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41 Little Known Facts About History’s Secret Dark Side

Mathew Burke

“One cannot be a good historian of the outward, visible world without giving some thought to the hidden, private life of ordinary people; and on the other hand one cannot be a good historian of this inner life without taking into account outward events where these are relevant. They are two orders of fact which reflect each other, which are always linked and which sometimes provoke each other.” —Victor Hugo

History is often said to be written by the victors, and maybe there’s good reason for that—not everything about our favorite historical figures and events is what they’d like to be remembered for. Even so, their failures, sins, and follies are all there to be revealed if we look hard enough at our own pasts, as strange or dark as they may be. It just takes a little digging: Here are 41 little-known facts about the dark, mysterious, silly, and just plain weird side of history and those who have shaped it.


41. OMG! Who Knew?

The abbreviation “OMG” seems to have originated from a letter of correspondence between Lord Fisher and future World War II-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, dating all the way back to 1917. So next time you use this, don’t feel like you’re just too lazy to type out the whole words—you’re in good company!

40. Rough Start

The short-lived Whig Party was an integral part of 19th century US history and, like the party itself, its first representative to reach the White House was just not destined to last—William Henry Harrison caught a cold shortly after his inauguration, from which he never recovered. He died just 30 days after taking office—the shortest presidential term ever served to this day.

39. Future Past

When famed scientist Nikola Tesla passed away, many of his private documents, possibly including a blueprint for a hypothetical time machine, were viewed by scientist John G. Trump, who happens to be the uncle of President Donald Trump.

History's Weird Side facts

38. Parallel Histories

The whole world watched the historic moment in 1994 when Nelson Mandela triumphantly took office as the President of South Africa after years of struggle against the apartheid system. However, some viewers ascribe significance to this moment for another reason—it seems that thousands of people distinctly remembered Mandela having died back in the 1980s, complete with major media coverage and public outcry at the time. This bizarre phenomenon of so many people misremembering things in the same exact way has led to speculation that some of us are actually from a parallel universe and have slipped into this world by mistake at some point, with our old memories still in tact. As result, collective false memories are now called the “Mandela Effect.”

37. Bear-ly Acceptable

Conspiracy theorists who remember Nelson Mandela’s supposed premature death have one particularly epic bit of evidence for their parallel universe theory. Do you remember the popular children’s book and TV franchise called the Berenstein Bears? If your answer is yes, think again—there is no such series. There is, however, an almost identical series called the Berenstain Bears (yes, stain), and a quick Google search can confirm this. The fact that virtually everyone who grew up with the show seems to share this mistaken memory is proof positive for internet conspiracy communities that we have in fact slipped into a parallel universe in a way that weirdly connects to Nelson Mandela’s time in prison and rise to power. Yeah, I’ll give you a minute to digest all that…

36. Soft Power

Once upon a time, a lady could take her husband to court for impotence. Legal divorce was much harder to come by in the European medieval times, so proof of erectile dysfunction was often the only recourse a woman had to escape a marriage. To get the divorce, however, the couple would often have to endure a Trial by Congress, where the court would enter the matrimonial bedroom and see for themselves if the man couldn’t help but go soft on his wife.

35. From Publishing to Papacy

In 1444, Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini wrote The Tale of Two Lovers, one of the bestselling romance novels of the European 15th century. The book was a breakthrough in erotic imagery. Despite his literary success, Piccolomini would eventually ditch erotica to become Pope Pius II in 1458.

34. To Each Their Own

While Albert Einstein tackled incredibly difficult questions of quantum physics, apparently world history’s most influential scientist of all time was not as intellectual when it came to his entertainment needs. Einstein’s favorite TV show was a children’s puppet show called Time for Beany, which starred a serpent named Cecil. Einstein was so enthralled by this show that he is reported to have left his work daily to watch when it came on, and even once cut a speech to Nobel prize winners short in order to view it.

33. Big League

Despite the inaccuracy of rumors that a young Fidel Castro had once been scouted by the New York Yankees, it seems that the future Cuban dictator may in fact have participated in an open tryout for the Washington Senators—the team that has since become the Minnesota Twins. Maybe if they had given this guy a break, the team would have been good enough to stay in Washington!

32. Decoded

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at the height of the historic Oslo peace negotiations, the entire world watched in shock and horror—with one possible exception. Michael Drosnin, author of the bestselling book The Bible Code, alleges that he used the supposed codes described in his book to predict the assassination, and tried to warn the Prime Minister in advance.

