Humans have a natural predisposition to be fascinated by the shocking and the bizarre. Psychologists have likened the phenomenon to the appeal of scary movies: we get a kick out of experiencing things that could harm us (physically or otherwise), without actually putting ourselves in danger. Rollercoasters and first-person shooters have a same appeal.
So it might be useful to think of this article like a rollercoaster. Sure, the practical side of your brain could be saying, “Stop! Why are we doing this???” But the thrill here is in exploring the far side: the things that we just don’t see every day. We’ve collected history’s most scintillating stories, so you don’t have to yourself.
Read on, brave soldier. Go boldly where no one ought to go at all.
40. The Path to Righteousness
Princess Olga of Kiev’s husband, Igor, was murdered by an Eastern Slavic tribe. Olga took over the Kievan Rus’, a federation of East Slavic tribes known as the Drevlians. Not wanting a female ruler, they sent her a group of suitors.
Olga, still furious about her husband’s murder, had the suitors carried by her servants on a boat to the courtyard of the castle. The suitors were then dumped into a giant hole and buried alive.
She told the Drevlians that she had accepted a suitor and organized a party in a bathhouse. After the guests arrived, the doors were barred shut and the bathhouse was burned to the ground.
After the memorial to the people who died in the bathhouse, a party was held, and the guests got drunk. Olga’s royal guard proceeded to kill all 5,000 of them that night.
When the Drevlians requested her forgiveness, Olga asked her tribesmen to give her three pigeons and three sparrows from each home. When they arrived, she had hot coals tied to their legs and sent them back home. As the city burned to the ground, the fleeing people were either killed, enslaved, or extorted into Olga’s army.
Somehow, Olga is now a saint in the Eastern Orthodox church.
39. The Love of Contraception
Ancient Romans had an effective natural contraceptive: a plant called silphium. And you could say it was… relatively popular. The Romans harvested so much silphium it went extinct. That’s right: the Romans literally loved a plant to death. They so obliterated the population, today we’re not even sure exactly what type of plant it was.
But while it lasted, Silphium made a massive impact on Western culture. It’s even thought that the shape of the seed is where we get the traditional heart shape we recognize as a symbol of love.
38. Head of the Army
Goujian was a Chinese ruler of the Kingdom of Yue, in around 400 BC. The man was known as a skilled politician… and an equally brutal warlord.
One of Goujian’s alleged tactics involved placing a row of convicted criminals at the front of his army… who were then forcibly beheaded before a battle, in order to intimidate an enemy army.
The Bronze Sword of Goujian, King of Yue State.
37. Little Foot
Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was a Russian man with a bizarre fascination: he dreamed of creating hybrid animals.
As early as the year 1910, Ivanov was working on the theory behind his ultimate goal, which was to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid. His method for doing so involved artificial insemination, which he believed would be more viable than forcibly mating members of each species (thank God).
Ultimately, Ivanov was unsuccesful… but it wasn’t for lack of trying. By the time of his death, in 1932, he was still working on his “Humanzee”.
36. Mad as a Hatter
Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth, was not a stable man.
In his early years, Corbett worked as a hatter (a man who made hats). One problem though: back in those days, being a hatter meant handling a helluva lot of mercury. Indeed, that’s the logic behind the Alice in Wonderland character!
Anyway, all that mercury exposer had unfortunate effects for poor ol’ Boston. The man was just not right. Case in point: Years prior to shooting Booth, he calmly castrated himself with a pair of scissors, and (allegedly) no anesthetic.
The vibrator was created to treat Hysteria. Why? Doctors were taking too long to manually stimulate women. Shortly after it’s invention, the vibrator became the largest selling household appliance.
34. Rebel Party
When the Russian Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government and stormed the Winter Palace in 1917, their revolution was halted for a few days because the Bolsheviks got ridiculously drunk in the Winter Palace after finding the wine stores.
33. Dear Diary…
The Diary of Anne Frank was edited by her father because, quite rightfully, he didn’t want some of the stuff she wrote published. He edited out writing about her period, discovering herself, learning about boys from a guy that was staying with them, and her father’s infatuation with fart jokes.
32. Keep it in Your Pants, Mr. President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an incredible president… and a complicated man. Like many of us, he had a darker side.
Roosevelt kept multiple mistresses throughout his life, at one point including his wife’s social secretary.
31. Horror Souvenirs
During WWII, propaganda created to dehumanize the Japanese was so successful, some American marines in the Pacific kept body parts of Japanese soldiers as souvenirs.
During WWII, the Russians trained dogs to run under German tanks with bombs strapped to their backs. Unfortunately, the tanks the dogs were trained to run under were Russian, so they ended up running under the Russian tanks and blowing them up instead.
29. Too Lustful to Trust
The FBI ignored compelling evidence of the attack on Pearl Harbor because Hoover didn’t trust the Serbian double agent Dusan Popov, who was apparently a gambling, lustful drunk. His nickname was tricycle because of his love of threesomes. He was one of the inspirations for Fleming’s Bond.
28. Shocking Facts about Edison?
Thomas Edison electrocuted a lady circus elephant to death.
The elephant had killed three men over the years, including an abusive trainer. Over a thousand people came to watch her die, and Edison recorded it on video.
27. The Angel Of Death
Josef Rudolf Mengele, known as “The angel of death,” took Jewish kids and did experiments on them. He had two twins sewn together by the length of their spines, and the mother later killed them because they were in constant agony. He even took a baseball bat to a child’s leg, and right when the broken bone was about to heal, he broke it again. He did this repeatedly until the leg gave up on healing.
