These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty

Khalid Elhassan - November 3, 2019

Did you know about the time Thomas Edison went on an electrocution jag, publicly frying dozens of animals to death as a publicity stunt, including a circus elephant? Or the time petty scammers got carried away with a con, lost control, and had things snowball into a human sacrifice cult? Or the time a president was overseeing a parade, and saluted his approaching assassins in the mistaken belief that they were part of the show? History has no shortage of such bizarre, batty, fascinating, but lesser known details. Following are forty things about times when history took a turn for the bizarre and batty.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla. History Extra

40. Thomas Edison’s War Against Alternating Current

Today, alternating current (AC) lights up our homes and workplaces, and powers up our appliances through wall sockets. AC is relatively cheap, and its high voltage allows it to be transported long distances. The other main current, direct current (DC), is relegated mostly to batteries. However, there was a time in the 19th century when the issue was still undecided, and powerful interests fiercely competed to decide whether AC or DC would dominate the world.

AC had been invented by Nikola Tesla, and was supported by George Westinghouse, who pushed it as the best means to bring electricity to the masses. On DC’s side was Thomas Edison, who had developed it to power his light bulb. There was serious money at stake, so Edison launched a smear campaign against AC, on grounds that it was unsafe and deadly. He would go to great lengths to make his point.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Topsy the elephant, being electrocuted to death in 1903 as a publicity stunt to scare the public off of alternating current, and promote Edison’s preferred direct current. Wikimedia

39. Electrocuting Elephants and Creating the Electric Chair For Publicity

Compared to alternating current, direct current is crappy because it is weaker, and can only be transported short distances. However, Edison had already invested millions in DC, and he was not about to let the upstart AC flush that down the drain if he could help it. So when a dentist named Alfred Southwick sought his help to develop a humane method of execution by electrocution, Edison decided to turn AC’s strength into a liability, by highlighting its ability to kill.

He talked Southwick into using AC in what became the electric chair. Also, to cement in the public’s mind the link between AC’s risks and its promoter, George Westinghouse, Edison came up with a catchy name for the new method of execution: “Westinghouse”. Edison then went on a whirlwind public tour to demonstrate AC’s deadliness, and used AC to publicly electrocute dozens of dogs, cows, horses, and a circus elephant named Topsy.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
One of the caves where the Yerba Buena human sacrifice rituals were conducted and were the cultists barricaded themselves for the last stand. Amino Apps

38. The Low Key Con That Snowballed Into a Human Sacrifice Cult

One of the drawbacks of lying and scamming is the difficulty of keeping the deception going once suspicions are aroused. One option is for the scammer 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 unfortunate 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 olden native gods, and would lead them to hidden Aztec treasure. By the time it was over, things had gone seriously haywire, and descended into a grisly cult that cut out the hearts from the chests of its still-living victims, and drank their blood.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Coatlicue. National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

37. The Aztec Gods Are Back, folks!

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 conman 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.

Eventually, 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 hidden Aztec treasures like they had promised. So the siblings decided to up the ante by recruiting some help to help keep the con alive. 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 pimp/brother, Eleazar Solis.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Magdalena Solis. Bizarrepedia

36. The Reincarnated Goddess

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 – perhaps too enthusiastically: she developed a religious delusion, became convinced that she really was Coatlicue, and took over the cult.

Whereas the Hernandez brothers had been content to exploit their followers for sex, the new leader Magdalena Solis was into sadomasochism, and before long, things took a turn for the gruesome. 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.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Another version of the goddess Coatlicue. Wikimedia

35. The Yerba Buena Sacrifice Rituals

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.

Things finally began to unravel in May of 1963, when a 14-year-old kid was wandering around, and saw a human sacrifice ritual being performed in a cave. Shocked at what he had witnessed, he ran over 15 miles to the nearest police station. The cops 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.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Magdalena Solis behind bars. Amino Apps

34. End of the Road For the Yerba Buena Cult

The disappearance of a cop while investigating the claims of grisly goings-on in Yerba Buena convinced the authorities to take the matter seriously. Police and soldiers flooded the town, 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.

