Scrolling through old pages of The Journal Gazette on microfilm in the newspaper's archive, I'm always on the lookout for something unexpected that catches my eye. Maybe it's an interesting page design, a great photo or an unusual headline.
The latter is what captured my attention about the local news cover for July 23, 1966: "Why This Hobby? Reporter Not Enthusiastic Over Covering Snake Story."
First, as a former copy editor who has written hundreds of headlines for the newspaper over the years, I laughed at the blunt assertion. I could tell this was going to be a fun story.
Longtime JG writer Sandy Thorn (later Sandy Thorn Clark) had been sent to cover three local men who owned a trailer full of snakes which were going to be on display at a local shopping center.
An edited version of the story appears below, and I think it will give most readers a chuckle.
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"Why This Hobby? Reporter Not Enthusiastic Over Covering Snake Story," by Sandy Thorn (July 23, 1966)
There are every so many hobbies the trio might have enjoyed so why, oh why, did they settle on collecting SNAKES?
Collecting stamps is a whole bunch of fun and flitting to and fro across the meadows catching butterflies has certain adventure but nothing, absolutely nothing, could be enjoyable about raising SNAKES.
Would we be interested, questioned Bill Minnick, in watching him and his fellow reptile enthusiasts Dave Diaz and Paul Spicer force fed his pets? Well, okay, but pets are one thing and SNAKES are definitely something else!
Minnick cordially issued and invitation to see the many reptiles housed in an expensive trailer behind the diaz home. Minnick, 22, assured, with a laugh, "I believe they were all in their cages last time I looked!"
The only think good about the SNAKES – some mammoth, some normal-sized and others tiny – was that they were securely enclosed in glass cages. Minnick delivered brief remarks about each of the SNAKES as he passed the cages, and inquired, "They're really something, aren't they?"
Details about the SNAKES weren't nearly as important as getting away, far away, from them so it's not unusual that many of the facts soon became hazy. But a vivid picture still lingers in the mind of one of the SNAKES, the diamond-back rattler, which has, according to the collector, enough venom to kill 23 men!
Outside the trailer, the three prepared to force feed six of the huge, poisonous, unruly monsters, they affectionately call pets. Diaz explained that a "concoction of hamburger, vitamins, eggs and bone meal" were fed to the SNAKES through a caulking gun.
As he professionally greased the gun, allowing for an easy injection, Diaz calmly stated that the SNAKES can move from about seven to eight miles an hour and added, "They can strike faster than they can move!" Oh, great! "But," he said, "they didn't move as fast as people think they do."
The diamond-back rattlesnake – a lovely specimen, if you like that sort of thing – was voted the most dangerous of the $5,000 collection. Among the reasons were that the rattler is meaner, has the worst disposition, is more powerful and larger and has longer fangs.
As Spicer related the facts about the venom which the trio keeps on hand in case they are bitten (the venom works as an anti-venom), Minnick seriously said, "Heh, don't talk about getting bit. It scares me."
None of the local collectors have been attacked, although they admitted there had been "a few close calls." They have had the venom in their eyes and on their skin, but Spicer said, "It's a cool tingling feeling like rubbing alcohol. Of course, it really burns when the skin is cut."
The fellows said they started the collection in homes of one day establishing a reptile house and zoo combination. "If we ever get that," Minnick commented, "we'll feature rattlesnake milking and alligator wrestling."
Minnick, continuing to tug at the 100-pound python curling around his arms, shoulders and neck, was asked, "Did you ever rattle alligators?" Minnick chuckled, grasped the "tame" SNAKE'S head, retorting, "Do you mean wrestle alligators? What's wrong, are you frightened?"
Who me? Afraid of a SNAKE? You bet!
The threesome agreed that they are particularly proud to have all the venomous reptiles native to Allen County, Indiana and the United States. Several times they mentioned their pleasure at having captured a rattler in Waynedale.
Another of the more unusual SNAKES is a "two-headed" one, a native of India.
The airlines strike has also been a blow to Diaz, Spencer and Minnick as the arrival of a six-foot-long, 100 pound lizard has been delayed in Florida. The lizard, according to its new owners, feeds on deer and pigs.
Tame, smaller SNAKES – but nevertheless SNAKES – are collected to sell to youngsters as pets.
SNAKES are all right, particularly behind glass or as shoes and handbags. But, butterflies, sure are pretty! And they seldom bite!