The year was 1962, and Joe Biden, a swimming pool security guard in his early 20s, had a problem. A tough guy by the name of CornPop, leader of a Delaware gang called “the Romans”, was waiting for him outside the pool.
In Biden’s telling, CornPop was a “bad dude” who “ran a bunch of bad boys”, was armed with a straight-razor and backed by other gang members. And he was threatening to “cut” the future vice-president.
Instead of calling the police, Biden met CornPop and his cronies head on, having armed himself with a 6ft chain. After a standoff, CornPop backed down.
Over the weekend, a 2017 video of Biden telling the engrossing tale surfaced on the internet. It met with widespread disbelief. Some questioned whether CornPop ever existed. Others were skeptical about the very idea of a chain-wielding Biden facing off with three armed gang members.
It turns out, however, that the presidential candidate might have been telling the truth. A former state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had supported Biden’s yarn. So did a newspaper obituary.
The footage of the CornPop anecdote was filmed when Biden attended the renaming of a swimming pool and park in Wilmington. The former Delaware senator recalled that, as a young man, he had been a security guard there, one of very few white employees. He then launched into his story.
“CornPop was a bad dude and he ran a bunch of bad boys,” he said.
One day, Biden recalled, CornPop refused to wear a bathing cap, flouting pool rules. Biden spotted him on the pool’s 3m diving board, and decided to lay down the law.
“You! Off the board, or I’ll come up and drag you off,” Biden shouted.
CornPop came down but apparently was displeased – not least because Biden had also called him “Esther”, a reference to then-prominent swimmer Esther Williams.
CornPop said he would be waiting outside. He was true to his word, Biden remembered: “He was waiting there with three guys [with] straight razors.”
Acting on the advice of a man he described as a pool mechanic, Biden walked out to meet CornPop head on.
“I walked out with the chain. I walked up to my car,” Biden said. “I said: ‘First of all … when I tell you to get off the board, you get off the board, and I’ll kick you out again. But I shouldn’t have called you Esther Williams, I apologize.’
“But I don’t know if that apology is going to work.”
CornPop backed down, Biden said.
“He said OK, closed the straight razor and my heart began to beat again.”
Evidence has emerged to support Biden’s story. A longer clip of the 2017 event shows former Delaware NAACP president Richard “Mouse” Smith telling the same tale.
CNN reporter Daniel Dale, meanwhile, found an obituary for a Wilmington man called William L “CornPop” Morris, who died in 2016 aged 73.
It is unlikely everyone will believe the story of Biden and CornPop. We do know, however, that Biden – at least according to himself – is unafraid of violence. In 2018 he suggested that in a hypothetical situation, Donald Trump would be in physical danger.
“A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said: ‘I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it,’” Biden told an audience in Florida.
“If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.”