Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class

Khalid Elhassan - July 4, 2020

Weird stuff permeates history, but by necessity, most of the weird stuff is not taught in school. Because of space and time limitations, schools have to pick and choose which historic details to teach and which to leave out. Unavoidably, that means focusing on major items, while leaving out most details, many of them fascinating. For example, schools might teach that the discovery of the New World meant the introduction of new foods to the diet of the Old World, like maize, potatoes, and tomatoes. However, schools would probably leave out that, for years, tomatoes were associated with werewolves, and having them in one’s kitchen might arouse suspicions of fell witchcraft. Following are forty things about weird details history class failed to cover.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Sheet from the oldest tomato collection in Europe, circa 1542 – 1544. Naturalis Biodiversity Center

40. Satanic Tomatoes

The discovery and exploration of the Americas revolutionized the world in myriad ways. Not least among them was the Columbian Exchange – a widespread transfer of plants, animals, peoples, cultures, technology and diseases between the Old World and the New. One plant, in particular, turned out to be way more controversial than expected, when it was initially introduced to the Old World: the tomato.

No other vegetable has been as maligned as the tomato – a fruit by scientific consensus, but a vegetable according to the United States Supreme Court. Following its introduction to the Old World, the tomato eventually became a huge hit, revolutionizing cuisines all around the planet. However, in a weird twist on the Columbian Exchange, tomatoes were initially met with outright hostility in some parts of Europe, where they were viewed as a satanic plant.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A werewolf. YouTube

39. Tomatoes and Werewolves

The centuries-long Witch Hunt Craze, much of which overlapped with the Age of Exploration, was pretty weird in its own right. Tens of thousands of women were slaughtered after being accused of practicing dark magic. Less known, and amplifying the weirdness, is that thousands of additional men and women were also executed around the same time, accused of being werewolves.

Authorities in many parts of Europe believed that witches and werewolves were closely associated. They reasoned that, just as witches concocted and brewed potions that allowed them to fly, they concocted and brewed potions that transformed people into werewolves. The main ingredient in that witches’ brew were plants that looked a lot like tomatoes.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A witch. Business Mirror

38. An Ill-Timed Introduction

It was not the tomato’s fault that it was first imported to Europe around 1540, at a historically weird moment during the height of witch hysteria. From the fourteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries, thousands of Europeans – the overwhelming majority of them women – were killed as witches. Women accused of witchcraft were lynched by mobs, or hanged, crushed, drowned, or burned by courts, both secular and religious. Conservative estimates, culled from official records, put the number of executed victims in the tens of thousands. Other estimates go as high as half a million.

Tomatoes arrived in Europe just when authorities were trying to figure out the ingredients of witches’ flying ointment – the goop they smeared on brooms to make them fly, or on themselves to fly without a broom. That same goop could also transform whoever it was smeared on into a werewolf. In 1545, the pope’s physician, Andres Laguna, described the key ingredients as henbane, nightshade, and mandrake – close botanical relatives of tomatoes.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Yellow cherry tomatoes. Croatian Seeds

37. Confusing Tomatoes

The weird fear of tomatoes comes across as less weird when examined in the context of the time. Tomato plants not only look like deadly nightshade, a suspected ingredient of witches’ magic goop, they are just about identical to the untrained eye. Similarly, some tomato varieties, such as yellow cherry tomatoes, look remarkably similar to hallucinogenic mandrake fruits, another ingredient of the witches’ goop. So at a time when Europe was engulfed by hysteria surrounding anything having to do with witches, a plant that looked like an ingredient of a witches’ concoction was bound to prove controversial.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Mandrake fruit. Pintrest

Even today, many people suspect those who experiment with new foods. In the 1540s, experimenting with tomatoes entailed the risk of getting turned into a werewolf, or getting accused by suspicious neighbors of practicing witchcraft. Unsurprisingly, many people decided to leave tomatoes alone. Indeed, the only place where it was safe to have them was Spain, where the Spanish Inquisition had temporarily declared that the belief in witchcraft was heretical. The Spanish and Italians eventually incorporated tomatoes into their diets wholesale, but the English and French remained in the “tomatoes are demonic” weird camp for a ridiculously long time, before finally relenting.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
White House sheep. History Channel

36. The Weird White House Sheep Experiment

During World War I, just about everybody on the home front tried to do their bit of declaring and signaling their support for the war effort. Back then, that entailed more than simply slapping a “Support the Troops!” bumper sticker on a car. War bonds drives were organized, donations were collected from the patriotic, and scrap metal was gathered. The White House was not immune, and for some time, starting in 1918, visitors were greeted with the weird sight of seeing the President’s abode transformed into a sheep ranching operation.

