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History Professors Divulge The One Fact They Love Sharing With Their Students

Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash

History is full of fascinating figures and stories.

Humans have been interesting, wild, strange, goofy, ridiculous, horrible, murderous, and pretty much any other thing you can name.

Time has eroded societies and built new ones, introduced technology and killed off hallmarks of the past.

When you specialize in history you become the keeper of this arsenal of facts.  And even better, you become responsible for sharing them with others.

In a way, you become the shaper of how we, in the contemporary era, experience history.

A Redditor asked:

“History Professionals of Reddit. What is that one history fact that you just love sharing with people?”

Here were some of those factoids.

A King’s Ransom

“Daniel Steibelt, a top pianist in his own right, challenged his contemporary Beethoven to a musical improv duel.”

“Steibelt did believe he had a shot; he was no kid, and had already composed for Marie Antoinette and operatized a successful version of Romeo and Juliet.”

“He showed up to the improv and played one of his own works, for which he’d brought the sheet music.”

“Once it was his turn, Beethoven turned the sheet music upside down and beautifully f**ked the piece sideways and backwards, overturing Steibelt’s style all the while like a cat teasing a particularly boring mouse.”

“No one ever challenged Beethoven to a musical improv again, least of all Steibelt, who never again set foot in Vienna.”-Tmaffa

“The longest piano piece of any kind is Vexations by Erik Satie.”

“It consists of a 180-note composition which, on the composer’s orders, must be repeated 840 times so that the whole performance is 18 hours 40 minutes.”

“Its first reported public performance in September 1963, in the Pocket Theater, New York City, required a relay team of 10 pianists.”

“The New York Times critic fell asleep at 4 a.m. and the audience dwindled to 6 masochists. At the conclusion, one sado-masochist shouted ‘Encore!'”-Back2Bach

“Julius Caesar was once kidnapped by pirates, and when he found out how much they were ransoming him for, he was offended at how low the amount was and told them to raise it.”

“Meanwhile he spent his captivity annoying the sh*t out of his captors, holding poetry readings and generally being a pompous dick.”

“Oh, and he also joked that he’d eventually hunt them all down and crucify them. The ransom was paid, Caesar was released, then he hunted them down and crucified them.”-Tmaffa

Misleading Names

“I like telling people about orphan trains. During the late 19th-early 20th century, Progressive reformers loaded ‘orphans’ onto trains, sending them to the countryside for what often amounted to indentured servitude.”

“Also, some of the kids that were targeted were not orphans, and the Protestant reformers may have intentionally targeted the children of intact Catholic and Jewish immigrant families to make sure they were converted to the right religion.”

“I’ve found that it’s not a very well known part of the Progressive Era.”-[username deleted]

“The Pentagon wasn’t built that way for any defense reason — in fact, it’s not even a regular pentagon.”

“It was designed to fit nicely into the empty field between five major roads, but then later there was some reason why they had to build it somewhere else, I think it was too close to some city or something.”

“Anyway they’d already paid someone to design this five-sided building so they just said f**k it, it’s a pentagon now.”-Tmaffa

“From the memoirs of a Bill Bellamy, a British WW2 tank troop commander: One of our favourite pursuits was to eavesdrop on other squadron wireless nets while we were resting. This could be very exciting and, on occasion, very amusing.”

“One splendid moment occurred when C squadron were out on a standing patrol and Michael Payne, a young and popular troop leader, was in a hedgerow with shelling taking place to his front.”

“Apparently the whole area was covered with cattle, who paid little attention to the lethal objects dropping around them and concentrated on the job in hand.”

“Suddenly over the air came the laconic voice of Mickey, ‘Gunner, you see that poor cow in front which has just been wounded? Put the poor devil out of its misery will you?'”

“He obviously imagined he was talking on his intercom and not broadcasting to the world, because he then remained on the air with his microphone switch pressed.”

“There was a moment of silence and then a rat-tat-tat of the Besa machine-gun. Then came Mickey’s agonised cry, ‘Not that one you bloody fool, the one on the left!'”

“We didn’t let him forget that for a long time.”-Tmaffa

Today Is War!

“There once existed an alleged theoretical state of war that lasted 335 years and 19 days, and was between the Dutch and an archipelago off the coast of southwest England called the Isles of Scilly.”

“What’s more, there were no casualties (because the Dutch forgot that they were at war with the Isles).”

“It wasn’t until a Sicily historian contacted the Dutch about the ‘war’ in 1985, and received the information that the ‘war’ was still technically ongoing, that a peace treaty was signed in 1986.”-CarbonSpectre

“I’m not a history professional but love talking about how the South Korean and US governments launched Operation Paul Bunyan.”

“And the US went to combat readiness DEFCON 3 (the US went to DEFCON 2 over the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Gulf War; the US last went to DEFCON 3 on 9/11) because of a single poplar tree that blocked the line of sight between a United Nations Command checkpoint and an observation post.”

“To be fair, this was also called the Korean Axe Murder Incident and had to do with the killing of two United States Army officers in the Joint Security Area (JSA) located in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).”

“The U.S. Army officers had been part of a work party cutting down a poplar tree in the JSA that partially blocked the view of United Nations (U.N.) observers when they were assaulted and killed by the North Koreans, who claimed that the tree had been planted by Kim Il-Sung.”

