5 Things You Think Are Crusty Old History (That Aren't)
The various eras of human history are defined by the culture and technology that made each one unique. Old-timey Japan was rife with samurai dicing one another into stew meat, the strength of your navy was once determined by how many sails your wooden boats had, and humanity once thought that flying around in gargantuan sacks of flammable gas was the greatest idea ever.
But as we've discussed a few times before, sometimes things you assume were relegated to museums back when your grandparents were still riding tricycles to school stuck around much longer than you realize. For example ...
A Woman Was Convicted Of Witchcraft In 1940s Britain
Witch trials are a relic of the 17th Century, when mass hysteria ruled and every single problem in the world could be traced back to fact that women possessed vaginas (okay, this sounds suspiciously like the modern-day internet).
"Actually, it's about ethics in crop blight journalism."
But these weren't just unwashed mobs rising up to improve their personal outlook on life by hosting a good ol' witch-b-que; they were state-sanctioned affairs backed by the highest echelons of government. Hell, King James I literally wrote the book on witch hunting. Thankfully, reason eventually prevailed, and that's all in the distant, shitty past.
But Actually ...
The last witch trial in Britain took place in 1944, at a time when the U.S. was hell-bent on developing some potentially world-ending magic of its own, and the Brits were preoccupied with planning a little thing called D-Day.
Loosely inspired by the Spielberg classic.
Helen Duncan was sort of the Long Island Medium of her day. She traveled the UK holding seances, offering her patrons closure, and probably only swiping the occasional pocket watch. During one such divination in April of 1944, she told a pair of worried parents that two British battleships -- including their son's, the HMS Barham -- had sunk. Military authorities, fearing a leak of state secrets in such close proximity to the Normandy landings and completely oblivious to the fact that Duncan could have garnered the information from a strikingly un-supernatural source known as "the newspaper," picked her up and charged her with conspiracy, fraud, and, to top it all off, violation of the Witchcraft Act of 1735. Only the black magic charge stuck, and Duncan was sentenced to nine months in prison. For black magic. In 1944.
Newsreel footage of her trial can been seen here.
Now, we'd be misleading you if we implied that people didn't find this utterly ridiculous even at the time. Winston Churchill himself visited Duncan in prison and, in a powerful act of British solidarity, declared the entire affair "tomfoolery." Still, Duncan served out her time, and her conviction stands to this day, despite the fact that Churchill repealed the sorely outdated act under which she was convicted in 1951.
People Still Killed Each Other (And Themselves) With Swords in 20th-Century Japan
Ancient Japan was all about the sword, according to a bunch of movies we've watched. But while the art of the samurai will forever live on in museums, anime, and Tom Cruise movies, in the real world, swords became obsolete right around the time the first guns hit the market. If you're bringing a blade to a gunfight, you'd better hope your opponent has really terrible aim.
Really terrible aim six times in a row, that is.
But Actually ...
If you're not familiar with the logistics of seppuku, allow us to enlighten you on its full-on goddamn gnarliness: As a means of preserving their honor, men would disembowel themselves, and then jam the blade into either their neck or their heart like the punctuation mark at the end of the most hardcore sentence ever written.
Far from vanishing into history hundreds of years ago, this practice held sway well into the 20th Century. In 1912, following the death of Emperor Meiji, General Nogi Maresuke literally spilled his guts after years of sending polite requests to honor his death wish. You see, the general first requested permission to commit the act after losing a flag in battle 25 years earlier, and then again after losing scads of his men during the Russo-Japanese War.
"They wouldn't fire me, so I quit."
And Maresuke was far from the most recent to rock out with his colon out. Many Japanese soldiers were known to chop themselves down rather than face capture during World War II, and we've already told you about Yukio Mishima, the popular Japanese author who committed seppuku in fucking 1970 after organizing a failed government coup powered entirely by his gleaming pectoral muscles.
For an even more public display of anachronistic Japanese swordplay, let's turn to the case of 17-year-old Otoya Yamaguchi, a member of the ultra-right nationalist group Uyoku dantai. Much as a modern teenager might fetishize dubiously aged anime girls, Yamaguchi idealized Japan's former isolationist glory. Yamaguchi's worldview came to a megalomaniacal head on October 12, 1960, when he rushed the stage during a speech by socialist politician Inejiro Asanuma and stabbed him with an actual motherfucking samurai sword on live television:
Warning: extremely graphic
In a turn of events that made the janitorial staff more thankful than ever for the prison's strict "no samurai swords" policy, Yamaguchi hanged himself in his cell a few weeks later.