The idea behind raising sheep on the White House Lawn was to save manpower. The sheep would trim the lawn, and the manpower thus saved could be redirected toward the war effort. The sheep performed another patriotic service: the President donated their wool to the American Red Cross, which apportioned it among the various states’ Red Cross chapters. At patriotic auctions, the White House wool brought in as much as $10,000 a pound. However, little did passersby know how much of a hassle was involved in keeping the sheep on White House grounds.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Wilson’s sheep. Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum

35. White House Sheep

It began in the spring of 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson was motoring around the countryside with a friend, and remarked that he would like to see some sheep at the White House. It sounds a bit weird now, but it was not that weird a century ago. Wilson and his wife wanted to be the model family for supporting the war effort, and indeed, over the next two years, wool sheared from the White House’s sheep would yield $52,000 for the American Red Cross at auction – a princely sum back then.

However, it was not all smooth sailing. As a Washington Post article reported on May 12th, 1918, just a few weeks into the sheep ranching experiment: “President Wilson is having no end of trouble with the flock of sheep he purchased recently to graze on the White House lawn“. The sheep were scared of the cars and trucks that had recently started to appear in the District of Colombia in increasing numbers. It was just the start of an ongoing sheep drama.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
White House sheep. DC-ist

34. Scared Sheep

President Wilson’s White House sheep could be said to have been scared, literally, shitless. As The Washington Post described their plight: “Two of the sheep developed serious illness yesterday and are under the care of specialists from the Department of Agriculture … The animals had been getting along nicely, until yesterday. The fact that one of the sheep has the “dips” is said to be due to the fact that it became frightened by passing automobiles and similar noises to which it was not accustomed.

By 1920, the flock had grown to 48 sheep, and had destroyed the White House’s back lawn. So they were moved to the front lawn, and promptly began destroying the rose gardens, prompting a frantic fencing operation to save the flower beds and more delicate trees from the flock’s depredations. By August of that year, Wilson had finally had enough and brought the weird experiment to an end. As The Washington Post put it: “President Wilson has decided to retire from the sheep business“.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Ivy League photo subject. Messy Nessy Chic

33. Back When Ivy League Universities Used to Make Their Students Pose For Nudie Pics

In the late 1970s, a weird event occurred when a Yale University employee unlocked a long-unused room in one of the Ivy League institution’s buildings. Inside was quite the surprise: thousands upon thousands of photos of nude young men, showing their fronts, sides, and rears.

To add to the weirdness, there seemed to be sharp metal pins sticking out of the naked men’s spines. What could it be? Was it the trove of some weirdo with a niche fetish for BDSM voodoo porn? As it turned out, it was nothing so juicy, but was still plenty weird in its own right: Yale and other Ivy League schools had been in the habit of taking nude photos of their students.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
The Ivy League nude photo scandal. New York Times Magazine

32. Generations of America’s Elites Had Their Nudie Pics Snapped in the Name of Science

From the 1940s to the 1970s, Yale, plus some other Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Vassar, and Brown, required their freshmen to pose nude for a photoshoot. The goal of the weird requirement was to furnish material for a massive study into how rickets developed, and that involved sticking pins to the backs of the subjects, male and female.

Generations of the country’s elite who went to the Ivy Leagues posed for the nudie pics. The archives included the naked photos of well-known figures ranging from George W. Bush to Hillary Clinton to Diane Sawyer to Meryl Streep. The photos were burned after news leaked and the study was denounced. However, it is possible that some might have escaped the flames, and are still circulating out there, to potentially end up on the internet someday.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
SS members at the height of the polar bear craze. The Guardian

31. Germany’s Polar Bear Mania

Frenchwoman Jean-Marie Donat has amassed a collection over the past three decades, containing more than 10,000 weird vintage photos of 1920s and 1930s Germans. The photos, which include plenty of Nazis, depict the Germans posing with men dressed up as polar bears.

