The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History

Khalid Elhassan - July 18, 2020

During the current pandemic, people are probably more likely to fart in order to hide a cough when in public, than they are to cough in order to mask the sound of a fart. However, throughout most of history and across many cultures, farting in public has been surrounded by various levels of taboo, with consequences to the cheese cutter ranging from ridicule to loss of social status to violent beat downs. However, few public farts have had consequences as dire as one weird and memorable instance of flatulence in 44 AD, which led to the death of about 10,000 people. Following are forty fascinating about that deadly fart and some of history’s other weird but lesser-known moments.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Our body’s jet engine. ThoughtCo

40. Our Body’s Jet Engine

Just as a jet engine turns fuel into a loud roar, we create farts by converting undigested food in our lower colon into intestinal gas. We then blow that gas through a narrow opening, the butthole, which is surrounded by fatty flaps and folds. As the gas exits, those flaps and folds vibrate, creating a fleshy clamor – the fart.

Weird as it might sound, over 99% of our farts do not smell. On average, a fart is 59% nitrogen, 21% hydrogen, 9% carbon dioxide, 7% methane, and 4% oxygen – all of which are odorless. However, a tiny fraction – less than 1% – is made up of other stuff such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and skatole (from the Greek skatos, meaning shit) that seriously stinks. Stinks so bad, in fact, that people can smell fart particles even when they comprise only 1 part per 100 million parts of air.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The Jerusalem Temple in Roman times. Roman Jews

39. History’s Deadliest Fart

History’s deadliest fart was let go around the time of Passover in 44 AD, in Jerusalem, not long after the death of King Herod Agrippa. As thousands of Jews gathered to partake in the Passover feast and festivities, a Roman soldier stationed above the temple turned around, bared his butt, mooned the crowd, and cut a fart.

Understandably, the religious crowd below did not take kindly to the blasphemous insult in the temple. Rioting broke out, and the Romans rushed in soldiers to quell the disturbances. Things escalated, and by the time the dust settled, about 10,000 people lay dead – all because of a chain of events that started with a fart. As seen below, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus left posterity an account of the lethal posterior emission.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Herod’s Temple. Pintrest

38. Cutting the Cheese Starts a Riot

First-century AD Jewish historian Josephus described how the disturbance began: “The Jews’ ruin came on, for when the multitudes were come together to Jerusalem, to the feast of unleavened bread, and a Roman cohort stood over the cloisters of the temple (for they always were armed and kept guard at the festivals, to prevent any innovation which the multitude thus gathered together might take), one of the soldiers pulled back his garment, and cowering down after an indecent manner, turned his breech [ass] to the Jews, and spoke such words as you might expect at such a posture.

At this the whole multitude had indignation, and made a clamor to Cumanus [the provincial Roman procurator], that he would punish the soldier; while the rasher part of the youth, and such as were naturally the most tumultuous, fell to fighting, and caught up stones, and threw them at the soldiers“. It was the start of a bout of widespread violence and a weird chain of events leading to mass death.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
First century AD bust of Flavius Josephus. Wikimedia

37. A Riot Leads to Mass Death

Things escalated quickly, as the Romans, never known for a light touch when dealing with disturbances in their provinces, came down hard on the Jews. As Josephus continued his account, when the Roman procurator heard of the rioting in Jerusalem: “Cumanus was afraid lest all the people should make an assault upon him, and sent to call for more men, who, when they came in great numbers into the cloisters, the Jews were in a very great consternation.

Being beaten out of the temple, they ran into the city; and the violence with which they crowded to get out was so great, that they trod upon each other, and squeezed one another, till ten thousand of them were killed, insomuch that this feast became the cause for mourning to the whole nation, and every family lamented“.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. National Portrait Gallery, London

36. A Courtier’s Embarrassing Fart-Pas

The impact of great farts throughout history has not been limited to weird and disproportionate consequences such as the triggering of widespread mayhem, death, and destruction. They have also wrecked political careers and destroyed social standings. A prime example of that can be seen in the social faux pas, or more like fart pas, of Elizabethan era aristocrat Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Queen Elizabeth I. Wikimedia

Reportedly, while making a deep bow to show his respect and obeisance to Queen Elizabeth I, this Earl of Oxford exploded in a huge fart. He felt so embarrassed and ashamed that he left the country for seven years. When he finally came back home, the queen’s first words upon his return to court were: “My lord, I had forgot the fart!

