As the saying goes, “truth is often stranger than fiction”. In these stories, we demonstrate several instances throughout history where events are so strange that they’re hard to believe. And if you were to state many of these as facts to friends and family, they might assume that someone made the whole thing up.
The Civil War Started and Ended on the Same Man’s Property At Two Different Locations
America’s Civil War has gone down in history as the nation’s deadliest conflict. It was fought between 1861 to 1865. Believe it or not, the starting and ending point of the war both took place on the property of one man. The first battle was fought on the land owned by Wilmer McLean just outside of Manassas, Virginia. After this happened, Wilmer was understandably shaken up about the whole thing. He decided that it might be a good idea to move further out into the country, to a new property in Appomattox, Virginia. Wilmer thought he escaped the war… Until Four years later, General Lee surrendered to General Grant in Mr. McLean’s house in Appomattox. This was not planned at all. It was a complete coincidence that both the start and the end of the Civil War happened on the same man’s property.
The University of Oxford is Older Than the Aztec Empire
When we think of the Aztec Empire, we imagine an incredibly native culture in ancient times. Artifacts from the Aztecs are dug up and put on display in museums, which adds even more to the idea that it truly existed at a time before modern conveniences. But in reality, Oxford University is actually older than the Aztec Empire! They began teaching in 1096, and by 1249 they were a full-fledged university with residential halls and multiple school buildings. And they aren’t even the oldest university in the world. That prize goes to Nalanda University in India, which opened hundreds of years before Oxford. Archeologists date the “founding” of the Aztecs to be when they built the city of Tenochtitlán in 1325. The city was captured by Spanish conquistadors in 1521.
In the 1950’s, The CIA Defeated Rebels in the Philippines By Pretending to be Vampires
During the Cold War, the Philippines was an ally with the United States. However, there was a faction of communist rebels known as the People’s Army fighting in the Hukbalahap Rebellion. The CIA got involved to defeat the communist rebels. They decided to exploit the legend of the “aswang”– a blood-sucking monster that is very similar to a vampire. Since most of these rebels were living in the countryside, they still believed in these legends. So the CIA captured one of the members of the People’s Army, leaving two puncture wounds at his neck. They then hung his body upside-down to drain the blood. His body was left on the trail for his comrades to find. This apparently worked very well. The rebels fled their camp immediately. The CIA continued several more psychological tactics to frighten the rebels, and they eventually surrendered in 1954.
In 1972, A Blizzard in Iran Snowed 26 Feet and Killed 4,000 People
When most people think of Iran, they imagine a hot, dry climate. But it actually is possible for it to snow there- especially in its northwest region. But its reputation for being a warm climate is what makes this headline especially strange and unbelievable. As the title says, in 1972, it snowed 26 feet. This is the equivalent of a 2-and-a-half story building. Sadly, the Iran blizzard killed over 4,000 people, and it is considered to be the deadliest blizzard in history. There were absolutely no survivors in the smaller villages of Kakkan, Kumar, and Sheklab, where all of the inhabitants were buried in snow.
Germans Set Up a Weather Station in Canada During WWII, But Nobody Noticed Until 1977
In 1943, the Germans set up a weather station in northern Labrador, which is part of Newfoundland, Canada. At the time, Canada was still a part of the British Dominion. German U-boats were tasked with sinking enemy warships and supply ships in the North Atlantic Ocean. But in order to sink the ships, they needed to have the right weather conditions. Most of the mobile weather stations that the Germans set up were destroyed, but one that was secretly planted in Labrador survived the entire war. Labrador is sparsely populated, so no one ever crossed paths with it, despite the fact that it was out in plain sight. No one ever bothered to take it down when the war was over. It wasn’t discovered again until 1977, and no one even figured out that it belonged to the Germans until 1981.
