10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today

Khalid Elhassan - January 6, 2018

The internet did not invent viral stories that captivate the country and become a burning topic and conversation trend. Nor did it invent fads that seem to appear out of nowhere, sweep the nation and maybe the world for some time, then vanish. Viral stories and odd fads have existed long before the so-called “Information Superhighway” had been conceived of. The internet simply provided a new means for a wider and nearly instantaneous dissemination of those viral events, that earlier generations did not have.

But even without the internet, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and whatever the kids are using these days, our predecessorss had their own viral moments. Just like us, they experienced events that were inexplicably fascinating, appeared suddenly, and swept the country or the world like a prairie fire. Today’s generations had fluff fads like the Beanie Babies of the 1990s, dumb challenges like the Fire Challenge of the aughts, or the more recent Mannequin Challenge. Earlier generations had their own silly viral challenges, like flagpole sitting in the 1920s, swallowing goldfish for kicks and giggles in the 1930s, or literally rioting over fashion choices in the 1940s. And just like us, they also had weird or viral stories, that gripped them with all the fervor and passion viral stories grip many of us today.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Goldfish swallowing fad. Trivia Happy

Following are ten exceptional, unusual, or weird events from history that would break the internet if they or something like them happened today.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Phone booth stuffing. Bad Fads

Phone Booth Stuffing Took the 1950s by Storm

Remember planking, the Ice Bucket Challenge, or similar fads that seem to grip the country from time to time, quickly spreading like wildfire, before fading into oblivion? Their 1950s equivalent was the phone booth stuffing fad, in which people around the world – or at least the English speaking world – competed to see how many folk they could cram into a phone booth.

It is often assumed to have begun in colleges on the US West Coast, but in reality, it started in Durban, South Africa. There, in early 1959, twenty five students tried to see if they could fit into a phone booth. They pulled it off, and submitted their accomplishment to the Guinness Book of World Records. Word of their bizarre stunt spread, and before long, a fever of phone booth stuffing had spread to England, Canada, and the US.

To participate, people – usually college students – would squeeze themselves into a phone booth, one after another, until nobody else could fit in. While seemingly straightforward, there was a lot of complexity involved. In 1959, college kids began skipping class to devise plans to beat the record. Schematics were drawn to try and figure out the optimal configuration for cramming the highest number of human bodies into a phone booth, kind of like a 3-D Tetris. In Britain, where the fad became known as the “telephone booth squash”, some students went on diets to reduce their bulks. In MIT, some turned to geometry and advanced calculus to figure out the most efficient configuration for cramming bodies into a tight space.

As the competitive juices flowed and the competition heated up, accusations of cheating were hurled. Some universities’ claims were challenged because of violations of supposed rules that should have been followed. Some argued that a booth stuffing was valid only if somebody inside was able to make a phone a call. In some universities, the count was based on any part of a competitor’s body placed inside the booth. They were challenged by other campuses, who contended that it only counted if all participants had their entire bodies inside. Eventually, amidst heated recriminations, the fad died out by the end of 1959.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
The execution of Protestant bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. Two Pages Pilgrims

Martyred Bishop Executed While Hurling Defiance at Persecutors

When Queen Mary I (reigned 1553 – 1553) ascended the English throne, she attempted to restore her kingdom to Roman Catholicism. Her father, Henry VIII, had taken England out of the Catholic Church when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce from Mary’s mother. So he established the Church of England, appointed himself its head, and effectively granted himself a divorce. However, he kept many doctrines and practices of Catholicism.

Hugh Latimer (circa 1487 – 1555) was an English Protestant bishop burned at the stake by Mary. Latimer had graduated from Cambridge University, was elected a fellow of its Clare College in 1510, and became a Catholic priest in 1515. However, he converted to Protestantism in 1524, and became a zealous advocate and defender of his new faith. He gained renown as a Protestant preacher, and was appointed a bishop by Henry VIII in his newly formed Church of England. However, Latimer resigned in protest when the king refused to adopt Protestant reforms.

Henry was followed on the throne by his underage son, Edward VI, who was more staunchly Protestant. During the son’s reign, England became decidedly more Protestant, and Latimer regained royal favor. He became the young king’s chaplain, and was appointed court preacher. However, Edward died young and without issue, and was succeeded by his sister Mary.

