20 Outlandish And fascinating Historical Facts That Actually Exist

20 Outlandish And fascinating Historical Facts That Actually Exist

It is almost a certainty that a time will come when our distant descendants will look back at our era and see many things that we take for granted, that will strike them as weird.

Just as we can look at the past, and marvel at its share of the odd. Following are twenty such incidents from history:

1. During World War I, the French built a “fake Paris”.

Complete with a replica Champs-Elysées and Gard Du Nord, this “fake Paris” was built by the French towards the end of WWI. It was built as a means of throwing off German bomber and fighter pilots flying over French skies.

It also even had a fake railway that lit up at certain points to provide the illusion from above of a train moving along the tracks!

2. The German Polar Bear Craze.

SS men goofing around (violently, natch) with somebody in a polar bear costume. Jean-Marie Donat Collection.

Over the past three decades, Frenchwoman Jean-Marie Donat amassed a collection over 10,000 vintage photos of the 1920s and 1930s Germans, including plenty of Nazis, posing with men dressed up as polar bears. Polar bears became all the rage in Germany, starting in the early 1920s when the Berlin Zoo acquired a pair of polar bear cubs. The cute new additions caught on with the public and proved so wildly popular that the result was a mini-boom in furries and polar bear costumes.

Vacationing German couple during the polar bear craze.

For a fad, the German polar bear was more than a mere flash in the pan: it went on for decades. Year after year, cheerful Germans of all walks of life and ages, routinely snapped photos of themselves posing with polar bears – or folk in polar bear costumes – as the country underwent radical changes. The Weimar Republic weakened and collapsed, the Nazis seized power, the Third Reich kicked off its horrors, World War II was fought and lost, Germany was occupied – and throughout it all, Germans kept up the polar bear fad. It was only in the late 1940s, that the fad finally faded.

3. One Time, 100 Imposters Claimed to Be Marie Antoinette's Dead Son.

After the French Revolution, eight-year-old Louis XVII was imprisoned and then never seen in public ever again. His parents were executed in 1793 and, afterward, he was horrifically abused, neglected, and left isolated in a prison cell in the Paris Temple. In 1795, he died of Tuberculous at 10-years-old. His body was buried in secret in a mass grave. Years later, dozens of men came forward claiming to be him because a Bourbon restoration was a possibility and a successful claimant could then potentially find himself on the throne of France.

4. Napoleon Was Once Attacked By a Horde of Bunnies.

Once upon a time, the famous conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte was attacked by…bunnies. The emperor had requested that a rabbit hunt be arranged for himself and his men. His chief of staff set it up and had men round up reportedly 3,000 rabbits for the occasion. When the rabbits were released from their cages, the hunt was ready to go. At least that was the plan! But the bunnies charged toward Bonaparte and his men in a viscous and unstoppable onslaught. And we were taught that Waterloo was the conqueror's greatest defeat…

5. Women Were Once Banned from Smoking in Public.

In 1908, New Yorker Katie Mulcahey was arrested for striking a match against a wall and lighting a cigarette with it. Why? Because this was a violation of The Sullivan Ordinance, a city law banning women (and only women!) from smoking in public. During her hearing at the district court, Mulcahey argued about her rights to smoke cigarettes in public. She was fined $5.00. Two weeks later, The Sullivan Ordinance was vetoed by New York City's mayor.

6. Children Fought in the US Civil War by the Hundreds of Thousand.

American Civil War child soldiers

During the US Civil War, about a fifth of all military personnel were under 18, and more than 100,000 soldiers in the Union Army alone were 15 years old or younger. The Confederates also used child soldiers by the tens of thousands. There were even cases in which children as young as 8 were put in uniform. For the most part, child soldiers in the US Army were utilized as drummers, buglers, cooks’ assistants, nurses, orderlies, general gophers, or put to work in other non-combatant positions. However, during battles, Civil War child soldiers were often just as exposed as the adults to bullets and artillery.

In the US Navy, children frequently served as “powder monkeys” in warships. Tasked during combat with rushing gunpowder from magazines to canons, they were just as exposed to danger during action as were other sailors aboard ship, regardless of age. Indeed, considering that they were scurrying about carrying sacks of gunpowder, liable to go off if it came into contact with any spark or shard of flaming timber or scorching shell fragment, the little powder monkeys were often at greater risk than the rest of the crew.

7. The Government Literally Poisoned Alcohol During Prohibition.

During Prohibition in the United States, the U.S. government literally poisoned alcohol. When people continued to consume alcohol despite its banning, law officials got frustrated and decided to try a different kind of deterrent—death. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the U.S., which were products regularly stolen bootleggers. By the end of Prohibition in 1933, the federal poisoning program is estimated to have killed at least 10,000 people.

8. Captain Morgan Actually Existed.

Yes, the face of the well-loved rum brand was a totally real guy. He was a Welsh privateer who fought alongside the English against the Spanish in the Caribbean in the 1660s and 1670s. His first name was Henry and was knighted by King Charles II of England. His exact birth date is unknown, but it was sometime around 1635. He died in Jamaica in 1688, apparently very rich.

9. There Were More Than 600 Plots to Kill Fidel Castro.

Yes, 600. The Cuban dictator was targeted to be killed by a large range of foes, including political opponents, criminals, and even the United States, among many others. Tactics included everything from an exploding cigar to a poisoned diving suit.

