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25 More Incredibly Strange But True Historical Facts

By Jake Beardslee · March 7, 2024

History is full of little-known stories so peculiar, they seem too strange to be true. This list highlights 25 astounding facts from the distant and recent past that sound more like fiction than non-fiction. You'll uncover bizarre tales like ancient emperors' unusual appointments, medieval superstitions gone wild, and presidential coincidences too uncanny to believe. Whether it's empires, disasters, close calls or curious customs, prepare to have your perceptions challenged by these true stories stranger than fiction. Buckle up for a totally true tour of the unbelievable history you didn't learn in school.  Dmarcy/Wikimedia

Salem's Trial Against Tomatoes

Salem, Massachusetts, known for the tragic witch trials of the 17th century, once held an equally bizarre proceeding - but this time against tomatoes. In 1820, the humble fruit found itself on trial as the townspeople sought to determine whether tomatoes were, in fact, poisonous. The matter was ultimately settled when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate an entire basket of tomatoes without falling ill, proving their safety for consumption.  PD-US/Wikimedia

Pythagoras' Peculiar Bean Phobia

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, famous for his eponymous theorem, had an inexplicable aversion to beans. As the leader of a cult-like following, he enforced strict rules, including a complete prohibition on consuming beans - though the reasons behind this peculiar taboo remain unclear to this day.  J. Augustus Knapp/Wikimedia

The Colorful Truth About Ancient Greek and Roman Statues

Contrary to their current marble appearance, ancient Greek and Roman statues were actually painted in vibrant colors. Over time, much of this pigment has faded or been removed, obscuring their original vivid state.  Aquaplaning/Wikimedia

The Teenage Benjamin Franklin's Literary Prank

In 1722, the readers of a Boston paper were captivated by the witty letters of a fictitious widow named Mrs. Silence Dogood. For months, her identity remained a mystery until it was revealed that the satirical writings were the work of a 16-year-old Benjamin Franklin.  Joseph-Siffred Duplessis/Wikimedia

Andrew Jackson's Foul-Mouthed Parrot

At President Andrew Jackson's funeral in 1845, his pet parrot had to be removed from the proceedings due to its incessant swearing, providing an unexpected moment of levity amidst the somber occasion.  Amit Talwar/Unsplash

The Friendly Booze War Between Canada and Denmark

For over three decades, Canada and Denmark have been engaged in a peculiar territorial dispute over Hans Island. Rather than resorting to violence, officials from both countries periodically visit the island and leave behind a bottle of their nation's liquor as a playful act of claiming ownership.  Scott Van Hoy/Unsplash

The Potato Promotion Scheme

When potatoes were initially unpopular in France, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier devised a clever strategy to increase their appeal. He planted a potato patch and hired guards to protect it during the day, piquing people's curiosity. At night, he removed the guards, allowing people to "steal" the potatoes, thus fostering demand.  Edith Martineau/Wikimedia

When Pepsi Accidentally Became a Superpower

In a bizarre turn of events, Pepsi found itself in possession of 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer in the early 1990s. This unlikely acquisition occurred due to a deal struck with the Soviet Union, where they traded Pepsi products for military equipment.  Isaac N./Unsplash

The Incredible Around-the-World Car Race of 1908

In 1908, a remarkable car race circumnavigated the globe, starting in New York City. The route took drivers across the United States, through Alaska, and over the (supposedly frozen) Bering Strait into Russia and Europe, before ending in Paris. Despite numerous challenges, one team incredibly completed the 169-day journey.  Bain News Service/Wikimedia

Ronald Reagan's Lifeguard Days

Before becoming a famous actor and politician, Ronald Reagan's first job was as a lifeguard. During his six years in this role, he saved an impressive 77 people from drowning.  PD-US/Wikimedia

From TV President to Real President of Ukraine

In an extraordinary turn of events, Volodymyr Zelensky went from playing the President of Ukraine in a popular TV show to actually being elected to that position in 2019.