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
A medieval Arab wedding procession. Fine Art America

35. The Fart That Ruined a Wedding

As the Earl of Oxford’s fart illustrates, breaking wind in public was embarrassing in the court of Elizabeth I. However, such embarrassment pales in comparison to the social consequences of a public front in the Arabian Peninsula. In the middle ages, a wealthy Yemeni merchant named Abu Hassan married one of the region’s most beautiful women, and threw a lavish wedding feast to which he invited notables from near and far.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
A medieval Arab wedding. Wikimedia

The bridegroom ate and drank heartily at the feast – perhaps too heartily. When he rose from his seat to go to his bride’s chamber, he let out a thunderous fart. Mortified, Abu Hassan turned away from the bridal chamber, headed to the courtyard, saddled his horse, and rode off into the night, weeping bitterly. It was the start of a weird and long journey and exile, that would put that of the Earl of Oxford to shame.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Medieval traders on the Malabar Coast. Silk Road Adventures

34. Exile Over a Fart

After fleeing his wedding, mortified at the humiliation of his huge fart, Abu Hassan ended up on the coast, where he caught a ship headed for India. Landing on the Malabar Coast, he eventually joined the service of a local king and rose in his service. After a decade abroad, however, Abu Hassan pined for his homeland. Finally, he snuck away and returned to Yemen, but unsure of his reception, he donned the disguise of an impoverished dervish, and headed back to his hometown.

Abu Hassan endured many weird and wacky adventures en route, surviving encounters with lions, enduring snake bites, and hiding from bloodthirsty bandits. Eventually, he reached his hometown, and his eyes brimmed with tears when he looked down upon it from surrounding hills. However, he was wary of the type of reception he might encounter, and told himself: “They might recognize me, so I will wander about the outskirts and listen to what people are saying. May Allah grant that they do not remember what happened“. Allah did not grant Abu Hassan’s wish.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
A medieval Arab market. Mother of Religion

33. The Fart That Became a Date

Disguised as a dervish, Abu Hassan wandered around his hometown for a week, eavesdropping on people on the chance he might hear any mention of his name. Finally, sitting near the door of a hut, he overheard a young girl ask her mother: “When was I born? One of my friends needs the date so she can cast my fortune“.

The mother replied: “Dear, you were born on the night Abu Hassan farted“. A disappointed Abu Hassan rose, and immediately fled his hometown once more, this time for good. As he put it: “My fart has become a date – it will be remembered forever“. He eventually made his way back to India, where he remained in self-exile for the rest of his life.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Mozart. Encyclopedia Britannica

32. Mozart’s Weird Anal Obsession

Musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) started composing and performing before royalty when he was only five years old. By the time he died thirty years later, he had cemented his place in history as one of the classical era’s most prolific and influential composers, with a legacy that still influences Western music to this day.

Mozart created about 600 compositions, many of which are considered to be the pinnacles of classical music. He also impacted subsequent music heavyweights such as Hayden and Beethoven. For somebody whose star burned so bright before he died so young, it is perhaps not surprising that Mozart was a freak beneath the sheets. Part of that freakiness manifested itself in a weird anal fixation.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
One of Mozart’s lesser-known compositions, ‘Lick Me in the Ass’. Today I Found Out

31. One of Mozart’s Lesser-Known Compositions: “Lick Me in the Ass

Among other manifestations of his anal obsession, Mozart was especially keen on getting his butt licked. In 1782, he composed Leck mich im Arsch (“Lick Me in the Ass”), a party piece for his friends. The lyrics include “lick me in the ass, nice and clean“, and the composition continues on in that vein. Mozart’s publisher was scandalized by the lyrics, but he liked the music.

So the tinkered with (or basically rewrote) the lyrics, and changed the song’s theme and refrain from ass licking to “Let us be glad!” Mozart also composed Bona Nox, whose lyrics include: “Phoey, phoey; … shit in your bed and make it burst; good night, sleep tight; and stick your ass to your mouth“.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
John Quincy Adams. History Channel

30. An American President’s Weird Belief

Just like his father, America’s second president John Adams, John Quincy Adams was a brilliant man. Before he became president, John Quincy had been an outstanding diplomat – perhaps America’s best diplomat ever. His accomplishments included a stint as ambassador to Russia, and serving in the delegation that negotiated an end to the War of 1812. John Quincy Adams also served as Secretary of State, in which capacity he negotiated America’s acquisition of Florida, and played a key role in drafting the Monroe Doctrine.

