Crazy Historical Facts That Are True – Or Are They?

History isn’t just about dusty old textbooks and the dates of long-forgotten battles; it’s a treasure trove of bizarre and astonishing tales that sound too outlandish to be true. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and nowhere does this resonate more than in the annals of history.

From emperors throwing wild parties for their horses to spies who masqueraded as exotic dancers, the past is peppered with episodes that could rival the most fantastical of today’s sitcom plots.

Imagine learning that a U.S. President had a penchant for skinny-dipping in the Potomac River or that a famed wartime leader’s dentures were made from hippopotamus ivory. These aren’t just concocted scenes from a comedy skit; they’re real snippets from the grand, often oddball, pageant of yesteryear. .

Buckle up for a historical roller coaster ride that’s as entertaining as it is educational.

Emperor Caligula’s Horse Senator

Once upon a time in the quirky annals of Rome, an emperor named Caligula had a certain equine friend, affectionately known as Incitatus. Sure, having a pet is ordinary, but throwing a horse into the political ring? Now that’s a bold move.

Although the idea of a horse attending Senate meetings is amusing, historical accounts indicate that Incitatus never actually trotted down the Senate aisles with a political agenda. It seems Caligula’s notoriety might have played a part in galloping this myth forward.

So, Incitatus remained a horse of leisure rather than a legislator on hooves, but for a moment, it seemed Rome’s political sphere could’ve had a little more horsepower.

Dancing Plague of 1518

Once upon a time in Strasbourg, something got into the townspeople’s shoes. In July of 1518, residents were bitten by an unstoppable dancing bug—metaphorically speaking. A woman named Frau Troffea began the solo performance on the streets and quickly turned it into the worst dance marathon ever.

Within a week, this woman’s impromptu jig gathered a fleet-footed following of 34 more boogie enthusiasts. By the month’s end, 400 people had succumbed to the groovy fever.

Imagine Line Dancing, but instead of spirits being high, everything was terribly wrong. There were no disco balls or judges, just sheer exhaustion and, believe it or not, fatalities.

Yes, people danced themselves to death.

It’s as if the town was hit by a funky spell, casting the townsfolk into dance puppets, much to the horror of local physicians. They prescribed “more dancing” to shake off the fever—a curious case of ‘fight fire with fire’ but with jazz hands and fancy footwork.

This peculiar incident strutted into history as the Dancing Plague of 1518. It remains one of history’s wacky footnotes—a true tale that even rhythm-impaired individuals can’t tap their toes to without a bit of awe and a whole lot of bewilderment.

Defenestration: A Window to the Past

Imagine having a disagreement and suddenly you’re airborne, courtesy of the nearest window. Welcome to the historical act of defenestration!

The term ‘defenestration’ may sound like the latest dance trend, but it’s actually a high-flying method of political dissent. Originating from the Latin words de (from, or down from) and fenestra (window), defenestration is the art of throwing someone out of a window. Though in modern parlance, it’s more about ousting people from power.

In Prague, they took the term quite literally with a series of these window-centric oustings.

For instance, the First Defenestration of Prague in 1419 kick-started a Bohemian revolt. A room with a view quickly turned into a departure lounge, albeit less comfortable and with a much faster check-out time.

The 1618 Defenestration of Prague set the Thirty Years’ War into motion. This wasn’t just a fallout among friends; it was a literal plunge from power, as three Catholic officials were sent soaring out of Prague Castle’s windows by Protestant activists.

One could say the officials found themselves in a transitional phase, politically and gravitationally.

Banana Republics: Not Just A Clothing Store

Once upon a time in history, not so long ago, “Banana Republic” didn’t just refer to a place where one could purchase a snazzy pair of chinos. Oh no, it described a nation more fruitful and contentious than any shopping spree.

The term was coined by none other than O. Henry, a clever wordsmith who probably didn’t anticipate his coinage would one day be associated with stylish wardrobes.

A Banana Republic was essentially a tropical dictatorship, often in Central America, where bananas were king and corruption was queen. They thrived on the exportation of bananas, no surprises there, and the involvement of foreign corporations.

The American author O. Henry might have thought he was being rather smart throwing around such a term after his own escapades in Honduras in the late 1800s, perhaps not foreseeing it would come to represent a troubling era of exploitation and economic imperialism.

The Great Emu War

In 1932, Australia found itself embroiled in what can only be described as an unusual conflict: The Great Emu War. It wasn’t a rebellion or a coup, but rather a large-scale bird-hunt gone awry.

The combatants?

A flock of particularly destructive emus and a group of exasperated farmers, backed by the Australian military. These were no ordinary birds; they were emus on a rampage, ravaging the Western Australian wheat crops.

The Strategy?

Armed with machine guns and military tactics, one might assume the soldiers had the upper wing—er, hand. However, they soon learned that their avian adversaries were surprisingly evasive.

Despite the soldiers’ efforts, the emus deployed guerrilla tactics: scattering and merging, making them difficult targets. The result? A hasty retreat for humans and a victory squawk from the emus.

The Aftermath:

  • Minimal impact: Despite numerous rounds of ammunition discharged, only a fraction of the emu population was reduced.
  • Lesson learned: Nature can’t easily be suppressed by military might.