The Persians Won a War Against the Egyptians Because They Used Cats as a Shield
Most people know that ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, because they were associated with the goddess, Bastet. The Egyptians had a lot of respect for all life in general, and a large part of the population was vegetarian or pescatarian. If you killed a cat in ancient Egypt, it meant that you would be sentenced to death. During the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE, there was a clash between Pharaoh Psametik III and the Persian king Cambyses II. The Persians knew of the Egyptian love for cats, so they used that to their advantage. The Persian king demanded that the image of Bastet should be painted on his soldiers’ shields. According to records, “ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold dear”. The Persians won the battle, and they threw the cats at the soldiers who surrendered, just to mock them.
Queen Elizabeth II Reigned Nearly 30% of US History
The United States is a very young country, with less than 250 years in existence. We have accomplished so much in our short time as a nation, that it can sometimes seem like the United States has been around for much longer than it actually has. If you count 1776 as the beginning of US history, and 2022 as the last year Queen Elizabeth was alive, the exact number of years that she reigned was 28.5% of America’s history. But if you’re rounding up, that’s basically a third of American history. One of the first people to point out this fact was a man named Matt Glassman. When he posted it on Twitter, it went viral with over 11,000 retweets.
Bobby Leach Survived A Ride Down Niagara Falls, But Died Slipping on an Orange Peel
Since 1850, more than 5,000 people have died going over Niagara falls- either due to suicide, a misguided sense of adventure, or a publicity stunt. So when people like Bobby Leach went over Niagara Falls and survive, they definitely make it into the history books. Bobby Leach went over the falls in 1911, inside of a barrel that he built for the journey. When he emerged from the fall, he was bruised and bleeding, but otherwise perfectly fine. Ironically, a few years later, he slipped over an orange peel and injured his leg. The leg became infected, and it required amputation. But something went wrong with the infection, so he died just a few days after the surgery.
Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot, and Then Proceeded to Give an Hour-Long Speech
One of the most unbelievable, hardcore events in history was when President Teddy Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt just before he was about to give a speech. On October 14, 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was scheduled to give a speech in Milwaukee. When he stood up on stage, he said, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” Then, he unbuttoned his vest and revealed his blood-soaked shirt, saying “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose.” He had a 50-page speech inside of his jacket, which was riddled with bullet holes. The bullet was still inside of him, and it was headed straight for his heart. But the thick speech as well as his glasses case were enough to slow down the bullet and save his life.
The Fax Machine Was Invented in 1843, Before The Telephone
This next fact is truly hard to wrap your head around, since fax machines were often associated with working in offices in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Believe it or not, though, Alexander Bain filed the first patent for a fax machine in 1843. These fax messages were sent over telegraph lines between train stations. To give some perspective, this was during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, and the samurai caste still existed in Japan. Even though this technology existed for a very long time, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the concept was reworked into a machine that could send copies of text via phone lines.
When most people hear the word “guillotine”, their mind goes to the famous executions during the French Revolution of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The very first execution via guillotine happened in 1792. Over the course of its existence, over 10,000 people have been killed by the guillotine. However, what most people don’t realize is that the guillotine continued to be used as a form of enacting the death penalty in France, and it never really stopped until its last use in 1977. Then, in 1981, capital punishment was abolished altogether, so they no longer have the death penalty in France.
Martin Luther King, Anne Frank, and Barbara Walters Were All Born The Same Year
For whatever reason, it’s very difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that Martin Luther King, Anne Frank, and Barbara Walters were all born in 1929. They are all famous people who were remembered in vastly different time periods of history. That’s probably because Anne Frank was killed in 1945, Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, and Barbara Walters lived until 2022. The age in which they died has them frozen in time that way forever, and it’s hard for people to imagine MLK and Anne Frank if they had the opportunity to grow old. This phenomenon is so strange, that it inspired the creation of a subReddit called Barbara Walters 4 Scale, which only has posts that make similar mind-blowing comparisons.
