7 'What' Side Stories From Famous Moments In History
History books tend to be filled with solemn, serious events and solemn, serious people. That's only because they're written by solemn, serious, boring-ass historians who like to keep their profession as respectable as possible. But here at Cracked, we consider it our ongoing duty to relieve people of the pressures of our polished past by pointing out all its pranks, pettiness and faux pas which prove that while the foreground of history is an important drama, the background is a never-ending series of slapstick. For example...
The Yalta Conference Was A Boozy Mess With No Toilets
The Yalta Conference was one of the most important diplomatic events in history, as the "big three" of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin got together to plan the fate of post-war Europe. It was also a dung-coated mess, held at a Crimean resort that Winston Churchill described as "the Riviera of Hades" and the "worst place in the world."
Yalta itself is renowned for its beauty -- at least when a war hasn't turned it into a burning husk. What the Western delegations didn't realize was that speeding through fifty miles of bombed-out countryside was going to be the most pleasant part of the trip. The opulent-looking Russian palaces were, in fact, medieval nightmares. The interior was freezing, the mattresses were "paper-thin" and bedroom light switches were conveniently located several rooms away. Also, every room was crawling with bedbugs and lice while mosquitos swarmed underneath the banquet tables. The Americans and Brits had to literally drench their bedrooms with toxic DDT to not get devoured.
But the real horror was the toilet situation, or rather, a lack thereof. The ancient palaces had almost no indoor plumbing and the long lines almost certainly had the generals making vaguely sexist comments about how they'd never had to wait in a line for a men's room before. As a solution, the Soviets dug a big trench in a nearby park for the esteemed military leaders to relieve themselves in. And when you imagine a bunch of shivering, lice-ridden soldiers catching dysentery in a muddy trench, you don't expect to see quite so many decorations on their uniforms.
To distract them from the Airbnb experience from hell, the Soviets improved their hospitality in the most Russian way possible. Every morning, a full bottle of expensive vodka was put in front of every room. For the week the conference went on, the attending delegations tended to be drunk from morning to midnight, with most of the diplomacy-ing being conducted during boozy dinner parties. No wonder post-war Europe was such a mess -- they probably decided the fate of Poland during an epic game of Vodka-pong.
Apollo 12 Astronauts Had Playboy Nudes Taped To Their Wrists
Before 1969, the idea of putting someone on the moon sounded like just an expensive way to turn astronauts into space-corpses. But once we went to -- and pooped on -- the moon, it suddenly became a lot less daunting. So when the second moon landing was planned, everyone at NASA was a lot more relaxed -- enough even to pull some sexy pranks.
On November 4th, 1969, astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Richard Gordon set off to the moon. Unbeknownst to them, their vehicle had a few extra passengers. As a joke, and perhaps to ease the loneliness of Command Module Pilot Gordon, the nude poster of Playboy's Miss November '69 DeDe Lind was hidden inside one of the lockers. And while his moonwalking colleagues were boldly going where few men had gone before, the shuttle bound Gordon stumbled upon his sexy stowaway.
Not that Conrad and Bean were devoid of female company. As they flipped through their spacesuits' wrist-mounted mission manual, they discovered several Playboy nudes had been hastily taped inside, because being distracted by some stellar boobies while cataloging the miracles of space. Pretty funny, until you come to the depressing realization that those two-dimensional bunnies are still the closest any woman has ever gotten to the moon.
The Roosevelt White House Ate Garbage Food Through World War II
For over 200 years, the White House has entertained the world's greatest heads of state with lavish dinners and grand diplomacy. Except for during the Roosevelt administration, when foreign dignitaries were lucky if they got two pieces of toast with their hobo soup.
When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression, she was determined to show solidarity with all struggling Americans. Working together with Cornell University, she wrote her own a White House menu that would resemble the diet of America's least fortunate. Unfortunately, none of the Ivy Leaguers ever bothered talking to an actual downtrodden American, instead, they seemed to have guessed how a poor person would eat. And they guessed wrong.
The Roosevelt White House dinners became infamous throughout the world as the most disgusting tripe any human has ever put inside their polio-riddled body. For twelve years, White House staff and guests dined on disgusting dishes cooked by Eleanor's favorite housekeeper and the world's worst cook, Henrietta Nesbit. Dishes like deviled eggs in tomato sauce, mashed potatoes and prunes, plain spaghetti with boiled carrots, eggs with "meat scraps" and a combination of skimmed milk and cornmeal called Milkorno.
