Unless you’re new here, it will come as no surprise that one of my three great loves is history. I have a BA in history. I write historical fiction. My first job was as a blacksmith’s apprentice at an 1850s reenacenment park. My first boyfriend took me to a pioneer ball1.
However, it has come to my attention that some people out there think history is boring.
To which I say, BORING!? What is wrong with you!?
Oh, you’re probably thinking about all those dates your teacher made you memorize in high school. On this day, this bill was signed. On this day, so and so was elected president. This was the year a war was won.
And you would be right—that crap is boring. But history is not!
So here’s a PSA to remind you that history is not boring. It is, in fact, the single most interesting thing you can study, because people are fascinating and the things they do and the stories they live are sometimes so much better and crazier and stranger than fiction.
So if you ever think history is boring, just remember…
- Lord Byron kept a trained bear in his college dorm room.
- Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer in the 1600s, had a gold nose (after he lost his actual nose in a duel) and a pet moose.
- The English government exhumed Oliver Cromwell three years after his death, put him on trial, and executed his body.
- Isadora Duncan was killed when her scarf got tangled in the wheel of the sports car she was driving and snapped her neck.
- Josephine Baker, exotic dancer most famous for wearing nothing but bananas, was a French spy during WWII. And had an affair with Frida Kahlo.
- So was Roald Dahl (the spy part, not the affair with Frida Kahlo). He served with Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.
- The Theremin exists.
- Andrew Jackson was so vulgar that his parrot, who learned every word he knew from his presidential owner, was ejected from his funeral for cussing.
- William Walker, a private US citizen in the antebellum south, once took over Nicaragua with an army he mustered by himself, and was president there for a year before he was overthrown
- Percy Shelley had a disease that caused calcium to build up in his heart, so when he died and was cremated, his heart was so bone-like it did not burn. It was pulled from the ashes of his funeral pyre and given to his wife Mary Shelley, who kept it in a drawer, wrapped in poetry, until she died and it was buried with her.
- Eleanor of Aquitaine rose from relative obscurity to become queen of both France and England at different points in her life. She went on Crusade with one king, and led her sons in a revolution against the other.
- The Dutch were once selling single tulip bulbs for the price of a house.
- Daniel Sickels, a southern general in the Civil War, lost his leg in the battle of Gettysburg, then donated that severed leg to the Museum of Health and for the rest of his life would visit his leg each year on the anniversary of its amputation.
- Pope Pius II had a career as an erotic novelist before becoming pope.
- So did Louisa May Alcott. Though she wasn’t a pope.
- One man died during the Boston Tea Party when he got whacked over the head very sharply by a rogue crate of tea. Rather than bury him, because they were sort of in a hurry, he was tossed into a barn and decided they’d come back for him later. When they returned the next day, he was gone. They found him drinking at the pub. LOL, JK, not dead, just knocked out.
- Teddy Roosevelt was shot just before giving a speech, but the pages of his extremely large speech folded up inside his breast pocket slowed the bullet enough to keep it from doing major damage. He was still bleeding pretty seriously, but before consenting to receive any medical attention, he finished the damn speech.
- Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle were friends, both obsessed with spiritualism (though had a falling out when Doyle faked a séance to impress Houdini).
- In 1788, the Austrian army attacked itself and lost ten thousand men.
And that’s just the stuff I could think of off the top of my head.
Do you have a favorite unbelievable historical fact? Leave it in comments—I eat this stuff up!
- And then left me behind when he went to fight the Yankees in the War of Northern Aggression