Q: (inaudible). Just to let you know, you are being recorded right now. I hope you
A: OK. Not at all.
Q: Again, I just want to thank you so much for participating in this. I just want to let
you know what it is that I’m doing. First of all, I am a second-year law student at
Harvard Law School, and I am writing a book with a professor here at the
business school. And what we’re really interested in is how much people’s
responses to risks and accidents have changed over time. What we’re really
interested in is that right now, there’s a lot of laws that help people deal with risks
in their lives, and a lot of people are saying that we don’t really need these right
now, but our position is that the amount of injuries and accidents and other kind
of risks that everyone was – no one can appreciate how much riskier life used to
A: That’s right!
Q: Oh, I’m very glad you agree with me. That shows that our historical research is
right. That’s sort of the focus of this project, and what I’m really interested in
talking to you about was, I’m interested in talking about the accident with the
Coca-Cola bottle and everything following after that. But I’m also really
interested in getting the context and just the sense of what the times were like then
and your experience of everything.
First of all, I’m actually curious, since I was in California recently. What’s the
weather like there right now?
A: Very good. It’s calm, around 78 by day, which is good. 54 nights.
Q: I’m so jealous. I’m calling from Boston, where it’s getting dark at 6:00 o’clock,
and it’s cold, and leaves are falling off the trees, and it’s cloudy outside. But I
was in San Francisco not too long ago. I was there about two months ago, in the
middle of August.
A: Oh, it was warm.
Q: Oh, it may have been warm for you, but it was the coldest August I had ever been
A: Well, San Francisco in the summertime is very cold.
Q: Yes. That was really exciting for me. It’s such a fun town. It’s such a beautiful
A: Yes, it is.
Q: I was really happy to be out there. Absolutely beautiful.
Turning to this first question. When were you born?
A: June, 1912. June 28. I’m 93 and a half, almost.
Q: Wow. Yes. Sarah from the courthouse –
Q: Yes, Sarah from the museum said that you were very, very happy and really
willing to talk, but I’ll sure keep in mind that you are 90-something years old.
A: 93 and a half.
A: I’m still driving my car.
Q: That’s amazing.
A: Everybody says it is, and it just don’t seem amazing to me.
Q: I don’t know. I haven’t driven a car in about five years, so the idea of anybody
driving a car for me is kind of strange. I live in a town with a subway, so.
A: Oh, you don’t need it.
Q: No, I don’t need one at all, and I’m very, very glad for it. No insurance, no gas
A: Wonderful. No traffic.
Q: No traffic, either. That’s really exciting. Were you born in Merced?
A: No, I was born in a – Well, it wasn’t actually a town. I was born in what was the
territory of Montana.
Q: Oh, wow. Which part of Montana?
A: It was on the – believe it or not – an Indian reservation, then, and it still is. We
finally moved from there, and then when the state – I think it was in 1913 that it
became a state of Montana, and my father came out there with the intention of
filing a claim, and he did. And my mother also filed for a claim. It was 160 acres
that was given to them, each of them.
We moved to a little town called Big Sandy. It’s 80 miles north of Great Falls,
Q: Actually, one of my closest friends is from Big Fork, Montana, which is – I think
it’s somewhat near Missoula, although, I guess when you’re talking about
A: Yes. That’s about they type of weather and everything we had is what they had.
Q: So snow in the middle of June?
Q: Yeah, that’s what he had mentioned.
A: Well, we used to have – Our winters – We went to school only from April to
probably September, because in the wintertime, it was real, very, very snowy. 40
Q: Below zero?
A: Yes. And snow maybe seven, eight feet tall. We never got out of the house
during the winter months. It has changed absolutely 180 degrees.
Q: The weather has changed?
A: In Montana.
Q: That’s so strange. I wonder how that happened.
A: Well, it is, because they don’t have that kind of weather anymore. They have
below zero, maybe 20, 30. But they don’t have the eight-foot snows like they
Q: Wow. Where did your parents come in order to go to Montana?
A: My mother was born in Ireland, and my father was from Pennsylvania. They
decided that they wanted to get out of there and go out for themselves and do
something else, and so they went. It was the days of the stagecoach.
Q: Oh, my God.
A: Well, 19 –
Q: Well, yeah, there wouldn’t have been any railroads through there at that point.
A: 19 and 10. 1910.
Q: By then, they had the transcontinental railroad, but that was way down south. Oh,
A: There was no transportation to where they went.
Q: Oh, my God.
A: That’s right.
Q: Now, Escola, is that a Portuguese name?
Q: Is Escola a Portuguese name?
A: No, it happens to be – My husband – I’m Irish, but my husband was from Finland,
and when they came here, his father decided he didn’t want to be an immigrant,
so they changed their name. They went to Mendocino County, California. They
changed their name from E-S-C-O-L-L-A-A to Escola so they wouldn’t look like
they were immigrants. And what they didn’t know was that that is the spelling for
Mexican schoolhouse and Portuguese schoolhouse. So all the time of my married
life, I have been, as they call now, Spanish. But I am not.
