With over 200,000 years of human history on Earth, there’s bound to be some strange occurrences hiding between the cracks of our commonly told historical narrative. When you think about U.S. history you probably think about the Declaration of Independence, or the Pilgrims, or the list of presidents your fifth grade teacher made you memorize. You probably don’t think about which president went skinny dipping every morning or which towns have elected animals as their mayors!
There are a lot of wild things that have happened over the years and we can assure you, nobody ever taught them to you in the classroom. The following list of shocking American historical facts are just that—shocking. Ranging from funny to just plain creepy, you won’t easily forget these whacky historical tidbits. And who knows? They might even come in handy next time you and your friends attend a trivia night!
The Emancipation Proclamation Happened Two Years Late In This Southern Town
Back in 1863, news travelled slowly. And we mean really slowly. It’s hard for us to imagine in the technology age, but it took so long for news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach slaves in Galveston, Texas that they didn’t receive word of the monumental proclamation until June of 1865—two months after Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth!
June 19th, the day the news reached slaves in Galveston, is now celebrated as “Juneteenth” and marks a major moment in African American History. Thank goodness news travels a bit faster these days!
A Balloon Killed Five People In 1945
Not many American civilians lost their lives during WWII—in fact only six casualties are recorded. It’s hard to believe, but five of those casualties happened because of a balloon. Tragically, five children found a balloon in the woods one day and were killed.
The balloon was actually a bomb sent over from Japan and it detonated when the children discovered it. There was no way for them to know what that balloon actually was and sadly, they lost their lives because of it.
There Could Have Been a German Colony in Texas
In 1842 a German organization attempted to establish a “new Germany” in Texas after they bought 4,428 acres of land. The organization was called Adelverein which meant “Nobility Society,” and German citizens who were connected to the organization began to settle on the large swath of land that was bought in Texas.
However, Adelverein ran into money issues and “new Germany” was never able to take root due to issues with debt.
President Millard Fillmore Was Involved in a Teacher-Student Relationship
When Millard Fillmore was 19, he met his first wife Abigail Powers. She was 21-years-old and also happened to be his teacher! A romance between the two happened somewhere along the way and the two were married when President Fillmore was 26 and Abigail Powers was 28.
We’re not sure if the two started seeing one another while Fillmore was still a student of Powers, but extra credit goes to anyone who can find out!
The Donkey Symbol of the Democratic Party Originated from an Insult!
In 1828, a random antagonist called Andrew Jackson a jackass. Rather than letting the insult get to him, Jackson decided to one-up the insult flinger and adopted the donkey as the symbol of his party.
The symbol that originated from a rude remark exists to this day! Talk about not letting the haters get you down!
A Hotel in Chicago was Designed Specifically for Murder
During the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, some hotel guests were especially unlucky. The sociopath and serial killer, H.H. Holmes designed an insane and intricate hotel equipped with rooms that held secret gas lines, which Holmes used to murder unsuspecting guests. There was even a sealed room that Holmes would trap people in and then starve them.
He got away with killing hundreds of people this way. They would go missing and their families would have no way of tracking their bodies down because Holmes had an incinerator in the basement of the hotel. How horrifying is that?
North and South Carolina are Home to the Venus Fly Trap
The only native habitat of these carnivorous plants is in a small area of North and South Carolina. North Carolina even named the Venus Fly Trap its State Carnivorous Plant.
You may see them in your favorite oddity stores, but wild Venus Fly Traps are actually at risk of extinction. One more reason to take better care of our precious environment!
In 1776 the First Submarine Attack Occurred
David Bushnell invented a submarine that was specially designed to attach powder kegs to ships. Named The Turtle, Bushnell’s submarine attached a keg to a British ship in New York Harbor.
That’s certainly not a turtle anyone want to mess with!
The Victorians Pretended the Dead were Alive
Back in the Victorian era, not only was it extremely expensive to take a photo, but the exposure time also took forever. In fact, the first photograph was taken in 1826 and took 8 hours to expose. Due to these factors, most people only had one photo of themselves.
