16 Of History's Best Kept Secrets
16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets

Steve - November 26, 2018

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
The Berlin Cleopatra (c. mid-1st century BCE). Wikimedia Commons.

6. The famed lovers Antony and Cleopatra were immortalized by Shakespeare, but their precise resting places remain a mystery to archaeologists

Cleopatra VII Philopator was the companion of Julius Caesar, wife of Mark Antony, and the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Siding with the Second Triumvirate during the Liberators’ Civil War (43-42 BCE) in the aftermath of the assassination of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra began an affair with Mark Antony. This affair would produce three children – Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II, and Ptolemy Philadelphus – and culminate in the divorce of Antony from the sister of Octavian.

This insult, combined with naming their children as future rulers, precipitated the Final War of the Roman Republic, which Octavian won decisively. Following the defeat of their naval fleet at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, Egypt was invaded and within a year, defeat and capture for Antony and Cleopatra was imminent. After learning of the suicide of Antony, Cleopatra, fearing a public humiliation and imprisonment, also took her own life. It is popularly believed that the method of her suicide was the bite of a venomous asp. According to the historians Plutarch and Suetonius, in a surprisingly generous act Augustus permitted the deceased lovers to be buried together. Augustus also allowed their children to live, in contrast to the fate of Cleopatra’s other child from her relationship with Julius Caesar, Caesarion. Despite this magnanimity in victory, the location tomb of Antony and Cleopatra has been kept a secret for almost two thousand years; it is unclear whether this was by design and intent or mere coincidence.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Current KFC logo (c. 2016). Wikimedia Commons.

5. The Original Recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken, designed by Harland Sanders, remains a secret, sealed in a vault in Louisville, along with vials of spices

The KFC Original Recipe was designed in the 1930s, and perfected by July 1940, by Harland Sanders in response to the popularity of the fried chicken offered at his gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. He removed the gas pumps and transformed his business into a restaurant and motel in the late-1930s. Sanders transitioned through several methods and flavors, shifting from pan frying (which he found to be too slow) to deep fat frying. He thought deep frying produced dry chicken, so he finally settled on using a pressure cooker and his now world-famous recipe consisting of 11 herbs and spices.

Beginning to franchise his chicken in the 1950s under the brand name “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, Sanders was fearful that other food outlets might copy his creation. Consequently, KFC instituted a strict policy of secrecy regarding the Original Recipe. Among the precautions taken was the division of the production of the recipe between multiple manufacturers and suppliers. Half was produced by Griffith Laboratories before being given to McCormick who provided the other half. Furthermore, the company refused to patent their creation, which would require the detailed identification of ingredients and limit ownership to an expiration date, instead opting for total secrecy to protect their brand. Today, a copy of the recipe is sealed inside a high-security safe at the KFC headquarters in Louisville, along with eleven vials containing the necessary herbs and spices.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
“With the Vigilance Committee in the East End: A Suspicious Character” from The Illustrated London News, 13 October 1888

4. The identity of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer of Whitechapel, remains a secret to this day despite more than a century of investigation

Jack the Ripper, also known as the Whitechapel Murderer or Leather Apron, was an unidentified serial killer responsible for the murders of at least five women in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The victims, all female prostitutes, were found murdered, with their throats cut – in addition to facial, abdominal, and genital-area mutilation, and the posthumous removal of internal organs. Due to the latter activity, it became widely assumed that the killer possessed a detailed anatomical knowledge and possibly surgical training. It is presumed the murders stopped as a result of the killer’s death, incarceration, or emigration, but this is merely conjecture as the true identity remains unknown to this day.

In total, more than 100 suspects have been suggested as potential “Rippers”, among which in modern “Ripperology” include barrister Montague John Druitt, barbers Seweryn Antonowicz Kłosowski and Aaron Kosminski, the latter of which was admitted to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1891, and boot-maker John Pizer. Contemporaneous speculation, in contrast, focused on an entirely different set of suspects ranging from Thomas Hayne Cutbush, a medical student institutionalized in 1891 after suffering syphilitic-induced delusions, and Frederick Bailey Deeming, who would emigrate to Australia in 1891 after murdering his entire family and later claimed in a prison-penned book prior to his hanging to be the Ripper.

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16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
A rare photograph of President Roosevelt in a wheelchair, with Ruthie Bie and Fala (c. 1941). Wikimedia Commons.

3. Franklin Roosevelt’s paralysis was so secret that even the heads of state of Europe were not aware of his condition

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the future 32nd President of the United States, contracted a paralytic illness in 1921 at the age of just 39 years old; debilitating symptoms soon followed, including bowel and bladder dysfunction, numbness, and permanent below-the-waist paralysis. Diagnosed with poliomyelitis, it is today commonly believed that his symptoms were more in line with the autoimmune neuropathy Guillain-Barré syndrome. Despite being unable to stand or walk without support, Roosevelt refused to allow his disability to impede his life or career, learning throughout the 1920s to walk short distances with the aid of heavy steel braces which locked at the knees, a cane for support, and using his torso to build forward momentum. As a result of this momentous personal struggle, Roosevelt successfully became America’s first disabled President without widespread public knowledge of his condition.

