5 Famous People With Crazy Second Lives Nobody Knows About
Though the average person will bounce around a dozen jobs in their lifetime, we tend to assume great historical figures were born to do one thing. Sure, Abe Lincoln had to work his way up to being president, but his youth was still spent learning about the law and politics -- pre-presidential stuff.
At least, that tends to be the way history books present it. In reality, great historical figures' lives have more random side quests than your average RPG. For instance ...
Isaac Newton Was a Real-Life Sherlock Holmes
You know Isaac Newton: discoverer of the laws of gravity, inventor of calculus, batshit insane alchemy enthusiast. Newton was one of the founding fathers of modern physics, and after he came up with half of modern science, he was a big enough name to be drowned in prestige and easy living for the rest of his life.
He could drink cognac all night and smoke mercury every day.
Which is why it was a surprise that a few years after his massive scientific breakthroughs, Newton spent four years hunting for criminals in the tough boroughs of London. Yeah, you read that right: Isaac freaking Newton, the guy whose most famous physical altercation was a made-up knockout defeat to a pomaceous fruit, went all hard-boiled detective on London's ass.
In 1696, the 53-year-old Newton left academia for an extremely well-paid position at the Mint. While seemingly a literal license to print money, Newton soon found that this was by no means an "all play, no work" position. Counterfeiters were everywhere, fake money was drowning the real currency, and the country was facing the kind of cash crisis that tends to incite revolutions. So Newton set to work, not just inventing ways to make counterfeiting more difficult, but personally tracking down the forgers.
Sometimes even with excessive force.
Thus, the world's greatest scientist turned into the world's greatest detective. He acquired an enormous network of spies squealing to him about every rotten penny in a 50-mile radius. He took to the streets, hunting for clues and information. And he was efficient as hell -- in his four years on the job, he and his troops captured and executed a total of 27 forgers.
That's right -- "executed." This presumably earned Newton the undisputed "most kills by a theoretical physicist" championship until the Manhattan Project came along. Since we have no proof that he didn't personally body tackle each and every one of these criminals after a spirited rooftop chase, we have no option but to assume that he did.
"I'll never stop! First law of motion, bitch!"
Newton even had a Moriarty to his Sherlock Holmes: William Chaloner, a genius forger that had acquired an obscene fortune and many influential friends. Chaloner had a degree of untouchability due to his past as a government informant, and as such, he freely challenged Newton. He published pamphlets that advertised his talents, and even once appeared before a House of Commons committee offering his services to reform the corruption at the Mint, thus essentially announcing his plans to take Newton's place. Newton ended up winning their mental chess by spending two whole years building up an ironclad case against Chaloner, freely intimidating his lieutenants' wives and mistresses so that they would give up the criminal mastermind. Then he got his adversary hanged.
Moral of the story: If you make Isaac Newton angry, he will have no problem hunting you down for two solid years and then murdering you with gravity.
Abraham Lincoln Was a Bartender
If you're anything like us, the gaunt face of Abraham Lincoln conjures images of two things: booze and partying. Wait, you're saying it doesn't? That must mean you haven't heard of the time he got a small, all-American town drunk for a living.
Whiskey is said to have given him this face at the age of 22.
Long before Lincoln did anything worthy of being portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, he was a young buck fresh out of home law school, looking for gainful employment. The boat he was traveling on broke down and left him stranded in the sleepy town of New Salem where, after a brief stint in the nearby New Orleans, he ended up spending the years 1831-37. Lacking the cred to get elected in an office and unable to get a law firm going, young Lincoln supported himself with a number of odd jobs. After finishing a brief stint in the local militia, he ended up opening a bar with one of his army buddies, William Berry. Pooling their resources, they bought a grocery store, got a liquor permit, and converted the place into a tavern called Berry and Lincoln. Then, young Abe started flairing it up. Have all the fun you want with that mental image.
