Six Bizarre (but True) Stories from History

In my opinion, bizarre news stories – the ones that make me stop and think, Huh? – are the best kind. Below are six such stories. But rather than pulling them from today’s headlines, I looked to the past. Enjoy this smattering of bizarre history.

1. The King Who Liked Pepper…A Lot

Alaric I was a Visigoth military leader, and, according to history, he was pretty good at it. Within fifteen years, he sacked many famous cities throughout Thrace and Greece. Then, in 410 A.D. he besieged and conquered Rome. Among the items he required as a ransom price was 3,000 pounds of pepper.

“Alarich steel engraving” by Unknown – C. Strahlheim, Das Welttheater, 4. Band, Frankfurt a.M., 1836 (scanned by User:Henryart, who is owner of the original book).

Granted, pepper was a highly valued spice at the time. Still, I get the feeling I wouldn’t like Alaric’s cooking very much. He does seem to have been an odd sort of guy, though. When he died, his people diverted a river to have him buried, then redirected it to cover the grave, and killed everyone who had worked on the grave site so that no one would ever know where Alaric was buried.

2. The Cleanest Horses’ Teeth in History

Many people have heard about George Washington and the cherry tree, or George Washington crossing the Delaware, or George Washington the Father of His Country. Here’s a fact I hadn’t heard before: apparently, our first president was quite particular about the state of his horses’ teeth. Nearly toothless himself, George Washington had the teeth of his six white horses picked and cleaned daily.

“General George Washington at Trenton by John Trumbull” by John Trumbull – Yale University Art Gallery [1].

I sometimes hear angry mutters about how much money people spend on their pets today. I have to wonder what they would think of Washington’s dedication to horse dentistry. And also, six white horses? Do you think Washington ever met the woman coming round the mountain?

3. The Book that Went to War

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, has gained new followers in recent years, through interest stirred by the 2012 movie.

“Les-miserables-movie-poster1” by The cover art can or could be obtained from Collider.

When the book was first released, it found unlikely fans in the soldiers of the Confederate army. Many identified with the cause of the French rebels, and some even took to calling themselves “Lee’s Miserables.” Robert E. Lee was quite fond of the book and is said to have given each of the officers in his army a copy to carry with them at all times.

As far as carrying Les Miserables to battle goes…I love Les Mis, but I can’t help thinking how inconvenient its size must have been for these officers. Seriously, this book is over 1000 pages long. Not an easy book to tuck in your pocket.

4. The Novel that Predicted the Titanic

In 1898, novelist Morgan Robertson published a novel called Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan. The book tells the story of a “practically unsinkable” ocean liner called the Titan that strikes an iceberg and sinks on an April night. Fourteen years later, on April 15, 1912, the unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg.

Okay, this one’s just creepy. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d start asking questions about how much Robertson had to do with the Titanic. Also, I wonder if any Titanic passengers had read this book. I know that I would have thought twice before stepping aboard.

5. The Man Babies Fell On

On October 17, 1938, TIME Magazine published a short article describing the strange coincidence that happened to Joseph Figlock. In the 1937, a baby in Detroit fell four stories and landed on Figlock, a local street sweeper, who was working in the alley below. Then, in 1938, another child fell on Figlock. He and both children survived.

I have to admit, this one’s my favorite. For some reason, it reminded me of an old song: “If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops….” I can think of a few children-loving friends of mine who would probably be quite happy if it started raining babies. The babies, though, would probably be…less happy.

6. The Truck Driver Who Flew

In 1982, Larry Walters, a truck driver, tied dozens of weather balloons to his lawn chair in Los Angeles and climbed to an altitude of 16,000 feet, thus earning the nickname “Lawnchair Larry.”

Just like Up, but minus the house…and Carl…and Russell…and Kevin. I’ve always wondered if this would work—here’s proof. But I wouldn’t advise trying this anytime soon. Falling 16,000 feet doesn’t leave very good odds for surviving. Unless Joseph Figlock happens to be standing below. Then I’m pretty sure your odds improve significantly.

What’s the weirdest true story you’ve ever heard?

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