As someone who loves history, I can attest that your middle and high school history teachers leave out the bulk of the “good stuff” while making you memorize dates, names, and places. It wasn’t until college that the delicious, human tidbits from the past started to make their way into my course lessons and reading materials, and it was then that I fell irrevocably in love with learning about the past.
Which is to say, and listen closely if you’re a high school teacher, kids might stop nodding off in your class if you’d throw something hilarious, disgusting, or borderline inappropriate their way once in a while. Free advice.
So, with this in mind, check out these 12 little-known facts (that totally fall into the categories of hilarious, disgusting, or inappropriate, if not all three) and prepare to be a little more knowledgeable when you’re done.
#12. The Bolsheviks knew how to party.
Their 1917 revolution took a few days hiatus after they got into the wine stores at the Winter Palace. Actually, it looks like just about everyone sent to the cellars in order to stop people from getting drunk just got drunk.
#11. The man who coughed up a bullet 58 years after the Civil War.
The man’s name was Willis Meadows, and he was shot through the eye during the Battle of Vicksburg. 58 years later, he coughed the bullet out onto his kitchen table.
#10. Christopher Columbus is even more of a douche than you think.
He regularly gifted or sold Native girls – girls, not women – to his men for their pleasure. He wrote in a journal (around 1500), “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
Yeah. I want to barf, too.
#9. Civil War amputations were a very risky procedure.
Amputations were performed routinely, and not always because they were required. The truth of the matter was that battlefield surgeons were simply too busy to spend hours repairing a wound. In the end, soldiers would have been better off rolling the dice and keeping their limbs – over 50% of below-the-knee amputations and over 80% of those done at the hip resulted in death.
#8. The Hatter who shot John Wilkes Booth was well and truly mad.
You probably know by now that the phrase “mad as a hatter” comes from the unfortunate tendency for men who worked in the trade to go crazy from mercury poisoning. What you might not know is that (Thomas) Boston Corbett, the man who killed Lincoln’s killer, was an actual mad hatter.
Proof: He castrated himself with a pair of scissors in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes.
#7. The bodies in Ben Franklin’s basement.
200 years after Ben Franklin moved out of the house he occupied for more than two decades, conservationists discovered the skeletal remains of 15 bodies in a windowless basement room. Forensic investigations on the bones showed that six of the bodies belonged to children, and all of them dated to Franklin’s day.
So, was one of our founding father’s a serial killer?
Popular theory says no. Franklin shared the space with his friend and protege William Hewson, who ran an anatomy school.
Which is not to say that everything that went on in the basement was ethically above-board, but the truth about where the bodies came from is almost certainly lost to history.
#6. Nero probably didn’t fiddle while Rome burned.
#5. More Civil War soldiers died from diseases related to diarrhea than battle wounds.
Diseases ranged from typhoid to dysentery and cholera and run-of-the mill diarrhea, but at the time, 1 in 40 cases were fatal. The men were living and dying in squalor, and the unsanitary conditions meant that virtually every solider would fall ill at one time or another, with a hefty percentage never living to see another battle.
#4. Here’s how the Milky Way got its name…
The earliest mythology about the Milky Way comes from ancient Greece and first appeared in 10th century folklore. Supposedly, the legend described Zeus trying to trick Hera into nursing baby Hercules, but when she woke and pulled away, her breast milk sprayed into the heavens and created the Milky Way.
Maybe don’t think about this fact the next time you’re trying to enjoy a candy bar.
#3. We might have been able to prevent Pearl Harbor… or at least prepare.
Serbian double agent Dusan Popov knew of the plans to attack the naval base and tried to warn the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover refused to trust him because of his reputation as a lustful gambler (who also lied for a living).
#2. The Ancient Romans had a super effective form of contraception.
It was an herb called silphium, and we don’t know much about it because the Romans literally ate it into extinction. We do know that it was a shaped like a heart, which is how we connected the symbol – somehow – to romance.
Because nothing ruins a party like a baby, natch.
#1. Julius Caesar was a total badass.
I mean, this might seem obvious to you based on his military and political prowess (despite being murdered in a coup), but consider two instances that took place after his capture by Sicilian pirates:
- They were going to ransom him for a mere 20 talents, but Caesar insisted they ask for at least 50 for a man of his caliber.
- He made friends with them.
- He promised that if they let him go, he would hunt them all down and murder them. They laughed it up, thinking they were buddies (I guess) but Caesar came back and made good on his promises.
Arrogant, charming, and effective. Triple threat guy. If only he’d been as good at reading his “friends.”
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