennedy’s assassination) were to the two generations preceding ours. It is the date the date of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York City. However, it has another meaning to me. On September 11, 2010, Kevin McCarthy died. Kevin McCarthy was an actor, a character actor to be precise. You’ve seen his face in countless films over the past half century but probably never knew his name.
Midwestern born McCarthy appeared in over two hundred television and film roles and an equal number of stage plays and productions for over a half century. For his role in the 1951 film version of Death of a Salesman, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year . However, I remember McCarthy for his starring role in the original 1956 version of the classic Sci-Fi / Horror movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, a film with a strong Cold War Era Anti-Communist theme.
z Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers_(1956_poster)I had the opportunity to meet Kevin McCarthy in Chicago back in 1992 and he was gracious enough to sign a photo for me. It remains a cherished possession. Not only was he a great actor, he was a cousin of former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy and one actor Montgomery Clift’s best friends. I could not help but smile wryly when I learned of McCarthy’s death last year on 9/11. He lived to the ripe old age of 96 (we should all be so lucky) and lived a life that most of us can only dream about. The irony of his dying on 9/11, one of the most controversial politically charged dates in American history, was not lost on me. For “Invasion of the body snatchers” remains one of the most controversial politically charged movies of all-time.
Invasion is based on the novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney and was first featured in several installments in Saturday Evening Post magazines in 1954-55. It stars Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, and Carolyn Jones (Morticia Addams of the Addams Family). The screenplay was adapted from Finney’s novel by Daniel Mainwaring, along with an uncredited Richard Collins, and was directed by Don Siegel. The film is the first and most critically acclaimed of the novel’s four film adaptations to date.
z 2070005Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The American Film Institute ranked “Invasion number nine on its “Ten top Ten” best ten films in the science fiction category. The film ranked number 47 on AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Thrills”, a list of America’s most heart-pounding films.
Set in the fictional town of Santa Mira, California (In the novel, the town is Mill Valley, north of San Francisco), McCarthy plays Dr. Miles Bennell, a local doctor who finds that several of patients are accusing their loved ones of being impostors. Assured at first by the town psychiatrist that the cases are nothing but “epidemic mass hysteria,” Bennell soon discovers that the townspeople are being systematically replaced by perfect physical duplicates, simulacrums grown from giant plant-like pods (found in basements, automobile trunks, a greenhouse, and on a pool table). The Pod People are indistinguishable from normal people, except for their lack of human emotion. The Pod People work together to secretly spread more pods which the film explains grew from “seeds drifting through space for years” in order to replace the entire human race.
The film climaxes with Bennell and a friend attempting to escape the Pod People, intent on warning the rest of humanity. While they hide, the doctor’s friend played by actress Dana Wynter fights an overwhelming urge to sleep and when she briefly doses off, she is instantly transformed into one of the Pod People. With the Pod People close behind, Bennell runs onto the highway frantically screaming about the alien force which has overrun the town to the passing motorists and (in a moment that is considered a breaking of the Fourth Wall) looks into the camera and yells, “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!”
z 0_1u3JgAt04c6rLwF9Bennell is picked up by the police and questioned in a clinic. The policemen in charge do not believe his account until they receive news of an accident in which a truck carrying strange giant bean pods is opened. The police are quick to alert the authorities; the message has been received, but the actual end of the story is left open. What cannot be denied is the central theme of the heroic struggle of one helpless but determined man of conscience, a small-town doctor (McCarthy), to vainly combat and quell a deadly, indestructible threat. An oft repeated theme of Sci-Fi films of today
The film had a few preliminary titles: Sleep No More, Better Off Dead, and They Came From Another World before the final choice was made. At first, studios considered established Hollywood stars like Gig Young, Dick Powell, Joseph Cotten for the male lead. For the female lead, Anne Bancroft, Donna Reed, Kim Hunter, and Vera Miles were initially considered. However the lower budget led producers to cast two relative newcomers in the lead roles: McCarthy and Wynter. The film was shot in just 23 days between March 23, 1955 and April 18, 1955 by working a six-day week with only Sundays off. The final budget was $382,190. When released in 1956, the movie made over $1 million in its first month and over $2.5 million in the USA for the entire year. British ticket sales raised that figure by a half million dollars. When the film was released, many theatres displayed several of the pods (made of paper) in theatre lobbies along with lifesize cutouts of McCarthy and Wynter frantically running away from a mob.
The film was originally intended to end with Miles screaming hysterically as truckloads of pods pass him by. The studio insisted on adding an ending that suggested a more optimistic outcome. The studio tried to get Orson Welles to voice the preface and a trailer for the film, but was unsuccessful. The film holds a 97% “Fresh” rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. In recent years, critics have hailed the film as a “genuine Sci-Fi classic” and one of the “most resonant” and “one of the simplest” of the genre. Even though the movie has no monsters, minimal special effects, no overt violence, and no deaths. The BBC wrote, “The sense of post-war, anti-communist paranoia is acute, as is the temptation to view the film as a metaphor for the tyranny of the McCarthy era.”
z unnamedThe film is widely viewed as an indictment of McCarthyism and the Red Scare Anti-Communist Era. The unmistakable metaphor: the turning of people into soulless doubles while they sleep represents the dangers faced of America turning a blind eye to McCarthyism. Over the years, others have interpreted the film as a metaphor for the loss of the individual in modern mass civilization, or paranoia about the spread of socialistic Communism, or blacklisting of Hollywood, or as a representation of the loss of personal freedom in the Soviet Union, or the spread of an unknown malignancy or virulent germ (a metaphor within a metaphor about the fear of annihilation by ‘nuclear war’), or of bland conformity in postwar Eisenhower-era America. Still others argue the film is an indictment of the damage to the human personality caused by ideologies of Right versus Left, a theme that resonates today.
One of the things I loved about Kevin McCarthy is that he often said that he felt that the film had no political allegory at all, at least not by the actors or filmmakers. McCarthy backed it up by stating that in his talks with novelist Jack Finney, he too professed that there was no intended specific political allegory in the book.

