Dorothy Wilhelm: Pay attention to what you’re doing, keep your sense of humor nearby

Did you hear the story about the jackass that ran for public office and won?

I’m not talking about this year’s selection of candidates.

The election I’m talking about took place in the friendly town of Milton in September 1938. The candidate in question was a brown, long-eared mule with the very formal name of Boston Curtis, who, according to the record, ran for Republican selectman and appeared as required in person with all of his paperwork filled out in advance and signed with the print of his hoof. As voters often choose the most appealing name, Boston Curtis won. Although he received only 51 votes, that was enough.

The candidate was sponsored for the honor by the mayor of Milton, Kenneth Simmons, a Democrat who said he did it to prove a point — and that point was that he believed people don’t bother to find out enough about the candidates for whom they vote.

Simmons had made his point and his mark. The story of the Mule Hoax sailed around the world. Almost 50 papers carried the story in that pre-internet era, pointing out that Republicans had voted for this “cousin of the Democrat’s donkey symbol.” As Time magazine put it, “Mayor Kenneth Simmons chortled hugely. He had proved his point that voters ‘have no idea whom they support.’ 

The story was highlighted on the famous “Bob Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” radio show and book, and is featured in the Museum of Hoaxes.

It certainly put Milton on the map.

Simmons was a high-spirited kid, an excellent swimmer. His high school chum, Leonard Nelson, said Simmons — called Catsup by his friends — had competed for the “Tarzan” movie role that went to Johnny Weissmuller. Nelson also said Simmons was once arrested as a kid for stealing a life-size mannequin and throwing it off a bridge, causing people to think it was a jumper. He kept a pet bear for awhile.

Not your average guy.

There’s a monument in the Ken Simmons Park in Bonney Lake with an inscription that begins “Whether you consider him a scoundrel or a hero … .” Not the usual tribute.

But Simmons was a man who just didn’t think people pay enough attention to the candidates they elect.

Things don’t change much. I stood in the TSA line at Sea-Tac Airport for 2½ hours a couple of weeks ago watching candidates’ pronouncements on TV as the line moved forward, by centimeters, to the single screener on duty — until my flight left without me. I was prepared to sleep in the airport. I wasn’t going through that line again for anything.

Of course, spending time with the family cures all. My grandson, at 15, now towering close to 6 feet, gave up his room for me with such sunny good humor that I had been there several days before I even realized he had done it. Naturally, because my mom trained me right, I sent back a small thank you gift after I came home and because I wasn’t paying attention, I tucked in packages of Every Flavor jelly beans from Harry Potter. It seemed like a very grandmotherly thing to do. I got this message back from my son.

“We opened the package you sent last night. Thanks for thinking of us. The Every Flavor beans were a hit. The Rotten Egg ones were a particular adventure.”

I couldn’t believe that’s what I’d given my grandkids. Those beans also come in Ear Wax, Dirt, and Earthworm flavors, and those are the ones I can bring myself to mention. I was so embarrassed I went right out and bought some for myself. Sure enough. It was all true. I hadn’t noticed. The boys loved them though.

There’s a mural of history at Milton City Hall that includes the story of Boston Curtis, along with the “Believe It or Not” cartoon.

What we need in these trying times is a sense of humor and to pay careful attention to what we’re doing. Otherwise we might end up with something unexpected like this jelly bean labeled Peach-Barf. That’s about right.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate. com.