Stories From History We Don't Usually Hear About

List Rules
Vote up all the stories that you're surprised to be just now hearing.

Sure, everyone has heard about the sinking of the Titanic, Henry VIII's serial marriages, and Cleopatra's fall. But what about tales of unknown history, like those of an unsung freedom fighter, a nuclear test that went horribly wrong, or the man who made sure D-Day would be a success?

From a clan of killers to a fearless spy whose accomplishments haven't gotten the attention they deserve, these forgotten accounts represent exciting, tragic, and dark moments of history. Some are lesser-known prologues or epilogues to famous events; others depict history on an intimate, human scale. Like unknown historical figures who should be remembered, each of these forgotten historical stories expand, deepen, and complicate our understanding of the past.

So read on and vote up the most surprising pages from history we don't often hear about.  


  • Captain Witold Pilecki Volunteered To Go To Auschwitz Undercover To Expose Nazi Crimes
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Witold Pilecki, an army captain who joined the Polish resistance during World War II, wanted to uncover what the Nazis were up to at the Auschwitz concentration camp. So in 1940, he made sure he was arrested: he joined a crowd of people the Nazis were rounding up in Warsaw.

    Pilecki indeed found himself at Auschwitz. He later reported on what happened when he arrived there:

    Together with a hundred other people, I at least reached the bathroom. Here we gave everything away in bags, to which respective numbers were tied. Here our hair of head and body were cut off, and we were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers - I wore the number 4859.

    While at Auschwitz, he smuggled out reports about the camp and organized a secret resistance movement. Pilecki eventually escaped from the camp in 1943 and survived the war.

  • The Last Person To Receive A Civil War Pension Passed In 2020
    Photo: Frank Pierce / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    The Last Person To Receive A Civil War Pension Passed In 2020

    The Civil War may have ended in 1865, but its legacy still echoes into the 21st century. One example of this was an American still receiving a Civil War pension until her passing in 2020, 155 years after the war officially ended. Her name was Irene Triplett.

    She was born in North Carolina in 1930 to Mose Triplett, an 83-year-old ex-Confederate who defected to the Union army. He passed eight years later, and his monthly pension of $73.13 ultimately became Irene's. 

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    The Young Couple Who Were Guests Of The Lincolns At Ford's Theatre Lived Their Own Violent Story

    When Abraham Lincoln was shot during a play at Ford's Theatre in April 1865, he and his wife Mary were not the only people in the Presidential Box: the Lincolns had invited Henry Rathbone, a young major in the US Army, and his fiancée Clara Harris to join them that tragic night.

    After John Wilkes Booth quietly slipped into the box and shot Lincoln, Rathbone attempted to apprehend him; Booth cut him with a dagger before fleeing the scene. Rathbone survived.

    Rathbone and Harris married in 1867, but the ghost of the assassination loomed over their marriage and took a heavy toll on Henry's mental health. In 1883, he shot Clara before attempting to take his own life. She didn't survive.

    After the attack, Henry was committed to an institution

  • A Double Agent During World War II Fed Lies To The Nazis That Helped The Allies Successfully Invade France
    Photo: Chief Photographer's Mate Robert F. Sargent / NARA / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Juan Pujol Garcia learned an important lesson during the Spanish Civil War: you have to fight fascists. So when World War II began, Garcia knew he couldn't sit on the sidelines. He offered his services as a spy to the British in 1942, but didn't get the job.

    That didn't hamper Garcia's ambitions - he became a spy anyway. He ingratiated himself with German officials and posed as a spy sending reports from London.

    Finally, the British realized he was an asset and welcomed him aboard. As a double agent, Garcia fed incorrect information to the Germans, and they ate it up. 

    Garcia's greatest feat was in 1944, when he convinced the Germans that D-Day was not the main Allied invasion of France. He advised the Germans to reserve their troops for the big show, which would happen later and further north near Calais. 

    Thus, the Allies met with less German resistance in June 1944 than they would have without Garcia's intervention.