Someone, presumably with a love of tequila and regret, once said that if we don't learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. If that's true, we think we should stop studying it in hopes that dragons will come back. But fire-breathing super-lizards aside, there is something to be said for not repeating our mistakes. For example, if we just hadn't forgotten about all of these lesser-known, yet way crazier versions of huge news stories, maybe we could have avoided some of the tragedy. Or at least looked a little less surprised when tragedy showed up on our doorstep with a pillow and a sleeping bag ...
#5. The Unsolved Gruesome Serial Murders of Young Women in the Late 19th Century
The Famous Version: Jack the Ripper
In the late nineteenth century, Jack the Ripper began murdering prostitutes in London's Whitechapel district. We don't know the killer's true identity, despite an entire coven of "Ripperologists" still devoting their efforts to unlocking the mystery. The Ripper's exploits have him dubbed "the world's first serial killer" by some, though if we'd only looked a few thousand miles west and a few years earlier, we'd see ...
What you've never heard of: The Servant Girl Annihilator
The Servant Girl Annihilator isn't the most subtle nickname, we know, but Texas in the 1880s was a simpler time, back when men were men and women were just viciously, brutally murdered all over the place. Seriously, three years before Jack ruined the carefree and utopian ambiance of the destitute London prostitute population, a remarkably similar, even more horrifying case of serial woman killings hit the booming town of Austin, Texas.
Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
"We've always been ahead of the curve." -- some Aus-hole.
The Servant Girl Annihilator began by targeting black servant girls over a period of several months, kidnapping, brutally raping, and dismembering them with an ax. There was a slight uproar in the press early on, but as all the victims were black, female servants and this was Reconstruction Era Texas, the white townsfolk treated it like an epidemic of bicycle theft -- annoying, sure, but you'll just buy a new one. Then, on Christmas Eve, the killer attacked two prominent white women, and white people went flapping into an indignant slack-jawed panic. The headlines were so overwrought we half-suspect they were written by terror-weeping onto the keys of an old typewriter until the weight of the tears depressed a random key.
"BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!" read one; "HELL BROKE LOOSE!" read another.
Fort Worth Gazette
"IF ONLY THERE HAD BEEN SOME SIGN OF THIS IMPENDING DISASTER!" lamented another.
Crowds began protesting, lines at gun stores stretched around blocks, the city was put on lockdown, and ... all of the killings suddenly ceased. Like the killer just didn't realize anybody minded his horrific butchering, and when people finally raised a fuss about him putting iron pokers through the ears of children, he just put it aside to be polite. By the end of the massacre, eight victims were dead, a number of others seriously injured, and white folk everywhere learned that if you habitually just straight up ignore the brutal murders of a half-dozen black people, something bad might happen.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
"Please accept this giant statue of a white woman with our deepest apologies."
#4. The Musical Craze That Had Women Fainting at Concerts
The Famous Version: Beatlemania
Have you guys heard of The Beatles? They're this great little rock group that went from being a condom-burning bar band to a harmless boy band to a world-changing musical legacy. Thanks to Beatlemania -- the cutesy term news outlets coined for The Beatles' young female fans' tendency to go completely batshit crazy at the mere mention of their names -- we now append "-mania" to any type of fandom, be it "coupon" or "Hulko."
The Hulkster would also crib George's mustache.
What you've never heard of: Lisztomania
Franz Liszt was not your typical 19th century classical composer. He has been called the "world's first rock star" by some and "a long-haired nogoodnik" by Some's conservative parents. Liszt got his start giving piano lessons to young women in Paris, soon becoming quite the player (in every sense of the word). As he began giving more and more "performances," Liszt's cultural cache naturally boiled over into a period of full-fledged mania.
It was a mostly European phenomenon, following Liszt wherever he went, but it hit the city of Berlin particularly hard. Frauleins would attack him, fight over broken piano strings, tear bits of his clothing and handkerchiefs to stow as souvenirs, and even kept his used cigar butts in their cleavage. Others kept bottles around their necks for the sole purpose of collecting his used coffee grinds and put his portrait on their brooches. The guy practically traveled on the backs of lusty women, breast-stroking his way from performance to performance through a sea of hysterical lady-flesh. When Liszt finally left Berlin, the university cancelled classes just so its students could partake in the parade-like procession of his departure, and presumably mourn the passing of the best days of their vaginas' young lives.
Imagno / Hulton Fine Art Collection / Getty
What's he staring at? Hint: It rhymes with "oobs."
When we hear the term "anything-mania" we think of it as a fad, probably originating with those bowl-headed Liverpudlians -- something in which the public has taken an intense, if ultimately unhealthy interest. But the term was first coined by poet Heine, specifically to describe the effect Lizst had on young women. In the 19th century people took the idea of a mania a tad more seriously, considering it a very real and contagious disease. Scholars were confused about how a pianist could cause such hysteria, and some determined that it had to be pathological. That's right: Science was so baffled by Lizst's magnetism, they shrugged their collective shoulders and said, "Guy's carrying some sort of horny plague."
"Ladies, be calm. There is a cure ... in my pants."
#3. Terrible Airship Crashes over New Jersey Heralding the End of a Technological Era
The Famous Version: The Hindenburg
While you may know it only as a bitchin' album cover, the Hindenburg disaster pretty much sealed the fate of commercial airships back in 1937, when 36 people aboard died in a fiery, but not completely fatal explosion. The Hindenburg has gained a Titanic reputation for being the most significant airship crash in history. But that's only because, much like Dre, everybody forgot about ...
What you've never heard of: The Akron
The Hindenburg wasn't the first fatal airship crash, nor was it the biggest. Back in 1930, the R101 was also the largest airship of its time. While making its maiden voyage from England to France, the R101 went down, as well, killing 48. Weird, huh? It's almost as if giant floating tubes of explosives didn't make for a very safe form of public transport! However, the worst airship disaster ever was a few years later, in 1933 -- four years before the Hindenburg disaster "caught the public totally off-guard." The Akron was one of two ships commissioned by the U.S. Navy to essentially act as an airborne aircraft carrier, which, to be fair, is an idea awesome enough to risk fiery death for.
"Fuck you, science! This is for Icarus!"
In 1932, at Lakehurst (yes, the same place the Hindenburg went down), the Akron lost control in front of on-looking Congressmen and smashed its fin into the ground. That's what we in the airship business call "extreme, in-your-face foreshadowing." Three months later, the ship was involved in another horrific accident when it unexpectedly took off with three sailors still attached to the mooring lines. Two ultimately fell to their deaths, and the whole thing was captured on newsreel. Ignoring all the nigh-on biblical signs that this ship was likely cursed by a malevolent skygod, FDR inaugurated it in early 1933. A month later, while flying off the coast of New Jersey, the Akron crashed into the ocean for reasons still unclear, killing 72 people. Then another airship showed up to look for survivors ... it also crashed, killing another two.
Oh, and the sister ship built alongside the Akron? That one crashed, too.
Their sibling rivalry knew no bounds.
Jesus, we know that's an awful series of disasters, but we can't help but picture wacky Benny Hill-style saxophones playing the whole time, as balloon after balloon flops limply into the ocean.