26. This is Sparta!
Spartan society focused heavily on war. Part of the reason they were able to do so was a heavy reliance on slavery. Because every single Spartan male was a soldier, every other job had to be done by slaves.
The Spartans beat their slaves… by law. To clarify, we don’t mean the law allowed them to beat slaves. The law required it. Most horrifically, as a sort of coming of age holiday, there was an occasion every year where young Spartan men would sneak around and murder as many slaves as they could.
25. X-Rated Creation
There’s an Egyptian creation myth that states that the universe was the result of the ejaculation of the god Atum.
To honor Atum, some Pharaohs would ceremonially ejaculate into the Nile.
24. Claim Your Dead
Mongols used to light the fat of the enemies they killed on fire, and proceeded to shoot it with their catapults onto other enemies.
23. Half-Blind Leading the Blind
A Byzantine emperor, Basil, captured 15,000 Bulgarians in battle and blinded 99 of every 100, leaving the 100th guy with one eye. He then sent them all home.
22. Mad as a Mobster
When Al Capone was arrested for tax evasion, he was found to have syphilis. Capone refused treatment because he was afraid of needles. After 11 years in Alcatraz, the disease had eaten away at his brain so much that he could no longer resume his life of crime. Before his death, he was often spotted casting a fishing rod into his swimming pool.
21. Et Tu, Caesar?
Marcus Brutus’ mother was Julius Caesar’s lover.
20. Vlad the Impaler
Vlad earned his name by impaling his enemies through the torso with large stakes and erecting these stakes in the ground. Sometimes thousands of prisoners would be impaled at the same time, and many victims lived in agony for days.
19. Years Before Elmo Wanted Tickles…
Foot tickling was used in the Muscovite palaces and courts for centuries as a means of arousal. Many of the Czarinas (Catherine the Great, Anna Ivanovna, and others) loved it. In fact, it was so popular that eunuchs and women were employed as full time foot ticklers.
While the ticklers performed their task, they often told bawdy stories and sang obscene ballads. This was done to get the ladies into the mood for liaisons with their husbands or lovers.
18. The Rubber Police
In the 1880s, Anthony Comstock started confiscating people’s dildos and other sex toys in the United States. He referred to them as “immoral rubber goods,” and in 1882, he confiscated 64,836 pounds of illicit material.
17. Early, Condemnable Pimping
Christopher Columbus prostituted pre-pubescent native American girls.
16. Armenian genocide
During World War I, the Muslim Ottoman government systematically killed of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, the Republic of Turkey.
Ben Franklin visited brothels almost every night. Also, in 1998, while renovating his home into a museum, ten bodies were discovered in the basement. This led to speculation the Ben Franklin may have been a serial killer, but further analysis has revealed this is likely not the case: the bodies were more likely cadavers used for the anatomical studies of William Hewson, one of Franklin’s friends.
14. Unit 731
There was a biological and chemical warfare research facility called Unit 731 that undertook lethal human experimentation during the occupation of China.
They specialized in vivisection, germ warfare, and weapons testing on prisoners. The researchers didn’t even refer to the Chinese people as humans: they called them “logs” and often bragged about how many logs they had cut that day. After WW2, the leaders of the unit gave the United States their research data in return for amnesty. Many of previous members of Unit 731 became part of post-war politics, academia, business, and medicine.
13. A + B = Death
The mathematician Pythagoras, who discovered the Pythagorean theorem, killed people who didn’t agree with him or disproved him. He convinced people that facing the sun when you urinate is a punishable sin. He also didn’t believe in fractions, or decimals.
12. Malcolm XXX
Malcolm X was bisexual. He was also sex worker for almost ten years.
11. Get That Sheep
In medieval England, the animals involved in zoophilic activities were deemed equally responsible. The crime was punishable by execution. So buggering a sheep put both you and the sheep in grave danger.
10. The Saw
In the middle ages, one of the punishments for being gay saw torture. The offending person was hung by his ankles and sawed in half.
9. The Romans
Romans emperors frequently had young boys as concubines. Some even hired toddlers, from their parents, to nibble at their inner thighs while they bathed.
8. Horror Inspires Horror
The United States sterilized over 10,000 people against their will for promiscuity, feeblemindedness, having children out of wedlock, being physically unfit, and many other things. Hitler actually based his eugenics laws on a Supreme Court ruling in Virginia that supported the United States eugenics program.
7. The My Lai Massacre
Approximately 400 unarmed civilians were killed during the Vietnam War by United States soldiers. 26 soldiers were originally charged with war crimes. One served time. He was given a life sentence, but in the end, he served less than four years of house arrest.
Monument of the My Lai Massacre
6. Thank You For That, Mr. President.
Lyndon Baines Johnson’s nicknamed his Johnson “Jumbo,” and there are several reports of him waving it around during White House meetings and bragging about its size.
5. Got Milk?
The Milky Way supposedly got its name because it was formed when the Greek goddess Hera sprayed her breast milk into the sky.
4. Filthy Composition
Mozart was surprisingly obsessed with feces and bathroom humor. Two of his songs actually talk about anlingus. He also wrote letters to his family members where he described his farts in great detail.
3. A Recipe for Compliance
During WWII, the Russians would have “barrier troops” that would be set up behind Russian army forces and shoot those soldiers that were trying to desert from the front line.
2. An Eye for an Eye
In rural America in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, citizens would settle disputes with gouging: an incredibly violent form of wrestling where opponents would try and gouge out each other’s eyes. How far we’ve come… now we settle disputes by trolling people on Photoshop.
1. Royal Audience
On his wedding night, future King William of Orange consummated his marriage while Charles II watched from the sidelines and shouted encouragement.