The authorities eventually 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.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Hong Xiuquan. UM Ford School in China

33. “Jesus’ Younger Brother” and the 19th Century’s Bloodiest Conflict

The 1860s were a bloody time. As the Civil War raged in the US, an even more destructive civil war was being fought on the other side of the world, in China: the Taiping Rebellion – a mixture of peasant uprising and millenarian Christian cult upheaval. It was led by Hong Xiuquan, who had failed the entrance exams into the Chinese civil service, had a breakdown, and upon recovery, declared himself Jesus Christ’s younger brother.

He amassed a following, and established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom – an oppositional state that waged a brutal war from 1851 to 1864 against China’s ruling Manchu Dynasty. By the time the Taiping were defeated, about 30 million people had been killed, making the rebellion the bloodiest war in history, until its toll was exceeded by that of World War II.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
An artillery unit of the Ever Victorious Army. Emerging Civil War

32. The American Soldier of Fortune Who Set The Stage for Defeating the Taiping

The Taiping rebels repeatedly routed the imperial Chinese armies. When Taiping armies approached Shanghai in 1860, the city’s business community pooled resources to hire an American, Frederick Townsend Ward, to lead a mercenary force and protect the city. Officered by westerners who led Chinese rankers drilled in modern warfare, Ward’s force, which came to be known as the “Ever Victorious Army” (EVA), turned the tide. Although never exceeding 5000 men, the EVA’s well-trained mercenaries routed far bigger Taiping armies, and secured Shanghai.

The EVA then operated as a crack unit, spearheading the Manchu Dynasty’s counterattack, and helping the imperial forces recapture Taiping fortresses and strongholds along the Yangtze River. Ward did not see the final victory, as he was killed in battle in 1862. His army was then taken over by a British officer, Charles “Chinese” Gordon, who led the EVA until the Taiping were finally crushed in 1864.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
King John I of Bohemia

31. The Drawback of Charging Blind Into Battle

Don’t charge blind into…” is usually used as a figure of speech, to caution others against rushing into something, without knowing what they’re getting themselves into. In the case of King John of Bohemia (1296 – 1346), that could have been used as a literal warning.

Also known as John the Blind after losing his sight in the last ten years of his life, this royal John mounted a horse, and despite being blind, charged into battle. It did not end well for him, nor for the entourage that tried to protect him from his folly.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
John of Bohemia’s coat of arms. Wikimedia

30. A Celebrated Warrior

John of Bohemia was one of the most celebrated warriors of his era, having campaigned and fought across Europe from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. He gained the nickname John the Blind in 1336, when he lost his eyesight from ophthalmia while crusading against the pagan Lithuanians. However, blindness did not stop him from jumping at the chance to do battle when the opportunity came.

King Philip VI of France asked John the Blind for help against the English, and despite his blindness, John answered the call. He led his men to Paris, where they joined the French army in 1346, and marched off in pursuit of an English army. The enemies met at the Battle of Crecy, on August 26th, 1346, in which John was nominally in command of the French vanguard and a big chunk of the French army.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
England’s Edward, the Black Prince, paying his respects to John the Blind after the Battle of Crecy. Imgur

29. John the Blind Rides Into the Eternal Darkness

John the Blind’s command was understood to be honorific, what with him being blind and all. However, the excitement, sounds, and scent of the battle apparently awakened the old war dog in him. Despite his blindness, John ordered his knights to tie their horses to his and ride into battle, so he could deliver at least one stroke of his sword against the English, and thus satisfy his honor by taking an actual part in the fight.

His knights did as commanded, and tied to their horses, the blind king rode into battle. It ended badly: John the Blind, being blind, was unable to judge how far he had gone, and plunged too deep into the English ranks. He ended up getting cut off and enveloped by the enemy, and in the ensuing melee, the blind king and all of his entourage were slaughtered.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Sir Arthur Aston. Royal Berkshire History

28. The Successful Renaissance Commander Who Came to an Ignoble End

Sir Arthur Aston (1590 – 1649) was a professional English soldier from a renowned military family. He plied his trade as a mercenary commander in the era’s numerous European wars, and gained a fair measure of prestige and renown. By the time he returned to England in 1640, Aston was a highly experienced commander. He led a regiment for King Charles I in the Second Bishops’ War against the Scots, but Aston was a Catholic, and that became an issue.