John Quincy Adams also served in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, and became one of the early leading opponents of slavery. However, while clearly an intelligent man, Adams had some blind spots. One such was his belief in the Hollow Earth Theory – a theory considered weird to the point of ludicrousness even in his own time.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The concentric spheres within the Hollow Earth, as envisioned by Symmes. Wikimedia

29. “I Declare the Earth is Hollow

As its name indicates, Hollow Earth was a weird theory which argued that our planet was not a solid rock, but more like a ball. Inside the ball was concentric layers separated by empty spaces, that were probably inhabited by people. John Quincy Adams not only believed in that balderdash but actually wanted to prove it at the taxpayers’ expense.

A charlatan named John Cleves Symnes, Jr. was responsible for kicking off the Hollow Earth craze. A veteran of the War of 1812, Symmes moved to the frontier after the war. There, he reinvented himself as a scientist and became known as the “Newton of the West”. In 1818 the Newton of the West published Symmes Circular No. 1: I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking“.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
John Quincy Adams. Wikimedia

28. The Campaign Promise to Explore the Hollow Earth’s Innards

Per the Hollow Earth theory, each concentric circle within the hollow earth was supposed to contain its own subterranean world. Each of those words was supposedly heated and illuminated by a sun-like object at the center of the earth. John Cleves Symmes hit the lecture circuit, and lobbied the government for an expedition to the poles, where he claimed the openings to the hollow earth’s interior were located.

Educated people scoffed at the notion, but it was taken seriously enough by many, including John Quincy Adams. He not only saw nothing weird about the theory, he believed in it so much that he lent his support to the proposed Symmes expedition. Indeed, John Quincy Adams promised to do just that during his successful 1824 presidential campaign.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
George Patton in France, during WWI. Wikimedia

27. George Patton and the “Abandoned Rear”

After the D-Day landings and the breakout from the Normandy beachhead, George S. Patton led the US Third Army on a great sweep in the summer of 1944, that liberated a huge chunk of France. It was Patton’s second go-around in France, having fought there once before during WWI. In that earlier conflict, Patton had received a visit from a local village mayor, who tearfully asked why he had not been told a Doughboy had died nearby.

As Patton described it: “Being unaware of this sad fact and not liking to admit it to a stranger, I stalled until I found out that no one was dead. However, he insisted that we visit the ‘grave’“. When they got there, Patton and his subordinate officers found a freshly covered pit with sticks forming a cross and holding a plaque that read “Abandoned Rear”. It was the start of a weird comedy of errors.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
George Patton in WWII. YouTube

26. The Weird Honored Latrine

As became immediately apparent to George Patton, it was all a huge misunderstanding. The French had mistaken the crossed sticks for the religious symbol, and “Abandoned Rear” for the deceased soldier’s name. “Abandoned Rear” was actually the designation for a covered latrine, to warn others from digging in that spot.

I never told them the truth“, wrote Patton. Decades later, during WWII, he passed through the same village and was given a hearty procession by the locals. They took him to the long-buried latrine, which the villagers had dutifully maintained over the years with all the dignity due to a fallen soldier.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. University of Southern California

25. The Weird Ending of the Berlin Wall

Throughout much of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall stood as both a literal dividing line and the era’s ultimate symbolic separator, marking off a dour communist east from a vibrant capitalist west. There was a reason why Ronald Reagan’s admonition in a speech delivered during a 1987 visit to West Berlin, “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” resonated so well at the time.

