The Mystery of the Boxes in the Field House

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

Few of us encounter mysteries, I think. Life is usually dull. But now and then something seems wrong. Something doesn’t make sense.

As a hunter and fisherman, I always had a secret dread of being the person who would discover a corpse. Murderers often discard bodies in remote areas, I’ve read, and I spent much of my life blundering about in remote places. In the back of my head I always worried I would be tramping around looking for a grouse when I would find someone’s decaying arm sticking out of the ground from a shallow grave. For example, a murder victim was once hidden in Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, and I used to hunt there. 

My sister once became curious about family history. By snooping around in old boxes she turned up old court records revealing the existence of a legal half-brother that our parents had never mentioned. It seemed a shocking family scandal.

The truth turned out to be much less exciting. My father was accused of fathering a child by a young woman who became pregnant out of wedlock in the 1930s. The charge was false, our parents explained calmly. At the time there were no scientific ways to prove or disprove paternity in what lawyers called “bastard cases.” My dad’s lawyer told him to plead guilty and to pay the unwed mother, who wanted $200 to cover maternity bills. The story was funny rather than shocking, and it involved a cow sculpted from butter. Some friends of this web site know the whole story, for I wrote about it in my unpublished book about my family.

I have led a mostly boring life, and yet there once was a mystery that excited my imagination.

In my home town of Ames, Iowa, there was a curious round brick building near the high school football field and track arena. The “Field House” began life as a shelter for Chautauqua attendees in 1928. The Chautauqua movement was a fascinating development that flourished in early decades of the 20th century. The building was later built up to form an odd round brick structure that hosted athletic events. By the time I was a kid in Ames the Field House was boarded up and unused.

One day in 1960 some friends and I happened to look in the windows of the old field house. It was filled with an astonishing number of cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling. We had never seen so many boxes in one place. Each one was identical, and each bore the word “Crest.” What was in those boxes? Why would anyone stockpile many thousand boxes in an abandoned building? Was this some secret government program?

Before long, we understood the mystery of the Crest boxes. For decades Procter and Gamble had been experimenting with toothpaste formulas. In the 1950s P & G learned that adding stannous fluoride to their paste would radically reduce cavities among people who faithfully brushed with Crest.

But consumers were slow to pick up on this. In the absence of truth in advertising legislation, people hawked miracle products to cure everything from cancer to arthritis to “wind in the belly.” Our family doctor once confessed that he went to medical school on the profits of some “snake oil” cure-all that his grandfather sold in little bottles. If such little bottles were filled with flavored alcohol, they usually sold well. In my own childhood the marketplace promoted such dubious products as Geritol (a cure for “tired blood”) and Carter’s Little Liver Pills.

Crest toothpaste, which actually reduced dental disease by 40 percent, only claimed ten percent of the toothpaste market in the 1950s. Then the American Dental Association conducted studies that confirmed the effectiveness of fluoride. The ADA had never endorsed a product before. In 1960 the ADA officially named Crest as the only toothpaste that reduced cavities. Knowing that this announcement would hit the market like a bombshell, P & G went into feverish production and filled warehouses with boxes of Crest in the months before the announcement was released. The old field house in Ames was one of many such stockpiles. Crest dominated the toothpaste market for decades until the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water reduced the need for fluoridated toothpaste.

Have you ever discovered a mystery?



41 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Boxes in the Field House”

  1. Rise and Sleuth Baboons!

    There are many mysteries in the family tree. Secrets ruled during the expansion of the American West. What I have concluded is that anywhere there is an absence of information, there is something I want to know. Usually this information is hard to tease out of the quiet past.

    Example: We never heard much about a particular branch of my dad’s family named “Klein.” These are people we dote over. Edith Klein who married a Stratton appeared to have appeared from nowhere.

    In an early Iowa Census, I finally found her father in DesMoines. He was illiterate, signing with an X, and He Owned A Tavern. My family were tea-totaling descendants of Quakers. Scandalous.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Family genealogy was my first response to the question as well and the puzzles are what keeeps me coming back to it.
    I’ve already mentioned the Norwegian ancestors who were apparently living in Chicago at the time of the fire, but thereafter gave census takers and county history compilers inaccurate information seemingly to hide the fact.
    There was a great great uncle from Czech Bohemia who disappeared, abandoning his family. Family lore speculated that he had gone back to Czechoslovakia but I located him, living as a bachelor in New Prague. I think I have the only photo of him (his wedding picture).
    It’s particularly satisfying to debunk old family stories with the real story.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. When I did my own genealogy sleuthing, I was frustrated. I mostly came up with dull information about dates of births and deaths. I once declared that the information genealogy unearthed was all the stuff I did not want to know without being what I really cared about, which was old stories. But I learned that finding basic facts about ancestors could sometimes lead to the stories I really wanted to discover.

      My sister, sleuthing about for family scandals, learned that my mother was born about seven and a half months after her parents got married. That bit of dull fact hinted at a marriage forced by an unplanned pregnancy. And although we didn’t see it at the time, that little fact turned out to be a big clue about my grandfather’s character: he was one horny old goat. (The first time I wrote that on this blog I was scolded by Barb from Blackhoof for sullying the honor of goats!)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Called, no doubt, Field House Shopping Center if the developer practice of naming your development after the thing you destroyed runs true to form.


        1. Don’t you love it when developers name a housing complex Pheasant Meadows . . . after they have drained the marshes and slapped homes and roads all over the habitat that formerly produced pheasants? Those people have no effin’ shame.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. My father always maintained that his Uncle Ed Akkerman, married to Aunt Annie Boomgaarden, was Jewish, but refused to admit it. Using Ancestry, I traced Great Uncle Ed, and found absolutely no Jewish names or family there at all, only those extremely funny Ostfriesland names that are just like all the other names in the family tree.

