History serves us in various ways. For instance, history offers a foundational part of the collective memory. Its narratives provide a historical dimension of meaning into who we are and what we do. Studying history is also a method to understand the present … at least, that’s what the wisest among us propose.
Rather than simply being the “study of the past” for its own sake, the “art” of history can also help us understand present-day human phenomena by investigating and clarifying their origins and development. However, there are some “tales” from the past that can make you really wonder about their authenticity.
If you don’t quite follow, read this list of 25 Odd and Bizarre Historical Events That Sound Fake but are 100% true.
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The current U.S. flag was designed by a 17-year-old student
Have you ever heard of Robert G. Heft? You know, the dude who designed the American flag back in 1958? No? We’re not surprised!
Believe it or not, Robert created the most famous flag design in the world as part of a school project when he anticipated Alaska and Hawaii joining the United States.
Ironically, he only got a B- for the assignment and a reprimand from his teacher for having too many stars. As he would state later, his teacher told him, “You don’t even know how many states we have.”
Not discouraged from his teacher’s reaction, Robert sent his design to the White House. His design was chosen out of more than 1,500 designs that were given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
(Sidenote: his teacher changed his grade to an A.)
China used more cement in three years than the US did in the entire 20th century
Despite Bill Gates once tweeting about it, no one really took him seriously. According to estimates from the US Geological Survey, however, Mr. Gates was being serious.
See, the US used 4.5 gigatons of cement between 1901 and 2000. Compare that with the 6.6 gigatons of cement China used between 2011 and 2013 (according to data from the International Cement Review) and you will realize that Bill Gates is definitely not a liar.
Abraham Lincoln was a marvelous wrestler
Even though he’s widely known as one of the greatest presidents in American history (if not THE greatest), President Lincoln could have also been a WWE star.
Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln was a champion wrestler, taking part in about 300 matches.
He had a reputation for being a very tough fighter. Keep also in mind that Abe was 6’4″ tall and about 225 pounds in his prime days. In other words, a certified badass.
The Pope once declared war on cats
Even though there’s not an official historical source verifying this, we will assume that Pope Gregory IV must have been a real dog person.
The notorious pope once claimed that black cats were instruments of Satan and ordered their extermination throughout Europe.
Ironically, the dramatic reduction in cat population during the 13th century was among the factors that led to a spike of plague-carrying rats, leading to the Black Plague.
Cleopatra wasn't even Egyptian
Arguably the most famous “Egyptian” human to ever live wasn’t even Egyptian after all.
For the record, Cleopatra was of Greek origin. She was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.
As a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, she was a descendant of its founder, Ptolemy I Soter, a Greek general and companion of Alexander the Great.
Caligula made his horse a priest
It’s no secret that Roman Emperor Gaius, better known as Caligula, was a ruthless nutcake. According to the ancient historian Suetonius, Caligula loved horses way more than he loved humans.
Incitatus was by far his favorite horse. He loved Incitatus so much that he gave the steed a marble stall, an ivory manger, a jeweled collar, and even a house.
Another chronicler, Cassius Dio, wrote that servants fed Incitatus oats mixed with gold flakes. At some point, Caligula tried to make his horse a senator of Rome as well, but he ended up making it a priest instead.
The sole survivor of Titanic and the Britannic
Also known as “Miss Unsinkable,” Violet Jessop was a stewardess and nurse on the White Star Line’s trio of Olympic-class passenger ships.
In addition to surviving the Titanic and Britannic disasters, Jessop was also aboard the trio’s third sister ship, the Olympic, when it collided with a British warship in 1911.
Turkeys were once worshiped like deities
Nowadays, turkeys are mainly known for being America’s favorite dish of the Thanksgiving meal. Back in 300 B.C. though, the fancy big birds were worshiped by the Mayan people as vessels of the gods and were honored as such.
They were symbols of power and prestige and can be found in Mayan iconography and archaeology.
Tesla was terrified of pearls
Nikola Tesla was, without a doubt, one of the greatest minds and inventors to ever walk on this planet. As a man, though, Tesla had some really weird phobias.
He could not stand the sight of pearls, to the extent that he refused to speak to women who were wearing them. When his secretary wore pearl jewelry, he sent her home for the day.
Tesla also wore white gloves to dinner every night and prided himself on being a “dapper dresser.”
Napoleon was almost assassinated by a horde of bunnies
Napoleon Bonaparte is considered one of the greatest generals and conquerors to ever live. He was so powerful on the battlefield that he forced the United Kingdom, Austrian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia, Kingdom of Spain, and various kingdoms of today’s Italy, Dutch Republic, Russian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Kingdom of Portugal, and the Kingdom of Sweden, to join forces in order to confront him.
However, bunnies weren’t as scared of him. Apparently, 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 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 vicious and unstoppable onslaught.
The only certain thing is that Napoleon knew how to survive!
The Brits sold their wives (until recently)
Heroin used to be sold over the counter to treat coughs
Our ancestors could be a little weird. And when we say weird, we mean it in a bad, dangerous, and at times lethal, way.
Imagine using one of the most deadly and addictive substances in history in the same way your grandma uses Werther’s candy.
And heroin was not just used to treat the coughs of adult peeps … we’re talking about children’s coughs too!!!