When someone died and loved ones wanted something to remember them by they’d have their photo taken, but they’d pose their body as if they were alive sometimes putting pennies in their eyes to make them seem brighter in the photo. They certainly didn’t have to worry about the person moving and ruining the photo this way, either!
In 1950, Running Late Saved an Entire Choir
Normally choir practice was scheduled for 7:20 at a Baptist church in Beatrice, Nebraska. Oddly enough, all 15 members of the choir were running late one day for various personal reasons.
They certainly were lucky because at 7:25 a bomb was set off in the church that certainly would’ve killed or injured the choir members. Who knew being behind on time could save your life?
A Photograph of Two Missing Children Was Found Hundreds of Miles From Their Original Location
A disturbing photo featuring Tara Calico and Michael Henley with duct tape over their mouths was found in a convenience store parking lot in Florida. Calico, 19, was kidnapped from her home in New Mexico and Henley was taken from the same area.
How or why the photo was found in this Florida parking lot has never been determined. Sadly, Henley’s remains were discovered in the the Zuni Mountains in 1990, but Calico’s location has still not been discovered. Perhaps this horrifying photo could give investigators some sort of clue.
You Won’t Believe What Birth Control Used to Be Made Of
Thank goodness for modern medicine! Back in 16th century Canada, women used to drink tea composed of beaver testicles.
Who knows whose idea it was to make this tea, or how effective it was, but we’re certainly never going to volunteer to find out!
The Victorians Used to Wear Dead Body Parts as Jewelry
Grief is a complicated and difficult thing to handle. Often, we look for ways to hold onto our loved ones who have passed on, memorializing them with photographs and keepsakes. However, people took this grieving process to a whole new level during the Victorian era.
To memorialize dead family members, some people used to have jewelry specially made out of their body parts. Necklaces and bracelets were made out of teeth, hair, and boe from the deceased. Talk about a family “hair-loom!”
Two Famous Presidents Died on Independence Day
Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Little did they know, the independence of the United States wasn’t the only historical event that would occur on July 4th.
Oddly enough, 50 years later both Adams and Jefferson would die on July 4th, 1826. Could it be coincidence? Or was it fate?
President Warren G. Harding had a Special Knack for the Written Word
Just because they had to use slow moving snail mail didn’t mean its content couldn’t be racey.
Back in the day, President Harding used to write extra steamy letters to Carrie Phillips, his mistress at the time.
President Lyndon B. Johnson Flashed More Than a Smile During an Interview Once
It’s hard to believe, but Lyndon B. Johnson made quite a statement after a reporter annoyed him by repeatedly asking why American troops were still overseas in Vietnam.
Perhaps Johnson momentarily forgot how to use his words, instead whipping out his “johnson” and exclaiming “ThIS IS WHY!”
A Circus Train Made History, But For Reasons You Might Not Think
In 1918, after falling asleep at the wheel, a train engineer accidentally crashed into the back of another train. This secondary train happened to be a circus train, transporting circus performers.
86 people died in the crash, some of which included a trapeze artist and two brothers who put on a strongman act. Perhaps running away with the circus isn’t such a good idea afterall.
The Sinking of the Titanic May Have Been Predicted in a Book
Fourteen years before the Titanic would sink, a man named Morgan Robertson wrote a novel about a British shipped named the Titan. Just like the Titanic, the Titan was called “unsinkable”but proceeded to hit an iceberg and sink. The book even included details about there not being enough lifeboats to hold the passengers onboard the Titan.
Perhaps Robertson was clairvoyant because fourteen years after the book was published in 1898, the Titanic emerged and sank in a way that exactly mirrored the sinking of the Titan.
Dentures Used to Be Made of Real Teeth
More like dead-ures, dentures used to be composed of teeth that were collected from dead soldiers.
