So call this Part 2 of my post from earlier this week. I suggest you read that post before you proceed here, but in summary, a Michigan Daily writer’s story about a group of students (including a football player and the basketball captain) selling sports gambling cards on campus caused a major stir and made national headlines. Several students were arrested and that Daily writer, Bart Huthwaite, was hanged in effigy in the Diag.
As promised at the end of that post I tracked down Mr. Huthwaite, now 74, and he shared a few more memories of the story (including the FBI’s involvement) and more from his days at U-M, including the Spring Break he spent in a Cuban jail cell! The 1960 U-M grad now lives on Mackinac Island, MI although he spends his summers in Florida.
Today he runs the Huthwaite Innovation Institute, as he describes it, “helping companies design their products so they cost less, they can sell more and they are easier to use and on and on.” Clients include Boeing, Gulfstream and 100s of others.
MVictors: So looking back at 1958, you’re a student working at the Michigan Daily when you wrote the parlay card story that made headlines around the country. First off, when’s the last time someone has mentioned this story to you?
Huthwaite: [laughs] Ohh, years and years ago. It’s passed from the scene. Decades ago.
MVictors: At the time, it was in LIFE magazine, in the NY Times and of course all the local Michigan papers and it seemed to make the sports beat anywhere people were talking about college football and probably beyond. I assume it all started with your story in the Michigan Daily?
Huthwaite: The Daily printed the story and then the newspapers got a hold of it. Then the whole thing rolled out about how this happened. You know…I really don’t want to dig it up [laughs]..it’s all behind me.
MVictors: Are you uncomfortable talking about it? I think people would like to hear about it.
Huthwaite: Ok, I will tell you the way that this happened. There was another guy with me on the Daily [who helped with the story]. We came to the conclusion that it didn’t make sense for the football players to be selling these gambling cards. And they were selling a lot of them. Somehow it got back to a guy who turned out to be their sponsor at their fraternity, and he told them there would be a raid to try to find the cards and such. He was an FBI agent.
So he heard about it, and the police knew about it. He briefed the fraternity telling them, “If you are dealing with these cards you should get out of it quick, because there’s going to be a raid coming down the pike.” So they got rid of them. And that ended that, but the whole story got out.
They did such things as hang me in effigy in the Diag [left].
MVictors: Yes, I saw the photo in LIFE magazine. So let me ask you about that. And by the way, I know that hanging folks in effigy for whatever reason was a fairly common occurrence in the 1950s. Were you frightened?
Huthwaite: No, but these people were being supplied with these gambling cards by people down in Detroit. There was some concern about…things. I did, for a while, carry a gun [laughs]. Now you’ve got to understand this was a long time ago.
MVictors: Did you ever find out who was responsible for hanging the dummy up in The Diag ?
Huthwaite: No, no.
MVictors: The story made Sports Illustrated as well and the reaction seemed to be, ‘sure it’s technically a crime but everybody’s doing it.’ Did you recall that being the national reaction to the story?
MVictors: Today the football program is of course a very big deal, and it was a very big deal back in the late 1950s although they were struggling. Did anybody from the athletic department, or Fritz Crisler himself, contact you are the Daily to try to suppress the story?
Huthwaite: No, not me, and not the Daily. But J. Edgar Hoover contacted the police department and contacted the [FBI] agent. Hoover was up in a hoopla because his agent had informed the fraternity that this was going to go down.
MVictors: Wow. So Hoover was mad that somebody tipped off the fraternity that the raid was going to happen.
Huthwaite: Yes – one of his own people!
MVictors: So where did you learn about Hoover’s involvement?
Huthwaite: I learned about that from the Ann Arbor police department. [laughs] This is amazing that you uncovered all this stuff.
MVictors : You mentioned you carried a gun, but how were you treated on campus? Were you a celebrity of sorts?
Huthwaite: [laughs] No. I mean I had written for the Daily for several years but I wasn’t a celebrity. But I wasn’t hassled too much. It wasn’t a big deal.
MVictors: Did you have any interaction with the guys that were involved with the crime after the story came out?
Huthwaite: No, no. I just stayed away from that.
MVictors : So when I was researching this parlay card story I found another interesting story that made some headlines in 1958. So tell me about your trip to Cuba on Spring Break. As I understand it you were trying to get an interview with Castro but were arrested? [Ed. Historical context: in 1958 Castro wasn’t quite in power yet; the country was still run by Batista.]
Huthwaite: When we went to Cuba, we went to see Castro, but we were going to see him when he was up in the mountains. He was not in power; he came to power after we went there. A woman from Cuba contacted me and asked if we wanted to meet Castro, because we were interested in this Cuba thing. We said yeah, we’d like to interview him.
So [a fellow Daily writer] and I went down, left from Florida and flew to Santiago de Cuba which is on the eastern end and it is a major port. We checked into our hotel. The next morning we were all lined up to head out. Suddenly there was pounding on the door and the police were there. They put us in a military jeep and took us to prison.
Before we checked into the hotel we had met the guy from the New York Times, his name escapes me, who was really following the Castro story. He noticed that suddenly the day after talking to him we were gone. He reported to the embassy that he didn’t know where we were, we weren’t in our rooms, and on and on. That prompted the embassy to get a hold of the Cubans.
MVictors: So what was the Cuban jail like?
Huthwaite: I think we were in there for like three days. That was not a pleasant experience…because they were doing all sorts of things…executing people and such.
MVictors: Whoa. Did you witness any of that?
Huthwaite: No, but you could hear the firing squads and all that stuff. We had to sign a document stating that we weren’t supporting Castro and all that, they put back on a plane blindfolded, and flew us back to Havana and then back to the States. In that very period of time, the hotel we were staying in was bombed and the very room we stayed in was bombed, not that it had anything to do with us.
This is all kind of trickling back.
We did a lot of wild stuff. In the summer of 1959, I was part of a four man U-M group that attempted to be the first motorized transit of the Darien Gap, the jungle that separates Panama and Columbia. We left from Ann Arbor on new BMW motorcycles. We made it to Costa Rica. We ran out of money and people and had to turn back.
MVictors: What a story! Wow. So back to the whole gambling card story, the way that went down, with you getting hanged in effigy and national attention, did that leave a bad taste in your mouth about your experience at U-M or do you still have fond memories of your time there?
Huthwaite: Oh I have good memories of my time at Michigan but…you know….that [time of the story] not that was not a fond time of mine. It’s one of those things I had to do it again I wouldn’t have done it.
MVictors: Well why do you say that? You were a journalist, obviously, and this seems like a legitimate story. Why wouldn’t you have done it?
Huthwaite: Well…the whole way it ended wasn’t fruitful for anyone. I didn’t like throwing mud in the faces of a football players–I mean that’s sacrilege. It left a bad taste in my mouth…I just wouldn’t have done it again. But it showed me a little bit of the inside of the police department and the FBI.
You see, on the Daily if you were working a particular night you had to go down and check the blotter, that is all the complaints and arrests and all of that sort of stuff down at the police station. So I got to know all the police pretty well. That was interesting.
MVictors : Thanks so much for sharing all this. You obviously had some amazing experiences at Michigan.
Huthwaite: There was never a dull moment [laughs].
Follow MVictors on Twitter
Read Part I: The Parlay Card Peccadillo here.