10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events

Khalid Elhassan - March 9, 2018

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
Death by guillotine and ‘Star Wars’ actually overlapped. Odyssey

France Guillotined Somebody the Same Year Star Wars Was Released

In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the guillotine was transformed into a semi-independent character, who’s ever-present and ominous shadow dominated the tale. Today, mention of the guillotine usually brings to mind images of the French Revolution, its blade chopping through and thinning the ranks of the Ancien Regime’s aristocracy.

In its heyday during the 1790s, it would snip the necks of historic figures such as the ultimate royalists, King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. An equal opportunity instrument of death, the guillotine would also chop off the heads of radical republicans who had executed the king and queen. Falling between those political extremes, tens of thousands lost their lives to the guillotine in its the busiest stretch of usage, during the Reign of Terror. So ubiquitous was the instrument during this period, that it became a quasi symbol of Revolutionary France.

So associated is the guillotine with the French Revolution, that it is easy to forget that its use in France continued long after the 1789 upheaval came to an end. Indeed, the instrument, sometimes referred to by the French as “The National Razor”, would continue doing its work well into the modern age. It serviced its last customer during the Age of Disco, and after Star Wars was released on May 25th, 1977. Later that year, on September 10th, Hamida Djandoubi won the distinction of becoming the correct answer to the question: “who was the last person executed by guillotine in France?

Djandoubi was born in Tunis in 1949 and moved to Marseilles in 1968. There, after a series of menial jobs, including a stint as a landscaper that ended when a workplace accident resulted in the amputation of one of his legs, he settled on pimping as a career. He earned a date with “The National Razor” by kidnapping, torturing, and strangling to death a former girlfriend in 1974, after she filed a complaint accusing him of trying to force her into prostitution.

He was tried for torture, murder, rape, and assorted acts of violence, in February of 1974, and was duly convicted and sentenced to death. After exhausting his appeals, and failing to win a reprieve from the French president, Djandoubi went under the guillotine in a Marseilles prison at 4:40 AM, September 10th, 1977. France did not abolish the guillotine and capital punishment until 1981 – the same year MS-DOS 1.0 was released, and Indiana Jones premiered in the US.

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
Teruo Nakamura. All That is Interesting

While Disco Was Sweeping the World and the Godfather Part II Was Playing in Theaters, a Japanese Soldier Was Still Fighting WWII

1974 was a good year in film, that saw the release of iconic movies such as Blazing Saddles, The Longest Yard, and The Godfather Part II. It was also the year when Disco entered the mainstream and became the dominant music genre of the mid to late 1970s. While moviegoers were thrilled to Al Pacino’s captivating depiction of Michael Corleone, and partygoers were riding the white horse while dancing to Disco classics such as Karl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighter, a WWII Japanese soldier was still holding out in the jungles of Indonesia.

Teruo Nakamura was born in the then Japanese possession of Formosa – today’s Taiwan – in an aboriginal tribe in 1919. He was conscripted into a colonial unit in 1943 and posted to Morotai Island in the Dutch East Indies – today’s Indonesia – in 1944. He got there just in time for an American-Australian invasion, which inflicted catastrophic losses upon the Japanese defenders. The survivors fled into the jungle, where most perished from starvation and disease.

At war’s end in 1945, Nakamura was among those presumed dead, and was officially declared so. However, his unit had been ordered to disperse and conduct guerrilla warfare. When Japan surrendered, Nakamura and his comrades were deep in the island’s jungle, cut off from contact, and thus received no official notice that the war was over. The Allied victors airdropped leaflets over the jungle, advising of war’s end, but Nakamura and his comrades dismissed them as fake news and enemy propaganda.

Nakamura’s group dwindled steadily as the years went by. In 1956, he set off on his own, constructed a hut in a small field that he hacked out of the rainforest, and grew tubers and bananas to supplement his diet. Because of his aboriginal tribal upbringing, he was particularly self-sufficient and adept at surviving in the wild. Nakamura stayed in the jungle, isolated and alone until he was spotted by a pilot in 1974. That led to a search mission by the Indonesian military, which eventually tracked down and arrested the holdout on December 28th, 1974.