The teeth were harvested and placed in synthetic gums for use by people who needed a new set of chompers. Teeth were taken from both Union and Confederate soldiers to be repurposed this way.
The Founder of the Smithsonian Institution Uses the Building as His Burial Ground
James Smithson is buried in the Smithsonian and is said to still be presiding over the place. Employees claim to have seen his ghost roaming around the building.
There were so many reports of Smithson’s ghost that the museum decided to open his recasket in 1973 to make sure his remains were still intact.
Liberty Island May Be Home to a Pirate Ghost
The famous Liberty Island used to be occupied by teams of pirates. In 1892, during the time when a fort was erected on the island, two soldiers heard rumors of the island’s past frequenters and decided to try to find buried treasure that was said to be left behind by some of pirates.
They actually found the treasure box, but when they tried to open it a demon supposedly appeared to stop them. The figure was thought to be the spirit of Captain Kidd, a famous pirate who was said to have buried his treasure on the island.
Parents Used to Tag Their Abandoned Children So They Could Identify Their Bodies Later
Things were pretty bleak in the 17th and 18th centuries and many parents did not have enough money to care for their children They either left them at the hospital or sent them to be reared in work homes.
Often, the parents would give the children small tokens such as buttons or lockets, things that were specific enough for the parents to be able to recognize the tokens later so that they could identify their children if they met them again, or if they happened to pass away.
The Declaration of Independence Was Written on Something You’d Never Expect
Originally, the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. The copy that persists today was written on parchment—a velum, which is a treated animal skin. However, we all know it takes drafts and drafts before you can get to a final copy, and most of those drafts of the Declaration were written on hemp!
Back in the 1800s, the majority of paper was actually made of the durable material we know as hemp.
Washington’s Birthday Was the Last Time the Liberty Bell Rang
On February 19th, 1846 the Liberty Bell Rang for the last time.
This was 47 years after George Washington died, but it was his birthday nonetheless and we’re sure he would’ve been proud to hear the Liberty Bell ring.
More Americans Share DNA with the Mayflower Pilgrims Than You Might Think
Almost 35 million residents of America are estimated to share DNA with at least one of the original riders of the Mayflower.
And we thought turkey was the only major legacy they left behind.
John Quincy Adams Used to Swim Every Morning…
...in the nude! That’s right, Adams used to wake up by taking a skinny dip in the morning. Some people wake up with a cup of coffee, but others have their own routines.
Whatever gets you out of bed, we suppose!
There Used to be a Fourteenth Colony
The colony was called Franklin after Ben. In 1784, a few renegades in North Carolina voted to secede from the state and named their newly formed state “Franklin”.
However, Congress overruled the secession and refused to allow the state to join the Union. Franklin continued on its own for as long as its inhabitants could, but eventually the colony became a part of Tennessee.
This Serial Killer Was a Born-Again Christian
Notorious killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, was sentenced to life in prison after killing and brutally dismembering 17 people. While he was incarcerated, Dahmer began speaking to a few different ministers and proceeded to complete a Bible study course.
Perhaps it was just boredom, or perhaps he was looking for some kind of redemption. We will never know for sure and no one can ask him now because Dahmer was murdered by fellow inmates two years into his sentence.
Martha Washington Named Her Pet After This Historical Figure
After taking a liking to a feral tomcat, Martha Washington decided it was time to name her feral friend.
She didn’t necessarily have the best relationship with the Secretary of the Treasury that served under her husband’s rule, so she decided to pay a bit of a joke on Alexander Hamilton by naming the cat after him.
The Civil War Lead to a Sizeable Increase in the World’s Oldest Profession
Numerous factors probably influenced the rise in prostitution following the Civil War. Whether it was correlation or causation, the number of working women certainly increased following the war.
In Nashville for example, the documentation number of prostitutes rose from 207 to over 1500 following the war!
People Broke the Law in Order to Fight in the American Revolution
A few incredible women felt to passionately about the fight for independence that they disguised themselves as men and enlisted.
