Answers To 14 Questions From Weird History Fans That We'd Been Wondering About, Too

Voting Rules

Vote up the most satisfying answers to questions about history.

Questions don't always have clear answers, and when it comes to history, often there aren't answers at all. When asked to share the biggest questions they have about history, Weird History fans chimed in with some of the most curiosity-piquing inquiries out there. And we have to admit, we've wondered about a lot of them, too. 

Some of the questions and answers weave in a fair amount of speculation and theory. Such is the nature of history. But even some of the most vexing history conundrums can be solved. Vote up the answers to questions about history that are truly satisfying. 


  • Elvis Presley put on a show in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the first time in 1956. He was met with lackluster enthusiasm, but enjoyed the town and made it clear he wanted to spend more time there. Presley was able to find ways to get to Vegas, personally and professionally, notably filming 1963's Viva Las Vegas in the desert oasis.

    Four years later, Presley married his then-girlfriend, Priscilla, in an 8-minute ceremony at the Aladdin hotel. The ease and speed with which one could get a marriage license - at all hours of the night - facilitated the relatively covert event

    Presley spent the rest of his career visiting and performing in Vegas, becoming intricately linked to the city. His popular residency at the International Hotel in 1969 was a stark contrast to his first appearance in Vegas, with shows met by "roaring approval from his fans who all but threw themselves into the aisles and out of the balcony…." Return engagements, even as his career and health waned, lasted until his last Vegas show on December 12, 1976.

    Less than a year after Presley's death, the Graceland Wedding Chapel began holding Elvis-themed weddings. Perhaps inspired by Presley's own quickie wedding, short and relatively easy ceremonies officiated by Elvis impersonators became more and more common. Celebrities and regular Vegas visitors took part, all helped out by the minimal requirements and nonexistent waiting period to tie the knot.

    Having Elvis preside over one's wedding became an industry unto itself but, in June 2022, wedding chapels were told to stop. Legally, according to Presley's estate, wedding chapels were "clearly trading off the Elvis Presley intellectual property rights, image, name and likeness without the consent of Elvis Presley Enterprises."

    Those same wedding chapels argue they've helped keep Elvis relevant and have hired legal counsel. Lynn Marie Goya, the Clark County Clerk, put it this way:

    Elvis weddings have been around for decades and a number of businesses have built their livelihoods around sharing Elvis' joy of living with couples… It will be a sad day for Las Vegas -- and the world -- if he truly leaves the building.


     

    25 votes
  • Exactly How Much Was Lost In The Library Of Alexandria?
    Photo: Ambrose Dudley / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Alexandria, named for Alexander the Great (d. 323 BCE), was home to a museum that, in turn, housed the famed Library of Alexandria. The library, which might have included more than one structure, was founded by Ptolemy I Soter (d. 282 BCE) at the urging of scholar Demetrius of Phalerum to accommodate intellectuals.

    Demetrius designed the library with thousands of texts, laboratories, lecture areas, and comparable facilities. At its height, the Library of Alexandria reportedly housed thousands - if not millions - of works by authors from throughout the Mediterranean. Philosophical writings from Aristotle accompanied Buddhist religious texts and Hebrew scriptures, all carefully collected, copied, and translated by the library's in-house scholars. 

    Exactly what happened to the library remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. As Julius Caesar pushed into the harbor at Alexandria in 48 BCE, he set it aflame - a fire that quickly spread through the city, destroying the library. In another telling, the library escaped the worst of the fire, but documents kept at a warehouse near the port were wiped out as early as 20 BCE. By the fourth century CE, the remaining library facilities at Alexandria were targeted by Roman Emperor Theodosius I (d. 395 CE) to eliminate paganism within the empire. With the rise of Islam during the seventh century, Caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab was accused of destroying any and all works that contradicted the Koran

    Regardless of when the contents of the Library of Alexandria ceased to exist, many scholars believe that the loss of knowledge was a huge setback for civilization. With as many as 700,000 scrolls containing scientific, legal, historical, and other forms of information across disciplines, it can be likened to "losing access to the Internet and all its content," according to Aria Nouri, writing for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

    120 votes
  • When the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, 1915, it altered the trajectory of WWI. The boats sank after only 18 minutes, and roughly 1,200 passengers lost their lives. More than 100 Americans were aboard, including Alfred Vanderbilt. The millionaire, according to his grandson and namesake Alfred Vanderbilt III, “spent his last minutes trying to save children on the Lusitania.” 

