History has been happening for a long time, so it's not surprising that there are some absolutely grim and stunning stories from our past. Even so, these dark escapades are some of the dirtiest, shocking, and shameful events to have ever seen the light of day. Better have some smelling salts on hand, because these aren't for the faint of heart.
The ruthless medieval Queen Margaret of Anjou once let her young son Edward choose how to execute his cousins. What the boy picked was absolutely ruthless. Little Prince Edward apparently took after his mother, and he demanded that the two men be beheaded, ignoring his dad's cries for mercy. Now there's a mother-son duo I would not want to cross.
A few nights before he perished, Edgar Allan Poe was found wandering the streets in a fugue state. Disturbingly, he was wearing someone else’s clothes—and as he lay dying, he kept shouting a single word: "Reynolds." To this day, we still have no idea who he was talking about. Did this "Reynolds" have something to do with how Poe ended up in his gruesome state?
When Queen Isabella, AKA the "She Wolf" of France, caught her sisters-in-law having intimate relations with knights, she resorted to an extremely gruesome punishment to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Isabella told her father what she suspected, leading him to go after the cheating noblewomen with a vengeance...
He spied on the knights and when he saw enough, he publicly accused everyone and had them all apprehended. The men were castrated then drawn and quartered, while the women had their heads shaved and spent the rest of their lives behind bars. It was a horrific fate—and it all happened because of Isabella. Yep, they didn't call her the She Wolf for nothing.
Pu Yi was a mere toddler when he was named supreme Emperor of all China in 1908. He would now live in the velvet lap of luxury—but the small child’s divine power came at a heartbreakingly high cost. He was separated from his family and placed inside the Forbidden City, and would spend the next 11 years living inside the elaborate palace, forbidden to leave. But when it comes to Pu Yi, that's just the start.
After Pu Yi's wife Wanrong gave birth to a child who was the product of an affair, he ripped the baby from her arms. Immediately, Puyi killed the child…and then saved his ultimate betrayal for the very last. Later on, Puyi had to abdicate his throne and flee the realm—and he abandoned Wanrong in the process, leaving her to die behind bars.
In Brazil, a two-year-old boy tragically passed from pneumonia. At the funeral, the grieving family was terrified to see their “dead” son suddenly sit upright and ask for a drink of water. Overjoyed and astonished, the parents were still in for another devastating heartbreak. The boy then lost consciousness once more and couldn't be revived, leading the coroner to proclaim him dead once more.
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius faced an interesting gladiator dilemma. His wife Faustina became aroused over one combatant and confessed her passion to her husband. The emperor's solution? Faustina was ordered to strip and immediately make love to the gladiator in question, who was then fatally attacked while on top of her. Even after this brutal act, Marcus Aurelius made one more shocking demand of Faustina.
Afterward, she was obliged to bathe in his blood, do a quick cleanup, and then seduce her husband Marcus.
When Philip of Burgundy croaked, his wife Joanna literally refused to let go of his now-rotting corpse. When her father stepped in to finally bury the body, Joanna ordered it exhumed, leaped at his coffin, and kissed his cold feet. From that moment on, she brought his coffin with her everywhere, even her bed. Only years later did she return Philip to the ground—burying him right outside her window.
After accusing his wife of adultery and having her executed, King Herod had her body preserved in honey and continued to perform disturbing acts with it for years afterward. He eventually passed of a mysterious affliction. Considering what he’d done with the body, the symptoms of his illness were both extremely gruesome and incredibly fitting.
Herod suffered from paranoid delusions, rage, and arteriosclerosis, but his passing in 4 BCE came at the hands of a brutal and agonizing illness that modern doctors are still not able to identify. At one point, the pain was so excruciating, the king attempted to take his own life. The illness came to be known among the Judean people as “Herod’s Evil.”
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Catherine the Great's public and private images were very different things. She secretly collected intimately-charged furniture, and even had an erotic cabinet adjacent to her suite of rooms. But that wasn’t all she was hiding. She also employed a full-time team of professional people who were tasked with carrying out a strange sensual ritual for her...and any guests she happened to have with her: Foot tickling.
Henry VIII's wife Catherine of Aragon's demise was utterly mysterious in its time. While preparing her body for burial, her embalmer noticed the corpse was in perfect health—save for her heart, which had turned black. The ghastly condition, coupled with Catherine’s earlier chilling premonitions of her own demise, led people to some dark rumors about her end.
After witnessing her strange condition, those loyal to Catherine and disloyal to Henry and his new wife Anne Boleyn started whispering that the Royal Couple 2.0 had poisoned Catherine in a chilling act of self-service, leading the “Dowager” to die poetically of a broken heart. Modern historians, however, believe a much different story.
