5 Famous Historical Events You Won't Believe Happened Twice
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 ...
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.
"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.
"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.
"Please accept this giant statue of a white woman with our deepest apologies."
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.
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."
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.
The Kid Caught in a Custody Battle Between Democracy and Communism
The Famous Version: Elian Gonzalez
Before 9/11, cable news had about as much relevance as, well, as cable news does today. But they had a brief heyday of cultural importance, and if you were paying attention at the time, you probably remember the story of Elian Gonzalez. For months, the 24-hour news cycle hyped the story of an adorable Cuban child at the center of an intense multinational custody battle. It turned out ... poorly, and the kid was eventually sent back home after experiencing a bunch of needless trauma. Which we could have avoided if we'd just remembered the story of ...
What you've never heard of: Yossele Schumacher
In 1959, right as the Cold War was really heating up (or cooling down or ... defrosting?) Yossele Schumacher and his parents decided to leave the Soviet Union for Israel. But apparently there just ain't no party like a communist party, because the Schumachers soon "decided" to return to the USSR. Yossele's grandfather, who had custody of the boy, accused the parents of being communists and denying the boy a proper Jewish education. Like Elian, the law made it pretty clear that the parents were in the right, so naturally the grandfather did the only reasonable thing: He kidnapped Yossele, dressed him in drag and started hopping countries like a drunken coed hops bars.
He'd always remember Spring Break '59.
The inevitable media tshitnami struck soon after. Israel became so swept up in the sensation that they may have even pulled the Mossad -- you know, those badass multinational assassins -- off of their current case to locate Yossele. Authorities finally caught up with Yossele in Brooklyn, three years after his disappearance, and he was returned to his mother.
That case the Mossad were working on when the government allegedly pulled them to investigate a hyped-up personal interest story? It was hunting down evil Nazi scientist Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele was never caught and lived out the rest of his life a free man in sunny South America -- but that 6-year-old in drag didn't get away! The Mossad always get their man.
"Technically, Mengele wasn't a human being, so it didn't count against our record."
Authorities Fatally Bungling the Prolonged Siege of a Radical Group
The Famous Version: Waco
The 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, has gone down as one of the most bungled government operations of the 20th century. A radical cult following self-proclaimed space prophet David Koresh's dong (weird how it's always the dong with cult leaders, isn't it?) started stockpiling illegal weapons and child brides. When the ATF came to investigate, it ended in a shootout leaving four ATF agents and six Davidians dead. The siege that followed was practically textbook, assuming that textbook was Arson for Authorities: How to Make Friends and Burn Literally Everybody Else.
"In my defense, I didn't know humans were flammable."
What you've never heard of: MOVE
Eight years earlier, Philadelphia was dealing with a radical black liberation group called MOVE -- a collection of left-wing neo-Luddites. After a series of violent skirmishes, MOVE fortified their residential compound and began an entrenched standoff with authorities that ended only after both sides attempted civil conversation over drinks.
Well, not quite: After firing 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the MOVE house, police decided that bullets just weren't explosive enough. But you know what's very, very explosive?
"You lost me. Damn it, I'm a cop, not a scientist."
Temporarily confusing their jobs with a Die Hard prequel, the cops called in a helicopter, circled over the -- we remind you, centrally located residential home -- and dropped 4 pounds of C4 on it. The explosion started a fire that killed all but two inside, including five children. The resulting blaze further spread to the entire block, leveling a total of 62 houses.
The only thing missing from this picture is a cartoon coyote with a sign.
Following up, a commission looked into the incident and found that the actions were "grossly negligent" and that the police commissioner and officers involved were responsible for "unjustified homicide," which is actually pretty mild phrasing considering they're referring to explosives being hurled out of a helicopter into an inner-city neighborhood. The destruction was so bad that, as of 2010, the entire block was still boarded up. But it's not as though nothing good came of the incident. Philadelphia earned a new moniker that day: "The city that bombed itself."
This was on top of being "the city that hates Santa."
You can find Steve mulling over a hot stew of forgotten history at his blog.
For more odd coincidences in history, check out 6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World and The 5 Most Mind-Blowing Coincidences of All Time.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 6 Hilariously Mundane Ways Prisoners Are Using Social Media.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn which columnists have the same father.
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