Q: That’s so funny.
A: Yes, it is.
Q: I was actually wondering about that. Were you raised in Montana, or were you –
A: I lived there until I was seven years old, and we lived on what was called the Bear
Paw Mountains. It was a little town, Big Sandy. It wasn’t too far. We didn’t
have a car or anything like that, because it was during the ’20s. Let’s see. From
19 – I was there from ’20 – In Montana, I was there when I was born there, but
then I left there in the ’20s, early ’20s.
Q: Did they go straight to California?
A: No. We went to Chicago, because my father was working for the railroad, so they
transferred him to Chicago, because that was the hub. So we moved to Chicago,
and I lived there 17 years. My folks came out here because of the terrible weather
in Chicago. California was known as the Sunshine State, which it isn’t anymore.
But anyway, that’s what happened. I came out. I was working, but I came out to
see them, and I never went home.
Q: I can’t blame you, after being there. I’d actually lived in Chicago for a year. I’m
originally from Miami, Florida, which is now the Sunshine State.
A: Yes, it is.
Q: But I remember living in Chicago for a year, and it was just so cold.
A: Oh, yes. It was – We used to carry –
Q: Of course, after Montana –
A: We used to ride the streetcars, and I had quite a little ways to walk to go to the
streetcars, and I would carry a little can of salt, and we’d sprinkle the salt on the
sidewalk so we could walk on it, ahead of us, you know. That’s true.
Q: Wow. I complain when the city doesn’t do that for me now. I suppose that’s
A: That was – I lived what they called in the south, which now is taken over by
another cult, the south side of Chicago. We had all Swedish and – Well, let’s see.
Swedish and Hollanders settlement there. And I think we were the only Irish
people that was in the place.
Q: By the way, where in Pennsylvania was your father from?
Q: Is that in the western part of the state, or the middle part?
A: I really can’t tell you, but I think it’s kind of in the middle.
Q: But I can find out. Because actually, I have very good friends from Erie,
Pennsylvania, and there’s a very large Irish community there. So when you
arrived in California, you arrived in Merced?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: What was it like in the late ’30s and the early ’40s?
A: Well, it was still Depression, and it was a very small town, a very nice town. I
think we had about 20,000 people, which was nothing compared to what it is
today. Of course, we have a new University of California here now, and it’s the
10th University of Califor – Yes, the 10th one.
Q: When did that open? A couple years ago?
A: Nope, it was opened this year.
Q: Oh, wow. That’s why I hadn’t heard about it, I suppose.
A: It was 10 years in the making, and it finally opened up this year. And it’s – yhey
have classes going on now, the fall classes, and it’s a university.
Q: Do you do any work there? I know that you –
A: No. I don’t work anywhere.
Q: I know. I saw that you did a lot of volunteering.
A: I don’t volunteer too much anymore, because it’s too hard.
Q: Well, I certainly can’t blame you.
A: I have a little arthritis in my hands, so they don’t work too well. But I
volunteered for the museum in Merced, the county museum, and I think I was
there for 15 years. Yes, I was. 15 years. Then I worked, I volunteered, at the
Applegate Zoo for 26 years. But I don’t do that.
Q: It sounds like a lot of fun.
A: Yes, it was. Well, I was in the gift shop. I didn’t get to see too many, but the
animals were nice. I enjoyed them.
Q: Were there tigers?
Q: Oh, that’s a shame. Tigers were always my favorite.
A: It’s a small – We have a puma, and we also have a bobcat, which is similar. And
the bobcat was taken over by the university when they found out we had one. It
stays there, but they support it, and they call – That’s their mascot.
Q: In Florida, we had a number of people keeping pets they really shouldn’t have
kept, like alligators and –
A: Oh, I know they did.
Q: – gila lizards. I had plenty of experience with that. So, in the ’30s, was Merced
sort of its own town, or was it a suburb of Fresno, or –
A: It was just a nice town. That’s all I can call it. A nice town. There was no gangs
or anything like that, and there were no – not a lot of upheaval. I think that’s why
my case got so much interest in it.
Q: Because you were a person from Merced as opposed to from some of the more
Q: Is that because you think you were from a nicer place?
A: Oh, no. I wasn’t from a depressed area.
Q: No, no, no. I said, did you think that your case got a lot of attention because you
were a person from a nice area?
A: No. It was just because of Melvin Belli.
Q: Oh, it’s Belli. I actually didn’t know how it was pronounced.
A: Belli. Yes. He was Italian.
Q: So you worked at – It was Tiny’s Waffle Shop, correct?
Q: When did that open?
A: I think it opened in about 19 and – Oh, gosh. Let’s see. It was only a couple of
years. I think in ’37, something like that, ’38. But I didn’t work there until I
came out here.
Q: And when was that, about?
A: In ’39. 1939.
Q: So it was just starting up around then. What was it like? How did it compare to
your normal coffee shop nowadays?
A: Well, it was very friendly, and it was 24 hours a day, and it was right on Highway
99, which was the artery line. And it was just a nice, nice little place. No trouble.