Most experts today think that rather than foul play, Catherine passed from cancer of the heart, as sometimes it can turn the heart black. Nonetheless, it's still tragically poetic given the circumstances of Catherine's life and her queenship.
The Borgias were one of the most infamous crime families in all of history, but their most scandalous deeds are almost unbelievable. It’s rumored that Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter in the family, slept with her own brother Cesare—but according to her husband, the truth was even darker. Apparently, Lucrezia wasn’t just doing the deed with her brother. She was sleeping with her father too.
Behind the walls of the infamous writer Marquis de Sade's castle, he committed horrors in the name of his hedonistic fantasies, but he couldn't keep his secrets hidden forever. One of his servants fled the castle in terror. When the terrified girl finally made it back to her family, she recounted her story—and it chilled her loved ones to the bone.
As it turned out, De Sade hired only the most attractive young men and women to work in his castle and then forced them into his salacious bedroom activities, which included one of his favorite pastimes, whipping. Of course, he also hired a constant stream of young sex workers to supplement his twisted fantasies as well.
Near the end of her life, Queen Alexandra of Denmark's iconic beauty calcified into a monstrosity—yet her end was even more horrific. Unable to bear her aging face, Alexandra began wearing elaborate veils and plastering her face with heavy makeup. Cruelly, the fashionistas who once followed her every move now called her "enameled."
Eventually, a burst blood vessel in her eye left her almost entirely blind. Her memory and speech went next, and when she finally succumbed to a heart attack, she was a mere shell of her once-glamorous self.
When the brutal conqueror Genghis Khan was just a small child, his father died and the tribe abandoned his family, driving them into total poverty on the barren Mongolian steppe. That was just the beginning of his nightmare. His half-brother Begter then began to assert his power as the eldest child, trying to take Genghis’ mother Hoelun as his wife.
This didn’t sit well with the young, ruthless Genghis, and he exacted cold-hearted revenge. When he was 10, he ended up murdering Begter on a hunting excursion with the help of another brother.
Catherine de Medici was only 14 when she married Henri, the son of King Francis. And although she was young, the king and other older men insisted on being present for the consummation of the marriage. Incredibly enough, public beddings were actually a common occurrence at the time in a world obsessed with male heirs. Ew.
Almost immediately after Henry VIII saw a portrait of the isolated, enigmatic Anne of Cleves, he made her his bride. But when they finally met, his stomach dropped: she was unthinkably ugly—or so he claimed. Anne is now infamous as Henry’s rejected queen, but modern historians suggest a more disturbing reason for his disgust.
Anne’s first meeting with Henry was a diplomatic blunder: Making their way to London, Anne’s party stopped on New Year’s Day 1540 at Rochester, where she took time to look at bull-baiting from the window. Suddenly, an old burly stranger entered the room—and everything went horribly wrong. You see, this stranger was really Henry VIII in disguise.
He had wanted to creep in and get a sneak peek of his new bride-to-be. He also expected that she would see through his costume via the power of “true love”...or something. Spoiler: This was not a good idea. When he approached Anne, her response made his blood run cold. Depending on the account, either Henry tried to get Anne's attention and was politely ignored, or he outright tried to kiss and grope her, which understandably caused the young woman to ring the alarms about a strange dude harassing her.
Either way, it was utterly disastrous. Henry left the encounter angry, and possibly ready to take revenge in the form of "I never liked her anyway."
Philip II of Macedonia sent a message to Sparta demanding surrender and essentially saying, “If I bring my army into your land, we’ll kill everyone and burn everything.” The Spartans’ response was so disturbing, it’s impossible to forget. They sent back just one word as a reply: “If.” Philip backed down, and his mastery over the Greeks exempted Sparta as the only place that withstood him.
There’s one excruciating part of Emperor Franz Joseph’s life that still makes historians uncomfortable. One day, Franz Joseph was out for a walk near his summer palace when a beautiful blonde caught his eye. She was Anna Nahowski, and she and the Emperor quickly fell in lust after meeting covertly in the park for months. Now, both Anna and Franz Joseph were married, but that wasn’t the scandalous part—not even close.
Anna was actually 14 years old when she first met the emperor, and Franz was 45.
Jane Seymour married Henry VIII just weeks after he’d executed his previous wife, Anne Boleyn. Whether it was explicit or not, she must have known she could have two paths: bear him a son or die. Tragically, she would do both in quick succession, dying from complications from childbirth just 11 days after giving birth to Edward VI.
Although she never got to see her son on the throne, an inscription on her grave pays heartbreaking tribute to him. It reads as follows. “Here lies Jane, a phoenix / Who died in giving another phoenix birth. / Let her be mourned, for birds like these / Are rare indeed.” Jane was also the only one of Henry’s six wives to receive a proper, formal queen’s burial.
