• Weird History

Stories From History That Are Almost Too Absurd To Believe, But Really Happened

List RulesVote up the moments from history so absurd they don't seem real.

Hindsight is usually 20/20, but not everything in history can be easily explained. In fact, the human past is littered with unbelievable moments that actually happened, even though they sound improbable and unlikely.

These absurd stories from history - like historical stories we hadn't heard before - demonstrate that truth really is stranger than fiction.

  • Photo: Jean-Paul Laurens / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The world of the Vatican has historically been as cutthroat as any political arena. That was certainly true in 897 CE when Pope Stephen VI put his predecessor, Pope Formosus, on trial. The catch? Formosus had passed the previous year, so it was his corpse standing trial. 

    That little fact didn't seem to matter. Officials removed Formosus's corpse from its interment site and brought it into court for the trial. Stephen sought to discredit Formosus, accusing him of being a usurper who was unworthy of the papal robes.

    Ultimately, Stephen won the case against a man who could not defend himself. Officials cut off three of Formosus's bony fingers before tossing his decaying corpse into the Tiber River.

    756
    31
    Absolutely absurd?
  • 2
    644 VOTES

    An Ex-Nazi Cult Leader Faked The Assassination Of Santa Claus In Front Of A Group Of Children

    In 1961, Paul Schäfer, who participated in WWII as a Nazi, founded Colonia Dignidad in Chile. Technically a commune, Colonia Dignidad was in reality a 300-person Germanic cult led by Schäfer. Augusto Pinochet even used Colonia Dignidad as a secret prison during his rule.

    The commune was also the site of cruel acts, with many accusing Schäfer of sexually abusing children.

    One of the strangest moments that occurred there took place when he arranged for one of his followers to pretend to be Santa Claus so Schäfer could mock-execute him in front of some children. Schäfer wanted to terrorize the children so that they would be loyal and subservient to him.

    (Colonia Dignidad changed its name to Villa Baviera in 1991 and is now a tourist site with a hotel.)

    613
    31
    Absolutely absurd?
  • Photo: G. Hister / Gottlob Eckart / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    3
    468 VOTES

    The Austrian Army Accidentally Fought Against Itself

    In 1788, Austria was in the middle of a war with Ottoman Turkey. It took a dark and unexpected turn at the Battle of Karansebes, when the Austrian army fought itself.

    Military historian Charles Kirke recounted that the event was the "worst single incident recorded" in the 18th century of an army inflicting casualties on itself. As the Austrian army marched at night near the town of Karansebes, cavalry and infantry members bought wine and got drunk, then started fighting with each other.

    The drunk soldiers jokingly shouted the Turks were firing at them, but the soldiers behind them thought it was for real. According to Kirke:

    Before long the army's orderly march had disintegrated into confusion and panic, and skirmishes had broken out along the route. By dawn, the Austrian army had inflicted thousands of casualties on itself - possible as many as 10,000 killed and wounded - without Turkish forces being anywhere near.

    Some scholars wonder whether the incident was as destructive as stories like this contend; others question if it happened at all.  

    444
    24
    Absolutely absurd?
  • 4
    520 VOTES

    A Brawl Between Clowns And Firefighters Led To The Toronto Circus Riot In 1855

    In the summer of 1855, S.B. Howes' Star Troupe Menagerie and Circus, an American traveling circus, stopped in Toronto. Some of the circus's clowns decided to visit a brothel where local firefighters were frequent customers - and they weren't friendly to the out-of-town visitors. When a brawl broke out between the Canadian firefighters and American clowns, the clowns won decisively.

    Eager for revenge, the firefighters - who identified as "Orangemen," or members of an anti-Catholic fraternal organization that contributed to social unrest in early Toronto - and other residents tracked down the circus. The crowd set circus wagons on fire and rioted for several hours.

    Historian Ian Radforth described the incident as "one of mid-19th-century Toronto's largest riots," noting it "involved youthful violence fueled by nativism and Orangeism."

    480
    40
    Absolutely absurd?