The drink list of Berry and Lincoln hasn't been lost to history, either. In order to enjoy your beverages Lincoln-style, here's a brandy-heavy list for your drinks cabinet. Of course, the place also offered lodgings and food, because if you get a chance to get wasted at freaking Honest Abe's, you will damn well stay there and get wasted.
"Free us from sobriety, oh great emancipator!"
Sadly, all things come to an end. The free-flowing booze turned Berry into an alcoholic. This left the day-to-day operations to Lincoln, who gave his best shot at Old West bartenderin', but at the end of the day wasn't super great with people when he didn't have the option to maul them with his freakish super strength. The business soon took a steep nosedive, and after Berry died two years later, all debt fell squarely on Lincoln's shoulders.
Although things worked out alright in the end (until, you know, the whole theater thing), chances are Lincoln didn't remember his times as a booze master fondly. Not only was he paying off the debt well into his congressman days, but the stories of his den of sin era even came to haunt his political ambitions.
Back then, voters were told to pick the guy they least wanted to have a beer with.
During his famous senate race debates with Stephen Douglas, the latter would subtly warn voters that electing Lincoln would turn the White House into Animal House. According to Douglas, Lincoln could (and we quote) "ruin more liquor than all the boys of the town together, and the dignity and impartiality with which he presided at a horse-race or fist-fight, excited the admiration and won the praise of everybody that was present and participated."
Wait, that was supposed to make Lincoln sound less awesome? Speaking of which ...
Civil War General Joseph Hooker Was a Straight-Up Pimp
Union General Joseph Hooker's best claim to fame is his crushing defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he made the mistake of thinking he could out-war Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. This judgment resulted in him losing 11,000 men. It's a good thing, then, that by that time, he had a stable of prostitutes waiting in the wings to nurse his bruised ego.
He liked the fillies.
The thing is, although he had his share of military success, Joseph "The Clue Was in the Name, Really" Hooker was never anything approaching a natural leader, and his defining military skills were his rugged good looks and talent for public speaking. During his first tours, he distinguished himself as a gallant and surprisingly efficient soldier, known by the ladies as "The Handsome Captain" during his time in the war with Mexico. Eventually, he hung up his army boots and bought a farm in California.
When the Civil War broke out, Hooker unleashed his silver tongue on a saloon owner buddy, and soon he was on a first class cruise to Washington with a cool $1,000 in hand and plenty of drinks and cigars to make things comfortable. Once in the capital, he turned his charm on Lincoln and convinced the president to appoint him a Brigadier General by basically calling his other generals a bunch of pussies -- which, incidentally, was how another division's officer described his headquarters' contents. Seriously; Hooker's reputation as a hard-partying ladies' man followed him into generalship, and his actual HQ was described as "a combination of a bar-room and a brothel."
"Just trying to do you proud, President Lincoln, sir."
Unfortunately for Hooker, his soldiers started following his lead, and his division was soon awash with drunks, revelers, and deserting tail-chasers. Fearing career repercussions if word about his men's rampant prostitute-mongering got out to Lincoln, Hooker solved the problem the only way he knew: by setting up a bunch of his own brothels so he could make sure his men weren't getting caught.
He put his brothels, no joke, immediately north of the White House.
This new red light district was quickly dubbed "Hooker Row." Its girls affectionately referred to themselves as "Hooker's Division," and the word "hooker" in the "prostitute" sense soon cemented its place in the English lexicon. And that's the thing about making your mark in history, really; if you can't go down as a Stonewall Jackson, you can at least be remembered as a stone cold pimp.
Fidel Castro Was a Sports Blogger
When called out to save his people from an oppressive regime and take their paradise island nation as his own, only a very special kind of man will sigh and reply, "Uh, OK, but I was kind of hoping to focus on improving my fastball this year." There is some evidence that Fidel Castro, former dictator of Cuba, is this type of guy.
We should have drafted him to the "Houston Castros" like he asked.