Mary was a staunch Catholic who viewed Protestantism as a heresy, and was determined to bring England back into the Catholic fold. She ordered prominent Protestants such as Latimer imprisoned and tried for heresy. Latimer, along with fellow bishop Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was tried in Oxford in 1555. Refusing to renounce his faith, he was convicted of heresy, and sentenced to a heretic’s death by burning at the stake.

Latimer was chained to the stake alongside Ridley. When the flames were lit, Ridley cried out in pain, but Latimer sought to comfort him even as he himself was being consumed by fire, telling his colleague: “be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.” It could be argued that the candle still burns. Queen Mary’s efforts to restore Catholicism failed. When she died in 1558, she was succeeded by her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I, and England has been Protestant ever since.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Cab Calloway in a zoot suit. Smithsonian Magazine

Zoot Suit Fad and Riots

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, zoot suits were all the rage among the fashionable and hip in American cities. The outsized zoots had a distinctive look, with a long coat featuring wide lapels and broad shoulder pads, and pegged trousers that were high waisted, wide legged, and tight cuffed. Pointy French style shoes, plus a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knees, then back to a side pocket, were de rigueur. Finally, a pork pie hat or fedora, color coordinated and sometimes featuring a long feather, completed the ensemble.

Zoots were first associated with African Americans in Harlem, Chicago, and Detroit, then crossed over and became popularized by Jazz singers and entertainers. In addition to African Americans, the outfit became hugely popular among Italian Americans, Latinos, and Filipinos. While also worn by many whites, the zoot suit’s “ethnic” origins and aura did not sit well with many of the straitlaced and traditional, or just plain racist.

Zoot suits were luxury items, as a lot of materials and tailoring effort went into making them. When America entered WWII, the US War Production Board criticized the outfits for wasting materials and production time better used in the war effort. The outfits were seen by their young wearers as declarations of their individuality, freedom, or even rebelliousness. They were seen by others as self indulgent and unpatriotic extravagances during wartime. Life magazine did a feature on youth sporting zoots in 1942, and concluded that “they were solid arguments for lowering the Army draft age to include 18-year-olds“. The rest of the media joined in with sensational accounts, often wildly exaggerating the costs and price tags of zoots.

A backlash thus began building against zoot suits. Those clad in the outfits were often berated and verbally assailed in public, and sometimes physically attacked. Cops sometimes stopped and hassled zoot wearers, and ruined their suits by slashing them. However, the most dramatic manifestation of the backlash would occur in Los Angeles in June of 1943, in what came to be known as the Zoot Suit Riots.

In the preceding year, local newspapers had whipped up racial tensions by harping on a non-existent “crime wave”, allegedly caused by Mexican-American youths. Soon, a media campaign was in full swing, calling for action against “zoot suiters”. LA police responded with frequent roundups and arrests of hundreds of young Mexican-Americans, guilty of nothing more than wearing oversized outfits. Tensions were further exacerbated by the conviction for murder of 9 young Mexican Americans of murder, following a controversial trial amidst a wave of anti Mexican-American hysteria. The trial had been a travesty, and the convictions were overturned on appeal, but in trial’s aftermath, racist hatred against Mexican-Americans reached a peak in Los Angeles.

LA became a major military hub during WWII, as hundreds of thousands of servicemen were stationed there or passed through en route to other postings. To many white military personnel, the wearing of zoot suits was viewed as a public flouting of the war effort. Mexican-Americans came to be seen as unpatriotic – even though they were actually overrepresented in America’s armed forces, serving at a higher rate than whites. As a group, they also had one of the highest percentages of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.

Rioting erupted in June of 1943, as mobs of white soldiers and sailors roamed that city, beating up allegedly “unpatriotic” Mexican-Americans wearing zoot suits. While the rioters focused on Latino youths, young African Americans and Filipinos were also targeted. Copycat riots by European Americans against Latinos spread throughout California to San Diego and Oakland, then across the country to Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City. It was the first time in American history that fashion caused literal rioting and widespread civil unrest.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Stede Bonnet. Wikimedia

Bored Millionaire Buys Ship and Becomes a Buccaneer

Stede Bonnet (circa 1680 – 1718) was nicknamed “The Gentleman Pirate” because he had been a wealthy plantation owner in Barbados and a British Army major before turning to piracy. He earned his fame or infamy not because of his success as a pirate, but because of his incompetence. It soon became clear that he had no business buccaneering, and that he probably should have left that to roughnecks better suited to that line of work.

