5 Of The Weirdest Things (That Managed To Happen Twice)
Life is random. But that just means that, given enough time, some stuff will happen that doesn't seem random at all. And you know what they say: leopard jumps on me costing me the presidency, shame on you. Leopard jumps on me costing me the presidency twice, shame on me.
A Hollywood Dancer Suffered Two Separate Attacks From The Same Leopard
To set up this story, we should mention that Juliet Prowse did not spend her career doing stunts with big cats. In fact, she probably assumed she'd live and die without even once being attacked by a leopard. She was an actress and a dancer, widely known for a relationship with Elvis after costarring with him in G.I. Blues. Even if you don't remember hearing her name before today, there's a chance you've already read the following anecdote: In 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to the US, and after being barred from entering Disneyland, he had to content himself with a Hollywood visit to the set of Prowse's film Can-Can. Seeing her lift her skirt and flash her butt in the film's title dance, he said, "The face of humanity is prettier than its backside," and called the whole thing "lascivious, disgusting, and immoral."
In the '80s, CBS kept inviting Prowse to their annual TV special Circus of the Stars. Picture Dancing with the Stars except it's not just dancing, and no one's actually competing. Celebs who appeared over the years included everyone from Alex Trebek to Weird Al, and they wanted Prowse to come and put on roller skates or something, but she turned them down because that sounded dangerous. Then they asked her to join a big cat act in 1987, and she said sure, because she loved animals. Rehearsing at California State University, a leopard named Sheila jumped her and bit her neck. The bite narrowly missed her carotid artery, but rather than sending the Sheila to cat jail, another performer just punched her in the face (Sheila, not Juliet) and kept her on.
That bite needed five stitches. Later that year, Prowse, now 51, came on The Tonight Show, and of course Sheila the leopard was there too. The two walked past a wall of mirrors, and seeing the images of a bunch of unidentified leopards seemed to set Sheila off. She attacked the only target nearby, which happened not to be a skulking leopard rival but Prowse. The dancer ended up in the hospital, with this throat wound a bit more serious ("She wasn't playing this time," Juliet would say).
Prowse recovered, and she returned to the stage, playing Roxy in Chicago. When she later died of pancreatic cancer, the feral leopard of cancers, the Washington Post opened their obituary with "Juliet Prowse, 59, who parlayed skillful dancing, sultry good looks and arguably the best legs since Betty Grable into stardom in '60s movies and TV specials, died Sept. 14." That's a fun look back at what old-timey news writing was like, back in the year of (*checks timeline again*), uh, 1996.
Teddy Roosevelt's Son Was 100% Disabled Twice, Losing The Same Knee In Two Different Wars
When World War II came around, every able-bodied man was called upon to fight. But if you were looking for a reason to sit this one out, "I already fought in the last world war, where I was completely incapacitated" made for a pretty good excuse. Archie Roosevelt had just that excuse, but he convinced commander-in-chief (and distant cousin) Franklin Delano Roosevelt to send him back in, because "Huge Balls" was Archie's middle name. No, seriously, it was. His legal name was "Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt."
Archie Roosevelt was Theodore Roosevelt's son. In 1917, he enlisted and fought alongside the French. The following March, he came under fire and broke his arm, and the more serious injury was shrapnel entering one knee. He stayed unmoving in a trench for two hours in the early morning till the artillery fire let up and they managed to get him out of there. He recovered from his wounds, but the knee injury was enough for the army to list him as 100% disabled and unable to fight anymore. At least until, as we mentioned, the next war came around.
He talked FDR into sending him back in, now as a lieutenant colonel in the Pacific theater working alongside the Australians. This was a challenge because Australia is of course an inverted reflection of the real world, and Archie's fellow commander during the New Guinea campaign was also named Archibald, leading to many hilarious mix-ups. In August 1943, a Japanese grenade blew up next to him and shattered his knee, the same knee as last time. Once again, he was put out of commission for the rest of the war. And you know the really eerie part? When the grenade hit him, he was positioned at a spot named Roosevelt's Ridge.
Well, that part isn't that eerie. It only got named that later, and it was named after him. But still.
Lightning Struck Apollo 12. Less Than A Minute Later, Lightning Struck It Again
Everyone celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 last year, remembering the first time humans landed on the Moon (assuming you don't count the Vikings, who made it there centuries earlier). You didn't hear quite as much fanfare the following November, however, for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 12, even though that too was a mission ending with a successful moonwalk. It's not easy to get people excited about the second time something happens -- hard to get lightning to strike twice, as they say.
But sometimes, lightning does strike the same place twice. For example, when Apollo 12 took off on November 14, 1969, lightning hit their rocket 30 seconds into their ascent. Then, less than 20 seconds later (and with the spacecraft already having moved another 20 miles or so farther up away from the ground), lightning struck again. In hindsight, we know that these bolts were sent by Zeus, cursing man for his hubris, but at the time, the astronauts had no idea what was going on. It just felt like a massive electrical fault, followed immediately by another one, with catastrophe the obvious inevitable outcome.
