End of ADS-L Digest - 30 Sep 1997 to 1 Oct 1997 *********************************************** Subject: ADS-L Digest - 1 Oct 1997 to 2 Oct 1997 There are 4 messages totalling 215 lines in this issue. Topics of the day: 1. "Murphy's Law" and aviation oral history (2) 2. ADS luncheon at annual meeting 3. Language Nazi ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Thu, 2 Oct 1997 02:14:11 -0400 From: "Barry A. Popik" Subject: "Murphy's Law" and aviation oral history "MURPHY'S LAW" BRIEF RESEARCH SUMMARY: FIRST STAGE: Earlier this year, Eddie Murphy starred in the forgettable movie METRO. An AOL board for Cecil Adams ("The Straight Dope") discussed Murphy's Law. I found the 1957 MURPHY'S LAW Navy training film with a Worldcat search, and I posted the findings on ADS-L. I also checked science fiction titles, but the earliest "Murphy's Law" short story title was in AMAZING SCIENCE FACT, SCIENCE FICTION, in 1958. SECOND STAGE: This month, I checked the entries in two newly published books--RHHDAS H-O and Hugh Rawson's UNWRITTEN LAWS: THE UNOFFICIAL RULES OF LIFE AS HANDED DOWN BY MURPHY AND OTHER SAGES. I also checked the publications Aviation Week, Aviation Age, Aviation Mechanics Bulletin, and Approach, as well as relevant entries in the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature and The New York Times Index. REMAINING PROBLEMS: The main problem is that Murphy (if there is a real Murphy) has never come forward. Why not? Is Murphy still alive? Can we talk to him if he is?? The other problem is that "Murphy's Law" allegedly started in 1949, but the first citation is in 1955. George Nichols, chief of the Northrop crew, explained (in the late 1970s) that Lt. Col. John P. Stapp had used "Murphy's Law" in a press conference. I found no such quotation in any Readers' Guide "Stapp" citation. It's important to nail "Murphy's Law" down because (1) it's a widely used Americanism, (2) we probably CAN nail it down, (3) the people involved might still be alive, and (4) it was my father's favorite phrase. We continue.... ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --------------------------------------------- "AVIATION PROJECT" OF THE ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY This week, I read the transcript of "The reminiscences of Col. John Paul Stapp" (taped May 1960 with interviewer Kenneth Leish) from the Aviation Project, Columbia University Oral History Collection, pt. 2, no. 178. It's 29 pages long. There is NO "Murphy's Law." Page 28 has this: "Interviewer's note: Colonel Stapp was exhausted during the interview from lack of sleep, and fell asleep several times while talking." Oh well. "The reminiscences of Roscoe Turner" (the first person to fly a Sikorski plane) doesn't have "Murphy's Law" either, but nevertheless has other useful aviation terms. They deserve recording: Page 6: Q: You also did something called "the swing of death." What was that? TURNER: Well, that was a man that would walk out on the wings of the airplane. We had--they called themselves stunt men, they would walk around on the wings of the airplane, and go down on rope ladders. The first man ever to do that was a fellow by the name of Lieutenant (Lockleader?) (sic). He originated the idea when he was in the air service, back in 1918. Those are the names of people you never heard of now. Then, of course, after him came along a number of them. Q: How did it work exactly? Can you describe it? TURNER: Well, his original stunt was to change from one plane to another--which was the forerunner of all of the things that we're doing today. I mean, we're transferring materials and gasoline and fuel from one plane to another. That was the beginning of it. We showed that these things could be done, but that was a rather crude way of doing it, transferring yourself, you see. Page 12: Q: You had a flight from Los Angeles to Reno that you called the Alimony Special. Can you tell me about that? TURNER: It was an airline. It was the first highspeed airline in the world. "Murphy's Law" allegedly started at Edward's Air Force Base. In "The Reminiscences of Maj. Gen. Albert Boyd," page 10, he says, "In January 1950, we established the flight test center. We named the base for Capt. Glen Edwards, the pilot who was killed in the experimental B-49. It was then formally established as the Air Force Flight Test Center. I was the first Commander, and I remained there until 1952." Unfortunately, Boyd doesn't give us Murphy, either. The "Elvis Year" for John Paul Stapp was in June 1954. He was mentioned in The New York Times, Life, the Science News-Letter, Science Digest, and on the cover of Collier's weekly. The 25 June 1954 Collier's cover shows Stapp in his sled, with the caption "FASTEST MAN on EARTH." The article's caption on page 25 is: "Twenty-seven times Dr. John P. Stapp has roared down the track aboard his rocket sled in a ride so dangerous that observers have called him one of the world's bravest men." The article continues on pages 26, 27, 28, and 29. Page 28 mentions George Nichols of Northrop. Page 27 mentions the experimental runs at Edwards Air Force Base, California, from 1947 until mid-1951. It's a great, in-depth article on Col. John Stapp. Murphy's Law is never mentioned. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ -------------------------------------------- A WILD GUESS I still have to check the U. S. NAVAL AVIATION SAFETY BULLETIN, but I really don't think it would account for the spread of "Murphy's Law" in 1954-1956. The spread should have started about June 1954, when that Collier's came out. But I couldn't find a good, nationally popular print source! If I had to guess, I would say that television did it. If I had to guess the program, it would be WHAT'S MY LINE?. My guess is that sometime in 1954 or 1955, Col. John Stapp was booked on WHAT'S MY LINE?. Perhaps he stumped the panel about who he was and what he did. At the end of the show, he explained all that. One panelist asked about the dangers of Stapp's job and what would have happened if things went wrong, and then, before millions of television viewers, came Murphy! Instant, nationwide dissemination. An Americanism is born! Back to the Museum of Television and Radio! Where's Kitty Carlisle Hart when you need her??