Let’s face it, the world can be tough. There is war and illness and prejudice, hunger and hopelessness. It can be easy to forget that there is still a lot of good in the world. But for every tragedy, there is a rescue, and for every disaster, a miracle. This list collects some of those miracles as a reminder that the world can be a beautiful place. Here are 42 uplifting facts about real-life happy endings and miracles.
1. The Baby Catcher
In 1937, a baby fell out of the fourth story window of a Detroit apartment building. It would have spelled certain death for the newborn had it not been for a street sweeper named Joseph Figlock. Figlock was making his rounds, and happened to be passing just under the building at the time. The baby fell—quite literally—right into Figlock’s hands. Talk about a real-life happy ending!
2. A Clean Sweep
Against astonishing odds, Figlock was passing under a different apartment building a year later when yet another child fell from a fourth-floor window. The unlikely coincidence made Figlock a minor celebrity and earned him a small write-up in Time magazine.
3. Well, Well, Well
Speaking of falling babies…In 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure tumbled down a well in Midland, Texas. For nearly three days, “Baby Jessica” became a media sensation as rescuers worked to free the little girl from the well.
4. It Takes a Village
It took a team effort to free Baby Jessica. Midland was an oil-town, and local oil rig workers and miners readily lent their expertise, helping to drill a parallel tunnel to the well. A local man with cleidocranial dysostosis (a genetic condition with results in a lack of collarbones), volunteered to squeeze into the tight tunnel and pull Baby Jessica free.
5. Safe and Sound
All the time while Baby Jessica was at the bottom of the well, paramedics monitored her health and safety. The faint echoes of her singing “Winnie the Pooh” assured everyone on the surface that she was okay. In a happy turn of events, Jessica was successfully pulled from the well with just a scrape on her head, and a broken toe which had to be amputated.
6. In the News
The frantic rescue of Baby Jessica dominated the news for those three days in October 1987. More than three million people tuned in to CNN to watch the coverage—to that point, the highest ever ratings for the relatively new cable news network. A television movie was made. Even President Ronald Reagan weighed in on the rescue. Jessica, now 33, has no recollection of the event.
7. Million Dollar Baby
A trust fund was set up for Baby Jessica during the rescue. When she turned 25, Jessica McClure received $800,000, money she used to buy a house and set up a college fund for her children. Today, Jessica McClure is married with two children, and lives just two miles from the well that changed her life.
8. Tragic Hero
The story of Baby Jessica’s rescue does not have a happy ending for everyone, unfortunately. The man credited with pulling Jessica from the well, paramedic Robert O’Donnell, struggled with PTSD and with the sudden fame that came with being a hero. He took his own life in 1995.
9. Fancy Seeing You Here
The Battle of Midway was nearly a total disaster for the American forces, as the powerful Japanese navy downed every American bomber sent to attack them that day. That is, every bomber except for a handful which had inexplicably gotten lost en route. The squadron, led by Lt. Commander Wade McClusky, flew blind and were running low on fuel when they stumbled across the Japanese fleet, sitting in the middle of the Pacific.
10. #Squad Goals
McClusky’s squad would have likely joined the others at the bottom of the ocean had they not arrived at the precise moment that the Japanese warships were reloading their cannons. In quick succession, McClusky and company sank three ships, handing the Japanese their first naval defeat in nearly 300 years. Midway became a decisive victory for the Allies and helped to bring World War II to a close in the Pacific.
11. Tupac’s Hostages
In December 1996, rebels affiliated with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement stormed the Japanese Embassy in Peru, taking hundreds of hostages. For nearly six months, the rebels held the embassy, slowly allowing hostages to trickle out. The Peruvian government grew tired of this slow pace, so they hatched a plan.
12. First Aid Kit
First, the Peruvian government sent “aid packages” into the embassy. These included brightly colored clothes (to help distinguish hostages from rebels), as well as small microphones and cameras which allowed hostages to communicate the situation to their rescuers. But while the hostages dug into their aid packs, the Peruvian army was digging below the embassy.
13. If These Walls Could Talk
On April 22, 1997, the Peruvian army finally broke through the embassy. At the precise moment tunnellers breached the building, a separate force began storming the walls. The rebels were overwhelmed and the hostages were freed. One hostage and one soldier died in the rescue.
