There's no way to keep track of all the weird stuff we've gotten up to over the past 5000 years of recorded history. Some of these stories are heartbreaking, some are creepy, some are downright outrageous. All of them have one thing in common they're pretty darn unbelievable. Thankfully I've added sources at the bottom of each story, so you can see for yourself. Enjoy!
The 1904 olympic Marathon was definitely one of the weirdest events in history.
The first runner to arrive at the finish line was Fred Lorz. He was hailed as the winner, had his photograph taken with Alice Roosevelt (the daughter of the U.S. President at the time, President Theodore Roosevelt), and was just stepping up to get his gold medal when ....wwwwwwaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttt just a gosh darn minute!
As it turns out, Fred Lorz had gotten a little tired midway through the race, and had hailed himself a ride back to the finish line. He actually intended this to be his self-disqualification (or, dropping out of the race), and was waving at fans and spectators along the ride. However, the car broke down at the 19th mile, and Lorz hopped out and jogged across the finish line. When they told him he had won, he decided to go with it.
After the scandal came out, Lorz said he had been joking. The AAU wasn't laughing they banned him for the competition for life. Turns out, they gained a sense of humor the next year and lifted the ban.
Okay, so what about the real gold medalist?
Thomas Hicks, from Britain (who ran for the US), won the event, though it was under extremely bizarre circumstances that definitely wouldn't be okay today. Hicks was 10 miles away from the finish line, and in the lead, and he wasn't feeling so great. It turns out, his coach had been giving him small doses of strychnine sulfate a common rat poison, which stimulates the nervous system in small doses mixed with brandy. At that point, Hicks had started hallucinating and stumbling, barely able to hold himself up. So what did his support team do? They gathered around him and held him up, and two others moved his feet back and fouth as if he were still running, for the rest of the race. The man was literally almost blacked out, and was being propped up by a team of ill-prepared coaches. The judges (somehow) decided that this was still acceptable, and awarded him the gold.
So what happened to poor Thomas Hicks? He had to be carried away from the track, couldn't accept his medal, and nearly died, but thanks to immediate medical treatment from nearby doctors, his life was saved. He never ran professionally again.
But wait. It gets even better.
The fourth place winner was a man who wasn't even supposed to run in the race. He was a Cuban postman named Andarn Carvajal, who decided he wanted to "try out the race" after he had lost all his money in New Orleans. He thought maybe the marathon would be a shot to earning some money. So, what did he do? He hitchhiked to St. Louis, but forgot his running shorts, so he cut off the legs of his trousers to make them look like shorts. Oh, he also had forgotten to eat before the race. In fact, he hadn't eaten anything in the past forty hours, because he had run out of money, so part way through the race he spotted an apple orchard and decided to take a snack break. Well, it turns out the apples were rotten, which made his stomach churn. Despite all this, he finished fourth.
This marathon was also the first Olympics that allowed Black Africans to compete. Len Tau (Len Tauyane) and Yamasani (Jan Mashiani) weren't actually supposed to be competing that day. In fact, they had been brought to St. Louis as part of the Boer War exhibit. They finished 9th and 12th, though this was a huge disappointment to a lot of people, who believed that Len Tau probably would have finished 1st if he hadn't been chased for a mile in the wrong direction by a pack of dogs.
Seriously. Why isn't this a movie, yet?
Some time around the year 400, an ex-Christian monk named Simeon the Stylite (the Greek word style means "pillar") decided he had had enough with contemporary society. He went to great lengths to shut himself off for the world, but people sought him out for spiritual advice, which kind of cramped Simeon's hermetic lifestyle. He tried a couple of tactics:
First, he secluded himself in a hut for a year and a half. During this time, he went for the entire 40 days of Lent without eating or drinking, which was hailed a miracle, upon his emergence from the hut. This didn't do well for Simeon as it positioned him as a kind of spiritual leader that people turned to for advice. Simeon wanted to spent time on his own devotions, though, so he climbed up to the top of Sheik Barakat Mountain, and chose to live in a teeny tiny space less than 20 meters in diameter.
But, alas, he couldn't deter the pilgrims. They invaded his mountainous seclusion in search of advice or prayer. Still, Simeon wanted more time for his own devotions. He needed to take it to a new level. It has been stated that, as he seemed to be unable to avoid escaping the world horizontally, he may have thought to attempt to try to escape it vertically.
Simeon found a pillar that had survived among ruins in Telanissa (modern-day Taladah in Syria). It stretched fifty feet into the air, and was less than one square meter in diameter, and wrapped with a banister. Simeon, in his near-obsessive search for the perfectly hermetic location, decided to climb to the top of this tall and tiny pillar, and make it his new home.