Catholics were legally prohibited from a variety of public positions, and expressly barred from serving as army officers. The outcry forced Aston to resign, but as a consolation, Charles knighted him. When the English Civil War erupted soon thereafter, he served the king – who was hard pressed enough now to ignore Aston’s Catholicism – and lost a leg in the process. He got a prosthetic, but it ended up doing him in.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Sir Arthur Aston, getting the business from his wooden leg. Flickr

27. Getting Beat to Death With His Own Wooden Leg

Sir Arthur Aston had an authoritarian style of command, learned on the continent. It was unpopular in England, leading his troops to view him as a martinet and hate his guts. Aston was wounded and captured in 1642, then released in a prisoner exchange, after which he was appointed governor of Oxford, headquarters of the royalist cause. There, he was severely injured in a fall from a horse, lost a leg, and used a wooden prosthetic leg thereafter. While recovering, he was relieved of his command and pensioned off.

In 1648, he joined the royalists in Ireland, and was made commander of Drogheda. He was besieged in 1649 by Parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell, who stormed and captured the town on September 11th. Aston was captured, and Cromwell’s soldiers, convinced that his prosthetic must contain hidden gold, demanded that he show them how to access its secret compartment. They refused to believe his denials, and frustrated at his perceived stubbornness, beat him to death with his own wooden leg.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Big Issue North

26. The Kiwi Founding Father Who Kidnapped a 15-Year-Old

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796 – 1862) was a British politician who is deemed by many to have been the founder of New Zealand. Before that, however, he spent years in prison for abducting and marrying a 15-year-old heiress. His victim was Ellen Turner, the only daughter of a wealthy businessman.

Wakefield wanted her father’s money to bankroll his political career, but he realized that Ellen’s dad would never consent. So he sent a carriage to her boarding school, with a message that Ellen’s mother was dying, and wished to see her daughter immediately. She was then taken to a hotel, where Wakefield tricked her into marrying him.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Ellen Turner. Naomi Clifford

25. Wakefield Does Jail Time For Fraudulently Marrying a Minor

Edward Gibbon Wakefield told 15-year-old Ellen Turner that her father’s business had collapsed, and that her dad was now a fugitive, on the run from creditors. He then convinced her that his banker uncle had agreed to release some funds that would save her father, but only on condition that she wed Wakefield, and that her father had consented to the marriage.

Ellen agreed, they were married, and Wakefield took her to France. However, Ellen’s father called in favors from the British Foreign Office, who sent a lawyer and a policeman to France, where they found Ellen and Wakefield in a Calais hotel. She was returned to her father, and Wakefield ended up doing three years behind bars. The marriage was eventually annulled by Parliament.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
John Profumo. British GQ

24. Minister’s Inability to Keep It in His Pants Leads to Government’s Collapse

In 1961, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War and a rising star in Britain’s Conservative Party, met and had a brief fling with an aspiring model, 19-year-old Christine Keeler. In of itself, that was no big deal – then as now, politicians having affairs were a dime a dozen.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Christine Keeler. Washington Post

What turned it into a scandal with far-reaching consequences was the coverup: when Profumo was asked about it in the spring of 1963, he told the House of Commons that there had been “no impropriety whatever“. Those words came back to bite him – and the British government – big time.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Contemporary coverage of the Profumo Affair. KQED

23. The Profumo Affairs Morphs Into a Devastating Scandal

Proving that Profumo had lied when he denied that there had been any impropriety turned out to be child’s play for the paparazzi and tabloid press. It was bad, but he still might have survived – politicians lying to hide affairs are not uncommon – were it not for bad timing. There had been a string of recent spy scandals, and it emerged that Profumo’s mistress, Christine Keeler, had also had a fling with a naval attache at the Soviet embassy.

10 weeks after lying to Parliament, Profumo confessed and resigned. The scandal shook the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, who resigned a few months later on health grounds. A few months later, the reeling Conservatives lost the 1964 elections to the Labor Party, and were ousted from power.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Charles Maultsby, the U-2 pilot whose screwup almost triggered WWIII. Anchorage Daily News

22. The Errant Flight That Almost Triggered World War Three

In 1962, the world held its collective breath as the US and Soviet governments stared each other down, fingers on nuclear triggers, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was bad, but most folk who lived through the crisis did not know at the time just how bad. As was revealed years later, billions around the world might have perished, because an American spy plane had accidentally blundered deep into Soviet airspace at the height of the crisis. The drama began at 1:45 PM on October 27th, 1962, when President Kennedy was informed that a U-2 spy plane, operating out of Alaska, had gone missing inside Soviet airspace.