Back then, few could have predicted that, little more than two years later, the Berlin Wall would come down with such suddenness so as to catch politicians and pundits alike off guard. As the late 1980s saw communism begin to crumble in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, East Germany’s communist leaders began to grudgingly ease their citizens’ travel restrictions. However, the country’s communist leadership had no intention of bringing down the wall for good. Then a weird bureaucratic screwup went and did just that.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
East Berlin communist party boss Gunter Schabowski, giving the speech that brought down the Berlin Wall. YouTube

24. “Immediately – Right Away

East Berlin’s communist party boss Gunter Schabowski held a press conference on November 9th, 1989, to explain some minor revisions to the travel code. However, he screwed up, and mistakenly implied that travel restrictions were being completely removed. When a reporter asked when the changes would take effect, Schabowski shrugged and replied: “immediately, right away“.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Fall of the Berlin Wall. International Policy Digest

That hit the news, and when East Germans heard it, they swarmed the border, demanding the promised free passage. The border guards had received no such instructions, but rather than deal with a riot, they stepped aside. As a result, the forbidding wall which had stood for decades ended up coming down suddenly in a rapturous celebration – Berlin’s greatest citywide party, ever.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Popeye. YouTube

23. The Spinach Strength Myth

Because of Popeye the Sailor Man, many kids have dreamt at some point in their early years that they could gain superpowers by overcoming their distaste for spinach. Popeye’s love of spinach was popularized to a receptive public, primed by what seems like a weird widespread belief that spinach was an extraordinarily great food item.

Unfortunately, kids who mastered their gag reflexes long enough to swallow the green stuff were not rewarded by an explosive increase in strength, prowess, or any other abilities and talents. However, there was at least a silver lining, as the kids learned one of life’s early lessons: don’t believe everything you see on TV.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Spinach. Imgur

22. The Math Mistake Behind the Myth

Popeye’s passion for spinach, as well as the popular faith in its exceptional benefits, was caused by a simple mathematical error. It began in 1870 when German scientist Erich von Wolf was conducting research into the amount of iron in spinach and other vegetables. He discovered that spinach had an iron content of 3.5 milligrams per 100-gram serving. That was not unusual compared to other vegetables.

However, when Wolf wrote up his findings, he misplaced a decimal point and ended up putting down spinach’s iron content as ten times greater than what it actually was: 35 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, instead of 3.5 milligrams. It was not until 1937 that somebody double-checked Wolf’s math, and spotted the error. By then, Popeye was already a cultural icon, and the weird spinach super strength myth had taken hold.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The 1883 inauguration of the Brooklyn Bridge. Wikimedia

21. The Brooklyn Bridge’s Earliest Days Were Marked by Tragedy

One of New York City’s greatest icons, The Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River and connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. Opened in 1883 and still in use almost a century and a half later, it is among the Big Apple’s most famous structures. It is also registered as a National Historic Landmark, as the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge. Like many major infrastructure projects, particularly those of the nineteenth century, building the bridge, whose construction began in 1869 and lasted for 14 years, was no picnic.

Workers toiled in poorly ventilated underwater chambers where many of them ended up with decompression sickness, while some were outright paralyzed. However, the work went on, and when the bridge was finally completed and opened to the public on May 24, 1883, it was a sensation, marked by fireworks and civic pride. Then a series of weird flukes came together six days later, leading to a disaster that dampened the good mood.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The Brooklyn Bridge disaster. Getty Images

20. The Brooklyn Bridge Disaster

May 30th, 1883, was a holiday, so crowds headed for the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge’s promenade – the city’s highest vantage point back then. A pedestrian bottleneck formed on the Manhattan side, and as the tightly packed crowd pressed forward, some people were pushed down a short flight of stairs. People screamed, and some jumped to the erroneous conclusion that the bridge was about to fall. The result was a deadly stampede.

In the resulting chaos, twelve people were crushed to death, and hundreds more were injured. Subsequent investigation pinned the disaster on a failure to place police along the span, in order to keep the crowds dispersed and moving. It became standard practice thereafter for policemen on the bridge to keep people moving along.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
How the Great Panjandrum was expected to work. Hardy, Wilf (Wilfred)

19. The Most Weird Weapon of WWII?

As Allied commanders made their plans for D-Day, one of their major concerns was how to go about clearing obstacles on the invasion beaches. One British brainstorm to accomplish that task led to what might have been the most weird weapon of WWII: The Great Panjandrum – a large drum stuffed with a ton of explosives, and affixed to rocket-propelled wheels.

