Did you know that the Mongols once celebrated a victory by feasting atop the living bodies of their slowly suffocating defeated foes? Or that Canada was once terrorized by a radical Russian Christian nudist sect that resembled a cross between Hippies, Quakers, and Al Qaeda? History is full of those kinds of interesting but little-known details. Following are forty things about such fascinating historic facts.
40. The Mongols Were Cruelly Inventive in Celebrating Victory
In 1223, after crushing the Khwarezmian Empire, Genghis Khan sent a Mongol expedition of about 20,000 men to raid into the Caucuses and southern Russia. Led by generals Subutai and Jebe, the force defeated all in its path, including the Cumans, allies of the Kievan Rus. The Rus came to the Cumans’ aid, and a vast army set out after the raiders.
The Mongols retreated, and their foes pursued. For nine days, Subutai and Jebe led their pursuers on a merry chase across the Steppe, before suddenly turning on their by-then strung-out enemies at the banks of the Kalka River. In the ensuing battle, fought on May 31st, 1223, the Mongols annihilated their erstwhile pursuers. Things went from bad to worse for the captured enemy commanders when the Mongols decided to celebrate their victory by dining over their captives.
39. Feasting Atop the Living Bodies of Captive Enemies
The Mongols’ reputation for cruelty and bloodthirstiness was well deserved. While those who chose to surrender immediately often found the Mongols to be decent rulers, woe betide those who resisted. It is estimated that the wars of the Mongol conquest might have killed up to 60 million people.
The Mongols relished making examples out of their defeated foes. After their victory at the Battle of Kalka River, captured enemy commanders were laid on the ground. A huge board was then laid over their bodies, over which the victors sat to eat, drink, and celebrate their triumph, while slowly crushing and suffocating the men beneath to death.
38. “The Spiller of Blood” Pioneered Dining Atop the Defeated
The Mongols’ feasting over the bodies of defeated commanders after the Battle of Kalka River was not the first time that vanquished leaders had faced such a fate. Such ghoulish celebrating seems to have been pioneered by the first Abbasid Caliph Abul Abbas (722 – 754), nicknamed Al Saffah (“Spiller of Blood” – a well-earned nickname), after his defeat and displacement of the Ummayad Dynasty of Caliphs.
Al Saffah initiated a revolt against the Ummayads, and crushed them in a climactic battle in 750. He then tracked down and killed as many members of the defeated dynasty as he could. In 751, Al Saffah declared an amnesty, and 80 surviving Ummayad princes emerged from hiding to receive their pardons at a banquet. He had them seized, stabbed, covered their quivering bodies with leather rugs, and bade the other guests to sit down and dine atop them.
37. Leo Tolstoy Backed a Pacifist Christian Russian Sect That Morphed Into Nudist Canadian Terrorists
The Doukhobors, or “Spirit Warriors”, were a pacifist and anti-materialist Russian Christian sect that formed in the seventeenth century. Their belief that a divine spirit resides in everybody raised eyebrows. What got them in serious trouble, however, was their penchant for nudity to emulate Adam and Eve, a tendency to swap wives, plus a notion that nobody has any right to worldly goods. The result was centuries of persecution. Officials especially detested the Doukhobors’ pacifism, which led them to refuse conscription into the Russian military.
The persecution’s intensity waxed and waned over the years, and ranged from beatings to imprisonment to exile to death. In the nineteenth century, the Doukhobors won Leo Tolstoy over as a patron, but his patronage was not enough to shield them. So early in the twentieth century, they emigrated to Canada in search of religious freedom. Unfortunately, they morphed in Canada from an odd sect and into a dangerous one, famous for mass nudist protests, and infamous for arsons on a massive scale.
The Doukhobors first arrived in Saskatchewan in 1902, their emigration facilitated by Leo Tolstoy and the Society of Friends, or Quakers. At first, the Canadians saw the industrious Doukhobors as ideal settlers. However, their religious beliefs prevented them from swearing allegiance to the Crown, which led to their deprivation of title to lands that had been allotted them.