Even during this crucial era for global diplomacy, foreign heads of state weren't exempt from Lady Roosevelt's and Mrs. Nesbitt's ghastly gastronomy. State dinners featured "American" cuisine like fried liver garnished with a single piece of onion, served with raw carrots in vinegar, or deviled eggs where the yolks were mashed with vinegar and onion. Bobotee Salad was another favorite, a mixture of cold rice, bananas, curry powder and French dressing -- all drenched in Worcestershire sauce. It became so bad, honored dignitaries would scarf down plates of sandwiches in preparation for having to sneak their White House dinner in their napkins to the toilet.
But no one suffered more than FDR, who was known as a gourmand and a lover of fine food. While the three-time president was winning World War II in Europe and hearts and minds at home, he was losing the battle of appetites with Mrs. Nesbitt who, on his wife's orders, continued to serve him cold boiled broccoli or bland chicken salad. Does this make more sense if we mention that Mrs. Roosevelt had discovered that her husband had been cheating on her?
President Truman Bribed Soviet General Zhukov With Invisible Coca-Cola
No commander of World War II left a deeper boot-print in Hitler's ass than Soviet general Georgy Zhukov, the Marshal of Victory and pride of the Red Army. But after a hard day of defeating Nazis and spreading communism, this Soviet bulwark loved nothing more than lean back, kick his feet up and enjoy capitalism in a bottle.
Right after the war, while hanging out with his new buddy Eisenhower in Germany, Zhukov tried Coca-Cola for the first time. The general allegedly threw down his first glass like a vodka shot and from that moment he was hooked. But with the Cold War looming and Coca-Cola having branded itself as the official drink of the American free market, Zhukov realized that swigging a Coke in the Kremlin would go over with Stalin about as well as tap-dancing on Lenin's tomb.
But Zhukov wasn't about to let some pesky superpower rivalry deny him his beloved sugar-water. Instead, he approached US General Mark Clark and asked a favor: Would it be possible to get all the goodness of Coke without all the downsides of immediately being shipped to a gulag? Clark then passed his request to President Truman, who decided to help Zhukov's tastebuds defecting to the West.
Coca-Cola's chemists in Europe soon whipped up a special batch of cola with no caramel coloring. This "White Coke" came in a plain bottle, free from capitalist curves, and was even capped with a red Soviet star. And Zhukov couldn't get enough of White Coke, smuggling 50 crates of it through USSR customs and hid them around his office, drinking them right under Uncle Joe's nose while pretending it was water or, let's be honest, vodka.
Dr. Richard Feynman Was The Manhattan Project's Greatest Security Threat
In 1943, Dr. Richard Feynman was a newly minted Ph.D. from Princeton. Just in time, then, to be recruited to work on the most important scientific endeavor of the 20th century -- The Manhattan Project. It was an immense privilege and honor for any young scientist, one that Feynman knew would launch his career into the stratosphere. And he hated it.
As part of a secret government project, Feynman was sequestered to the isolated base in Los Alamos, New Mexico. But it turns out locking up a young genius with authority issues gets problematic fast. We've already talked about how he and Mrs. Feynman would troll his censors by leaving coded messages in their correspondence, but between letter writing, Feynman needed something else to keep his mind of the boredom. So he developed two new hobbies: burglary and pissing off the military.
As an amateur lockpick, Feynman noticed that the security inside this project was ridiculously lax. So the good Dr. Gentleman Thief would pass the time by breaking into locked desks, cracking personal safes and patiently pulling page per page of classified papers out of the back of drawers like a "toilet paper dispenser." Colleagues would find out that they had been prank-burgled when Feynman said "thanks for your report" in passing, only to arrive in their offices to see he had stacked all their Top Secret documents neatly on top of their desks -- once nearly giving his good buddy Frederic de Hoffmann a heart attack by leaving cryptic notes in secure places like a Soviet spy.
But the problem with doing office pranks in the Manhattan Project is that your colleagues are literal Einsteins who often deduced what was going on way before Feynman had his fun. He found much more rewarding marks in the military security, who responded with all the shock and awe the scientists yearned for when he, for example, would sign out of the base, sneak back in through a hole in the fence and pop up behind the security detail. And when we say they responded well, we mean they arrested him.
Of course, as a civilian and key part of the Manhattan Project, Feynman was pretty much untouchable, and the biggest security revamp he caused was a memo warning people to not leave him alone in their offices. But it did still give the bored scientist something to do, especially when his genius colleagues realized they could treat him as a walking skeleton key, often asking Feynman to quickly break into a busy colleague's safe for the sake of scientific efficiency.