The Tunneling Tactics of Ancient Siege Warfare

During a siege in the Mithridatic Wars, the Romans attempted to tunnel beneath the city walls of Themyscira. The defenders countered by digging their own tunnels and releasing wild animals like bears and bees to attack the Roman diggers.  Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

The Accidental 101-Year War

Montenegro and Japan were technically at war for over a century due to a quirk of diplomacy. When Montenegro aided Russia against Japan in 1904-1905, the ensuing peace treaty failed to officially end hostilities with Montenegro until 2006.  Milica Buha/Wikimedia

Abraham Lincoln: Wrestler Extraordinaire

In addition to being the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln had a remarkable prowess as a wrestler in his youth. His wrestling abilities were so esteemed that he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992.  Alexander Gardner/Wikimedia

The Ancient Art of Bread Stamping

In ancient times, bakers used unique bread stamps not just out of pride, but to combat "bread fraud." Each stamp could be traced back to its baker, discouraging the adulteration of loaves with fillers like sawdust.  Benjamin Goetzinger/Wikimedia

The "Picnic Battle" of Bull Run

The First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 earned the peculiar nickname "The Picnic Battle." This was because many civilians from Washington D.C., including Congressmen and their families, attended and watched the fighting unfold like a casual spectator event.  PD-US/Wikimedia

Death by Pear for a Roman Prince

Tiberius Claudius Drusus, the eldest son of a future Roman emperor, met an untimely death by asphyxiation when he choked on a pear he had tossed into the air and caught in his mouth.  Naples National Archaeological Museum/Wikimedia

When the Puritans Banned Christmas

Around the 17th century, Christmas celebrations were actually outlawed in New England colonies due to their perceived association with excessive indulgence, mockery of authority, and rowdy public disturbances.  PD-US/Wikimedia

The Man Who Burned for Fame

In ancient times, Herostratus intentionally burned down the Temple of Artemis solely to become famous. His acts prompted a law forbidding mention of his name, though this ultimately failed to erase him from historical record.  Philip Galle/Wikimedia

The Longest Inaugural Address Proved Fatal

William Henry Harrison's 8,445-word inaugural speech in 1841 remains the longest in U.S. history. Tragically, his decision to brave cold weather without proper outerwear led to him falling ill with pneumonia, resulting in the shortest presidency ever at just 31 days.  Albert Gallatin Hoit/Wikimedia

The Codex Vaticanus: Ancient Biblical Text

Dated to the 4th century CE, the Codex Vaticanus is the oldest recovered copy of the Bible. This priceless parchment manuscript is carefully preserved within the Vatican Library, offering a window into early Christian history.  Codex Vaticanus/Wikimedia

The Oldest Film In The World Is 2 Seconds Long

The Roundhay Garden Scene, a mere 2.11 seconds long, holds the record as the oldest surviving film ever recorded. Directed by French inventor Louis Le Prince in 1888, this brief clip represents the humble origins of modern cinema.  Louis Le Prince/Wikimedia

Mr. Potato Head's Groundbreaking TV Debut

Before his stardom in the Toy Story franchise, the iconic Mr. Potato Head made history as the first toy ever advertised on television, paving the way for countless other products to reach consumers through the new medium.  w:National Institutes of Health/Wikimedia

Tamil: The Ancient Language That Endures

With a documented history stretching back over 5,000 years to 3,000 BCE, the Tamil language spoken in parts of India and Sri Lanka is considered the oldest language still in use today, a remarkable testament to its enduring cultural significance.  Pratishkhedekar/Wikimedia

The Einstein Math Failure Myth

One persistent myth surrounding Albert Einstein portrays him as a struggling student who failed math exams in his youth. However, this tale is simply unfounded. In 1935, when a Princeton Rabbi inquired about the veracity of this claim, Einstein laughed it off, stating that he had, in fact, mastered the complexities of differential and integral calculus by age 15.  Photograph by Orren Jack Turner/Wikimedia

History is a tapestry woven with countless threads of fascinating stories, bizarre events, and incredible achievements. From the ancient world to the modern era, there is no shortage of mind-boggling facts that challenge our perceptions and leave us in awe. These historical nuggets remind us that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, and that the past is a rich source of entertainment and amazement.  Cristina Gottardi/Unsplash