History's Weird Side facts

31. Close Shave

Less than two months before the young country of Israel was founded, advocates both for and against its recognition were incessantly lobbying world leaders for diplomatic support. Under intense pressure, President Harry Truman decided to refuse all meeting requests with any more representatives of these causes. At that precise moment, Truman had an old friend named Eddie Jacobson visit with him at the White House—a friend who just so happened to be a passionate supporter of the Israeli cause and convinced the President to come out in support of the new state. If not for this meeting at the exact time it took place, the entire history of geopolitics might never have been the same.

30. The Ex-President Files

Former US President Jimmy Carter claims to have experienced a UFO sighting at one point in his life, about seven years prior to his presidency. You can be sure which part of the secret government files he ran to read the minute he took office!

29. Controversial Origins

The Canadian province of Manitoba was founded by Louis Riel, an escaped fugitive who would ultimately be executed for treason by the Canadian government.

28. Family Business

Former President Harry Truman and former President Barack Obama are actually seventh cousins, three times removed.

27. The Other Oval Office

President Lyndon B. Johnson held many important meetings, including press briefings, from the White House toilet. In fact, he even had a phone installed in the bathroom so he could regularly save time and kill two birds with one stone.

26. The Name Game

The Soviet Union’s most infamous and deadly dictator was Joseph Stalin—or should I say Josef Djugashvili. Yes, this was the name he was actually born with. “Stalin” was a name he came up with for himself, meaning “Man of Steel,” in part to make himself seem more powerful. It probably made for easier political slogans too…

25. All in the Game

President Herbert Hoover’s doctor created an original sport known as “Hooverball” in order to keep the President in shape throughout his term in the White House.

24. Death by Bread

In the Middle ages, Animals could be put on trial. Yes, you read that right: animals… put on trial. Just imagine a mouse standing trial for “stealing” part of the harvest, or swarms of locusts being accused of eating crops. I guess it made people feel better when they were mad at animals? Who can say, they were strange times.

23. But How Do You Catch Them?

Speaking of the Dark Ages…

Forget about gluten, medieval bread had other problems a person might want to worry about. Oftentimes, grain would be all used up in the summer before the new crop had a chance to come in, so villagers were forced to use things like old rye for bread-making. The only problem with using the old, stored rye was the potential for it to have ergot, a type of fungus that could cause hallucinations or even death.

Medieval England facts

22. Haunted History

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a legendary landmark in American history, and many a history buff visits it at some point. However, some would suggest that a lot more is going on there than commemorating history—there have been consistent, incessant reports of ghost sightings at the site for over a century. In fact, so many people have sworn that the spirits of soldiers and historical figures remain present that the site now offers a Ghost Train tour for visitors wishing to explore the site’s more supernatural history.

21. Bad Break

While the Scottish king Macbeth is best remembered today as the star and villain of Shakespeare’s timeless play, the similarities between the character and the real-life figure pretty much end with his taking the throne. Rather than spending his time slowly going mad and murdering potential rivals, the real Macbeth’s reign was marked by promoting law and order in government. Nevertheless, he’ll always be remembered as a homicidal maniac. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break!

History's Weird Side facts

20. Hero or Zero?

Despite winning a revolutionary war to overthrow the power of hereditary monarchy in France, Napoleon installed himself as the Emperor of the French just a few short years later, and made the House of Bonaparte the country’s new royal family. Sounds like deja vu all over again!

19. What’s in a Name?

Napoleon must have recognized the irony of his new power, as he chose to call himself “Emperor of the French” rather than “Emperor of France” to try and alleviate some of the public’s concern—he felt that this title indicated that his rule was merely over the people rather than over the land itself, thereby differentiating himself from the previous monarchs. Feel consoled?

18. Breaking Barriers

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill popularized the term “iron curtain” to refer to the Cold War boundaries between “East” and “West” Europe

17. Dangerous Pattern

20th century music history has had its own unique dark side—ever since the disappearance of jazz superstar Glenn Miller in a plane over the English Channel in 1944, a crazy number of music legends in pretty much every popular genre have died tragically in plane crashes. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, John Denver, and three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd are just a small sample of this long list. For whatever reason, singers and planes do not seem meant for one another.

History's Weird Side factsTapoos

16. You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the CIA quietly teamed up with the government of Canada so that a rescue team, pretending to be filming a movie, could sneak into the country and smuggle a group of stranded diplomats out to safety. This whole incident took place without detection, and the Western public was as shocked to learn the story after the mission was complete as the new Iranian government was.