The plane was supposed to fly just outside the Soviet border, where it was to test clouds drifting from the USSR for radioactive particles. Its hapless pilot, however, ended up blundering deep into the USSR, and the Soviets scrambled fighters to shoot him down. It was the worst possible moment for such a screwup, as the Soviets might have viewed the incursion as a deliberate provocation. Luckily, the airplane made it back to base, but Kennedy, who called its pilot a “son of a bitch”, made sure he never flew a U-2 again.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, US president Jimmy Carter, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. Share America

21. The President Who Mistook His Assassins For Parade Performers

October 6th is a day of national commemoration in Egypt, to celebrate the successful crossing of the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. By the time the eighth anniversary rolled around in 1981, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who had been in office in 1973 and enjoyed a huge bump in popularity and prestige, as a result, was becoming quite unpopular. In addition to an economic downturn, Sadat had entered what was viewed by many Egyptians as a controversial rapprochement with Israel.

The thaw culminated in a peace treaty, the 1979 Camp David Accords. It won Sadat a Nobel Prize and applause in the West, but many of his fellow countrymen and Arab neighbors saw it as a sellout. Their numbers included Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheik” later convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, who issued a fatwa against Sadat. When the fatwa was carried out, Sadat thought his approaching killers were performing an officially scripted part of the 1981 October 6th parade.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Islamic Jihad extremists during the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Rare Historical Photos

20. A Fatal Error

On October 6th, 1981, Egyptian president Sadat, surrounded by high-ranking officials and dignitaries, took his place at a reviewing stand to watch the annual military parade. Things started well, and as TV cameras broadcast the event live, an overflight of jets zoomed overhead, while army trucks towing artillery paraded by. One of them contained a lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who had arrived that morning with some substitute soldiers for ones whom he claimed had fallen ill.

Islambouli was a secret member of Islamic Jihad, radicals whose ranks included Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s future second in command. Islambouli and his men had live ammunition for their weapons, and when their truck passed by Sadat, he disembarked and approached the reviewing stand. Sadat thought it was part of the parade and saluted Islambouli, who responded by lobbing three grenades at the president. Only one grenade exploded, but as it went off, Islambouli’s accomplices rushed to the reviewing stand and opened fire, killing Sadat and several others nearby.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Central Asian Turkish warriors. The Nomadic People of Central Asia

19. The Caliphate That Collapsed Because of Out-of-Control Mercenaries

At its height, the Abbasid Caliphate (750 – 1258) ruled a realm stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of China, and from Central Asia to the borders of India. Their fortunes took a nose dive when shortsighted caliphs hired Turkish mercenaries, then failed to control them. It began in the 9th century, with al Mu’tasim, a younger son of the dynasty’s most famous caliph, Harun al Rashid – a contemporary of Charlemagne and a recurring character in the Arabian Nights fables.

Al Mu’tasim created a private army of Turkish mercenaries and slaves, and formed them into a Turkish Guard that helped him secure the caliphate in 833. However, the mercenaries engaged in widespread robberies and rapes that made them hugely unpopular with the civilian population. So in a bid to reduce the friction between his subjects and soldiers, al Mu’tasim relocated his capital in 835 from Baghdad to a new city, Samarra. That calmed things down for a while, but did not solve the core issue of controlling the Turkish mercenaries. Things got worse.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Seljuk Turk warriors. Apricity

18. The Anarchy at Samarra

The Abbasids’ mercenary crisis came to a head in 861, in what came to be known as “The Anarchy at Samarra”. It began when the Turkish Guard murdered the caliph al Mutawakkil, and replaced him with his brother, al Muntasir. The new caliph lasted for six months, before the Turks did him in, then held a conference to appoint a successor, al Musta’in. He escaped in 865, but the mercenaries pursued, captured, and put him to death.

