• Weird History

Shocking Details From History's Most Significant Forgotten Assassinations

Everyone knows about the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and JFK; after all, they rank among the most famous assassinations in history. There are even gruesome photos of these infamous assassinations. But what about history's forgotten assassinations? 

President James Garfield was killed after doctors stuck their unwashed fingers into his bullet wound. A US Governor was scalped. Poisoned yogurt and Japanese assassins killed a Chinese emperor and Korea's last empress, respectively - these were royal assassinations that changed history, even if few people remember the details.

These important assassinations have largely been forgotten by history despite the fact that some of them, like the assassination of Serbia's first democratically-elected prime minister, rank among the most famous assassinations in the 21st century. These assassinations changed the course of history - we might never have heard of Alexander the Great and Teddy Roosevelt otherwise - but these assassinations, including an axe-wielding bear-man, a car blown five stories in the air, and a scorned gay lover, are just as shocking today as when they first happened. 

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    James Garfield was elected president of the United States in 1880, but only months after being sworn in, Garfield died from an assassin's bullet. His tenure marked the second-shortest presidency in US history, and his assassination has been largely forgotten. 

    Garfield almost wasn't president at all. At the 1880 Republican presidential convention, it took 36 ballots to choose a nominee. Garfield was a dark horse choice, and he won the general election by less than 10,000 popular votes. If he hadn't been elected, Garfield almost certainly would have lived.

    Garfield had only been in office for four months when a disgruntled attorney fired a shot at the president. The assassin, Charles Guiteau, had not been given a political appointment by Garfield and preferred his vice president, Chester A. Arthur. As Garfield was hit, Guiteau yelled "Arthur is president now!" But Garfield didn't die right away. Instead, doctors stuck their fingers into his wound multiple times in their search for the bullet. Alexander Graham Bell even tried using his new invention, a metal detector, to locate the bullet. 

    Unsurprisingly, infection set in. Garfield wasted away, losing 80 pounds in three months. When he finally died, his assassin quipped:2 “the doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.”

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The KKK Murdered A Senator To Intimidate White Politicians Who Supported Civil Rights

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, many white Southerners refused to give up power. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in December of 1865 to insure the continuation of white supremacy. Right away, the KKK started lynching Black people, and they also targeted white politicians like North Carolina Senator John W. Stephens, who was committed to civil rights. 

    On May 21, 1870, Stephens was killed at the Caswell County Courthouse by KKK members. Stephens was stabbed, choked, and left dying on a woodpile. Although the governor, William Holden, declared martial law, Holden was impeached by the legislature and convicted for "illegally" declaring martial law. Stephens's murder and Holden's impeachment show how white supremacists used violence and political power to maintain their position.

  • Photo: Underwood & Underwood / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Anton Cermak Took A Bullet For FDR

    Anton Cermak was a major force in creating Chicago's Democratic power base, eventually rising to become Chicago's mayor. But the political power broker, who helped Franklin Delano Roosevelt secure the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1932, was accidentally shot by an assassin who was trying to kill the president.

    Just days before FDR was inaugurated as the 32nd president, he invited Cermak to ride next to him in his convertible. During the slow drive past a crowd of supporters, assassin Giuseppe Zangara struck, raining gunfire down on the car. The bullets missed FDR, but Cermak was hit. As Roosevelt sat with the former mayor on his ride to the hospital, Cermak said: "I am glad it was me instead of you." 

  • Photo: Qing Dynasty Court Painter / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Poisoned Yogurt Took Out Emperor Guangxu

    In 1908 a Chinese emperor was killed with poison. Guangxu was the second-to-last emperor of the Qing dynasty. He was only in his 30s, but he was already in a vicious battle with his aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi. She opposed the reform efforts of her nephew and refused to let Guangxu outlive her. So she plotted to murder the emperor. 

    The murder weapon was a bowl of poisoned yogurt. A eunuch carried the deadly yogurt from the empress dowager's room straight to the emperor. Two hours later, the emperor was dead. The aging empress dowager herself died the next day. China's history might have looked very different if Guangxu hadn't eaten the poisoned yogurt.