Not to say that the crew panicked. Sure, it was a little troubling to see their dials spinning uselessly and not knowing if they were now hurtling unstoppably to the nearest comet, but they went straight into troubleshooting. Then on the ground, an engineer named John Aaron looked at mission control's readings, thought he knew what was going on, and commanded: "Try SCE to AUX." The director on the ground, Gerald Griffin, had no idea what this meant, but it sounded very authoritative, so he relayed it to the men in the air, who also didn't know what it meant. Finally, one of the astronauts, Alan Bean, suddenly remembered what it might mean, he flipped the right switches, and suddenly everything was working again.
Based on the electrical damage the lunar module had surely taken, mission control concluded that though Apollo 12 could make it to the Moon, they most likely would not manage to return. Considerately, they withheld this information from the astronauts. Any loss in confidence would only impede their efforts to complete what they still could and nab those precious selfies. This turned out to be the right choice. After landing, the men took off again, blissfully ignorant of their certain doom, and they successfully splashed down in the Pacific, a little concussed but otherwise none the worse for their misadventure.
Daniel Webster Turned Down Two Offers Of The Vice Presidency. Both Presidents Died In Office.
Daniel Webster was secretary of state under three non-consecutive presidents in the 19th century. That's a pretty big deal, but his real dream was to get his own animatronic in Disney's Hall of Presidents, and he never got that, and it was all his fault.
The first offer came from William Henry Harrison. Webster and Harrison both tried to get the Whig nomination for the election of 1840, but Webster conceded pretty early. The Whigs held their national convention in December 1839 -- long drawn-out elections are not a new thing in American politics -- and though Harrison offered to make Webster his running mate, and a bunch of Whigs wanted him on the ticket, he said no and actually was too busy sightseeing in Europe to even come to the convention.
Harrison won the nomination and then the presidency. Then just weeks into his term, exhausted by having to choose the new White House wallpaper, William Henry Harrison died. He was the first president to die in office, so people weren't actually 100 percent sure if the vice president should become president for the remainder of the term or just take on the duties for a bit till the country could elect someone better, but VP John Tyler quickly settled that question by taking the oath and placing the crown on his head before anyone could object. Webster had just barely missed the presidency and he was stuck as secretary of state, till Tyler pressured him out a couple years later.
Eight years later, Zachary Taylor asked Webster to be his running mate. "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin," answered Webster, which was his way of saying that even though we'd now established the veep can become president, the veep otherwise does absolutely nothing. So the Whig Party nominated Millard Fillmore to be VP this time. Come 1850, the president died in office -- Taylor died of eating too much ice cream or something -- making him the second of eight presidents to do so. Once again, Webster wasn't there to step in and replace him.
And Webster really did want to become president, we should repeat. He first ran in 1836, and after Taylor died, Webster quit being senator so he could run again, but he had no success. If you look up "schmuck" in the dictionary, you'll see Webster's name at the top of the page. Actually, if you look anything up in the dictionary, you'll see Webster's name at the top of the page.
A Chemistry Student Was Burgled Twice In One Day. So Out Came His Samurai Sword.
For our final story today, it may seem like we're lowering the stakes a little, but rest assured, the stakes still felt very high to John Pontolillo. John was an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins in 2009, and soon after classes began for the year, someone broke into his home. The burglar stole his PlayStation, plus two laptops. Police came by and examined the place for clues, and just hours after they left, a burglar came again.
We do not know if it was the same burglar as last time. We also don't know if it would be weirder for the same intruder to come rob the same dude twice or for two different intruders to independently hit the same home in this college neighborhood of Baltimore. But this time, John caught the man, first hearing his garage door open and then coming outside to find career burglar Donald Rice hiding under the porch. And when he walked out of his house in search of this intruder, John brandished his samurai sword.
That's right, John was that one kid who decks out his room in impractical weapons -- every college has one or two. While you were partying, he studied the blade. And he used the blade to cut Rice's crime spree short. Early reports said that Rice struck first and John simply defended himself, but the final verdict was that Rice, unarmed, raised his hands in surrender before John attacked. The sword nearly severed the man's hand (the traditional penalty for theft) and also sliced the rest of him open, killing him.
Many supported John in the weeks that followed, and T-shirts went for sale bearing the message "I Am a Samurai Too." Rice's sister, however, said authorities should charge John, something which, four months later, they officially declined to do. On one hand, people have the right to defend themselves, particularly in their home. On the other, death is not the correct penalty for attempted burglary. Clearly, there is one objective takeaway here, so we suggest that you bring up this story this Thanksgiving to unite your extended family in universal agreement.