These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up

Shannon Quinn - January 10, 2023

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
Helen Viola Jackson, the last living Civil War widow who died in 2020. Credit: HistoryNet

The Last Civil War Widow Died in 2020

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
Plenty of standing room: Carcharocles megalodon was the largest shark that ever lived on Earth. Credit: Heritage Auctions.

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
A typical setup with hanafuda for playing Koi-Koi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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?

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
The redemption (buying back) of Christian captives by Mercedarian friars in the Barbary states. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
Albert Einstein accepting his US Citizenship. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.”

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
Portrait of Pope Gregory IX, who made the strange decision to ban cats. Credit: Center For Online Judaic Studies

Pope Gregory IX Declared War on Cats

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
The strange moment in history when nuns started meowing nonstop. Credit: LGBTQ Nation

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 Ages by 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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
It may seem strange, but wooly mammoths existed the same time as the Pyramid of Giza. Credit: Shutterstock

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
An artistic depiction of the Battle of Cape Ecnomus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
Detail from The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c. 1488-1516). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
The amazing and strange story of The Sacred Band of Thebes. Credit: Legacy Project Chicago

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
These clowns put up a real fight. Credit: Shutterstock

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
The Monkees in their music video of “Daydream Believer”. Credit: Vanity Fair

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
An illustration of the strange hobby of Medieval falconry. Credit: World History

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
Joseph Bonaparte saw something strange in the woods and declared it was The Jersey Devil. Credit: Napoleon Calogne

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
One of the first electric cars in history. Credit: Denver Public Library

Electric Cars Were Invented Before Gas Engines

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
It may sound strange, but the Great Wall of China predates Christianity. Credit: Shutterstock

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.

These Historic Facts Are So Strange, They Sound Entirely Made Up
France, the William the Conqueror statue in Falaise, Normandie. Credit: Shutterstock

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.

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

Wilmer McLean — The Beginning and the End. Ohio State University.

Oxford University Is Older Than the Aztecs. Colin Schultz. Smithsonian Magazine. 2013.

Vampire Attacks Suck Life Out of the Cold War. Ripley’s. 2018.

The Battle of Pelusium: A Victory Decided by Cats. Joshua Mark. World History Encyclopedia. 2017.

When Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in 1912, a Speech May Have Saved His Life. Christopher Klein. History. 2012.

The Fantastically Strange Origin of Most Coal on Earth. Robert Krulwich. National Geographic. 2016.

History of the Fax Machine. Mary Bellis. Thought Co. 2019.

The Last Surviving Widow of the Civil War. John Banks. Historynet. 2021.

The Time Albert Einstein Was Asked to be President of Israel. Anna Dubey. Britannica.

When Pope Gregory IX Declared a War on Cats. Michael Janssens. History Colored. 2022

The Toronto Circus Riot of 1855 — the day the clowns picked the wrong Toronto brothel. Adam Bunch. Spacing Toronto. 2012.

The Noblest of Sports: Falconry in the Middle Ages. William H. Forsyth. Medievalists.

Electric cars have been around since before the US Civil War. CNN. 2019.

Gross! William The Conqueror’s Corpse Exploded On People At His Funeral. Katie Serena. AllThatsInteresting. 2017.

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