1939, December 7: Remember Pearl Harbor!

As the story is told, on December 7, 1939, the townspeople of Owensville, Indiana, USA, found a strange message written in large chalk letters on the sidewalk in front of their school, which read "Remember Pearl Harbor!" No one knew what to make of the odd message... until two years later, when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese causing the United States to enter into World War II.

The Trail...

        This legend has seen the rounds, but no one has followed it back to its starting point. The earliest I've found it so far is a newspaper from Bridgeport, Connecticut, dated June 30, 1957. In this version of the story, the cryptic phrase was discovered on the ground "early in 1939" in front of the "Public School"... and they state that it was 'spoken about,' which might mean 'don't look for a newspaper mention.' The author of this short piece then speculates: "Did a ghostly hand scribble this devastating prediction of the future?"

        I don't know if the one-paragraph article was an Associated Press release or not; if so, it would have appeared in other newspapers around the country about the same time. What I can guess is that it was a clipping of this June 1957 article that led to the story -- in an even shorter form -- to appear in the November 1957 issue of FATE Magazine. The story appeared in the part of FATE which featured news clippings sent in from readers, but the magazine gives no indication who sent the article to them or what newspaper it came from. The FATE account of the story doesn't mention that the writing was found 'early in 1939'; instead it simply says the event happened two years earlier than the attack on Pearl Harbor.

        The story next appeared in Frank Edwards 1964 book Strange World, with a notable change. Edwards was a radio personality that had become well known for presenting 'strange but true' style tales. He was both a reader and a contributor to FATE Magazine, and most of the stories that ended up in his books are things he got from FATE. But Edwards was also a professional storyteller, and he often tweaked the stories he took to make them more spectacular... and this short account was tweaked. Edwards took FATE Magazine's statement that the event had occurred two years previous to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and added three more words: "... To the day." So the time of the event was moved by Edwards from "early in 1939" to December 7, 1939, to make the claimed prediction more mystifying. Most modern accounts of the story start from Edwards' version of it, because his books sold extremely well.

        I will continue to look for earlier print references to the message; but until then, this account is marked as 'Unreliable', as any tale of a prediction should be until it can be found before the event it predicts!

...and the Problem

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