10. Austria Hungary’s Chief Spy Catcher Was a Spy.

Alfred Redls. Gazeta Wyborzca

Alfred Redl (1864 – 1913) was an Austro-Hungarian Army officer who rose from humble origins to become counterintelligence chief from 1900 to 1912, in charge of tracking down and rooting out traitors and spies. However, Redl was gay, at a time when homosexuality was a serious taboo. Russian intelligence learned of Redl’s homosexuality, entrapped him in a compromising position, and caught it on camera. They then blackmailed him into treason, sweetening the extortion with the offer of money in exchange for secrets. Redl accepted, and in 1902 he passed on to the Russians Austria-Hungary’s war plans. When word reached the Austrians that the Russians had a copy of their war plans, Redl was tasked with finding the traitor.

So he unmasked minor Russian agents, who were fed him by his tsarist sypmasters, and framed innocent Austro-Hungarian officers with falsified evidence. That enhanced his reputation as a brilliant counterintelligence chief. Over the next decade, Redl sold the Russians Austro-Hungarian mobilization plans, army orders, ciphers, codes, maps, reports on road and rail conditions, and other secrets. His handlers’ sloppiness finally ended his career. In 1912, postal censors intercepted envelopes stuffed with cash and nothing else, but with registration receipts tracing back to addresses abroad that were known to be used by Russian and French intelligence. A sting operation was set up, the envelopes were delivered under surveillance, and Redl showed up to claim them. Arrested, he confessed to treason, then committed suicide.

11. Cleopatra Was Not Egyptian.

Despite what you may believe, the last queen of Egypt wasn't born in Egypt. As best as Historians can tell, Cleopatra VII (that's her formal name) was Greek. She was a descendant of Alexander the Great's Macedonian general Ptolemy.

12. Pope Gregory IV Declared a War On Cats.

Pope Gregory IV declared war on cats in the 13th Century. He said that black cats were instruments of Satan. Because of this belief, he ordered the extermination of these felines throughout Europe. However, this plan backfired, as it resulted in an increase in the population of plague-carrying rats.

13. Witches Weren't Actually Burned at the Stake In Salem.

The witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, lasted between February 1692 and May 1693. Nearly 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, including the homeless, the elderly, and a four-year-old girl. The majority were jailed, and some were hanged. But none of these people ever got burned alive.

14. The world’s most successful pirate in history was a lady.

Named Ching Shih, she was a prostitute in China. This was until the Commander of the Red Flag Fleet bought and married her.

But rather than just viewing her as a wife, her husband considered her his equal and she became an active pirate commander in the fleet.

Ching Shih soon earned the respect of her fellow pirates. So much so that after her husband’s death she became the captain of the fleet.

Under Shih’s leadership, the Red Flag Fleet consisted of over 300 warships, with a possible 1,200 more support ships. She even had a possible 40,000 – 80,000 men, women, and children.

They terrorized the waters around China. The Red Flag Fleet were such a fearsome band of raiders, that the Chinese government eventually pardoned Ching Shih and her entire fleet – just to get them off the high seas!

15. Count Dracula was inspired by a real person.

When Bram Stoker released his iconic horror classic in 1897, it was hailed as “the most blood-curdling novel of the paralyzed century” and terrified audiences worldwide.

However, the titular Count was based on none other than history’s own Vlad the Impaler.

As the ruling monarch of Wallachia, a Romanian region of Transylvania, Vlad soon made a fearsome reputation for himself by killing and impaling the still-twitching bodies of his enemies on long sticks which he planted outside his castle and all around his lands.

After Vlad’s eventual death at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the history of his descendants is murky, which is what inspired Bram Stoker’s character of Count Dracula.

16. The most prolific female serial killer was a Hungarian Countess.

Named Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, she was born on August 7th, 1560.

She was accused of torturing and killing over 650 young women. Most of the women were between the ages of 10 and 14.

Her cruelty was limitless. She regularly bathed in the blood of virgins to preserve her youthful looks.

After facing accusations from many people, smallfolk and nobles alike, she was detained. However, she did not face trial due to her family’s aristocratic high-standing.

Instead, she was privately imprisoned in a windowless room for four years until she died in 1614.

17. There were “dance marathons” during the Great Depression.

It wasn’t exactly a means of keeping the American spirit up through the darkest financial crisis in its history, either.

These human endurance contests served as a way of giving broke married couples a roof over their head and food to eat for a few days.

The dance partners would take turns sleeping while the other propped them up and continued dancing with them.

18. A Lot of History's Disasters Were Caused By Lack Of Sleep.

Start counting those sheep, because sleep is so, so important. So many of history's greatest disasters were the result of a lack of shut-eye, including: Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the Challenger explosion, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill, to name a few.

19. A Woman Was Elected to Congress Before Women Could Vote.

A woman was elected to the U.S. Congress before women could even vote. Jeanette Rankin joined Congress in 1916, which was four years before women could actually vote. The 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote wasn't passed until August 18th, 1920.

20. Adolf Hitler helped design the Volkswagen Beetle.

That’s right, the fella who gave a big thumbs up to the Holocaust also invented Herbie.

Nothing from your childhood is safe from Nazis.

Between Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche, the iconic and globally-loved Beetle was designed as part of a Hitler-revived German initiative to create “the people’s car” – an affordable and practical car that everyone could own.

In fact, the car manufacturer’s name “Volkswagen” translates to English as “People’s car”.

20 Outlandish And fascinating Historical Facts That Actually Exist
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