They then appointed another caliph, al Mu’tazz, but when he bucked, they deposed and killed him in 869, replacing him with another puppet, al Muhtadi. He, too, tried to assert his authority, only to get murdered by the mercenaries and replaced in 870. The anarchy finally ended with the appointment of a caliph who accepted his role as a puppet. The Abbasid Caliphate stumbled on for another four centuries, with its caliphs as playthings of strongmen and sultans, until 1258, when the Mongols sacked Baghdad, and executed the last Caliph.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva Summit

17. Would an Alien Attack Have Ended the Cold War?

Ronald Reagan had a sunny disposition and demeanor, that went hand in hand with his implacable detestation of communism and the Soviet Union. 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 USSR’s eventual collapse. However, there was one field where Reagan was more than happy to cooperate with the Soviets: fighting extraterrestrials.

As Mikhail Gorbachev recounted, he was strolling around a garden with Reagan during the 1985 Geneva Summit, when the POTUS 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 Soviets 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 science fiction nerd, for years.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
English Civil War engagement. Pintrest

16. Before They Fought George III, American Colonists Fought Charles I

The American Revolution’s biggest baddie was King George III, upon whom the Patriots pinned most of the blame for the conflict. Indeed, when one examines the Declaration of Independence and gets past the first few uplifting “We hold these truths to be self-evident” sentences, the rest of the document is one long screed, decrying his tyranny and infamies.

However, George III was not the first king against whom Americans took up arms: that distinction goes to king Charles I. Over a century before America’s War of Independence, American colonists took up arms against a king during the English Civil War (1642 – 1651).

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Colonel Thomas Rainsborough. Art dot Com

15. Americans Sailed Across the Atlantic to Fight Against England’s King

When England’s King Charles I and Parliament fought each other in the 1640s, Puritans were a key Parliamentarian constituency. At the time, Puritans happened to be pretty thick on the ground in New England. So in 1644, a Puritan colonel Thomas Rainsborough sailed across the Atlantic with a regiment of New Englanders to fight against Charles.

Presaging future events, the Americans proved radical, and pushed for universal male suffrage three centuries before it was actually granted in England. As Rainsborough put it: “I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government“.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
The wedding of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Town & Country Magazine

14. Britain’s Pro-Nazi King

In popular imagination, King Edward VIII of Britain is often remembered as a romantic monarch. For many, what first comes to mind when his name crops up is that he chose love over power, and abdicated the British throne in order to marry his American mistress, the divorcee Wallis Simpson.

What attracted less attention over the years – in no small part because the British government went out of its way to downplay it and conceal the evidence – is that Edward was a Nazi sympathizer. Indeed, in 1937, a year after his abdication, Edward and his wife toured Nazi Germany, in defiance of the British government’s advice. In the Third Reich, they were lionized by the Nazis and honored by Hitler.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Edward VIII inspecting SS troopers during his 1937 visit to Germany. Bundesarchiv Bild

13. His Majesty’s Nazi Leanings

Edward VIII’s Nazi proclivities are not surprising, considering that he was an antisemite who blamed the Jews for the outbreak of WWII. In June of 1940, he told a Spanish diplomat that peace could be had if England was bombed effectively. Two weeks later, the Germans began bombing Britain.

British officials told Prime Minister Winston Churchill that Edward, who was living in Portugal at the time, was “well known to be pro-Nazi and may become a center of intrigue“. Churchill forced him to return to Britain with the threat of prosecution if he refused to come back, then bundled him into effective exile, as governor of the Bahamas.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Execution of Charles I. Wikimedia

12. The English Civil War Reached America

By the 1650s, the English Civil War was all over, and Parliament had decisively defeated the royalists. King Charles I had been captured, tried, convicted, and beheaded, his heir had fled to the continent, and England was ruled by a Lord Protector, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell.

However, small-scale fighting still flared up every now and then between Royalists and Parliamentarians. One such flare-up, which came to be known as the Battle of the Severn, took place on American soil in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 25th, 1655.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Battle of the Severn. In Red Coat Rags Attired

11. The English Civil War’s Final Battle Was Fought in Maryland

The Battle of the Severn came about when Maryland’s governor, sworn to the colony’s royalist Catholic Lord Baltimore, sailed with a small militia to the Puritan settlement of Providence – today’s Annapolis. His goal: surprise the region’s Puritans, and compel them to swear allegiance to Lord Baltimore. Unfortunately for the governor, things did not work out as he had planned.