It was something straight out of Looney Tunes. The idea was to ignite the rockets from a platform at sea, and the angled rockets attached to the wheels would cause them to rotate rapidly. The rapid rotation would propel and launch the contraption at targets and obstacles on shore, blowing them up and clearing the way for follow-on troops, who would land hot on the Great Panjandrum’s heels.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The Great Panjandrum. Novate

18. Tossing Secrecy Out the Window

The Great Panjandrum was supposed to be developed in secrecy in order to spring it as a surprise on the Germans. However, testing was carried out on a beach popular with vacationers, so secrecy was shot from the start. The testing was witnessed by huge crowds, who marveled at the weird device.

The design’s flaw emerged at the first trial run in 1943 when the rockets were ignited and The Great Panjandrum was launched. It made its way up the beach before rockets on one of the wheels malfunctioned, causing the device to careen wildly off course. The problem persisted with additional trials, as it proved impossible to get the rockets on both sides to ignite at the same time or to keep firing simultaneously. Still, the device’s designers persisted.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The Great Panjandrum. War History Online

17. A Series of Embarrassments

After weeks of troubleshooting, The Great Panjandrum’s developers returned to the beach, after attaching a third wheel to the device to improve stability. It was another embarrassment, as the device hurtled toward the beach, only to double back and turn back to sea towards the launching craft. In the meantime, some rockets detached from the Great Panjandrum’s wheels and launched themselves at observers on the beach, whistling over their heads or exploding underwater nearby.

Returning to the drawing board, the Great Panjandrum’s designers worked out the bugs. Figuring that they finally had it under control, the device’s proponents scheduled a final demonstration in front of a gathering of admirals and generals. As it turned out, the earlier embarrassments were destined to be eclipsed by the ignominy of the weird device’s final test.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The Great Panjandrum, careening out of control. Benedante

16. The Final Ignominy

As a BBC documentary described Great Panjandrum’s Final Test: “At first all went well. Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore, the Brass Hats watching through binoculars from the top of a pebble ridge […]Then a clamp gave: first one, then two more rockets broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously. It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began to turn to starboard, careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming.

Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed onto the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed.” Unsurprisingly, the weird project was immediately scrapped over safety concerns.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Free Polish soldiers with Wojtek in Iran. Business Insider

15. WWII’s Bear Soldier

It was the spring of 1942, and the Polish II Corps, accompanied by Polish war refugees, was passing through Iran en route from the Soviet Union to the Mediterranean Theater. On April 8th, some of the soldiers came across an Iranian boy who had found a Syrian brown bear cub – its mother had recently been shot by hunters. On the spur of the moment, the Poles bought the cub, which was raised for the next three months at a Polish refugee camp near Tehran, before it was donated to one of the Polish II Corps’ units. Amidst the horrors of WWII, it was the start of a cute – and cutely weird – relationship between a bear and the Polish military.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
A Polish soldier with Wojtek in 1942. Wikimedia

Initially, the young bear was fed condensed milk, before graduating to fruits and honey and marmalade. What he liked most, however, was beer, which became his reward for good behavior. He also enjoyed smoking – or eating – cigarettes, especially while drinking coffee. Named Wojtek, a diminutive of a Slavic term meaning “Happy Warrior”, the bear became a beloved mascot who often cuddled up to and slept with the soldiers at night. He accompanied his comrades through Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Wojtek. Quora

14. The Bear Private

When the Polish unit prepared to move to Italy, however, red tape threatened to keep Wojtek behind: British authorities refused to let him board a transport, because of regulations prohibiting pets and mascots. So the Poles came up with a weird, but effective, solution: they officially enlisted the bear as a private in the 22nd Artillery Supply Company.

To make his enlistment in the Free Polish forces official, private Wojtek was given his own paybook, assigned a rank and serial number, and lived with his comrades in tents or in a special wooden crate. He was no mere mascot, however: Wojtek actually gave credible service during the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. During that engagement, when his comrades conveyed munitions to the front, Wojtek pitched in by carrying 100-pound crates of artillery shells – a feat that usually took 4 men – and stacking them on trucks without dropping a single one.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Wojtek’s exemplary services earned him a place on his unit’s official badge. Wikimedia

13. The Bear Corporal

Wojtek the bear’s performance at Monte Cassino earned him a promotion to corporal. By then, a bear in the Polish military was no longer as weird as it had been at first. Higher-ups approved a depiction of Wojtek, carrying an artillery shell, as the official emblem of his unit. The bear corporal survived the war, then accompanied his comrades to Scotland, where they were demobilized in 1947.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
93-year-old Polish veteran Wojciech Narebski in 2018, in front of a statue of wartime comrade Wotjek. Edition MV