Polar bears became all the rage in Germany, starting in the early 1920s, when the Berlin Zoo acquired a pair of polar bear cubs. The cute new additions caught on with the public, and proved so wildly popular that the result was a mini-boom in furries and polar bear costumes.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A vacationing German couple. The Guardian

30. A Fad With Long Lasting Legs

For a fad, the weird German polar bear craze was more than just a simple flash in the pan: it went on for decades. Year after year, cheerful Germans of all walks of life and ages, routinely snapped photos of themselves posing with polar bears – or folk in polar bear costumes – as the country underwent radical changes.

The Weimar Republic weakened and collapsed, the Nazis seized power, the Third Reich kicked off its horrors, World War II was fought and lost, and Germany was occupied and partitioned. Throughout it all, Germans kept up the polar bear fad. It was only in the late 1940s, that the fad finally faded.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Montbars the Exterminator. Pinterest

29. The High Seas Exterminator

Seventeenth-century French buccaneer Daniel Montbars (1645 – disappeared 1707) was weird, and not in a good way. Better known as Montbars the Exterminator, he earned his nickname and then some. One of the most feared pirates of his era, Montbars became known as the Exterminator because of the sheer bloody-mindedness and glee he displayed in killing Spaniards.

Montbars was born into a wealthy family, and was raised and educated in France as a gentleman. In childhood, he developed a hatred of Spain and all things Spanish, based on what he read of the cruelties of the Conquistadors towards the New World natives. In 1667, he joined his uncle in the French Royal Navy, and accompanied him to the Caribbean. There, Montbars’ anti-Spanish sentiment grew in leaps and bounds when his ship was sunk in a battle against Spaniards, during which his uncle was killed.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Montbars the Exterminator. Metropolitan Museum of Art

28. “His Only Pleasure Seemed to be to Contemplate… the Number of Dead and Dying

Montbars left the French Navy after his uncle’s death, and headed to the pirate haven of Tortuga, an Island off the Haitian coast. Between his professional expertise as a naval officer, and his seething hatred of Spain, the buccaneers’ main foe, he was welcomed with the open arms. Before long, he was captaining his own buccaneer ship.

He made a name for himself as a scary weird pirate in early action against a Spanish vessel: “Montbars led the way to the decks of the enemy, where he carried injury and death; and when submission terminated the contest, his only pleasure seemed to be to contemplate, not the treasures of the vessel, but the number of dead and dying Spaniards, against whom he had vowed a deep and eternal hatred, which he maintained the whole of his life“.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Buccaneers shaking down a captured city. Military Wiki

27. A Caribbean Rampage

Daniel Montbars went on a piratical rampage against the Spanish Main – Spain’s possessions in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the coastal mainland from Florida to Venezuela. He raided Spanish settlements in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. On the Venezuelan coast, he sacked and burned the towns of Maricaibo, San Pedro, Porto Caballo, and Gibraltar, among numerous other settlements and forts.

It was during this rampage that Montbars became known as the Exterminator. He gave no quarter, and tortured captured Spanish soldiers. Among his more infamous and weird tortures was opening a victim’s abdomen, pulling out a gut and nailing it to post, then forcing the victim to “dance to his death by beating his backside with a burning log“. He and his crew amassed a fortune, which they reportedly buried near Grand Saline, Texas. However, the Exterminator never came back to retrieve it: he vanished in 1707, most likely lost at sea.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Jean Francois Robreval. Pintrest

26. From Courtier to Pirate

Another weird French pirate was Jean-Francois Roberval (1500 – 1560). A nobleman, adventurer, and buccaneer, Roberval began his career in the French army in Italy. There, he met and befriended France’s crown prince, the future King Francis I. the French royal became Roberval’s lifelong pal, and a frequent guest and hunting companion on the Roberval estates.

Moving into high society, hosting royalty, and living as a courtier was pretty expensive though, and it eventually drove Roberval deep into debt. In 1541, Francis I commissioned Roberval to establish a settlement of about 500 French colonists in Canada. However, the king did not furnish his friend with the necessary funds. So to make ends meet, Roberval turned to piracy to help finance the settlement.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A sixteenth-century French naval action. Wikimedia

25. Plundering For a Good Cause?

To help sustain the recently established French settlement in Canada, Jean-Francois Roberval became a pirate, preying upon English merchant ships. His friend and patron King Francis I enjoyed tweaking the English, but to avert open hostilities with England, he rebuked Roberval. It amounted to a wink-wink-nudge-nudge slap on the wrist, and Roberval continued plundering English ships.

