5 Things You Didn't Know About Winston Churchill

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Winston Churchill had one of the most immediately recognizable faces of the 20th century, and you probably know all about his triumphs as a statesman and orator. Let’s take a look at five things you may not know about him, including how his mom tried to bribe him to give up smoking.

1. He May Have Masterminded a UFO Cover-Up

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During World War II, a squadron of Royal Air Force bombers had what they believed was an encounter with an alien spacecraft during a flight. While flying along the British coast near Cumbria after a bombing raid, a crew claimed that a hovering metal disc had silently shadowed their plane’s movements, and they even snapped pictures of it.
When Churchill heard these reports, he sprang into action and ordered that the story be kept secret for at least 50 years. Churchill was understandably concerned about sparking a mass panic when World War II was already raging, and he further worried that spotting an alien would shake peoples’ religious beliefs at a time when they needed their faith to help deal with the war.

2. He Was an Honest Pedestrian

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Churchill made a classic traveling blunder during a 1931 visit to New York City. In a confused moment, he looked right instead of left before stepping onto Fifth Avenue without realizing that here in the States, our traffic moves on the opposite side of the road. Churchill stepped right in front of unemployed auto mechanic Mario Contasino and took a 30 mph thumping from Contasino’s car, which dragged him and then tossed him into the street.

Although Churchill bruised his chest, sprained a shoulder, and suffered cuts to the face, he quickly told police that it was his own bumbling that led to the accident and that Contasino hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, he felt so bad about inconveniencing Contasino that he invited the driver to his hospital room for a visit. Churchill also took advantage of his wounds to secure a tipple during prohibition. He got his doctor to write him a note that read, ''This is to certify that the post-accident concussion of Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times.''

Churchill even decided to have a bit of fun with the accident. He asked his buddy Frederick Lindemann, an Oxford physics professor, to calculate the force with which the car hit him. Lindemann responded that it was roughly equivalent to two point-blank charges of buckshot but joked that the charge was probably mitigated by the “thickness cushion surrounding skeleton and give of frame.”

3. He’s Torn Up the Pop Charts

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Churchill has one odd distinction on his resume: he’s placed two albums on the British pop charts after his death. In 1965, his posthumous release The Voice Of charted shortly after his death, and he scored another triumph last year with the release of Reach for the Skies. The album features some of Churchill’s most rousing speeches from World War II set to the music of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. The new record debuted at number four on the British album charts.

4. He Won a Nobel Prize

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Maybe this one’s not so surprising, but the subject is. Churchill brought home a Nobel for literature. The Nobel committee considered Churchill off and on for years after World War II thanks to the strength of his historical writing, but they always had trouble pulling the trigger and actually awarding him the prize. (One of the problems was that Churchill’s main output was as a historian, an area that garnered little literary support. Worse still, the Nobel committee had previously deemed Churchill’s lone work of fiction, the 1899 novel Savrola, to be “without literary merit.)

By 1953, though, Churchill had finally built up enough support to nab the award over the likes of E.M. Forster and Hemingway. When Churchill received the prize, the committee praised him particularly for his six-volume history The Second World War and "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values"

5. His Mom Tried to Nix the Iconic Cigars

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Churchill often appeared in public with a cigar in his mouth, and the stogie habit started at an early age. When Churchill was just 15 his mother implored him to give up the habit, even writing in a letter, “If you knew how foolish & how silly you look doing it you would give it up, at least for a few years.” She didn’t just rely on rhetoric, though; she turned to every parent’s favorite weapon, bribery. If Churchill would give up smoking for six months, she’d get him a gun and a pony. He agreed to this deal.

Eventually, he went back to smoking the large cigars that are now named in his honor. Although many of the cigars Churchill smoked were specially made just for him and weren’t the part of any brand, he did occasionally puff on the commercial stuff. His favorites were Cuban Romeo y Julietas and Camachos. His other well-known vices were Johnny Walker Red scotch and vintage Hine brandy.

If there's someone you'd like to see profiled in a future edition of '5 Things You Didn't Know About...,' leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.

In the 1800s, Drinking Too Much Tea Could Get a Woman Sent to an Insane Asylum

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The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

If you were a woman in the 19th century, virtually anything could get you committed to an insane asylum—including drinking too much tea.