The Doukhobors viewed that as a breach of promise by the authorities. Embittered, they trekked to British Columbia, where they established drab little communal villages on government land. The sect’s leader, a charismatic figure named Peter Verigin, maintained a semblance of control over his nudist followers by flogging them with brambles. Then some Doukhobors blew him up with dynamite in 1924. With their leader’s demise, the Doukhobors fractured into rival factions, and things swiftly spun into a downward spiral of crazy.
After their leader’s assassination in 1924, a radical splinter broke off from the Doukhobors. This radical splinter of what was already a radical splinter of the Russian Orthodox Church eschewed the modern world. Or what little there was of the modern world in the Canadian sticks, where they dwelt.
They encouraged their brethren to avoid the trappings of modern society in everything, from exploiting animals to electricity. Their “encouragement” went beyond adopting the simple life for themselves. Like a deranged Quaker Al Qaeda in Canada’s back of beyond, they terrorized other Doukhobors who partook of modernity by burning their homes and destroying their material goods, while parading nude to emulate the simple lives of Adam and Eve.
Canadian authorities had their hands full trying to deal with the radical Russian religious migrants. Mass nude parades would probably raise eyebrows today. Back in the early twentieth century, the Doukhobor splinter – who eventually named themselves The Freedomites – shocked sensibilities when they took to protesting in the buff. In one nudist epidemic, police sprinkled itching powder on the protesters. In 1932, the Canadian Parliament criminalized public nudity. When another nude march scandalized British Columbia in 1932, over 600 men and women were banished to serve prison terms in Piers Island, BC.
In a way, the naked protesters’ passive resistance exasperated Canadian authorities like Gandhi’s passive resistance was exasperating the British in India. More worrying was when the Freedomites went from passive protest to actively persecute other Doukhobors for being too worldly. Time after time, Freedomites raided the villages of other Doukhobors to burn their homes and dynamite their factories as punishment for straying from the simple life.
For decades, the Freedomites waged a virtual guerrilla war in British Columbia against the modern world, and especially against other Doukhobors, they viewed as backsliders. From 1923 to 1962, the Freedomites were responsible for over 1100 bombings and arsons. The authorities fought back with harsh sentences of up to three years imprisonment for nude protesters and seizing the sect’s children to send to state institutions.
The violence continued, however, culminating in a series of 259 bombings in 1962 in just one region of British Columbia. Targets included ferries, railways, power lines and stations, hotels, courthouses, and the destruction of entire villages. The authorities finally decapitated the sect in March of 1962 by arresting sixty of its leaders, and charging them with conspiracy to intimidate the Canadian Parliament and the Legislature of British Columbia. With their leaders behind bars, the remaining Doukhobors rapidly assimilated into Canadian society. Relative peace has reigned since, while Canadian Doukhobor numbers dwindled from a peak of 40,000 to about 2,200 in 2011.
After a journey through Arctic waters, HMS Trident, a British Royal Navy submarine, docked in a Soviet port in 1941. At the time, the Soviet Union was reeling from the recent Nazi onslaught, enduring horrific losses, and hanging on by the skin of its teeth. Appreciating any help, the Soviets went out of their way to be friendly.
While chatting with a Soviet admiral, the Trident’s captain mentioned that his wife complained about plowing snow. The admiral responded: “you need a reindeer!” It was funny, until the admiral followed up by gifting the British captain a reindeer calf. Life within the submarine’s narrow confines was already cramped for its 56 crewmen, but turning down the gift would have been undiplomatic. Thus the reindeer, named Pollyanna, was brought aboard via a torpedo tube, and inducted into the Royal Navy.
Over the next six weeks, as HMS Trident finished its cruise before returning to port, Pollyanna the reindeer was fed from a barrel of moss provided by the Soviets. When the moss ran out, she subsisted on condensed milk and scraps from the galley. It was hoped that she would sleep in the torpedo room, but her tastes were more frou-frou and refined: she insisted on sleeping under the captain’s bed.
Whenever the submarine surfaced, Pollyanna barged her way through the narrow corridors to be first to get some fresh air, before returning to officer country. Although Pollyanna ate a navigational chart, the Trident made it back to Britain. By then, she had grown too big to exit through a torpedo tube, so a winch was used to get her out via the hatch. Pollyanna was then discharged from the Royal Navy, and spent the rest of her life in the London Zoo.
