One of the most delightful things about reading turn of the century newspapers is the oddity of the stories and how matter-of-factly they are treated. I found a great example of this today in the June 30, 1908 edition of The Chicago Tribune. Page 1 carried a brief, interesting story, special from East Liverpool, Ohio.
A man named Joseph Ballouz had been the victim of an apparently deadly accident with an ice cream freezer. The accident was not described, but the result was that three of Mr. Ballouz’ fingers were crushed so badly that he could never use them again. Presumably, the crushed fingers were amputated. The doctors informed this unfortunate man that the only way he would be able to use his hand normally again would be to have three new fingers grafted on.
Ballouz’ brother, who may have been the most generous sibling ever, immediately offered to give Brother Joe three of his own fingers. Luckily for the brother, Ballouz refused. As the news about his injury spread, a rumor started that Ballouz was willing to pay $300 per finger, for any donor willing to give up one or more fingers. It’s unclear whether the rumor was based on anything factual.
In a matter of days, Joseph Ballouz was flooded with scores of letters from all over the country, from people who were quite willing to sell three fingers for $300 each. If you adjust $300 in 1908 dollar for inflation, the 2020 equivalent is $8,485.73. Selling three fingers would fetch a person just about $25,500.
Americans have always appreciated an entrepreneurial spirit. The paper noted that one man offered to give up his whole hand at a discounted rate. But he and the other potential donors were doomed to disappointment: the last line of the story discloses, “Mr. Ballouz decided he could get along without other people’s fingers.”
Featured photo from FreeImages.com, by Yarik Mishin