Today I've been reading up on some of the swindles that were popular on the streets of Chicago back in the 1890s - the sorts that were precursors to todays "I need diapers for my baby" and "I need new uniforms for my soccer team."
THE ONE-LEGGED FIREMAN
A man comes hobbling along o a crutch, saying that he was once a lieutenant in the fire department, but was injured fighting a fire. "I was disqualified from service, and fired, when I lost my leg!" he would moan. Though the guy who pulled the scam most frequently around Chicago back in the 1890s pretty generally smelled of whiskey, he was able to take people for "much money and more sympathy." In reality, the fire department paid a pretty good pension to firefighters who were injured and unable to go back to work.
Variations of this are still going around, mostly in the form of injured "veterans" who hang around on Michigan Avenue.