Born into a wealthy family, Bonnet had led a prosperous and peaceful life, living with his wife in a profitable Barbadian sugar plantation. Then one day in 1717, he had a mid life crisis, and out of the blue decided to escape marital difficulties and boredom at home by becoming a pirate. So he bought a ship, named it Revenge, and armed it with cannons. He then hired a crew of 70 sailors, and sailed off into the ocean blue and the life of a pirate captain.

As might be expected from a rich dilettante playing pirate, Bonnet was not very good at piracy. It was not long before he revealed himself an incompetent sailor and worse leader, and he barely managed to seize a few trifling prizes off the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia. Only the fact that he paid his crew regular and generous wages – the only pirate captain to do so – kept them from mutinying, deposing him, and electing another captain in his stead.

Bonnet came across the famous and fearful pirate Blackbeard in Florida. Blackbeard befriended Bonnet, and convinced him to give up command of the Revenge because of his utter incompetence at piracy. So Bonnet transferred to Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, where he remained as a guest. His own ship, Revenge, was taken over by one of Blackbeard’s lieutenants, whom the crew accepted as their new captain.

Soon thereafter, Bonnet accepted a royal pardon, and a royal commission to go privateering against Spanish shipping. However, he decided to return to piracy in July of 1718. Hapless as ever, he thought that changing the name of his ship from Revenge to Royal James, and adopting the alias “Captain Thomas”, would be enough to mask his identity. As with many other things, he was sadly mistaken.

Within a month, a British naval expedition surprised Bonnet at anchor in the Cape Fear River estuary, and after a fight, captured him and his crew. He managed to escape, but was recaptured after a few weeks on the run, and taken to Charleston. There, Stede Bonnet was tried and convicted on two counts of piracy, sentenced to death by hanging, and executed on December 10th, 1718.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Hiroo Onoda surrendering his sword. Rare Historical Photographs

Soldier Comes Out of Jungle to Surrender Decades After War Had Ended

Hiroo Onoda (1922 – 2014) was a 22 year old lieutenant in Japanese Imperial Army when the US invaded the Philippines to liberate it from the Japanese in 1944. Onoda was an intelligence officer, who had received special training as a commando, so his superiors sent him on a reconnaissance mission to the island of Lubang in the western Philippines. He was directed to spy on US forces in the area, and to carry out guerrilla operations. He was ordered to never surrender, but was also instructed that, under no circumstances, was he authorized to take his own life.

Upon arriving on Lubang, Onoda was prevented from carrying out his mission by meddling from senior Japanese officers on the island. Within months, US forces invaded Lubang, and swiftly killed or captured all Japanese personnel on the island, with the exception of Onoda and three Japanese enlisted men. Taking charge of the survivors, Onoda took to the hills. As American forces overran the Philippines, Onoda, was cut off from his chain of command, and so did not get official word of Japan’s surrender in 1945. Without fresh orders countermanding his last ones to fight to the death, Onoda stayed hidden in the jungles and mountains, and fought on for 29 years.

For nearly three decades, Onoda and his tiny command survived in the dense thickets of Lubang. They threw together bamboo huts and eked out a living by hunting and gathering in the jungle, stealing rice and other food from local farmers, and killing the occasional cow for meat. Tormented by rats and rain, heat and mosquitoes, Onoda’s small unit made do, patching and repatching their increasingly threadbare uniforms, and keeping their weapons in working order.

Over the years, Onoda and his men came across various leaflets announcing that the war had ended, but dismissed them as fake news. Even a leaflet containing a copy of the official surrender order from their commanding general failed to convince them. Onoda and his men examined it closely, and concluded that it was a fake. Even when they recovered airdropped letters and pictures from their own families urging them to surrender, they convinced themselves that it was all part of an elaborate fake news operation to trick them.

Over the years, Onoda’s four man unit steadily shrank, as comrades were lost in various ways. In 1949, one of them simply up and left. He struck off on his own, roamed Lubang for six months, then surrendered to authorities. A second one was killed by a search party in 1954. The third and final companion was shot dead by police in 1972, who came upon him and Onoda as they were trying to burn some farmers’ rice stores. Onoda was now alone, but carried on a one man war.