For millennia, clothing served as a visible marker of aristocratic privilege and social status. In France, prior to the 1789 Revolution, high fashion was derived from the French court’s dress code, based on unbending etiquette introduced by Louis XIV during the seventeenth century. During the eighteenth century, as the French court and government grew increasingly corrupt and outdated, the fashion associated with the regime came to be seen as outmoded symbols of corruption.
The fashion divide was stark early in the French Revolution, when the king called the Estates-General – an assembly of the aristocracy, the clergy, and the commoners. The aristocrats of the Second Estate were clearly marked by their extravagant coats, cloaks, and vests, embroidered with gold; breeches; powdered wigs; and expensive hats adorned with feathers. The clergy of the First Estate was dressed in elaborate robes of purple, red, and gold. The commoners of the Third Estate were dressed in plain suits, with white shirts and simple hats.
When France’s Ancien Regime was overthrown, and as the Jacobins and radicals came to dominate the revolutionary ranks, a backlash developed against high fashion. Extravagant clothing and elaborate styles were out, because of their association with royalty and the despised aristocracy. They were replaced by a type of anti-fashion, that emphasized simplicity and modesty for both men and women.
When the Revolution reached its highest fever pitch, fashion ceased being an expression of individual taste: it became an important political statement that could mean the difference between life and death. Ignoring that could be dangerous, and dressing in the elaborate fashions of the Ancien Regime was a surefire way to mark the wearer as suspect, and probably worthy of a date with the Guillotine.
28. Consigning Aristocratic Fashion to the Dustbin of History
In Revolutionary France, the extravagant fashions of the despised nobility came to be seen as expressions and symbols of counterrevolutionary intent. So the Revolution set out to suppress elements of dress associated with the aristocracy. Expensive silks, velvets, and other pricey items of clothing were prohibited, as the revolutionaries set out to create a new order marked by fraternity, rather than privilege. Thus, during the Reign of Terror, the workaday outfits of the sans-culottes (“without breeches” – the common people of the lower classes) came to the fore, as symbols of revolutionary egalitarianism.
The revolution in fashion was permanent. The Revolution itself went off track, and the revolutionary regime was replaced in turn by the Directory, the Consulate, the Empire, and finally, a restoration of the monarchy following Napoleon’s defeat. However, the extravagant fashions of the Ancien Regime did not return, breeches did not make a comeback, and the elaborate powdered wigs and feathered hats for men were consigned to history.
27. The Start of History’s Most Successful Slave Uprising
On the night of August 21-22, 1791, thousands of African slaves in Haiti rose up in rebellion. Armed with machetes, knives, pitchforks, and any weapons they could find, they fell upon their masters and repaid generations of abuse with merciless massacres. As a former slave put it:
“Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excrement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?”
Across Haiti, armed slaves burst into their masters’ mansions. They brought with them fire and blood and visited revenge upon their owners with pillage, rape, torture, and death. The slaves slaughtered the enslavers, and torched their owners’ dwellings, cane fields, and sugar houses. As with the extreme violence and brutality that marked Haitian slavery and kept the slaves in bonds, the backlash when the slaves finally rose was extremely violent and brutal from the outset.
When the tables were turned, overseers, masters, and mistresses, were dragged from their beds, and the lucky ones were butchered on the spot. The unlucky ones were tortured to death, frequently utilizing the same torture implements and techniques that had been used upon the slaves. The severed heads of European children were often placed on spikes, and carried at the head of advancing slave columns.
In 1791, Haiti’s sugar country was the world’s most profitable real estate patch. Seemingly overnight, the sugar country was reduced to a smoldering and blood-drenched wilderness. Within weeks, the slaves had killed over 4,000 whites, burned at least 180 sugar plantations, 900 coffee plantations, numerous indigo plantations, and inflicted millions of francs in damages.
Early in the uprising, the rebels did not demand independence from France, but only their freedom from slavery. Many rebels mistakenly believed that King Louis XVI had issued a decree freeing the slaves, but that the island’s governor and whites had wrongfully suppressed the royal proclamation. Thus the slaves initially articulated their uprising as a fight on behalf of the French king, against a corrupt colonial governor and white settlers who refused to implement a royal decree freeing the slaves.
