5 Heroes Who Showed Up and Stopped Brawls Single-Handedly
How many people could you take in a fight? Probably at least six or seven simultaneously, yeah? But here’s a more difficult question: How do you stop those same number of people from fighting without engaging any of them in combat? Could you calm them all using nothing but the power of your own presence? If so, you’re a master of peace, charisma and laughter, on par with the following champions.
The Bad Guy’s Mama
This story of honor among criminals starts in Australia’s Pentridge Prison, with inmates Mark Read and Jimmy Loughnan. You might have learned about these two if you watched the Eric Bana film Chopper. If you haven’t seen it, that’s fine — the following events come after that film’s timeline anyway — but this promo pic is still relevant:
During one messy failed escape, Loughnan wound up injured in the grass, and Read, offering his mate some hope, promised to get him out of the jail once he himself was released. How exactly he planned to do this, Read didn’t say. But a few months later, Read indeed was released, and in January 1978, he tried to make good on his promise — not by breaking Loughnan out but by showing up to a courthouse and taking a judge hostage with a shotgun till authorities agreed to set Loughnan free.
That hostage situation resolved easily enough, since the courthouse was filled with officers who’d been itching for a situation like this all their lives. Read went back to prison for 13 years for the stunt. That wasn’t the end of the story, however. With Read having proven himself dedicated to the failed art of freeing compatriots from prison, the criminal world now needed to return the favor. So, that same year, another associate of Read’s on the outside staged a hostage standoff of his own, demanding that authorities free Read from prison.
This beat the previous standoff. Read had brought a shotgun to the courthouse; Amos Atkinson brought two shotguns to this restaurant. More seriously, Read had taken hostage a single judge, while Atkinson took hostage 30 diners. With a single hostage, a gunman may well not pull the trigger, since that leaves him with nothing (in fact, Read would later insist he didn’t even realize his shotgun was loaded). With 30 hostages, he might well kill several of them if spooked. And so, The Waiter’s Club standoff lasted four hours.
Then a negotiator walked in that Atkison wouldn’t attack. It was his mother. She showed up in her dressing gown and whacked him on the head with her handbag. She told him to let everyone go, and he did. Atkinson got five years for the crime (he threatened more hostages than Read, but none were judges), and while he was in prison, he cut off his ear to show his continued loyalty to Read. That was a stronger friendship than Read and Loughnan’s. Loughnan, deciding Read hadn’t fulfilled his promise, tried to stab Read to death when they were both back in prison. Read survived, but in 1987, Loughnan and four other inmates set a fire in the prison and burned to death.
Elvis was a seventh-level black belt. That meant that he was very skilled as a martial artist or that he found some random guy who conferred black belts on customers and offered them a Cadillac in exchange for declaring him level seven. Either way, he knew how to strike a pose, which is potentially more useful on a day-to-day basis than any established fighting style.
In June 1977, Elvis flew to Madison, Wisconsin, after an Iowa concert, and a limo picked him up at the airport. They passed by a gas station, where he saw two people standing over a kid on the ground. The kid was 17-year-old Keith Lowry Jr., whose father owned the station. “I don’t buy this two-on-one deal,” said Elvis.
He got out of the car, which had stopped at a red light. The way one witness later described it, Elvis said, “If you want to fight, let’s fight,” while another witness would recall him saying, “I’ll take you two on.” He was still wearing the jumpsuit from his concert, and he struck a karate pose, which might have looked more like a scene from one of his movies than a seriously threatening gesture. We don’t have one of those scenes handy to share with you, so instead, here’s a clip of Elvis bringing a woman close to orgasm purely by singing “Old MacDonald.”
Elvis’ bodyguard — the provocatively named Dick Grob — was scared when his client bounded out of the car, because if this really was a street brawl, someone could easily pull out a gun and commit regicide. Thus, Grob and one other guard rushed out of the car after Elvis, but by this point, the fight had ended. Lowry ran from the scene into the station, and while the guards first assumed he was fleeing to safety, he was actually running to a phone to call friends and say Elvis was here.
“Is everything settled now?” said Elvis. Then he got back into the limo and asked his entourage, “Did you see those guys’ faces?” Two days later, he performed his last concert. Two months later, he died.
Bamse the Dog
In World War II, many dogs accompanied soldiers on the battlefield and won medals for their actions during combat. Bamse the St. Bernard was a little different. Bamse lived on a Norwegian ship called Thorodd, and while that ship had some adventures with Bamse onboard, the dog really came into his own from 1941 onward, when Thorodd just hung around Scottish ports. Sailors would get down and head into town, and it fell to Bamse to fetch them back.