Nothing else. Just like that. It was very good. And the town was a small town,
and it was a very nice town.
Q: Was it a meeting place for people? Did they ever get together there?
A: Oh, yes. We had lots of that. We had a banquet room. And during the ski –
Q: A banquet room.
A: In the back, they had a banquet room, plus the main restaurant. And during ski
season, we would just be inundated with people. And believe it or not, we sold –
There was three items that we had on the dinner menu that the ski people liked. It
was a Salisbury steak with coleslaw and french fries, and then there was a rib
steak with coleslaw and french fries, and chicken, the same thing. And believe it
or not, that was 35 cents. That was 19 and 39.
Q: That’s – I’m very jealous, I have to say.
A: The winter of ’39.
Q: Although, I guess even at 35 cents, food was still hard to come by for some
people back then.
A: Well, yes, it was, because there wasn’t – In fact, when I worked in Chicago in a
restaurant, I was making 27 cents an hour. I came out here, I got 35 cents an
hour, and I was just delighted. I worked six days a week, 48 hours, and the salary
Q: You were working a lawyer’s hours.
A: It was just – It was wonderful. I supported myself and my mother and father on
Q: Oh, wow!
A: That’s right. And of course, we got tips.
Q: Yeah. I’m hoping to do the same thing myself. My parents are retiring soon, so
hoping to go into law and help them out, because they kind of got hit pretty hard
with some bad investments.
A: Oh, boy. That’s hard, very hard. Well, we – my folks lost everything in the – that
– where all the banks went up and everything and the Depression started in the
Q: That’s actually one of the things that we work a lot on. We work a lot on deposit
insurance and why it’s a good idea, and I think you saw first hand why it’s a good
A: Yes, it is. We had no insurance, of course. The banks, they just closed one day
and never opened up again. That’s exactly what happened.
Q: I don’t think anyone today could imagine that ever happening.
A: No, they can’t.
Q: Going to your bank and seeing the doors closed and never opening.
A: No, they can’t. They cannot.
Q: Do you remember any of the names of the people that worked with you at Tiny’s?
A: Well, they’re not living.
Q: Right. No, I know. But we’re interested in trying to make this all come to life. I
don’t know if you remember anyone. It’s fine if you don’t. By the way, if there’s
any of these questions that you honestly just don’t want (inaudible).
A: Well, it’s just that I don’t know who to name. We had so many. We had 33
Q: Then, who was the boss?
A: Who was the boss?
A: I was.
Q: Were you the manager of the restaurant?
A: I was the manager there for 14 years.
Q: Oh, I didn’t know that.
A: And then, the man that had it wanted to get rid of it. He was sick of it. He didn’t
like restaurant business anyway, so he sold it to me, and I had it for three years,
and then the highway went through, and I decided that we were a place where it
was the beginning of the fast food stuff, 24 hours a day, and I decided I would sell
it, which I did. And it was a good thing I did, because about three years later,
they just closed it because there was no business. When your main highway
leaves, your customers leave if you depend on the traffic. And we did.
Q: There’s a lot of towns in New York that are like that now. A lot of New York has
just up and died because of where the traffic has gone. It’s really sad. Were you
managing the restaurant when the accident happened?
Q: So you worked there from 1939 until – When did you say you sold it?
A: I sold it in 19 and 53.
Q: 1953. Wow, that’s a very long time. Well, for me, it’s a very long time to stay in
one place. I think we’ve gotten –
A: That’s because you’re so young.
Q: Yeah. We’ve gotten used to jumping ship all the time now.
A: Oh, yes. They do. During the war years, the Second World War, it was a terrible
job because you couldn’t get help.
Q: Did you mostly employ women or men?
A: Waitresses were women, but the cooks in the kitchen were men.
Q: Oh, that makes sense. Oh, my. But it seems like you pulled through it.
A: Yes, I did, thank God.
Q: That’s really impressive. The accident, that happened in 1942, was it? Or was it
A: The spring of ’42.
Q: Spring of ’42. Was it usually your responsibility to – Actually, why don’ t you
tell me, if you remember, how everything happened.
A: Well, I was filling the refrigerator with Coca-Cola and I – They come in boxes at
that time and glass bottles, and I was putting them in the refrigerator, and I picked
this one up and it exploded in my hand, and it went way deep into the palm of the
hand. And the blood, of course, was atrocious. But I was taken to the doctor’s
office. It was in the afternoon, and they sewed it up, and I was able to use it, but
not good for quite some time. And then it never did come back good. It was the
right hand, and it took the whole web out between the index finger and the thumb.
The glass was wedged in the middle of the palm of the hand.
Q: Oh my God! I’m assuming it left big scars?
A: The scar you can’t tell, because it’s right in the web of the thumb and finger. You
wouldn’t know it was a scar.
Q: How long did it take to come back, or at least start to come back?
A: You mean my hand?
A: It never came back really, because it seemed like every time that some kind of
metal would touch that scar, it would give you a little shock.
