Have you ever heard a historical story and thought "there's no way that happened!"
It could have been in a book, a movie, or part of a TV series - some embellishment to make history sound more entertaining. It's possible the historical event was just a tidbit that got lost in translation, or something created out of thin air for a host of possible reasons. It doesn't really matter why, but there's a good reason your shock may be unnecessary; history's full of bizarre happenings that sound like fiction, but are shockingly true.
From officials falling off trains or into cesspools, to accidental invasions and foul-mouthed parrots, these stories sound made-up but aren't. Vote up the ones that surprise you the most!
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The Largest Man-Made Explosion In The Pre-Atomic Era Happened In Canada In 1917
The collision between the Norwegian SS Imo and the French SS Mont Blanc in Nova Scotia's Halifax Harbor triggered a massive explosion on December 6, 1917. The Mont Blanc, a freighter vessel, was carrying more than 2,500 tons of explosive material that detonated shortly after the two ships collided.
The Mont Blanc was pushed toward the pier and, when the explosion occurred, nearly 2,000 people perished instantly. More than 200 were blinded and as many as 9,000 individuals were injured. Thousands more were left homeless.
In addition to the destruction at the harbor and in the city of Halifax, transportation networks throughout the region were disrupted by the blast. Because Halifax served as an international hub for communication, commerce, and wartime mobilization, rail lines were especially busy in the area. When telegraph worker Vincent Coleman realized passenger trains were incoming to the disaster zone, he remained at his post to deter their approach.
One message he sent before he died, according to records at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, read:
Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.
Henry VI, King of Germany, gathered his noblemen and members of the clergy to resolve a territorial dispute on July 26, 1184. He brought the group together at Erfurt, where they met on the second floor of one of king's official buildings.
The weight from all the people in the room was too much for the floor and, after an unspecified amount of time, it gave way. Dozens of men fell through and landed in the cesspool below. Reportedly 60 people perished: some were crushed, while others drowned.
Henry only survived because he was seated in an alcove and not on the main floor.
The Orient Express first ran in 1883, traveling a route across Europe that changed numerous times during its tenure. Before ending service in 2009, the train was almost synonymous with luxury and prestige. Passengers included members of the global elite and world leaders, such as former French President Paul Deschanel, who took a trip on the Orient Express in 1920, but left the train under unusual circumstances.
On the night of May 23, he fell from the train onto the tracks - while still wearing his pajamas and one slipper. He may have opened a window to get some air, or simply walked out the wrong door. When he made his way to the closest signal box he could find, Deschanel told the signalman: "I am the President of France." The man replied: "And I'm the Emperor Napoleon."
Johan de Witt was the grand pensionary in the Netherlands during the mid-1600s, a position that allowed him to grow a vast amount of political influence in the country. He was also a skilled mathematician who implemented economic and commercial policies that escalated European rivalries and led to war.
As a result, de Witt was increasingly at odds with the House of Orange and its supporters, who were intent on restoring a member of the house as head of state. When France and England united against the Netherlands in 1672 - a year called "Rampjaar" or "Disaster Year" - de Witt was forced to resign.
Despite leaving office, neither he nor his brother Cornelius were able to escape the unruly mob that gathered at The Hague on August 20, 1672. Both men were attacked, killed, and mutilated, with the offenders allegedly consuming their livers or other parts of their bodies in the process.
The pirate known as Blackbeard, or Edward Teach, sailed through the West Indies and along the eastern coast of North America. As a former privateer serving England, Blackbeard secured his own ship in 1717, reportedly inflicting terror with his facial hair aflame until his demise the next year.
In May 1718, Blackbeard blockaded Charleston, SC, for six days, during which time he demanded medicine be handed over to him and his crew. His ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, ran aground soon after and, when it was discovered in 1996, the contents revealed the medicine chest he'd received. Inside was a urethral syringe, commonly used to treat syphilis by injecting mercury. Another device present was a clyster pump, used to quicken the efficacy of medical enemas.
The medical equipment on Blackbeard's ship led to speculation that the pirate and his men needed the supplies to treat their own venereal diseases, but as archaeologist Linda Carnes-McNaughton pointed out, "Eventually the mercury kills you."
Tycho Brahe, a 16th-century Danish astronomer, has been credited with making some of the most accurate celestial observations prior to the invention of the telescope. He built numerous instruments and recorded his findings for future scientists, but reportedly had some unique interests.
In a letter exchange with one of his associates, Landgrave Wilhelm of Kassel, Brahe offered to send the fellow astronomer one of his moose (also called elk at the time). Landgrave requested a tame moose, at which point Brahe explained what had recently happened to his own tame moose. The creature had imbibed too much potent beer, stumbled, and fell down some nearby stairs. The moose broke its leg and later died.
Brahe is also known for his nose. When he and another mathematician dueled in 1566, Brahe lost a significant portion of his nose. As a result, he wore a metal replacement crafted out of brass.