One woman, Deborah Sampson from Sharon, Massachusetts fought in the army for 17 months. At one point, Sampson had to remove a musket ball from her own thigh in order to keep her identity a secret.
Bettie Page Was A Model Of the Month…
...in one of America’s most popular men’s magazines.
This risque model was Miss January 1955, pretty outrageous for the time period!
The Adult Video Awards Were First Held in 1984
Known as the “Oscars of Porn” this large scale event has 100 categories including Best Actress, Best Parody, and Most Outrageous Scene.
Surely it’s a night to remember.
This President Was Charged With Running Over a Woman…
With a horse! President Franklin Pierce had quite the accident while he was serving as president.
The charges were eventually dropped, but it’s not really the kind of thing people just forget about.
There May Have Been a Real-life Lone Ranger
Bass Reeves, a black U.S. Marshal was born a slave in 1838. After slavery was abolished, Bass Reeves became a U.S. Marshal.
During his career, Reeves arrested over 3,000 felons, including his own son!
This President Filed a UFO Report
Though still Governor of Georgia at the time, Jimmy Carter reported a UFO sighting to the U.S> Government while ascending in his political career.
We’d love to get our hands on that report and see just what Carter thought he saw.
This Journalist Bit a Railroad Conductor on the Hand
Ida B. Wells certainly knew how to stand her ground. In 1884, a train conductor tried to force her out of her seat on the train in order to give a seat to a white man.
Wells refused and when the conductor got physical she retaliated by biting him. Not only that, but she sued the the railroad company and (rightfully) won.
The Obamas Had a Secret Service Code For When They Were Having Extra Special One-on-One Time
This cannot be confirmed nor denied, but it’s rumored that the code for the Obamas getting intimate was “they’re discussing the Bosnian problem.”
Several sources have contributed to the rumor, but of course, the Secret Services isn’t named so because they aren’t good at keeping them!
A Hospital Refused to Admit Al Capone Due to His Past
Johns Hopkins hospital refused famous mob boss Capone into their care even though he was extremely ill at the end of his life. The mobster was still able to find care, however, from the Union Memorial Hospital.
Capone was so grateful for the hospital’s “hospitality” that he donated two Japanese weeping cherry trees to the medical center.
Evelyn Nesbit Had a Swinging Time at the Toy Store
Playing at the toy store isn’t just for children. Actress Evelyn Nesbit was asked to swing in a red velvet swing that belonged to architect Stanford White. The swing was in the apartment of the architect, which was above the FAO Schwartz toy store.
Oddly, White also asked the actress to kick a parasol while swinging until it was shredded. This lavish, strange scene may not have been fit for children’s eyes!
Harriet Tubman Used to be a Spy
That’s right. This historical hero was a spy for the Union Army before she gained her fame helping people to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
She was he first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War. This woman had quite the resume!
This First Lady To Be Posed in a Scandalous Advertisement
Future wife of President John Tyler, Julia Gardiner Tyler, caused quite the stir for the time period when she posed in an advertisement in a department store.
It was considered quite improper to pose with a man who was not one’s relative, and Julia Tyler did just that. Imagine the horror! She was sent to Europe promptly afterwards as a punishment for the advertisement.
This President Married His Wife While She Was Still Married…
...to someone else! President Andrew Jackson married his wife, Rachel, while she was still legally married to her first husband.
She filed for divorce, but her husband was abusive and did not cooperate in the time period before Rachel Jackson married Andrew.
Grover Cleveland Was Almost Three Decades Older Than His Wife
Maybe it wasn’t uncommon during the time, but a bit disturbingly, Frances Folsom Cleveland married President Grover Cleveland even though she was 27 years younger than him.
They met because Grover Cleveland was friends with Frances’ dad. That must have been an awkward wedding!
Amelia Earhart Did This In Her Pilot’s Jacket
In order to gain some street cred, Earhart slept in her pilot’s jacket for at least three nights in order to make it look like she had worn it more often than she actually did.