“North Korean propaganda machine immediately spun this incident in their favor, describing how American aggressors forced the North Korean guards to defend themselves.”

“The CIA considered that this was a pre-planned attack and evaluated their options and the US went to DEFCON 3 the day after the two US Army officers were murdered.”

“Originally, the plan was to trim the poplar tree but now it was decided that – back with completely overwhelming force – the tree had to go.”

“South Korea and US initiated Operation Paul Bunyan which resulted in the following:”

“-Task Force Vierra (a convoy of 23 US and South Korean vehicles) drove into the JSA without warning the North Koreans at 0700. The vehicles had a compliment of two eight-man teams of combat engineers equipped with chain-saws to remove the tree.”

“-Task Force Vierra would be accompanied by two 30-man security platoons from the Joint Security Force, who were armed with pistols and axe handles. 1st Platoon secured northern entrance to the JSA via the Bridge of No Return while 2nd Platoon secured southern edge.”

“-Another company had activated the detonation systems for the explsoives on Freedom Bridge and had the main gun of a combat engineer vehicle aimed at the middle of the bridge to make sure that it collapsed should explsoives vailed.”

“They were also building rafts on the Imjin River in case an emergency evacuation was required.”

“-A 64-man task force of South Korean Special Forces accompanied them, armed with clubs and were trained in Tae Kwon Do but bore no firearms.”

“Once they parked their trucks near the Bridge of No Return, they began throwing out sandbags and armed themselves with M16s with grenade launchers.”

“Some of the commandos also had claymore mines strapped to their chests while holding the trigger in their hands, shouting at the North Koreans and daring them to cross the bridge.”

“-A US infantry company in 20 transport helicopters and seven Cobra attack choppers were right behind them. And behind those helicopters were B-52 bombers escorted by F4 Phantom jet fighters. F5 and F86 fighters also took flight to provide overwatch at higher altitudes.”

“FB-111 fighter-bombers and more F4 Phantoms were deployed, and the U.S.S. Midway (aircraft carrier) and its task force was moved just off-shore.”

“Near the DMZ were more heavily armed US and South Korean infantry and artillery units, an air defense regiment with mobile surface-to-air missile batteries and main battle tank platoons were waiting to back up the special ops team.”

“Bases near the DMZ were prepped for demolition in case of a North Korean counter-attack. 12,000 more soldiers and 1,800 more Marines were deployed to Korea, and nuclear-capable strategic bombers were called in to circle over the JSA.”

“Task Force Viera – who was directly responsible for cutting down the tree – totaled a little over 800 men.”

“North Korea deployed about 200 troops in response and were all armed with small arms and support weapons, and were deployed in buses but they didn’t immediately disembark their busses because they were bewildered by the show of force that was arrayed before them.”

“When they finally got out of their buses and set up their machine gun positions, all they could do was watch in silence as the tree was felled. After all of this, a six meter tree stump was left standing.”

“All of this because a tree’s foilage was blocking the view of an observation post.”-Tangowolf

“I love sharing the story of Deborah Sampson. She was effectively the American Mulan. During the Revolutionary War she masqueraded as a man to fight.”

“While she did eventually get caught after being wounded, she managed to avoid that issue once by digging a musketball out of her thigh!”

“She was the only woman following the war to receive a soldier’s pension. Awesome.”-22glowworm22

Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie!

“Melbourne was once terrorised by a crime gang that consisted exclusively of men with one leg and crutches.”

“‘The Crutchy Push, with one exception, consisted of one-legged men. The exception was a one-armed man who kept half a brick in his sewn up empty sleeve. He led his followers into battle swinging the weighted sleeve around his head.'”

“‘Behind him came the men on crutches – each one expert at balancing on one leg. The tip of the crutch was used to jab an opponent in the midriff. With the enemy gasping for breath the crutch would be reversed and the metal-shod arm rest would be used as a club.’”

“It gets better.”

“After several incidences of their member outrunning cops sent to track them down, the police got together the ten most violent police officers in Australia, called them ‘The Terrible Ten’ and sent them to beat up the Crutchie Push with hoses, because Australia is clearly one giant Carry On movie.”-suitcasedreaming

“So about a thousand years ago a Pope, declared that his predecessor was a wicked priest and shall be tried for vile behavior. The problem was that his predecessor was dead and 6 feet under.”

“So, logically, the Pope exumes the body and puts it on the defense stand to stand trial. The corpse loses. Thus the punishment was the cutting off of the three fingers on the right hand used to bless people, and the mutilated corpse was put back to rest.”

“Later the good ole Pope decides that the punishment wasn’t severe enough, so he RE-EXHUMED the dead f**ker, tries him again, finds him guilty, again, and dumps the dead pope in the Tiber F**KING River.”

“Thankfully a monk retrieved the body. The Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Christians happened 60 years later. If you don’t believe me, google the Cadaver Synod.”-Saramello

Truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to history and any history buff will know just how true that is.

And strange things and funny history facts are being added every single day to the ongoing compendium that is the human experience.

Written by Mike Walsh

Mike is a writer, dancer, actor, and singer who recently graduated with his MFA from Columbia University. Mike's daily ambitions are to meet new dogs and make new puns on a daily basis. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @mikerowavables.