These wild historic facts sound fake but aren’t


Written by:

Every day, weird but true things happen and take the world by storm, like when a raccoon scaled a New York City skyscraper back in 2018. But these clicky, fascinating facts aren’t anything new. Throughout history, people have done weird stuff, leading to a long list of bizarre, fake-sounding historical events.

Here, we offer just a sample platter of the weirdest, oddest, most eyebrow-raising historical events we could find around the web.

Related: Laughing rats & fish farts: 75 weird-but-true facts

Roman Emperor Gaius and horse Incitatus
Victor Adam / Wiki Commons

1. Introducing … the horse priest?

Roman Emperor Gaius, also known as Caligula, allegedly loved horses more than humans. In fact, he dressed his noble steed Incitatus in a jeweled collar, an ivory manger, gave him his own home, and made him a priest.

Napoleon Bonaparte
Wiki Commons

2. Bunnies vs. Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte once had a rabbit hunt arranged for himself and his men. About 3,000 rabbits were rounded up, and once they were let out of their cages, they charged right toward Napoleon and his men. Luckily, he lived to tell the tale.

1904 Olympics
Washington University / Wiki Commons

3. The 1904 Olympics were a hot mess

Think your last party was a disaster? At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, the first place finisher actually ‘ran’ most of the race in a car; the second place finisher nearly died from eating rat poison; and the fourth place finisher ran in dress pants and took a nap during the race.

Maître de la Mazarine / Gallica Digital Library / Wiki Commons

4. This Genghis Khan descendent would rather wrestle than wed

Khutulun, a Genghis Khan descendant, told every suiter that they had to beat her in wrestling or she wouldn’t accept their marriage proposal. If they won, she’d marry them, and if she won, she’d get some of their horses. She ended up with thousands of horses and zero husbands.

Violet Jessop
Wiki Commons

5. ‘Miss Unsinkable’

Miss Unsinkable,” Violet Jessop, was a nurse and stewardess. She survived three sinking ships: the Titanic, the Britannic, and the Olympic, the last of which collided with a British warship back in 1911.

Robert Liston
Samuel John Stump / Art UK / Wiki Commons

6. This surgeon had a 300% mortality rate

Robert Liston, an 1800s surgeon in the 1800s, was known to be one of the fastest surgeons alive. However, sometimes speed isn’t a great thing, as he never saved a patient and actually killed three people. During a leg amputation, he cut off two of his assistant’s fingers, and both the patient and assistant died of gangrene since the saw he used wasn’t clean. His third victim was a fellow doctor. Liston was performing surgery when he ended up swiping a blade through the doctor’s suit coat. The doctor thought he had been cut through, went into shock, and died of a heart attack even though he wasn’t the one on the operating table.

Leicester Hemingway

7. Ernest Hemingway’s brother invented a country

Leicester Hemingway, Ernests’s younger brother, decided to found his own country on a raft in international waters close to Jamaica. He called it New Atlantis, which was about 8 by 30 feet and was half independent and half part of the U.S. under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This was all a publicity stunt to raise money for an oceanographic research facility, which he hoped the raft would serve as, but the raft was destroyed during a tropical storm in 1966.


8. Nobel Peace Prize Nominee … Adolf Hitler?

Believe it or not, Swedish parliament member Erik Gottfrid Christian Brandt nominated Adolf Hitler for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1939. The nomination was ultimately canceled, but it caused such a huge controversy that no one was awarded a peace prize that year.

Related: Yes, Hitler really put a $5,000 bounty on Clark Gable

Joseph Stalin
Public Domain

9. Stalin was a fan of ‘Photoshop’ even before Photoshop

Joseph Stalin “retouched” photos of himself with photos of people who had died or, uh, “removed” from office under suspicious and, often, violent circumstances.

Torches of Freedom
Stanford University / Wiki Commons

10. Women marched for their ‘torches of freedom’

In 1929, a group of women took to the streets, smoking cigarettes and carrying signs stating that cigarettes were “torches of freedom.” This was considered the first wave of feminism in the U.S., and women used cigarettes as a symbol of emancipation and equality with men.

Unsinkable Sam
Wiki Commons

11. This cat definitely had 9 lives

“Unsinkable Sam,” who was actually named Oscar, was a WWII cat who found himself on a Nazi navy ship. He later was taken on to a ship owned by the British Royal Navy. During the war, he survived three sinking ships:  the Nazi ship Bismarck in 1941, which he was rescued from by British crews who took them onto their own ship; the British ship called Cossack, which killed 159 crew members; and the HMS Ark Royal, which was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat. He retired in 1955, 14 years after the Bismark sank.

Wild West Magazine
Wiki Commons

12. ‘The Wild West’ is pretty much just Palisade, Nevada

Palisade invented “The Wild West” by staging gunfights, bank robberies, and other cliches that became staples in dime novels of the 1800s. The town was actually so peaceful that it didn’t even have a sheriff.

Vesna Vulović
Wiki Commons

13. This flight attendant survived an airplane bomb

Vesna Vulović was a flight attendant for the former Yugoslavian airline JAT. On Jan. 26, 1972, when she was 22, she was accidentally scheduled to work after her name got mixed up on the flight roster with another Vesna, and the plane she boarded exploded in the air after a briefcase bomb went off. She was the only survivor of the Jat Flight 367 bound for Copenhagen, and she was the only person known to have survived a 33,000ft fall in all of history.

