Weird History Staff Share Their Top Facts Of 2021

List Rules
Vote up the most fascinating facts of 2021.

It's fair to say that we here at Weird History come across many strange and interesting facts in our content creation process. There are some facts we just plain like more than others. 

Whether it's the story of an absurd lie that somehow worked, the unique ATMs of The Vatican, or the simple fact that we've been saying our favorite children's author's name wrong all along, this collection showcases some of our favorite little morsels of information from the past year. 

  • 1
    280 VOTES

    The Washoe Tribe Approached The Donner Party To Offer Them Food

    From Brenden Donnelly:

    One of my favorites of the year was the Washoe Tribe Donner Party item in this list. The Donner Party story is one of those stories that’s always passed around due to [its] macabre nature, and used to exemplify how difficult the Oregon Trail was. But the fact the Washoe Tribe offered help throughout the journey, and the Donner Party rejected it, turns the tragedy into an incredible story of historical schadenfreude.

    In 1846, settlers from Illinois began their trek westward. The so-called Donner Party - named after Jacob and George Donner who directed the group - suffered a series of setbacks in their journey that culminated in a snowstorm. Bogged down in the snow, the scene turned horrific when the group of stranded settlers supposedly resorted to cannibalism.

    The Donner Party wasn't really alone, however; members of the local Washoe tribe apparently tried to offer assistance to the starving group. This story has existed in Washoe oral history since the 19th century. Indeed, archaeologist Julie Schablitsky has even uncovered archaeological supporting evidence:

    Until now the Native American perspective has been left out of the telling of the Donner tragedy, not because the Wel Mel Ti did not remember the pioneers, but because they were never asked, or perhaps were not ready to share. Their oral tradition recalls the starving strangers who camped in an area that was unsuitable for that time of year. Taking pity on the pioneers, the northern Washoe attempted to feed them, leaving rabbit meat and wild potatoes near the camps.

    Another account states that they tried to bring the Donner Party a deer carcass, but were shot at as they approached. Later, some Wel Mel Ti observed the migrants eating human remains. Fearing for their lives, the area's native inhabitants continued to watch the strangers but avoided further contact. [...] The migrants at Alder Creek were not surviving in the mountains alone - the northern Washoe were there, and they had tried to help.

  • 2
    246 VOTES

    Duct Tape Was The Result Of A Concerned Mother's Letter To The President During World War II

    This was a great little story about how one mother's persistence made a big difference. 

    Before the advent of duct tape, ammunition boxes were dipped in wax and sealed with thin paper tape with an exposed tab intended for easy opening. The tape's lack of strength meant these tabs frequently tore off and left soldiers desperately scrambling to open the boxes under fire. 

    An Illinois ordnance plant worker named Vesta Stoudt had the answer - a durable waterproof tape to seal the ammunition boxes. But her attempts to have the right tape used fell flat, so she took her concerns up the chain of command. All the way up

    You have sons in the service also. We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open, the enemy taking their lives, that could have been saved... I didn’t know who to write to Mr. President, so have written you hoping for your boys, my boys, and every man that uses the rifle grenade, that this package of rifle cartridges may be taped with the correct tape.

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt was suitably impressed and ordered the production of “duck tape” to begin immediately. The tape’s original name came from it being waterproof like the feathers of a duck and made with cotton duck fabric. 

  • A Prisoner Spent 46 Years On The Run After Driving The Warden To A Brothel
    Photo: The National Map, US Geological Survey / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    185 VOTES

    A Prisoner Spent 46 Years On The Run After Driving The Warden To A Brothel

    When researching items for a piece about the longest manhunts, Leonard Fristoe's absolutely ridiculous escape really stood out. 

    In 1920, Leonard T. Fristoe was sentenced to life in prison for two slayings but escaped after three years. After driving the prison warden to a brothel (really!), he and an accomplice took the opportunity to flee. 

    Some 46 years later, a frail 77-year-old man appeared before a Nevada judge. A local newspaper described the scene:

    The snowy-haired fugitive was helped from the courtroom witness stand by several sheriff’s deputies who called him "Pop."

    Pop whispered to the judge that he just wanted to "go back and get it over with." He only served five months of his sentence; he was pardoned by the governor, who didn't see the sense of having an older adult live out his few remaining days in custody. 