14. In the Jungle
In May, 1945, a plane carrying 24 passengers crashed into the island of New Guinea. Only three survived the crash and found themselves stranded in the island’s dense jungle. While they were able to find a clearing, and signal to a rescue plane, there was nowhere for such a plane to land. They were trapped.
15. To Make Matters Worse
Rescuers had the bright idea of airdropping supplies and rescuers into the jungle. They did this several times before they realized that they were simply turning rescuers into rescue-ees.
16. Slings and Arrows
After two months, it was finally suggested that the stranded souls use a glider. It couldn’t take off from the jungle, of course, but a rope could be attached which could be hooked by a plane flying overhead, which would slingshot the victims to safety. At this point, there were no other options. Much to everyone’s surprise—and relief—it was a happy day. The glider worked!
17. Ghost Story
Of all the dangers faced by the crash victims in that jungle, they were most concerned by the native New Guineans who could sometimes be seen watching them. They believed these tribesmen to be cannibals. In an eerie coincidence, that particular tribe had long told a story about dangerous “white ghosts” falling from the sky—it may have been this old folktale which kept the tribesmen away from the crash victims.
Pauloosie Keyootak was a politician in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, one of the most remote, northernmost parts of Canada. As a lifelong resident of Qikiqtarjuaq, Keyootak knew how dangerous the northern environment could be. Unfortunately, accidents can happen to anyone: Keyootak, his son, and his nephew had set out on a relatively routine snowmobile trip when they were overtaken by a snowstorm and became lost.
19. Snowed In
Keyootak and his companions were unable to follow their trail back in the snowstorm, and their attempts to follow the coast had to be abandoned when their snowmobiles ran out of fuel. Their only hope was to hunker down and try to endure the storm until rescue arrived.
20. The Hunters Become the Hunted
The three men relied on traditional survival skills. They constructed an igloo and subsisted on hunted caribou meet. Their ability to survive in the arctic environment certainly spelled the difference between life and death—rescue took eight days as search and rescue teams combed an area of nearly 6,000 square miles.
21. Otter Relief
On the eighth day, with the storm winding down, the Keyootaks were finally spotted by a rescue team in a Twin Otter airplane. Pauloosie Keyootak, his son, and his nephew had survived their ordeal in relatively good health, but Keyootak admits he broke into tears of joy when he spotted the plane.
22. Out of Ideas
14-year-old Leonard Thompson weighed 65 pounds. The starvation diet he followed, the last resort of diabetics, had stopped working, and he and his parents were desperate. When one doctor suggested a new experimental drug, Thompson nodded, took the needle, and prayed.
23. Miracle Cure
Thompson suffered an allergic reaction to the drug, but doctors were sure that they could get the drug to work, and Thompson had nothing to lose. After nearly two weeks of tinkering with the formula, the doctors were finally prepared for round two. Thompson recovered virtually overnight, and insulin was hailed as a miracle drug.
24. Happily Never After
Here’s a story that has a happy ending because two people didn’t get married. Newlyweds Stephen and Helen Lee were looking through an old photo album when they found an extremely alarming picture: Stephen’s father and Helen’s mother in what appeared to be a very romantic setting. Naturally, this made the couple very anxious.
As it turns out, Stephen’s father and Helen’s mother dated briefly, but their parents refused to allow them to marry. Their parents’ tragic breakup made Stephen and Helen’s happy marriage possible.
25. That Darn Cat
The Richters couldn’t bear to leave their four-year-old tortoiseshell, Holly, behind when they went on vacation, so they brought the cat along on their 190-mile trip to Daytona Beach. Holly, unfortunately, got spooked by some fireworks and bolted for the door.
26. Home Alone
The Richters worked with the local police to find Holly. They put up posters and asked everyone they met if they had seen her. Sadly, the Richters were forced to return home without their beloved pet.
27. The Cat Came Back
60 days later, the Richters heard a knock on their door. It was their neighbor, Barb Marzolla, and she was holding Holly! The cat had walked the nearly 200 miles back to the Richter’s home and was found in Marzolla’s yard. Holly was exhausted and dehydrated, but otherwise safe, and very happy to be home.
Holly would no doubt have had an easier trip home if she could speak. That was certainly the case for Piko-Chan, a budgie bird that had escaped from his cage in Yokohama, Japan. The bird became disoriented, coming to rest on the shoulder of a hotel guest several miles away. Piko-Chan was turned over to the police when he began repeating his address over and over.