She knew it would be difficult to face other pilots as a female, so she did what she had to do to fit in and look like she had more experience than she actually had.
This College Bar Has A Risque Legacy
An attendee of the University of Illinois, Hugh Hefner took a liking to a college bar named Bunny’s Tavern.
The bar was named after its owner, Bernard “Bunny” Fitzsimmons,” but it would soon have quite a different meaning after Hefner graduated and began his famous business, Playboy.
NASA Accidentally Taped Over This Major Event
In 2006, NASA reluctantly admitted that they could not find the original tapes of the famous 1969 moon landing.
Of course, copies exist, but embarrassingly the space agency realized that someone had actually taped over the original footage. I’m sure nobody is jumping to admit to that mistake!
This Famous Amusement Park Used to Ban Facial Hair
All the way up until 2012, the famous Disneyland Amusement Park would not allow its employees to have facial hair.
Perhaps it had something to do with a feeling of eternal youth, but until 1970 not even visitors were allowed to have beards, mustaches, or shaggy hair. Or maybe Disney just wanted to feel special, as he sported a mustache for most of his life.
In 1917 the Shortest Debate Ever Recorded Was Held
In Chicago an interesting debate was held titled, “Resolved: That People Who Attend Literary Debates are Imbeciles.”
Perhaps more of an early kind of performance art eor statement peice, the debaters only made it through one round. The first said, “the affirmative rests,” to which his opponent replied, “You win.”
PBR Truly Did Receive a Blue Ribbon
In 1893 the famous Pabst Blue Ribbon won a blue ribbon at the World’s Fair.
Nowadays we don’t think the famously cheap beer would be so lucky.
The Word Maverick Comes From a Rogue Rancher
Sam Maverick was a rancher and a politician in the 19th-century. DAn early animal rights activist, Maverick refused to brand his cattle because he believed it to be cruel.
His rivals had another story, however. They said he didn’t brand his property because he could then claim any unbranded cow to be his won.
This Killer Escaped from A Second-Story Window
Famous psycho-killer Ted Bundy made quite the escape during a break in his 1977 preliminary hearing. He was in the courthouse and asked to be allowed to move to the court library in order to research his case.
Though Serial Killers are notoriously untrustworthy, Bundy was allowed to go to the library because he was serving as his own attorney in the case. He escaped from a second-story window instead, but was caught a week later. We can’t imagine this maneuver helped his case very much.
A Vial of Blood Made 23 Hospital Staff Members Sick
Gloria Ramirez, a 31-year-old woman suffering from cervical cancer went to the emergency room in Riverside, California one day as she was in the late stages of her illness. Her blood was transferred between the hands of quite a few nurses and all of them subsequently reported feeling light-headed and nauseated.
Strangely, 23 staff members became ill after coming into contact with Ramirez’ blood and 5 even had to stay over in the hospital. Sadly, Ramirez passed not long after.
An Elevator Beheaded Someone
In a stroke of bad luck, Dr. Hitoshi Nikaidoh met a terrible fate one day at work in a Houston hospital. In 2003, the doctor who was then a surgical resident, ran to get on an elevator right as the doors were closing. Somehow, his head got stuck between the two doors. As the elevator began to ascend, there was nothing anybody could do.
Dr. Nikaidoh body was separated from his head, which remained on the elevator along with a woman who was trapped inside until firefighters were able to come to the rescue. What a horrifying day.
More Than Human Flesh was for Dinner in the Donner Party
A lot of people have heard the horrifying story of the Donner Party, the group of people who were travelling west and had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive after becoming stranded in a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the 19th-century.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and along with their own deceased family members, the Donner Party ate mice, ox bones, and a rug made of oxhide in order to survive during their horrible travels.
A Mummy Went on Tour Once
As if travelling carnivals weren’t strange enough, one carnival on wheels actually transported a mummy for over forty years! This somewhat terrifying touring corpse was once the body of a bandit from Oklahoma named Elmer McCurdy.