Instead of surprising the Puritans of Providence, the governor and his men were surprised on March 25th, 1655, when the Puritans unexpectedly attacked them from the rear and routed them. By the time it was over, the governor’s militia had lost 49 men, while the Puritans lost only 2. The engagement holds the distinction of being the last battle fought in the English Civil War.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Juana la Loca, circa 1496, around the time of her marriage. Pintrest

10. Juana la Loca Was As Nutty As it Gets

Joanna of Castile, Juana la Loca in Spanish, or Joanna the Mad (1479 – 1555) was the daughter of Spain’s “Catholic Monarchs”, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille. As her nickname indicates, Joanna the Mad was well… mad as a March hare.

Her family had a history of mental illnesses, and Joanna’s marriage to Philip the Handsome, a notorious lecher who cheated on her nonstop, and after whom she lusted nonstop, drove her crazy. Gruesomely crazy, to the point where she slept with his corpse for years after his death.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Juana la Loca. How Stuff Works

9. Sleeping With Hubby’s Corpse

When Philip the Handsome suddenly died of typhoid fever in 1506, Joana became inconsolably grief-stricken. Finally, unable to bear the separation any longer, she had Philip’s corpse disinterred three months after it was buried. Joanna then had the rotting body embalmed with lime and various unguents, and generously doused with perfumes.

As a contemporary described it, the corpse was: “stitched back together, and all its members bound with waxed linen bandages“. During the next three years, Joanna got into the habit of crawling into the casket with Philip’s cadaver, or sleeping with it in her bed. She also took it around with her wherever she went, exhibiting it to all and sundry, to demonstrate just how “handsome” her husband had been.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
‘The Death of Marcus Licinius Crassus’ by Lancelot Blondeel, 16th century. Groeninge Museum

8. The Greedy Plutocrat Who Died Choking on Gold

Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 – 53 BC) was the late Roman Republic’s richest man, and a leading figure in its affairs. He sponsored and bankrolled politicians, including Julius Caesar, and amassed considerable power. He eventually partnered up with Caesar and Pompey to divvy up Rome, in what came to be known as the First Triumvirate. However, the one thing that Crassus lacked, and which his fellow Triumvirs had in abundance, was military glory. His attempt to get some ended in disaster.

Crassus marched off to conquer Parthia in 53 BC, leading an army of 50,000 men. After an arduous trek through arid lands, he encountered 9000 Parthian horse archers, and 1000 armored heavy cavalry, near Carrhae, in modern Turkey. Although they outnumbered the Parthians 5:1, the Romans were demoralized by the march, and by Crassus’ uninspiring leadership. The Romans were slaughtered, and Crassus was captured. The Parthians executed him by pouring molten gold down his throat.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
‘The Depraved One’. Factinate

7. The Holy Monk’s Sex Cult

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was an illiterate Siberian peasant, charlatan, mystic, holy wanderer, faith healer, blasphemer, and notorious lecher who led an extraordinary life. As a teen, he was such a notorious womanizer that he earned the nickname Rasputin, meaning “the depraved” in Russian.

Later in life, he somehow managed to soothe the suffering of the child Alexei Nikolayevich, the hemophiliac heir to the Russian throne. That earned him the favor of Alexei’s parents, Russia’s emperor and empress. The resulting proximity to the throne made Rasputin an incongruously powerful and influential figure in the Russian Empire’s final years. Before that, however, there was the time when Rasputin ran a sex cult.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Khlysty wearing themselves out. Cultura Colectiva

6. Nearer to Thee… Through A Whole Lot of Sex

When he was a young man, Rasputin fell in with a religious sect known as the Khlysty. They preached “holy passionless”, to be attained via exhaustion: the Khlysts wore themselves out with fervent prayer, dancing, and spinning. Rasputin took that, and added a twist to it by coming up with a religious doctrine that he described as “driving out sin with sin“.

In a nutshell, Rasputin called for “holy passionless” via total exhaustion: not just physical exhaustion, but sexual as well. He founded a cult, and led it into reaching sexual exhaustion via orgies – prolonged bouts of debauchery by the entire congregation. The idea was to get all the base passions out of their system, so they could then focus on God without distractions of the flesh.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
The Battle of Waterloo. British Battles

5. The Undignified Fate of the Fallen of Waterloo

Nowadays, 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.