Ronald Reagan
Wiki Commons

14. Ronald Reagan saved 77 people from drowning

Before becoming an actor or the president, Ronald Reagan was a lifeguard for six summers in  Lowell Park in Dixon, Illinois. Research has since shown that he saved 77 drowning people from the notoriously treacherous Rock River.

Pepsi-Cola CEO Don Kendall and Frito-Lay CEO Herman Lay in 1965 merging into PepsiCo

15. PepsiCo had the 6th largest military in the world

In 1959, the vice president of PepsiCo tried convincing the former Soviet Union of the benefits of capitalism during an American exhibit in Russia. While The Soviet Union loved Pepsi’s product, Soviet money wasn’t accepted around the world, so they bought billions of dollars worth of Pepsi by giving Pepsi military ships, submarines and vodka in exchange for the soda. So, for a while, Pepsi had the world’s sixth largest military. It later sold the ships and subs as scrap recycling.


Aeschylus bust
Zde / Wiki Commons

16. An eagle & tortoise took down the ‘Father of Tragedy’

“Father of Tragedy” Aeschylus died from a comical, strange death after an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head. The eagle was trying to break the shell so it could get the tortoise meat. Aeschylus didn’t survive, and his death is still the only documented case of a human death occurring because of a tortoise.

Harriet the tortoise
Fritz Geller-Grimm / Wiki Commons

17. This tortoise met Darwin & Steve Irwin

Harriet the tortoise became Charles Darwin’s pet after he found her in the Galápagos Islands 50 years before his death in 1882. Harriet died in 2006 at the ripe age of 175 at the Queensland-based Australia Zoo, which was owned by Steve Irwin.

Charlie Chaplin
National Portrait Gallery

18. This silent-film era giant died the same year Apple was founded

Charlie Chaplin, the comedy king and silent-film era giant, died in 1977, the same year Apple was founded. Chaplin’s death could therefore be said to have marked the end of one tech era and the beginning of another.

Incendiary Bomb
Ian Dunster / Wiki Commons

19. Great Dane pee stopped a bomb from going off in WWII

Very good girl Juliana the Great Dane won herself the Blue Cross Medal during WWII. Her accomplishment? She extinguished an incendiary bomb … by peeing on it!

Alexander the Great mosaic in Pompeii
Wiki Commons

20. Alexander the Great was buried alive

Alexander the Great was accidentally buried alive … well, at least, mummified alive. It’s believed that he had a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which left him physically paralyzed but still mentally aware when he was pronounced dead and mummified.

Nakam Avengers
Wiki Commons

21. The original Avengers were arguably more awesome

Avengers, assemble … to poison 2,283 German prisoners of war! Before they were box-office heroes, the Avengers, originally called Nakam, or Vengeance, in Hebrew, was actually a Jewish assassin group dedicated to hunting Nazi war criminals after WWII. Throughout their time of operation, it’s believed they had poisoned German prisoners of war.

Related: America at war: 50 sobering facts you may not know

Salem Witch Trials
William A. Crafts / Wiki Commons

22. Salem witches weren’t actually burned at the stake

Throughout the Salem Witch Trials, accused witches weren’t actually burned at the stake. Of the 2,000 or so accused witches, most of them were jailed, a few were hanged, and zero were burned alive.

Zachary Taylor
Library of Congress

23. Cherries & milk may have taken down President Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor died after a July 4 party in 1850. Many reports claim a combination of cherry acid and milk caused him to eventually die on July 9, after suffering from cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and dehydration. His official cause of death was cholera morbus, a bacterial infection found in the small intestine.

Anglo-Zanzibar War
Richard Dorsey Mohun / Wiki Commons

24. The shortest war in history

On Aug. 27, 1896, Britain went to war with Zanzibar … for a whopping 38 minutes. The war was fought over the ascension of Zanzibar’s next Sultan. The Anglo-Zanzibar War ended when the new sultan, Sultan Khalid, who was anti-British, lost about 500 men, while only one British sailor died. Khalid sought asylum in Germany, and the British placed Sultan Hamoud in his stead.

1904 Olympics Tug of War
Washington University / Wiki Commons

25. Tug of War: Our favorite Olympic sport?

Tug of War was actually a summer Olympic sport between 1900 and 1920. Teams competed in it during five summer Olympics. Britain took home the most medals in tug of war, five, followed by America with three.

Oxford University

26. This university is older than the Aztec Empire

The University of Oxford is actually older than the Aztec Empire. The university opened back in 1096, while the Aztec Empire began in 1325.

Red Square, Moscow, Russia
Tablecloth and napkins on a dinner table
jlrueda / iStock

28. Pass the tablecloth, please!

Tablecloths were actually designed to be one big, long, communal napkin. While that may sound unthinkable in Covid times, back before 1465, tablecloths were meant to be shared as guests to wipe their hands and faces during dinner parties.

A knocker-upper in Leeuwarden, (1947)
Nationaal Archief
Roman gladiators
Jean-Léon Gérôme / Wiki Commons

30. Roman gladiators endorsed products

Before athletes appeared on cereal boxes and energy drinks, Roman gladiators often endorsed products like oil and skincare. These gladiators were even made into clay “action figures” for kids. Women thought gladiator sweat was an aphrodisiac, so they would mix it into their skincare products to entice lovers.


This article was produced and syndicated by


Kaitlyn Farley

Kaitlyn is MediaFeed’s senior editor. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, specializing in social justice and investigative reporting. She has worked at various radio stations and newsrooms, covering higher-education, local politics, natural disasters and investigative and watchdog stories related to Title IX and transparency issues.