One sailor, Olav Nilsen, would tell a story about how Bamse saved him from being knifed to death. He was out on the dock when someone showed up with a knife, speaking a strange language. This guy was probably looking to rob him but was maybe part of a squad dedicated to stabbing Norwegians. Bamse got up on his hind legs and knocked the attacker into the water. We never heard what happened to the blademaster next, but we trust he survived, because no one was soon asking questions about a waterlogged corpse.
We’re sure your dog would similarly protect you from any foe, given the chance. More unique, perhaps, was Bamse’s strategy when two sailors fought each other, when it was not clear whose side he should take. Here, too, he would get up on his hind legs, but not to push anyone down. He’d just lay his paws on one man’s shoulders. At this point, all combat was impossible, as was all negative emotions whatever.
Today, Bamse has a giant statue in Scotland, as well as additional statues in other countries. He’s better remembered than the ship he was on. That makes sense because it was a minesweeper, and while it’s technologically impressive that Norway even had PCs back then, computer games were surely a waste of resources at such a critical time.
Snackman, Eater of Chips
When people fight on the subway, you never how it may escalate. Ignore what’s going on, and next thing you know, maybe you’re picking a body off the floor because he was fatally stabbed. Try to be a hero and take the aggressor down, and maybe you’ll kill them, and then you’re the one guilty of manslaughter.
One March night in 2012, a man and a woman fought on a New York subway train. Though the encounter was captured on video and went viral, no campaign arose to identify the two fighters and destroy them, which says something about social media priorities in 2012 compared with today.
Also on the train was Charles Sonder. The 24-year-old had just come from a bar and had bought some Pringles and gummi bears. He saw the woman strike the man and the man hit back. Sonder stepped between them, casually, as though on his way to the doors to get out. But he stayed between them. He made no obvious attempt to intervene and addressed neither of them. He just stood there, eating those cheddar Pringles.
Clearly, the fight could not continue from here and instead had to fizzle out. Someone recorded and uploaded the encounter, and Snackman became a minor celebrity, complete with various remote fans vowing to bear his children. Today, you can still find him on Instagram, where he posts nothing of his personal life but simply shares photos of buildings he designs as an architect. A hero needs a little mystery.
The Bald Congressman
The year was 1858, and Congress was debating what to do about Kansas. Kansas, looking to enter to union, offered up a series of constitutions, which mostly served to establish it as a slave state. Not everyone in the national legislature was a huge fan of this move. Galusha Grow, a Pennsylvania rep who’d recently switched to the Republican Party due to the Democrats’ support of slavery, opposed the proposal. On February 6th, he crossed over to where the Democrats were sitting, and at this point, South Carolina’s Laurence M. Keitt said, “Return to your own side of the House. You have no business over here, anyway.”
“This is a free hall, and everybody has the right to be where he pleases,” said Grow. “Sir,” said Keitt. “You are a damned, black, Republican puppy!” He tried to choke Grow. “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me,” said Grow now, fighting back and knocking Keitt to the ground.
John “Bowie Knife” Potter now began hitting people on all sides. Abolitionist Owen Lovejoy exchanged blows with future successionist Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, and even Richard Mott, a pacifist Quaker from Ohio, tried to keep the peace till his hands were bleeding. John Covode from Pennsylvania picked up a stone spittoon, which he probably could have used to split someone’s skull open, but he resisted the temptation to use it.
William Barksdale from Tennessee tried to separate the fighters, to no avail. Potter struck him, and he mistook the punch as coming from future Secretary of State Elihu B. Washburne. “You’re a liar!” he said, when Washburne denied hitting him. Then he threw himself at Washburne, attracting the attention of a different Washburne — Cadwallader Washburn, Elihu’s brother. Cadwallader punched Barksdale’s head, knocking his wig off. Barksdale hurriedly put the hairpiece back on.
He put the wig on backwards. People saw how he looked and started laughing — both at the wig and how, discombobulated, he was now punching the empty air instead of his opponent. There was some irony in Barksdale being the target of everyone’s laughter, as he was the only person in this story without a ridiculous name, but it was enough to interrupt the fighting, giving the sergeant-at-arms a chance to sweep in and shut things down properly.
Laugher put an end to hostilities. Well, two different pairs of politicians at the brawl went on to schedule duels, and a few years later, this slavery issue escalated into a slightly higher-stakes conflict, but for the moment, everyone was united by all agreeing that one guy’s hair looked dumb.