History repeats itself, as they say, but not all incidents in history repeat. That’s a good thing for those of us who live in the present because the past is a veritable smorgasbord of the most bizarre, unseemly occurrences. Some of those were caused by natural agents like animals and volcanoes. Most, though, are the result of pure human silliness. Here are the craziest incidents in history.
1. In the 1904 Olympics marathon, the winner was disqualified for using a car to cover 11 miles. The person who came second collapsed at the finish line and was found to have used rat poison to get an energy boost.
The Olympics is a sporting event of great import that is strictly regulated today, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1904, competitors got away with more than you could imagine. The winner of the marathon that year was Fred Lorz. He managed to finish the event with a time of 3 hours and 13 minutes. Although he was the first to cross the finish line, Lorz was stripped of his medal after spectators reported seeing him hitch a car ride during the race. He was then banned for life by the Amateur Athletic Union. The man who came second that day Thomas Hicks, who finished the race about 15 minutes after Lorz. Hicks didn’t cheat by the day’s standards, but he was found to have taken doses of strychnine to keep his energy up. Today, strychnine is used as a pesticide, as well as to kill rats and birds. If Hicks were to try that today, he would be disqualified as well.(source)
2. When a railway line was being constructed in Uganda in 1898, two lions were responsible for curbing its progression by killing the construction company’s employees at night. The final casualty count was found to be 135.
In 1898, construction workers in Uganda were tasked with building a rail bridge over the Tsavo River. Things were going all fine and dandy until two lions showed up and decided they wanted to consume only human meat for a while. Estimates put the number of deaths that the man-eaters of Tsavo were responsible for as high as 135. The lions’ reign of terror came to an end when Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson took things into his own hands and shot them both. He then sold them to the Field Museum in Chicago for a handy $5,000. The lions’ stuffed bodies can be seen at the museum to this day.(source)
3. In 452 CE, Attila the Hun marched his army towards Rome after pillaging large parts of Germany, Greece, and Macedonia. He was met by Pope Leo I who managed to convince the military leader to turn back without invading the region.
Atilla the Hun is known for a lot of things, but his compassion isn’t one of them. There’s a reason he was called the “Scourge of God.” However, there was a case when he relented to a plea for mercy. As Attila was entering Italy after successful conquests in Germany, Greece, and Macedonia, he was met by the venerable Pope Leo. The high priest made a passionate plea for mercy along with generously showered praises. The military leader was so impressed by the Pope’s oratory that he ordered his army to turn back without doing to Rome what he had done to many other parts of the world.(source)
4. Simeon the Stylite was a 5th-century monk who gained popularity for spending 37 straight years on top of a pillar located in modern-day Syria. He would sustain himself with food given to him by boys who would climb up the pillar to deliver parcels.
Simeon was a monk who was expelled from his monastic community for being excessively austere. Even so, the former shepherd was known to be a miracle worker and was quite in demand from people looking for a miracle. Simeon grew so tired of the constant requests for divine intervention that he decided to spend a significant portion of his life atop a pillar located near Aleppo. The structure started off at six feet and was then rebuilt to a height of 50 feet. His devotees would carry food and water up to him using a ladder built against the pillar. Simeon lived his days at elevation and the pillar has now become a pilgrimage site.(source)
5. When USPS started its parcel post service, poor families are recorded as having used it to mail relatives their children. In one particular instance, a girl was delivered to her grandmother who lived 73 miles away.
Parents across the USA found a loophole when the USPS first introduced its parcel service. They realized that they could have the postal service take their children to relatives by having them recognized as parcels. The children weren’t, however, stuck in packaging like other parcels were. They were entrusted to an employee of the postal service who would accompany them all the way to their destination. Postmaster General Burleson decreed that humans couldn’t be delivered as part of the mail in 1914, but the practice didn’t stop until the next year.(source)
6. In 15th century Prague, frustrated citizens would take matters into their own hands by throwing politicians out of windows. Most that didn’t die from the fall would be killed by a mob waiting below.
