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Interesting Historical Facts That Nobody Told You About

Random facts of some of the lesser known events in history

By Ella AnnPublished 11 months ago 15 min read
Interesting Historical Facts That Nobody Told You About
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

The lens through which we view history is often biased. The victors’ accounts usually paint an incomplete picture of events, as they only tell one side of the story — the winning side. It can be hard to understand why some people did what they did if you don’t know their perspective or how things looked from where those individuals stood in life’s hierarchy at that time period.

I wonder how many puzzle pieces of history are missing. I often wonder how much of society today can be explained by the stories that are edited out of the fullest picture.

In school, most of my friends aspired to be History teachers. How come? We looked forward to history class because our teachers always knew more than what the text books had to offer.

In fact, I never met a History teacher who didn’t.

Their passion for figuring out the past always made them the perfect role model. I grew up in a generation that would settle for nothing less.

Human beings are storytellers by nature, and the greatest stories come from our past. History isn’t just memorizations of names or dates — they’re insightful looks into how people lived their lives in different eras that help us understand where we find ourselves today.

To fully understand history as a whole, I believe it’s the stories and facts that fall through the cracks that are just as important as the ones that get romanticized and popularized.

The pursuit of a better future starts with understanding our past. The uncomfortable moments in history make us think, and the cringing can be put into perspective when we realize that those times were just as much part of what made society then — now!

Here’s a look at some fascinating and mostly lesser known events in history you may not be familiar with.

By National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Before Antibiotics, Society Believed in Zombies

Disease prevention and treatment has advanced significantly since the days when diseases were thought to be “zombie like” outbreaks. According to Charles Q. Choi from Scientific American, a disease caused by a dangerous bacteria is able to be cured with antibiotics and modern medicine. However, before antibiotics, such diseases could have scary and devastating effects.

“Syphilis is caused by Treponema pallidum bacteria, and is usually curable nowadays with antibiotics. Untreated, it can damage the heart, brain, eyes and bones; it can also be fatal.” — written by Charles Q. Choi, read full article, here.

Without access to the proper treatment, syphilis caused horrific symptoms that many would describe as “rotting flesh falling off faces.” Imagine what you see in zombie movies and horror films taking place in Renaissance Europe.

“People were walking the beautiful streets with their faces rotting off. According to one description the disease caused people’s lips, nose, almost whole face and genitals to fall apart from their bodies. This caused a huge panic among the population and serious “methods” for stopping this illness were tested.” — written by Hayden Chakra, from About History, read full article on the syphilis outbreak here!

Before Modern Medicine, They Also Believed in Vampires

Imagine a disease hitting a community so bad that it makes everyone believe in vampires. That is what happened in New England around 1786 during a tuberculosis outbreak. During this time it was difficult to explain what was happening causing many New Englanders to turn to vampires as the plausible explanation. Those who suffered from tuberculosis, or consumption as they called it, suffered excruciating symptoms including coughing up blood, skin turning an off-white color, and ultimately suffering a painful and slow death.

By Михаил Калегин on Unsplash

Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Mass Destruction, Even Back Then

The connection between human error and sleep deprivation is no coincidence. The operators of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were found working on very little rest during their time at work, which led to an accident that would embroil people in fear following its occurrence! The nuclear plant at Chernobyl is actually not the only site to be affected by operators’ lack of sleep. In 1979, investigators often suspect that exhaustion may have also been an important factor in the nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania.

The Government Made Alcohol Worse On Purpose

As a preventive measure during prohibition, the government made industrial alcohol as unhealthful as they could by adding nasty chemicals in hopes that it would steer people away from it. However, the toxic additives would result in many unintentional deaths following those who consumed industrial-grade alcohol.

Some People Blame the Salem Witch Trials on a Fungus

Society can find it hard to accept answers to morally questionable events that happen in history. One of those events being the Salem withcraft crisis. There is a theory that the Salem witchcraft crisis of 1692 was caused by ergot poisoning. Ergot, a fungus, can grow on bread that is prepared with rye under the right conditions, typically damp places.

“Finally, even if there was some hallucinogen in the food, it doesn’t explain why the accusers chose to charge particular people with witchcraft or what they charged them with doing. Both those questions are the crucial ones for which historians, including myself, have sought answers.”- Mary Beth Norton, president-elect of the American Historical Association for 2018.

For more information about the Salem witchcraft trials, read Mary Beth Norton’s In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692.

People Used to Use Teeth from the Dead for their Dentures

Dentures used to be made by using real teeth, typically from soldiers that died on the battlefield. However, the practice of using other’s human teeth for dental purposes did not begin at the Battle of Waterloo. According to Atlas Obscura, using human teeth from corpses dates back to the late 1700s during the French Revolution. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to see teeth for sale.

“No matter where they came from, human teeth would generally be hung on a string in sets and sold for relatively expensive prices. According to a 1795 price list from the Baltimore Telegraph provided by Spielman, just one uncut, unmounted tooth cost $7, a small fortune at the time.” — written by Eric Grundhauser from Atlas Obscura, read more here.

