I slowly navigated the dark cobbled streets of the oldest part of London one evening last week looking to unravel the century-plus-old mystery of Jack the Ripper. I was on a walking tour with a former Scotland Yard detective. He'd spent his career studying the gruesome late-1800s serial killer.
The lingering mystery and conflicting theories surrounding Jack the Ripper's identity reminded me of another very old unsolved mystery also shrouded in conflicting theories: The origin of the famous Chevrolet bow tie emblem introduced in late 1913.
While researching some articles for Automotive News' commemorative edition A Century of Chevrolet: The stories that shaped an icon, I heard various versions of the iconic bow tie's origin.
The most well-known account is that company cofounder William Durant saw a similar emblem on a wallpaper design in a Parisian hotel. He tore off a piece of the wallpaper, believing it would make a good symbol for Chevrolet. The problem is that reports say Durant wasn't traveling in Europe in the 1911-12 time period.
Then there is the version Durant's daughter, Margery, told. Margery published a book in 1929 entitled My Father. According to a General Motors' Web site, in the book she said Durant sometimes doodled nameplate designs on paper at the dinner table. She wrote: "I think it was between the soup and the fried chicken one night that he sketched out the design that is used on the Chevrolet car to this day."
But in a 1972 interview, Durant's widow, Catherine, gave yet a different account. She said she and Durant were vacationing in Hot Springs, Va., in 1912 when he spotted a similar design in a newspaper he was reading in their hotel room.
Ken Kaufmann, historian and editor of The Chevrolet Review, dug up a Nov. 12, 1911, issue of The Atlanta Constitution newspaper. In it he found an ad placed by the Southern Compressed Coal Co. that used a logo of a slanted bow tie form.
Perhaps Durant saw that ad or a similar one the following year in Virginia?
Frankly, I don't know which account is true.
I do know that human nature prefers anything holding iconic status to be enveloped in the fog of a good mystery.