In ancient Ireland, one showed submission to tribal kings by sucking their nipples. Pretty bad, huh? Well, the way that scientists figured this one out is somehow even worse. Bog-bodies (ancient corpses found well-preserved by the chemicals in bogs) have been found with slashed or mutilated nipples, indicating that they had been driven from the throne.
Today we see Gandhi as a figure of peaceful protest and understanding. But there's a side of him no one knows. At the age of 36, while married, Gandhi became more and more obsessed with lust. In order to train and “perfect” his control over his desires, Gandhi would sleep, undressed, with young women. But one night, he committed an act so heinous that it made his own staff member quit on him forever.
Gandhi had performed this sleeping act with his own grand-niece named Manu. His stenographer left in disgust.
The famous inventor Thomas Edison had a huge dark side not many people know about. For example, he used electricity to publicly kill animals. He wanted to show how alternating current was more dangerous than the "direct" current that he used. On one occasion, he used A/C to execute a rogue circus elephant named "Topsy" in front of thousands of people.
La Belle Otero had affairs with all the most powerful men in Europe, and as a result, knew all of their dirty little secrets. When she wrote her memoirs, La Belle Otero disclosed how she’d seduced multiple royals, including princes and kings. Among her conquests was the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II—and when it came to revealing the disturbing details about their romance, she didn’t hold back.
She seemed genuinely fond of him, but she also described him as his timid and frightened, with a rank body odor. La Belle Otero also said his tastes in the bedroom were so unusual that they surprised even her.
He was nearly forgotten, but of all the members of the royal family, Prince Albert Victor may have been the most tragic—and the most twisted. For a time, people actually thought that he was the notorious Jack the Ripper, the terrifying assailant who was terrorizing the sex workers of the Whitechapel district in London during Albert’s life.
A 19th-century railroad worker named Phineas Gage had an iron rod rammed through his head—and survived. In one of the most bizarre medical anomalies in history, Gage lived another 12 full years despite having had his brain’s left frontal lobe mostly destroyed in the accident. His story does have another cruel twist to it, though.
Though he was technically still alive, his friends said that his behavior was virtually unrecognizable from this point on, describing him as “no longer Gage,” and claiming he was violent and moody.
Jane Grey was perhaps one of the youngest queens to ever face public execution. She was 16 or 17 years old when it happened. Blindfolded, she fumbled a bit—as awkward teenagers do—to find the executioner’s block with her hands and cried, “What shall I do? Where is it?” A deputy helped guide her. Right before, Jane drew her last heartbreaking words. They were the same last words of Jesus Christ in Luke: "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!"
The mighty warrior ruler Xerxes was a notorious womanizer. He had many wives, and yet he still couldn’t keep it in his pants—he even had an affair with his own niece. This is horrifying enough, but things took a much darker turn when his wife heard about this infidelity. She couldn’t punish her husband—he was, after all, the King of Kings—yet she still devised a plan to enact her chilling revenge.
When Xerxes’s wife heard of the affair, she ordered the girl's mother to be mutilated. That'll do it.
The Duchess of Berry's constant string of pregnancies and miscarriages—all before her sudden passing at 23 years old—scandalized Parisian society. The Duchess miscarried six times, and those are just the pregnancies we know about. So, why did she have such horrible luck when it comes to motherhood? Modern historians believe they know the horrible answer.
See, being constantly pregnant didn’t stop the Duchess Of Berry from partying. As long as she could stand (or waddle), then she figured that she could still go out. Well into her latest pregnancy, she continued attending parties and downing more than her fair share of libations.
After a cruel betrayal, the medieval Queen Matilda waged war against her own husband (!). She defeated his men, only for her ex, Godfrey the Hunchbacked, to escape her grasp. But then, very soon after the battle, onlookers discovered his body—and the fate he suffered was both excruciating and haunting. Someone had run him through with a spear while he took a leak.
Queen Victoria blamed her sad childhood on John Conroy, her mother’s possible lover. But once she was queen, she got revenge. There were years at a time where her mother had pressured her to put Conroy in a position of power. Every time, Victoria refused. Finally, when she ascended to the throne, she banned him from her presence.
Queen Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, was as cruel as she was beautiful. After she d imprisoned a rival queen, she infamously sent the girl three items: a cup, a rope, and a sword—and then she asked a truly chilling question. The cup had poison in it, the rope was a noose, and the sword was deadly sharp. All that Olympias wanted to know was: how did the girl wish to die?
According to the histories, the woman chose to hang herself, though she cursed Olympias to the very end of her life.
In January 1889, Prince Rudolf perished in an infamous “love pact” with his teenage mistress...only the story gets even darker. Though Rudolf’s adoring, 17-year-old lover Mary Vetsera agreed to the pact because she “could not resist love,” many historians believe Rudolf was just using the poor girl. He’d asked the real love of his life first, and she refused. Mary was just his backup plan.