By the time the Polish unit was demobilized, Wojtek had become popular with the locals, so he was given to the Edinburgh Zoo, where he spent the rest of his life. Corporal Wojtek was often visited by former comrades from the war and became a popular figure on BBC TV children programs. He died in 1963, at age 21.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Reagan and Gorbachev at the 1985 Geneva Summit. Wikimedia

12. ET Might Have Ended the Cold War

US President Ronald Reagan had a sunny disposition and demeanor, that went hand in hand with his implacable detestation of communism and the USSR. His single-minded focus on challenging what he termed “The Evil Empire”, and dragging the Soviets into an arms buildup competition that its economy could not sustain, contributed greatly to the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse. However, there was one weird field where Reagan was more than happy to cooperate with our communist rivals: fighting extraterrestrials.

As Mikhail Gorbachev recounted, he was strolling around a garden with Reagan during the 1985 Geneva Summit, when Reagan blurted out of the blue: “What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?” Gorbachev replied that the USSR would help us out against ET. That greatly pleased the American president – apparently, the threat of alien attack had been gnawing at Reagan, a lifelong sci-fi nerd, for years.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
‘Wellington at Waterloo’, by Robert Alexander Hillingford. Pinterest

11. The Undignified Fate of Waterloo’s Fallen

These days, we are used to the notion of honoring and lauding those killed in war. That can be readily seen in the solemnity surrounding the various memorials of the Unknown Soldier around the world, or in the reverence and care attendant upon the upkeep of war cemeteries. Doing anything that disrespects the revered fallen is a taboo and something that is simply not done.

However, it was not always like that. Take the Battle of Waterloo, 1815, which ended decades of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and established the broad outlines of European geopolitics for nearly a century. Weird as it might sound to modern ears, the bodies of the fallen of that battle, as seen below, ended up getting sold as fertilizer.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The Battle of Waterloo. Daily Mail

10. “Indebted to the Bones of Their Children For Their Daily Bread

Centuries ago, those killed in action were not usually honored. Instead, they were stripped of valuables. Those “valuables” included their very corpses. The dead of Waterloo had their teeth pulled out, to get fashioned into dentures. Waterloo was such a bonanza for Britain’s denture industry, that sets made of human teeth were known as “Waterloo dentures” for years afterwards.

Even their bones – like the bones of those killed in other Napoleonic battles such as Austerlitz and Leipzig – were shipped to Britain, and ground into fertilizer. Back then, many people did not think that there was anything weird about using the bodies of the fallen heroes of one of the country’s most iconic battles as fertilizer. As a correspondent wrote in The Observer in 1822: “the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread“.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Aztec priest performing the sacrificial offering of a living human’s heart to the war god Huitzilopochtli, from the Codex Megliabecchi. Eon Images

9. The Weird Scam That Snowballed Into Human Sacrifice

Lying and scamming have many drawbacks, not least among them the difficulty of keeping the deception going once suspicions are aroused. When that happens, one option for the scammer is to simply cut and run. Another is to double down, and defend the original lie and scam with more lies and scams. The latter option could easily snowball, as illustrated by a series of weird events that took place in the small Mexican town of Yerba Buena, Tamaulipas.

Brothers Santos and Cayetano Hernandez, two small-time crooks, arrived there in 1962, and convinced the impoverished and mostly illiterate inhabitants that they were prophets of the old-time Aztec gods, and would lead them to hidden treasure. By the time it was over, things had gone seriously awry, and descended into a grisly cult that cut out the hearts from the chests of its still-living victims, then drank their blood.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Aztec gods. Wikimedia

8. Transforming Scam Victims Into Sex Slaves

Santos and Cayetano Hernandez took advantage of the gullibility of Yerba Buena’s residents, who bought the crooked brothers’ claims to be prophets of the Aztec gods. The scammer siblings established a religious sect whose members met in nearby caves, and they reduced their followers, male and female, to sex slaves whom they abused in drug-fueled orgies.

