All right, is that focused?
Think so, hope so.
Good, I haven't got long.
It is the end of the day, I'm losing the light.
I've got to drive on and then catch a flight soon.
So I'm going to tell you a story,
but I have not been able to work out how much of it is true.
And that's okay, and I'll tell you why that's okay,
but it does put me in a bit of a difficult position
because everyone that I've met here
in Wichita Falls, Texas, has been lovely.
And this is a great story that sends tourists to their town.
So, with that said, this is the Newby-McMahon Building,
the World's Littlest Skyscraper.
It's not much of a skyscraper, it's only four stories tall,
and its footprint is so small that it is barely usable as a building.
Now the legend goes that back when Wichita Falls
was an oil boom town, 1918,
there was a massive construction rush.
Investors were pouring money into new downtown buildings,
confident that the town would be prime real estate
for decades to come.
Unfortunately, it wasn't.
The boom was followed by a bust and by the Great Depression.
But this building caused its investors more trouble than most.
It cost $200,000, which is about $3 million in today's money
and the investors thought that it was going to be 12 times as tall
because the blueprints they thought were marked in feet
were actually in inches.
No one noticed the little extra mark next to the numbers on the plans.
So the new downtown skyscraper turned out to be only four stories tall and not 48,
and so narrow it was almost unusable.
The developer, J.D. McMahon, ran off with most of the money,
all that was left over from only having to construct a tiny building,
and a local judge ruled that the blueprints were accurate.
The investors had got exactly what they'd signed off on,
exactly what they paid for.
The building sat abandoned for a long time
and it was renovated in the early 21st century
and these days, it's a furniture boutique
and I talked to the owner.
- When we first took over this building with our shop,
this skyscraper was never allowed to be entered by the public
and we wanted to open it up.
The engineers had to come
to make sure the floors could sustain constant occupancy
and in fact, they did have to give us some weight and load limits
and they did have to put in an additional structural beam.
Whenever you have a multi-story building,
by City code, there must be an egress and entrance.
So, they had said, well, we must have at least two staircases to allow for that.
Well, if this building had two sets of stairs,
it would literally be a building full of two sets of stairs
and there would be no defined space whatsoever.
So, I think, as the compromise from our City,
we do have a state-of-the-art fire suppression system.
The fire marshal that comes to inspect it periodically
tells me that if we do ever catch on fire,
we will not have to worry about burning,
but we might have to worry about drowning.
In the early '30s, this was engulfed in flames
and so the floors were gone, the roof was gone
and it got boarded up and it stood that way for decades.
We do have some old newspaper accounts
and some old documentation of people that were interviewed back then,
how they wanted the building to be demolished immediately
because it was a scandal.
You know, these people had been ripped off
and they were embarrassed about being duped like this.
However, it wasn't demolished because they really needed it for office space
so it was used.
So we do have some documentation like that,
but the original plans that allegedly he had given
to his investors, they don't exist, as far as I know.
- It's a great story.
So I started to fact-check it and I came up blank.
Here's what I did before getting here.
I tracked down every article I could on every database I could access,
but they were all too modern and the chain of references ran out,
usually somewhere in the '80s.
There are references to a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" panel from the 1920s,
but I emailed the archivists at Ripley's and they said
their archives are incomplete. They don't have a copy of it.
No one has a copy of it.
And look, if we're honest, "Ripley's Believe It or Not"
is not a reliable primary source.
So, when I got here, I went to the Wichita Falls Library over there,
thank you so much to all the librarians who helped,
and I looked through the local newspaper from 1919.
It's not been digitised so I had to hunt through microfilm and scan headlines
and in the time I had here,
I couldn't find a mention of the building or of the lawsuit at all.
I did find an article about the changing skyline.
It has no mention of a planned 48-story building.
So, it feels like the real estate scandal, the lawsuit after,
should have been all over the news when it came out, surely,
but maybe I missed it. Maybe it was too small an article.
In boom times it might have been,
or maybe I wasn't looking at the right dates.
And look, this is a ridiculous building.
On camera, it almost looks sensible but standing here,
it is very easy to agree that this building,
must have been a scam of some sort.
So, if I was to place a bet,
I would say that the scam part is likely,
that someone came along in the middle of boom times,
sold a dodgy building to gullible investors
and ran off with the proceeds, is very, very plausible.
The inches instead of feet detail of the story, though,
I just don't know.
Surely the investors would have noticed
that their giant skyscraper only had four floors
and a couple of windows.
Surely they'd have questioned the plans,
so maybe that was a joke from the townsfolk a century ago
that got reported as fact.
Or maybe the investors were off in another state
and never got a close look at the blueprints.
Or maybe it's true and they were taken in by a smooth-talking scammer.
There is a plausible answer for every skeptic's question about this
and I am not saying that the story is false,
just that I can't find primary sources.
I can't find anything from the time that is evidence for it or against it.
And if you can, don't tell me.
Write an article, post somewhere authoritative,
take a picture of the old newspaper and tweet it out,
I've reached the end of what I can do.
But that's fine, and here's why it's fine.
Because this is folklore. This is a trickster story.
This is the same thing that appears in mythology
from across the world and across time.
If you think you've heard something like this before,
There are a lot of stories like it.
It's the monorail episode of "The Simpsons."
All those news outlets and blogs repeating and emphasizing the tale.
That's our modern oral tradition.
That's passing on stories, person to person to person.
In a world where making up complete lies to get ad revenue
is a viable business model,
this is kind of charming.
It's a story. And as long as those articles say,
"according to legend", or "the tale goes that",
then I think that's fine.
We're human, we see things as part of a narrative.
Margaret Atwood wrote: "in the end, we'll all become stories",
and yeah, this is a really good story.
All right, hope that worked,
'cause I've got about... not enough time to get to Dallas.
All right, let's go.