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10 Historical Tidbits that Will Make You Chuckle

Historical tidbits

When we study history, we only get to know the serious and the important stuff. There are so many small instances that history books do not mention, and some of them are hilarious. Did you know that the American Civil War started in the kitchen of a grocer and ended in his front parlor? We bring you 10 historical tidbits that will make you chuckle.

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1. In 1861, when archaeologists explored an old Viking chamber, they found around 30 inscriptions upon the tall walls that were unreadable. After spending a lot of time on deciphering these runes, they found one of them literally translated to: “Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up.” The other translations were also hilarious!

Maeshowe
Runes in Maeshowe. Image credits: Maeshowe

In 1861, James Farrer led an excavation of the burial mounds that belonged to the Neolithic period. When the largest mound was first excavated, the original entrance was jammed, so the excavators used a shaft to get inside from the top. They were not expecting what they saw.

Firstly, they found proof that they were not the first ones to have broken into the tomb. Secondly, the entrance and the walls of the mound had several runic graffiti. Archaeologists were able to find 30 different inscriptions making it the largest collection of runic graffiti to have ever been discovered in Europe.

There’s an 800-year-old Orkneyinga saga in which a party of Vikings took shelter in one of the burial mounds of Maeshowe. They have been known to leave behind inscriptions. When the archaeologists first found the inscriptions, they thought they were the ones from the Orkneyinga saga. They thought they just hit gold, so they started deciphering them.

The transcriptions, however, turned out to be utterly hilarious. They were just random sentences inscribed by the crusaders who must have sheltered in the tomb hundreds of years ago. The inscription that was at the top of the wall translated roughly to: “Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up.” Others were “Haermund Hardaxe carved these runes” and “These runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes in the western ocean.” The majority of them were just names of the people with the words “carved these runes.” Some described the beauty of a woman, while others described the purpose of a Viking’s life. These runes must have given the archaeologists quite a laugh! (1, 2)

2. One of the first instances of the American Civil War started in the front yard of Wilmer McLean. He moved to Appomattox thinking he would be safe there. But in 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered in McLean’s new house in Appomattox. Quite literally, the war started in the front yard of McLean and ended in his parlor!

Wilmer Mclean
(Image 1) Wilmer McLean (Image 2) McLean residence. Image credits: Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, National Park Service/Wikipedia, Marion Doss/Flickr

Wilmer McLean was ex-military personnel and a grocer by profession. But the reason he went down in history is that the American Civil War literally started and ended at his home! McLean’s family farm was being used as the headquarters for Beauregard, the Confederate brigadier general. On July 21, 1861, a cannonball, fired by the Union Army just came in through the window of his kitchen. This was the first engagement that would turn into the First Battle of Bull Run.

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After this attack, McLean decided to leave his family farm and moved to Virginia to protect his family. He thought he would be safe there. April 9, 1865, the war just came running to his house again! Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, surrendered at McLean’s house. The surrender in McLean’s parlor ended the Civil War. Later, McLean had supposedly said: “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”

After the surrender ceremony, the Union Army started picking up McLean’s stuff like tables, chairs, etc. and began taking them away as souvenirs. The protesting McLean was paid money in return. A General paid $40 for the table on which Lee signed the documents. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park has an authentic recreation of the second home where the surrender took place. (source)

3. During the Battle of Bull Run, residents used to go for picnics to watch the battle from the sidelines.

Battle of bull run
Image credits: Mike Goad/Flickr

The first battle of the American Civil War was the Battle of Bull Run. The Union and the Confederate forces clashed. What’s intriguing about this battle is that the battle had spectators coming from far places to witness it. People came with sandwiches and opera glasses, sat on the sidelines, and ate their lunch while watching it.  Most of the spectators were U.S. congressmen who expected the Union army to take the win.

The day the battle was fought was a Sunday, so people came from all over Washington with picnic baskets to enjoy the battle. Some sources say that the spectators were mostly men, while others say there were a good number of women and children as well. Some sources even say that saleswomen came to the location to sell pies and other food items to the spectators.

The reason the people came was probably because they had never seen a battle. They never imagined that a battle could turn so intense and cruel. When the spectators saw soldiers going down, they started running away. Some, however, stayed until the end. (source)

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4. The most rigged election was the Liberian general election in 1927 where the winner received 2,43,000 votes when there were only 15,000 registered voters.

Charles D. B. King
Charles D. B. King. Image credit: Peace Palace Library, The Hague (NL)

Charles King, the former President of Liberia, earned himself a spot in the Guinness World Book of Records for being part of the most rigged election ever reported in the entire course of history! During the general elections in Liberia in 1927, King won against his opponent, the other candidate Thomas Faulkner. King received 243,000 votes while Faulkner only 9,000.

That seems like a huge win, but the total number of registered voters at that time was only 15,000. This means that Faulkner was a clear winner as he received 9,000 votes, so the remaining 6,000 would have voted for King. But King committed fraud and somehow received 243,000 votes which is insane considering there were only 15,000 voters. (source)

5. During WWII, Germans dropped demoralizing leaflets on London. Many didn’t make it to the ground due to natural circumstances like the wind. The ones that made it were used by the British as cheap toilet paper!

Airborne leaflet
Image is for representation purpose only. Image source: psywar.org

All wars deploy various strategies, and during World War II, the Germans turned to the aid of airborne leaflet propaganda to tilt the scales in their favor. Airborne leaflet propaganda is psychological combat where one party distributes leaflets from aircraft to alter the behavior of the combatants and civilians in an enemy-controlled area.

During World War II, Germany started dropping leaflets in large numbers over London and nearby areas with demoralizing messages. There were certain leaflets where one side was printed with a beautiful landscape with palm trees. When one turned the leaflet, they would read the words “Did you expect to find it like this?”, and there would be a picture of graves and skeletons.

The hilarious takeaway in all of this is that the British found a way to utilize these leaflets. They started using them as cheap toilet paper! They were so widely used that very few of them were preserved. (1, 2, 3, 4)

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