The Canadian settlement eventually failed, and the survivors were repatriated back to France. Roberval remained in the New World, however, and continued his career, now focusing on Spanish ships and possessions in the Caribbean. Throughout much of the 1540s, he terrorized the Spaniards, attacking Cartagena, Rancheras, and Santa Marta in Colombia, plus Baracoa and Havana in Cuba. Roberval finally ended his weird experiment with piracy, retired from plundering the high seas in 1547, returned to France, and converted to Protestantism. He got tangled up in France’s Wars of Religion, and was assassinated in Paris in 1560.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Michel de Grammont. Wikiwand

24. The Duel That Launched a Pirate

When Michel de Grammont was born into a French noble family in 1650, few would have expected the weird twists of fate that would lead the aristocratic baby into ending his days as an infamous pirate. Yet that was to be the destiny of de Grammont, who terrorized the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico for a decade and a half.

The weird radical transformation began when a fourteen-year-old de Grammont was angered by a French army officer who was courting his sister, and challenged him to a duel. Despite his youth, he won the duel and killed the officer. That got de Grammont into trouble, and he was forced to flee France. He ended up in Hispaniola, and became a privateer – a pirate operating with a “Letter of Marque” from a government, authorizing him to prey upon enemy shipping in time of war.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Michel de Grammont. Wikimedia

23. Beginning With a Bang

Few privateering careers got off to as spectacular a start as did de Grammont’s, when he captured a Dutch fleet that included a ship known as The Purse of Amsterdam for the precious cargo it carried. It netted him 400,000 livres, the equivalent of about $4 million today. News of that success spread, and before long, de Grammont was commanding his own pirate fleet. He kept his men busy, attacking Dutch and Spanish shipping and possessions.

One of his most daring exploits was a successful raid on Cumana in Venezuela in 1680. It was weird, just how much good fortune seemed to be on his side. He pulled off that spectacular coup despite having only 50 men, while the defenders had 2000 soldiers and 17 ships with 328 cannons. In 1683, he sacked Veracruz, Mexico, and took 4000 prisoners for ransom. De Grammont’s depredations finally ended in 1686, when his ship was caught in a storm, and went down with all hands.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A V-1 in flight. The Slaughen Archives

22. The Weird Plan to Blast NYC With Nazi Submarine Rockets

During WWII, Nazi scientists had a weird and alarming talent for thinking outside the box and coming up with lethal technological innovations. More alarming yet was their ability to quickly transform their sinister brainstorms into practical designs, then rush them through production and get them into the hands of the German military. Fortunately, Hitler’s scientists fell short when it came to WWII’s greatest technological innovation of all: the atomic bomb.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A V-2 test launch. Uncube Magazine

That was good news, because the technological innovations that Nazi scientists actually came up with gave Germany’s enemies more than enough to worry about. They included the Vergeltungswaffe (“Vengeance Weapons”), such as the V-1 Flying Bomb, the world’s first cruise missile, and the V-2, the first ballistic missile. They struck fear into the hearts of the civilian populations they were deployed against. Vengeance weapons terrorized and killed thousands of Londoners, and if German military planners had had their way, they would have done the same to New Yorkers.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A V-2 launch. Aero Flap

21. Dreaming Up Missile Submarines

Missiles had relatively short ranges during WWII, and their reach was limited to a few dozen miles at most from launch sites on land in German-controlled territory. That left most of the territory of Germany’s enemies beyond the reach of German missiles. In 1941, a plan was conceived to bring more enemy territory within reach of the Third Reich’s rockets, by marrying rockets to U-boats.

It was the brainchild of two weirdly innovative brothers, Friedrich Steinhoff, commander of U-511, a Type IXC U-boat, and Dr. Erich Steinhoff, who was working at the secret rocket research program at Peenemunde. Equipping a U-boat with rockets would transform the submersibles into mobile launch platforms. With the high seas as their highways, U-boats could take German missiles to just about anywhere in the world – or at least anywhere in the world that lay within a few dozen miles of a sea coast.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Fitting a rocket rack to a U-boat. Weapons and Warfare

20. A Fiendish Concept

Although their idea was initially dismissed as too weird to be practical, the Steinhoff brothers secured authorization in the summer of 1942 to experiment with launching rockets from submarines. Accordingly, a rack for 30 cm rocket launchers was mounted on the upper deck of the U-511. Testing was successful, and the U-511 was able to launch its rockets both from the surface, and when submerged up to 40 feet below water.