As news of the slave uprising spread throughout Haiti, the number of rebellious slaves exploded. Within ten days, over 100,000 slaves had freed themselves by taking up arms for use against their masters, and most of northern Haiti had fallen under the rebels’ control. The rebels then marched upon Cap Francais, the seat of the colonial government, but they were thrown back by the whites, who organized themselves into militias.
As the slaves regrouped following their setback, the whites went on the counterattack and massacred about 15,000 blacks. Haiti had descended into a cycle of massacres and counter-massacres. It lasted until the colony finally gained its independence, and continued on for many years afterward.
The medieval outlaw Robin Hood is one of England’s greatest folklore figures. Unsurprisingly, considering how just how engaging his legend is: robbing the rich to give to the poor; fighting the Sheriff of Nottingham and the evil King John; and helping the rightful monarch Richard the Lionheart regain his throne. Surprisingly, for a story whose centerpiece was stealing from the rich, Robin Hood first gained widespread popularity because of plays originally staged for the upper classes in Elizabethan England.
However, Elizabethan playwrights had to first gentrify Robin Hood from a commoner bandit, and transform him into a nobleman to whom the well-heeled could better relate. Such gentrification can be traced to the playwright Anthony Mundy, who reinvented the outlaw as an aristocrat, Earl Robert of Huntington, who was wrongfully disinherited by his uncle. So he flees to Sherwood Forrest where he becomes an outlaw, meets and falls in love with Lady Marion, and kicks off the legend.
There was no real-life character who performed all the noble deeds of derring-do ascribed to Robin Hood. However, there were plenty of outlaws, nearly all commoners, who gained a measure of popularity with the lower classes for thumbing their noses at the upper-class oppressors. Some of those outlaws had names quite close to Robin Hood.
In medieval England, “Robinhood” or “Rabunhod” or “Robehod” were common nicknames for criminals, appearing frequently in twelfth-century court records. However, those Robin Hoods were not driven by any high-brow noble motives. They robbed and stole for the mundane reasons that led most people into crime back then, and that still put people on the path of criminality today.
21. The Difficulty in Tracking Down the Original Robin Hood
Robin Hood was probably just a generic period nickname for criminals, which makes tracking down the original outlaw legend difficult. In England, Robin was and remains a diminutive of the name Robert, and Robert was a very common first name back then – even more so than today.
Likewise, Hood was a common surname in medieval England. As a result, identifying just which criminals named Robin Hood or some variation thereof might have inspired the legend, is a particularly difficult task for historians. That partially explains why numerous candidates have been proposed over the years.
The earliest mention of a likely candidate for Robin Hood is a Robert Hod of York. He became an outlaw after his goods, worth 32 shillings, were confiscated to settle a debt owed to a local church. Other candidates include the brothers Robert and John Deyville, who fought on the losing side in the Second Barons’ War (1264 – 1267). With their cause defeated, the Deyvilles holed up in the woods as outlaws, until the records show that John, at least, was pardoned.
However, the likeliest candidate seems to be Roger Godberd, another figure who ended up on the losing side of the Second Barons’ War and became an outlaw. What is known of Godberd’s activities led some historians to label him as “the prototype Robin Hood”. Among other things, he operated out of a base in Sherwood Forrest, could call upon a hundred men, fought the Sheriff of Nottingham who captured him in 1272, but Godberd managed to escape from Nottingham Castle.
19. World War I’s First Naval Engagement Occurred in an African Lake
Lake Malawi in the early twentieth century was bordered by German Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania) and British Malawi, and each colonial power maintained a small naval presence there. The British assigned the task to Commander Edmund Rhoades, in charge of the gunboat HMS Gwendolen.
Rhoades shared the lake with a German Captain Berndt, in command of the SS Hermann von Wissmann. In the decade preceding the war, Rhoades and Berndt became good friends and drinking companions. When Britain declared war against Germany in 1914, Rhoades was the first to receive the news. He decided to end the war in Lake Malawi before it had even begun, without hurting his friend.
When the British Royal Navy’s Captain Rhodes learned of the outbreak of war, the SS Hermann von Wissmann was docked for repairs. Its commander, Captain Berndt, was blissfully unaware that there was a war on, when Rhoades showed up in HMS Gwendolen, and disabled the German gunboat with a single volley.