The First Soldier Killed In The Civil War Was A Party Foul
The First Battle of Fort Sumter was the shot that famously launched the Civil War -- except that that shot missed. After pelting each other with artillery for 34 hours, the vastly outnumbered Union garrison surrendered, only to find that, miraculously, not a single soldier on each side had been killed during the bombardments. But tradition dictates that you can't start a war without a casualty. And unluckily for his troops, Union Major Robert Anderson was a stickler for tradition.
Major Anderson offered the fort's surrender on only one condition, that during the withdrawal of his troops they'd be allowed to fire a 100-cannon salute to honor the flag. This wasn't some clever ruse to launch a sneak attack on the celebrating Confederates, Anderson just had a massive ego. And it was that ego, not the thousands of enemy soldiers outside, that would get the first Civil War soldier killed.
As it turns out, loading and firing a hundred cannons in a fort that's still on fire is not without its dangers. When a soldier did load gun number 47 for the salute, there was already a spark or two waiting inside. As soon as he rammed the cartridge in, it exploded. And that was how Private Daniel Hough, Union soldier and Irish immigrant, lost his arm and then his life, making him the very first of 620,000 pointless deaths during the Civil War.
But the explosion wasn't done having its way with the men yet. It also set alight the nearby pile of cartridges yet to be loaded, making them explode in every direction. Five more men were wounded. One of them, Edward Galloway, was taken to Gibbes Hospital in Charleston where he suffered through five days of clumsy 19th-century medicine before he too died. Both men were buried with full military honors, which we have to expect included two 21-gun salutes, resulting in a chain reaction that likely caused most of the Civil War casualties.
King Edward I Refused Scottish Surrender Because He Wanted To Fire His Massive Trebuchet
King Edward "Longshanks" is best known for being the bad guy in that blue Mel Gibson movie and that boring Chris Pine movie on Netflix. And for good measure. The self-styled Hammer of Scots was the perfect historical villain: shrewd, ruthless, had an English accent, but most importantly, he knew how to savor a villainous moment, like testing your medieval Death Star on a defenseless enemy.
After defeating William Wallace at Falkirk, Edward I spent the next six years bringing Scotland to heel. His final stop was Stirling Castle, the last bastion of haggis rebellion. The king offered the Scottish his patented Longshanks diplomacy: Surrender unconditionally or die. The Scottish didn't like either option, so by April of 1304, Edward I committed to a siege of the castle. By July, things were getting boring. Stirling was utterly impenetrable by common war machines and every day his troops were mocked Monty Python style by the fortified Scots.
So the dastardly Longshanks came up with a plan. Over forty nights, a crew of fifty went to work building the biggest and most powerful trebuchet the world had ever seen. While regular ones could fire off maybe a 30lbs stone up to 200 yards, this trebuchet, which Edward nicknamed "Warwolf," was said to able to throw 350lb lead balls even further. It was the nuclear bomb of medieval warfare and, sadly for Longshanks, it worked just as good as a deterrent.
Just the sight of the Warwolf at their door had the Scots convinced to pack it in and surrender. But the thing was, Longshanks had spent a lot of money on the Warwolf. And he really, really wanted to see what his new toy could do. So like a kid whining to play for just five more minutes, Longshanks refused to accept the Scottish surrender. Not until he had his fun.
The Scottish had no choice to retreat back into their castle and wait for the construction of Warwolf to be complete. Then, they had to sit there while Edward I fired a small meteor shower at their heads for "the lulz." A mere few volleys of Warwolf obliterated Stirling's defenses. This pleased Edward I so much, he did let all of the surviving Scotsmen walk away, executing only the remaining English soldier who'd opened the gates for them -- surprisingly, not by having Warwolf launch him into space.
Richard C. Shaffer is the author of ESCORT (Eternal Press, 2015) and a narrative lead/producer on several Nic3Ntertainment products including Monster (2019), and The Sickle Upon Sekigahara (2020 release). He also travels the country teaching about writing and Asian History. You can find his portfolio at RichardCShaffer.com.
Matthew Z. Wood is a writer, researcher, and librarian from North Carolina. He lives in Spokane, WA with his professor-wife and daughter. He is the author of Comic Book Collections and Programming: A Practical Guide for Librarians and co-creator of the webcomics The Dada Detective and Chocolypse Now! Matthew writes comics reviews for No Flying, No Tights, pop culture stuff for CBR.com. He loves comics, knowledge, and kung fu.
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