When Edward VIII’s baby brother Prince John passed of a severe seizure at only 13 years old, Edward’s response was utterly cold. He referred to John’s passing as “little more than a regrettable nuisance" and complained about John to his mistress at the time. As he wrote to her, "This poor boy had become more of an animal than anything else."
Sure, everybody knows that Coke used to contain some real doses of, well, coke, but that's not even the most alarming old-timey product there is out there. In the not-so-distant past, Lysol, as in the household cleaning product, was an "intimate" hygienic solution for women's nether regions. Yeah, they really wanted women to use Lysol down there.
Queen Anne had an absolutely horrific time when it came to motherhood. She was pregnant 17 times in 17 years, but only one of her children survived past two. Now, centuries later, researchers believe they know why. Evidence suggests that she suffered from an autoimmune disease called Hughes syndrome, accounting for her 12 tragic miscarriages. I doubt that knowledge would have provided her much solace, though.
Prince George, the Duke of Kent was a notorious bad boy. But when he fell for the dangerous Kiki Preston, his high-flying life took a sinister turn. Known as "the girl with the silver syringe," Preston introduced Prince George to his drug of choice and dragged him into an abyss of addiction. But that wasn't all. For the rest of their lives, these two rebellious lovers kept watch over a terrible secret.
Between the partying, the drugs, and the threesomes, George and Kiki Preston allegedly had a child together. Michael was born in 1926 and was quickly adopted off to the American publisher Cass Canfield who ran Harper & Brothers. There is no record of George acknowledging the birth, but years later, even his brother Edward didn’t attempt to deny it.
Napoleon Bonaparte was madly in love with his wife Josephine. He personally wrote a tremendous amount of juicy love letters to his wife, but tragically he likely didn’t realize how futile his efforts were. Josephine actually couldn’t read much of what he wrote, so often when people would ask her how her husband was doing, she would simply respond with “fine,” since she didn’t actually know.
Madame de Montespan was vain to her core, and King Louis XIV’s chief mistress truly believed that she should be queen above his wife. After all, she had the looks, the wit, and the pedigree. De Montespan ended up outliving the true queen, Maria Theresa, but their story didn’t end there. In death, the queen finally hit her rival with the insult she’d never been able to deliver while living.
She left a special ring to the OTHER object of the king's affections, Madame de Maintenon. The gift was to thank de Maintenon for coming in between the king and de Montespan. How touching, right?
In the name of cleanliness, Venice’s wealthy women found a unique way to keep their feet and dress hems clean during the Renaissance era: chopines. These were tall platforms that helped women rise above filth when walking the streets. The shoes got so tall, chopine wearers eventually required attendants on hand to help keep their balance.
King William IV had been tormented by the Duchess of Kent, the mother of Queen Victoria, for years. But just before he died, he got his ingenious payback. The childless William hated her so much, he vowed to live until Victoria came of age at 18, just so the Duchess would never be in power as Regent. Best of all, he actually did it: William passed almost exactly one month after Victoria’s 18th birthday.
Princess Henrietta of England married Duke Phillipe, even converting religions for him. He repaid her by sleeping with multiple men. Henrietta seemed to forgive him, but upon the birth of their first daughter there were rumors that Princess Henrietta had repaid adultery, and that the baby was not Phillipe’s at all. Oh, but it gets juicier.
Some candidates for daddy include King Louis XIV, Phillipe’s own brother, or even the Comte de Guiche, Phillipe’s own ex-lover.
Sacagawea was the invaluable guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition, but we don't even know half of it. She was in horrible pain during the survey—and scholars recently uncovered the horrific reason why. Sacagawea suffered from symptoms that historians attribute to gonorrhea. She almost certainly contracted the disease from her adulterous husband, Toussaint Charbonneau.
The infamous King Henry VIII employed four Grooms of the Stool, men whose job it was to wipe the royal bottom and attend to his other private needs. It was a position of great honor, but also—as one Groom soon discovered—incredibly grave danger. Henry VIII executed one of his bathroom staff, Sir Henry Norris, on trumped-up charges that he was sleeping with Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn.
In 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. Her magical transformation from actress to Princess seems like every girl’s fantasy—but her perfect fairy-tale was really a horror story. The moment she got into the family, they forced her to give up her acting career, and Prince Rainier even banned screenings of her films in Monaco.
When the time came for King Charles I of England’s execution, his wife and most of his children had long since fled England and weren’t able or willing to return for a final goodbye. However, in the moments before his passing, he did have a heartbreaking farewell with two of his children, Henry and Elizabeth. They visited their father for a tearful goodbye just a day before Charles’ execution.
