When I first learned the premise of Jim Westergard’s Oddballs, I was pretty sure we had something special. I mean come on, anecdotes about history’s most absurd characters? Sign me up. But it wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of the images and text that made up the book that I really cottoned on to the winner that we had. The wood engravings are jaw-droppingly detailed, and convey just the right balance of realism and whimsy. The accompanying biographies will make you laugh in disbelief at some of the historical hijinks that these people got up to.
But don’t just take my word for it. To truly appreciate the brilliance that is Oddballs, you need to experience some of these word-image pairings for yourselves. To share the wealth with you, so to speak, I have selected a couple of my favourites, included below, for your viewing pleasure.
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Lloyd & Mike
It was September 1945 in Fruita, Colorado, and Lloyd Olsen’s mother-in-law was coming to dinner, so his wife sent him to the chicken coop to pick out a chicken for the pot. Lloyd selected Mike the rooster and carefully aimed the axe close to Mike’s skull, so as to leave plenty of neck, which his mother-in-law favoured. Mike did his chicken-with-its-head-cut-off thing, but then something amazing happened. Mike stopped running and began strutting confidently around the yard, as if he still had his head. Lloyd could see that Mike had not only survived but was determined to live, so he took Mike in and nursed his wounded neck.
Lloyd fed grain and water into Mike’s open neck and gradually Mike flourished and gained weight. Mike was taken to scientists at the University of Utah who explained that the rooster had developed a clot that prevented him from bleeding to death and enough of his nervous system had survived for him to function on a kind of autopilot. It was also determined that Mike was not in pain. Word of ‘Mike the Headless Chicken’ (a name that ignored his true gender) travelled far and wide, and eventually Lloyd hired a manager and put Mike on a national tour, which made Lloyd a very rich man.
Eighteen months after Mike lost his head he and Lloyd were in a motel for the night and Mike began to choke. When Lloyd searched for the syringe he normally kept with him to clear Mike’s esophagus he couldn’t find it, and Mike choked to death. You might say that Lloyd ‘choked his chicken’.
Fifty-four-year-old J.L. Hunter ‘Red’ Rountree went bankrupt when a bank called in his business loan prematurely. Even though he recovered and went on to become a successful Texas businessman, he maintained a lifelong grudge against banks. In 1986, when he was in his late seventies, his wife of many years died. A year later he married a young drug addict he met in a bar. He lost his retirement nest egg putting her through rehabilitation, and that marriage didn’t last. By this time Red was drinking heavily and using drugs himself.
When he was eighty-seven, broke and depressed, he acted on his old grudge and robbed his first bank of $1,999, but was caught before he had shuffled a block from the bank. For that, he received probation and a $260 fine. He tried it again but was just as easily caught the second time, and he received a three-year sentence. Some folks would begin to wonder at this point whether Red’s pilot light was lit.
He was ninety-one and out of prison again when he held up his last bank, in Abilene, Texas. The teller thought the frail old pensioner with the holdup note was joking. He wasn’t … and neither was the judge. One year into his last prison sentence of twelve years, Red Rountree died at age ninety-two.
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Hope you enjoyed reading these interesting little tidbits from Jim Westergard’s latest. If you want more, be sure to pick up the (extremely reasonably-priced!) book in print or digital format today. And if you’re a real fan, don’t forget to check out his previous book, Mother Goose Eggs.