Then he proceeded to live there for the next forty years.
He asked boys from the nearby village to bring him food and water, which he may have pulled up in buckets via a pulley system.
When the monastic Elders heard word of Simeon on the tower, they thought it would be a good idea to determine whether these extreme feats were due to humility and asceticism, or in pride. In other words, was Simeon just doing this to be famous? They decided that they would order him to come down from the pillar. If Simeon didn't obey, they would drag him down. If he was willing to submit, they would let him stay. Well, Simeon was completely compliant, so they let him stay where he was.
Edward Gibbon in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire describes Simeon's life as follows:
In this last and lofty station, the Syrian Anachoret resisted the heat of thirty summers, and the cold of as many winters. Habit and exercise instructed him to maintain his dangerous situation without fear or giddiness, and successively to assume the different postures of devotion. He sometimes prayed in an erect attitude, with his outstretched arms in the figure of a cross, but his most familiar practice was that of bending his meagre skeleton from the forehead to the feet; and a curious spectator, after numbering twelve hundred and forty-four repetitions, at length desisted from the endless account. The progress of an ulcer in his thigh might shorten, but it could not disturb, this celestial life; and the patient Hermit expired, without descending from his column.
So, how did this plan work for Simeon's hermetic aspirations? It didn't exactly deter the people. In fact, the new pillar attracted crowds from near and far people who wanted to see him for spiritual guidance, as well as people who just wanted to come see the guy who lived on the pillar. Simeon seemed more open to the idea, though, because he was able to restrict when people could visit. He made himself available each afternoon to talk to visitors, who could ascend to speaking distance by climbing a ladder. He also wrote letters, instructed disciples, and lectured to the crowds below.
Looks like it worked out for Simeon.
In 1054 AD, there was a supernova a massive star dying in a fiery explosion at the end of its life which they referred to as a "guest star." This particular supernova was extreme. "The star shone roughly four times brighter than Venus. It remained visible in the night sky for 653 days."
At its brightest, it lit up the whole sky during the night for a month.
Supernovas in our galaxy are very rare we haven't seen one since 1604, which was before the invention of the telescope.
What's really incredible about the supernova in China, though, is that astronomers in the 1920s realized that the Crab Nebula is actually the remnants of that exploded stars.
There has been a lot written about the WWI and WWII. The accounts that often fail to reach the surface, are the first hand accounts written by people who were down in the trenches at the time. Many of these men didn't make it, but their writing outlived them, and provides a stark look into the horrors of the time. The following are excerpts from some of these accounts:
"The sun swelled up the dead with gas and often turned them blue, almost navy blue. Then, when the gas escaped, the bodies dried up like mummies and were frozen in their death positions... sitting bodies, kneeling bodies, bodies in almost every position, though most lay on their bellies or on their backs."
In the trenches...
"The crows pecked out the eyes and rats lived on bodies that lay in abandoned dugouts. These rats were very large and quite fearless, their familiarity with the dead having made them contemptuous of the living. One night one fell on my face in a dugout and bit me."
"Where we fought several times over the same ground bodies became incorporated in the material of the trenches themselves."
Dealing with all the death...
"They were putrid, with the consistency of Camembert cheese. I once fell and put my hand right through the belly of a man. It was days before I got the smell out of my nails."
"Even worse was that each one was crawling with maggots and covered inches deep with a black fur of flies which flew up into your face, mouth, eyes and nostrils."
"No one could expect the men to handle these bodies unless the officers did their share. We worked with sandbags on our hands, stopping every now and then to puke."
"Churches, houses, woods, and hedgerows had all disappeared. The distance was shrouded by rain and mist, from out of which the boom of gunfire came distant and muffled."
Check out more personal accounts from the war here.
The story of H.H. Holmes is an incredibly haunting part of American history more specifically, the history of Chicago. Buckle up for this one, folks, because it's about to get creepy.
In the summer of 1886, a man named Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as either Dr. Henry Howard Holmes or H.H. Holmes, moved to Chicago. When he arrived, he went into Elizabeth S. Holton's drugstore at the southwest corner of South Wallace Avenue and West 63rd Street in Englewood, to apply for a job. H.H. Holmes scored the job, and proved himself as a hard working employee to Elizabeth Holton. He remained an employee there for a while, and eventually bought an empty lot across the street.