15. A Magnificent Performance

When Margaret Thatcher was running for Prime Minister of Britain, one of her advisers was concerned that her voice and speaking manner would hold back her ability to impress the public. As luck would have it, this same adviser bumped into the famous actor Sir Laurence Olivier on a train, and was promptly referred to his personal acting and vocal coach to solve this problem.

The voters clearly saw the improvement, as Thatcher was elected to office a few months later.

14. Juicy Justice

In 1820, Salem, New Jersey put tomatoes on trial for being poisonous. Wanting to prove the township wrong, Robert Johnson bravely stood before the populace and consumed an entire basket of them. Shocking everybody, Johnson did not die, thereby exonerating the red and watery fruit.

Also not guilty !

13. Silenced Jazz Singer

There is hardly a more significant event in the history of film than the release of the first movie to ever feature sound. When singer Al Jolson took the world by storm starring and singing in The Jazz Singer in 1927, film and media would never again be the same. No one knows this better than former Vaudeville and silent film star George Jessel, who was originally offered the lead in this film and turned it down because of a dispute over salary in what he later referred to as his “biggest professional mistake” of all time. 

12. Okay by Me!

The word “okay” originates from the 1840 US election, when it was used as a campaign rally cry for the re-election of President Martin Van Buren. It was meant to represent the initials of the President’s nickname, “Old Kinderhook.”

11. Dark Art

Despite always having strong nationalistic tendencies, Adolf Hitler originally had another career path in mind—he wanted to be a painter, but was rejected twice from the school he had applied to. Nevertheless, the future German dictator did produce hundreds of paintings and postcards, selling them to support himself.

10. Loyal to a Fault

Old habits really do die hard for some—a Japanese soldier named Hiroo Onoda never believed reports that Japan had surrendered in WWII, and continued hiding out on an isolated island until his original commanding officer was tracked down and flown to him in 1974, finally giving him the order to return home.

9. The Bright Side

Although Alexander the Great is best known as a mighty conqueror and ruler, he may have had some brains in addition to brawn—his private tutor during childhood was none other than Aristotle, arguably the most influential philosopher of all time.

8. Popular Propaganda

Widespread public support for America’s entry into WWII was spread from a very unlikely source—comic books. In fact, characters such as Captain America were specifically designed to rally a national sentiment that would be needed for the all-out war effort to come.

7. You’re Never Too Young

Abraham Lincoln grew his familiar beard on the advice (at least in part) of an 11-year-old girl, who suggested it to him via fan mail.

6. Memory Loss

According to one of Ronald Reagan’s sons, the former president suffered from Alzheimer’s disease from a relatively young age.

5. Bad Omens

You may be familiar with the legend of the Bermuda Triangle—the small area of the Atlantic ocean that seems to be responsible for more unexplained disasters than anywhere else. What you may not know is that the “discoverer” of the New World himself, Christopher Columbus, had his own weird encounter with this spot, perhaps setting the tone for its future visitors right off the bat. Columbus reported to seeing a giant flame, a mysterious light in the distance, and unusual compass readings while passing through the area.

4. Plan B

D-Day will always be remembered as the turning point in WWII, where the Allied Forces heroically stormed the European shores and began their push to victory over the Nazis. However, there was no guarantee that this strategy was going to be successful. US General and future President Dwight Eisenhower actually crafted an apology letter in case the mission failed, explaining that the invasion was the best available option and that all blame for the would-be tragedy should fall solely on his shoulders.

3. Conspiracy Come True

The existence of a secret government cover-up to hide the existence of UFOs from the public has been a classic theme in pop culture and science fiction for decades. In December 2017, longtime believers and conspiracy enthusiasts might have had the shock of their lives, as the US government revealed that it really has had a program investigating UFOs for years—even investing millions into research on the subject and actually catching at least one potential flying saucer on tape. While none of this means we definitely have been visited by aliens, it certainly doesn’t hurt the case!

2. Unlikely Comeback

A children’s book series from the late 19th century spent most of the past hundred years or so going totally unnoticed, until 2017 when it caught someone’s attention and spread like wildfire. Why you ask? Because the star of this book series was a child by the name of Baron Trump—one letter different from the name of America’s young First Son, Barron Trump. Who the heck was this writer—and what else did they know??

1. In Spirits We Trust

A religious movement called Spiritualism spread across America in the 1850s, and revolved around contacting the dead through rituals. One of this movement’s most prominent believers was none other than First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who even managed to get Honest Abe involved at times and held up to eight seances in the White House. For those concerned that some psychic might therefore have influenced the President and altered the course of history, not to worry—despite Mary’s best efforts, the male Lincoln never bought into the Spiritualist belief system.

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