In the 18th century, white face powders were the thing. The unnatural, chalky complexion these powders produced may seem bizarre enough, but modern science cringes over a poisonous main ingredient used: lead. Ironically, lead-based makeup could cause unsightly skin, which could have resulted in heavier use of the same deadly powder.
During WW2, the Germans arrested Resistance fighter Hannie Schaft and sentenced her to a horrible end. Still, she faced the firing squad without fear—and when the soldiers failed to kill her in the chaos of the first round, her response was truly chilling. Unable to back down even if her life literally depended on it, she scornfully declared, “I could shoot better!”
Many assume that Queen Victoria's children led charmed lives. This couldn’t be further from the truth—especially when it comes to the tragic tale of her son Prince Leopold. Victoria was a carrier of the genetic disease hemophilia, which prevents blood from clotting properly. Well, you guessed it, she passed it right on to Leopold, and he perished from a fall when he was only 30.
Madame Tussaud’s wax museum is famous around the world for frighteningly life-like figures of celebrities. What most people don’t know, however, is that the real Madame Tussaud got her start by rushing over to grab heads from the guillotine during the French Revolution. She used these heads to showcase her waxing process.
As King Charles II lay on his deathbed, he sent for his wife, Catherine of Braganza. Her response was utterly heartbreaking. She was unable to bear the thought of witnessing her husband perish. She asked to remain away from him, but added that she wanted "to beg his pardon if she had offended him all his life." Somehow, though, Charles’s reply was even more of a tearjerker.
When King Charles read Catherine’s note, he wasn’t angry in the slightest. Instead, he was utterly repentant, and cried out, "Alas poor woman! She asks for my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart; take her back that answer."
The legendary Palace of Versailles had everything—except enough toilets for everybody. Despite the villa’s luxury, Versailles simply didn’t have enough public water closets to accommodate Louis XIV’s huge court. It wasn’t uncommon for courtiers to pay each other for access to those precious commodes…or else, they simply went in the corner.
King Eric XIV of Swedens's brutal rule ended in a coup, and the mad king walked happily into a cell—unaware of the chilling fate ahead of him. After seven back-breaking years in prison, his own family decided he was too much of a threat to live. They poisoned him with a gruesome combo of arsenic and pea soup. A disturbing end, even for one of history’s greatest villains.
Sure, you know about Anne Boleyn, but do you know about Bessie Blount? As mistress to Henry VIII, Bessie Blount influenced the most powerful man in the world, or at least England. She even gave him an (illegitimate) son—but her end was truly disgraceful. Shunted aside by her former lover, Blount passed in obscurity. Even her burial place is unknown.
In March 1947, New York City police responded to a call about a terrible odor at an apartment in Harlem. When they arrived and opened the door, they were utterly horrified by the nightmare they found inside. Two brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer, had been living there, and they were compulsive hoarders. Homer was found crushed under his own junk—but the Langley was still missing.
Police sifted through the junk for weeks with no sign of him. Eventually, they found his body...just 10 feet from his brother.
Nikola Tesla, the famous scientist and notorious eccentric, had a bizarre obsession with pigeons. And when I say "bizarre," I mean that in the worst sense of the word. Describing one of his favorite pigeons, Tesla once proudly proclaimed, “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.” Um, ok.
Before she became the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I lived in penury after her mother Anne Boleyn's execution. Her father, Henry VIII, ignored and neglected her so completely that Elizabeth’s guardians had to beg the king for finances to provide Elizabeth with clothes that fit her. Later, when she became queen, Elizabeth collected more than 2,000 dresses for herself, and even that wasn’t enough.
She allegedly stole a dress from one of her maids of honor out of envy when she saw how good it looked.
Before his marriage to Isabella of Portugal, Charles V had several affairs. By far the most controversial was with Germaine of Foix, his own step-grandmother—but that wasn’t even the most disturbing part of their relationship. Germaine of Foix didn't marry for years after her husband Ferdinand passed, so obviously, it raised a lot of eyebrows when she gave birth to a child just two years after he passed.
It raised even more eyebrows when she named her girl "Infanta Isabel," a title that usually would have been reserved for the daughter of the King of Spain. And who was the King of Spain? Oh right, Charles, her stepgrandson. Awkward.
Josephine Baker was one of the most seductive dancers of the Roaring 20s, but when she settled down, she adopted a brood of children she called her "Rainbow Tribe." Why did Baker adopt so many kids? She said was out to prove “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers," but the evidence tells a more unsettling story.
Her children lived on her estate of hotels, farms, and rides, and Baker would charge admission to visitors who wanted to come in and watch her children play and sing. As such, her son Jean-Claude Baker believed there was a darker, more cynical reason for her "Tribe": she liked the attention.