Cracked has already mentioned his baseball career that he had to cut short in favor of toppling governments and leading one of his own for close to five decades. But did you know the fire for the game never quite left him? In between ruling his country and dodging insane assassination attempts, Castro was apparently staring longingly into the distance and thinking of his game days that never were. And as so many never-quite-made-its have done, he vented some of these feelings into spirited blogging.
In 2006, Cuba (and eventually Penguin Press) was introduced to a book called Fidel y el deporte: seleccion de pensamientos 1959-2006. It's essentially an anthology of Castro's musings on sports, written throughout his time as Cuba's leader. It turns out that being the ruler of an isolated communist utopia leaves plenty of spare time, as Castro was able to keep what was basically a pretty damn extensive pre-blog sports blog for nearly half a century. It makes sense, too -- when you look at his actions, Castro does seem an awful lot like a sports blogger with way too much power to take things in the direction he prefers. The man banned professional sports in Cuba, on the premise that enjoying athleticism should not be limited to people who can afford sky boxes. We're sure that the fact that his career was stalled at an amateur level was a mere coincidence.
"And if your penis is more than 4 inches, Havana will provide scissors for FREE!"
So, what kind of blogger is Castro? Pretty typical, in that he is prone to overreaching metaphors and biased as fuck. Castro cannot help but skew every one of his essays in the direction of his political ideals, using the "purity of the amateur athlete" concept as a big stick to beat capitalist filth to ground (spoiler: He is talking about America). He exalts those Cubans who have talent but turn down million-dollar contracts, as they prove that they would rather play catch with their child than get paid for their talent (and, you know, feeding said child). To him, keeping things simple and amateur-ish is clearly the best and only way to play sports, and brings glory to the country.
The fact that the best Cuban baseball players have been defecting for decades is probably just a coincidence.
Mao Zedong Was an Aimless Slacker
Chairman Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People's Republic of China, liked to present himself in the way dictators tend to do: as a wise father figure who rose from humble beginnings thanks to his tenacity (and the power of communism).
It's like the power of rock 'n' roll, except it bans rock 'n' roll.
In reality, a good chunk of Mao's life was spent as a lazy-ass slacker who preferred to spend his time geeking out over fantasy books about knights and magical creatures instead of studying. Although his dad did start out as an impoverished peasant, he had already become a wealthy landlord before Mao was even born. Basically, the dude was the closest the early 20th century had to a trust fund kid, and like so many modern variations of the theme, he remained clueless and directionless for the best part of his first few decades.
At 20, he hadn't picked a direction for either his life or his hairline.
Let's take a quick look at Mao's life until he was 30 or so. He convinced his father to send him to a preppy junior college in the city, where he soon found a circle of kindred spirits. After a few months of the era's equivalent of drum circles, hacky sack tournaments, and vegan make-outs, he entered the obligatory "teenage revolutionary" phase, completing the stereotype by nailing a "Sociology 101"-level political manifesto on the school wall. At 18, he decided to take things further and joined the Revolutionary Army, only to find out that it required manual labor, and so he hauled ass back home.
Mao spent his college years hopping from subject to subject. After reading an ad in the paper, he registered for the police academy. He quickly dropped out from potential policing when he found out he could enroll in a soap-making school, of all things. After soap came law school. This pattern went on for some time, until he had no other choice but to enroll into business school so that he could go back home to work for his dad if the whole "revolution" thing didn't work out. His father pulled some strings and got him in a decent course ... which Mao never attended.
And we bet he wore T-shirts with ironic political messages.
Now, replace "Mao" in those last two paragraphs with "Chad," and see if they're not describing a modern dude with wealthy parents and a mild existential crisis. (You can pretend "Revolutionary Army" is a band name.) Granted, Mao did spend time in the revolutionary forces during these slacker years, and yes, he was fairly active in left-leaning political circles. He even managed to finish his education (he became a teacher). But take into account that this was a pretty turbulent time and also the early goddamn 20th century, and it's amazing that China ever managed the whole Cultural Revolution thing, considering its architect was virtually indistinguishable from one of those "entitled millennials" people are always complaining about these days.
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