History is often a treasure trove of the extraordinary, the unbelievable, and the downright bizarre. Sometimes, the past unfolds tales that are so preposterous, they sound like the stuff of fiction. In this list, we’re delving deep into the depths of history to uncover those moments when reality went off the rails and gave us events so ridiculous that they could easily be mistaken for tall tales.
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#1 Hannibal’s Bovine Escape Plan
“Hannibal saved his army by tying torches to the horns of 5,000 cows and driving them in one direction. The Romans thought they were the enemy army and converged on them, while Hannibal quietly snuck his 10,000 man force out of the valley by another route.”
It appears that Hannibal was not only a brilliant military strategist but also an early pioneer of using “moo-litary” tactics. The cow-powered diversion was a stroke of genius, and the Romans must have felt “udderly” baffled when they realized their mistake. It just goes to show that in the game of ancient warfare, sometimes you need to milk every available resource to ensure victory.
#2 The Erfurt Latrine Disaster
“The Erfurt latrine disaster occurred on 26 July 1184, when Henry VI, King of Germany (later Holy Roman Emperor), held a Hoftag (informal assembly) in the Petersberg Citadel in Erfurt. On the morning of 26 July, the combined weight of the assembled nobles caused the wooden second story floor of the building to collapse and most of them fell through into the toilet cesspit below the ground floor, where about 60 of them drowned in liquid excrement.”
This unfortunate event could make anyone feel a bit flushed. It’s hard to imagine a more awkward and unglamorous way for nobles to meet their fate.
#3 The Chaotic 1904 Olympic Marathon in St. Louis
The 1904 Olympic marathon in St. Louis was a disaster due to extreme heat, a challenging course with hills, dangerous footing, and traffic. Only one water station was available, and race organizer James Sullivan aimed to test dehydration limits, limiting fluid intake. Multiple participants faced health issues, with one nearly dying from internal injuries.
Some runners took unconventional substances, like strychnine, brandy, and egg whites, while others suffered cramps or encountered wild animals. Fred Lorz initially “won” but was disqualified for hitching a ride in a car. Thomas Hicks, crossing the line while being assisted by trainers, overcame hallucinations, dehydration, and stiffness to finish and claim victory, showcasing the race’s chaotic nature.
#4 Andrew Jackson: The Unbreakable President
“Two perfectly working pistols failed to fire on US President Andrew Jackson who then beat his would-be-assassin so badly that the presidential security detail had to pull him off to save the man’s life.”
Andrew Jackson was clearly not a man to be trifled with. When pistols decided to call it a day, he resorted to a good old-fashioned brawl. It’s like a scene from a Wild West movie where the gunslinger says, “I don’t need no stinkin’ guns.” His would-be assassin probably had nightmares about Jackson’s fists for the rest of his life. Sometimes, even technology takes a backseat to a good old-fashioned knuckle sandwich.
#5 L. Ron Hubbard’s Nautical Adventure
“The guy who founded Scientology once engaged in a multi-day naval battle with a log. He would then go on to commit an act of war against Mexico.”
Before L. Ron Hubbard delved into the mysteries of the human mind, he was busy battling a log and declaring war on a country. The story goes that he had mistakenly engaged in a battle with two supposed Japanese submarines, which turned out to be a hallucination (or a log as some people tell the story). He was also disciplined for anchoring in Mexico without permission. Who knew that the founder of Scientology had such a riveting backstory?
#6 The Field of the Cloth of Gold: A Bling-Off
“The Field of the Cloth of Gold, where an English King and a French one tried to out-bling each other. The fact that two monkeys covered in gold leaf were far from the most ostentatious display is a good indication of how tasteful it was.”
The Field of the Cloth of Gold was a historic summit meeting that took place between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France. The event occurred from June 7 to June 24, 1520, in a field near Balinghem, between Ardres in France and Guînes in the English Pale of Calais.
The purpose of the meeting was to improve diplomatic relations between England and France and showcase the wealth and power of both monarchs. The name “Field of the Cloth of Gold” was inspired by the extravagant and opulent cloth of gold fabric used in the decorations and tents, not to mention gold covered primates.
#7 The Forgotten Guam: A Comical Declaration of War
“When America went to war with Spain, the Spanish forgot to tell their territory, Guam. The US sent a single warship to the island, where they took 13 shots at the fort. The leaders on the island rowed out to apologize they couldn’t return their “salute”; they had no gunpowder. That is why Guam is a US territory.”
Guam was peacefully surrendered to the United States by the Spanish authorities on June 21, 1898. The island did not have the means to defend itself, and the residents were not informed about the war between the United States and Spain. The formal transfer of Guam from Spain to the United States occurred through a ceremony on the warship USS Charleston.
#8 Four Seasons Total Landscaping: A Press Conference for the Ages
“The Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference. It would have been rejected for an episode of Veep because it was so ridiculous.”
The Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference occurred on November 7, 2020, in Philadelphia. Originally intended for the Four Seasons Hotel, it was held in the parking lot of a small landscaping business due to a mix-up. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, used the event to make baseless claims of election fraud. The unexpected location sparked viral attention and humorous reactions on social media. The s** shop and crematorium visible in the same plaza were just icing on the cake.
#9 The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist
“The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist, the largest ($ value, inflation adjusted) heist in Canadian history.”
The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist sounds like a plot from a comedy caper film, but it’s a real heist that happened in Canada. The heist took place between 2011 and 2012 in Quebec, Canada. Thieves stole around 3,000 tons of maple syrup, valued at millions of dollars, from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers’ strategic reserve. The stolen syrup was replaced with water. The elaborate heist involved siphoning syrup from barrels stored in a remote facility. Several individuals were arrested and charged in connection with the theft.
#10 Cadaver Synod: A Bizarre Papal Trial
“Cadaver synod. New pope digs up the old pope, puts him on trial, finds him guilty, and punished the corpse. For whatever reason they don’t teach you about that in catholic school.”
The Cadaver Synod is like a gothic courtroom drama from the Dark Ages. It was a bizarre ecclesiastical trial that took place in 897 AD. It involved the posthumous trial of Pope Formosus, who had died the previous year. Formosus was accused of perjury, violating canon law, and other offenses. His corpse was exhumed, dressed in papal vestments, and placed on trial. The trial, held by Pope Stephen VI, involved a deacon acting as the voice of the deceased pope. Predictably, Formosus was found guilty, and his papacy was declared null and void. This macabre event is often considered a dark chapter in the history of the medieval papacy and illustrates the political and religious turmoil of the time.
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