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Donald Sutherland

The producer of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers was Walter Wanger, a man not free from personal controversy himself. Wanger had just been released from prison for attempted murder after serving a 4-month jail term for the 1951 shooting of the lover of his unfaithful movie-star wife, Joan Bennett. Wanger’s attorney successfully offered a “temporary insanity” defense resulting in the light sentence.
The psychological sci-fi film was re-made three times starring Donald Sutherland, (1978), Gabrielle Anwar 1993 and Nicole Kidman (2007), although well-made, the remakes were inferior to the original, as were the lead star. The original 1956 film received no Academy Award nominations but has become more and more revered and distinctive as time passed.

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Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy would go on to make film cameos in other sci-fi films including: The Howling (1981), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Innerspace (1987), and a memorable appearance as his Dr. Bennell character (now elderly) in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) that appeared clutching a seed pod repeatedly muttering “You’re next.”
I think that the reason this movie spoke to me in particular and resonates in my memory today is the time frame that I associate it with. I saw the film in the late 1960s an era framed in my mind by political mistrust, conspiracy theories and assassination. Everything from who killed Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy to whether the moon landing was real or staged in a Hollywood studio to whether or not the Beatles Paul McCartney was alive or dead seemed to be surrounded by cover-up and controversy. This movie with its Zombie-like alien invaders bodily brain-washing their naive, unsuspecting victims could be conformed to any theory, right or left. As a child of the ’60s, this movie spoke to me like no other.
Meeting Kevin McCarthy was a lifetime thrill. I think often of McCarthy’s eloquent speech from the movie describing the shocking changes he’s seen in his fellow citizens, “I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind…All of us – a little bit – we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear.”
Followed by an unconvincing sales pitch by an antagonist colleague to McCarthy’s character, “Less than a month ago, Santa Mira was like any other town. People with nothing but problems. Then, out of the sky came a solution. Seeds drifting through space…Your new bodies are growing in there. They’re taking you over cell for cell, atom for atom…they’ll absorb your minds, your memories and you’re reborn into an untroubled world…Tomorrow you’ll be one of us…There’s no need for love…Love. Desire. Ambition. Faith. Without them, life is so simple, believe me.”
z bodysnatchershedAnd whenever I wish, I can conjure up an image in my mind of the wide-eyed sweat and grime covered face of McCarthy as a crazed prophet of doom pointing directly into the camera desperately speaking his warning to humanity: “Look, you fools. You’re in danger. Can’t you see? They’re after you. They’re after all of us. Our wives, our children, everyone. They’re here already. YOU’RE NEXT!” Rest in Peace Kevin McCarthy.

Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Medicine, Pop Culture

The Tuberculosis War in Indianapolis

TB

Original publish date:  November 12, 2008      Reissue date: March 26, 2020

Sometimes it’s just a photo that starts the discussion. Such was the case with the photo I ran across in the archives of the Indianapolis Commercial Club’s collection. It’s a curious photo of a group of Boy Scouts in Indianapolis in 1907. The serious faced group of young men are holding signs with the official “National Tuberculosis Association” (Now the American Lung Association) Red Cross symbols on the front with ominously humorous slogans that read “Join the Drive against the Spitter…A Spotless Town is a Spitless Town…Don’t Spit-A Clean City is a Safe City…Save the Children-Don’t Spit.” What could possibly have caused these fresh faced kids to parade around Indiana’s Capitol City carrying signs with such frightening messages? The Tuberculosis War in Indianapolis.
Tuberculosis , or T.B. for short, is a respiratory disease that mainly effects the lungs but can also effect the central nervous system, bones, joints, and even the skin. The symptoms of T.B. include a chronic raspy bronchial cough, fever, night sweats, weight loss, and bloody expectorations or spit. T.B. is spread through the air when infected victims cough, sneeze or spit.
z ladies spittingAccording to a 1907 article in the New York Times, “The anti-spitting movement, a thing of comparatively recent growth, has spread all over the union. The purpose of the anti-spitting ordinance is two fold: first, to abate a nuisance; second, to prevent disease. While the nuisance is a very real one, and from that stand point, if from no other, spitting should be prohibited, the danger of the spreading of disease by spitting in public places has been exaggerated…Spitting upon the sidewalks, in street cars and public places is not nearly so dangerous as the spitting in tenement houses, cheap lodging houses, factories and workshops, and other places which the average spitting law does not presume to prohibit.”
z nospittingsigntransitmuseum1916More precisely, the article goes on to note that in 1907, there were 20 arrests in Indianapolis for spitting in public. All of these arrests were made by health officers, not policemen. The article went on to say “If you have to spit, don’t spit in Buffalo, N.Y., for it may cost you $25. The cheapest place to spit is Indianapolis, where people paid an average of 78 cents.” In 1907 tuberculosis was the second leading cause of death behind pneumonia /influenza.
Tuberculosis and childhood poster, 1920sDuring this period, no fewer than four tuberculosis hospitals were built in and around Indianapolis. The Flower Mission Pavilion for Incurables was added to the grounds of the city hospital. The revolutionary design of the building featured open air verandas built at the height of 822 feet containing 2 wards with 10 beds each and 6 private rooms. This hospital was unique in that it charged no fee for services and was available only to patients with advanced, incurable cases of “Consumption.”
The other hospitals were located in Danville, known as the Rockwood Tuberculosis Sanitarium and the State Tuberculosis Hospital in Rockville. The Danville facility was used chiefly for early cases of T.B. with rates ranging from $15 to $25 per week. It had a capacity of 50 patients. An ad for the facility read, “The Rockwood Tuberculosis Sanitarium is located twelve miles west of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis and Danville Interurban Electric line. Cars run hourly in each direction. The institution is located in wooded hill country, and overlooks White Lick Creek. All patients are accommodated in individual cottages, and are kept in touch with physicians and nurses by an electric call-bell system.”  The State T.B. hospital was located on 527 acres near the Sand Creek station of the Vandalia Railroad. Started in 1908, it would not open until 1909.
z 3-1But by far the most interesting of these four T.B. hospitals was the Day Camp of the Women’s Improvement Club, located in the Brightwood area of Indianapolis. It’s capacity was only 7 patients. Literature of the era described the facility as being “For colored women in incipient or convalescent stages of tuberculosis. The camp is located in a grove near Brightwood, a suburb of Indianapolis. The equipment used is largely tents. This is one of the few camps in the United States exclusively for colored women. It is conducted by the Women’s Improvement Club, composed of twenty colored women of Indianapolis.”
I could not be true to the “spirit” of this column if I failed to speak of the folklore that surrounded the dread disease tuberculosis. Before the Industrial Revolution, tuberculosis was regarded as vampirism. When one family member died of T.B., the rest of the family would inevitably contract the disease and their health would slowly begin to fail. People mistakenly believed that the original victim was draining the life out of the remaining family members. Symptoms of T.B. closely mimicked those historically connected to the victims of vampires, including red, swollen eyes (which naturally caused a sensitivity to bright light), pale skin, extremely low body heat, a weak heart and coughing blood, suggesting that the only way for these T.B. victims to replenish themselves was by sucking blood. As with most medical maladies, the pain associated with tuberculosis seemed to multiply in the nighttime hours, causing the victim to stay awake all night and sleep most of the day. All are classic symptoms associated with vampires.
z spittingIt was mistakenly believed that the only way the epidemic could be stopped within a family was to visit the cemetery at night and disinter the deceased subject and remove it’s heart. There was a well documented case of this very thing happening in Rhode Island in 1892. Nineteen-year-old Mercy Brown had died of consumption and as her family began to suffer from the same symptoms, her father went to the family tomb two months after her death and, assisted by the family physician, removed her heart and burnt it to ashes. These fears and old wive’s tales about T.B. surely existed in 1907, undoubtedly contributing to the ferocity of the Tuberculosis War in Indianapolis.
Although this article concentrates on the 1907 TB epidemic, it should be noted that tuberculosis is making a modern day comeback. This new strain of T.B. is resistant to today’s antibiotics. It’s estimated that one third of the world’s current population is infected with tuberculosis, and new infections occur at a rate of one per second. However, only a small percentage of these infections will develop into full blown TB. These hosts with latent T.B. cannot transmit the disease. The disease can only be transmitted by those TB victims with active tuberculosis. Most will remain dormant or latent with little effect to the infected host. Eighty percent of these new T.B. infections occur in Asia and Africa with only 5 to 10 percent occurring here in the United States.
Some interesting trivia from the world of 1907. The average life expectancy was 47. The average wage was 22 cents per hour. Ninety-five percent of all births took place at home. There were 230 murders reported in the entire U.S., marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at local drugstores. Back then pharmacists claimed, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.” That last bit of trivia casts a somewhat dubious level of importance to Indianapolis’ Tuberculosis War. Wouldn’t you agree?z-_Heroin