Q: And to this day it still does that?
A: No, it don’t do it today. Of course not. But that happened in the spring of ’42.
Yeah, ’42. And then it came to trial in the spring of ’43. And then they took it – I
got the judgment. Belli, he was – Well, during the war, all the juries – I think
there was five, eight – five or six women, and the rest – about four men. It wasn’t
too many. It was 12 on the jury. But most were women, because the men were
all gone to war. He just went in there and stormed them. He just took them by
surprise. He was such a young, vivacious, handsome man, and so there was no
doubt about it that that helped me.
Q: I have a question about that. How did you get to meet him? Did he come to you,
or did you look for him?
A: You mean Belli?
Q: Belli, yes.
A: Oh, no. We had a very famous lawyer here in Merced. His name was C. Ray
Robinson, and he was another lawyer that would go out on a limb for anything or
anybody, and he used to eat at the restaurant every morning. And when he found
out what happened, he said, “Why don’t you sue them?” I said, “Well, I can’t do
that.” He said, “Well, you can’t, but I can.” And so he did.
And then, during the interim, he was drafted back into the Navy, and he was a
lawyer on a troop ship or something. I don’t know what. But anyway, he turned
all of his cases, his court cases, over to Melvin Belli, which was his friend. And
he lived in – up in the mountains from Merced. I can’t think of the name of the
place exactly right now.
Q: Had you heard about him before? Was he (inaudible)?
A: No, I never – I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know who he was until he came
down the day before the trial came up.
Q: So his reputation as a colorful character came later?
A: Yes, he was. He was without a doubt a character. Wonderful, wonderful. And
very nice. I mean, he was – I have things from the papers that they wrote about
him. You can’t believe how popular that man was.
Q: He’s written a lot of books, I’ve seen, and he’s had a lot of coverage.
A: Oh, yes. Definitely.
Q: They still have the law firm named after him, I think in northern California.
A: Maybe so.
Q: And they have a whole award named after him for lawyers, for exceptional
lawyers, so he’s left a huge impact. I was curious, had you ever heard of Coke
bottles exploding like this before it had happened to you?
A: It didn’t happen to me ever before, but they – But Belli brought a lot of witnesses
to the stand, people that worked for Coca-Cola company, and they testified that,
yes, they do that. And then, a Mr. Landram, who was the attorney for the
defendant, he brought lawyers in. It was the time of Depression and there was no
money hardly, anyway, and Belli just made a monkey out of him. He did.
Because he hired all these here people that all they do is testify. He paid them
$50 a day to do that. And Belli just brought it out to them, and they had to admit
that yes, they were –
Q: They were paid experts?
A: They were just hired, and that’s – I think that was another turning point.
Q: I would imagine.
A: But the trial was two days, which was agony. And then on the second day when it
ended and the jury went out, then Landram said, “Well, that’s the end of that.”
And I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say and I wasn’t as
voicey as I am today, I guess.
But anyway, the jury was out only a couple of hours, and when he saw the jury
coming back in, he said, “Well,” he said, “That’s the end of you.” An early jury
means it is for the defense, and he was just angry. You can’t believe how mad
that man was.
Q: Well, he was mad enough to appeal it, apparently.
A: Oh, he did. But you know, there was a tremendous amount of money at stake.
Q: Wow. Well, when you make $18 a week –
A: That’s a lot of money.
Q: That’s a lot of money.
A: And then, it was in 19 – Landram took it to every court he could, and finally the
superior court in July of ’44 held up the – I mean, the Supreme Court held up the
superior court, so I got a letter from Melvin Belli, which I still have, stating that I
would get my money.
Q: You weren’t getting anything at this point?
Q: Yeah, I think that’s the way it usually works. Of the $2,900, do you remember
about how much Belli’s share was?
A: Well, it was $2,900, and I didn’t get the payment for seven years, and it was all –
Well, they were holding it up in the courts, but then the Supreme Court of
California said that they had to pay – what did they?
Q: Interest, probably.
A: I don’t remember what they call it, but anyway, they had to pay interest on that
money from the time it was awarded, seven years. It was a case where if I won,
Melvin Belli would get partial, and if I lost, then he wouldn’t get anything and
neither would I. That’s the way they did those cases. That’s the way Melvin
Belli started out.
Q: Do you remember about what his share was?
A: No, I sure don’t. In fact, I don’t know exactly what my share was. The only thing
I know was that when I got the check, I put it down on a house, bought a house.
Q: Oh Wow. How long did you live in that house?
A: The house was $5000, two-bedroom, one bath. Small. And it paid a real, real big
amount of it, so I don’t know how much I got.
Q: When did you sell it?
A: I sold it – I bought it in 19 and 45, and I sold it in 1955 and bought the house that
I’m living in now, and I have been here 50 years.
Q: I rarely stay in a place for more than a year at a time. I wish I could stay I had
stayed in one place for nearly that long.
A: Then you’re what we used to call footsies.
Q: Yes, I am.
A: You left your footprints.
