Murphy's Law (John Paul Stapp obituary)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Wed Nov 17 05:06:46 UTC 1999

     I had written here a few months ago that John Paul Stapp had been ill.
He has died at age 89.
     This is from his obituary in the New York Times, 16 November 1999, pg.
B13, cols. 1-5:

Col. 1:  He won what will perhaps be even more lasting fame in a test five
years earlier, when he suffered injuries owing to a mistake by a Captain
Murphy.  The result: Murphy's Law.
Col. 3:  Dr. Stapp, who was known for his razor-sharp wit, suffered an injury
in the experiment that inspired Murphy's Law after a somewhat less rapid sled
ride in 1949.
     An assistant, Capt. Edward A. Murphy, Jr., had designed a harness to
strap in the rider.  The harness held 16 sensors to measure the acceleration,
or G-force, on different body parts.  There were exactly two ways each sensor
could be installed.  Captain Murphy did each one the wrong way.
     The result was that when Dr. Stapp staggered off the rocket sled with
bloodshot eyes and bleeding sores, all the sensors registered zero.  He had
been strained in vain.
     A distraught Captain Murphy proclaimed the original version of the
famous maxim: "If there are two or more ways to do something and one of those
results in a catastrophe, then someone will do it that way."

     This is wrong.
     I have tried very hard to verify this story with contemporaneous
documentary evidence, but I didn't find any, nor did Edwards Air Force Base.
Even according to the "official" version of the story, it wasn't Murphy who
had installed the part the wrong way--Murphy commented that SOMEONE ELSE had
installed the part the wrong way.  Murphy also wasn't an assistant--he was
brought there by the sled's manufacturer, Northrop.  Stapp worked for the

Ric Burns's NEW YORK (continued)

     Episode Three featured the Brooklyn Bridge.  David Shulman's work on
Brooklyn Bridge jumper and Bowery legend Steve Brodie wasn't misused--Brodie
wasn't used at all.
     Also never mentioned were Henry Ward Beecher, Daniel Drew, Russell Sage,
Nelly Bly, the Daily Graphic, yellow journalism, dudes, Tony Pastor, the
Diana statue on Madison Square Garden, the Dewey/Washington Square Arch (seen
but never explained), Grant's Tomb (seen but never explained), Gramercy Park,
Puck magazine (and the Puck Building), Life magazine (and the Life building),
the National Police Gazette, the creation of New York's "Finest," the city
beautiful movement...
    The 1898 unification of Greater New York was "without parallel anywhere
in world history."  We learn that "there had never been anyone quite like
William Tweed."  New York would "become home to the greatest concentration of
wealth in human history" and "become one of the most eerily divided places on
    The wonderful song "Sidewalks of New York" was sung (without
accompaniment) like a funeral dirge.
    The 1883 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge was greeted with even more Walt
Whitman quotes, fireworks, and the playing of John Philip Sousa's "The Stars
and Stripes Forever"--a march that was first written in 1897!

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