Egyptian servants most likely hated honey
The title of this entry is a little weird, right? Why would anyone hate something as delicious as honey, after all?
Well, in ancient Egypt, servants didn’t eat honey. Instead, they were smeared with honey in order to attract flies and keep them away from the pharaoh. Wouldn’t you hate honey too, if that was the case?
The Romans used human urine as mouthwash
Charlie Chaplin passed away as Apple was founded
When thinking of Charlie Chaplin, you might think you need to take a huge step back in time. However, that isn’t the case. The actor passed away in 1977; that was the same year Apple was founded.
The most mind-blowing part of it all was the difference in eras. Charlie Chaplin came from a world of black-and-white, silent movies, while Apple was about to change the world with its breakthrough technology designs.
Kind of cool in a really contrasting way, huh?
Harriet the tortoise met Charles Darwin
In fact, Harriet didn’t just meet Charles Darwin; she was his pet! The famous scientist and theorist passed away in 1882 but nearly 50 years before that, he had collected Harriet from the Galápagos Islands.
Charles dropped off the tortoise in Australia where she lived to a staggering 175 years old. Harriet didn’t pass away until 2006, making her the only living creature in the 21st century to have met the creator of the Theory of Evolution.
Pope Pius II was into "porn" (kind of)
Alright, the title’s a little misleading and we will gladly admit that. However, the fact is that before becoming pope, Pius II wrote a popular erotic book titled The Tale of Two Lovers.
Not exactly the kind of “hobby” you would expect from a pope, right? (Or am I just being a prude here?)
"Father of tragedy" was murdered by an eagle and a tortoise
There’s no doubt that Aeschylus’ legacy and works surpass his bizarre death. He’s widely considered to be the father of tragedy, as he was the first of the three great ancient Greek tragedians (the others being Sophocles and Euripides).
However, some may remember Aeschylus for his very unusual, almost comical death. Actually, it’s the only documented case of human death directly attributed to a tortoise.
Aeschylus lost his life when a hungry eagle dropped a tortoise on his head so the shell would break and the eagle could eat the meat. Apparently, the eagle mistook his bald head for a rock.
Joseph Stalin used to "Photoshop" his pictures
Like him or not, the fact is that Joseph Stalin was well ahead of his time. See, the Soviet dictator used “Photoshop” before the software was even invented.
How exactly did he accomplish this? He would often retouch his photos in order to remove people who had died or had been removed (usually violently) from the office.
A true tech pioneer, regardless.
Ronald Reagan saved 77 people from drowning (as a lifeguard)
President Reagan reigned as an actor and president way before Baywatch was a thing. It turns out that the former president could have easily grabbed a role in the famous TV show.
Before he even pursued an acting career, Reagan worked six summers as a lifeguard in Lowell Park in Dixon, working on the treacherous Rock River.
According to newspaper reports of the time and later research, he saved 77 people from drowning.
Adolf Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
In 1939, a member of the Swedish parliament named Erik Gottfrid Christian Brandt had the not-so-bright idea to nominate Adolf Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize.
A couple of days later, the nomination was canceled. The whole thing caused a huge controversy in the days that followed. It was eventually decided that no prize would be awarded that year to anyone for peace.
Adolf Hitler exterminated more white people than anyone before (or after) him
Talking about Hitler, there’s another interesting fact about him that’s often overlooked. Despite being portrayed by film and media as the absolute symbol of racism and white supremacy, it’s estimated that over 95% of Hitler’s victims were white people.
For that matter, some contemporary historians suggest that Hitler is so hated because he mainly killed white people. To be more specific, a 2009 book titled The Imperial Controversy: Challenging the Empire Apologists mentions among other things:
Hitler is uniquely excoriated because his victims were almost all white Europeans, while those of Britain (and other classic colonialisms — French, Belgian, Dutch, Italian and Wilhelmine German) were Asian, African and Arabs.
Women were the first to march for the right to smoke
Many of you are probably familiar with Suffragettes and women’s struggle for the right to vote. Not as many know that women had to fight for their right to smoke too.
In 1929, a group of women took to the streets, smoking cigarettes and carrying signs stating that cigarettes were “torches of freedom.”
Throwing an apple at somebody was considered flirting in ancient Greece
In ancient Greece, the apple was considered sacred to Aphrodite (the goddess of love). So, to throw an apple at someone was to symbolically declare one’s love.
Similarly, to catch it was to symbolically show one’s acceptance of that love. An epigram claiming authorship by Plato states:
I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty.
To make a long story short, if someone threw an apple right in your face, you shouldn’t get mad. They were probably infatuated with you.
A flight attendant fell from 33,330 feet (with no parachute) and survived
This truly incredible story sounds more like a wild scenario from an action film than a true story. However, it REALLY happened 48 years ago.
Vesna Vulović was born in Serbia when it was part of a united Yugoslavia. She worked as a flight attendant for the former Yugoslavian airline JAT. At the age of twenty-two, she was onboard Jat Flight 367 bound for Copenhagen.
Ironically, she wasn’t scheduled to fly that day (January 26, 1972). Due to some name confusion, she was mistakenly mixed up with another flight attendant with the same first name.
A briefcase bomb went off, causing the plane to crash. Vulović was the only survivor and is the only person who has survived a fall from such a height.