    Even though the Lusitania was a passenger liner, the German navy had announced in February 1915 that it would fire upon civilian and military vessels alike if they carried armaments. The ship had been modified and was reportedly armed when it made its way from New York toward Liverpool, England, in May 1915. The ship's manifest noted 4,200 cases of cartridges and ammunition, and the Lusitania also carried shrapnel and fuses. 

    A report from the British Foreign Office dated July 30, 1982, stated:

    Successive British governments have always maintained that there [were] no munitions on board the Lusitania (and that the Germans were therefore in the wrong to claim to the contrary as an excuse for sinking the ship). The facts are that there is a large amount of ammunition in the wreck, some of which is highly dangerous. The Treasury have decided that they must inform the salvage company of this fact in the interests of the safety of all concerned. 

    In 2008, divers found evidence of ammunition that indicated “the Lusitania was functioning as more than a passenger liner," perhaps validating German arguments for firing upon the ship. There's no clarity as to who or what was behind the ammunition found in the ship's remains. 

    After the Lusitania went down, public opinion in support of intervention in the United States shifted, but it wasn't until 1917 that the US officially entered the conflict. 

    114 votes
  • What Was Napoleon's Biggest Victory On The Battlefield?
    Photo: Bogdan Willewalde / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The undoing of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815 is synonymous with an ultimate downfall. It also overshadows some of Bonaparte's successes, including the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The conflict took place in Austria and pitted Napoleon against Emperor Alexander I of Russia and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. 

    On December 2, 1805, Napoleon's outnumbered, outgunned forces and the coalition army engaged in a struggle that lasted most of the day. Napoleon successfully maneuvered his men as they countered several onslaughts by coalition forces. As Napoleon went on the offensive and marched through the morning fog, he quickly gained the advantage. In the end, Napoleon proved victorious. The French military lost roughly 10,000 men, while about 15,000 Russian and Austrian perished. Over 10,000 additional Russian and Austrian men were captured.  

    Two days later, France and Austria entered into a truce and, on December 26, the Treaty of Pressburg solidified peace. The treaty also recognized Napoleon as the king of Italy, dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, and generally gave the French leader control over Central Europe. 

    92 votes
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    140 VOTES

    Who Named The Planet 'Earth'?

    It's not possible to identify the person who gave our planet its moniker, but linguistics points to the origins of the word “Earth.” The term “earth” comes from German and Old English words for “ground" - "erde" and "eorthe/ertha," respectively.

    Earth is an outlier, the only planet in the solar system not named after a Greek or Roman god or goddess because in the ancient world, Earth wasn't considered a planet. Rather, it was land, home, and close instead of intangible and far away.

    140 votes
  • Did Dinosaurs Shed Their Skins?
    Photo: David W. E. Hone, Helmut Tischlinger, Xing Xu, Fucheng Zhang / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5
    6
    92 VOTES

    Did Dinosaurs Shed Their Skins?

    When researchers analyzed feathers from the Microraptor gui - a bird-like creature from the Cretaceous era - they were surprised to find “little white blobs. The stuff was everywhere; it was in between all the feathers,” said the study's lead author, Dr. Maria McNamara, who continued:

    We started wondering if it was a biological feature like fragments of shells, or reptile skin, but it's not consistent with any of those things. The only option left was that it was fragments of the skin that were preserved, and it's identical in structure to the outer part of the skin in modern birds, what we would call dandruff.

    What they had found were corneocytes - cells that match those of modern birds and humans alike. While the evidence indicated dinosaurs did shed skin, it wasn't in a full molt like a reptile. 

    This isn't to say that dinosaurs never molted. In fact, the presence of dandruff could be representative of the evolutionary process. Because Microraptors seemed to shed their feathers sequentially rather than all at once, they could fly in a manner that resembled modern birds. Previously, scientists believed bird ancestors didn't start flying until roughly 70 million years ago, but because of Microraptors, that date was pushed back to about 120 million years ago. 

    92 votes