Q: Yeah. I’ve been in Florida, I’ve been in Chicago, I’ve been in Boston. I’ve been
A: Oh, my. Well, I think that’s great. It’s educational.
Q: Yeah, I’ve certainly got to seen a lot, a lot of very different parts of the country.
So you said you had never heard of this sort of thing happening before, before it
happened to you?
A: No. I didn’t. When Belli was trying the case, he kept repeating that it res ipsa
loquitur, and he kept repeating that and repeating that, and someone asked him
what it meant. He said, “The thing speaks for itself.” And that’s what he said.
Q: Well, it certainly does. Coke bottles don’t just shatter on their own. When it
happened, before the lawyer had said that you might think of suing, did you feel
like you should have blamed somebody?
A: Oh, no. Oh, no. I would have never done anything about it at all. I wouldn’t
have done anything.
Q: Why do you think that was?
A: Because I’m not – We were not suing people at that time. Nobody sued anybody
else. Now, you can’t turn around unless they sue you. That’s the truth.
Q: Right. But, did you think the bottler was responsible for it, or did you think that it
Q: It was just sort of your luck?
A: I didn’t think about anything. I just knew it happened, that’s all. But in fact, I
didn’t really want to do that, but C. Ray Robinson said, “Yes, you’re going to do
it because I’m going to do it for you.” And he did.
Q: Would you say he pushed you into it in any way?
A: He didn’t push me, no. He just suggested it, and then went ahead and done it.
And that’s the truth. He was another colorful, very colorful person in Merced.
But Belli was a – He was just really something.
Q: Did he just have a really strong and forceful character?
A: Oh, yes. Yeah. He would tackle anything. He was the lawyer that was defending
that Ruby, remember when JFK was killed?
Q: Really? Robinson, or –
A: No, not Robinson.
Q: Oh, Belli defended Ruby.
A: Belli. Ruby got a hold of him and got him to come down and testify or do the
case, and of course, then Ruby, when he was walking through the – right with the
people that were taking this here Lee Oswald to jail, he killed him. And then it
wasn’t very – Oh, just a couple of years later, even maybe less than that, that
Ruby died. He was dying with cancer at the time.
Q: Yeah, the whole story is a very strange story.
A: Yes, it is. Very, very.
Q: Do you think there was a conspiracy going on?
A: No, not at all. I don’t think so.
Q: I know a lot of people to this day are convinced.
A: To this day, they think there was. I really don’t think so.
Q: I guess I have some more questions about the bottle shattering. Before you
initiated the lawsuit, did Coke offer – did the bottler offer to pay anything, or did
they even –
A: No. Never heard from them.
Q: Never heard from them? Do you know if they had heard about you before the
lawsuit, before it had gotten around?
A: I have no idea.
Q: That’s fine.
A: I knew all the people who worked for Coca-Cola, because they were the ones that
brought the stuff around and ate in the restaurant and everything else, but Coca-
Cola never, never contacted me. I think – I feel like maybe they thought they had
an open and shut case.
Q: Did Belli make it sound like you had an open and shut case, or was he – did he
say it was a very risky case?
A: No, it wasn’t. I think Coca-Cola Company was just felt that they couldn’t lose.
Q: But when Belli told you – Did he ever tell you what the odds he thought were?
A: The what?
Q: Did he ever tell you what he thought the odds were of victory?
Q: No? So he never said, “This is a sure thing,” or –
A: No. Oh, no. Never. No. He was just starting out at that point in time, and that
was one of the very first cases that he tried, and it turned out that it was a
Q: Yes, actually. Every law student today reads your case. They all read about it.
A: Yes, they do. I get phone calls all the time.
Q: How do people normally find you? I’ll tell you how I found you.
A: Well, I’ve been here for 65 years, and everybody knows me. I worked in the
restaurant, had the restaurant, and then I was director of food service for the high
school system, and then when our junior college opened up, I opened up the
cafeteria and was the director there. Then after 20 years working for the schools,
after I’d put in my 16 years there, I quit.
Q: So now, just everybody knows you.
A: Oh, yes. The letters that Melvin Belli sent to me, they’re postmarked here in San
Francisco, and most of them are written to Mrs. Gladys Escola, Tiny’s, Merced.
No address, no nothing. And the postage was three cents. Yeah, it was.
Q: That’s changed a lot. When your friends and your family and everybody in town
heard that you were suing the bottling company, did they – What did they think
about that? Did they think you were right? Did they think you shouldn’t bother?
A: Nobody – At that point in time, and that time, nobody made any, any, any
comments on anything. Several people would come in and kind of laughingly
say, well, you did this or you did that, but it wasn’t – My family never said
anything. All I had was a brother and a sister and a mother and a father, and they
never said a word.
Q: So no one ever said go get them or –
A: Oh, no. Never. No, nothing like that.
Q: Did anyone ever accuse you of being in it for the money?
A: Being what?
Q: Sort of just going after money?
A: Oh, no. My goodness, no. That’s the only money I ever got in my life, and it
wasn’t my doings, because I didn’t instigate it. It was C. Ray Robinson that did.