Australia’s venture to protect its wheatlands from the feathered fiends ended up becoming the punchline of history. The Great Australian Emu War remains a baffling reminder that sometimes, the bird is indeed the word.

Operation Paul Bunyan: The Tree That Almost Started a War

Once upon a time in the demilitarized zone of Korea, a poplar tree found itself the unwitting protagonist in a tale of near-apocalyptic tension. The year was 1976, and the tree’s overzealous growth had obscured the view between United Nations Command (UNC) checkpoints.

A seemingly mundane mission to give this particular poplar a trim escalated into a deadly confrontation, now known as the Korean axe murder incident, involving North Korean forces and the American and South Korean militaries.

The incident occurred as U.S. and South Korean service members were attacked by North Korean soldiers, resulting in the tragic death of two American officers. The response from the United States, Operation Paul Bunyan, was named after the legendary giant lumberjack, signaling a show of overwhelming force without escalating into full-blown conflict.

In an absurd flex of military muscle, a task force of vehicles and troops, including engineers and a South Korean taekwondo team(!), was deployed to complete the most intense landscaping job in history. The show of power was effective.

The tree met its end, and while the tensions remained high, the immediate threat of war whittled down just like the branches of that ill-fated poplar.

A Game of Chess: The Fate of 16th Century Spain

Two opposing sides face off on a grand chessboard, surrounded by 16th century Spanish architecture. The tension is palpable as the fate of Spain hangs in the balance

In the annals of the peculiar, Spain’s sixteenth century had the curious case of kings and queens locking horns on a battlefield of black and white squares. Chess wasn’t merely a game—it was the game that captured the imagination of Spanish nobility with as much gusto as a soap opera captures the prime-time audience today.

Ruy López de Segura, a Spanish priest and chess aficionado, trotted out moves that would make him the era’s equivalent of a rock star, minus the tight pants and the long hair. His claim to fame? The Ruy López opening, a series of strategic maneuvers still popular in chess tournaments today.

The Spaniards assimilated chess, known to them as Shatranj, from their cordial neighborhood conquistadors, the Arabs. King Philip II was so captivated by the strategic depth of the game that he often engaged in the cerebral battle with visiting dignitaries, diplomats, and perhaps the occasional court jester when he was in need of a confidence boost.

Keys to the KingdomChesspiece Counterpart
KingCaution! Moves one square
QueenThe battlefield’s bulldozer
Bishop and KnightSubtly slinking sidekicks

In the sixteenth century, Spain’s very social fabric seemed to mirror a chessboard. Decisions were meticulously played out with the patience worthy of a grandmaster, and court intrigues spun webs stickier than a checkmate by the queen.

In today’s chucklesome retrospect, one wonders if courtly life was just a game of chess writ large, with each move by the highborn leading to victory or, occasionally, a toppled king.

When the Olympics Awarded Medals for Art

Once upon a time, the Olympic Games were more than just a display of athletic prowess and countries counting their golds like dragons hoarding treasure. From 1912 to 1952, they had a softer side, bestowing honors upon those who wielded brushes and chisels rather than javelins and discuses.

Artists could compete for the same shiny accolades that the sweatiest of sprinters could, in categories that included architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture.

The art had to be Olympics-themed, because apparently everything did. Imagine the Herculean task of relating a sonnet to shot put or a concerto to cycling! Yet, these art contests were taken quite seriously.

For example, it’s noted that the only event in which the judges awarded a medal other than gold was Sculpture.

Gold Modules for Rhythmic Gymnasts of the Brush

Yes, they actually used to give out Olympic Medals for Art, making the term ‘artistic gymnastics’ doubly meaningful.

A Multi-Talented Bunch

Walter Winans was an American double threat who won gold for sculpture at one Games and then turned around to pick up another for shooting at another. Talk about a good aim!

Vatican City’s Astronomical Wine Consumption

The Vatican's wine cellar overflowing with ancient barrels, surrounded by historical documents and artifacts

Believe it or not, within the pious and hallowed grounds of Vatican City, the clergy might be performing water-into-wine miracles more often than we think.

This tiny sovereign state, nestled within the heart of Rome, has historically been associated with an impressively high wine consumption rate.

  • Per Capita Conundrum: What sets Vatican City apart isn’t just the architectural marvels or the spiritual leadership; it’s the per capita wine consumption.
  • Every person there seems to prefer a chalice of wine over a mug of coffee.
  • Quantity Queries: Data once pointed to the fact that this enclave consumed more wine per head than any other country.
  • Let that soak in: per head, even babies are theoretically accounted for in the wine statistics. Talk about being born into a culture!
  • Historical Hiccup: Although in 2017, Vatican City was dethroned from its high-consuming perch by Norfolk Island.
  • One imagines a tiny island staging a coup, pitting its residents against the Vatican’s clergymen in a mythical wine-drinking contest.

It’s not that the denizens of Vatican City are engaging in divine bacchanals, but rather the symbolic significance of wine in the rituals and the fact that the population is mostly comprised of adults who are, let’s say, spiritually obliged to partake in the fruit of the vine regularly.

Let’s raise a toast to Vatican City—an area where being ‘holier than thou’ might come with notes of oak and a full body. Cheers!