Looking for a new career path? Be glad you don’t live in Victorian times, where you might have wound up in the career of “pure finder.” Don’t be fooled by this profession’s inviting name, either—in fact, it consisted of collecting dog poop off the streets and selling it to leather manufacturers. Need I say NO thank you very much? Ugh.
Wu Zetian was the only true Empress of China, and she didn't get to the top by playing nice. When one of Wu's ministers advised her that she should live a more respectable life as a widow rather than an empress, she promptly sentenced him to exile in the “swampy, disease-ridden Southland” where one can imagine that the minister didn't have a happy ending.
Above all else, King Richard II of England was a coward. He readily gave up his crown—only he was unaware of the disturbing fate that awaited him. His rival and successor Henry IV simply strolled into London and snatched the crown off of Richard's head. Richard made Henry promise to spare his life—only Henry made sure Richard's end was unspeakably brutal.
Henry slowly starved Richard in a cell. And even when the former king passed, it wasn't over. Henry displayed the cold, emaciated corpse in St. Paul's Cathedral for all to see.
When the Royal Mummy Cache was unearthed after remaining sealed for thousands of years, archaeologists found a small box labeled with Queen Hatshepsut’s name, one of the very few female Pharaohs history has ever seen. Bizarrely, the box contained a single, eerie tooth...as well as an embalmed liver and an embalmed stomach.
In 1923, jockey Frank Hayes suffered a fatal heart attack in the midst of a race at Belmont Park in New York. His horse, named Sweet Kiss, finished first and won the race with Frank's lifeless body still atop. Hayes became the first, and thus far the only, jockey to win a race after passing. The horse never raced again and had the nickname “Sweet Kiss of Death” for the remainder of her life.
During a trip to New York City, inventor Samuel Morse received a letter that warned of his wife’s illness. Morse left for home but arrived to find his wife already buried. Heartbroken that he had been unaware of his wife’s illness for days, he developed an interest in communication technology so that no one would feel what he felt.
Eventually, this lead to his research and patent of the telegraph, a way to transmit information across long distances instantaneously.
The expedition of Lewis and Clark is famous for many reasons, but they had one goal you might not expect. Thomas Jefferson asked them to find a mammoth. Turns out, Jefferson had a thing for mammoths (or, more accurately, American Mastodons). He loved the extinct behemoths and held out hope that they continued to live many miles away in the west of America.
So when he sent Lewis and Clark out on their famous expedition, he told them to look for mammoths.
While lying on her deathbed, Ada Lovelace made a mysterious confession to her husband that was so disturbing, he left and never came back. Like, really: We still don't know what she said to her husband, but the moment the words dropped from her lips, the man stormed out of the room, abandoning her in her time of need. What did you DO, Ada?
The legendary Jeanne de Clisson was “The Lioness of Brittany.” The swashbuckling pirate got this nickname because she liked to raid villages or towns and slaughter their populations. She would leave only a few survivors to spread the word that de Clisson’s wrath was true and mighty. That's one heck of a calling card, if you ask me.
In recent years, historians have noticed that every portrait of Napoleon's wife Empress Josephine contains an utterly heartbreaking detail. Josephine never smiles with her teeth exposed—and we now know that she did so for a dark reason. Josephine’s teeth were pitch black due to cavities and decay. She hid them for her entire life, teaching herself to laugh with her mouth closed and speaking behind a handkerchief when she entered the public eye.
Japanese engineer Tsutsomo Yamaguchi happened to be in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of their respective atomic bombings during WWII. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on business when American forces dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on the city center. He sustained burns, temporary blindness, and ruptured eardrums in the blast.
Afterward, he returned to his hometown of Nagasaki, only to be witness to the dropping of the Fat Man atomic bomb. Yamaguchi is the only person the government of Japan recognizes as surviving both atomic attacks.
Once at a dinner party, the incredibly scary and incredibly insane Roman Emperor Caligula reportedly burst into raucous laughter in front of his guests. When one of them asked Caligula to explain why, he replied, “I’ve just thought that I’ve only to give the word and you’ll all have your throats cut.” Hilarious, right??
Empress Carlota of Mexico’s exquisite beauty made jaws drop—but no one realized that her elegant face hid a twisted mind. In one of her darkest moments while she was in Vatican City, Carlota believed that assassins were trying to poison her. Desperate, she stole a goblet from the Pope and used it to drink from public fountains throughout the city, all as commoners watched a queen unravel before their eyes.
The Polish army adopted a bear, Wojtek, during WWII. They gave it the official rank of private so they could transport it around from place to place with them, carrying their equipment and helping to boost morale. After a few years around humans, Wojtek loved beer, cigarettes, and wrestling. In fact, the army loved Wojtek so much that they eventually promoted him to corporal.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria is famous today for her tragic end at the hands of an Italian anarchist as well as as for her delicate beauty, but even her most ardent admirers know there was something dark inside the empress. Chronically melancholy, she loved her own good looks, horseback riding, and insane asylums. Indeed one day, Elisabeth’s husband asked her what she wanted for a gift. Her response?
