I’ve seen and heard some crazy things in my years of interviewing war veterans, but nothing like what I got in the mail six months ago.
Hank Skabowski of Trumbauersville had called me before sending the clipping. It was a story that appeared Feb. 23, 1945, in the Camp Howze Howitzer, the weekly newspaper at the World War II infantry training camp near Gainesville, Texas.
The subject of the story was a trainee from Hellertown, Harold Sutton. He was written about because he had a unique talent.
He ate glass.
Hank had the clipping because he, too, was an infantry trainee at Camp Howze. He was from Wilkes-Barre, so when he saw the quirky story about a fellow eastern Pennsylvanian, he cut it out — and he’s kept it all these years.
He called me because he thought Sutton, if still alive, or his relatives might enjoy having the article, and he needed help finding them.
A photo shows Pfc. Harold Sutton feasting on a light bulb, with a dish of bulbs in front of him.
The story says Sutton, a trainee with Company D, 55th Battalion, was known to his buddies as Razor. “Sutton amazes them by crunching and swallowing razor blades, light bulbs, Coke bottles, and glasses.” He also was a sword swallower.
“Contrary to any first opinion, his strange appetite did not develop as a revolt against Army chow, for Sutton has been munching mugs and gulping glasses for the past 10 years while performing before gaping audiences of circuses, carnivals and medicine shows in the East.”
The story goes on to say Sutton learned to eat glass from his circus-performing uncle and ate his first light bulb when he was 12.
“I’ve only made one mistake in my many performances before civilian and military spectators,” he told his interviewer. “And that was during a show for officers in Puerto Rico. I must have been in too much of a hurry because I cut my lower lip pretty badly while nibbling on a beer bottle.”
Sutton claimed he had never suffered any ill effects from his glass diet, and that doctors had found no unusual physical conditions or internal injuries.
The story ended with a question:
“Would anyone care to invite Sutton to meet that wise bartender with whom you’ve always wanted to even a score?”
Hank, who was at Camp Howze after transferring from the Signal Corps to the infantry, told me he never met Sutton. Hank went to Europe with the 267th Field Artillery Battalion, arriving in early April 1945, a few weeks before V-E Day. He helped run a POW camp for captured German soldiers in Auerbach, Germany.
After the war, Hank became a Pennsylvania state trooper and moved to Bucks County in 1950. He and I talked last June, and recently I got around to seeing what I could find out about Sutton.
Very little. Nothing on a public records search. Nothing I could readily find on the Internet.
But The Morning Call has a clip file on a Harold R. Sutton with one yellowed clipping, a four-sentence article that ran on March 10, 1972.
According to the story, the 51-year-old collapsed and died the afternoon of March 9 while walking along Union Street, just east of Richlandtown. He had been living at the Crossroads Hotel, Hellertown.
State police at Quakertown said there was no foul play. The coroner said Sutton died of natural causes.