Q: Do you remember, was there much press coverage at the time?
A: Much what?
Q: Was there much newspaper coverage about (inaudible)?
A: Oh, no, not at all. Very – I have the news coverage that was, and it was just two
small, two small things. One of them was, it said, the high court upholds the
damage award in bottle mishap suit. And that was in July of ’43. Then the other
one is the same thing, a damage suit for $2,900.
People would – When people ask me about that, I say, well – they said how much
did you get – $2,900, they laughed.
Q: Why did they laugh?
A: Well what is two thousand, nine hundred dollars? You (inaudible) go a million
Q: Oh, you mean when people today ask and you say 29. Sorry. I thought you
meant people at the time that would ask. No, $2,900 in 194 –
A: That was a lot of money in 1943.
Q: That was a lot of money. That was most of a house in 1943.
A: It was. It certainly bought me a house. Of course, I owed a little, but not much.
If I’m not mistaken, I paid cash for it, the house. It was $5000, and with what I
got from them, which I don’t remember, and then I had the other money when I
sold the restaurant, and I bought it for cash.
Q: I can’t even imagine that today. The homes in the neighborhood where I came
from, when I was born, they were about $100,000, and now they’re $400,000.
A: Well, the home that I bought here, the one that I’ve been here 50 years, 1955,
February, it was $15,700. And I wondered how I was ever going to pay for it.
But I wanted it so bad. I loved it, so I just went and bought it. I sold my other
house. I paid five for it and sold it for 10, and I lived there 10 years, so I kind of
had it made. But you have to go out on a limb once in a while. Not anymore.
Q: When do you think people started to realize that the case you were involved in
was an important case?
A: After all this – Well, one of the things was the Jack Kennedy thing. That was, of
course, in all the papers, and Belli’s name was in that, and several others. And
lots and lots of celebrities, he took care of them. He was their lawyer. He was
such a flamboyant person. That’s when they started thinking about it.
A: Uh-huh. But not until then. Because nobody knew him. Like I say, he lived in
Sonora, which is a little north of here.
Q: I think Sonora was one of the towns I went through when I was there recently.
That’s a very beautiful place.
A: It is. It’s a wonderful place.
Q: This is sort of a silly question. Did the accident cause you to stop drinking Coke
A: I never drank Coke anyway.
Q: Never drank it?
A: I still don’t. I don’t drink sodas. I never did. I drink coffee.
Q: Me too.
A: I really, truly say that I can’t remember when I had a taste of anything like that.
Q: That’s so funny, though, that it happened to you, then.
A: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
Q: Now that a lot of people have – Now that millions of law students are reading
about your case and since it’s part of this whole line of these products liability
cases, what do you think about the tort crisis nowadays and the products liability?
Like the woman who got hot coffee spilled on herself at McDonald’s and then
sued McDonald’s. What do you think about all that?
A: Oh yes. Oh, I think it’s ridiculous, but you know, this the ridiculous age. And
when you’ve lived as long as I have, it’s really, really ridiculous, all that stuff.
People walk down the street, and if you happen to bump into them, you’re liable
to get sued. I mean, it’s just ridiculous.
Q: I agree. Luckily, I haven’t been sued yet, but I still have a lot of time to go, I
think. I still have plenty of opportunity to be sued.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: What do you think about the role your case had and the precedent and sort of
setting all this up? Do you ever feel sort of guilty about it? Do you ever feel
A: I certainly don’t.
Q: No? How come?
A: No, I don’t.
Q: Do you just not think that –
A: In fact, I don’t think about it. I’ve got so many other things to think about.
Q: I would imagine. Of course, of course.
A: It’s not fun living alone and taking care of a home. At 93, it isn’t. I’m just lucky
that I have enough sense left.
Q: You said back then that it would be very uncommon to do a lawsuit.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: I think it was also actually really difficult to make this lawsuit out. I don’t know
if you know, but this res ipsa loquitur law that Mr. Belli was constantly talking
about, it was actually really hard to prove that there was an injury, or to prove that
someone was responsible back then.
A: Yes, that’s right.
Q: Now, since then, it’s become much easier.
A: Oh, why yes. And he was so gracious and so brilliant and so likeable that the jury
just was, I think, were all for him rather than me.
Q: I’m sure you were good on the stand as well. That’s what us lawyers say. We say
our witnesses are good on the stand.
A: I only answered what they asked me. I didn’t offer anything.
Q: Back then, it was very hard to do one of these lawsuits, and now it’s very easy.
Do you think maybe if people weren’t so quick to sue everyone, do you think
we’d be better off?
A: Oh, I think so, because you know, you’re scared to death all the time if you’re
going to get sued for something, and you have to have the total amount of
insurance on your home, on your car, and insurance yourself. That’s the way it is.
It never used to be like that.
Q: I know a lot of doctors who completely agree with you.
A: Oh, yes. We had several doctors here that just had lawsuits. They quit.
Prominent doctors, too. They just quit.