He was mummified after he died in 1911 and somehow ended up on the carnival circuit all the way from 1920 up until 1976 when his body was finally put to rest. Most of us probably hope to stay in one place after death, but McCurdy sure did move around a lot for someone who wasn’t breathing!
The CIA Produced a Pornographic Movie
We’re not sure who, but somebody who was a member of the CIA had a grand scheme to produce a pornographic film that featured a man who looked a lot like an Indonesian general they were investigating.
They had a plan to distribute the dirty film around Indonesia in order to frame and shame the general. Luckily someone had the better judgement not to go through with this risque plan.
Tylenol Killed 7 People
A pretty commonly ingested pain reliever, no one expects to keel over after popping a Tylenol or two, but in 1982, seven people met their deaths after purchasing and taking Tylenol from different drugstores in the Chicago area.
The strange and shocking incidences were investigated only to reveal that the Tylenol pills in question had been laced with cyanide! Ever wonder why there’s so much protective packaging on over the counter pills? The culprit for this seemingly random act of violence remains unknown to this day.
Gatorade is Named After a Mascot
In 1965 a group of researchers worked to develop a drink that would help athletes improve their performance and replenish their electrolytes throughout gameplay.
You may have already guessed it, but the team the researchers used in their trials was the Florida Gators of the University of Florida—hence the name Gatorade.
A Man Went to Trial for Giving the Elderly Twinkies
Oddly enough, a politician in Minneapolis got himself in quite the predicament after serving Twinkies during a campaign even in 1985. He was running for City Council and was holding an event especially for the elderly. Along with various other snacks, the man served Twinkies at the event, which apparently was a major faux-pas.
He had to got to trial for the snack serving scandal and though he wasn’t found guilty of anything, a new law was passed under campaign finance law banning Twinkies from campaign event in Minnesota.
Karl Marx was Once Employed by the New York Tribune
Known for his philosophies on economics, not many know that Karl Marx used to write for the New York Tribune.
He wrote for the paper in the 1850s, around the same time more and more debates surrounding slavery were gaining National attention.
A Dog was the Mayor of this California Town
A dog is man’s best friend, but what about a man’s mayor? The town of Sunol, California elected a dog for mayor in 1981.
The dog’s name was Bosco, a very kind black lab mix, and ran for the position against two humans. However, the position was only honorary due to the township being unincorporated. Bow Wow!
Mary Todd Lincoln’s Direct Descendent Designed the California Flag
Political fame and talent may run in the Lincoln family. Mary Todd Lincoln’s nephew designed the California flag and even modeled the grizzly bear, named Monarch, after a real bear that a newspaper reporter had caught in 1899.
Thanks to Lincoln’s nephew, now that bear is memorialized forever!
Only 18 Pilots Were on the First U.S. Air Force Team
In the beginning of WWI, the Air Force was very new and as you might imagine, very small. In fact, only 18 pilots were enlisted at the start of the war and only 10 planes were available for use.
There are quite a few more planes around today—over 5,000!
Not Only Has There Been a Dog as Mayor, One Town Elected a Cat
In the town of Talkeenta, Alaska, there is a very famous feline named Stubbs.
This tail-less cat has been the honorary mayor since 1997! He is treated with great respect and fondness—this classy cat even drinks water out of a goblet!
California has a Larger Population Than all of Canada
Oh Canada, the land where not that many people roam. California’s population is estimated at 38.8 million people.
In the entire country of Canada there’s estimated to be 35.1 million. That’s a pretty wild and wide difference!
Mysteriously, Hundreds of Skulls Were Found in This Florida Lake
Most people expect that the worst things they’ll find at the lake are some slimy plants or maybe a few leeches, but in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee something much more disturbing was discovered. Surveyors found hundreds of human skulls in this lake during the late 1800s.
There is no evidence of the lake being a burial site and it still remains a mystery as to why so many skulls were uncovered there. I think I’ll plan my next lake vacation somewhere else!