    There is a very old, small, brick building the size of a large outhouse with a metal door that says “Danger: Dynamite” in fading letters on the outskirts of my current town. I am curious about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Renee’s post reminds me of the most common family mystery for folks with European ancestry: the discovery that some (or even all) family members were secretly Jewish. You might remember when Madeline Albright learned this about her own family roots while she was serving as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State.


  4. I have a blog post planned to discuss the odd sounding names of Ostfriesland and the even stranger way names were given to people prior to Napoleon taking over the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A friend founded a small business (eight workers). She was mystified by the consistently poor economic performance of her business. They were always working hard to supply orders, yet they couldn’t make a profit. My friend finally discovered that her bookkeeper (a woman she considered one of her closest personal friends) an embezzler who was bleeding away the modest profits the business was making.


    1. Same thing happened to the company husband was working for. Their bookkeeper, a well-liked woman who with some regularity treated everyone to bagels and cream cheese for the morning coffee break, had started siphoning money from the company only six months after she was hired. Every year she invited the whole company, roughly 50 employees, to a cook-out at her house in Afton. After the last cook-out husband had mused about all of the improvements – in-ground pool and lots of fancy landscaping – the house had undergone over the last few years and was mystified as to how they could afford it all.

      As it turned out, in the five years before she was found out, she had embezzled a total of roughly $250,000. Drips and drabs at first, but toward the end quite large sums. Turns out she had done the same thing to a previous employer. She spent a little over a year in jail.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. The most common mysteries are universal, I believe:
    Where did I put that? and
    Where did the time go?

    But I digress. There is a large warehouse building down by the river that, during the summer, emits a low hum off and on all night. I had intended to explore some time and find out exactly what goes on in there, but then winter came and we closed the windows and I forgot about it. I need to know.

    My grandmas’ childhoods will always be a source of curiosity to me, but another of those mysteries that will never be satisfied, I guess.

    Still thinking.


  7. When I wrote my book about my parents I ended up with a few questions I wished I could have asked them before they died. The biggest one was the mystery of why my mother believed my dad’s story about not having fathered a child out of wedlock. He told her had been on one date with the girl who sued him, a date set up by a buddy. My dad was an artist and a guy who was so handsome as a young man that women felt giddy around him. I couldn’t understand why my small town mother would be so sure of his innocence that she married this attractive artist from Des Moines.

    After pondering the mystery for a few years I suddenly understood. My mother was a secretly rebellious young woman who might have been a little “fast” in high school (to use a dated euphemism). Her artistic boyfriend was shy and awkward and totally unaware of his good looks. My mother believed his story about his lawsuit because she was the only girlfriend he ever had. She knew him in a way no other woman ever did. Knowing how he handled himself in romantic moments she never had a doubt about his innocence.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The only “mystery” uncovered was more an unknown than a mystery.

    When my folks were researching their lineage the discovered that my mother had a grandmother who was Jewish. That had never been known and certainly not discussed by her grandfather who lost her and twin daughters in an accidental drowning on Grindstone Lake where their farm was located.

    Great grandfather Peter blamed himself for what appeared to have been the failure to loosen the horses reign as they always went in the shallow end to and from town to let the horse drink. The buggy toppled and all were drowned dispite being excellent swimmers.

    My grandmother and her other two sisters were “farmed” out to relatives and then took domestic positions…grandma at the Dayton home in the kitchen. (She was or became a gormet cook!)

    The farm was sold and many acres given to the church. That history is no mystery…just the discovery of the Jewish blood.

    My father was thrilled (World Religion Prof…& Lutheran Pastor) He bought my mother a Star of David necklace. And Hanakkah was celebrated after that. I was also told that we girls could claim land in Israel…not the boys….it won’t happen but interesting to know.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. a mystery i did solve 20 years ago: why were bibles disappearing out of the back of a cabinet into the wall in my classroom
    major pt on hands at noon. lots of pain from it as expected.


  10. I had a mystery at work about 20 years ago. I had two winners (insurance company from Southeast) who happened to be a couple. They each signed up to bring a guest and then got permission to have their guests share a room – a little unusual in the world of incentive travel. The guests changed a couple of times and then on arrival day didn’t show up. The winners professed to know nothing about their missing “friends”. I spent two days phoning around and eventually discovered that the winners had sold the guests’ spots to a friend who had then given it as a wedding gift to one of his employees. All for a whopping $200. The newlyweds had decided the morning of the trip that they were too tired to travel. My client was very happy with my sleuthing and although the two winners didn’t get fired, the next year, even though they had high sales, they didn’t get invited on the trip!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I agree with nothing in the first paragraph of today’s blog. I believe most of us encounter mysteries, and plenty of them, in our lives, which I don’t believe are dull. I also don’t believe that it takes the sense that something’s wrong to alert us to something’s out of the ordinary.

    As an example, I have a friend whose life remains a mystery to me and, I believe, to everyone who knows her. The story, however, is too long to tell here. Perhaps a blog is forthcoming?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You may be right, PJ, but I think most of us aren’t really aware of the many mysteries that we encounter. We either aren’t aware of the mystery or we think we know the reason why so it doesn’t seem a mystery. I know my life is made up of so many mundane things that my mind is numbed to many of life’s mysteries.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t think I’ve discovered any or many unique mysteries, but I do wonder…
    Why do cats stand in the open doorway and don’t go out or come in until pushed?
    Why does the dog bark like crazy whenever I do jumping jacks with the twins?
    Why do 3 year olds get more hyper the more tired they are?
    Why do some people hoard things like paper and tools?

    Liked by 1 person

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