Blind Tom, Inventing the Tommy Gun, Snowboarding

Host Don Wildman explores the grave of a blind slave whose musical talents led to a custody battle; investigates the birthplace of the inventor of the Tommy Gun; and studies the origins of the snowboard.

From This Episode

Bushwick, Brooklyn
Blind Tom

Blind Tom

Thomas Greene Wiggins was an autistic savant who had an encyclopedic memory, which contributed to his phenomenal skill with the piano. After being enslaved for most of his life and forced to tour the countryside playing shows to provide income for his owner, Wiggins was finally freed in 1887. His mother, Charity, was able to win his legal guardianship back and “Blind Tom” was celebrated and revered within the black community. The final resting place of Wiggins is in Bushwick, Brooklyn. 960 1280

  

Blind Tom

Blind Tom

In the Evergreens Cemetery, to the west of a park, lies the tombstone of Thomas Greene Wiggins. Standing 2.5 feet tall by 2 feet wide, the solid granite tombstone features an engraved image of a man in a tuxedo and a brief memorial inscription. The man who is interred here displayed a surprising and unequalled talent in spite of his challenging childhood. 960 1280

  

Female Fliers

Female Fliers

Standing 8 feet high, this bronze lady wears a mechanic suit and goggles that rest jauntily on her head as she gazes up at the sky. This woman is Jackie Cochran, a former shampoo girl from Neillsville, WI, who had big dreams. In August 1943, Cochran established the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- or WASPS. Cochran became director of Woman’s Flying Training for the US and started a cadet flight school for female pilots. They delivered planes from factories to military bases and departure points across the country and tested newly overhauled planes and targets to give ground and air gunners training shooting. 960 1280

  

Female Fliers

Female Fliers

The historic hometown of Jackie Cochran includes the Wisconsin Pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair and the castle-like Clark County Jail. In 1977, the WASPS military files were finally opened and for the first time, academics and researchers are privy to the role these women played in the war effort. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009. A bronze statue of Jackie Cochran was erected in Neillsville, WI. 960 1280

  

Frisco War

Frisco War

With less than 400 residents, Reserve, NM, had just 2 grocery stores, a hardware store, a bar and a fairground. In 1884, Sheriff Elfego Baca withstood a 33-hour shootout with cowboys who were out for revenge. After Baca imprisoned one of their crew, the cowboys tracked him down and began one of the longest shootouts in history. Baca was able to hide in a makeshift bunker and return fire until the deputy in town intervened. 960 1280

  

Frisco War

Frisco War

A statue of Sheriff Elfego Baca was built in honor of his bravest moments of the Frisco War, the most shocking – and longest – unequal civilian gunfight ever recorded in the Wild West’s colorful history. After surviving the 33-hour gunfight against a gang of cowboys, Baca went on to become a criminal lawyer, district attorney and even chief bouncer at a Prohibition era gambling house in Juarez, Mexico. He lived to the ripe age of 84 and died of natural causes in 1945. 960 1280

  

Grandaddy of Snowboarding

Grandaddy of Snowboarding

An 18-foot-tall sinuous ribbon of shiny metal depicts a young girl on a strange contraption lunging down a flowing river, while another figure decked out in winter gear gazes up at her approach. This svelte and fluid bronze sculpture hints at an event that revolutionized winter sports and put Muskegon, MI, on the international map. 960 1280

  

Grandaddy of Snowboarding

Grandaddy of Snowboarding

Houses in the neighborhood where Sherman Poppen invented the first snowboard, which was known then as a “snurfer.” While playing outdoors with his daughters, Poppen got the idea to put 2 wooden skis together and ride sideways on them. The idea proved to be a hit, and the Brunswick Company began manufacturing snurfers for $15 each. The snurfer was re-envisioned in 1979 by Jake Burton Carpenter, who went on to create the modern day version of the snowboard. 960 1280

  

Tommy Gun Manor

Tommy Gun Manor

On the Kentucky side of the Ohio River is the Thompson House. This elegant, 19th century residence features a formal parlor, billiard room and imposing library. Built by British prisoners during the War of 1812, the mansion has since played an integral role in the region’s rich history. But this house was also the birthplace of a well-intentioned inventor whose creation took on a sinister life of its own. In 1918, John Thompson mass produced the Tommy Gun after originating the idea in the Thompson house. 960 1280

  


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