Monday, December 7, 2015

Answer: A polymath's adventure

I don't know if he was a polymath... 

... but the subject of this week's SearchResearch Challenge was definitely an interesting character.  I'm not sure we'll be able to sort out fact from exaggeration, but let's see what we can find.  

Here are the Challenge questions to get you started.  

1.  Who took this ride/slide/boat shooting into water idea and based the idea of an amusement park around it?  

I liked AlmadenMike's query:  
    ["water ride" "amusement park" inventor ] 
as it captures the essentials of the question.  Here, it's smart to use the quoted phrases ("water ride" and "amusement park") as search terms.  It works without them (if you do a side-by-side comparison), but you don't know that ahead of time.  So I agree that quoting these phrases potentially saves a step.  
Reading the SERP points to articles about the "log flume" ride (invented 1963), "bumper boats" (1970s), and the "Shoot the Chute" invention of 1884.  The Wikipedia article tells us that the first such ride was built on a hillside, but then carried to Chicago and turned into a true amusement park (with a fence around it, where one could pay admission to enter) by Paul Boyton (also sometimes spelled as Boynton).  In 1894 he opened "Paul Boyton's Water Chute" which featured this kind of slide, along with others mechanical rides that made up the prototype of the modern amusement park.  Disneyland was still 61 years in the future!  Boyton then opened another version of the Shoot the Chute ride at Sea Lion Park at Coney Island.  
Interestingly, a search for [ Paul Boyton ] in shows that he has a patent on the design of a "Shoot the Chutes" slide.  (March 19, 1895)
"My invention relates to the class of coasters wherein an inclined plane provided with tracks is erected adjacent to a body of water and terminates at its lower end at or just below the surface thereof, and in which boat-shaped toboggans are caused to descend the inclined plane and continue under the impetus acquired along the surface of the water, the boats being so constructed as to deflect the water from their sides to prevent it from splashing the occupants. The pastime afforded by coasters of this character has become a very popular one of late, and is known as shooting the chutes."

2.  Once you know who it is, what was the major invention for which he is best known? 

Once you know it's Paul Boyton, searching for additional information becomes easy--in fact, maybe a bit TOO easy.  The query [ Paul Boyton ] reveals all kinds of fascinating articles about him, the scope of his life defies belief.  
Inventor of the amusement park, sea lion trainer, organizer of the aquatic lifesaving service in Atlantic City (NJ), a Civil War vet, barge pilot, a Knight in the Order of the Cross (Italy), Caribbean diver. During 1880-81 he was commander of the Peruvian Torpedo Service. He was captured by the Chileans, and his execution ordered, but he managed to escape to the coast, and was picked up by a vessel bound north.
That's quite a life. But he is probably best known as the "Fearless Frogman" for his exploits in his rubber suit.  
This item comes up repeatedly in all of the web pages about his life. (And what a life!) 
Photo by Alphonse Bernoud (Lyon, France), ca. 1875.
But if you read carefully, the famous "rubber suit" was something he began to experiment with while heading up the lifesaving service in New Jersey.  
The rubber suit was actually invented by C.S. Merriman of Iowa. The suit consisted of a pair of pants with five tubes leading to pockets which could be inflated at will. "The suit was easy to put on and was able to sustain the wearer in the water indefinitely while keeping the wearer perfectly dry."
In essence, it's a kind of "dry suit" or "survival suit" that is currently used by scuba divers in very cold waters (such as in the Arctic) or by sailors.  (As a side note, they're also somewhat dangerous--it's easy to spring a leak in such a suit and drown in it as the suit fills with water.  It might be simple to get on when you're standing dry at the edge of the sea, but tough to remove when it's also full of water.) 
To follow up on this, I did a search for [ C S Merriman rubber suit ] (I didn't bother to quote the phrase rubber suit because that's a pretty low frequency bigram.)  That led me to an intriguing book, Raising More Hell and Fewer Dahlias: The Public Life of Charlotte Smith, 1840-1917, which has a fairly extensive section about Boyton's life.  This book tells the tale of Boyton's interest in Merriman's rubber suit, including his extensive tours to "advertise Merriman's rubber suit." 
But of course Boyton was a supreme showman, and since it was he, not Merriman, who rowed the suit 22 miles across the Irish Sea to a safe landing, and navigated the rubber suit over 1,000 miles from Yellowstone down to the Mississippi, Boyton is most closely associated with the rubber suit.  
(For an excellent collection of Boyton postcard, memorabilia, and programs from an adventurous lifetime, see the SideShowWorld's collection of Boytoniana.  It's impressive.)  

3.  Using that invention, he once traveled from Linz, Austria to Budapest, Hungary.  How long did it take him to make that trip?  
My query:  [ Paul Boyton Linz Budapest ] directed me to several articles about the exploit, with several saying that it took six days.  
But in my reading, I noticed that he had written a book, several sources say it;s: Roughing it in Rubber.  But after I did the search for that title, I found it's full name is:  Captain Paul Boyton : Roughing it in rubber : The adventure story of one man's 25000 miles in a vulcanized rubber suit)  
I searched around for it a bit, and discovered a searchable copy at Amazon (the Google Books version isn't searchable as it has a copyright date of 2006, which is when it was reprinted by Benediction Classics. 
The book verifies that it was a 6 day paddle from Linz to Budapest.  (Spelled "Buda Pesh" in the book.)  
Illustration of Boyton in his rubber suit, parasol at the ready, US flag attached to his foot,
lunch and provisions (including cigars) in the box at his knees.