Unfortunately for Nakamura, Japan did not reciprocate the loyalty he had exhibited by holding out for nearly three decades in obedience to his last orders from Japanese authorities. In contrast to Hiroo Onoda, another holdout who had surrendered a few months earlier and became a national celebrity and nationalist hero, Nakamura attracted little attention in Japan. For one thing, Onoda was an ethnic Japanese citizen, while Nakamura had been a colonial soldier, from what by 1974 was the independent nation of Taiwan. Although he expressed a wish to be repatriated to Japan, Nakamura had no legal right to go there, and so was sent to Taiwan instead.

Worse, as a member of a colonial unit rather than of the Japanese Army, Nakamura was not entitled to a pension and back pay under Japanese law. Whereas Hiroo Onoda had been awarded about U$160,000 by Japan, equivalent to about U$850,000 in 2017 dollars, Nakamura was awarded only U$227, or U$1186 in 2017 dollars, for his three decades-long holdout. He returned to Taiwan, where he died five years later of lung cancer, in 1979.

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
Sam Sianis, the nephew of Bill Sianis, attempted to live ‘The Curse of the Billy Goat’ with a billy goat adopted as a Cubs mascot, in the 1984 season opener at Wrigley Field. USA Today

Until 2016, the Chicago Cubs Had Not Won a World Series Since the Days When a Kaiser Ruled Germany

During Game 4 of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers, tavern owner William “Billy Goat” Sianis, and his actual billy goat, Murphy, were enjoying the game in Wrigley Field. Their joy was interrupted, however, when they were pulled aside by Chicago Cubs officials, who informed them that Murphy would have to leave.

When Sianis showed them a ticket proving that Murphy had actually paid for his seat, and complained that they were discriminating against his friend because he was a goat, he was informed that nothing could be further from the truth. Murphy was being kicked out, not because he was a goat, but because some fans nearby had complained that he stank, and that his odor offended them. So Sianis turned around and issued modern sports’ greatest curse.

Offended on behalf of his billy goat friend, an indignant “Billy Goat” Sianis fired off a telegram to the Chicago Cubs’ team owner Philip K. Wrigley, which stated: “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat“. The Chicago Cubs, who until then had been leading the World Series 2 to 1, dropped game 4, to even it at 2-2. They then proceeded to lose the best-of-seven series, 4 to 3.

In 1945, the world was in the dawn of the jet age, the rocket age, and the atomic age. By then, the Cubs were already in the midst of a prolonged championship drought: the last time they had won a World Series had been in 1908, almost four decades earlier. At the time, Babe Ruth had still not made his MLB debut. Teddy Roosevelt was still in the White House. Mark Twain was still alive. A Tsar reigned over the Russian Empire. Kaiser Wilhelm II still ran Germany. A sultan still headed the Ottoman Empire. A Hapsburg emperor still ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Vienna, a young weirdo named Adolf Hitler was chasing his dreams of becoming an artist. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was still alive, and nobody had dreamt of WWI, let alone its sequel, which had concluded only a month before Murphy was kicked out of Wrigley Field.

In short, by 1945, the world had already changed drastically since the Chicago Cubs’ last World Series victory. However, one constant that had remained changeless throughout, was the Cubs’ championship drought. Sianis’ dire warning became known as the “Curse of the Billy Goat”, and it would take the Chicago Cubs’ already long World Series drought, and extend it by another 71 years, until 2016.

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
Queen Elizabeth II and Marilyn Monroe at a movie premiere. Houston Chronicle

Queen Elizabeth II and Marilyn Monroe Were Born in the Same Year

As of early 2018, Queen Elizabeth II is the world’s longest-reigning current monarch, the oldest and longest-serving current head of state, and is already the longest-lived and longest-serving monarch in British history. She is also the longest-serving queen in history, and is within striking distance of Louis XIV’s record as longest-reigning monarch of a major state – she just needs to stay alive until 2024.

Her long reign, which began in 1952, witnessed major changes, such as the completion of the decolonization and winding down of the British Empire, once history’s largest empire ever, and one over which the sun literally never sent. Her reign also saw major constitutional changes in the UK, such as the devolution of statutory powers from the Parliament in Westminster to Scotland, Wales, Northern Island, and London.

Today, she is queen and head of state not only of the United Kingdom, but also of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, as well as twelve other countries that became independent after her accession: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

Queen Elizabeth has demonstrated that she takes her coronation oath seriously, and has exhibited a strong commitment to her civic and religious duties during her decades on the throne. Although the royal family around her has been engulfed in frequent scandals, providing the tabloids with steady fodder for decades on end, the queen has been not only scandal-free but seemingly free of any hint of frivolity.

