Monday, May 16, 2011

Truth or Consequences, a Town or a Game Show?

In the previous blog I mentioned three game shows that I used to watch in the ‘50s with my neighbor, Mrs. Howard. One of them was Truth or Consequences, hosted by Bob Barker. When Katie and I were looking for a place in the southwest in which to relocate after retirement, we spent several nights in a town of the same name, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. We flew into El Paso, spent a night in Las Cruces and then drove up highway 25. The town was known for its healing hot springs and so fleeing the cold and damp of  March on the Olympic Peninsula, it seemed like the perfect place to go.
We stayed at River Bend Hot Springs. It used to be a youth hostel and was less expensive than some of the other resort spas. It is the only resort right on the edge of the Rio Grande. We stayed in a converted mobile home that was comfortable and clean. The mineral hot springs bubbled up into stone tubs previously used as fish bait ponds, with a choice of temperatures, mild,  medium or hot. A separate tub was positioned so close to the edge of the embankment that you could spit into the river as you soaked. I, of course, would never do that. Check out the site at,
Truth of Consequences is an unusual name for a town. The locals told us that they refer to it as “T or C” for short and that indeed it was named after the game show. As Katie and I wandered around town doing our tourist thing and feeling mellow after our hot soak, we stumbled upon Ralph Edwards Park. I remembered Ralph from the TV show This is Your Life, but didn’t connect him with Truth or Consequences. I found out later that he was the originator of the show, which he hosted on the radio from 1940 until 1957 and on television from 1950 until 1954. Bob Barker took over as host in 1956.
In 1950 Ralph wanted to commemorate the shows tenth year anniversary, so a staff member suggested finding a town or city that would be willing to name itself after the show. The tenth anniversary show could then be broadcast from that town. I don’t know what the town council of the perfectly named Hot Springs, New Mexico was thinking, but they decided to do it. And this was at least 15 years before psychedelic drugs were widely used. Maybe soaking in all that mineral water made their brains soft and mushy. So on April 1, 1950 the Truth or Consequences show was broadcast from the newly named town of Truth or Consequences, Mew Mexico and from that day on, this date was christened by the town as Ralph Edwards Day. Every year for the rest of his life, Ralph returned to T or C on the first weekend of May to celebrate what is now called Fiesta.
The actual game of Truth or Consequences was pretty silly. The contestants were asked trivia questions that they could rarely answer. If they got the answer wrong, Beula the Buzzer went off and they had to pay the consequences, which was usually something zany and slightly embarrassing. For example, on one show a man read an account of a WWII airplane dogfight and the woman contestant had to make all the sound effects to accompany the reading. A middle-aged woman attempting to make airplane and gunfire sounds was kind of funny. The audience was laughing at and not with the contestant, not unlike some of the stupid shows that are on today. The show had a softer side though. At times they would reunite contestants with long lost friends or relatives. This is possibly what led to Ralph’s This is Your Life show idea.
Another unexpected find in T or C was a half sized Vietnam VeteranAt TorC Walls’ Memorial Wall. It had been a traveling wall until 2002, at which time it was purchased by the state of New Mexico with the help of local T or C businesses. Katie and I spent a little time at the Wall. It was quite emotional for me seeing all those individuals from our time and generation, most of them young, like I was, robbed of their lives by a war that should never have happened in the first place. There are guys I knew up there and I felt lucky not to be one of them, but also guilty that I’m not. They have a nice, simple website for this wall.
In researching this topic, I ran across a dark chapter in the history of T or C. Five miles outside of town is a small community called Elephant Butte. This is where the “Toy Box Killer” David Parker Ray lived. This guy was a scumbag with a capital SCUM. I quote from Wikipedia,
“David Parker Ray tortured and presumably killed his victims in a $100,000 homemade torture chamber he called his "toy box", which was equipped with what he referred to as his "friends": whips, chains, pulleys, straps, clamps, leg spreader bars, and surgical blades and saws. With these tools it is thought that he terrorized Truth or Consequences for several years with the added assistance of multiple accomplices.”
One of his victims was able to escape and testified in court against him. He was sent to prison for multiple lifetimes, but died of a heart attack shortly after  incarceration. It is estimated that he had anywhere from 14-60 victims during that several year period. He perfected a way of cutting open the body so it would sink in water and they never found any bodies as evidence. There’s no indication that the “Toy Box Killer” was a fan of the show, but his gruesome crimes in T or C give new meaning to  Ralph Edwards, standard opening line, “Hello, we’ve been waiting for you.”
I would definitely recommend going to Truth or Consequences for a visit and staying at River Bend Hot Springs. But if anyone in town asks you a difficult trivia question, turn and run like hell, the consequences could be ghastly. Mrs. Howard and I were fans of Bob Barker and I prefer the way he ended the show, “Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks,Mike. I just read this and enjoyed it very much. This is one town I would like to make it to in the near future. What with the price of gas and the big Taurus, that might be a stretch from Seattle. Anyway, I enjoy your writing, so keep it up. Cheers. Jim