However, the German navy envisioned the rockets as an anti-ship weapon, and in that capacity, they were useless because they lacked an accurate guidance system. The idea was revived in 1943, with the advent of the V-1 Flying Bomb. Mounting a V-1 and launcher on a U-boat would allow the Flying Bomb to strike targets at a significantly greater range than its 150 mile radius from land-based sites. Inter-service rivalry sank the proposal, however: the V-1 was a Luftwaffe project, and Germany’s airmen were reluctant to share with the navy.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A V-2 rocket in the launch position in a towed submersible barge. Wikimedia

19. Hitting America

The marriage of U-boats and V-1s was delayed because of lack of cooperation from the Luftwaffe. However, consideration was also given in 1943 to firing V-2 rockets from U-boats, particularly to target American cities. In 1943, American bombers were showing up in ever-growing numbers to bomb German cities, so the Germans were itching for a means to retaliate against American cities.

However, the V-2 was too big to mount in any U-boat then in service. So a weird-looking submersible vessel to transport and launch the V-2 was designed. Known as the Prufstand XII (“Test Stand XII”), the V-2 submersible transport displaced about 500 tons, and would get towed by a U-boat – the forward motion keeping the container submerged – to within range of its target. Three Prufstands were ordered in December of 1944. The target: New York City.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Prufstand XII launch system. Imgur

18. Raining Death Down Upon the Big Apple

The Nazis planned to use Type XXI U-boats to tow three Prufstand XIIs, each carrying a V-2 rocket, across the Atlantic to within range of New York. The submersible transports, which also carried a reserve of diesel fuel to supply the towing U-boat en route, would get set up upon arrival at the launch site.

Flooding the container’s ballast tanks would bring the Prufstand and the V-2 within to a vertical position. The rocket’s guidance system would then be set, and aimed at the Big Apple. When all was ready, the V-2 would be remotely launched from within the U-boat. Leaving its container, the rocket would soar to the edge of space, before plunging down upon NYC with a ton of high explosives contained within its nose-mounted warhead.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
American warships surrounding a life raft carrying a sunken U-boat’s survivors. Wikimedia

17. Operation Teardrop

In late 1944, Allied intelligence began hearing of a seemingly weird German plan to attack American cities – particularly New York City – with submarine-launched missiles. So they prepared Operation Teardrop, a US Navy operation to sink U-boats approaching the Eastern Seaboard, that were believed to be armed with missiles. Two large anti-submarine task forces were set up, and in April 1945, Operation Teardrop was executed when word arrived that several U-boats had left Norway, bound for North America.

Of seven U-boats that approached the United States, five were sunk, and the survivors were abusively interrogated for any information about the plan to launch missiles. As it turned out, the U-boats had not been fitted out with missile-launching equipment, and the plan to attack American cities with rockets had not yet been ordered. The war ended before the Germans got around to making an attempt to carry it out.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Soldiers of the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion and tank of the 22nd Tank Battalion, move through smoke filled street. Wernberg, Germany on April 22nd, 1945. Wikimedia

16. The Big Apple Saved by the Bell

Only one of the three Prufstand XII rocket containers ordered in late 1944 was actually delivered. Luckily, by the time this particular Nazi scheme went into high gear, time, in general, was running out on the entire Nazi project. By late 1944, the Third Reich was crumbling under heavy blows from enemies advancing upon from east and west.

The plan seemed weird at the time, but it was actually doable. The war ending when it did was thus particularly fortunate for the Big Apple, considering just how badly Hitler and his goons wanted to reach out and touch it. Visiting devastation upon NYC would have been both a psychological blow and a propaganda coup, as a highly visible demonstration of Germany’s ability to bring the war to American soil.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
An Ursel-firing U-boat. Weapons and Warfare

15. Inventing the Concept of Ballistic Missile Submarines

The Nazis put a lot of thought into how to reach out and wreck the Big Apple. In addition to the Prufstand, the ad-hoc submersible V-2 transport, the Germans had also been busy with plans for a dedicated ballistic missile U-boat that could carry multiple rockets and launch them at inland targets.