H.H. Holmes started construction of a three-story, mixed-use building, complete with apartments, retail spaces, a new (competing) drug store, and a hotel. During the construction of the building, H.H. Holmes constantly replaced workers, rotating people in and out, and firing them halfway through jobs with the claim that they were "insufficient." This served two purposes one, he didn't have to pay for as much labor, because he constantly told people they weren't good enough. Two (and here's where it gets creepy), he wanted to ensure that no one caught wind of his master plan: murder. The bizarre hotel was filled with stairways that led to nowhere, doors that opened onto brick wall, and doors with perplexing locks that could seal a person inside.
Every bedroom was soundproofed. Some were equipped with gas lines that were controlled from the other side of the wall. One of the rooms was sealed up, and could only be entered through a trapdoor in the ceiling. Some doors were rigged with alarms to track the movements of guests. One secret room on the second floor was deemed the "secret hanging chamber" by Holmes.
Yep. H.H. Holmes was building a murder castle.
One of Holmes' earliest known murders was that of Julia Smythe. Julia Smythe was the wife of Alex Conner, but was also acting as mistress to Holmes on the side. Conner had moved into Holmes' building and got a job at the pharmacy's jewelry counter on the first floor. After he found out about Smythe's affair, he moved away, leaving behind not only Smythe, but their daughter, Pearl. Smythe remained in the hotel, taking care of her daughter, and continuing her relatinship with H.H. Holmes. That Christmas, both of them disappeared. H.H. Holmes claimed that she had died whilst receiving an abortion, though most people agree that they were H.H. Holmes' first ever victims.
Whether or not this is true, there is no denying what H.H. Holmes did next.
Emeline Cigrade began working in the building in May 1892, and disappeared that December. Edna Van Tassel entered the building and was never seen again. Over and over, people went into the Murder Castle, and were never seen again. This serial killer wasn't seeking people out they were coming to him. "In was into this labyrinth that Holmes lured his victims. He would asphyxiate them, hang them, even seal them up in vault-like chambers to let them die of starvation or thirst. Their bodies were placed in a dummy elevator or dropped down a secret metal chute that led to the basement."
In his basement, Holmes would then examine and dissect the bodies. He would sell their bones and organs to the medical communities, and dispose of their remains using a combination of lime pits, acid baths, and giant furnaces. This murder castle was rigged to the nines.
When he was caught, H.H. Holmes confessed to 27 murders, though some sources have speculated there were more than 200. When authorities raided the house, they had a hard time finding victims, as all their bodies had been disposed of very thoroughly. Here is some of the disturbing stuff they found:
- A maze of torture chambers
- Secret chutes (for bodies)
- The dissection area in the basement
- A mound of human and animal bones, including bones of children
- A pile of bloody women's clothing
- A gold chain
- A women's shoe (found inside a large stove on the third floor)
H.H. Holmes was hanged on May 7, 1896. He requested, before his death, to be buried in a coffin encased in cement, and buried 10 feet deep. Ironically, he had a fear of being dissected.
Pope Gregory IX lived from 1145 to 1241 AD. He was born Ugolino di Conti, but took the name Gregory when he became Pope, at age 80.
Pope Gregory had a thing against cats, most specifically black cats. So, as one of his first orders of business, he created a public degree, known as a "Vox in Rama", that condemned any form of devil worship. In that document, he included cats, stating that they were the animals of the devil.
He then had cats exterminated in droves.
Well, it turns out that cats are pretty darn useful, especially in a time where rats, mice, and other rodents ran rampant in the streets and in homes. It wasn't a huge deal until...
About 50 years later, the Black Plague broke out in Eurasia. It was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, snatching the lives of 75 million to 200 million people across Europe and Asia. To put that into perspective, that meant that about 50% of the entire population of Europe died. If you didn't die, half your family and friends did.
One of the leading theories of the carriers of said plague? Rats. Well, to be more specific, fleas that travelled on the backs of travelling rats.
In the fifty years following the reign of Pope Gregory IX, people everywhere started hating on black cats. It was incredibly common to kill all black cats, as a "service" to the community, because, as Pope Gregory would have it, these were devil cats.
So, by the time the rats started spreading themselves all over Europe, carrying the Black Plague, there were no cats to keep them away or kill them.
Obviously, there is no way to directly link Pope Gregory IX to the spreading of one of the most horrifying diseases of all of human history, but there is pretty strong evidence to suggest that he had a strong hand in how far and wide it spread.
Who knows... maybe Pope Gregory was right all along, and black cats are the devil. After all, starting the Black Plague would have been a pretty great revenge.