It Took 60 Million Years For A Bacteria to Develop That Could Decompose Trees
Today, trees take anywhere from 46 to 124 years to decompose. And as humans, we have come up with ways to use fallen trees for our own benefit like building houses and burning wood. But what happened to trees millions of years ago when they fell in the forest? Well, it turns out that it took 60 million years for there to even be a bacteria that exists that had the ability to decompose trees in the first place. Back then, trees were very tall, skinny, and strange looking compared to modern-day trees. They had very shallow root systems, and fell quite often. So over tens of millions of years, trees kept falling on top of one another without decomposing. This is how we get coal. That’s why it’s called a “fossil fuel”, and why it is a finite resource.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, it left thousands of women as widows when their husbands died in combat. However, for women who were married to veterans, they are still considered a “civil war widow”. That’s how we end up with this crazy loophole of a woman named Helen Viola Jackson, who was technically the last living Civil War widow when she died in 2020. When Helen was 17 years old, she married a 93-year old Civil War veteran named James Bolin. This marriage was actually a secret, because he was a widower who needed a housekeeper. So he hired Helen to clean for him, and promised her his Civil War pension when he died. But the only way to get that pension was to marry him. Helen lived to be nearly 100 years old.
Sharks are Older Than Trees and The Rings of Saturn
Sharks are one of the oldest species that still exist to this day. The earliest shark fossil dates back as far as 400 million years ago. This is so long ago, there are a few examples to put into perspective just how crazy that is. The first known tree dates to just 385 million years ago. On top of that, the rings of Saturn were only formed roughly 100 million years ago. To make things even more crazy, sharks almost went extinct roughly 20 million years ago when the shark population randomly dropped by 90%. The Earth lost 70% of its shark species that once existed. If a full extinction event happened, sharks would have been listed among the dinosaurs as a crazy creature that we can’t imagine living among humans.
Nintendo and the Ottoman Empire Existed at the Same Time
When we think of Nintendo, our minds immediately go to video games. Or, you might think of some of the company’s most popular characters from franchises like Super Mario Brothers, Pokemon, or Legend of Zelda. But in reality, Nintendo is one of the oldest companies in the world, and was founded in 1889. Originally, the company created Japanese hanafuda cards. These are used to play games called “Koi-Koi” and “Hachi-Hachi”. To put things into perspective about how old this is, the Ottoman Empire lasted from 1299 to 1923. So there was an overlap in time when Nintendo existed during the Ottoman Empire. It’s so strange, it’s basically mind-blowing, right?
From The 16th-19th Century, African Slave Ships Captured 1 Million Europeans
When most people learn about the slave trade in school, we are taught about the shameful history of Africans brought to Great Britain and the United States. But few history classes talk about the fact that the Barbary Pirates conducted their own slave trade, and it was just the opposite. From the 16th to the 19th Century, Barbary Pirates from the North Coast of Africa captured European slaves on ships and by raiding coastal towns from Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland and even southwest Britain. It is estimated that 1 million Europeans were captured and sold as slaves. In the early part of the 19th Century, the United States and Great Britain teamed up to fight during the First and Second Barbary Wars in order to stop these pirates from capturing people and forcing them into slavery.
Albert Einstein Was Asked to be President of Israel, But He Turned it Down
As strange as it sounds, Albert Einstein was once offered the Presidency of Israel. After Israel’s first President Chaim Weizmann died in 1952, the nation was left wondering how they were going to choose a new leader. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion offered the position to Albert Einstein. He stated that if he took the job, Einstein was welcome to continue with his scientific research, but would have to move from his home in Princeton, New Jersey to live in Israel. This job offer probably happened in the first place because Einstein was Jewish, and had expressed support for Israel multiple times in his career. But he immediately turned it down. He wrote back, “I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people.”
During the 13th Century, a man named Pope Gregory IX was the head of the Catholic Church. He declared that cats carried the spirit of Satan, and were not to be trusted. After he said this, there was a mass killing of cats from 1233 to 1234. Once the cat population went down, this meant that there were more mice left alive. With them were fleas containing the Plague. This huge uptick in Plague cases was “proof” to Gregory that his theory was true. Clearly, the Devil was angry about killing his cats, and sent the Plague as punishment. Even long after this event was over, people still associate cats with bad luck. That’s where we get the superstition about black cats today.