While the queen is a cultural icon, she is worlds apart from another cultural icon born the same year as her majesty, in 1926: Marilyn Monroe. The queen was born on April 21st of that year, while Marilyn was born about six weeks later, on June 1st. The two icons lived worlds apart, one in Hollywood, the other in Buckingham Palace. However, the two did meet once on common ground, when the monarch met the movie star at the London premiere of the Battle of the River Platte. Both women were 30 years old at the time, when Monroe waited in a line of guests to shake the queen’s hand. It would be the only time those two different types of royalty – a Hollywood queen and a real-life one – would meet.

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
The Wright Brothers’ first powered flight. CNET

Orville Wright Was Still Alive When The Sound Barrier Was Broken

The Wright brothers‘ names are synonymous with aviation, having made the first controlled and sustained powered flight by a heavier than air aircraft. They pulled off that breakthrough, which had eluded everybody else, by not following the herd. Other experimenters had focused on inventing more powerful engines. Wilbur and Orville Wright focused their creative juices on coming up with reliable pilot controls.

Eventually, the brothers invented a practical three-axis control system for up and down (pitch), side to side tilt (roll), and turning (yaw). That control system remains standard on all fixed-wing aircraft to this day. That first powered flight, on December 17th, 1903, a few miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, earned Wilbur and Orville Wright a well-deserved place in the history books.

The Wright brothers’ Kitty Hawk airplane, innovative and revolutionary as it was, was nonetheless a primitive string and canvas contraption, and that looked obsolete within a few years. As the pace of airplane development raced apace, the Wright brothers’ pioneering aircraft, and the Wright brothers themselves, soon seemed to belong to an ancient and largely forgotten era of aviation.

On December 17th, 2003, the centenary of the first heavier than air powered flight, the aviation world’s greatest living pioneers gathered to salute the Wright Brothers, at the site of their 12-second flight into history. Their ranks included Chuck Yeager, a WWII hero and flying ace whose aerial exploits included shooting down 5 German airplanes in a single day. He topped that off by becoming a test pilot after the war and cementing his place in aviation history by becoming the first man to break the sound barrier.

Yeager shared a stage in that 2003 commemoration with other aviation luminaries such as John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men to walk on the moon. It seems incongruous that any of those luminaries of advanced modern flight could have had an in-person interaction with the Wright brothers, but it had happened.

Yeager was one of the few people present who had actually met one of the Wright brothers. Wilbur had died early, in 1912, but Orville lived until 1948, and Yeager recounted an encounter with him at a 1945 air show, where Orville got to see his first jet airplane. It took place two years before Yeager earned his own place in aviation history by breaking the sound barrier, so neither party at the time realized the significance of their encounter.

Not only did Orville Wright live long enough to meet Chuck Yeager, he lived long enough to learn of Yeager’s breaking of the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 airplane, on October 14th, 1947. After describing the meeting to reporters, Yeager continued: “To be part of the Wright brothers’ 100th anniversary, it just makes you feel kind of clamped up inside“.

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
Nintendo’s most famous characters. Gamer Link

Nintendo Was Founded When Jack the Ripper Was Still Carving Up Victims

One of the world’s biggest video game companies, the Japanese multinational Nintendo Co., Ltd., is best known as the creator of top-selling video game franchises such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokemon. The company is associated with electronics and is known as a pioneer of one of the world’s most modern technologies, that of video game entertainment. However, it was founded over a century ago, during the steam power era, in 1889 – contemporaneous with Jack the Ripper.

Nintendo came into being long before video games were even a theoretical concept. When the company was founded in the nineteenth century, its bread and butter was the production of handmade hanafuda playing cards. In 1956, the company began trying its hand at new ventures to supplement its playing cards business, upon realizing that playing cards had limited growth potential. So Nintendo set up a taxi company, before establishing other divisions such as a TV network, a love motel chain, toys, and a food company specializing in instant rice.

Most of those ventures were unsuccessful, except for toys, and by the 1960s, Nintendo had morphed into a predominate toy company. In 1974, the company got involved in video games for the first time, when it secured the rights to distribute Magnavox’s video game console in Japan. The following year, they moved into arcade games, with some limited success, until 1981, when they released the smash arcade hit Donkey Kong. The rest, was video game history.

