Thursday, December 09, 2004

Vaseline vandalism

A Virginia man admitted Monday to smearing 14 jars of petroleum jelly all over an upstate New York motel room. Robert F. Chamberlain, 45, of McLean, gave no reason for his actions when he appeared in court to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief.

A Broome County judge sentenced Chamberlain to three years of probation and ordered him to pay $3,886 in damages to the Motel 6 in Chenango. Authorities said Chamberlain coated every object of the motel room with petroleum jelly in May. A cleaning crew discovered the mess after he checked out, and he was arrested at another motel covered in the greasy stuff.

In 1859 when oil was first found in Pennsylvania, Robert Augustus Cheesebrough was a 22 year old chemist in Brooklyn who had become an expert at extracting kerosene from cannel oil. He noticed that a colorless film called "rod wax" collected around the pump rods on the oil wells, gumming up the works until it was removed. He also observed oil workers who would slap the stuff on a cut, instead of a bandage. Not only did it stay on the skin and stop the bleeding, but it seemed to help cure the wound.

Cheesebrough returned to Brooklyn with some rod-wax and spent months creating a clean form of rod-wax which he called "petroleum jelly". He began making so much of this stuff that every beaker in his laboratory was full, so he threw out his wife's flowers and filled the vases with his creation. After a while, he added the popular medical term "line" to the word "vase" and he called the product "Vaseline Petroleum Jelly."