Q: I know a lot of doctors will just take everything they have and put it in someone
else’s name so in case someone ever sues them, then there’s no money to go after.
A: That’s true. That’s very true.
Q: Even though you didn’t drink Coke –
A: No, I didn’t.
Q: You never drank Coke.
A: Never did.
Q: Did the explosion cause you to have someone else stock the refrigerators from
then on? Were you scared at that point?
A: No, I wasn’t scared about anything. Nothing. It didn’t bother me in the least.
The only thing was the pain and the stuff that you go through with something like
that, and the hand being six weeks in a cast.
END OF SIDE
Q: The last question I have about this, you mentioned that a lot of people come to
speak to you. Do a lot of people who aren’t from the area ever seek you out and
ask you about the case?
A: Not any more. Some of the lawyers do that were here at the time. But you see, at
my age, my peers are all gone. That’s the truth. You know, I have a lot of this
stuff that came out –
(static sound, dial tone, redialing)
Q: Hi. I’m sorry. I don’t know what just happened there.
A: I know what happened. I had my phone, the one that I carry around, and it quit. I
talked too long.
Q: I’m sorry.
A: That’s OK. But now – I have two phones here, so that’s OK.
Q: All right. I won’t keep you too much longer, but you said you’d had –
A: I have a lot of newspaper stuff about Belli, and I was just wondering if you would
be interested in having it.
Q: Oh, possibly. We’re still trying to figure out how we want to travel around.
We’re definitely going to the Roosevelt Library soon in New York, and we’re
going to be looking at some stuff there. We may take a road trip throughout the
United States, so it’s possible that we could come out and maybe get some
photocopies of that. That might be really interesting.
A: You could just have them. They’re not doing me any good.
Q: OK. I’ll talk to my co-author and I’ll see if he wants any of that.
A: If he wants it, you can just tell me, and then give me where you want me to send
Q: OK. By the way, what is your address?
A: 2650 First – F-I-R-S-T – Avenue, Merced, California, 95340.
Q: 95340. All right. Cool. Then, I’ll keep that in mind in case I want to get in touch
with you that way.
A: Sure. That’s fine.
Q: Let’s see what’s left. You say at the time, you didn’t blame the bottler.
A: No, I didn’t. I didn’t blame anybody for anything. It just happened. It was an
accident as far as I was concerned.
Q: Do you still feel that way today?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: So, if something like that had happened to you today, you would just say, well –
A: I don’t think I’d have sense enough to sue them.
A: I’m kind of not a suing person. Everybody is today.
Q: Yeah. Especially, since I’m in law school and I’m hoping to be a lawyer, it’s hard
to imagine a world where everyone didn’t sue everyone over everything all the
time. Tell me a little about what happened since then. This was 60 years, so, a
A: Well, nothing happened. I just worked until I was 64 years old, and then I quit
work and went on Social Security, and here I am today.
Q: Do you miss – When you sold the business, did you miss not being in business for
A: Oh, yes, I did. But then I went right back to work in the same thing. See, I
worked 49 years in the food service, and that was my life. And I had a real – I
still have a big reputation in the city of Merced.
Q: Do you always serve the best food?
A: Yes, I do. I don’t do much anymore. At my age, you have to give up a little, the
fancy things you like, and cooking is mine.
Q: That’s a shame.
A: With my arthritis in my hands, it’s not easy.
Q: What were your favorite things to cook?
A: Oh, just regular, just regular food. Just regular food. Meat and potatoes. I was
not a gourmet cook. Definitely not.
Q: What do you think of the big changes in California food since then?
A: Oh! Well, I’ll tell you. Living in Merced, we have I can’t tell you how many
Mexican restaurants we have. We never had any when I came here. And Chinese
restaurants. My goodness! Overflowing!
Q: Do you ever eat any of those foods?
A: I don’t like Mexican food. It’s too hot. I do eat at one called – Oh, dear, what –
Hacienda, which is good, and I ask for the not the hot stuff. I eat a lot at – We
have a little restaurant here, and I don’t know whether they have them back there.
They’re called the Hometown Buffet.
Q: No, I don’t think we have those over here.
A: Well, when you’re out west or out Midwest or whatever, it’s a buffet and it’s just
absolutely excellent. I love to eat there, because I can pick up what I want.
Q: I’ll have check it out when I’m there.
A: I like steak, but I only have fillets because I just can’t chew the other.
Q: I agree with you. I find that beef too tough.
A: I figure if you’re going to put money into steak, put it in a good one, and then you
could eat it. If you buy a cheaper one, you’re not going to eat it. But I like meat
and potatoes. That’s my main fare.
Q: I’m from Miami, where it’s right next to Cuba, so I actually grew up eating a lot
of Cuban food.
A: Oh, I’ve never had any of that.
Q: Oh, it’s very good. It’s a lot of beans and rice.
A: We don’t have any Cubans here that I know of.
Q: No. Where I’m from, most of the people are actually Cuban.
A: Well, this is Mexican. They’re going to take us over any day. That’s the truth.
That’s the truth.
Q: I don’t know if Mexico is in any shape to take over California.
A: They will. They’ll take it.
Q: If they want it bad enough.
A: There’s two-thirds of it now that belongs to them. They’re getting a – what
they’re doing is running for office, and then after they get into the local offices,
then they run for the state. So California has just scads of them.
Q: I definitely saw that when I was there.
A: Yes, we do.
Q: There’s actually one more question that I had about the accident. Do you think in
any way that you sort of had a hand in solving the problem of bottles exploding,
like when you saw them putting the sodas in plastic bottles and aluminum cans
that obviously don’t explode?
A: Never entered my mind.
A: No. Never entered my mind. But that’s a good idea. That may have started the
trade of it, but I think there’s so many things in plastic now, that that’s the name
of the game.
Q: Right. If only because plastic bottles don’t break and cut anyone’s hands
A: And they’re not heavy. They can transport them easy.
Q: Easier for people to – for 93-year-old food service workers to move around.
A: That’s right. That’s for sure.
Q: This was really exciting. I was really glad –
A: Thank you.
Q: – to hear the story about the Montana Indian territory. That’s really amazing.
A: Yeah. It was a territory, and the Black Feet Indians still have their reservation
Q: Was your land actually on the reservation?
A: Yes. That’s where we lived. We lived on what they used to call Lone Prairie, and
they even wrote a song about it, “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.”
Q: Oh, I’ve heard that one. I think I’ve heard that one.
A: Well, anyway, that’s where I was born, on the Lone Prairie. We didn’t have our
land there. Our land grab was in further south of that. And it wasn’t until 19 and
– let’s see12-13, I was 13. I think it was ’13 that it became a state.
Q: Did you get from Montana to Chicago using the train or did you drive? Did they
drive down? Do you remember at all?
A: Well, when my folks came out here, they drove a car. It was in 19 and 38. It was
a Pontiac Landeau. I remember that. Then they came out. Then I came out a
year later, and of course I met my hus – my mother introduced me to this very
beautiful young man, and she said how nice he was and all. They played cards
together all the time, and I hated cards. But I started playing cards. And that was
the end of that. And in six months, we got married. I knew if I didn’t get
married, I’d go home. I wouldn’t stay here.
Q: And you wanted to stay there too badly.
A: I did. I wanted to stay with my mother.
Q: I’m trying to get my mother to – my parents to move up to the Northeast, but I
think they like it too much in Florida.
A: Well, you know, it’s an entirely different environment. I have one niece that lives
in Manassas, Virginia, and she just loves it there. It’s on the Battle of Bull Run,
those big houses. And she just loves it. She’s alone and she takes care – She
works, of course. And then, my other niece lives in Great Falls, Montana. So I
have – I don’t have a family, because all my family has gone excepting – and that
was the way that is.
Q: Do they ever come and visit?
A: No. It’s too hard for the one in Virginia. That’s 3000 miles away. And the other
one, it’s only 900 miles, but she doesn’t like – she lived in California a long time,
very unhappy, so she don’t come.
Q: You can’t please everyone.
A: That’s all right. You can’t please. That’s right. I don’t mind. I’m not lonesome
or anything. I’ve been a widow 19 years, but I’m not lonesome or anything. I
have a lot of friends, and I think that helps.
Q: That’s always the best thing. Sometimes I wish I had more friends.
A: Well, I got worlds of them, and I’m happy with it.
Q: That’s just so great. It’s been so, so great talking to you. Thank you so much.
A: Well, thank you. I hope I gave you something that you could use.
Q: Oh, you definitely did. We really just wanted to – More than anything else, we
wanted to talk about who you are as a person. We wanted to make your story
come to life.
A: Well, I was a very popular person in Merced, and I still am, although I don’t go
out or stuff like that. In fact, I was eating in a restaurant not too long ago, and
some man came up to me, and he said, “Aren’t you Gladys Escola?” And I said
yes. He said, “Well, I’m Mr. Quigly.” And of course, when he said his name, I
knew who he was. He’s a lawyer, and he said, “I’ve been following your case all
the time.” I thought to myself, there’s not much to follow anymore.
Q: Yes, I wonder.
A: But I’m recognized, which makes it kind of nice. Mostly because of the food and
stuff that I served at the schools. That’s where my claim to fame is. Not Melvin
Q: I hope to give you a little bit more fame when this book does get published.
A: Well, thank you.
Q: I’ll send you in the mail copies of whatever it is that I write, because I’ll probably
be taking some quotes directly from you.
A: That’s all right.
Q: I’ll make sure that you get to see it all first.
A: Oh, yes. And when your book comes out – whenever – you might contact me,
and if I’m still here, I’d like to have it.
Q: Oh, certainly. Of course. It’s been wonderful to talk to you.
A: Thank you.
Q: Hopefully, I’ll get to talk to you again at some point.
A: Well, I hope so.
Q: All right.
A: OK, and God bless.
Q: God bless you. Take care.
A: OK, dear.
Q: Good bye.
END OF TAPE