As time went by, however, some of the victims grew impatient at constantly getting screwed – figuratively and literally – by the Hernandez brothers, who were taking their sweet time in revealing the hidden Aztec treasured. So the siblings decided to double down on the weird, and up the ante by recruiting some help to help keep the scam going. They found it in Magdalena Solis, a Monterrey prostitute whom they coached into pretending to be a reincarnation of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue, and Magdalena’s brother, Eleazar Solis, who also doubled as her pimp.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Magdalena Solis. Bizarrepedia

7. Adding an Aztec Goddess to the Mix

Santos and Cayetano Hernandez brought Magdalena Solis and her brother Eleazar to Yerba Buena, and introduced her as the reincarnated goddess Coatlicue. Magdalena embraced her role enthusiastically. Too enthusiastically, as it turned out: she developed a religious delusion, became convinced that she really was Coatlicue, and took over the cult.

The Hernandez brothers had been content to exploit their followers for sex. However, the new leader, Magdalena Solis, was into sadomasochism. Before long, things took a turn for the gruesome and the gruesomely weird. When two members tried to leave the cult, Magdalena ordered them murdered. That was bad enough, but then she began demanding human sacrifices, claiming that she needed the blood to keep her young forever.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
The goddess Coatlicue. Encyclopedia Britannica

6. Human Sacrifice

As the reincarnation of the goddess Coatlicue, Magdalena Solis devised a human sacrifice ritual, in which her followers brutally beat, burned, cut, and maimed a victim. They then drained his or her blood into a chalice and drank it down while using marijuana and peyote. The blood-filled chalice first went to Magdalena, who then passed it on to her “high priests”, the Hernandez brothers, then to her own brother Eleazar, and finally to the remaining cult members.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
One of the caves where the Yerba Buena human sacrifices were carried out, and where the cultists barricaded themselves for a last stand. Amino Apps

Things finally began to unravel in May of 1963, when a fourteen-year-old kid was wandering around, and saw something weird that halted him in his tracks: a human sacrifice ritual being performed in a cave. Shocked at what he had witnessed, he ran over fifteen miles to the nearest police station. The policemen were skeptical, but the following day, they sent an investigator over to take a look. He and the kid headed out to see the caves – and neither was ever seen alive again.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Magdalena Solis in custody. Amino Apps

5. Curtains For the Cult

The disappearance of a cop while investigating the claims of weird and grisly goings-on in Yerba Buena convinced the authorities to take the matter seriously. Police and soldiers flooded the town, and Magdalena Solis and her brother Eleazar were arrested. In the meantime, Cayetano Hernandez was killed by a disgruntled cult member. Santos Hernandez and many other cultists barricaded themselves in caves and were killed in shootouts with soldiers and police.

After the dust settled down, Mexican authorities uncovered the bodies of eight cult victims, including that of the police investigator and the kid who had first tipped off the cops. Magdalena and her brother were tried, convicted, and sentenced to fifty years behind bars, while many of her surviving followers were sentenced to thirty years.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Allison Digby Tatham-Warter. Reddit

4. A Weird Quirk

Try as one might, it is hard to come up with a more British-sounding name than Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter (1917 – 1993). A British Army paratrooper, Tatham-Warter indulged in the weird quirk of going into battle carrying an umbrella. The son of a wealthy landowner who died when Tatham-Warter was eleven from the lingering effects of WWI injuries, he graduated from Sandhurst – Britain’s West Point – in 1937.

Tatham-Warter served in India, where he lived it up, enjoying what rich British scions of the day did, like tiger hunting and pig-sticking. When WWII broke out in 1939, he did not go out of his way to seek an active assignment that would take him away from his fun. However, his brother was killed in the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, and upon hearing the news, Tatham-Warter volunteered for active service with the Parachute Regiment. It set him on the path to becoming a legend.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Men of the 1st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden. Wikimedia

3. Armed With an Umbrella

Upon joining the paratroopers, Tatham-Warter was put in charge of a company in the 1st Airborne Division. It did not take long before he built a reputation, such as by procuring a Dakota airplane to fly his fellow officers to a posh party in London’s Ritz Hotel. However, although Tatham-Warter partied hard, he also worked hard, and his company was chosen to spearhead the attempt to seize the Arnhem Bridge in Operation Market Garden on September 17th, 1944.