Captain Berndt leapt into a dinghy and had it rowed furiously to the Gwendolen, which he boarded while cursing out Rhoades and questioning his sobriety and sanity. Rhoades sat Berndt down, and over whiskey, explained the situation to his erstwhile boozing buddy. He then led away his livid prisoner of war, who by then was loudly cursing German officials and his chain of command for not keeping him up to speed on developments in Europe. Thus began – and ended – WWI’s first naval engagement.
Andrew Jackson was not a particularly nice man. As a general, he had been all too eager to hang his men for disciplinary infractions. He was also the only American president to have made his wealth primarily as an active wholesale slave dealer – a career considered disreputable even by many slave owners. However, Jackson was good at kicking ass and taking names.
He began his ass kicking career during the American Revolution, joining a militia at age thirteen. A year later, a fourteen-year-old Jackson defiantly refused to shine a British officer’s shoes, which earned him a sword slash across his face and hand. That left the future president with a burning hatred of the British. He paid them back with interest at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, when his men killed, wounded, and captured about 2500 British, while suffering only 300 casualties of their own.
A prickly cuss, Andrew Jackson was too easily offended, and when offended, he would just as soon kill somebody as look at him. When not leading men into combat or slaughtering Redcoats by the hundreds, Jackson could often be found out back dueling with somebody who had said the wrong the thing in his presence.
Literally dueling, as in facing off against somebody with loaded pistols, taking aim, and opening fire at a given signal. Jackson engaged in such deadly showdowns not once, or twice, but many, many, many times. The total number of his duels is unknown, but estimates range from a low of 13, to over 100.
Andrew Jackson’s most famous duel occurred in 1806, when he got into a quarrel with a man named Charles Dickinson. Dickinson was deemed the best pistol shot in the country, but that did not thwart Jackson from calling him out. At the duel, Jackson stood stock still, and allowed Dickinson to take the first shot. Dickinson took aim, and put a bullet in Jackson’s chest, wounding but not killing him.
Jackson ignored the pain of his injury, recovered, took aim, and pulled the trigger. However, the pistol stopped at half cock. According to the rules, that did not count as a shot. So as a horrified Dickinson waited, Jackson cleared the pistol, then took deliberate aim once more, and fired a shot that mortally wounded his adversary. Jackson recovered and went on to greater things, but Dickinson’s bullet remained in his chest for another 19 years.
14. The Lunatic Who Tried to Assassinate Andrew Jackson
By the time he made it to the White House, Andrew Jackson’s reputation as a seriously dangerous dude to anger had been so well established, that only a lunatic would try to assault him. However, America never had a shortage of lunatics, and one of them became the first to attempt a presidential assassination by taking a shot at Jackson.
Richard Lawrence, a house painter, was in the habit of angrily muttering to himself about Andrew Jackson. On January 30th, 1835, he was seen sitting in his shop, cackling to himself, before suddenly getting up and exiting, with the exclamation: “I’ll be damned if I don’t do it!” The “it” he referred to was killing Andrew Jackson.
13. Andrew Jackson Beat a Would-Be Assassin Half to Death
Richard Lawrence tried to assassinate Andrew Jackson by ambushing the president outside the Capitol building. Lawrence waited behind a pillar, and when Jackson passed by, took a shot at his back. The pistol misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol and tried another shot, only to get another misfire.
By then, Jackson had noticed what Lawrence was trying to do, and was understandably ticked off. Although 67 years old at the time – long in the tooth by the day’s standards – an enraged Jackson fell upon the younger Lawrence, and proceeded to bludgeon him with his cane. The would-be assassin was probably saved from getting beat to death by people in the vicinity, who intervened to restrain the president and hustle Lawrence off into custody.
Visiting a dentist is seldom pleasant, nor is having one’s teeth removed enjoyable. However, dentistry today is nothing like the horrors that used to pass for dentistry in centuries past. In nineteenth-century England, for example, dental hygiene standards were abysmal, and teeth frequently went bad in early adulthood. Whenever that happened and a tooth rotted, it meant a visit to the neighborhood barber/ surgeon, who yanked it out with pliers, without anesthetic.