A Woman Pretended To Give Birth to Animals

Mary Toft came up with an elaborate 18th century hoax by making the claims that she was giving birth to animals. She actually had a doctor convinced that this was happening which sparked an investigation with the royal house. The royal house sent a surgeon that they trusted to investigate the matter. After investigating an animal that Mary Toft claimed to give birth to, the surgeons found undigested corn in the rabbit’s stomach. This proved that the rabbit did not come from Mary.

Mary Toft would later admit to inserting dead animals and “giving birth” to them. She was later imprisoned for fraud and the doctor who believed her lost a lot of credibility in his practice.

By Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Some Books Were Bound In Human Flesh

Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books with human skin. Interests in anthropodermic bibliopegy reached a peak during the 19th century, however, this practice we know has occurred even as early as the 16th century. According to the Atlantic, there was a period of time in history when this practice was common and accepted even though it seems strange to us today.

There is suspicion that these older skin bound books may still be around to this day after a book at Harvard University is believed to also be bound by skin.

“A book owned by Harvard University library recently revealed its grisly history, when scientists confirmed that it was bound in human skin. Staff at the university believe that the book, Des Destinees de l’Ame (Destinies of the Soul), was covered with the skin of an unclaimed female mental patient who died of natural causes.” — BBC news, read more, here.

Dead Relatives Were Part of Family Photos

Although today taking pictures with dead relatives would be unsettling; however, back in Victorian England, such family photos were a symbolic way of honoring the dead. During this period in history, there were a lot of diseases that were still misunderstood and resulted in many deaths happening to those who were of a fairly young age.

“Death portraiture became increasingly popular. Victorian nurseries were plagued by measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, rubella — all of which could be fatal. It was often the first time families thought of having a photograph taken — it was the last chance to have a permanent likeness of a beloved child. But as healthcare improved the life expectancy of children, the demand for death photography diminished.” — written by Bethan Bell from BBC News, read full article here!

By Ronda Darby on Unsplash

Behind Mount Rushmore is a Secret Room Nobody Can Enter

Gutzon Borglum had envisioned creating a room in Mount Rushmore for keeping records, historical artifacts, and other important documents that could be visited and toured as a way to honor American history. This room is positioned right behind Abraham Lincoln’s hairline, and he began working on this structure in 1938. However, the government got impatient and ordered him to finish carving the President’s faces instead. No staircase was ever constructed, and there is no way to reach Borglum’s secret chamber.

The Man Who Tried To Save The President Eventually Killed His Own Wife

Henry Rathbone, a military officer, and his wife Clara Harris went to the theatre the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Henry Rathbone tried to save Abraham Lincoln; however, in his attempt, Rathbone was stabbed in the arm severing an artery, and he passed out from his injury. For years, he described feeling guilty over failing to keep Boothe from fleeing the scene. His mental health deteriorated over the years, and he started to exhibit erratic and disturbing behavior. Clara Harris and Rathbone had three children together. Eventually, in 1883, Henry Rathbone shot and stabbed his own wife to death as she was trying to protect her children from her husband’s frightening behavior. He then failed at his own attempt of suicide and was found guilty of homicide and placed in an asylum for the criminally insane.

Nobody Knows Why This Mysterious Poet Died

Edgar Allan Poe’s death is still a mystery to this day encompassing over 13 theories regarding how he died.

On election day, the author was found outside a tavern on the streets of Baltimore almost unresponsive and appearing to be in a “drunken stupor.” He was found wearing clothes that he didn’t own. He would die later on at the hospital.

Some theorize Poe had died of alcohol poisoning while others believe he contracted rabies or another deadly infectious disease. Due to being found in clothes that he didn’t own, many believe Edgar Allan Poe was a victim of a violent voter fraud scheme.

The Fictional Character Dracula Is Based On a True Historical Figure

Although they don’t have too much in common, the fictional character Dracula that is popular in movies and the entertainment industry was actually based on a real historical figure. Vlad the Impaler, a 15th-century warlord known for conquering and torturing his enemies — typically as his name suggests by impaling them.

“It is possible for tourists to visit one castle where Vlad III certainly spent time. At about age 12, Vlad III and his brother were imprisoned in Turkey. In 2014, archaeologists found the likely location of the dungeon, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Tokat Castle is located in northern Turkey. It is an eerie place with secret tunnels and dungeons that is currently under restoration and open to the public.” — written by Marc Lallanilla and Callum McKelvie from LiveScience, read more here.

People Would Pretend To Be Marie Antoinette’s Dead Son For a Spot On The Throne

After his parents’ deaths during the French Revolution, Louis was put into prison. Although Marie Antionette’s son Louis Charles was the rightful heir to the French throne, he suffered abuse and neglect from his jailers. Eventually, 10-year-old Louis Charles died of tuberculosis.

According to History, “the French Revolution destroyed his family, and the once carefree child — an orphan by the age of eight after his parents’ execution in 1793 — was horribly abused and neglected, isolated in a prison cell in the Paris Temple. Vilified as the “wolf cub,” the “son of a tyrant” and the “bastard,” by 1795 the newly styled Louis-Charles Capet was unrecognizable, covered in sores and his belly distended from malnourishment.” — written by Hadley Meares from History, read more here.

