American history is a rich and varied tapestry, filled with individuals who were capable of doing both great things and truly terrible deeds. The last few years have seen some remarkable developments in historiography, with new and fascinating facts about the past being unearthed and on a regular basis.
Some of the most perplexing of 2022’s revelations concerned American presidents, some of whom were shot and others who carried on notorious extramarital affairs, while others focused on some of American history’s most famous entertainers. Be sure to cast your vote for what you think were the most unbelievable facts about American history that emerged from 2022.
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The US Airdropped Pianos To Troops On The WWII Battlefield
During World War II, Steinway & Sons stopped making its traditional pianos - largely because the materials they needed were shifted to the war effort. The company didn't shut down production entirely, however; it made coffins and parts for military transports. Steinway was also contracted by the War Production Board to make pianos that could be sent into battle.
Called "Victory Verticals" or "G.I. Steinways," the pianos were "small, sturdy uprights, painted olive drab and shipped by cargo vessels and transport planes to military theaters around the world." Steinway made about 3,000 Victory Verticals in 1942 and 1943, instruments that parachuted with tuning tools and instructions.
The arrival of a Victory Vertical was a welcomed gift in war. In a letter home from North Africa dated May 6, 1943, US Army Pvt. Kenneth Kranes told his mother:
Two nights past we received welcome entertainment when a jeep pulling a small wagon came to camp. The wagon contained a light system and a Steinway pianna [sic]... It is smaller and painted olive green, just like the jeep. We all got a kick out of it and sure had fun after meals when we gathered around the pianna to sing... I slept smiling and even today am humming a few of the songs we sang.
The name "Fido" for a dog may have been popularized by Abraham Lincoln, but the President's canine by that name met a tragic fate similar to that of his owner. With a moniker that means "fidelity" in Latin, Fido was a yellow-haired mutt the Lincoln family took in about 1855.
Fido was a companion to Lincoln in Springfield, IL, but remained in the Midwest when the Lincoln family went to Washington, DC. Carpenter John Eddy Roll watched Fido during that time, and according to a letter he sent Lincoln in 1862, the dog was "doing well."
The faithful canine attended Lincoln's April 1865 funeral in Springfield and spent the rest of his days there. His life was cut short at some point in 1866:
One day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing [who] in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido... So Fido, just a poor yellow dog, met the same fate as his illustrious master - assassination.
The drunken man was Charlie Planck, and in the immediate aftermath of the event, Fido went behind a nearby church, where the Rolls found him. They carried him home, buried him, and covered his grave with flowers.
Director, actor, and all-around funnyman Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky, served as a combat engineer during World War II, where he took part in the Battle of the Bulge and carried out reconnaissance operations in Germany. Of the experience, he later said, "I was a combat engineer. Isn’t that ridiculous? The two things I hate most in this world are combat and engineering."
Between November 1944 and May 1945, Brooks was tasked with deactivating land mines as a member of the 1104th Engineering Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry Division. As men on the front lines, Brooks and his fellow soldiers found themselves face-to-face with German forces on several occasions.
Brooks reportedly entertained soldiers on the battlefield, singing songs and trying to keep things light because "otherwise we'd all get hysterical, and that kind of hysteria - it's not like sinking, it's like slowly taking on water, and that's the panic."
Aaron Burr married his first wife, Theodosia Prevost, during the early 1780s, and they remained married until her passing in 1794. The couple had one daughter, also named Theodosia, who perished in a shipwreck in 1812.
In 1833, Burr remarried; his bride was Eliza Jumel, a wealthy socialite who'd met Burr years earlier. She described him as:
The perfection of manhood personified... In a word, he was a combined model of Mars and Apollo. His eye was of the deepest black, and sparkled with an incomprehensible brilliancy when he smiled; but if enraged, its power was absolutely terrific... I do not believe a female capable of the gentle emotions of love ever looked upon him without loving him.
By the time they married, however, Burr was 77 years old and in dire financial straits. The union only lasted four months, and when Jumel decided to divorce Burr, she chose Alexander Hamilton, Jr. as her attorney.
Decades earlier, the younger Hamilton lost his father during a duel with Burr. Perhaps still bitter about Burr's role in his father's demise and in the adultery scandal that had upended his family as well, Hamilton accused Burr of adultery and financial mismanagement. Both were true (or at least were alleged by Jumel), and divorce proceedings lasted for three years. The end of the marriage between Burr and Jumel was finalized on September 14, 1836 - the same day Burr died.
Before Johnny Cash made his mark on the country music scene, the "Man in Black" served in the US Air Force as a radio intercept officer. After his training in Texas, the Air Force sent him to Landsberg, West Germany, where he monitored Soviet radio traffic.
I was the ace. I was who they called when the hardest jobs came up. I copied the first news of Stalin's death. I located the signal when the first Soviet jet bomber made its first flight from Moscow to Smolensk; we all knew what to listen for, but I was the one who heard it....
This made him among the first Americans - if not the first - to know about the demise of the Soviet leader.
Long before the scandalous affairs of John Edwards or Bill Clinton, there was Warren G. Harding, another politician who didn't let a little thing like marriage get in the way of having multiple affairs. One of his mistresses, Nan Britton, was 31 years younger than Harding, and said the two began their relationship in 1917.
The affair continued for 6-and-a-half years, and in 1919, Britton gave birth to a child, Elizabeth Ann, whom she said was conceived in Harding's Senate office. Harding became president in 1921; Britton said the trysts continued in the White House in "a small closet in the anteroom." The president didn't meet his daughter, but provided financial support - at least while he was still alive. When he passed in 1923, Britton discovered he'd left nothing for her or her daughter, and wrote a tell-all book, The President's Daughter, to make ends meet.
Britton received heavy backlash, and many accused her of lying and defaming the late president's legacy, calling her a "pervert" and "degenerate." A feud continued between Harding's two lines of descendants. Nearly a century later, in 2015, genetic testing confirmed that Elizabeth Ann was indeed Harding's biological daughter.