In 1974, a Japanese hippie backpacker found Onoda, and befriended him. He managed to convince Onoda that the war had ended decades earlier, but he refused to surrender without orders from a superior officer. The hippie returned to Japan with photographic proof of his encounter with Onoda, and contacted the Japanese government, which tracked down Onoda’s last commanding officer.

Travelling to Lubang, Onoda’s wartime commander personally told him that the war was over, and that he was released from military duty. In 1974, clad in his threadbare uniform, Lieutenant Onoda handed in his sword and other weapons to representatives of the US and Filipino military. Nearly three decades after the conclusion of World War II, Onoda’s war came to an end.

He returned to a hero’s welcome in Japan, but admiration for his single minded devotion to duty was not universal. Back in Lubang, the locals did not see Onoda as a conscientious and honorable man devoted to duty. Instead, they viewed him as a bloody minded idiot who had needlessly engaged in a 29 year homicidal rampage. During that period, Onoda had inflicted sundry harms upon the Lubangese, stealing, destroying, and sabotaging their property. He had also killed about 30 local police and farmers, with whom he and his band had clashed while stealing or “requisitioning” food and supplies to continue fighting a war that had ended decades earlier.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
August 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower. Earth Sky

Pretty Meteor Shower Kills Thousands

When cosmic debris known as meteoroids enters Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds, the transition from the airless vacuum of space to the increasingly dense atmosphere of our planet acts as a wall. Slamming into that wall causes the meteoroids to burn and disintegrate, producing meteor showers. When seen on clear and starry nights, meteor showers are among the most breathtakingly beautiful celestial sights.

Sometimes, however, they are anything but breathtakingly beautiful. In 1490, meteor showers stopped being pretty to the inhabitants of Ch’ing Yang, in today’s Chinese province of Gansu Province, when one such shower suddenly went from picturesque to horrific. It happened in an instant, when one of the falling objects burst in the air during atmospheric reentry, killing thousands. As described by contemporaries:

Stones fell like rain in the Ch’ing-yang district. The larger ones were [about 3.5 pounds], and the smaller ones were [about 2 pounds]. Numerous stones rained in Ch’ing-yang. Their sizes were all different. The larger ones were like goose’s eggs and the smaller ones were like water-chestnuts. More than 10,000 people were struck dead. All of the people in the city fled to other places.

What Chinese sources described in 1490 is remarkably similar to the 1908 Tunguska Event. In the latter event, a meteoroid airburst at an altitude of 5 miles above a sparsely populated part of Siberia flattened 770 square miles of forest. So it is probable that the deaths during the 1490 Ch’ing Yang meteor shower were caused by a meteoroid taht similarly disintegrated in an airburst during atmospheric entry.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Pankratiasts fighting. Ancient Origins

Dead Olympic Competitor Wins Title Fight

Pankration, meaning “all force”, is the ancestor of today’s MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts. It was a sport practiced by the ancient Greeks, which combined boxing, wrestling, and no holds barred street fighting. Almost every hand combat technique and type of strike was allowed, with only a few prohibited exceptions, such as biting an opponent, clawing and gouging out his eyes, or attacking his genitals.

Arrhichion of Phigalia (died 564 BC), was Ancient Greece’s most famous pankratist, and the champion of that sport in the 572 BC and 568 BC Olympiads. He again competed in the 564 BC Olympics, seeking a third consecutive championship. Arrhichion advanced through the preliminary rounds, and reached the title bout. There, age might have finally caught up with and slowed him down, because for the first time in his career, he got into trouble. Arrhichion’s opponent outmaneuvered and got behind him. From there, with legs locked around Arrhichion’s torso and heels digging into his groin, his opponent applied a chokehold.

An experienced and wily fighter, Arrhichion pretended to lose conscience, which tricked his opponent into relaxing a little. Seizing the opportunity, the crafty title holder snapped back into action, and snapped his opponent’s ankle while shaking and throwing him off with a convulsive heave. The sudden excruciating pain of a snapped ankle forced Arrhicion’s opponent into the Ancient Greek equivalent of tapping out, and he made the sign of submission to the referees.