  • From Elle Tharp

    We've all been saying Dr. Seuss's name wrong, and eventually he just went with it.

    Dr. Seuss took his pen name from his actual name, Theodor Seuss Geisel. "Seuss," as most of us know it, rhymes with "moose." Except it actually doesn't.

    Seuss is a German name, with the correct pronunciation rhyming with "voice." Over the years, Dr. Seuss eventually gave up on correcting the mispronunciation. But one of his friends, Alexander Liang, came up with a handy little poem to help us all remember:

    You’re wrong as the deuce

    And you shouldn’t rejoice

    If you’re calling him Seuss.

    He pronounces it Soice (or Zoice).

  • 5
    148 VOTES

    Chicken, A Town In Alaska, Got Its Name Because Of A Spelling Problem

    From Elle Tharp:

    I enjoyed learning about the existence and origin story of Chicken, AK.

    You may not have heard of the town of Chicken, AK: population 12 (as of 2019). The small town is notable for its funny name, and even funnier origin story. Gold miners founded Chicken in the late 1800s. They managed to survive the harsh Alaskan life by eating wild and plentiful ptarmigan, the Alaskan state bird, which looks similar to a chicken.

    When deciding what to name the town, residents wanted to pay homage to the ptarmigan. But they couldn't decide on the correct spelling and didn't want to embarrass themselves, so they called it a day and named their home "Chicken" instead.

  • A 69-Year-Old Veteran Of The War Of 1812 Insisted On Fighting Because Civil War Rebels Messed With His Cows
    Photo: Timothy H. O'Sullivan / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    133 VOTES

    A 69-Year-Old Veteran Of The War Of 1812 Insisted On Fighting Because Civil War Rebels Messed With His Cows

    From Gordon Cameron

    I was excited to learn the John Burns Gettysburg story from the Civil War Podcast.

    When Confederate and Union soldiers first squared off in and around Gettysburg, PA, on July 1, 1863, most of the town's 2,400 civilian residents did what they could to get out of the way, either staying shut up in their houses and basements or leaving for someplace calmer. Some rose to the occasion, taking on roles such as nursing injured soldiers.

    One of them even insisted on joining the fight.

    John Burns, 69 (some sources say he was older), had fought a half-century earlier in the War of 1812, and could not abide a bunch of rebels taking over his hometown. Upon hearing the sounds of combat on July 1, he told his wife he wanted to see what was going on, grabbed his old flintlock musket, and left his house.

    Burns approached several Union officers, offering his services. The Union men were mostly amused by this peculiar character, but Burns wouldn't go away, and eventually was able to get a more modern rifle from a wounded soldier. As the fighting heated up, Burns calmly took position behind a tree and began firing at the advancing Confederates. He was wounded three times in the intense fighting that day.

    Sgt. George Eustice later described Burns's participation:

    It must have been about noon when I saw a little old man coming up in the rear... I remember he wore a swallow-tailed coat with smooth brass buttons. He had a rifle on his shoulder. We boys began to poke fun at him as soon as he came amongst us, as we thought no civilian in his senses would [put] himself in such a place...

    [When asked what] possessed him to come out there at such a time, he replied that the rebels had either driven away or milked his cows, and that he was going to be even with them. About this time the enemy began to advance. Bullets were flying thicker and faster, and we hugged the ground about as close as we could. Burns got behind a tree and surprised us all by not taking a double-quick to the rear. He was as calm and collected as any veteran on the ground...

    I never saw John Burns after our movement to the right, when we left him behind his tree, and only know that he was true blue and grit to the backbone, and fought until he was three times wounded.

    Later, the injured Burns had to be left behind by Union soldiers as they retreated through the town. The Confederates discovered him. If they had known he was fighting out of uniform, they might have executed him. But Burns had gotten rid of his weapon and pretended he was just a helpless civilian who had been caught in the crossfire. Confederate surgeons treated him, and he was allowed to return home.

    Burns is memorialized with a statue on the Gettysburg battlefield, and his valor was called out in an after-action report by Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday:

    My thanks are specially due to a citizen of Gettysburg named John Burns who although over 70 years of age shouldered his musket and offered his services to Colonel Wister, One Hundred and Fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Colonel Wister advised him to fight in the woods as there was more shelter there but he preferred to join our line of skirmishers in the open fields. When the troops retired he fought with the Iron Brigade. He was wounded in three places.