Can anybody make heads or tails of this article? Link

OK, summary: the Hope Chest website posts old news articles from Victorian/Edwardian Era America’s newspapers. Here is one such story, from the Chicago Tribune, circa 1903. It baffles me. Please read the link.

What the hell are they talking about? A “padlock bet”? An explosion? An automobile plunging into Lake Michigan, instead of an explosion? Confidence men?

And all of it…an “old story”?


Our ancestors made less sense than Martians.


I googled “padlock bet” and figuring at least one or two explanations would come up, but nothing! Then I did a little research on Houdini, thinking that maybe escaping from a dangerous place while padlocked was something people did when Houdini’s tricks became popular. Houdini was becoming popular in Europe during the time the article was written and toured the U.S. a few years later, around 1910-11. So what it seems to me is that maybe they tried to get this guy to go into the submerged car, someone would chain him up with a padlock, and if he could get out of it, they’d give him some money. Maybe this was a sort of scam that was going on back then?

Of course I could be way off, but it was kind of fun to come up with an explanation.

Edited to add: About the explosion part–I’ve got nothin’.

A confidence man is a con(fidence)-man.

I got interested and decided to look up “Padlock bet” in contemporary Chicago newspapers, and came across this which explains it a little.

Still no idea what the hell the car in the lake and explosion are about.

That helps, & it’s also nice to know the Pythians will eat Duck.

But we’re still pretty much in the dark.

Yup. If you remember the first season of Lost, in the flashbacks, you find out that Sawyer was a “confidence man”. There is also a movie called “Confidence” I think, and it’s all about how some con men are trying to swindle a mobster out of a large sum of money.

I understand the padlock scam, it sounds like something you might see by the grifters in The Sting, but I don’t get the explosion part either.

The bet appears to me to be that the mark is shown a padlock that he can’t open and the bet is that one of the con men can open it, with the added spice that he’ll do so and escape from his bonds (held in place by the padlock) while in a car set to roll gently into a lake.
In the original version, the car was set to explode; either way, the conman apparently runs the risk of dying. (Except they switch padlocks for an easy one to open)

He obviously will escape in time to defuse the explosives, or stop the car going into the lake, rather than just escape from it, as otherwise they’d need to steal a new car every time they pulled the con!

It, of course, has nothing to do with any real explosion or car in the water. It’s a con.

The padlock bet seems to have been explained: the con men bet a man a small amount that he can’t open a padlock. It’s a trick padlock that anyone can open. The mark opens and wins the bet. The another of the con men bet again, this time for a more substantial fee. The mark agrees. But a different, identical appearing padlock is substituted for the first one. This the mark can’t open, so he loses the bet.

The other two sentences are probably referring to other cons. The con men would go to the mark, gain his confidence, and say, “Hey, want to see the site of the gas explosion? It’s an amazing sight.” The mark agrees and the con men take him away from the public place, where they rob him.

In this case, the con men offered to show him where a car fell into the lake. Judging by the article, that was how Ferguson ended up in the park. However, when they produced the padlock, he recognized the scam and realized he was in trouble, so he ran and went to the police.

I dunno, that doesn’t seem to mesh with the other events in the article.

What does this gif say? I can’t open it, it just closes my browsers for some reason

That link does funny things to my browser, too…it resizes my window even though it opens in another tab.

You can view the whole paper instead (PDF WARNING), the article is in the second column on the first page, look for title “Bunco Man Leaps Out Car Window”