THOMAS GREENE Snail eater
The first time Thomas Greene ever ate escargots was at Dominique, the Washington restaurant. In fact, he says, it was "the first time I ever saw one of those snails." The introduction didn't take long. Greene ate 360 snails in 11 minutes, stunning his nine opponents in Dominique's 1981 Bastille Day competition for escargot consumption.
"And you know what?" Greene asks. "That night I got back on the bus to Ocean City and had a couple of hamburgers there. It didn't bother me at all."
Snails, he judges, "are OK, but a little rubbery. I wouldn't pay to eat them. I like oysters better."
Apparently. In 1980 at another contest at the Happy Harbor restaurant in Deale, Md., Greene devoured 250 oysters in 3 minutes, 56 seconds. "I tore 'em up," he says of his competitors.
Greene is 42, unmarried -- "one of the lucky ones," as he puts it -- and works at Tracy's Creek boat yard in Deale, cleaning and repairing boats. He also lives there on a houseboat -- "actually, it's more of a barge with a house on top of it." He is 5' 10" tall, weighs 225 pounds, but says he doesn't make a habit of gorging himself on snails and oysters. "Those are the only two contests I've been in," he says. "They were just something to do. I wanted to show 'em that I could do it."
For eating a record number of snails, Greene won a trip to Paris, but decided to stay home and sent his 86-year-old grandmother instead. "I don't know why. I just didn't want to go. She liked it."
What's next? "I think I could get into a hot dog contest." RICHARD THRIFT Oldest retired policeman
Richard Thrift was forced to retire from the Washington police force in 1917 and is still around to talk about it. Thrift, in fact, has three claims to fame: he is Washington's oldest retired policeman, its longest retired policeman and its only honorary police officer.
Thrift was 29 years old, a member of the mounted patrol, when on an icy February morning, his horse slipped and fell on him, right behind his house in Congress Heights. Thrift's lungs were punctured, he contracted tuberculosis, and doctors gave him six months to live. Eight months later, he was still alive, and the police department told him he was retired.
Once a year, until he was 55, Thrift returned for a police department physical exam, and each time he failed. To help make ends meet -- "You have to when you have seven kids" -- he worked as an insurance salesman, an oil and coal dealer and a taxicab driver, although he remained officially retired from the police force. He retired for the second time when he quit driving a taxi at the age of 72.
Thrift's police career lasted only five years, but he can remember escorting Mrs. Taft on strolls around the city when she was First Lady. "Then people looked up to you if you were a policeman," he says. When he joined the mounted patrol, he was paid $90 a month -- "good money back then" -- but provided his own horse, which he had to feed and stable. Thrift still lives in the same house in Southeast but has converted the stable to a garage.
On Thrift's 95th birthday last July, police Chief Maurice Turner promoted him to an honorary sergeant. "He's reached a ripe old age, and he's still alert," Turner said. "We'll make him a lieutenant when he gets to be 100." IONTHE RHODES First to swim mouth of Chesapeake Bay
Her mother liked to read and chose her name from a figure in Greek mythology: Ionthe (pronounced Yonti ) was a water nymph, the daughter of Poseidon. "But no one paid attention to that," says Ionthe Rhodes, "until, as my daughter says, I started swimming."
On a Saturday morning last August, Rhodes, a 54-year-old grandmother from Eastville, Va. (pop 400), plunged into the Chesapeake Bay near Cape Charles and started swimming. Some 21 miles and 10 1/2 hours later, she walked ashore at Virginia Beach, becoming the first person known to have swum across the swift-moving waters at the mouth of the bay.
She did it to raise money (more than $8,000) for the local chapter of the Red Cross, which was nearly bankrupt and is headed by her husband. The only public pool in Northampton County -- where Rhodes was water safety instructor and maintenance crew -- is 32 feet long, too small for a more traditional fund-raising swimming marathon. So she set her sights on the bay. "Somebody had to be first," she says. "I just came along at the right time."
As a child, Rhodes taught herself to swim "out of sheer determination." She didn't become a swimming instructor, however, until she was in her late 30s. The only place she had to train for her long-distance swim was the tiny county pool where she figures she swam 72 miles last summer, 82 laps to each mile.