In France, A Group of Nuns Started Meowing Like Cats and Couldn’t Stop
Throughout history, there have been several events known as “mass hysteria”- psychological phenomenons when large groups of people all seem to suffer from the same physical ailments, when it’s really just in their head. In a book called Epidemics of the Middle Agesby J. F. C. Hecker, he recounts an old story of a nun who began meowing at her convent. Soon, other nuns started meowing, and wouldn’t stop for hours at a time. Since we already established that the Catholic Church associated cats with the devil, priests began to assume that these nuns were possessed. Soldiers were brought in to contain the women, and they were beaten until they promised to stop meowing.
Wooly Mammoths Were Alive At The Same Time They Built the Pyramids in Egypt
The majority of wooly mammoths died roughly 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. But scientists discovered a small population of mammoths that were left alive on Wrangel Island in the Arctic. Around 500 to 1,000 wooly mammoths survived on this island until 1650 BC. It is theorized that humans eventually hunted them to extinction. To put that into perspective of how recent this would be in human history, it’s 1,000 years after the Pyramid of Giza was built. With that being said, there are some scientists who find this too hard to believe, with some who argue that the carbon dating on the mammoths is incorrect.
The Largest Naval Battle in History Happened Over 2,250 Years ago
For whatever reason, we associate large battles with modern-day technology. After all, with the dawn of modern transportation, it means that more men can be brought to the battlefield in a short amount of time. But surprisingly, the largest naval battle in history actually happened over 2,250 years ago. This was the Battle of Cape Ecnomus in 256 BC. During the First Punic War, Carthage was fighting the Roman Republic. A Roman fleet of 330 warships sailed to Carthage, which is modern-day Tunisia. Carthage had 350 warships of their own. In total, there were 290,000 crew and marines involved in the battle, making it the largest naval battle in history, based on the number of people who were involved in the fight. Even though they were slightly outnumbered, the Romans still left with a victory.
Brain Surgery Happened Before The Written Word Was Invented
Brain surgery is incredibly complicated, which is why it is still one of the highest-paid professions in the world. However, the practice of “trepanning” or surgically cutting a hole into someone’s skull has been around for an incredibly long time. This surgery was often done to people who had mental illness, because they believed that there must be pressure on the brain. It has been estimated that only 40% of people actually survived after having a trepanning surgery. There is evidence of trepanning happening as far back as the Neolithic or New Stone Age period. Believe it or not, this happened all over the world. Apparently a lot of people thought it was a great idea to open skulls and see what happens. To put into perspective how long this has been going on, these surgeries pre-date the beginning of the written word, around 3400 BC.
Ancient Greeks Took Gay Lovers to War With “The Sacred Band of Thebes”
In modern times, there has been an ongoing debate over whether members of the LGBTQ community should be allowed in the US military. In 1993, there was the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy enacted which said gay people could serve, as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret. And it wasn’t until 2011 that this was repealed, allowing openly gay people to serve. Apparently, we are centuries behind in our thinking. Because in Ancient Greece, they assembled The Sacred Band of Thebes. They were 150 sets of gay male lovers. The idea was that these men would fight better, because they wouldn’t want to be cowards in front of their partners. As strange as it might sound, it actually worked. They went undefeated in war for many years.
Firefighters and Clowns Fought One Another During the Toronto Circus Riot of 1855
In the summer of 1855, the S.B. Howes’ Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus were visiting Toronto from the United States. After the circus ended, the clowns decided to enjoy their evening at one of the local brothels. It just so happened that The Hook & Ladder Fire Fighting Company was also at the same brothel that night. There is no record as to why the fighting started in the first place. But what we do know is that the firefighters and the clowns began to fight one another, and it broke out into a huge fight. The clowns won. But the next day, a huge crowd of friends of the firefighters were ready to start a riot. Even the police were on the firemen’s side, so they just sat by and watched the chaos as the angry mob burned down the circus tent and beat up the circus performers.