29. On a Wing and a Prayer
Piko-Chan had been taught his address by his owner, a particularly resourceful 64-year-old woman. She was delighted to see all her hard work paid off when she and Piko-Chan were reunited three days later in a real-life happy ending.
30. Slow and Steady
Being able to talk is a huge advantage if you’re lost. Being slow as a tortoise is a disadvantage. The Almeidas lost their beloved tortoise, Manuela, in 1982. They never found her, and eventually, Manuela was presumed dead. Life went on for the Almeida family, sadly, and without their much-missed tortoise.
31. A Surprise in Store
After the death of their father, in 2012, the Almeida children were cleaning out a storeroom in the family home. Most of the contents of the room were just thrown out without much thought—most of the boxes of old electric junk were never even opened. The following morning, however, the garbagemen knocked on the Almeida’s door and asked an unusual question: “Are you really throwing away this tortoise?”
32. Boxed In
Manuela had somehow found her way into a box in the storeroom and spent the next 30 years hanging out with a record player and eating bugs. Red-footed tortoises like Manuela can survive up to three years without food. The termites and ants that found their way into the box were more than enough to keep her going. The family was thrilled.
33. Never Quit
Technically, Bill Morgan was killed in a car crash. Morgan was clinically dead for nearly 15 minutes before paramedics were able to save his life. He spent two weeks in a coma, fighting for his life. At one point, his family elected to pull the plug, only for Morgan surge back to life.
34. Ticket to Ride
By the time he was out of the hospital, Bill Morgan was feeling mighty lucky. His first order of business was to buy a lottery ticket. The ticket was a winner, awarding Morgan a brand new car to replace the one that had been lost in the crash.
35. Some Guys Get All the Luck
Bill Morgan’s streak of good fortune soon caught the attention of a local news team. While shooting a story on Morgan, they asked him to re-enact buying the lottery ticket. Astoundingly, that ticket turned out to be a winner as well, and a very happy Morgan walked away with $250,000.
36. Buried Treasure
Lena Pahlsson was devastated to discover she had lost her wedding ring. She had set the ring aside to do some baking, and could not seem to find it anywhere. Imagine what a happy surprise it was when, 16 years later, the ring turned up fused into a carrot she had pulled from her garden. Apparently, the ring had fallen into the garden, and a carrot just happened to sprout up inside it.
37. Working Mom
Steve Flaig, an adopted child, dreamed of one day finding his birth mother. Flaig grew up and got a job as a delivery driver at a hardware store in his hometown, but he never gave up the search. You can imagine his frustration when he realized he had been spelling his mother’s last name wrong this whole time. Flaig mentioned the frustrating incident to his boss, who mentioned that a woman by just that name worked at a different department in the same store.
Flaig and his birth mother had been working alongside each other for years without ever knowing it, and mother and son were both happy to be reunited.
38. Humble Beginnings
Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was born in a small town in France in 1711. The son of a lawyer, his life was modestly comfortable, and Bernadotte fully expected to join his father’s practice. Those plans changed, however, when the elder Bernadotte passed away. Jean-Baptiste, just 17, was left with little option but join the army.
39. The Gentleman Soldier
Befriending Napoleon, Bernadotte rose through the ranks quickly. He was not an especially strong soldier—he lost more battles than he won—but he won the admiration of his superiors and his enemies for his chivalry and kindness on the battlefield. His occupations of Denmark and Germany left an impression on the people of those countries, as Bernadotte often prevented his troops from looting or harassing the citizens.
40. An Unlikely Candidate
Around this time, the king of Sweden, Charles XIII, had fallen ill. He had failed to produce an heir, and his passing could plunge his kingdom into civil war. Charles XIII decided he would “adopt” an heir, and entertained many applicants, but none particularly impressed him. It was at this point, one of Charles’ advisors, a Dane, remembered a noble French soldier who had once occupied his country. Might he do?
41. Separate Ways
Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was, needless to say, surprised by the sudden offer to become king of Sweden, but he accepted. There was just one problem: he was still a soldier in the French army. Napoleon agreed to let Bernadotte take up the crown, on the condition he promise to never go to war against Sweden. Bernadotte refused, an act which may have impressed the French emperor. Napoleon gave Bernadotte his blessing.
42. A Real-Life Fairy Tale
On February 5, 1818, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the son of a humble country lawyer, was crowned King Charles XIV John of Sweden and Norway. He lived happily ever after.