Frustration with the political class is nothing new, but the residents of Prague held represented officials accountable like you wouldn’t believe. Most of the angst the populace felt was linked to the Catholic Church and the large amounts of wealth the clergy was able to amass. A radical preacher from the Hussite sect named Želivsky rose to prominence during this time. When Želivsky was hit by a stone thrown at him from a town hall during a protest, all hell broke loose. The mob entered the town hall and found 15 members of the council, all of whom they threw out of a window. Similar defenestrations have been recorded in Prague’s colorful history.(source)
7. The Mt. Pelée volcanic eruption wiped out almost the entire 35,000-strong population of St. Pierre, a town in Martinique, a French-Caribbean island. One of the only survivors was Ludger Sylbaris who had been sentenced to solitary confinement in a cell that was half underground with very poor ventilation.
In May 1902, Mt. Pelée rained down its fury on the residents of Martinique. Clouds of superheated steam and volcanic materials shot into the atmosphere leaving the city’s entire population either suffocating or burning to death. One of the few people to survive the calamity did so thanks to being incarcerated in a poorly-ventilated jail. Ludger Sylbaris got into a brawl a day before the volcanic eruption and was locked up in a cell without windows. He suffered burns and injury from the event but did not lose his life like most of the other townspeople.(source)
8. The Republic of Rose Island was a micronation built by Italian engineer Giorgio Rosa off the coast of Rimini, Italy. The Italian government saw Rosa’s micronation as an attempt to attract tourists without incurring taxes, and the country’s navy destroyed the island using explosives.
Giorgio Rosa created his little island nation on a platform constructed using nine pylons. Although small, the Republic of Rose was a happening spot that boasted its own nightclub, restaurant, and bar. The place even issued its own stamps, and according to some accounts, had its own currency. Italian authorities, however, weren’t fans of the location. Suspecting tax evasion as being Rosa’s reason for creating the micronation, Italy’s navy was sent in to blow the place up using explosives. This act was depicted on a stamp issued by the now-defunct country’s government in exile.(source)
9. Truck driver Larry Walters once attached 42 weather balloons to a lawn chair and managed to ascend 16,000 feet in the air. Walters was spotted by the pilots of flights inbound into LAX and caused a whole neighborhood to lose power when the balloons got caught in some power lines.
Many give up on their dreams when faced with hurdles, but not Larry Walters. The truck driver had harbored desires of joining the Air Force but was turned away due to issues with his eyesight. This didn’t, however, quell his desire to take to the skies. Walters realized that dream by tethering 42 weather balloons to his lawn chair. The ad-hoc mode of flight worked well enough that Walters made it all the way up to 16,000 feet. His plan was to use a pellet gun to shoot balloons and control his descent. He managed to take a few of the balloons out but dropped his gun on the way down. Walters made it safely back to level ground thanks to his chair getting snagged on some power lines, cutting the power to a whole LA neighborhood. “Lawn Chair Larry” was slapped with a $1,500 fine for his troubles.(source)
10. The Nika riots of AD 532 were caused by tensions created between the Byzantine empire’s four chariot racing teams. As many as 30,000 rioters lost their lives in the incident, and Emperor Justinian was forced to rebuild the city of Constantinople since more than half of it had been destroyed.
There were four main chariot racing teams during the Byzantine era, each named after a color: Blue, Green, Red, and White. Team affiliations became a major cause of political and social unrest. The emperor Justinian I who was ruler at the time aligned himself with the Blue team. In 532, a riot broke out when Justinian was at the Hippodrome to watch the races. Some senators saw this as an opportunity to overthrow the emperor and armed rioters. As many as 30,000 were killed during the riots. However, Justinian managed to hold onto his throne. That was thanks to help from a eunuch named Narses, who walked unarmed into the Hippodrome and reminded the leaders of the Blue team that the emperor was on their side.(source)