After an autopsy confirmed the neglect towards the 10 year old boy, the revolutionary government secretly laid the boy to rest in a mass grave while they kept the surviving family members unaware of his passing in order to keep the matter quiet.

However that would not stop the many who would come forward pretending to be the son of Marie Antoinette with intentions to gain access to the throne. His sister Marie Therese, who was also imprisoned and later released, wondered what truly happened to her brother.

During the autopsy, the heart of Prince Louis XVII was taken from his body as this was a common practice among royalty at the time.

Harriet Tubman Was The First Woman in American History to Lead Combat

Harriet Tubman is an incredible woman in history who deserves more recognition. She escaped from being an enslaved woman and became one of the greatest historical figures in history. She conducted the Underground Railroad and became a spy, a nurse, and in American history the first woman to lead combat.

By Oleh Holodyshyn on Unsplash

Medieval Castles May Not Be What You Think

The Medieval castle has a romanticized, ideal version of this era portrayed in movies and fairy tales. However, castles were normally crowded, busy, cold, dark, and smelled of sewer. Castles were not as glamorous as we imagine today.

Castles were made out of stone which was great for a defensive fortification, but due to their basic design, tiny windows left little room for the warmth or light of sunshine. It wasn’t until the late 1200’s that castles began to be constructed with bigger windows to lighten rooms.

Castle toilets were called “garderobes,” which consisted of a chamber that harbored a bench with a hole. Afterwards, waste was dumped into a cesspool, usually from a great height; or even dumped into the moat. (Gross)

Medieval society didn’t prioritize privacy like we would today. The king and queen usually occupied the most private rooms typically located at the top of the towers.

Check out the book, Life in a Medieval Castle, written by Joseph and Frances Gies for a further look into Medieval castle life.

The Real Medieval Stance on Hygiene

There is a common myth that in Medieval times most people did not prioritize hygiene. On the contrary, public baths (privacy wasn’t an important matter in Medieval times) were common in Medieval society as a way to socialize and get clean. Being clean was considered good mannerly. Smelling bad was also considered a sign of sin in most Medieval communities.

This rumor has been thought to stem from The Black Death during the 14th century. Doctors then believed that bathing opened up pores allowing sickness to enter the body. (Not knowing what we know today) During this plague, doctors advised against bathing in fear of spreading disease.


While some of these historical facts are interesting to read, others highlight the cruelty and darkness that has existed throughout the ages. These facts prove that what we are told about history impacts our literature, society, and people even to this day.

By Giammarco on Unsplash

References and More Information:

  1. 7 Things People Get Wrong About American History
  2. Five Absurd Myths about the Middle Ages — History
  3. 5 Big Historical Misconceptions
  4. Why wars happen
  5. War — The causes of war
  6. Life in a Medieval Castle: Smells, Sounds and Structure of Medieval Castle Life — Exploring Castles
  7. 50 Amazing Historical Facts You Never Knew — Best Life
  8. 25 Gruesome, Horrific Things You Didn’t Learn In History Class
  9. Historical Facts You’ll Wish Weren’t Really True
  10. When Dentures Were Made From the Teeth of Dead Waterloo Soldiers
  11. Mercy Brown and the Great Vampire Panic of Rhode Island
  12. The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe
  13. 21 Disturbing Historical Facts That I Kind Of Wish I Hadn’t Heard
  14. Why 100 Imposters Claimed to Be Marie Antoinette’s Dead Son
  15. When Dentures Used Real Human Teeth
  16. The woman who gave birth to rabbits (and other hoaxes)
  17. The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe
  18. The macabre world of books bound in human skin
  19. It Was Once ‘Somewhat Common’ to Bind Books With Human Skin
  20. The Real Dracula: Vlad the Impaler
  21. Historical Facts You’ll Wish Weren’t Really True
  22. 17 Truly Odd Historical Facts That I Had A Hard Time Believing Were Real
  23. 15 Facts Your History Teacher Probably Skipped Over In High School
  24. Case Closed? Columbus Introduced Syphilis to Europe
  25. Henry Rathbone
  26. How Syphilitic “Zombies” Wandered During The Renaissance In Europe — About History
  27. When New Englanders Blamed Vampires for Tuberculosis Deaths
  28. The Relationship Between Sleep & Workplace Accidents | Sleep Foundation
  29. Chernobyl disaster facts and information
  30. Nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island
  31. Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety
  32. Alcohol as Medicine and Poison — Prohibition: An Interactive History
  33. Taken from life: The unsettling art of death photography
  34. Harriet Tubman Biography
  35. There’s a Secret Room Behind Mount Rushmore Meant for Future Civilizations

Originally published here

About Me:

Ella Ann is my alternative self. When I wasn't brave enough, Ella Ann was. When there was something I was for sure I couldn't do, I knew Ella Ann could. When I was scared to fail, Ella Ann was up for the challenge.

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