NHS Grampian Archives, which covers the region around Scotland’s Grampian mountains, dug up an admissions record from the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum while looking into the institution’s annual reports from the 1840s. The table contains data on causes of admissions categorized by sex. In addition to those admitted to the asylum for “prolonged nursing,” “poverty,” or “disappointment in love” (one man and one woman admitted for that one!), one woman arrived at the asylum only to have her issues blamed on “sedentary life—abuse of tea.”

Intrigued by the diagnosis, someone at the archives tracked down more details on the patient and posted the case notes on Facebook. Naturally, her condition involved more than just a little too much Earl Grey. Elizabeth Collie, a 34-year-old factory worker, was admitted in November 1848 after suffering from delusions, specifically delusions about machines.

Her files state that “she imagines that some species of machinery has been employed by her neighbors in the house she has been living in, which had the effect of causing pain and disorder in her head, bowels, and other parts of the body.”

Asylum employees noted that ”no cause [for her condition] can be assigned, except perhaps the excessive use of tea, to which she has always been much addicted.” She was released in June 1849.

A letter to the editors of The British Medical Journal in 1886 suggests that the suspicion of women’s tea-drinking habits was not unique to Aberdeen mental health institutions. One doctor, J. Muir Howie—who once served as a regional president for the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh, so we can assume he was relatively respectable—wrote to the publication:

Would you kindly allow me to draw attention to the fact that, among women at least, the abuse of tea frequently leads to the abuse of alcohol! My experience in connection with a home for inebriate women has led me to this conclusion. Many of the inmates, indeed, almost all of them, were enormous tea-drinkers before they became victims to alcoholic dipsomania. During their indulgence in alcohol, they rarely drink much tea; but, as soon as the former cut off, they return to the latter. In many instances, alcohol was first used to relieve the nervous symptoms produced by excessive tea drinking.

Ah, women. So susceptible to mania and vice. It's a miracle any of us stay out of the madhouse.

Remembering Tom Dempsey, the Toeless NFL Kicker Who Set a 43-Year Field Goal Record

Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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On April 4, 2020 former NFL legend Tom Dempsey—who set a field goal record with the New Orleans Saints nearly 50 years ago—passed away in New Orleans at the age of 73. It has been reported that Dempsey, who has been battling Alzheimer's disease and dementia since 2012, contracted coronavirus in March and his death was the result of complications from COVID-19. Read on to learn more about Dempsey's remarkable life.

 
 

Things weren't looking good for the New Orleans Saints on the evening of November 8, 1970, during a televised game against the Detroit Lions at Tulane Stadium. Though Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer had managed to connect with receiver Al Dodd on a 17-yard pass that stopped the clock, New Orleans was still down 17-16 with just two seconds left in the game. Worse yet, they were on their own 37-yard line—leaving 63 yards between them and the end zone.

Saints head coach J.D. Roberts, who had only been hired the week before, huddled with offensive coordinator Don Heinrich to quickly consider their options. There weren’t any. Suddenly, kicker Tom Dempsey, who had joined the team the year before, materialized. “I can kick it,” Dempsey told Roberts.

Dempsey would later recall that he didn’t know exactly how far the ball had to travel or that it would be an NFL record if he nailed it. If he had, he said, maybe he would’ve gotten too nervous and shanked it. But kicking the ball was what Dempsey did, even though he was born with only half of a right foot.

Heinrich sighed. There was no other choice. “Tell Stumpy to get ready,” he said.

 

Dempsey was born on January 12, 1947, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later moved with his family to California. As a student at San Dieguito High School in Encinitas, California, Dempsey appeared unbothered by the congenital defect that resulted in a partial right foot and four missing fingers on his right hand. Dempsey wrestled and ran track. In football, he used his burly frame—he would eventually be 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weigh 255 pounds—to clobber opposing players as an offensive lineman. When coaches wanted to send opponents flying, they called in Dempsey.

After high school, Dempsey went on to attend Palomar Junior College in San Marcos, California, where he played football as a defensive end. At one point, when the team was in need of a kicker, the coach asked his players to line up and do their best to send the ball in the air. None kicked harder or farther than Dempsey, who became the kicker for the team and performed while barefoot, wrapping the end of his foot in athletic tape.

Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe is pictured
Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe.
Bullock Texas State History Museum

Playing at Palomar prepared Dempsey for a dual role as both lineman and kicker. But his strength, which made him so formidable on the field, occasionally got him into trouble on the sidelines, and he would eventually be kicked off the Palomar team for punching one of his coaches. After the incident, Dempsey tried out for the Green Bay Packers but found the physicality of professional players a little too much for him to handle. Rather than get into on-field collisions as an offensive lineman, he decided to focus solely on the aptitude he seemed to have for kicking. He eventually earned a spot on the San Diego Chargers practice squad in 1968. There, head coach Sid Gillman decided to encourage his choice of position—with some modifications.

Gillman enlisted an orthopedist to help develop a special leather shoe for Dempsey to wear. The boot had a block of leather 1.75 inches thick at one end and was mostly flat. Instead of kicking it soccer-style, as most players do today, Dempsey was able to use his leg like a mallet and hammer the ball with a flat, blunt surface.

The shoe, which cost $200 to fabricate, came in handy when Dempsey joined the Saints in 1969. He made 22 out of 41 field goals his rookie year and found himself in the Pro Bowl. But the 1970 season was comparatively dismal, and the Saints were holding a 1-5-1 record when they met the Detroit Lions on that night in November.

With two seconds left, “Stumpy” (Dempsey found the nickname affectionate rather than offensive) trotted onto the field. At 63 yards, he would have to best the then-record set by Baltimore Colts kicker Bert Rechichar in 1953 by seven yards.

No one appeared to think this was within the realm of possibility—you could almost hear a chuckle in CBS commentator Don Criqui's voice when he announced that Dempsey would be attempting the feat. Even the Lions seemed apathetic, not overly concerned with attempting to smother the play.

The ball was snapped by Jackie Burkett and received by Joe Scarpati, who gave it a quarter-turn. Dempsey remembered advice once given to him by kicking legend Lou “The Toe” Groza: Keep your head down and follow through. He took a step toward the ball and swung his leg like a croquet mallet, smashing into the football with a force that those on or near the field compared to a loud bang or a cannon. It sailed 63 yards to the goal post, which at the time was positioned directly on the goal line, and just made it over the crossbar.

Below, the referee threw his hands in the air to indicate the kick was good, punctuating it with a little hop of excitement. Dempsey was swarmed by his teammates and coaches. Don Criqui’s attitude in the booth quickly switched from amusement to incredulity. The Saints had won, 19-17.

“I don’t believe this,” Criqui exclaimed.

Neither could fans. In an era before instant replay, ESPN, or YouTube, you either caught Dempsey’s game-winning play or you heard about it at work or school the next week. Owing to its fleeting existence in the moment, schoolyards and offices filled with stories about how Dempsey’s boot may have somehow been augmented with a steel plate or other modification to boost his kicking prowess.

No such thing occurred, though that didn’t stop criticism. Tex Schramm, an executive with the Dallas Cowboys and chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, thought the shoe was an unfair advantage that allowed Dempsey to smash the ball like a golf club hitting a dimpled target. In 1977, the NFL instituted the “Tom Dempsey Rule,” which mandates that anyone and everyone has to wear a shoe shaped like a full foot. There would be no more allowances for special orthopedic shapes.

Dempsey appeared to take it all in stride. Shortly after his victorious kick, he received a letter from President Richard Nixon congratulating him on his inspirational demonstration. Immediately after the game, police officers went in to congratulate him by handing him cases of Dixie beer. Dempsey's girlfriend (and future wife) Carlene recalled that he didn’t come home for days due to rampant partying. When he finally settled down, they got married.

 

Dempsey spent a total of 11 years in the NFL, playing for the Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Oilers, and finally the Buffalo Bills. In total, he made 159 field goals out of 258 attempts. For the next several decades, he would work as a salesman in the oil industry and manage a car lot before retiring in 2008 and settling down back near New Orleans. Over the years, Dempsey made several appearances at autograph shows, where he was regularly peppered with questions about the one kick that defined his career.

Almost as amazing as the kick was its attrition in the record books. While several other men managed to tie Dempsey’s record, it wasn’t until Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos kicked a 64-yard field goal on December 8, 2013, that it was finally broken—almost 43 years to the day. Some observers note that most of these notable field goals took place in Denver, where the air is thin and presumably more hospitable to kicking for distance. Dempsey managed it in New Orleans—and without toes.

Curiously, Dempsey’s legendary play was actually foreshadowed one year earlier. On October 5, 1969, he kicked a 55-yard field goal in Los Angeles. That was just one yard shy of the record he would obliterate the following year.

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