We asked our regular contributors through e-mail What sounds like fiction but is actually a real historical event? We got many interesting responses. Here are some of them. We have just copied and pasted their responses, not editing them in any way.
1. A Chinese emperor once ran in circles around a pillar to escape an assassin. He survived.
3. The Glasgow Ice Cream Wars – 6 people died in a turf war over ice cream van routes (they were dealing heroin out of the vans).
4. In 2007 a paraglider got trapped in the updraft of two joining thunderstorms and lifted to an altitude of 10 kilometers. She landed 3,5 hours later about 60 kilometers north of her starting position having survived extreme cold, lightning, and lack of oxygen.
5. In the 1800s there were street vendors in Egypt who sold…ancient Egyptian mummies. Just lined them up on a street corner and sold them like they were umbrellas on a rainy day. English tourists would buy them to display as oddities.
7. The Marathon at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.
The first place finisher did most of the race in a car. He had intended to drop out and got a car back to the stadium to get his change of clothes, and just kind of started jogging when he heard the fanfare.
The second place finisher was carried across the finish line, legs technically twitching, by his trainers. They had been refusing him water and giving him a mixture of Brandy and Rat Poison for the entire race. Doping wasn’t illegal yet (and this was a terrible attempt at it), so he got the gold when the First guy was revealed.
The third finisher was unremarkable, somehow.
The fourth finisher was a Cuban Mailman, who had raised the funds to attend the Olympics by running non-stop around his entire country. He landed in New Orleans and promptly lost all of the traveling money on a riverboat casino. He ran the race in dress shoes and long trousers (cut off at the knee by a fellow competitor with a knife). He probably would have come in first (well, second, behind the car) had it not been for the hour nap he took on the side of the track after eating rotten apples he found on the side of the race.
9th and 12th finishers were from South Africa and ran barefoot. South Africa didn’t actually send a delegation – these were students who just happened to be in town and thought it sounded fun. 9th was chased a mile off course by angry dogs. Note: These are the first Africans to compete in any modern Olympic event.
Half the participants had never raced competitively before. Some died.
St. Louis only had one water stop on the entire run. This, coupled with the dusty road and exacerbated by the cars kicking up dust, lead to the above fatalities. And yet, somehow, Rat Poison guy survived to get the Gold.
The Russian delegation arrived a week late because they were still using the Julian calendar. In 1904.
Seriously. This needs to be a movie.
8. The longest piano piece of any kind is Vexations by Erik Satie.
It consists of a 180-note composition which, on the composer’s orders, must be repeated 840 times so that the whole performance is 18 hours 40 minutes. Its first reported public performance in September 1963, in the Pocket Theater, New York City, required a relay team of 10 pianists.
The New York Times critic fell asleep at 4 a.m. and the audience dwindled to 6 masochists. At the conclusion, one sadomasochist shouted: “‘Encore!”
9. Jack a Baboon who was employed to change rail signals.
“After initial skepticism, the railway decided to officially employ Jack once his job competency was verified. The baboon was paid twenty cents a day, and a half-bottle of beer each week. It is widely reported that in his nine years of employment with the railroad, Jack never made a mistake.”
10. There were a few Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender after WWII and remained on duty in the rain forest for 30 years after the war ended.