Separately, in a project codenamed Ursel, the Germans had figured out a guidance system that allowed the targeting of surface ships with rockets fired from submerged U-boats. The rockets, however, were still under development when the war ended. After the war, both the US and Soviet navies drew on Project Ursel to develop ballistic missile submarines in the 1950s.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Huk rebels. Imgur

14. A Weird Plan to Fight Rebels With Fake Vampires

The Japanese seizure of the Philippines from the US in 1942 was followed by a brutal occupation that triggered widespread resistance. One of the more active resistance groups was the Hukbalahap (a Filipino acronym for “The Nation’s Army Against Japan”). Commonly known as the “Huks”, they were a socialist/ communist guerrilla movement of central Luzon farmers.

After Japan’s defeat, the Huks were not eager for the Philippines to revert into American colonial possession. Nor were they eager for a return to life under a landed wealthy native elite who exploited the farmers. So the Huks kept up their insurgency, both against the Americans when they returned to the island archipelago, and against the Filipino government after independence in 1946. To support the Philippines’ US-friendly government, the CIA helped with the counter-insurgency effort. That included a weird psy-op plan to demoralize the Huks with fake vampires.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Edward Lansdale. Wikimedia

13. Deploying Vampires Against the Huks

In 1950, the CIA brought in Air Force brigadier general Edward Lansdale, a pioneer in clandestine and psychological warfare who believed in tailoring psy-ops to the specific culture targeted. The specific culture of central Luzon, where the Huks throve, happened to believe in a weird, mythical shape-shifting vampire called an aswang, which killed by draining its victims’ blood with a long, sharpened tongue.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
An aswang. CG Society

So Lansdale mimicked aswang attacks by abducting and killing Huk fighters. Puncture wounds were then placed on their necks, their blood was drained, and the bodies left for other Huks to find – and conclude that their comrade had been killed and drained of their blood by an aswang. It proved highly effective in clearing Huk fighters out of an area. Between that weird tactic and other effective counterinsurgency measures, the Huk Rebellion was crushed within a few years.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Viet Cong. Reddit

12. Scaring the Viet Cong With Ghostly Screams

According to Vietnamese folklore, dead people who are not properly buried are doomed to wander the earth as tormented souls, unless and until their corpses receive the appropriate last rites. The tormented ghosts can supposedly communicate with the living on the anniversary of their demise. So American forces in Vietnam came up with an eerie and weird psy-op plan to use such superstitions against the Viet Cong.

Known as Operation Wandering Soul, the plan sought to “frighten and demoralize the enemy … and compel many to desert their positions“. To accomplish that, US forces used high decibel speakers on helicopters and backpacks to blast recordings of wailing “ghosts” in areas infested with insurgents.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Viet Cong. Wikimedia

11. “I’m In Hell! Don’t End Up Like Me!

Operation Wandering Soul used tapes with messages in eerie-sounding Vietnamese, supposedly from dead Viet Cong or North Vietnamese soldiers. The weird and creepy messages warned their comrades in hair-raising voices: “My friends, I have come back to let you know that I am dead … I am dead! It is hell! I am in hell! Don’t end up like me. Go home, friends, before it is too late!

Other eerie recordings included a bewildered “ghost” asking: “Who is that? Who is calling me? My daughter? My wife?” That was followed by another damned soul responding: “Your father is back home with you, my daughter“. Eeriest of all might have been the ethereal voice of a child wailing “Daddy, daddy, come home with me. Daddy! Daddy!

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
American soldiers in Vietnam. Pinterest

10. The Effectiveness of Wandering Soul

Operation Wandering Soul’s weird recordings were effective in creeping out and terrifying at least some Viet Cong. Most VC or NVA troops simply got ticked off at the recordings and shot at the speakers, so the psy-op was nowhere near universally effective on all listeners. However, the recordings did have an impact on at least some enemy personnel.

In February of 1970, for example, a patrol swept an area following the eerie broadcasts, and caught a trio of “trembling VC insurgents“. On the other hand, the recordings could backfire at times, demoralizing not only the Viet Cong, but also “terrifying friendly South Vietnamese troops and civilians alike“.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
A Bengal tiger. Dissolve

9. Adding Tigers to Ghosts

Operation Wandering Soul got some initial promising feedback. That led the weird scheme’s implementers, the US Army’s 6th Psy-Op Battalion, to seek opportunities to expand on their repertoire whenever possible, to tailor the recordings to local conditions.

