First published in 1975, “The People’s Almanac” was the Wikipedia of the pre-Internet age, a 1,000-page compendium of facts about weird shit. Also about mundane shit, but the book was full of fascinating floating tidbits of information on a wide range of subjects. It was, as the book series later became tagged: “History with all the boring parts left out.”
Somehow, all my copies of the books listed above, the copies I had in my childhood, have all vanished, probably sold in my mother’s garage sales. So, I recently went out and bought them all again on-line. They can be found very cheap online, usually between $4-6 (including shipping).
As I poured through my recently acquired copy of the first volume of The People’s Almanac, I came across this truly bizarre statement, under the heading of “U.S. History: 1964″. It happened to catch my eye because it listed this as happening on Jan. 16, which is my birthday:
Ex-hog-cutter Antonio De Angelis, accused of perpetrating the greatest swindle in history, was arrested and held on bail of $46,500,000, also a record. De Angelis was convicted of making a profit of $175 million by substituting sea water for salad oil.
At first, I balked at this fact. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the story, as told in the second sentence. I immediately went online and tried to find some verification for the story, but the only Google entry I could find was from a website called Trivia-Library.com, which just reprinted the same two sentences straight from The People’s Almanac.
A few days later, I discovered that the book had spelled De Angelis’s name with the original spelling, and that a wealth of info came my way when I Googled “Anthony De Angelis” instead of “Antonio De Angelis”.
Here’s the fascinating Wikipedia entry on the early ’60s salad oil scandal, and here’s a much fuller reprint of an article on the subject from the Saturday Evening Post.
There was also a book written in ’66, called “The Great Salad Oil Swindle”, but sadly, it’s quite rare, and the cheapest copy I could find on Amazon was around $70. Anyone wanna buy me a copy?