Even after crossing the bay on a rough day, Rhodes said she wasn't exhausted and "could have continued if I had to." She certainly was in better shape at the end than a photographer from a Norfolk newspaper who got seasick on a boat trailing Rhodes across the bay. "He was a dry land man from Texas," she says, "about the sickest man I ever saw." MARGARET GORMAN First Miss America
People still remember, though she wishes they wouldn't. Margaret Gorman was a 16-year-old student at Georgetown's Western High School -- now the Duke Ellington School of the Arts -- when she decided as "a lark" to enter a new beauty pageant in Atlantic City. They had eight contestants, and when they crowned a winner, Miss Gorman became Miss America 1921, the first Miss America.
She's Margaret Cahill now, a 77-year-old widow living in Cleveland Park, who says that becoming Miss America "didn't change my life at all. I simply went back to school and that was that. Nobody ever paid much attention to me because I was Miss America and that was all right with me." She was married four years later and "that, in those days, was it."
The pageant wasn't such a big deal then. That first year the contestants represented only a few cities, not every state. The first Miss America won no expensive prizes, no modeling contracts, no scholarships, just a "couple of trophies," she recalls. "I think I gave one of them to a church."
She vehemently denies a story -- published in a book of trivia and repeated on a television game show -- that during the Depression she melted down the largest trophy for the gold. "I should have sued them," she says. "My brother has it down in Florida. Why it wasn't even gold." She's put off by publicity and when NBC called to interview her last fall, "I told them no. I was polite, but I was definite."
Her husband, real estate developer Victor Cahill who died in 1957, "never cared much for the pageant," she says. "He thought it was silly, and we never discussed it. It's so long ago, I think it's best forgotten." But she would like to make a correction. According to the pageant officials, Gorman was the youngest, shortest (5', 1") and slightest (108 pounds, a 30-25-32 figure) Miss America. "But they got it wrong," she says. "I was 5', 2"." DOROTHY STRAIGHT Youngest author
It has been 20 years since Dorothy Straight wrote her last book. As her father likes to say, "She hasn't written a book since she learned how to read."
In 1966, when she was 6 years old and a first-grader at the Potomac School in McLean, Dorothy Straight became a published author, the youngest ever. Her book, published by Pantheon Books, was called How the World Began. It began: "Well, it first started out with a black ball, and God painted the ball all different colors."
Dorothy was 4 when she told her mother that story. Belinda Straight, a Washington psychoanalyst, wrote it down, as she had done with the stories of her other children. But when Dorothy's father, Michael, a novelist and former editor at The New Republic, saw it, he suggested submitting it -- and Dorothy's illustrations -- to a publisher. Publishing history was made.
The book, says the author, "didn't sell terribly well, a few thousand copies, I think." Straight went on to graduate from Potomac and Harvard (class of '81, high honors in classics) and now works for a Boston publishing firm "reading manuscripts and whatever else needs to be done."
About the only other thing she has written, she says, "was a thesis on Virgil, if that counts. I'm immersed in editing." She describes herself as "a literary person. There was never any question that I would do anything else."
Her early publishing feat was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records -- "youngest recorded commercially published author" -- and when Guinness opened a museum in New York a few years ago, Straight was invited and "chauffeured around in a limousine with a lot of people who had lain on a bed of nails and things like that."
On her resume, under "publications," Straight still lists the book she wrote when she was 4. "It's about all I have to offer there," she says. "It's good for a laugh," and she laughs. AVE MARIE LADSON, AND STEVE AND SETH SILVER Students with best attendance
Ave Marie Ladson says, "My mother pushed me." Steve and Seth Silver, identical twins, thank the grace of God. Whatever it was, it worked. All three students set attendance records when they were graduated from McKinley High School last June. All three had not missed a day of school in 11 years.
"No, it wasn't a competition with my brother," Steve Silver says. "Going to school just came natural to us. It's boring to stay at home. All our friends were in school, and even if I missed a day, I would be behind. I like to stay on top of things."
Seth Silver says he didn't even have an alarm clock to wake him up on time. "That was my secret," he says. "I prayed to God to wake me up [at 6 a.m], and it worked. I've got to give God the credit."
Ladson, who graduated a year ahead of schedule -- "I want to go to law school, so I guess I'm in a hurry," -- cannot recall ever missing a day of school. The Silver brothers were absent only once in 12 years of school when they went to their uncle's funeral. All three were honor roll students and all are continuing their education: Ladson at the University of the District of Columbia. Seth Silver at Howard University and Steve Silver at Lincon Tech.