You know, history isn’t just a litany of obscure dates and facts told by a bearded professor in a velvet jacket that stinks of his mouth. History is also a heap of small details which, juxtaposed, draw up the contours of human life. And like a very fresh rusk, these little details can be quite crispy although less stuffy.
1. Abraham Lincoln’s son was present at three presidential assassinations
Robert Todd Lincoln was present during the assassination of his father. Appointed Secretary of War in 1881, he was also present during the assassination of President James Garfield that same year. In 1901, President William McKinley invited him to Buffalo for the Pan-American Exposition during which he in turn was assassinated. Thereafter, Robert Lincoln did not accept any more presidential invitations.
2. Montenegro and Japan were at war for 101 years: they forgot to sign the peace
An ally of Russia, Montenegro declared war on Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Lacking a navy, Montenegro simply glared at Japan, leaving Russia to occupy rest. And then… Montenegro found itself attached to Serbia and then to Yugoslavia and the peace treaty allowing the two countries to re-establish diplomatic relations was only ratified in 2006, when the country gained independence.
3. The marathon of the 1904 Olympic Games that reminds us of all the films of the Cohen brothers
We are going to simplify as much as possible, but basically: the winner of the marathon actually traveled by car before being the victim of damage which forced him to finish the race on foot for about ten kilometers; the second was poisoned by his trainer and lost ten kilos on the way; the fourth was a Cuban postman who had nothing to give a damn about in this race in which he was not registered at all. All with a referee who refused to allow athletes to drink during the race when it was 45 degrees. A story worthy of a movie.
4. The head of American counterintelligence was trained by the best double agent in the service of the USSR
On the one hand Kim Philby, an English intellectual, high figure in British intelligence and incidentally a double agent for the Soviets to whom he had pledged allegiance out of conviction; on the other, James Angleton, an average student who became head of American counterintelligence between 1954 and 1974, whose anti-communist paranoia ended up completely paralyzing the CIA. And yet the two guys were friends. It was Philby, while on assignment in the United States, who trained Angleton in counterintelligence and recommended him to his CIA superiors. So much so that once Philby was discovered, Angleton was suspected of having been a double agent too. The two men had lunch together every week. An unlikely friendship.
5. Colombia has a period in its history that historians call “The Stupid Homeland”
The Patria Boba, to be exact, which takes place between the declaration of the country’s independence in 1810 and the entry of the Spanish reconquest in Bogotà in 1816. A succession of bad choices by incompetent leaders, declarations of war regional divisions, disagreements between separatists leading to civil war and political instability led to the fall of the Republic. Or how to ruin everything we’ve accomplished.
6. On the evening of Lady Di’s death, Chirac was nowhere to be found. And for good reason
On the evening of Ladi Di’s encounter with the Alma bridge, it was Bernadette who went alone to the scene of the tragedy. President Chirac, who should have traveled for the occasion, was indeed nowhere to be found. In reality, he was a priori at Claudia Cardinale. Chirac’s life is not lacking in improbable anecdotes.
7. The first bomb that fell on Berlin during the war killed no one. Apart from an elephant
The elephant was in the Berlin Zoo. Some sources also say that a giraffe died at the same time. Not very cool for protected species.
8. In a battle during this same war, the Americans fought alongside the Wehrmacht against the SS
On May 5, 1945, the Battle of Itter Castle, Austria, pitted on one side the Americans, members of the Austrian resistance, French prisoners of war AND THE GERMAN ARMY AGAINST the SS. The castle housed high-ranking French prisoners of war (Jean Borotra, Édouard Daladier, Paul Reynaud, several general officers as well as the sister of Charles de Gaulle). The SS sought to take the castle while the prisoners who had fraternized with some of their jailers tried to hold their stronghold.
9. Once Australia was discovered, everyone thought it sucked
At the very beginning of the 17th century, Dutch explorers landed somewhat by chance in Australia. Immediately, they seized their finest pen to deliver of the land thus discovered their most faithful description: “Large areas are not even cultivated, and the inhabitants are savages and barbarians. Conclusion: “nothing to draw from it”. An official report later recommended that all explorers avoid the area.
10. Louis XVI helped improve the guillotine
In 1792, the doctor Antoine Louis perfected the guillotine (which, moreover, was not Joseph Guillotin’s machine) to make executions faster and cleaner. But his prototype calls for a straight or crescent blade that isn’t ideal for shearing a neck. Louis XVI scratches his chin and like a good Sunday do-it-yourselfer, he suggests that Antoine Louis opt for a beveled blade. And that’s how Louis XVI improved the device that cut off his head.
11. The Bastille was to be destroyed in 1784
Imagine an old prison in the heart of Paris: the job! The cost for maintenance! As early as 1784, Necker had advocated its dismantling in favor of a public square which would have borne the name of the king with a statue of said in its center. The idea was to keep only one tower as a testimony to the heritage of the old prison. In short, the project was under study and not quite buried when, 5 years later, a cohort of those who would then be called revolutionaries did the job for free.
12. The flag of Alaska was designed by a 13-year-old child.
The Big Dipper and the North Star on a dark blue background? Not very difficult to imagine. When a contest was launched to determine what the state flag would be in 1927, Benny Benson didn’t hesitate. This is how he described his work: “The blue field represents the sky of Alaska and the forget-me-not, flower of Alaska. The North Star represents the future state of Alaska, the northernmost state in the Union. The Big Dipper symbolizes strength. “. Well yeah it’s won! Benny Benson was 13 years old. Me, at 13, I had pimples and an irrepressible urge to masturbate.
13. France declared war on Mexico over a pastry story
It is a French pastry chef who is at the origin of the conflict: after having unsuccessfully sought to obtain compensation from the Mexican government following the degradation of his pastry by a military squad whose soldiers had taken advantage of it to steal a lot of cakes, he decided to turn to Louis Philippe asking him to intercede. Immediately, Louis Philippe decided to blockade the ports of the Gulf of Mexico, which eventually led to the French invasion of Veracruz.
14. Lobster was once a disgusting dish.
Until the 19th century, you know how the lobster was nicknamed? The “cockroach of the seas”. They were everywhere in the Atlantic and no one ate them. To tell the truth, the only ones who ate lobster at every meal were the prisoners because it was cheap and it was humiliating. The lucky maids signed contracts in which it was specified that they would not be required to eat lobster at every meal. It was at the end of the 19th century that the train connecting the American east and west coasts ran into a shortage of food and was forced to find a quick solution: lobster. The company then set up an advertising campaign by playing on the exotic character of this food. Success, imitation, overfishing, rarity, explosive price.
15. A total solar eclipse precipitated peace between the Medes and the Lydians
In 6th century BC Anatolia, the Medes and Lydians had been fighting for 5 years when suddenly a total eclipse of the sun (and not of the heart as Bonnie Tyler would say) was understood as a bad omen by both camps that decided on the spot to make peace.