She replied brightly and seriously: “What I would like best of all is a fully equipped insane asylum.”
When King George IV of England’s daughter was born, he changed his last will and testament—and left his hated wife, Caroline of Brunswick, an incredibly insulting “gift.” Three days after his little Charlotte came into the world, George updated his will to give all his possessions to his mistress Maria Fitzherbert, while leaving his wife...a single shilling.
King Louis XI was maybe the most brilliant and ruthless ruler in the history of France—but when his downfall came, it was brutal. Known as the Universal Spider, Louis played the game of thrones better than anyone, but his own cunning brain betrayed him in the end. Several hemorrhages left him hollow, and he spent his final days hiding in his castle, lest his people see him.
From the late 1920s until the mid-1960s, a man by the name of Omero C. Catan became known as “Mr. First” in New York City. In what became an ongoing tradition, he was the first person to participate in over 500 openings in New York and beyond—including being the first person to skate on the Rockefeller Center rink. He was also the first man to put a token in a parking meter, and the first man to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel. This seems impossible, but it's a fact.
Jane Digby was a beautiful 19th-century adventurer, and her life is worthy of at least 10 movies. She left behind Europe for the Middle East, and met a man who knocked her off her feet. His name was Sheik Medjuel el Mezrab, and for once, he was able to hold excitement-addict Jane’s attention for more than a few days. But there was one catch to their whirlwind love story.
Digby was 46 years old when she met him, while the Sheik was just 26 and two decades her junior. The Sheik also offered to divorce his current wife on the spot so that he could sweep Digby up into his arms. Lucky for them, it worked, and they stayed together forever after their bumpy start.
Though Queen Soraya of Iran infamously divorced the Shah in 1958, their twisted love story had an even darker end. The pair never stopped loving each other, but they were more star-crossed than Romeo and Juliet. Years after the split, the Shah was on his deathbed and Soraya sent him a letter begging to see him one last time. It never happened: He succumbed to his illness before they could arrange a meeting.
One day, Indian socialite Sita Devi spotted infamous British royal mistress Wallis Simpson wearing HER jewels, which she had just recently sold off and turned from anklets into a necklace. She began plotting her revenge right then and there. After all, Simpson had drawn the attention of the whole room, with everyone crowding around her to compliment the stunning jewels.
After listening to people prattle on about how beautiful Simpson looked, Sita Devi gave an expertly petty reply. She loudly exclaimed that the gems looked just as nice when they were on her feet, making sure Simpson could hear the veiled dig. Simpson was so angry—her response played right into Devi’s diabolical plan. She promptly returned the necklace to the jeweler who had sold it.
Madame de Pompadour was the famous mistress of King Louis XV of France. She was his political advisor, best friend, and chief lover. On the outside, their relationship was happy and healthy, but modern historians now know that the couple hid a dark secret behind bedroom doors. They actually stopped engaging in intimate activities with each other just five years into their affair.
A diet that was very popular in the late Victorian era was the “tapeworm diet,” and it was even more disgusting than it sounds. In order to lose weight, people literally swallowed tapeworms and other parasites in the hopes that they would do the work on their inner parts for them, letting dieters shed pounds almost effortlessly.
The worst part? The celebrity opera singer who was supposed to have sparked the fad is now believed never to have actually done it. So yeah, don’t spread rumors, people, only spread facts.
In 1954, the macho writer Ernest Hemingway got into a plane crash. He miraculously survived, but that was just the start of the nightmare. When he tried to take another plane to get medical help, that plane exploded upon taking off. Hemingway managed to survive again. Talk about bad luck. Or wait a minute...actually, is that good luck?
In the 1960s, the CIA tried to spy on the Kremlin and Russian embassies by turning cats into listening devices. The program, called Acoustic Kitty, involved surgically implanting batteries, microphones, and antennae inside cats. This would allow the CIA to listen remotely to any meetings that the cats could record and transmit. The plan was scrapped after the CIA realized that you can’t train a cat to do much of anything. Which...they probably should have known before.
King Louis XV of France's reign was an utter catastrophe—so it's fitting that when this playboy king's end came, it was utterly gruesome. First, small marks began appearing on the king's face. Few doctors worried at first, but the marks didn't go away. In his final moments, King Louis XV was a truly horrifying sight. One visitor said his face looked like "a mask of bronze" when he finally passed.
