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The Twisted History of Sea Monkeys

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The story behind, Herald Von Braunhut, the founder of sea monkeys, is as odd as sea monkeys themselves. He's been an inventor, salesman, and neo-Nazi--and was Jewish. Weekend America's John Moe delved into the history of the kitchy pet and its father. He found the real story from educator George Atamian, Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center, and 6-year-old Charlie Moe.

"I can't Stop Thinking of Harold Von Braunhut" by Charles Harper Webb

killed November 28 by a fall at his house in Indian Head,
Maryland-Harold, who raced motorbikes as Green Helmet, and managed an
acrobat who dove forty feet into a foot-deep kiddie pool. My father

that he once dove off the Empire State Building into a wet sponge.
But that's not thinking about Harold, who held 200 patents-well,
195-including one for a card showing a bald troll-Amazing Hair-Raising

Monster-which, watered, grew green mineral locks.
I stashed two with my baseball cards-less costly yuks than when my
sister blacked out the rookie Hank Aaron's front teeth . . . But
back to Harold, whose Invisible

Goldfish came with a transparent bowl, invisible food, and a guarantee
that kids (and their parents) would never see them-a concept that beat
by decades the do-nothing Pet Rocks some kids coveted the way

I burned for X-Ray Spex-to search for pirate gold, I'd say if caught,
but really to SEE NAKED GIRLS.
Thanks to Von B, Mom banned all comic books but Disneys, which didn't
peddle "junk" that threatened

to transform the violet-scented world where Granny plucked gold harps
in heaven to one where she died
screeching ". . . pigeons in my ears!" Von B got
and Bloomingdale's big cold shoulders. Even Walgreen's

dumped him on the sidewalk, bulldog guards barking, "And stay out!"
Only comics welcomed him.
At the barber shop, I flipped straight to the back of Superman,
Batman, Fantastic Four, dreaming

of my own Crazy (hermit) Crab doing circus tricks, unlike my friend
Ted's terrier, which peed his bed, and told, "Speak, Trixie," sat dumb
as a pet rock.
No wonder Ted sent for Sea Monkeys: "instant pets"

shown swim-suited, gold-crowned, and grinning in their Micro-View
Ocean Zoo aquarium, complete with Banana Treat sea-monkey food,
Cupid's Arrow for "shy Sea Monkeys scared of Marriage," and Sea

Monkey Medicine, "like having Sea Monkey doctors standing by in the
E.R." So what if Ted's first batch failed to hatch, and the fluffy,
fly-speck replacements stank so much his mom flushed them, muttering

brine shrimp"? So what if Sea Monkeys flutter-kicked into my Hall of
Disappointments, joining the Accuro Throwing Knife that wrapped a
tree, the Captain Nemo Submarine that lay at the bottom of my bathtub

and twitched, the Space Rocket that frothed and fizzled on the
ground. My mistake, like asking God to show me Paula Christian's
boobs, was expecting easy miracles.
Faith was needed. Faith in possibilities, which Harold

sold. So what if he-born Jewish, Harold Nathan Braunhut-pledged to
the Aryan Nations all proceeds from his spring-loaded Kiyoga Agent M5
Isaac Newton wasn't a nice man. Richard Wagner's

claim to greatness was not his social skills (though Mark Twain called
his operas "better than they sound").
Nurtured by Educational Insights, Inc., Sea Monkeys still swing on.
Still chatter on. Still grin, gibber,

and guarantee good times to all who see their ads.
Which excludes Von Braunhut, now. Harold Von B, Comic Book Sales
King, is dead. Long live Crazy Crabs.
Long live X-Ray Specs. Long live Sea Monkeys.

This poem was first published in the literary magazine WITNESS.

Notes from Senior Reporter John Moe

This all started innocently enough. My son brought home a sea monkeys kit from the after-school science club he was in. I remembered the hokey comic book ads where the sea monkeys seemed quite human with blond hairdos and jewelry (but also, weirdly, naked) and I wanted to know more about the brand and who was behind it.

Harold Von Braunhut, who introduced the Sea Monkeys brand 45 years ago this week, was many things:

  • The inventor of X-Ray Specs
  • The inventor of "The Invisible Fish" (guaranteed not to appear)
  • A former motorcycle racer under the name "The Green Hornet"
  • The inventor of dolls' eyes that close when the doll reclines
  • Manager of a guy who used to dive 40 feet into a kiddy pool
  • The inventor of the Kiyogi Agent M5 weapon, a deadly little hand-to-hand combat device
  • A friend of the Aryan Nations neo-Nazi group and frequent attendee at their headquarters
  • Jewish
On stories like this, you just don't expect to stumble across the Aryan Nations. And on stories about Aryan Nations activities, you certainly don't expect to run across Jewish people on that side. Complex guy.

Harold Von Braunhut died in 2003 at his home in Maryland where he lived with his wife Yolanda, whom I really wanted to interview but didn't get to. I've learned a lot about her as well. She's a former actress in 1960's adult films, she never goes to bed before 5 a.m. and wouldn't be able to call me (not that she ever did call me) before 2 p.m., she seems to have persuaded current Sea Monkeys president George Atamian to become a vegetarian, and in the evening all of the creatures of the forest, including rabbits, foxes, and raccoons, come to her to be fed.

Before this story, I thought Sea Monkeys seemed pretty unusual. I didn't realize that I was only scratching the surface.


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