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Buckwild Facts About Mata Hari, The Exotic Dancer Who Became A WWI Spy

Updated 14 Jun 2019 117.6k views15 items

Who was Mata Hari? Exotic dancer, courtesan, seductress, spy, and femme fatale: Mata Hari was many things to many different people. But she is perhaps best remembered for the fact that she was executed during World War I for espionage.

“Mata Hari” was actually a stage name - and an invented persona. She was born Margaretha “Gertha” Zelle in the Netherlands in 1876 to a wealthy, if unexceptional, family. At the age of 18, she fled her boring life in the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies where she became an officer’s wife. The new Mrs. MacLeod didn’t find happiness there, but she did develop an interest in Indonesian dance.

When Gertha returned to Europe, she reinvented herself as an exotic dancer. “Mata Hari” took the continent by storm. By the time World War I erupted in 1914, her profile brought her to the attention of French, British, and German officials. As WWI changed the world, she, too, experienced drastic changes in her life.  

Why was Mata Hari executed? The French accused her of being a double agent, a damning charge especially in a time of war. And so Gertha joined the ranks of other famous people executed by a firing squad. Added together, facts about Margreet MacLeod reveal a complex figure who is far more fascinating than her tragic end.

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