4.  What kind of wine did he drink when he was approaching Budapest?  (For extra credit, what was the name of the woman who handed him the glass of wine??) 
If you're in the Amazon book copy, it's easy to search for "wine" (using the "Search inside this book") and after clicking on a few misdirections, you'll find the passage describing his meeting of "the most lovely girl he had ever seen" about 35 miles short of Budapest. They tried speaking German, but switched to his more passable French.  
Before resuming his downriver trip one of the "gentlemen asked through the young lady 'if M. le Capitaine would like a glass of wine?' "
The next paragraph says it all:  "With a musical laugh she handed him a glass filled with sparkling Tokay." 
Those were the days--attractive women handing out sparkling wine to passers-by in dry suits.  What's more, she gave him a bunch of violets that she had pinned to her dress.  "He gallantly kissed them and pushed them through the rubber opening of the face piece, down into his breast."   
I wish I could tell you how to find the young woman's name using some clever technique, but instead, I just kept reading.  (The story was so remarkable, I just kept going.) 
On the next page you'll read that the "most lovely girl he had ever seen" met up with him again in Budapest at the National Theatre. She said to him in English, "I'm so delighted to see you, Captain." 
"Not any more than I am to see you." replied Boyton.  "Why didn't you speak English to me on the river?" 
"Well," she exclaimed, "I was a little confused and did not remember that Americans spoke English, but let me present you to my mother and the gentlemen..."  
Ah.. those were the days.  Private boxes at the National Theatre with mother and courtly gentlemen at hand.  
I was enchanted by the tale, so I kept reading, and discovered that on page 146 there's a long scene where Paul is talking with an Austrian officer and explaining that duels  are all the rage in America.  "Paul, easily seeing the drift of his [the officer's] thoughts, entertained him with accounts of hair-raising combats with bowie knives, revolvers, shot guns, and cannons, assuring him they were of frequent occurrence in the part of the States where he came from."  
This is, of course, tall tale spinning. Yes, there were duels, but not very frequently, and probably not with cannons.  Tellingly, the book comments that "When the warrior parted from Paul, he was stuffed full of harrowing yarns, all of which he seemed to believe..." 
Which suggests to me that Paul Boyton wasn't above enhancing his own story.  
In any case, this was one remarkable fellow.  I just might have to buy this book and read the rest.  
Oh.. and on that page, you find that her name was Irene.  He even named his little carry-all boat "Irene d'Ungeria"  (Irene, belle of Hungary).  

Search Lessons 
As I said, this was a fun Challenge.  Who knew such people really existed?  I know some fantastic people, but none of them have taken a kayak from Yellowstone down to the Mississippi, let alone also been a diver and a drinker of sparkling Tokay while drifting downstream near Budapest!  
But there are still a couple of lessons here: 
1. Quoting bigrams for phrase search is a good idea when the terms themselves are common.  In the first query we quoted "water ride" because we wanted that exact phrase, and not documents about rides that have water in the stream, or similar distractions.  
2. Sometimes you have to check multiple sources to find a searchable book.  Google Books is great, but when you can't get to a searchable format, try Hathi Trust and/or Amazon.  
3. Reading really is a good idea. In this case, reading the entire passage from the books was its own reward, but also held the answers to our questions.  Sometimes... you just gotta spend the time and do the research in a classic, even old-fashioned way. 

Hope you enjoyed this.  I definitely did!  
More Challenges (and comments on previous Challenges that are still hanging fire) coming up later this week. 
Search on! 

1 comment:

  1. from Wikipedia external links section on Paul Boyton — sometimes not the best or dead links — but still worth looking through, in this case providing a full copy of The Story of Paul Boyton, by Paul Boyton
    in PDF or HTML formats, searchable for Irene, Tokay and even May
    evidently Boyton not only had a life-zest for the water but also creatures of all sorts… an engaging vignette:
    ⍨"Once Paul caught a gray squirrel kitten so small and young that he had to feed it on milk and crushed walnuts. He called it May. The tiny creature lived in his pocket and desk and shared his bed at night. It would sit on the off page of his book whilst he studied and comb its little whiskers and brush its tail in perfect contentment. Every one marveled at the affection of his pet and at the control he had over it. Paul would let it loose in the woods, it would run up a tree and at his call, "Come May," it would return at once and with a chuckle drop into his pocket. Paul kept this squirrel until after he had left college. The crowded streets of the city seemed to bewilder it, and it jumped from his pocket to the sidewalk. A man passing struck it with a cane and killed it. Paul grieved long over his pet; but from this experience he acquired a great control over animals and always had a supply in hand to train. He carried snakes and bugs and mice and lizards in his pockets and at one time had a white rat that came very near to filling the place of the lost May. If the boys captured an old squirrel, they generally let it go; but sometimes it was retained for another purpose."⍩

    a 1993 inductee to the INTERNATIONAL SWIMMING HALL OF FAME (also from Wiki)
    curious that such a thing would come from a man in Iowa…

    a side-note that may be of interest/dovetail with search results…
    out of Yale - via Jaime Teevan@jteevan

    how has Hollywood not used this guy? Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio or perhaps Paul Giamatti ?? read one description where he fitted the ends of his paddles with knife points to fight off possible dogfish encounters… good thing he never made it to South Africa…
    could easily pass for a rubber suit… just sayin'
    Seal Island
    air jaws
    I digress -
    way too seal like…
    from here
    skid resistent soles