Although he used a wheelchair in private, Roosevelt remained careful to ensure the public did not see their commander-in-chief in such a state. When appearing in public, Roosevelt would often be flanked by aides for support, whilst during major speaking engagements a sturdy lectern would be placed on the stage. Roosevelt would grip the lectern forcefully for support, rendering him unable to use hand gestures and consequently developed his iconic head movements to apply emphasis. Arrivals by car were carefully choreographed, commonly parked in a secluded garage to allow for assistance entering and exiting the vehicle, or driven onto a ramp to ease his movements. If steps were present, they would be covered with a ramp and railings fitted on either side. Roosevelt also made extensive use of Track 61 – a private railway platform located beneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City – with the presidential railroad car always appearing at the rear and preferably arriving in a secluded section of a railway yard.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Athanasius Kircher’s map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (c. 1669). Wikimedia Commons.

2. Despite hundreds of years of investigation, the location of the lost island of Atlantis, if it ever existed, remains a secret

Atlantis is a fictional island described in the works of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, allegorically serving as a commentary on the hubris of nations, for which shortcoming the island nation fell out of favor with the Gods and was sunk beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Although it is agreed upon that the story of Atlantic offered by Plato is unquestionably fictitious, his account of an island that sunk beneath the waves has spawned considerable speculation that the lost landmass might have actually historically existed. Plato was known to borrow many of his allegories from older storytelling traditions, increasing the likelihood that Atlantis was founded in truth.

Inspired by Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: the Antediluvian World (1882), who believed that many ancient civilizations were descended from a lost central source destroyed during the biblical Great Flood, subsequent investigation and inquiry have produced several hypotheses concerning the fate and location of the island of Atlantis. The majority of these proposed sites are situated in the Mediterranean Sea, with the disappearance of Atlantis revolving around the known Thera eruption that occurred in either the 17th or 16th century BCE. This eruption generated a gigantic tsunami believed to have devastated the Minoan civilization located on the island of Crete, with Atlantis considered to potentially have been another victim of this natural disaster.

16 Of History’s Best Kept Secrets
Tutankhamun’s death mask. Wikimedia Commons.

1. Despite his international fame, how Tutankhamun actually died at the young age of only 18 remains a mystery

Tutankhamun was an Egyptian Pharaoh belonging to the 18th dynasty, born in 1341 BCE and reigning during the New Kingdom period between 1332-1323. Discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, the intact condition of his tomb immediately ignited worldwide interest in the young pharaoh. Despite a century of scientific and archaeological inquiry, little is known concerning the reign of the teenager. Provoking the most debate has been speculation regarding the death of the 18-year-old pharaoh, with no records surviving concerning Tutankhamun’s passing. Given the condition of the tomb, with microbiologist Ralph Mitchell suggesting that the paint on the walls indicate that the deceased king was entombed prior to the walls drying, it is widely assumed that the young monarch died suddenly and unexpectedly prior to his crypt being completed.

Whilst some claim that Tutankhamun was assassinated, others assert that his death was accidental. Modern medical examination of Tutankhamun’s remains highlight a compound leg fracture inflicted shortly before his death, leading to speculation that the injury developed a fatal infection. Medical analysis has also indicated the presence of malaria and Köhler disease II, either of which might have played a role in his demise. Other theories highlight evidence of sickle cell disease, a partially cleft palate, in addition to a host of other congenital defects and commonplace illnesses of the day. Adding to these already myriad speculations, in March 2018 a new proposal suggested that tomb images depict Tutankhamun leading an army to war in Syria whereupon he may have fallen in battle.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Who Was The Man In The Iron Mask? And Other Historical Mysteries”, Hugh Williamson, Penguin Publishing (2002)

“The Man Behind the Iron Mask”, John Noone (1998)

“Tracking the Ark of the Covenant”, Charles Foster, Monarch Publishing (2007)

“The Quest For The Ark of The Covenant: The True History of The Tablets of Moses”, Stuart Munro-Hay, L.B. Tauris & Co (2006)

“The Man Who Never Was”, Ewen Montagu, Naval Institute Press (1953)

“A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder”, James Partington, Johns Hopkins University Press (1999)

“Silphium”, Chalmers Gemmill, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (July/August 1966)

“Genghis Khan”, Paul Ratchnevsky, Blackwell Publishing (1993)

“The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century”, translated by Igor de Rachewiltz, Brill Publishing (2006)

“The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb”, Francis Gosling, United States Department of Energy History Division (1994)

“Royal Blood: Richard III and the mystery of the princes”, Bert Fields, Harper Collins (1998)

“The Mystery of the Princes”, Audrey Williamson (1978)

“Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring”, Alexander Rose, Bantam Dell (2006)

“Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge”, Benjamin Tallmadge, Book on Demand (1858)

“The Tomb of Antony and Cleopatra”, Ishaan Tharoor, Time Magazine (April 23, 2009)

“KFC still guards Colonel’s secret”, Ed Reinke, Associated Press, NBC News (July 23, 2005)

“Colonel Sanders and the American Dream”, John Ozersky, University of Texas Press (2012)

“Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History, Pearson Education (2003)

“The Man Who Would Be Jack: The Hunt for the Real Ripper”, David Bullock, Thistle Publishing (2012)

“The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency”, James Tobin, Simon & Schuster (2013)

“The Flood from Heaven: Deciphering the Atlantis Legend”, Eberhard Zangger, William Morrow and Company (1993)

“Tutankhamun: Life and Death of a Pharaoh”, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, Okasha Sarwat, New York Graphic Society (1963)