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. As seen below, the fallen of that battle literally ended up getting sold as fertilizer.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Waterloo dentures, made from the teeth of those killed in the battle. Imgur

4. Bones and Bread

Centuries ago, those killed in action were not usually honored, but were instead 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 afterward.

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. 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“.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Draco the Lawgiver. Medium

3. Putting the Draco in Draconian

Ancient Athens’ Draco the Lawgiver (flourished 7th century BC) was tasked with creating a legal system to replace a private justice system, in which rights were enforced by citizens and their relatives. Draco wrote down Athens’ laws, and published them. That reduced the pitfalls of traditional oral laws that were known to only a select few, and were arbitrarily interpreted and applied. It was a huge step towards equality under the law, but Draco made the laws insanely severe, and highly favorable to creditors and the propertied classes.

Defaulting debtors were liable to be sold into slavery, and those guilty of petty property crimes, such as stealing a cabbage, were liable to the death penalty. When asked why he legislated death for most offenses, Draco replied that he considered petty crimes worthy of death, and he could not think of a greater penalty for the greater offenses. The term “draconian” is named after him.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Draco, as depicted in the library of the United States Supreme Court. Pintrest

2. Draco Was Praised to Death

Draco’s laws seriously favored the haves and seriously penalized the have-nots. Whatever the poor and indebted might have thought about him, wealthy Greeks apparently liked Draco and his laws so much, that they reportedly killed him with applause. Literally.

Ancient Greeks applauded and showed their approval by throwing hats and items of clothing at the subject of their adoration. During a visit to Aegina, its citizens showered Draco with so many hats and shirts and cloaks, that he suffocated to death under the barrage.

These Times History Took a Turn for the Batty
Gandhi with his grandniece Manuben, right, and his grandnephew’s wife Abha, left. India Today

1. Gandhi Slept Naked With Young Girls

Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s independence struggle, is one of the 20th century’s most revered figures. Along the way, he perfected the strategy and tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience and inspired other independence and civil rights movements around the world. Martin Luther King studied Gandhi’s methods, and used them in America’s Civil Rights movement. In his private life, however, Gandhi was a complex man, as evinced by his sleeping habits.

Gandhi slept naked with young girls. Supposedly, he did so to test his willpower and strengthen his resistance to the temptations of the flesh. However, it was probably less about spirituality, and more about the gratification of sexual desires. As an early acolyte who shared Gandhi’s bed put it after his death: “Later on, when people started asking questions about the physical contact with women … the idea of experiments was developed… in the early days, there was no question of calling it an experiment“.


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

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Draco’s Law Code

Ancient Origins – The Brutal Draconian Laws of Ancient Greece

Baltimore Sun, March 25th, 2005 – English Civil War Led to Battle on Severn

Cracked – How a Petty Scam Ended in Bloody Human Sacrifice

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

Encyclopedia Britannica – Profumo Affair

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

History Naked – Blind to His Fate: The Heroic Life and Death of John of Bohemia

Independent, The, September 18th, 2015 – King Edward VIII: Uncle Who Encouraged Young Queen’s Nazi Salute Plotted With Adolf Hitler to Regain Throne

India Today, November 30th, 1999 – Mahatma & Manuben: Newly Discovered Diaries of Gandhi’s Personal Attendant Reveal How His Experiments With Celibacy Changed Her Life

National Geographic History Magazine, June 11th, 2019 – Money Was Not Enough For Crassus, the Richest Man in Rome

New York Times, July 3rd, 2010 – America’s Revolution: The Prequel

Open Learn – What is the Evidence That King Edward VIII Was a Nazi Sympathizer?

Radzinsky, Edvard – The Rasputin File (2001)

Smithsonian Magazine, October 11th, 2011 – Edison vs Westinghouse: A Shocking Rivalry

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

Soldiers of Misfortune – The Taiping Rebellion and the Formation of the Ever Victorious Army

Tudor Society – The Madness of Juana of Castile

Vanity Fair, June 1st, 2008 – Lost in Enemy Airspace

Wikipedia – Arthur Aston (Army Officer)

Wikipedia – Electrocuting an Elephant

Wikipedia – Shrigley Abduction