Scholars generally agree that the Ancient Egyptian empire lasted for thousands of years, which can be hard to wrap your head around. To put it in perspective, people built the Great Pyramid of Giza roughly between 2550 and 2490 BC, while Cleopatra took the throne in 51 BC. Let me put it into perspective for you: That means that Cleopatra’s reign was closer in time to the freaking moon landing than it was to the building of the Great Pyramid.
One of the most popular fads of the Roaring ‘20s was called “pole sitting” and as the name suggests, it consisted of sitting on top of flagpoles or other similar objects for as long as you could, often trying to outdo your friends in lengths of time spent up there. Interest in this fad continued throughout the decade until the Great Depression took people’s minds off it.
The infamous mistress Lillie Langtry had countless scandalous affairs, but one of them was far more jaw-dropping than all the rest. Eventually, Langtry fell in with a man named George Baird. Baird was ludicrously wealthy, and also a violent drinker. Once, after he gave her two black eyes, Langtry swore to leave him...until Baird bought her a luxury yacht, the White Ladye. Unable to resist, she crawled back into his arms.
Many of her friends abandoned her, and the press took to calling the boat The Black Eye.
Look, don't get me wrong, it probably would have sucked to be a woman any time before the 20th century. Still, that didn't mean there weren't certain perks about people only expecting you to pop out babies. Once upon a time, if they were dissatisfied with their man's performance in bed, Medieval women could take their husbands to impotence court.
Alcatraz used to be the only prison where the inmates got to take hot showers. This seems nice, but if you know anything about Alcatraz, you should probably be very suspicious of their motives in giving inmates any creature comforts. In actuality, they just didn't want potential escapees to get used to the cold water in case they tried to swim to shore.
From her perverse bedroom exploits to her chilling punishments, the pirate queen Ching Shih had one of the most dramatic lives in history. She went from a sex worker to a grieving widow to a ruthless pirate—but even after all that, she still saved her most jaw-dropping move for last. In her "retirement," Ching Shih opened up a gambling house. Oh, and she also traded opium on the down-low.
Edward Longshanks had a very brutal temper. Take, for instance, his revenge against the Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort. Simon had decided to defy Edward’s father by marrying his sister without permission. Edward’s response has been called "an episode of noble bloodletting unprecedented since the Conquest [of William the Conqueror]."
Anne of Austria had the world's worst husband. King Louis XIII despised her from the day they married and treated her horribly for decades—but he saved his worst betrayal for last. One of Louis XIII's final acts was to stick it to his wife. He tried to make sure she never saw an ounce of power when he was gone, refusing to let her act as regent for their son.
By the way, it didn't work, because that didn't stop Anne of Austria. She convinced the Parlement of Paris to revoke Louis' will and install her as regent.
At around 45 minutes, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 between Britain and the Zanzibar Sultanate is the shortest war ever.
Although the hourglass figure has always held a special appeal across Western cultures, the Victorians took their obsession to a whole new level in their use of corsets. These waist-cinching devices, while successful in achieving a "wasp waist," had some major health repercussions. Besides causing fainting spells, which the era’s ladies unsurprisingly became famous for, the restriction on women’s lungs likely worsened potentially deadly ailments like pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Before WWI took over the name, the Napoleonic Wars were known as “The Great War.” They were completely unprecedented in their scale and bloodshed—but most people don’t realize just how horrifying this terrible conflict was. During this era, the military in European society truly became a separate entity from the civilian population, and the people grew to embrace the conflict as their own, as opposed to just following the orders of their monarch.
In King Tut’s tomb, researchers found an iron dagger that was still sharp thousands of years later. Having a sharp dagger is not strange in itself, but the dagger’s origin is quite mysterious. Scientists have tested the metal and determined it came from a meteorite, and the ancient Egyptians most likely didn’t have the technology to craft a weapon from meteorite debris.
As a result, it either came from another more advanced civilization...or aliens.
It was the 1970s, and Mattel decided they needed to really amp up Barbies. Accodingly, they released the "Growing Up Skipper" doll, which depicted Skipper on the verge of adolescence. Naturally, then, when you turned Skipper's arm, her chest grew. What can I say, no one made it out of the 70s with their dignity intact—not even plastic dolls.
Legend has it that before her execution, King Henry VIII's fifth wife Catherine Howard said, “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper,” referring to her adulterous lover. This is a myth, but her real last words were even more heartbreaking. Howard was repentant, crying that she should "die a thousand deaths” for betraying a king who always treated her so “graciously." Catherine, I respectfully disagree.
When the Countess of Castiglione’s estranged husband started trying to claim custody of her only beloved son Giorgio, the Countess sent him a “present” in the mail. When he opened it, he was horrified. It was a seemingly innocent photograph of the beautiful Countess in a luxurious gown—but when the Count looked closer, his blood ran cold.
In one of the folds of her dress, the countess was holding a dagger. It was a pointed threat: Mess with my son, you mess with me.
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My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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