Wooden Warships Are Still A Thing
Once upon a time, a wooden boat jammed to the gills with an improbable number of cannons was the absolute pinnacle of maritime warfare. But as time wore on and technology improved, the old-fashioned ship-of-the-line fell by the naval wayside in favor of its more iron-sided counterparts. Taking a pirate galleon into a modern-day battle against, say, a nuclear submarine would be a clear waste of everyone's time, unless the goal was to find a quick yet expensive way to manufacture splinters and shark food.
But Actually ...
You may have seen news of the recent kerfuffle between the U.S. and the Philippines that began when the USS Guardian ran aground on a protected coral reef during stormy conditions. What you may not have seen was what the Guardian looked like after having been stripped down as punishment for flopping all over a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
Zip your pants, naval enthusiasts.
That's right: Beneath the fancy gray paint job, the Guardian looked like a ship whose crew spent its nights lying in fear of sea monster attacks. And she wasn't some lone anachronism left over from the Age of Sail. She was a member of an entire class of modern wooden-hulled warships known as the Avengers (lawsuit presumably pending) -- ships tasked with clearing mine-infested waters for their metal cousins.
As it turns out, steel ships are highly susceptible to the unique danger of magnetic mines, which attach to their hulls as they pass through hostile waters. Building your minesweepers out of wood gets around this. As an added bonus, should one of those mines happen to go off anyway, wood is better than steel at withstanding the blast.
"YOU COULD HAVE TOLD US THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN."
"And risk introducing bias into the test???"
We're Really Trying To Bring Airships Back
The viability of airships as a commercial air travel option came to an explosive end at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937.
"SHIT. Let's not do this anymore, huh?" -- the world
But Actually ...
The U.S. continued to give airships the benefit of the doubt well after the Hindenburg's violently public dechristening, developing an entire fleet of the bulbous bastards for use during World War II. Proving that humans can in fact learn from their mistakes, these blimps eschewed hydrogen in favor of the considerably less explosive helium.
Plus, all the crew can speak in funny voices on demand.
But that was still back in black-and-white days, right? Surely, no one is still building airships in the era of America's Got Talent. Lockheed Martin disagrees. Behold the Hybrid Airship, looking for all intents and purposes like the mobile headquarters of a flamboyant supervillain:
"Oh no, a stiff wind from the south! My evil plan has been thwarted!"
Twenty years of development have resulted in a floating behemoth capable of carrying 20-ton loads at a top speed of 70 miles per hour across thousands of miles. Its ability to land basically anywhere promises to revolutionize industries such as mining by eliminating the need to build a reliable infrastructure (read: roads) before the magnificent, untouched countryside can be adequately pillaged for its resources.
It's an adorable harbinger of destruction.
In more worrisome news, Russia is hard at work on a superblimp of their own, which they assure us will begin crowding their airways by 2018:
Paradoxically, a giant flying Airstream frankly seems like more of an American idea.
The hi-tech Atlant is supposed to carry 200 passengers and tons of cargo, which, to anyone who has ever seen Red Dawn, sounds a lot like "a heavily armed invasion force." Apparently, the next cold war will be fought with balloons.
If you think that sounds silly, you've never felt terror of hearing the words "Kirov reporting."
The Grandsons Of An 18th-Century President Are Still Alive Today
We're no mathematicians, but we can say with absolute certainty that no one born in the 18th century -- that is, back when slavery in the United States was in full swing, Ben Franklin was still walking around, and Old Glory had at most 15 stars -- has grandchildren living today.
Could they even grasp the notion of power lines without kites?
But Actually ...
John Tyler -- born seven short years after the Revolutionary War, 10th president of the United States from 1841-1845, signer of the annexation of Texas, and owner of a canary named Johnny Ty -- has not one, but two grandchildren wandering around the 21st Century like mildly senile time cops.
How is that even possible? To be perfectly frank, the answer is "lots and lots of really old sex."
Go ahead. Are you imagining it?
See, Tyler's proficiency at expanding the square mileage of the United States was eclipsed only by his rabbit-like ability to father children. He had 15 kids in two marriages, the last being his son Lyon, who was born in 1853 to a wife 33 years his junior.
Lyon Tyler went on to rip a page straight out of his old man's book: In 1924, at the ripe old age of 71, he fathered Lyon Jr. from his second wife, who was also half his age. Four years later, he fathered Harrison, named in honor of presidential trivia question William Henry Harrison, whose death granted John Tyler the highest office in the land. Both Lyon Jr. and Harrison -- the grandsons of a former president who was buried while draped in a Confederate flag because the Civil War was still being fought -- are alive today, presumably getting ready to have children at a completely irresponsible age.
It was kind of a tip off when they cited Walder Frey as a personal hero.
Let's keep this information train moving with 6 Historical Events Happening More Recently Than You Think and 6 Historical Events That Are Way More Modern Than You Think.
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