Weird History
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12 Of The Un/Luckiest People In History

Updated June 11, 2021 3.2k votes 549 voters 22.3k views12 items

List RulesVote up the people from history who had the most outrageous relationships with Lady Luck.

Luck is an interesting concept, and one that's pretty subjective. If people experience numerous accidents and tragedies throughout their lives, are they lucky for surviving it all? Or incredibly unlucky for having to endure truly horrible events?

"Good" luck might mean coming into a giant windfall, while "bad" luck could very well be the trials and tribulations it took to get there. Then again, some people seem to be naturally unlucky, never able to catch a break, while others enjoy luck at every turn. 

In the end, this tenuous relationship with Lady Luck is difficult to figure out. One thing is clear - luck is present in the lives of the individuals listed here, in one form or another. Take a look at some of the unluckiest or luckiest people in history (a determination that may best be made with the lucky gift of hindsight) and decide which ones lucked in or lucked out, depending on how you look at it.

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    Frane Selak Survived A Train Crash In 1962 Only To Endure Six Additional Plane, Car, And Bus Crashes In His Life

    Frane Selak, a native Croatian, was on a train from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik in 1962 when it derailed. It was a rainy night, and after the train plummeted into the Neretva River, Selak found himself surrounded by water. He helped several of his fellow passengers, but 17 people perished in the accident.

    A year later, Selak was on a plane to visit his ailing mother when one of the doors suddenly opened. A flight attendant was sucked out of the aircraft, as was Selak, who landed in a haystack on the ground. Accounts vary, but 19 or 20 people died in the crash. 

    In the years that followed, Selak survived bus crashes, had his car catch on fire twice, and narrowly avoided falling nearly 500 feet off a cliff in a car accident on a mountain road. It wasn't until Selak was 74 years old that his luck seemed to change - when he won the lottery. 

    In 2002, Selak won more than six million Croatian Kuna, which amounted to about 800,000 Euro at the time. That makes for roughly one million Euro in 2021 - or just under 1.2 million US dollars. 

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    Pretty lucked up, right?
  • Photo: Caron/Levy / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Tsutomu Yamaguchi Was In Hiroshima And Nagasaki When Atomic Bombs Fell From The Sky

    Tsutomu Yamaguchi is the only known survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in August 1945. The young naval engineer worked for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and was on a business trip in Hiroshima. According to Yamaguchi, on August 6, he saw what looked like "the lightning of a huge magnesium flare" before losing consciousness. He continued

    When I opened my eyes, everything was dark, and I couldn’t see much. It was like the start of a film at the cinema, before the picture has begun when the blank frames are just flashing up without any sound.

    Yamaguchi was burned and suffered damage to his eardrums, but was able to leave the city by train the next day. He went home to Nagasaki, where he joined his wife and young child on August 8. On the morning of August 9, he was at work when the second atomic bomb fell. Yamaguchi later stated, "I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima."

    Yamaguchi's wife and son survived the bombing of Nagasaki. In the aftermath, radiation caused Yamaguchi to lose his hair, his burns became infected, and he could barely eat or drink. His slow recovery preceded work as a translator for the US during the 1940s, work as a teacher, and the release of a memoir about his experiences. Yamaguchi died at the age of 93 in 2010. 

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    Pretty lucked up, right?
  • Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Violet Jessop Was On 'Titanic' In 1912 And Its Sister Ship, 'Britannic,' When It Sank In 1916

    Violet Jessop spent most of her life at sea, becoming a steward for several oceanic companies when she was in her early 20s. She worked on several ships before joining the RMS Olympic in 1911. She was aboard the Olympic when it was involved in a collision in September, but transferred to RMS Titanic in 1912.

    When Titanic struck the iceberg in April 1912, Jessop was asleep. She helped rescue several women and children as the ship sank and secured a seat in one of the lifeboats as well. She recalled

    I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship's officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: 'Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.' And a bundle was dropped on to my lap.

    Jessop returned to work on Olympic in late 1912, serving as a nurse on the ship during WWI. In 1916 shifted to Britannic, the sister ship of Olympic and Titanic. In 1916, Britannic hit a mine in the Aegean Sea and sank. Jessop was injured, hitting her head on the keel of the ship, but survived. She worked aboard ships until 1950, when she retired. She died in 1971. 

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    Pretty lucked up, right?
  • Photo: Shroedingerskat / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
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    Ludger Sylbaris Was Stuck In Jail Cell In The Path Of A Volcano In 1902

    The eruption of Mont Pele on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean resulted in nearly 30,000 deaths. As smoke filled the sky and lava made its way toward St. Pierre, prisoner Ludger Sylbaris reportedly knew nothing of what was happening around him. 

    Born sometime around 1875, Sylbaris, also known to history as Auguste Ciparis, Joseph Surtout, and other names, was a convicted felon who'd violated his parole. He was taken into custody and confined to an underground cell in St-Pierre, one that ended up protecting him as the rest of St. Pierre was destroyed. Sylbaris was found four days after the city was destroyed, reportedly half-conscious and burned.

    He was one of two reported survivors of the eruption, a fact he later turned into a successful circus career.

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    Pretty lucked up, right?