To spare their kids the misery of having to go through that kind of pain several times in their lifetimes, some parents opted for “full teeth removal”, as a present to their offspring when they grew up. “Full teeth removal” meant exactly that: yanking out all the teeth from the mouth, and replacing them with dentures. Full teeth removal was considered such a fine gift, that it was frequently given to brides as a wedding present.
Ulysses S. Grant earned an undeserved reputation as a bloody butcher of a general. In reality, there was more to him than the caricature of a bull who only knew how to put his head down and charge straight ahead. His 1863 Vicksburg Campaign, for example, was a masterpiece of maneuver warfare. After tricking the Confederates into letting him cross the Mississippi River unopposed, he conducted a 17-day whirlwind campaign during which he captured Jackson, Mississippi, won 5 battles, and besieged Vicksburg.
Ironically, considering his butcher reputation, Grant was terrified by blood: its sight made him physically ill and caused him to freak out. Even the hint of blood or red juice on a rare steak was enough to nauseate him. As a result, he would only eat meat that was cooked black until it was nearly charcoal, without the slightest possibility of his seeing anything red when he cut (or cracked) it open.
Picturing nineteenth and early twentieth century Frenchmen often conjures up a face with a mustache. However, one group of Frenchmen that went smooth-shaven back then were domestic servants and waiters. The era’s bourgeoisie and upper classes wanted to mark off those “menials”, so as a condition of employment they deprived them of the right to sport a mustache. “Sentenced to forced shaving“, was how a contemporary newspaper put it.
That eventually came to be seen as degrading and intolerable by the ‘stache-less. Being French, they went on strike. In 1907, high-end waiters in Paris and the rest of France laid down their trays and aprons, and went on strike to demand higher wages, fewer working hours, and the right to grow a mustache just like other Frenchmen. The strike captivated the country, and forced a reckoning with the classist injustice under its nose. After two weeks, the strikers prevailed, and French waiters won the right to a mustache.
Ludwig Hoge is among the relative few who can say that they saw front line service in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He is among an even rarer fraternity of servicemen who went through all three conflicts without suffering a scratch. The secret, according to him, was prayer: “Pray every chance you could get. And by that, I think it saved my life. I really do“.
Hoge began a three-decade military career when he was drafted into the US Army in WWII, and ended up fighting his way across Europe with the 36th Infantry Division. He remembers all the times that bullets whizzed by, and shrapnel screamed around him. He lost many friends along the way, but ended the war physically unscathed, and with a Bronze Star. America’s next war found Hoge, a music lover, serving in the 45th Infantry Division’s band as a percussionist.
In 1953, Ludwig Hoge and his band found themselves entertaining American troops in Korea, within hearing of the enemy. Usually, the communists tolerated, and perhaps even enjoyed, Hoge’s music. However, the Chinese were tough critics, who made their disapproval known in no uncertain terms. As Hoge described it decades later: “As soon as you started playing music they did not like to hear, they started sending [artillery] rounds in“.
After Korea, Hoge took a fifteen-year breather from danger, until Uncle Sam sent him to Southeast Asia. His reaction? “I said to myself, oh mannn“. In 1968, Hoge, by then a bit long in the tooth, served with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. He ended up in charge of a service club band, but still came under fire on numerous occasions. In a 2016 TV interview, Hoge was astonished – and grateful – for his good fortune: “I walked away from all three [wars]. I don’t know how many people can say they did“.
King Charles VII of France was besotted with his mistress, Agnes Sorel (1422 – 1450), who bore him four daughters. Nicknamed “The Lady of Beauty”, the stunning Sorel was the first famous French royal mistress. She was more than just a bimbo: Sorel used her influence over the otherwise weak Charles VII to encourage him to resist the invading English, then rampaging through France.
She throve in the limelight, reveled in being the center of attention, and went out of her way to ensure that she became and remained a constant subject of gossip. One way she did that was by walking around with one naked boob hanging out. Sorel’s sense of style was widely imitated, leading a prominent bishop to denounce the new fad of “front openings through which ones sees the teats, nipples, and breasts of women“. Many of the contemporaries who praised Sorel’s beauty also denounced her as a “bad example to modest and honest women“. However, she could afford to ignore them, because the one person who mattered, King Charles, was crazy for her.