Tatham-Warter was worried about radios’ unreliability, so he trained his men to respond to Napoleonic era bugle calls. He also had trouble remembering passwords and came up with an innovative and weird solution: carry an umbrella. He reasoned that even if he forgot a password, any paratrooper who saw him would immediately realize that “only a bloody fool of an Englishman” would carry an umbrella into battle.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Depiction of Allison Digby Tatham-Warter in ‘A Bridge Too Far’. Reddit

2. Charging Into Battle While Wearing a Bowler Hat

Upon landing near Arnhem, Tatham-Warter led his company to the bridge. He and his men wound their way through backstreets, to avoid German armored cars on the main thoroughfares. In heavy fighting over the next few days, he was often seen strolling through the wrecked town, wearing a paratrooper’s red beret instead of a helmet, with a pistol in one hand, and an umbrella in the other.

Tatham-Warter’s umbrella actually came in handy, when a German counterattack placed armor on the Arnhem Bridge. He led his men in a charge, bearing a pistol and his trusty umbrella, and adding to the weird scene by wearing a bowler hat. He reportedly even managed to disable a German armored vehicle by thrusting his umbrella through its viewport, poking out the driver’s eye or otherwise incapacitating him.

The Fart That Killed 10,000 People, and Other Weird Moments From History
Allison Digby Tatham-Warter pictured in forged identity papers after fleeing the Nazis. Brits at Their Best

1. Capture and Escape

Operation Market Garden called for the paratroopers to hold the Arnhem Bridge for two days, until relieved. However, the relief force got stuck, and after eight days, a wounded Tatham-Warter and the surviving paratroopers surrendered. The weird adventures were not over yet, however. He was sent to a hospital, but once the German nurses were out of sight, he snuck out. A friendly local woman put him in touch with the Dutch Resistance, who furnished Tatham-Warter with civilian clothes and fake identity documents that described him as a deaf-mute. He then spent weeks bicycling around, helping the Resistance.

During those escapades, Tatham-Warter helped push a German car out of a ditch without arousing suspicion. Eventually, he gathered about 150 Allied soldiers on the lam in the Dutch countryside and led them to the safety of friendly lines. Allison Digby Tatham-Warter was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, and after the war, he settled in Kenya, where he lived out his days as a safari operator until his death in 1993.

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

Medium – From Fart to Destruction: 4 Ugly Fart Stories in History

History of Yesterday – 7 Farts That Changed History

Brits At Their Best – Armed With an Umbrella

Business Insider, June 16th, 2017 – Spinach Doesn’t Have As Much of a Key Nutrient Needed in Your Blood as You Might Think

Business Insider, September 26th, 2018 – The Story of Wojtek, the 440 Pound Bear That Fought the Nazis in WWII, Is Being Made Into a Movie

Cracked – How a Petty Scam Ended in Bloody Human Sacrifice

CrimeZZZ Net – Serial Killers Hernandez, Cayetano; Hernandez, Santos; and Solis, Magdalena

Daily Beast – How a Fart Killed 10,000 People

Daily Mail, July 3rd, 2013 – Sorry Popeye, Spinach DOESN’T Make Your Muscles Big: Expert Reveals Sailor’s Love of the Food Was Due to a Misplaced Decimal Point

Dawson, Jim – Who Cut the Cheese? A Cultural History of the Fart (1998)

Folk Texts – Breaking Wind: Legendary Farts

Grunge – The Fart That Caused 10,000 Deaths

Grunge – US Presidents Who Were Really Weird People

Historic UK – Queen Elizabeth I

History Extra, November 1st, 2013 – Where the Pulverized Bones of Soldiers and Horses Who Died at the Battle of Waterloo Sold as Soil Fertilizer?

Josephus – The Wars of the Jews, Book II

New York Times, November 2nd, 2015 – Gunter Schabowski, Whose Gaffe Helped Burst the Berlin Wall, Dies at 86

Patton, George S. – War as I Knew It (1995 Edition)

Pegasus Archives – Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter

Ryan, Cornelius – A Bridge Too Far (1974)

Smithsonian – John Quincy Adams Once Approved an Expedition to the Center of the Earth

Smithsonian Magazine, November 25th, 2015 – Reagan and Gorbachev Agreed to Pause the Cold War in Case of Alien Invasion

Wired, January 28th, 2015 – Well That Didn’t Work: The Rolling Rocket Bomb Designed to Kill Nazis Almost Killed a Dog Instead

History UK – Ww2 Heroes – The Story Of Major Digby Tatham-Warter

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