Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches
Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches

Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches

Shannon Quinn - December 29, 2022

Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches
False Dmitry takes an oath of allegiance to king Sigismund III Vasa by Nikolai Nevrev (1874). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Curious Case of the False Dmitrys

Many people have heard of the story of Russian women pretending to be the long-lost Princess Anastasia. But it turns out that there seems to be a Russian tradition of people impersonating royals for their own financial gain. After Tsarevich Dmitry Ivanovich of Russia, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible died, it led to not just one- but three different men coming forward that they were the true Dmitry, and that they had miraculously escaped their assassination attempt at 8 years old. The first False Dmitry actually became the Tsar of Russia, and reigned from 1605-1606. All three of these imposters ended up getting killed. So it probably wasn’t a great idea to impersonate the Tsar in the first place.

Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches
The Dreadnought hoaxers in Blackface and Abyssinian costume. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pranksters Pretended to be Royals During “The Dreadnought Hoax”

In 1910, an Irish prankster by the name of Horace de Vere Cole organized a hoax with a group of his friends. They showed up to the UK’s Royal Navy wearing foreign costumes and blackface, claiming to be “Abyssinian royals” from Ethiopia. This convinced the navy officers to allow them a personal tour of the HMS Dreadnought. The famous author Virginia Woolf was friends with Cole, and later wrote that the naval officers of “the Hawke and the Dreadnought had a feud. … And Cole’s friend who was on the Hawke had come to Cole, and said to him, “You’re a great hand at hoaxing people; couldn’t you do something to pull the leg of the Dreadnought? They want taking down a bit. Couldn’t you manage to play off one of your jokes against them?” It totally worked, and it was forever remembered as “The Dreadnought Hoax“.

Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches
Caligula’s soldiers attacking the ocean because they were ordered to kill the god Neptune. Credit: Reddit

The Roman Emperor Caligula Declared War on Neptune, and Sent His Soldiers Into the Sea

The Roman Emperor Caligula is remembered for doing and saying a lot of insane things in his lifetime. But one of the most ridiculous orders he gave to his army was to battle Neptune, god of the sea. He had just gone on a campaign to capture Great Britain, and got as far as the shores of Gaul. But when it was obvious that he couldn’t succeed, he had to abandon the mission. But instead of going back a loser, he demanded that his army fight Neptune, instead. His soldiers obeyed his orders, and whipped the water violently. Then they were instructed to take sea shells home with them as a prize for their “victory”.

Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches
A caricature of the Berners Street hoax. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Berners Street Hoax

Back in 1809, a man named Theodore Hook made a bet with his friend Samuel Beazley that he could make any house the most popular address in London. They picked a random house on 54 Berners Street that belonged to a woman named Mrs. Tottenham. Theodore proceeded to send Mrs. Tottenham a total of 12 chimney sweeps, lawyers, priests, and other service people. He also ordered multiple wedding cakes, pianos, fish, shoes, and other goods that were all being delivered to the address at the same time. This caused a traffic jam surrounding the house as a large crowd of people began to gather. Theodore and his friends were watching the chaos unfold from a house across the street. The police put out an award for the capture of whoever was responsible for the prank, but he was never caught.

Side-Splitting Historical Facts That Will Leave You in Stitches
A newspaper clipping of the time hippo meat almost came to America. Credit: Library of Congress

There Was a Campaign For Americans to Start Eating Hippos

In 1910, there was a major monopoly on meat in the United States, which caused meat shortages and price gouging at butcher shops and grocery stores. A senator named Robert Broussard suggested that Americans should start importing hippos from Africa, and let them live in the rivers of Louisiana. Hippos are so large that they could feed a lot of people with their meat. Obviously, Broussard didn’t mention the fact that hippos are incredibly dangerous animals, and it would be a terrible idea to set them free in the wild in the United States. This plan was highly publicized in newspapers, but it never actually came to fruition. Eventually, the meat market stabilized again when there was an increase in “factory farming” across the nation.

How did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Systems Thinking and The Cobra Effect. Barry Newell and Christopher Doll. United Nations University. 2015.

The History of Roller Skating. James Turner. New York Times. 2015

The Greatest Mistranslations Ever. BBC. 2015.

The Ashtray of History. The Atlantic. 2007.

Fidel Castro: The CIA’s 7 Most Bizarre Assassination Attempts. Alexander Smith. NBC News. 2017.

Elmer the Flying Monk. Athelstan Museum.

The 1904 Olympic Marathon May Have Been The Strangest Ever. Smithsonian Magazine. Karen Abbott. 2012.

15 Historical Facts That Are The Funniest Things I’ve Ever Heard. Andy Golder. Buzzfeed.

The Strange History Of Potatoes And The Man Who Made Them Popular. Amber Kanuckel. Farmers Almanac. 2021.

Napoleon and the battle of rabbits. Telangana Today. 2022.

Let Them Wear Hats. Sami Kent. New Humanist. 2020.

This Greek Philosopher Died Laughing at His Own Joke. Ethel Dilouambaka. Culture Trip. 2018.

The Hartlepool Monkey, Who Hung the Monkey? This Is Hartlepool.

The riot at the Rite: the premiere of The Rite of Spring. Ivan Hewett. The British Library. 2016.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Jack Weatherford. 2005.

Hippopotamus Steak: Topics in Chronicling America. Library of Congress.