6. George Washington Was “Ten Times More Afraid” of His Mom Than Anybody Else He Knew
George Washington cutting down a cherry tree, then being unable to lie about it to his father, is the most famous story about the first president’s childhood. In reality, that incident never happened, and was invented out of whole cloth by Mason Locke Weems, one of Washington’s early biographers. However, digging into the boy Washington’s relationship with his mother could yield some true, although less uplifting, tales.
Mary Ball Washington was not monstrous. Indeed, she deserves credit for raising “The Father of His Country”. What made Mary Ball an iffy mother was the lifelong diet of passive-aggressiveness that she fed her son. As George Washington put it, he grew up “ten times more afraid” of Mary than anybody else he knew. She kept making things awkward for him his entire life.
During the Revolutionary War, Mary Ball Washington asked Virginia’s House of Delegates for money. That prompted her embarrassed son – a conscientious straight rod appalled at the idea of nepotism – to rush off a letter, urging the Assembly not to give his mom any money.
That attempt at cashing in on her son’s position paled in comparison to the fact that, even as George Washington was leading the Patriots in their fight for independence, Mary was a vocal supporter of King George III. She stayed passive-aggressive to the end: when George became president in 1789 and dropped by to visit his mom, she did not celebrate, but instead told him that she was dying.
1944 was a bad year for Imperial Japanese Navy seaman Noboru Kinoshita. One day that year, while sailing in a troop transport off the Philippines, his ship was attacked and sunk by American planes. Kinoshita was one of the few survivors who managed to swim to safety, reaching the shores of Samar Island after hours in the water. He joined up with Japanese forces on the island, and accompanied them to Luzon.
1945 turned out to be an even worse year for Kinoshita. In Luzon, the sailor found himself transformed into an ad hoc infantryman, to fight US ground forces when they invaded. The Battle of Luzon did not go well for the Japanese, who were soundly trounced. When his unit was dispersed, Kinoshita struck off deep into the jungles of Luzon, successfully evading American forces and Filipino partisans. He stayed in the jungle for a decade.
After fleeing deep into the jungles of Luzon, Noboru Kinoshita ended up isolated from contact with the outside world. He managed to eke out a precarious existence, surviving on lizards, frogs, fruits, monkeys, and any other edibles he could find. When the war ended, the cutoff Kinoshita knew nothing about it. He struggled to stay alive, as he awaited the day when victorious Japanese armed forces would return to recapture the Philippines and rescue him. It was a long wait.
Kinoshita ended up waiting for a decade, until 1955, when he was apprehended by Philippine police as he raided a villager’s sweet potato patch. In custody, Kinoshita asked his Filipino guards to kill him, because he was too ashamed to return to Japan in defeat. They declined, but a month after his capture, Noboru Kinoshita managed to commit suicide by hanging himself. He was 33 years old.
In Greek mythology, King Midas was blessed by the gods with the ability to turn whatever he touched into gold, only to discover too late that the blessing was actually a curse. As it turns out, there actually was an 8th century BC King Midas of Phrygia, whom we know of from ancient Greek and Assyrian sources. According to Greek sources, this Midas married a princess Hermodice, who is credited by some ancient sources with inventing Greek coinage, or money. Simultaneously, Assyrian tablets from that period refer to a king “Mita” attacking Assyria’s east Anatolian territories.
Thanks to Midas’ wife, Phrygia, as an early adopter of coined money, would have probably experienced an economic boom. Especially compared to neighboring states, that still relied on inefficient barter for trade. So from that perspective, it is not hard to see how the stories of Phrygia’s King Midas having a “golden touch” got started.
In 1957, further evidence of Midas’ existence emerged when a massive tomb compound was unearthed near the site of ancient Gordium, in today’s Turkey. Measuring about 900 feet long and 160 feet high, the compound included a royal burial from circa 740 BC, housing the remains of a coffin containing a 5 foot 3 man in his 60s.
Accompanying him to the afterlife were ornate tables and bronze vessels containing traces of alcohol – apparently, a final feast for the departed. The tomb was named the “Midas Mound“, after the legendary king, although later dating indicates that it was probably not the grave of our Midas, but that of his father.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading