History is way cooler than we give it credit for. While it might seem like a bunch of stories about stuffy old dudes, things often got pretty crazy back then, too.
AskReddit users took the time to share their favorite stories from history that we didn’t learn in school when we were young.
1. A tale from WWII
“During World War II, the Japanese outfitted special planes (some were designed to be launched from submarines) with enough range to reach the west coast of the United States. The goal was to use incendiary bombs to start wildfires in the forests of the pacific northwest. One pilot, Nobuo Fujita, successfully dropped his bombs over the forest near Brookings, Oregon. Fortunately, a storm the night before had dampened the forest, and the fire started by Fujita’s bomb was quickly controlled by the Forest Service.
Eighteen years later, in 1962, Fujita returned to Brookings. He brought with him his family’s heirloom, a katana (“samurai sword”) that was over 400 years old. Fujita apologized to the townspeople for his actions during the war, and revealed that if the townspeople demanded it, he would ceremoniously kill himself (commit seppuku) with the sword to make reparations for his actions.
The townspeople would have none of it. Fujita was made an honorary citizen of the town and returned to visit it several times during his life, including one trip to plant trees in the forest he had bombed decades before. After his death in 1997, his daughter returned to Brookings and scattered some of his ashes there. The Fujita family katana is on display in Brookings, after being given to the town by Fujita as a token of friendship.”
2. This is a good one
“The Brown-Stigler Incident occurred during World War II. A B-17 bomber was heavily damaged during a bombing run on Bremen. Several of its crew were killed or injured, two engines were out, a section of the tail was blown away, and the radio was disabled. The bomber lost altitude but was saved by the Captain – whose name was literally Charlie Brown. The bomber flow over an airfield and was spotted by a German fighter ace named Franz Stigler.
Stigler took off caught up to the bomber, had it in his sites, than realized that the tail gunner was not firing. At this point he noticed how damaged the B-17 was and took the advice of his former CO to never shoot a man in a parachute. He decided that the bomber was no longer combat capable and was in distress (like a man in a parachute). So he pulled to the side of the B-17 and signaled for Brown to land at the airfield, when he Brown continued to fly, Stigler tried to get him to fly to Sweden, once again Brown continued on.
That’s when Stigler realized that Brown was going to try to return to England. Stigler, technically the enemy, then pulled to the bomber’s wing and escorted it to the English Channel were he gave Brown a salute a returned to Germany. To make a long story short, after the war Brown found Stigler and the two became close friends until their deaths.”
3. The lion
“Not really fascinating, but funny, is the lion of Gripsholm castle. As a part of some diplomatic back and forths, Fredrik the first of Sweden received a lion from the ruler of Algeria. By the time it got to Sweden, it was a skin and some bones, kinda. It was now up to the royal taxidermist to make sure the lion was restored to its former glory. During the 1730’s however, not a great deal of swedes had ever actually seen a lion. The only real thing he had to go on, was the coinage which showed lions in profile. The result?
Yeah. Silver lining, though. This thing is still a major tourist attraction for the castle.”
4. Fastest knife in the West End
“Robert Liston 1794-1847
A surgeon. In fact, he was described as “the fastest knife in the West End” and could amputate a leg in 2.5 minutes (the faster the surgery, the more likely the recovery) – though during this particular amputation he went so quickly he also removed his patient’s testicles.
However, he also amputer a man’s leg (in less than 2.5 minutes), who would later die of gangrene. In his haste, he accidentally cut off his assistant’s fingers, who would later die from gangrene, and (apparently) cut through the coat tails of a surgical spectator, who was so scared he died of fright.
This becoming the only surgery with a 300% mortality rate.”
5. Didn’t learn this one in school
She was, essentially (perhaps oversimplifying) the female, teenage Paul Revere. At only 16 years old, she rode through New York in 1777 to alert local militia, just like Paul Revere’s famous ride. BUT, this young woman rode more than TWICE the distance of Paul Revere’s ride, while being significantly younger (she rode about 40 miles at only 16, in the middle of the night).
She also saved her father from being captured by Royalists, she lit candles surrounding her house and gathered her siblings to march around the house and give the illusion that troops were guarding the residence. The antagonists fled.
She is so, so under appreciated in the long term of history.”
6. Secret library
“When Ivan III of Russia married Zoe/Sophia Palaiologina, niece of Dragases Palaiologos or Constantine XI, her uncle gifted them a library along with many other treasures. This library somehow survived the Burning of Moscow in 1493 and continued to be passed down to her son, Vasili III, and then on to her grandson, Ivan IV.
During Ivan IV’s reign of terror (the second half of his reign), he feared the library was too precious a treasure and worried it would be stolen. So he and a few men took the collection out of Moscow (what was most likely a 1-3 day horse ride) and buried the books (possibly in a vault???) To ensure the location of the library would never get out, he had the men killed.
Ivan IV died before the location of the library was ever revealed.
We have no idea what could have been in this library or if the contents have even survived. Though some historians have speculated that Plato’s Hermocrates (the final dialogue pertaining to Atlantis) could have been part of the collection, there’s no proof that this is true.”
7. Lake Peigneur
“The Lake Peigneur Disaster.
Until 1980, Lake Peigneur was a small-ish freshwater lake with a maximum depth of about 10-15ft, located in southern Louisiana. Locals mostly used it for trout fishing, and it also had a canal running 10 miles from the lake southward to the Gulf of Mexico. The main industry of the area was a massive salt mine that stood below the ground, partially underneath the lake itself. Thing is, huge natural salt deposits like this often coincide with oil reserves, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary when oil companies came searching.
In November of 1980, Texaco had set up a rig in the lake and was doing some exploratory drilling, hoping to make bank. Little did they know that one of their triangulation coordinates was slightly off, and so they had incorrectly guessed the location of the salt mine below their feet. Their drill bit punched into the roof of the salt deposit about 400 feet earlier than expected, and water began to drain slowly into the salt.
And what happens when salt meets water?
As the water dissolved more and more salt, it made more and more room for water to be sucked down, which in turn dissolved more salt and made more room, setting off a massive chain reaction. The oil rig on the surface keeled to the side and collapsed, its workers barely escaping before the water pressure became too much to swim through. The remnants of the rig were sucked into the bottom of the lake in what had turned from a tiny hole to a whirlpool, the force of the water shearing away soil and making a bigger hole as it went.
The salt mine at the time was fully staffed with workers 1500ft below the ground, who were going about their daily shifts in the mine without any knowledge of the events taking place above them, until they saw water dripping through the roof of the tunnels. Thanks to well-rehearsed evacuation plans, none of them died before the mine was flooded, but water is just about the worst thing you can see in a salt mine.
The whirlpool on the surface, having eaten the rig, began to suck down the entire contents of the lake itself, including 11 barges, various small boats, and yes, the poor trout. The whirlpool grew into a maelstrom, its pressure increasing and in turn building more pressure by creating a bigger and bigger hole, eroding more and more of the salt mine. As it pulled down the entire lake, the water began to shear away at the shores, creating landslides and tearing trees out by the roots. Many of Jefferson Island’s 100-year-old pecan trees were lost to the maelstrom, along with several local homes that sat on the shore of the lake and were ripped out by the foundation. The local botanical gardens was destroyed entirely as the soil underneath it was eroded in the span of only a few hours.
Compressed air inside the mine finally exploded out through the mine shafts, quickly followed by a 400-foot geyser erupting from the mine’s entrance.
Not only did Lake Peigneur drain entirely into the mine, dragging 64 acres of destroyed land with it, but the pressure was so great that it also reversed the direction of the Delcambre Canal. The ocean water from the Gulf of Mexico was sucked northward through the canal to fill the Peigneur basin, temporarily creating the largest waterfall in Louisiana.
The chaos didn’t end until the pressure equalized about a week later. When things had finally calmed down, the lake had changed drastically. Its maximum depth was now about 200feet, as opposed to its previous 10. Its shoreline had expanded, chimneys sticking straight out of the water where houses had once been. Nine out of the eleven barges claimed by the maelstrom floated back to the surface, although two remain somewhere in the ground below. The botanical gardens were gone, and many of the local trees. The salt mine was temporarily shut down, and although it did reopen it was finally closed permanently in 1986. Texaco had to pay $32 million to the salt company, and a further $13 million to the gardens. Miraculously, the only casualties of the disaster were the trout.
The most important difference, however, is that today Lake Peigneur is now a saltwater lake with ocean species, ten miles away from the ocean itself.
All caused by some bad numbers and a fourteen-inch drill bit.”
8. Fashion statement
“I’ve told this story before, but it never fails to amuse me. Strap in, boys and girls: it’s time to learn about that time in pre-Revolutionary France where bleeding from your butt was a fashion statement.
In early 1685, King Louis XIV of France developed a fistula: a small channel near his anus, resulting in great pain. Fistulas, much like the Wu Tang Clan, ain’t nothin’ to f— with. Eventually the pain got so bad that he couldn’t ride a horse, sit for long periods (which is kind of important when you’re a king) or even make a bowel movement without regretting it immensely. The normal remedies were applied; enemas and poultices from morning until night, with zero effect. Louis decided, ‘You know what? Let’s go down the surgical route.’
Unfortunately for Louis, at the time there was no surgical route. He hired a surgeon barber named Charles-François Felix and asked him to fix him. Not entirely stupid — and not willing to risk f—ing up a novel surgery on the king of France — Felix requested six months to practice, which he did on prisoners. Live prisoners. Live, healthy prisoners — sometimes as many as four a day, in an era where antiseptics and anaesthetics didn’t exist. The success rates were about as you’d imagine — although at least some of the prisoners survived — and eventually Felix felt confident enough to perform the surgery on the king.
And it worked! Within three months, the king was riding his horse like nothing had happened, and Felix was the talk of the town. People were desperate to emulate the king so badly that people who were entirely healthy would pay Felix to perform the surgery on them, and those less willing to suffer (or at least, less willing to pay) would fake having the surgery, wearing bandages known as le royale to mimic the king and pretend that they too were cool and with it… even though ‘with it’ meant suffering from a painful condition of the butthole.”
“It’s a bit more recent but I love the story of Gander. After 9/11 all the planes were grounded. Almost 7,000 people, which was about 66% of the local population , were forced to land in this tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland. The whole town worked together to make sure all the passengers would have everything they needed.
The local ice rink was filled with frozen food that people donated. You couldn’t find a closed door in town for stranded people to take a shower or just talk.
Once the grounding of planes was lifted those passengers pooled their money together and created a scholarship for the people of Gander to use. This is one of the greatest acts of kindness that I can view in history. To this day a Gander is one of the only places outside the United States where they have a piece of the World Trade Center.”
“In the 1300s, the greater part of Central Asia was ruled by Tamerlane, a brilliant leader who took after one of his ancestors, Genghis Khan, in ruthlessness, brutality, and skill. Unlike Genghis Khan, Tamerlane was Muslim, and an important part of his particular cultural beliefs (blending Islam, steppe cultures, and countless other influences) was that one’s grave should not be disturbed after death. Being the big shot he was, his grave was magnificent and its location well known, but Tamerlane famously said: “let no one disturb my grave, for if you do, a fate worse than me will fall upon you.” So no one disturbed the tomb. Till Stalin. He let some Soviet archaeologists open it up and examine Tamerlane’s body. The locals warned them about the curse that would go into effect after three days, but the scientists went ahead with the excavation— on June 19, 1941.
On June 22, 1941, Hiltler invaded the USSR.
Whether or not you believe in curses, Stalin was apparently spooked enough that, after devastating loss after devastating loss, he ordered the remains be returned (with full ceremony) and the tomb resealed. Very shortly afterwards, the Soviets won the Battle of Stalingrad and turned the tide of Nazi invasion.”
11. Leo Major
“I may not be too much of a history buff, but I really like the story of Leo Major.
Leo was a Canadian soldier serving in WW2. He was assigned to the division in charge of liberating the Netherlands.
One day in the summer of 1944, he was alone on reconaissance duty when he saw 2 german soldiers walking nearby. He killed one and captured the other, then captured their commanding officer and an entire german garrison after killing a couple more. He came under fire from other german soldiers and juat kept walking. He single handedly captured 93 german soldiers.
In February of 1945, a truck Leo was in hit a landmine. He broke his back, a few ribs, and both ankles, and was told he would be discharged. Leo couldn’t give enough fucks, however, and a week later he snuck out of the field hospital he was in and stayed with a dutch family. After getting better he made it back into his battalion and volunteered to do reconaissance of the city of Zwolle. Once he departed, he decided to take the city himself.
He convinced a german soldier to relay a message back to the german army, then through the night ran around the town making all the noise he could. He shot bullets, threw grenades, captured german soldiers, burned down the Gestapo, and cleaned out the SS building in Zwolle. His tactics were so effective he convinced the german army that the entire canadian army was invading the town, so by the morning the town was free of germans and the canadian army just marched in.
He has a street named after him in that town now.”
“Diarrhea was so widespread and common in the 19th century that people would develop opium habits because opium makes you constipated.”
“1014 AD: After defeating a large Bulgarian army at the battle of Kleidion, Byzantine Emperor Basil II had 99 of every 100 prisoners blinded, leaving each 100th man with one eye so that he could lead his comrades home. Upon seeing his thousands of blinded soldiers, the Bulgarian Emperor reportedly died of a heart attack.
Basil II was known thereafter as Basil Bulgar-Slayer.”
14. Spanish spy
“In World War II, there was a Spanish spy named Joan Pujol Garcia who approached the Allies to work for them. When they refused, he approached the Nazis, and they accepted him (giving him the codename Arabel). Once he earned credentials working as a Nazi spy, he approached the Allies again, this time getting a job as a double agent (codenamed Garbo).
This is where it gets unbelievable: he fed the Germans a combination of mis-information, true but useless information, and high-value information that always got to the Germans just a little too late. He even started a spy network consisting of 27 sub-agents of his own. Keep in mind that not a single one of these sub-agents existed. They were completely imaginary, but regardless, he submitted expense reports for them and had the Nazis giving him money to pay their salaries. At one point, when he had to explain why some high-value information got to the Germans late, he told them that one of his spies had died. He actually got the Germans to pay the imaginary spy’s imaginary wife a very real pension for her loss. Not only did his false information get the Nazis to waste millions of dollars, but he was also instrumental in convincing the Nazis that the attacks on D-Day were just a diversion, and the real attack was yet to come, keeping vital German resources away from the front lines.
He is one of the only people to ever get an Iron Cross from the Germans (which required Hitler’s personal authorization, since he wasn’t a soldier) AND an MBE from King George VI.”
“Peter the Great often forced dwarves to get married and him and his friends would get drunk and attend the wedding. He had a fascination with dwarves, and he once forced someone who had made him angry to marry a dwarf.
Since this post is getting a lot of attention, I thought I’d share that Peter basically had a fraternity, and it was called the All-Joking, All-Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters. They would drink and party basically all the time.”