One such opportunity presented itself when a South Vietnamese allied army unit spread a rumor that a ravenous tiger was on the loose, and attacking North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in the vicinity. So the 6th Psy-Op taped a tiger’s growls at the Bangkok Zoo, then amplified and blasted the recording near an enemy-controlled mountain. It reportedly frightened 150 VC and NVA into fleeing their positions.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Filippo Brunelleschi. Fora de Prumo

8. Old School Pranking

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446), an Italian architect and designer, rediscovered the principles of linear perspective once known to ancient Greek and Roman builders, but lost in the Middle Ages. He is considered the founding father of Renaissance architecture, and the first modern planner, engineer, and sole construction supervisor. His major work is the Duomo in Florence – the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Brunelleschi’s creativity was not limited to architecture: the man was also a prankster who mastered the practical joke like few had before or since. His most famous prank was a weird and elaborate effort that targeted a cabinet maker named Manetto, also known as il Grosso, or “The Fat”. Manetto was prosperous and good-natured, but he had the misfortune of having once ticked off Brunelleschi by missing a social gathering. So the pioneering architect got him with an epic prank: he screwed with Manetto’s mind and got him to believe that he had switched bodies.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Florence Cathedral’s il Duomo, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Flickr

7. Switching Bodies

Brunelleschi was known for thorough preparation and paying attention to detail in his career as an architect. He was equally thorough in pranking Manetto. First, he assembled a wide cast of characters and coached them on what was needed to convince the mark that he had metamorphosed into somebody else: a well-known Florentine, named Matteo.

Finally, one day in 1409, all was ready and the weird prank was put in motion. While Manetto was closing shop, Brunelleschi went to his house, picked the lock, entered, and barred the door behind him. When the mark got home, he discovered that the door was barred from within. Rattling the door, Manetto was alarmed to hear his own voice – actually Brunelleschi’s, doing an impersonation – asking who it was. Upon identifying himself, he was accused of lying by the voice on the other side of the door, who declared that he was Manetto.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Filippo Brunelleschi. Wikimedia

6. Getting the Authorities to Join the Prank

Brunelleschi’s assertion that he was Manetto so confused and weirded out his mark, that he retreated to a nearby piazza. There he met an acquaintance, Donatello, who addressed him not by his given name, but as Matteo. Then a bailiff passed by, addressed Manetto as Matteo, and despite his protestations that he had the wrong man, promptly arrested the cabinet maker for debt.

The now thoroughly bewildered Manetto was taken to prison, where his name was entered into the register as Matteo. Thrown into lockup, his fellow prisoners – all of whom were also in on the prank – addressed him as Matteo. Discombobulated, the cabinet maker spent a weird and sleepless night in jail, solacing himself with the notion that it was all a case of mistaken identity, that would soon get cleared up. The following day, things got worse.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Renaissance Florence. Pinterest

5. Mind Blown

After a night in jail, things got even more weird for Manetto, when the morning brought two “relatives” – the real Matteo’s brothers – to the prison, who claimed him as their kin. They paid his debt and freed him, while berating him for his gambling and wastrel ways. More bewildered now than ever, Manetto was escorted to Matteo’s home on the other side of Florence.

There, the cabinet maker’s protests that he was Manetto, and not Matteo, were dismissed with derision. During that day and evening, he was nearly convinced that he had, indeed, morphed into somebody else. Eventually, Manetto was put to sleep with a potion supplied by Brunelleschi, and carried unconscious back to his own home, for the final chapter of the prank.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Filippo Brunelleschi. Wikimedia

4. Driving a Mark Around the Bend

More weird stuff awaited Manetto when he came to the following day in his own home. He discovered that his house was in disarray, with furniture, tools, and other items rearranged. His confusion grew with the arrival of Matteo’s brothers, now addressing him by his real name, Manetto. They shared a fascinating story about the previous evening, when their sibling got it in his head that he was Manetto.

