18 Oct 2016
I’ve been working on some really serious and not-at-all ridiculous research projects lately, and I thought I’d share with you. It’s a rite of passage for everyone to research bananas, I’m sure, and on my journey I keep finding other interesting things that I have to stop and find out more about. Today I need to tell you about a story I discovered that involves the following:
2. a banana peel
You in? Let’s go!
It’s a long story how I got to the point of researching bananas, one that I will tell you another day, but when I did a quick search in the New York Times archives for bananas, I got a million stories about banana peels. Those things were deadly, and not just a fake thing that old timey comedians planted in order to make their enemies fall down. Because sanitation efforts were paltry in the early 20th century (I got sidetracked by reading a lot about trash during this process too), people were like “I ate this banana, and now I shall toss it on the ground” and then other people walked by, fell, and broke their ribs/heads/legs. Some of them fell down in the street and then got hit by cars! Some died of their injuries after falling down stairs! Banana peels are a menace, and not a laughing matter, except they kind of are. No one wants to be taken out by a banana peel.
Now, I could tell you about ALL those other banana peel cases. I have a file! There are more New York-area banana peel stories than you’d think. But here is the best one.
On Christmas Eve, this man named Caspar Schmidt of Middletown, Connecticut said he was cleaning a rifle, which was going to be a gift for his grandson, when it discharged, killing his wife, Minnie. Well, that was his first story. The second story was that he walked in, slipped on a banana peel, threw the gun on the table to avoid falling, and the gun discharged, killing his wife, Minnie. The gun then bounced off the table and flew out the window, landing on a roof seven feet away. Hmm. INTERESTING.
That look on your face right now, the one going “right, ok, Caspar, mmm-hmm”? That’s what the police faces looked like too. Here’s what they said didn’t make any sense:
1. the banana “had not been crushed” and left no banana residue on the floor
2. the table had a white tablecloth and several dishes on it, and nothing was disturbed or dirty
3. the course of the bullet was downward, meaning someone was standing above Minnie when she was shot near the heart
4. a neighbor said she “heard an explosion, and five minutes later she heard the sound of breaking glass and saw a gun fall on the roof”
In other words, Caspar’s story is bullshit.
Unfortunately, this banana peel defense appeared to have worked!
I did take a look at the U.S. Census to see what else I could learn about CASPAR THE MONSTER, and here’s what I came up with. Minnie was his second wife; his first wife, Catherine, was the mother of his five children. She was alive at the time of the 1900 Census, but by the 1910 Census, Caspar and Minnie had been married six years. I can’t find a record of her death yet but I’m still looking! Caspar is a photographer in 1900, 1910, and 1920, but perhaps the whole banana peel thing put a damper on his studio because by 1930 he’s a fire insurance agent. He’s listed as a widower, and also has a housekeeper named Marie Schmidt.
I asked my legal consultant to see if he could find anything about Caspar being charged with murder or manslaughter, and he didn’t find anything, but did find out that Marie Schmidt was Caspar’s cousin, and in 1927 (three years post-banana) he asked her to come live with him to be his housekeeper. He couldn’t pay her as much as she was currently making, but promised to leave her a lot of land with a lunch cart on it in his will. He showed her the will a few times, but upon his death, guess what? There was no will, and Marie had no lunch cart.
But wait! I just found another article about the shooting that reveals that Marie was actually at the home at the time of the shooting, and that she’d been living with the family. Also that her presence was the source of controversy! But also that she’s the grandniece of Caspar. Also there was nothing about how he was going to give the gun to his grandson — in this version, he loaded the gun to kill some rats. Oh, and he was a former game warden and hunter…interesting.
A few years ago, the Middlesex County Historical Society offered a Scandal! tour of Middletown, which included details of Caspar Schmidt and his banana peel. The article about this included this nugget, quoted from the Middletown newspaper at the time: “Everyone in the neighborhood has taken a dislike of the man.”
Next time in the Banana Peel Mysteries: hear how a banana peel was falsely accused of contributing to a man’s death!