History isn’t just dry lists of dates & people, oftentimes it tells stories that give us insights into the lives & thoughts of our ancestors.
And sometimes those stories have unexpected results – these are ten of the best real-world “plot twists” from the past:
- During the height of the Black Plague in the 14th century, cats were killed en-masse due to the popular belief that they were in league with the devil and were causing the so-called “Black Death”. If the cats had remained alive to keep rodent populations under control (the disease spread via fleas carried by rodents), the plague would have had a much smaller impact.
- Also during Europe’s Black Plague in the 14th century, there were groups of devout people who toured from town to town and self-flagellated themselves publicly to try and appease God and lessen the plague. What they were in fact doing was acting as hosts for the disease to travel between towns, and spraying infected blood on the public every time they “performed”.
- In 1914, Gavrilo Princip tried to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by throwing a grenade under the Archduke’s car as he passed by. The grenade delayed and instead blew up the next car, and a dejected Gavrilo went to get some food at a local restaurant. The Archduke asked his driver to head to the hospital so he could visit those injured in the failed plot on his life, but the driver got lost and the car stalled right in front of the restaurant where Pincip was having lunch. The failed assassin walked outside, saw the Archduke standing there, and shot him.
- After World War 1, France dictated the terms of armistice to the Germans in a train car near Compiègne. Only 20 years later, Hitler set up a meeting in the same train car in the exact same location to set terms for the armistice to the French. A few years later the Germans blew the train up while retreating so they wouldn’t have to suffer the humiliation of signing a third armistice in the exact same train car.
- During the Cold War, Henry Murray developed a personality profiling test that was intended to crack Soviet spies with psychological warfare. His group experimented with the test on Harvard sophomores, and set one student as the control after he proved to be a completely predictable conformist. Part of the experiment involved having the student prepare an essay on his core beliefs for friendly debate, but instead an aggressive interrogator was used to tear apart each student’s beliefs. Unfortunately, this process caused a psychological break in the control student, turning him into a mess of a person who, after graduating, moved to a solitary life in the woods for several decades. During that time he kept trying to write a better essay, and once he completed it he set out to make sure that everyone heard what he had to say. His “Industrial Society and its Future” became one of the most well-known essays of the century, and you’ve probably heard it called The Unabomber Manifesto.
- Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a resident of Nagasaki, was in Hiroshima on business for his employer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries when the city was bombed at 8:15 am, on August 6, 1945. He returned to Nagasaki the following day, and despite his wounds, he returned to work on August 9, the day of the second atomic bombing. That morning, whilst being berated by his supervisor as “crazy” after describing how one bomb had destroyed the city, the Nagasaki bomb detonated.
- One of the factors leading up to Ernest Hemingway‘s suicide was his extreme paranoia that the FBI was following him, monitoring his phone calls and mail, freezing his assets, and taking his money. None of Hemingway’s friends or family believed him as he was suffering a mental breakdown at the time due to a hereditary blood disorder. In the 1990s the Freedom of Information Act was passed, and the FBI released documents revealing that they were in fact following Ernest Hemingway and doing all of the things he said they were, under the signed orders of J. Edgar Hoover himself.
- In 75 B.C., Julius Caesar was captured by Cilician pirates who infested the Mediterranean Sea. Whilst kept in captivity, Caesar joined them in their daily activities and often joked that he was going to have them arrested and crucified when they let him go, which they all found very funny. The pirates demanded twenty talents of silver for his ransom which Caesar took offense at, demanding that they ask for at least fifty (which they subsequently did). Caesar was set free, and immediately manned some ships and set sail from the harbor of Miletus against the pirates. He found them still there, captured all of them, and crucified them, just as he had often told them he would do.
- In WWII when Russia started gaining ground on Poland and East-Germany, some of the women feared what the enemy army’s men would do to them, so they wrote “syphilis” on their foreheads to scare away potential rapists. Unfortunately this just attracted the soldiers who already had syphilis.
- Chevalier d’Eon was a French diplomat and spy in England and Russia. Once he retired he revealed to the public that he had been a woman the entire time. She was henceforth made to wear gender appropriate clothing for the rest of her life, and she went on to write some books and support the American Revolution. However, when she died it was discovered that she was actually a man the whole time – he was double-crossdressing.