Answer Man

Colorado paper earned black flag for Indy 500 story

Louis Meyer won his second of three Indianapolis 500 championships in 1933.
Louis Meyer won his second of three Indianapolis 500 championships in 1933.

Q. With the Indianapolis 500 set for Sunday, would you please tell me how Will Overhead won the 1933 race?

— Paul Fontana, of Steeleville

A. In the history of journalistic boners, it’s a gaffe that rivals the Chicago Tribune’s infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman” banner headline in the 1948 presidential election.

On May 30, 1933, what was likely a skeleton crew at the Walsenburg, Colo., World-Independent was awaiting the final results of the greatest spectacle in racing so the Monday holiday issue could be put to bed.

Back then, of course, there was no Internet, 24-hour ESPN — or even a radio station in this rural south-central Colorado county, where the population has never topped 20,000. The paper didn’t have so much as a teletype machine during the dark days of the Depression.

Instead, these tiny newspapers relied on what was known as the “Pony Wire.” Instead of a teletype, the Associated Press would allow these off-the-beaten-path publications to dial into a daily conference call, during which writers would listen to an AP editor read the latest news and sports updates. The journalists in Walsenburg, for example, would use these notes to freshen up the stories that it probably lifted from the Denver Post to put out their paper for the residents of Huerfano County.

Just one problem. The Pony Wire conference call usually occurred early in the afternoon, but in the 1930s, cars didn’t zip around the Indy track at 200 mph. Back then, it was closer to 100 mph, which meant races dragged on until late afternoon. As a result, the 1933 Indy 500 was only half over by the time the Pony Wire call ended.

Undaunted, the “young World-Independent editor” (whose name apparently has escaped eternal ridicule) was determined not to start his presses until he could furnish his loyal readers with the final results. So, he asked the Associated Press in Denver to contact him with the winner’s name as soon as the race was over. The AP agreed, but what happened next placed the World-Independent forever in the annals of auto racing history flubs.

To further confirm the editor’s request, the AP sent him a Western Union telegram. It read, “Will Overhead Indy 500 Winner.” In newspaper jargon, “will overhead” meant that the AP would call the editor with the results as soon as the race was finished.

But the editor must have been as green as I was when I ran the News-Democrat wire room during a college summer vacation 45 years ago. He thought that a driver named Will Overhead had zoomed into Victory Lane. So underneath a headline that read “Overhead Wins Indianapolis Race” he dutifully reported, “Will Overhead won the Indianapolis Memorial Day race today. At the 250-mile post, Babe Stapp was leading the string of roaring cars, but gave way to Overhead on the last half of the 500-mile grind.”

The editor only dug his grave deeper when he suggested that Overhead was an unknown rookie who had roared past all the seasoned vets. In fact, Louis Meyer had won the second of his three Indy 500 crowns with an average speed of 104.162 mph. But at least the goof provided a rare bit of levity in what was the famed Brickyard’s deadliest May in history. During that month, three drivers and two ride-along mechanics (which were required in 1933) were killed in prelim and race crashes.

Q. Julie Tristan is no longer on “Show Me St. Louis” on KSDK Channel 5. Where did she go?

— J.S., of Trenton

A. You must have missed Julie’s tearful farewell on March 25, when she joined her “Show Me” colleagues for a retrospective of her eight years on the show and a couple of cakes — one with “Good Bye Julie We Love You” and the other with two pooches drawn with icing for the “huge” dog lover who has five of her own.

“I’m trying not to do the ugly cry right now,” she said, wiping away tears after watching a three-minute retrospective of her KSDK career that included everything from sliding down a muddy hill on her stomach to conquering her fear of heights.

Then, the Pattonville High School grad, who earned a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia, announced her future plans: On March 30, she would join Billy Greenwood for the 6-10 a.m. drive-time show on KLOU-FM (103.3). Afterward, she hangs around to play the hits of the ’70s and ’80s by herself from 10 a.m. to noon.

It’s another instance of going back to the future. In the past, she became known for her radio gigs on WARH, KSLQ, KMJM, and KATZ as well as serving as an executive producer and co-host for the Steve and DC Morning Show. Yet she admits that when she’s in her car, you’d probably find her listening to inspirational and positive-thinking self-help books.

“My favorite authors are Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson (and) ‘The Secret,’” she once told the openbeast.com. “Sometimes I also listen to sermons through an app on my iPhone. One of my favorite people is Bishop T.D. Jakes. He’ll leave you feeling inspired every time.”

To relive snippets from some of her most offbeat stories, go to ksdk.com, search for her name and click on the final posting from March 25.

Today’s trivia

In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Asia to South America on a raft called the Kon-Tiki. Of what kind of wood was it primarily built?

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: If you were intending to visit New York to see the apartment building shown frequently on “Seinfeld,” you’d be a little off — like 3,000 miles. The familiar exterior is actually that of a building at 757 New Hampshire Ave. in Los Angeles.

“In real life, the building is called ‘The Shelly,’” writes Lindsay, who tracked it down in 2007 for www.iamnotastalker.com. “It is a nondescript little building that actually does look very reminiscent of New York. During Seinfeld’s day, the awning of the building was green, but today it is a drab brown. It is fun to visit, as it will bring you right back to the days of Must See TV. (But) be careful when visiting. Seinfeld didn’t live in the safest neighborhood!”

You can ask for your big salad at Tom’s (not Monk’s) Restaurant at 112th and Broadway, but there’s no soup for you at Al Yeganeh original Soup Kitchen International on West 55th St. After his 22 minutes of fame on “Seinfeld” Al Yeganeh closed his store to start his Original Soupman franchise, which spread to several states.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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