The 1960’s Pop Band “The Monkees” Was Under Investigation by the FBI
If you grew up in the 1960’s, you’ll remember the popular band called The Monkees. And even if you were a 90’s baby like me, maybe you saw a few episodes of their popular TV series airing on Nick at Night if your parents let you stay up late. They made such upbeat music, it’s hard to imagine that they could be accused of any wrongdoing. But it turns out that they were under investigation from the FBI. In 2022, the last remaining member of the band, Micky Dolenz, sued the FBI to have them turn over the documents pertaining to their investigation. Most of the information has been redacted in the document that’s available on the FBI Vault, except for a statement that says, “Additional activities denouncing the US policy in the war in Vietnam.” They also state that they believed their music contained subliminal left-wing messages.
In the Middle Ages, Bishops Brought Their Pet Falcons to Church
During the Middle Ages, falconry was considered the “noblest sport”. Hunting was extremely popular back then, because it was how everyone got meat on the table. Many knights and members of the upper class owned falcons that would hunt with them. Bishops would bring their falcons to church, and only let them go when they approached the altar. In a fourteenth century book called The Goodman of Paris, a man told his wife to bring her falcon to church too, because they were so valuable that they were often stolen. A book called “The Boke of Saint Albans”, from 1486, lists the kinds of birds appropriate to each rank of society, from the lordly eagle for the emperor to the lowly “muskyte” for a holy-water clerk.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s Brother Claimed That He Saw the Jersey Devil
This next fact is especially strange, because Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, was once the King of Spain. And yet for some reason, he decided to buy a country home in Bordentown, New Jersey. He liked the location for being in-between both Philadelphia and New York City. That is- until he learned about the legend of the Jersey Devil. The story was funny in the summertime, when all of his friends were around. But once he was left in the Pine Barrens alone in the middle of winter, hunting suddenly became a terrifying event. He got so scared, he believed that he saw the legendary Jersey Devil. It was most likely some sort of animal in the woods, and his imagination got the best of him.
Nowadays, electric cars are all the rage for people who are eco-friendly and want to save money on gas. This seems like a very “new” thing that has only come into the market in the past decade. But as strange as it sounds, electric cars were invented before gas engines. The first electric motor was invented in 1834 by Thomas Davenport in Vermont. He used the motor to power a small carriage. And in 1884, an English inventor named Thomas Parker created a fully electric car. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1886, that the first gasoline car was built by Karl Benz. Over time, people gravitated towards gasoline vehicles because they were faster, more powerful, and could go longer distances without refueling. Those same issues still exist today with electric cars, but they are improving over time.
The Great Wall of China is Older Than Christianity
The Wall that stands today is known as the Ming Great Wall, which began its construction during the Ming Dynasty, which lasted from 1368-1644. So the wall that every tourist goes to is only a few hundred years old, which doesn’t seem strange at all. However, the original structure is called the Chu Great Wall, which was built between 680 BC and 656 BC. Construction has lasted 2,300 years across 9 different Chinese dynasties. It’s mind-blowing to think of a construction project going on for that long. To put it into perspective, that’s before Christianity even existed.
William the Conqueror’s Corpse Exploded at His Funeral
Last but not least is the strange and disgusting story of what happened during William the Conqueror’s funeral. Before he died, William gained a lot of weight, and became rather large. In 1807, his horse reared, and the saddle punctured his intestines. Doctors tried to perform surgery, but this injury eventually led to his death. A lot of time had passed since he passed away and the funeral, so gasses were expanding his already enlarged body even further. The gravediggers made a hole, but it was too small for him to fit. So when they tried to push his body down in the hole, it exploded everywhere, guts raining down on his funeral guests.