Well, you readers here really know how to draw attention to an issue. We’re not a high-traffic blog but those of you who read regularly are quite thoughtful, insightful, and, now, influential.
Our little post the other day on the application of the ideal gas law in discussing the NPR/StoryCorps segment on the exploding bra of a now-94-year-old woman caught the attention of StoryCorps Senior Producer, Michael Garofalo. Mr Garofalo wished to respond to our post and several commenters who noted that the exploding bra story was the stuff of urban legend, such that snopes.com traced back to a 1958 Reader’s Digest story the original description of an inflatable bra exploding in an unpressurized airplane cabin.
I’m a huge fan of the StoryCorps project and, dating back to my meeting with civil rights legend, author, and folklorist, Stetson Kennedy, I’m also an admirer of those amateurs and scholars who document and disseminate folk stories, music, customs, and culture.
So it was delightful to hear back from Mr Garofalo in response to our blog post – after contacting me, I asked for an received his permission to reprint his e-mail below on the background and vetting of Ms Jenkins’ story:
I read the discussion of last Friday’s StoryCorps piece on your blog. I’m the Senior Producer for StoryCorps, and I wanted to respond.
Every StoryCorps story that we put on the air is extensively fact-checked, as was Ms. Jenkins’s story. We were aware that a similar story appeared on an urban legend site so we were particularly thorough in our efforts to nail this story down.
We confirmed with a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT that an inflatable bra would expand during flight in an unpressurized cabin — especially at the altitude required to fly above the Andes Mountains — and could explode. We checked the story with Jane Farrell-Beck, co-author of “Uplift: The Bra in America” and a retired professor of Textiles and Clothing at Iowa State. Ms. Jenkins described her bra to us in detail during several phone conversations (a straw was inserted into the cups and you blew into the straw to inflate each cup), and her description was fully consistent with inflatable bras of the time. Ms. Jenkins told us that her mother had kept the actual bra as a curiosity until her death in 1967, but it was lost soon thereafter.
Ms. Jenkins was extremely detailed in the telling of this story – which she repeated to us several times without variation. After thoroughly checking all of the facts, we felt confident running the piece. It may be that some urban legends grow from the seeds of the truth.
So, there you have it from about as close of a source as you’re going to get.
Thanks, Mr Garofalo, for responding to Terra Sigillata as well as to our readers who raised the very thoughtful questions and critiques of the story that originally caught his attention.