but they were only hockey players

henry and mrs fordHenry Ford was in a good mood in the winter of 1932 — on at least one day at the end of February, he was as eager as a small boy with a new electric train.

Yes, it was the third year of America’s staggering depression. But Ford felt that people were ready for what he called real values. That’s what the 68-year-old pioneering founder of the Ford Motor Company was telling Raymond Clapper, manager of the United Press, as he guided him around the company’s vast automobile works at Dearborn, Michigan. In another few weeks, a new biography by Jonathan Norton Leonard would be out with these and other nasty things to say about the billionaire industrialist: he was nothing but a shrewd Yankee tinkerer, narrow, bigoted, prejudiced, semi-literate, intolerant, vindictive, dour, domineering. On this day, though, it was Clapper’s phrase that applied, the boy with the train. Leading the newsman into a laboratory, he summoned him to a screened-off corner.

“They’re apt to get mad at me for coming in here,” Ford said. By real values he seems to have meant shiny new product: beyond the screen was the new eight-cylinder beauty he was about to unleash on the nation. He was grinning as though he were getting into his mother’s cookie jar as he pointed out the V-Type’s streamlined body, longer and wider than the classic T, featuring bigger wheels with heavier tires. Ford revealed that he had 83,560 paid-up orders already in hand.

“We expect to start shipping final parts in four or five days,” the emperor of mass production told his visitor. “The new models should be available for display very soon after that. We have already 50,000 bodies made up. Our immediate objective will be 6,000 cars a day.” By year’s end he hoped to have 1,500,000 of the new cars wheeling across America. The economy was looking up, after all: bank failures were down since the new year and there were estimates that Americans had $24,000,000 of their cash squirrelled away at home.

This was big news, though there was about to be much bigger. Two days later, on the first day of March, kidnappers snatched Charles Lindbergh’s year-a-half-old son and, as The New York Times framed it after a week of frantic, fruitless searching, “An empty cradle in a house on Sourland Mountain in New Jersey filled the heart and the mind of America.”

Five hundred men, police and firemen, went door-to-door in Newark. Clues gusted in. A postman discovered a message pencilled on a card: “Baby safe. Instructions later.” Mrs. Fannie Fischer, a landlady, called in to say that three men and a woman in a car had stopped by to ask about rooms and in the back of the car there was — seemed to be — a bundle. A brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad noticed two nervous men with a crying baby on the platform at the Clinton Street Station. Police on motorcycles chased a suspicious sedan near Manlius, New York, and in Wheeling, West Virginia, authorities were on the hunt for a speeding car with New Jersey plates.

The New York Times filled two-and-a-half columns with tips and false leads, including:

A Miss Anna Kurtz at Portland, Pa., which is over the Delaware River about thirty miles from the Lindbergh’s, found a baby’s jacket that would have fitted him. But it belong to a neighbor’s child, having blown off a clothes line. In Providence, R.I., the police chased a car that had been reported to carry four men and a baby. But they were only hockey players — and there was no baby.

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viva hojas viva

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Hockey night for a guy from Havana (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Alexandra Studios fonds))

The first hockey game Fidel Castro ever saw, he had great seats at Maple Leaf Gardens. I thought. I mean, look at the photograph: Castro, right?

In 1959, in April, the newly minted prime minister of revolutionary Cuba did visit Canada. He was 32. Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Hamilton were on his original schedule. It was the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup final that spring, Geoffrions and Moores and Richards versus Bowers and Bauns and Mahovliches. It would have been some great hockey to see. Except that Castro was still in the United States when the Canadiens wrapped up the series on April 18 and lifted the Cup, so there was no hockey to see by the time he got up here. Not that he made it to Toronto, anyway.

In New York, the police and the FBI had information that hired killers were after him. “I don’t believe it at all,” was what Castro said. Five brothers from Philadelphia were implicated along with two other brothers from somewhere else. They’d already been paid. I’m not making this up. The Philadelphia brothers, who had criminal records for disorderly conduct and assault, were possibly riding in a black 1957 Chevrolet with a white top and Florida plates. The other brothers might have been in a dirty grey Cadillac from Michigan. Castro had 30 plainclothesmen guarding his hotel suite. “I sleep very well,” he said, “and don’t worry at all.” The brothers were named Scoleri — that was the next thing the newspapers came up with. Also that they were back in Philadelphia and also Las Vegas. The other gangsters were named David Rosen or Joe Stacher or Doc Harris, and may have been associates of the racketeer Meyer Lansky and — and they weren’t in New York, either. A man with a makeshift bomb was arrested at a speech Castro gave in Central Park. His name was John Feller. Continue reading