However, in throwing off his opponent while the latter still had him in a powerful chokehold, Arrhichion not only snapped his opponent’s ankle, but ended up snapping his own neck as well. Arrhichion had a broken neck, but as his opponent had already conceded by signaling his submission, the dead Arrhichion’s was declared the winner. It was perhaps the only time in the history of the Olympiads that a corpse was crowned an Olympic champion. He thus added a wrinkle to the athletic ideal of “victory or death” by gaining victory and death in winning a championship.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Sada Abe in police custody. Curious Tendency

Manhunt On as Japan Terrified by Penis-Chopping Geisha on the Loose

Kichizo Ishida (1894 – 1936) was a Japanese businessman and restaurateur with a reputation for being a ladies’ man. He started off as an apprentice in a restaurant that specialized in eel dishes, and by age 24 he opened what would become one of Tokyo’s most successful restaurants, the Yoshidaya. Kichizo eventually left the management of his business affairs to his wife, and dedicated himself to womanizing. Early in 1936, he began a love affair with a recently hired employee, Sada Abe.

Sada Abe (1905 – 1971) had been Geisha and former prostitute before getting hired on as an apprentice at Kichizo’s restaurant. It did not take long after she started her new job before her boss made advances, which she eagerly welcomed. The two became infatuated with each other, spending days in marathon sex sessions at hotels, not stopping even when maids came in to tidy up and clean the rooms.

Unfortunately, Sada’s infatuation became an obsession. She started getting jealous whenever Kichizo returned to his wife, and started thinking of killing him to keep him forever to herself. She bought a knife and threatened him with it during their next tryst, but Kichizo thought it was role play, and it turned him on even more. That threw Sada off. Later during the marathon sex session, she again steeled herself to kill him, this time by strangling him with a Geisha belt during sex. It only turned him on even more, and he begged her to continue. That threw her off once again.

Finally, Kichizo fell asleep, at which point Sada finally gathered her nerve to go through with her plans, and strangled her sleeping lover to death with her Geisha belt. Then, she took out the knife and castrated him, carved her name on his arm, and with his blood wrote “Sada and Kichizo together” on the bed sheets before fleeing. Kichizo’s body was discovered the next day, and when news of the murder and mutilation broke, and that a “sexually and criminally dangerous woman was on the loose“, Japan, and especially Japanese men, were gripped with what became known as “Sada Abe Panic”.

Police eventually caught up with and arrested her, at which point they discovered Kichizo Ishida’s genitals in her purse. When questioned why she was running around with Ishida’s penis and testicles, Sada replied “Because I couldn’t take his head or body with me. I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories“.

Sada Abe was tried and convicted, and served 5 years in prison before being released. She went on to write an autobiography, and lived until 1971. The Ishida-Abe love affair and its bizarre end became a sensation in Japan, embedded in its popular culture and acquiring mythic overtones ever since. The story has been depicted in poetry and prose, portrayed in movies and television series, and interpreted over the decades by various philosophers and artists.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Josephine Baker. Indie Wire

Superstar Singer and Temptress Turns War Heroine and Spies on Nazis

Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) was the first black person to become a world famous entertainer, or to star in a major movie. Dubbed the “Creole Goddess”, “Black Pearl”, and “Bronze Venus”, she was an American-born entertainer, renowned dancer, Jazz Age symbol, 1920s icon, and civil rights activist. She moved to France and made it her home, and when her adopted homeland was conquered by the Nazis in WWII, Josephine Baker joined the French Resistance.

Born into poverty as Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, she was forced by her family’s dire financial straits into working since childhood. By age 13, she was already performing on stage, and became a chorus girl a year later. She became a hit with audiences, as she injected comedy into her routines. Ambitious and confident in her talent, Josephine refused to accept the ceiling imposed by the color of her skin in America, so she moved to France. There, her career took off in post WWI Paris, and she became a global superstar.

When WWII broke out, Josephine Baker was recruited by French military intelligence. She had initially expressed support for the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, so when the Axis defeated and occupied France, they mistakenly assumed that she was friendly to their cause. She was not. Taking advantage of the conquerors’ trust, Josephine risked her life by spying. Her fame opened doors, and rubbing shoulders with high ranking Axis personnel, she collected information while charming officials she met in social gatherings.

