Excerpts from The Book of Heroic Failures
by Stephen Pile
The least succesful explorer
Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) was a natural scientist who spent many years studying the plants and trees of unexplored parts of north-west America. He was different from most other explorers because he was almost always lost. During one of his journeys of exploration in 1812 his helpers often had to light fires in the evening so that he could find his way back to their tents.
One night he did not come back and a group went out to search for him. When Nuttall heard them in the darkness, he was frightened. He thought that they were Indians and tried to escape. Getting more and more angry, Nuttall´s friends chased him for three days through the forest and across the rives until he accidentally arrived back at their tents.
Another day Nutall was lost again. He was very tired, so he lay down to rest. An Indian found him lying there. The scientist did not look dangerous; in fact, he looked quite helpless. So the Indian felt sorry for him and decided not to kill him. Instead, he picked the scientist up, carried him three miles to the river and brought him safely back home in a boat.
The least succesful saving
In 1974 the people of the village of Bramber agreed that they must save money, so they decided to live without electric street lighting for three days. Later, they were pleased to find out that the saving was 11.59 pounds. But switching off the street lights cost 18.48 pounds, and there was another bill of 12 pounds for switching the lights on again. The villagers paid 18.89 pounds to spend three days in darkness.
The least succesful weather report
After very heavy rain in Jeddah in January 1979, the Arab News gave the following report:
We are afraid that we are unable to give you a weather report. We usually get information about the weather from the airport, but the airport is closed today because of the weather. It is possible that we will be able to give you a weather report tomorrow, but only if the weather gets better.
The least successful writer
Mr William A. Gold of Australia became the most unsuccessful writer of all time when a Canberra newspaper paid him 28 pence for his work. The reward came on 24 May 1974 after eighteen busy years, writing more than three million words. Mr Gold was fifty-one at the time. His only other success was sixteen years before that. A small local newspaper asked him to write a short piece. But they did not pay him for it.
The worst burglar
In the history of crime there are not many people as bad as Mr Philip McCutcheon. In fact. Mr McCutcheon was not just bad; he was useless. The police caught him for the twentieth time when driving away after his latest burglary, he crashed his car into two parked lorries. In court in 1971 the judge told him: ´Why don´t you stop trying to be a burglar? You can´t use on of your hands, you have lost a leg and you have only got one eye. The police have caught you in Otley, Leeds, Harrogate, Norwich, Beverley, Hull and York. How can you hope to succeed? You are a terrible burglar. You always finish at court.´
The most unsuccessful prison escape
After weeks of very careful planning, seventy-five prisoners failed to escape from Saltillo Prison in Northern Mexico. In November 1975 they started to make a secret tunnel to take them under the prison wall and bring them up on the other side. On 18 April 1976, by some wonderful accident, their tunnel came up in a courtroom. Many of the prisoners came through the same courtroom on theirway to prison. The surprised judges sent all seventy-five of them back to prison.
The least successful air attack
In 1975 the Peruvian army decided to show the world that it was as strong as any army - on land, at sea or in the air. As part of the show, thirty fighter planes pretended to attck fourteen old fishing boats. They sailed these poor, broken old boats out off the coast of Peru and left them out at sea. Crowds watched while the planes attacked the boats, flying high and low, using all their guns. Everyone was surprised when, after nearly fifteen minutes of shooting and bombing, the old fishing boats were still there. Not one of them disappeared under the water.
The worst husband
Fredrick Augustus was a German prince and later King of Poland. When he died in 1699, his personal papers showed that he had only one child from his wife. The child´s name was Maurice. The papers also showed that Augustus´s love for his wife was not his only love. He had 345 children from other women.
The most divorces from the same person
In January 1970 Dorothy and David King Funk had their fifth divorce. This time it was Mrs Funk who asked for the divorce, seven months after their wedding. The two people first married in December 1950. They were married for seven years until the first divorce in 1957. They divorced again in 1962, 1964 and 1965. Each time, the court agreed that it was impossible for them to continue to live together as husband and wife.
The largest number of driving test failures
Between 1962 and April 1970 Mrs Miriam Hargrave failed her driving test thirty-nine times. She had two hundred and twelve driving lessons at a cost of 300 pounds. She reached the new record when she drove through some traffic lights in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Sadly, she was successful at the fortieth attempt (3 August 1970). But eight years later she showed some of her old magic when she said, "I still have problems when I have to turn right."
The peace agreement that no one could read
At the end of the first world war, the leaders of different countries met to write their names on a piece of paper. It was an agreement that brought peace to the world. Monsieur Henry Deledicq was the man who typed the agreement. Sixty years later he told his story. "Large parts of the agreement," he said, "were unreadable. No one noticed this at the time. Monsieur Deledicq had an office job in the French army. On 7 November 1918 Marshall Foch ordered him to type the peace agreement. Mr Deledicq put the paper into his typewriter the wrong way. When he finished typing, it was impossible to read most of the words. "It was 5 a.m. and I was tired," he said. Ten minutes later the war leaders put their names to the agreement. None of them noticed anything unusual. Deledicq drunk a glass of wine with them and them went on holiday. Marshall Foch found out some time later that the war ended in pages full of meaningless words. "It was too much for him," said Mr Deledicq. Deledicq later started a wine business and lived longer than all the others who were with him on that day.
The worst prison guards
The largest number of prisoners ever to escape at the same time from a special prison for dangerous criminals is 124. This record belongs to Alcoente Prison, near Lisbon in Portugal. During the weeks before the escape in July 1978 the prison guards noticed that the number of prisoners at the weekly film shows was unusually low (among the films was Great Escape). They also noticed that knives were disappearing from the kitchens - not just three or four, but three hundred knives. A guard explained: "Yes, we were planning to look for them. but we never had time." They didn´t notice tha holes in the walls because "the holes were covered with paper". They did not find all the tools in the prisoners´ rooms either. The night before the escape, one guard realized that there were only 13 men in his building instead of the usual 36. This was not surprising, he said, because the men sometimes hid; but they usually came back in the morning. "We only found about the escape at 6.30 the next morning, when one of the prisoners told us," a guard said later. The bright lights round the walls were their worst enemy, they explained. These lights shone into their eyes so that it was impossible to see anything. When they finally counted, the guards found that exactly half the prisoners were not there. Dr Santos Pais, the man in control of the country´s prisons, showed a deeper understanding of the problem. To him, the escape was "not unusual". "A prisoner wants to be free again," he explained. "It´s natural."
"Machines heavier than air will never fly. It is not practical. It will never be important and is probably impossible."
Simon Newcomb. He did not change his ideas 18 months later when the Wright brothers flew successfully in an aeroplane for the first time.
"You will never be good at anything."
A Munich school teacher to Albert Einstein, aged ten