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Historical References In TV Shows We Missed The First Time

August 25, 2020 2.4k votes 570 voters 69.6k views11 items

List RulesVote up the historical references that make you appreciate the show even more.

Having a thorough knowledge of history may not always be necessary, but it sure can make pieces of entertainment more engaging or meaningful than they otherwise would be. Some TV shows throw in an obscure historical reference or an in-joke for history buffs with a keen eye. Where a layman may think a show's writer is either making a very creative storyline or an odd non sequitur, the history enthusiast could pick out the ingenious historical references.

Not all shows have writers with a deep interest in history, nor writers who would even want to make historical references, but those that do make the best of their knowledge. Whether it be from shows that are known for making referential humor like Futurama or shows that can make entire plotlines or characters based on history, everyone should be able to enjoy an obscure historical reference.

  • In one episode, one of New New York's biggest attractions is its famous "Head Museum," and inside its walls is the prestigious Hall of Presidents. All of the former commanders-in-chief have their heads stored in aquarium-like jars. Flanking the jar full of Benjamin Harrison are two heads for Grover Cleveland.

    Cleveland is the only president to serve non-sequential terms, so he counts as both No. 22 and No. 24. During his first presidential election in 1884, Cleveland barely won against his opponent, James G. Blaine. With only about 29,000 more votes than Blaine, Cleveland won by the narrowest margin in US history, but it was enough to win the Democratic Party its first presidency since the Civil War.

    The 1888 election continued Cleveland's trend of close elections, yet also ended his first term as president. He won the popular vote, but his opponent, Benjamin Harrison, won the electoral college, thus the presidency. Cleveland's 1888 loss, however, didn't prevent him from trying again in 1892 when he won the presidency back from Harrison.

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  • Photo: NBC

    In one of the most classic Seinfeld episodes of all time, Jerry's friendship with Mets star Keith Hernandez is threatened when Kramer and Newman accuse the Gold Glover of spitting on them after a game. Jerry proposes that Hernandez is innocent and the guys were the target of a "second spitter," Roger McDowell.

    This bit is a reference to the "second shooter" theory that gripped America after President John F. Kennedy's slaying. Not long after JFK's passing in 1963, many people were already speculating there were multiple shooters despite the Warren Commission report. By 1970, many books made claims that the findings of the commission were incorrect. They argued Lee Harvey Oswald was merely a patsy for a larger conspiracy, and it was a second shooter on the "grassy knoll" who in fact took out the president.

    Seinfeld parodies a very specific retelling of this historical conspiracy theory: The flashback scenes were parodying the style of Oliver Stone's film JFK, which gave credence to some of the more outlandish theories out there.

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  • Photo: NBC

    It's too wacky not to be true: Leslie Knope needs to find artifacts belonging to former President William Henry Harrison to bolster her chances of getting some land he briefly lived on turned into a park. Unfortunately, she's only able to find a giant foil-and-paper ball that belonged to his grandson Benjamin Harrison.

    This comedy bit is rooted in truth. During the 19th century, presidential campaigns were even more gimmick-based than they are today. During his 1840 run, Harrison had his staffers roll a 10-foot-high tin-and-paper ball from one town to the next. This gave birth to the phrase "keep the ball rolling." The stunt proved successful. Forty-eight years later, Benjamin revived the ball gimmick and was also elected to the White House as the 23rd president of the United States.

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  • Photo: Fox

    For a cartoon, Fox's King of the Hill always tended to be very realistic. Even when episodes got a little nuts, they were tethered to reality. In "The Final Shinsult," the United States is preparing to return the wooden leg of 19th-century Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna back to its homeland. Hank's father, Cotton, then snatches it in an effort to exchange it for a government-approved driver's license.

    Santa Anna had lost his right leg in the First French Intervention in Mexico (AKA the Pastry War) in 1838. He held a service for his amputated leg and even later exhumed it to parade it around Mexico City, but then got a prosthetic to replace it. However, during the Mexican-American War, an infantry troop from Illinois fought Santa Anna's troops. The general fled, leaving the leg behind. The Fourth Illinois Infantry took the leg as a trophy, and it has been on display in a museum in Illinois ever since. Although the United States has not returned the appendage to Mexico, it's been a modern source of discussion and tension for several years.

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