However, long before all of that, when Nintendo had been founded in Kyoto by Japanese entrepreneur Fusajiro Yamauchi in 1889, the world was still in the steam power era, and electricity and electronics were considered newfangled inventions. Even street lighting, in those cities that provided it, was usually reliant on gas lamps, instead of electric bulbs. When Yamauchi founded Nintendo, London, half a world away, was still trembling in fear from the depredations of the gruesome serial killer, Jack the Ripper, believed to have between active from 1888 until 1891. Perhaps in a nod to that historic overlap, in 2013 Nintendo 3DS launched Mystery Murders: Jack the Ripper, a game rated M for Mature.

10 Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events
Maudie Hopkins and William Cantrell. Spyders Den

The Last American Civil War Veteran’s Widow Died the Same Year Barack Obama Was Elected President

The American Civil War, driven primarily by the issue of black chattel slavery, ended in 1865 with a Union victory that put a de facto seal on the demise of slavery. 143 years later, America elected its first black president, Barrack Obama, in 2008. Incongruous as it might seem, a Civil War widow, who had been married to a Confederate soldier, was still alive in 2008.

Maudie White Hopkins (1914 – 2008), born Maudie Cecilia Acklin in Arkansas, grew up in an impoverished family of 10 children during the Great Depression in the hardscrabble Ozarks. To help put food on the table and make ends meet, a teenaged Maudie cleaned house and did laundry for an elderly Civil War veteran, William Cantrell, who had been widowed years earlier.

Cantrell had enlisted in the Confederate army at age 16, in Pikesville, Kentucky. He served in the Army of Tennessee in the Western Theater, where he was captured in 1863, held in a prison camp in Ohio, and eventually released in a prisoner exchange. He returned to civilian life after the war, moved to Arkansas to stay with relatives, eventually started a family, and after a long married life, was widowed in 1929. In 1934, when Cantrell was 86 and Maudie was 19, he offered to leave her his house and land, if she would marry him and take care of him in his later years.

It was not too uncommon for young women in Arkansas at the time to marry Civil War pensioners, so Maudie accepted. For much of her life, she generally kept that marriage a secret, to avoid gossip about her having once married a much older man, and fearing that people would think less of her as a result. In her later years, however, she openly acknowledged the marriage. As she put it in a 2004 Associated Press interview: “After Mr. Cantrell died I took a little old mule he had and plowed me a vegetable garden and had plenty of vegetables to eat. It was hard times; you had to work to eat. … I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve worked hard my whole life and did what I had to, what I could, to survive. I didn’t want to talk about it for a while because I didn’t want people to gossip about it. I didn’t want people to make it out to be worse than it was“.

He supported her with his Confederate pension of $25 every two or three months. The pension benefits ended upon Cantrell’s death in 1937, but true to his promise, he left her his house and land upon his death. Maudie Hopinks remarried three more times and had three children – two daughters and a son. She died in a nursing home on August 7th, 2008, a month before Obama was elected president.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Sources & Further Reading

92 Moose FM, February 28th, 2014 – Betty White Is Older Than Sliced Bread! That & Other Fun ‘Time Facts’

All That is Interesting – The Eternal War of the Japanese Holdouts

Mike Dash History – Final Straggler: The Japanese Soldier Who Outlasted Hiroo Onoda

Medium – The Last Japanese Soldier to Surrender

Huffington Post, February 22nd, 2014 – 8 Surprising Historical Facts That Will Change Your Concept of Time Forever

National Geographic, November 1st, 2016 – Here’s What Happened the Last Time the Cubs Won a World Series

National Geographic, July 9th, 2017 – We Could Resurrect the Woolly Mammoth: Here’s How

NBC News, December 17th, 2003 – Aviation Heroes Salute the Wright Brothers

PBS – 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Orville Wright

Public Radio International – What the World Was Like When the Cubs Last Won a World Series

Reddit – What Are Two Events In History That You Never Would’ve Guessed Happened at the Same Time?

Time Magazine, July 7th, 2015 – How Sliced Bread Became ‘The Greatest Thing’

Vanity Fair, June 1st, 2016 – See Rare Footage of Queen Elizabeth II Meeting Marilyn Monroe

Waguespack, Andrea, Houston Chronicle – Historical Events You Had No Idea Happened at Around the Same Time

Wikipedia – Chuck Yeager

Wikipedia – Sliced Bread

World Atlas – Did Woolly Mammoths Still Roam Parts of the Earth When the Great Pyramids Were Built?