Weird History
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American Historical Events That Sound Made Up But Aren't

March 2, 2021 4.6k votes 929 voters 76.3k views12 items

List RulesVote up the US history facts that sound like fiction.

For such a relatively new country, the United States of America has managed to rack up its fair share of weird moments in history. A lot of weird US history facts even make it into our textbooks, like disappearing colonies, a bunch of drunk guys throwing tea into a harbor to help kickstart a revolution, and presidents fighting off assassins with canes. But there's an awful lot of bizarre historical tidbits out there that most people never hear about.  

Out of all the weirdness that's come from this country since the start, we've compiled some of the very weird (but true!) US history facts that helped shape the US of A into the country it is today. Some of them give an extra bit of depth to the history surrounding their time periods, and others are just plain fun.

  • Photo: Oliver F. Atkins/Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Richard Nixon had a well-documented dependence on alcohol and prescription medication throughout his presidency, which could send him into explosive rages. That alone is dangerous in itself, but even more so when it's the man with access to the largest amount of nuclear weapons in the world. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reportedly told his aides, "If the president had his way, there would be a nuclear war each week!"

    Shortly after his election, Nixon was overheard drunkenly talking to Kissinger about Vietnam, and he said, "Henry, we've got to nuke them." A year later, when a US spy plane was shot down by North Korea, he ordered a tactical strike in retaliation, going so far as to ask for target recommendations before Kissinger intervened and had everyone agree not to plan any further until Nixon sobered up the next morning. 

    Even during a chat in a pool, Nixon lost his temper while discussing Cambodia over drinks. Still in the water, he got on the phone and said, "Bomb the s**t out of them!" 

    Ironically, the day the administration came closest to nuclear war, Nixon was once again drunk - but this time to the point of stupor. He slept through a nuclear alert, and National Security Advisor Alexander Haig had to pretend to consult him about what to do. Ultimately, Haig sent a stern letter to the USSR in the president's name, and the crisis was averted by the time Nixon woke up.

    Sound fake?
  • Photo: US Air Force photo / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis was escalating to a fever pitch. US reconnaissance missions had just confirmed Soviet missile sites not far from the US mainland. A few days after the confirmation, pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr. was testing out a new unarmed, high-altitude U-2 spy plane. Unbeknownst to Anderson, he'd been spotted.

    Soviet Lieutenant General Stepan Grechko wanted the plane shot down, but the commanding officer - the only one who could give the order to fire - was nowhere to be found. So Grechko gave the order himself without waiting for approval, launching the first strike that could start a nuclear war.

    News of Anderson being shot down was quickly sent to Washington, DC, and President John F. Kennedy was hounded by his military officials to launch a strike in retaliation. Despite the pressure, he hesitated. "It isn't the first step that concerns me," he said, "but both sides escalating to the fourth or fifth step, and we don't go to the sixth because there's no one around to do so."

    Ultimately, Kennedy went with his gut and contacted Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev, who confirmed that shooting down the plane hadn't been authorized by any higher authorities. The two leaders realized that the crisis was growing out of their control, and the incident ended up leading them to peacefully conclude their stand-off. The potential start of the world's most destructive war ended with a single death.

    Sound fake?
  • On January 15, 1919, just one day before Prohibition was passed in the US, one final tank of molasses - intended for rum manufacturing - was shipped into Boston, MA. The 50-foot-tall, 90-foot-diameter tank was left to sit in the harbor as the dockworkers took their lunch break. At 12:30 pm, with the only warning being a sound like a muffled roar, the tank burst apart.

    Fourteen thousand tons of molasses flooded through the streets of Boston at roughly 35 miles per hour, taking out houses, buildings, and people in the process. Ultimately, 150 people were injured by the flood, and 21 perished. A wagon driver who had been caught in the flow was later found frozen in his final pose, "like a figure from the ashes of Pompeii."

    It took days to clean up the mess, and even longer for the United States Industrial Alcohol Company to pay over $600,000 (around $11 million in today's dollars) in damages.

    According to some Bostonians, you can still smell the faint scent of molasses on hot days.

    Sound fake?
  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    While on the campaign trail for a third term in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt passionately threw himself into developing a third-party platform against incumbent Republican William Howard Taft and Democrat favorite Woodrow Wilson. The former president was giving 15 to 20 speeches a day, and he took a brief pause in Milwaukee to wave at the crowd before delivering yet another one.

    At that moment, John Schrack - who had been following the campaign for thousands of miles - saw his chance. He pulled out a revolver and shot Roosevelt in the chest.

    Luckily for Roosevelt, he had a tendency toward lengthy speeches. In his breast pocket, he had a 50-page copy of the speech he was about to give, as well as his steel glasses case. Both slowed the bullet down enough to keep the shot from becoming lethal.

    When Roosevelt realized he'd been hit, he coughed into his hand to check for blood. When there was none, he realized he hadn't been hit in the heart or lungs. And, in the most Teddy Roosevelt way possible, he addressed the crowd and said:

    Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.

    He spoke for over 55 minutes in his blood-soaked shirt, and then was taken to the hospital immediately upon finishing, where he stayed for eight days. He recovered from the shot with no ill effects, but ultimately lost the election to Woodrow Wilson.

    Sound fake?