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Astounding Honolulu

Weird, strange and intriguing things you didn't know about our Islands.


(page 1 of 7)

HONOLULU Magazine editors seem to love to put me to the test. Go out and find the zaniest collectors in Honolulu, they said. And I did. Do a piece on the funniest people in Hawaii, living and dead. Are you kidding? How far back do you want me to go? King Kamehameha’s court jester? I feel like Dano when Steve McGarrett would say, “Dano, go count every noodle in Chinatown.” And Dano would say, “Yes, Boss” and off he’d go. This time the editors outdid themselves. “Charley, go find out all the weirdest, unusual, salacious, secret, interesting things in Honolulu, like the heaviest person in the city.” Heaviest person in Honolulu? I’m a former investigative reporter but that one stumped me.


How would you find out who the fattest person in Honolulu was? And even if you did, you’d put him in the magazine? That would make his day. I know who the heaviest organized crime hitman was in Honolulu. I met him once. He was Ronnie Ching. He weighed about 400 pounds. Pleaded guilty to killing four people, including a state senator and the son of the city prosecutor. He’s dead now but when I met him he seemed to be a nice guy. I mean, he wouldn’t kill you. Unless he was paid to.


So like Dano, I hit the streets, books, Internet, everyone in my Rolodex and occasionally strangers on the street to create a sort of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of Honolulu. A project of this scope is necessarily subjective, elective, derivative and certainly not definitive. Trade-offs have to be made. The editors wanted to know how much concrete went into the H-3 freeway. It took 30 years to build that blasted freeway. Was someone counting the bags of concrete? I know why sometimes Dano sobbed in the corner of his office. I did find out that the H-3 freeway was the most expensive freeway on a per mile basis ever built in the United States: $80 million per mile. As far as how much concrete was used, like projecting the national deficit, just about any number will do. Let’s say 400 billion pounds of concrete went into the H-3 Freeway. That sounds about right to me.


But there were a lot of questions that I found myself wanting answered. Like, who was the first idiot, I mean person, to jump off the Makapuu cliffs with a kite? Who would jump off a perfectly good cliff? But someone had to be first. Someone had to be going though Waimanalo, see the 1,500-foot high deadly, jagged cliff and say, “You know, I think I’ll jump off that bugger. With a kite.” And I not only found out who that person was but found a photo from the first jump.


So what follows are the fruits, nuts, bolts of my labor. Some items are amazing, some are sexy, some are just interesting. And some are, frankly, silly. But I think Dano would be proud.


[For a more detailed look at Memminger's sources, please look here.]


John Walbert jumped off a cliff with a kite.

John Walbert in 1973.

Photo: Courtesy of Michael Van Dorn

It happened in 1973. Walbert made the leap of aero-dynamic faith off a cliff near Makapuu with a “water-ski” type of kite from Australia called a Rogallo Wing. Unlike hang gliders today, he didn’t hang around in the air, surfing the wind currents. He was more interested in landing than flying. So he waited for a day without wind so the kite would deliver him safely to ground in a steady glide slope. And it worked. Pretty soon all kinds of crazy people were jumping off cliffs near Makapuu with kites. The first person to actually hang glide in Honolulu was Bob Wills in 1972 above Hanauma Bay. He just climbed a hill above the bay, held the kite up and the wind swooped him up to the famous snorkeling  beach where he landed, presumably to the shock of beachgoers.


How many hookers are in Honolulu?

Photo: istock


A lot. And despite tough economic times, prostitution is recession-proof. Honolulu police arrest about 500 hookers a year. But it’s estimated that for every one hooker on the street, there are 10 more either working out of “massage” parlors or “escort” services or freelancing on the Internet. And they aren’t shy. HBO did a documentary special called Downtown Girls: The Hookers of Honolulu which featured four of downtown’s busiest transvestite hookers: Barbie-Q, Juici, Saellah V. and Delicious. For the record, Honolulu’s best known hooker and madam was Jean O’Hara, who ran a legal brothel on Hotel Street before and during World War II. She was thrown in jail, not for prostitution, but for trying to buy a house in Mānoa. Prostitutes weren’t allowed to own property.


Which well-known hill in Honolulu is actually hollow?

Red Hill. True story: In 1940, the military began a huge project to build giant fuel storage tanks inside Red Hill. The work continued after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Today there are 20 enormous fuel tanks, hollowed out of volcanic rock and sheathed in steel, 100 feet in diameter and 250 feet high. The facility can store more than 250 million gallons of fuel used by Navy fleets around the world.  The facility was top secret for many years but now it’s on Wikipedia, so, well, there you go.


Road Rage:

The most dangerous roadway in Honolulu is one of the most seemingly benign byways in the city: the lovely, tree-lined Kapiolani Boulevard. A Honolulu Advertiser study showed more serious accidents happened in a half-mile stretch of Kapiolani Blvd. between Keeaumoku Street and Kalakaua Ave. than anywhere else. A study by State Farm Insurance found that the most dangerous intersection in Honolulu was at King and Punahou Streets. So, if you want to get from Downtown to the University of Hawaii, go by way of Haleiwa.

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