The story was confirmed when Matteo arrived, and described a puzzling dream in which he had been Manetto. That nearly drove Manetto around the bend, as he became convinced – at least for a while – that he had spent a couple of days morphed into Matteo. Eventually, when he discovered what had actually happened, Manetto felt so humiliated, that he left Florence and moved to Hungary.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Crutchy Push figurines, including their sole two-legged by one-armed member. Beasts of War

3. The Peg Leg Crew

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Melbourne, Australia, experienced a weird crime wave when it was terrorized by a band of toughs known as the Crutchy Push. “Push” was Australian slang for gang, and the “Crutchy” part came from the gang being composed almost exclusively of one-legged men who used crutches. The sole exception was a member who had both legs, but was missing an arm – he stuffed the empty sleeve with a brick, to swing it around like a flail during fights.

Led by one Valentine Keating, who had lost his right leg, the Crutchy Push’s membership criterion boiled down to a missing limb, a thirst for drink, and a fighting attitude. Surprisingly, they were well nigh unbeatable. They practiced and perfected a fighting technique in which they jabbed victims in the midriff with a crutch tip, causing them to double over, then used the metal shod arm rest like a club to bash them in the head.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
The Crutchy Push’s leader, Valentine Keating. Daily Mercury

2. Crutch Fu

The brand of crutch fu practiced by the Crutchy Push enabled them to rule the streets of Melbourne from 1895 to 1905. They earned their way with strong-armed robberies and extortions, demanding drink, food, and money, from pubs, shops, and members of the public. They viciously defended their turf against rival gangs, and encroached on the turf of others with impunity.

They Crutchy Push took on all comers – including the cops. In 1898, the one-legged gangsters were involved in a sprawling brawl, and when the police arrived to quell the disturbance, the Crutchies turned on them as well. Their leader, Valentine Keating, knocked down a constable, but when his colleagues tried to arrest, they were astonished at just how fast a one-legged man could move. As one of them testified in court about his failure to catch Keating: “he was off like a flying kangaroo – although he goes on crutches“.

Satanic Tomatoes and Other Weird Details Not Taught in History Class
Crutchy Push figurines. Beasts of War

1. Australia’s Untouchables

The Crutchies and other gangs grew so out of control, that the authorities set up a special police task force to deal with them. Known as the “Terrible Ten”, it recruited Australia’s biggest and most violent cops, equipped them with heavy rubber hoses, and sent them to whale the stuffing out of the street toughs. The Terrible Ten won the streets back by beating most gangs into submission.

The exception were the Crutchy Push, who remained unsubdued until Valentine Keating, their leader, his girlfriend, and his chief lieutenant was imprisoned for a murderous assault on a constable. Their victim was beaten so bad, that he was still picking pieces of skull from his fractured head at the time of the trial. Upon his release from prison, Keating opened an unlicensed bar. With his crutch ever by his side, he never needed to call the police to settle a disturbance in his establishment.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atlantic, The, October 17th, 2014 – White House Sheep, a History

Atlas Obscura – When Tomatoes Were Blamed For Witchcraft and Werewolves

Blair, Clay Jr. – Hitler’s U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942 (1996)

Blair, Clay Jr. – Hitler’s U-Boat War: The Hunted, 1942-1945 (1996)

Botting, Douglas – The Pirates (1978)

Cordingly, David – Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates (1997)

Cracked – 5 of the Most ‘Wuh’ Facts History Class Never Covered

Daily Mercury, January 15th, 2019 – The Gang of Amputee Thugs That Terrorized Melbourne

Encyclopedia Britannica – Columbian Exchange

King, Ross – Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (2013)

Melbourne Historical Crime Tours – Valentine Keating and His North Melbourne Gang: The Crutchy Push

Military History Now – Operation Wandering Soul: Ghost Tape Number 10 and the Haunted Jungles of Vietnam

New York Times Magazine, January 15th, 1995 – The Great Ivy League Nude Photo Posture Scandal

NPR – When the Supreme Court Decided Tomatoes Were Vegetables

Pirate Encyclopedia – Michel de Grammont

U-Boat Aces – Rocket U-Boat Program

Vice – Bizarre Vintage Photos of Nazis Posing With Men in Polar Bear Costumes

Washington Post, February 24th, 1987 – Edward Lansdale, Prototype For Ugly American, Dies

Wikipedia – Edward Lansdale

Wikipedia – Operation Teardrop

Wikipedia – Rocket U-boat

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum – Wilson’s Sheep