As an international entertainer, Josephine had an excuse to travel, and she did, within Nazi-occupied Europe, to neutral Portugal, and to South America. She crossed borders while transporting coded messages, written in invisible ink on her music sheets, between the Resistance and the Allies. They contained information about German troop concentrations, airfields, harbors, and defenses. She also hid fugitives in her home, and supplied them with forged identification papers and visas obtained through her contacts. Later in the war, she joined and was commissioned a lieutenant in the French Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She also performed in concerts for Allied troops.

In recognition of her wartime exploits and contributions to France, Josephine Baker was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honeur by Charles De Gaulle. Among the medals awarded her by the French military were the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Resistance with Rosette. Upon her death in 1975, she became the first American woman buried with military honors in France, including a twenty one gun salute.

10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today
Still from movie depicting surrender of Anatahan shipwrecks. Culture Trip

Marooned Shipwrecks Turn Island Into ‘Lord of the Flies’

In June of 1944, American airplanes sank three Japanese supply ships off Anatahan, a small Marianas island about 75 miles north of Saipan. 36 soldiers and sailor survived and swam to Anatahan. Later that year, the US invaded the Marianas, seizing the main islands and bypassing the smaller ones such as Anahatan. The Japanese on Anatahan, unable to communicate with their chain of command, were isolated from the outside world.

Things got bad, as the castaways eked a living, surviving on coconuts, lizards, bats, insects, taro, wild sugar cane, and whatever else they could find. Things improved some in January of 1945, when a B-29 bomber crashed on Anatahan. Scavenging the wreck, the castaways fashioned the plane’s metal into useful items, such as knives, pots, and roofs for their huts. Parachutes were turned into clothing, oxygen tanks were converted to storing water, springs were fashioned into fishing hooks, nylon cords were used as fishing lines, and some pistols were also recovered.

The island’s demographics further complicated life, and gradually led to a Lord of the Flies dynamics. The island’s sole inhabitants were the castaways, plus a Japanese plantation manager and his wife. Unsurprisingly, over 30 men stranded for years on a small island that contained only one woman, led to trouble, as the men competed for her affections. The object of their attentions, Kazuko Higa, had arrived at the island with her husband in 1944, but her husband disappeared in mysterious circumstances soon after the castaways arrived. So she married a Kikuichiro Higa as protection. However, one of the castaways shot and killed her new husband, only to have his own throat slit soon thereafter by another aspiring beau.

Over the years, Kazuko Higa became a full blown femme fatale, transferring her affections between a series of wooers. Each of them ended up violently chased off, or murdered, by some of the other frustrated men. Matters were not helped when the men discovered how to ferment coconut wine, then spent days on end drinking themselves into a stupor or into alcoholic rages.

By 1951, as the castaways vied for the affections of the island’s sole female, there had been 12 murders, and too many fights to count. One of Kazuko Higa’s pursuers had been stabbed with a knife on thirteen separate occasions by jealous rivals. Undaunted, he returned to his amorous pursuit as soon as he recovered from each attempted murder.

American authorities had learned of the Japanese on Anatahan. However, the island lacked military significance, and the Japanese marooned there were no threat. So the castaways were ignored. After the war, somebody remembered Anatahan, so leaflets were airdropped on the island, informing its Japanese that the war was over and directing them to surrender. However, the castaways refused to believe that Japan could have surrendered.

American authorities did not deem it worth the trouble to send in US forces to root them out, so the castaways were left to their own devices. From time to time, an airplane would be sent to drop leaflets over the island, repeating that the war was over and directing the Japanese to surrender. However, the castaways deemed the leaflets fake news, and so matters remained, for years.

In 1950, Kazuku Higa sighted a passing US vessel, raced to the beach, flagged it down and asked to be taken off the island. It was only then that the Americans discovered that the Japanese on Anatahan did not believe that the war was over. That information was relayed to Japan, where the holdouts’ families were contacted. They wrote letters to their relatives, letting them know that it was not fake news: the war had, indeed, ended years earlier.

The letters, along with an official message from the Japanese government, finally convinced the castaways. They surrendered in 1951, and were shipped back home, where their story became a sensation, featured in books, movies, and plays. Kazuku Higa was nicknamed “The Queen Bee of Anatahan Island” by the Japanese press. She found temporary fame as a tropical temptress, selling her story to newspapers and recounting it to packed theaters. However, her fifteen minutes eventually ended, and public interest waned. She fell into prostitution and abject poverty, and died at age 51 while working as a garbage collector.

Advertisement