VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
These historical events will shock you! For this list, we'll be going over the strangest or oddest anecdotes and figures from throughout history. Our countdown includes The Emu War, Napoleon Attacked by Rabbits, 1904's Crazy Olympic Marathon, and more!
Top 10 Weird Historical Events That Actually Happened
Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 weird historical events that actually happened.
For this list, we’ll be going over the strangest or oddest anecdotes and figures from throughout history.
If there’s a bizarre historical story we weirdly forgot about, share your favorites in the comments!
#10: The Emu War
Australia has several strange historical events, but easily the most striking is the so-called “Emu War.” During the Great Depression, farmers in Western Australia were encouraged to grow wheat. Unfortunately, this attracted migrating emus. The large, flightless birds devastated the crops and became a regular nuisance. To deal with the issue, a small group of soldiers armed with automatic weapons were employed to wipe out the encroaching animals. As far as animal culls go, it’s one of the most extreme instances. During the “operation,” hundreds of emus were killed. However, the emu population endured. That’s right - humans lost a “war” – to birds.
#9: Khutulun, the Undefeated Wrestling Woman
Genghis Khan’s descendants are innumerable, and plenty of them have made their mark on the world. One of the most interesting is Khutulun. The daughter of Kaidu, Khutulun was a warrior in her own right and assisted her father in his campaigns. She had many after her hand in marriage, but she insisted that whoever married her must first defeat her in a wrestling match. Khutulun wagered horses with her would-be suitors. It’s said that although she eventually married, she was never defeated and had won thousands of horses in her lifetime.
#8: New Atlantis Founded by Hemingway’s Brother
While Ernest Hemingway’s time in the Caribbean has been much documented, and was of great interest to the F.B.I., his brother Leicester also took interest in the waters south of the U.S. Leicester founded a micronation in international waters off the coast of Jamaica. He created the “country” onboard a 30-foot raft in 1964. “New Atlantis” technically only constituted half the raft, as he claimed the other half belonged to the United States. Briefly inhabited by Leicester and a few others, he hoped to fund the operation through the sale of stamps and by attracting tourists. However, the micronation sank beneath the waves a few years after its founding. He probably jinxed it by naming it after Atlantis.
#7: Anti-Comet Pills
Halley’s Comet has been a frequent fixture of the night sky for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the early parts of the last century that scientists were able to observe it closely. Unfortunately, that also led to wild speculation on some astronomers’ parts, particularly after cyanogen, a toxic gas, was discovered in the tail. Panic over the comet led to con men selling things like anti-comet pills and umbrellas to protect from the “deadly gas.” Naturally, scientists even then pointed out how ludicrous that is, and Halley’s Comet passed without incident, but the snake oil salesmen of the day still made a killing.
#6: Napoleon Attacked by Rabbits
Napoleon Bonaparte was a brilliant military commander. While his final defeat was at Waterloo, his most humiliating one was against small, long-eared bunnies. According to the story, in July 1807, Bonaparte arranged for a rabbit hunt. However, rather than wild animals, Napoleon’s chief of staff elected to round up tame rabbits – anywhere from several hundred up to 3000, so the story goes. And when the time came for the hunt to begin, instead of running away, the rabbits charged Napoleon and his men en masse, hoping for food and leaping and climbing all over them. The French emperor had to retreat to his carriage and make a hasty getaway!
#5: The Polish Army’s Enlisted Bear
While transporting refugees West from Iran in 1942, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish Army encountered an orphaned Syrian brown bear cub, which they subsequently adopted as a mascot. Named Wojtek, this bear grew up traveling alongside soldiers, wrestling with them and imitating their behaviors, including enjoying beer and cigarettes. When the ships that would take them to Italy denied him due to forbidding mascot animals, the 22nd enlisted Wojtek officially into the army as a private. Wojtek was even promoted to corporal, because he aided his comrades by moving artillery shells during the Battle of Monte Cassino. After the war, Wojtek retired from service, living the remainder of his life at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland.
#4: The Father of Tragedy’s Tragic/Comic Death
(456 or 455 BC)
Aeschylus is often regarded as the progenitor of the Greek tragedy, since his few surviving works are the earliest examples known to modern scholars. Greek tragedies often feature characters whose deaths are ironic twists of fate. Aeschylus’ own fate is certainly a twist, though it’s more comic than tragic. When returning to Gela in Sicily, Aeschylus died outside the city. How? An eagle dropped a tortoise on his head! The bird mistook his bald head for a rock and tried to crack the reptile’s shell open by dropping it on him. Honestly, we’re more surprised none of his peers wrote a play about it.
#3: Straw Hat Riots
New Yorkers have gotten angry over some weird stuff, but hats is one of the strangest. In the early 20th century, it was considered a fashion faux pas for men to wear a straw boater hat after September 15th. If they did, they were often subject to public ridicule or having their hats knocked off. When some enthusiastic kids started the tradition a few days early on some dock and factory workers, it sparked a series of riots that lasted over a week! Mobs of youths destroying hats roamed the city! While there were thankfully no deaths, there were still an unfortunate number of people injured and arrested – over hats! America was in the midst of Prohibition, so men were probably pretty angry already…
#2: 1904’s Crazy Olympic Marathon
To call the 1904 St. Louis Olympic marathon a disaster would be an understatement of epic proportions! Of the 32 competitors, only 14 finished. This was largely due to organizer James E. Sullivan’s insane belief that dehydration was good for the body, causing him to only have one water station in the nearly 25-mile race. On dusty, unpaved roads. In July. But it gets crazier, because the racers’ journeys are even more bizarre! First place hitched a ride in a car. Second place took rat poison as a performance enhancer and had to be carried across the finish line! The fourth finisher slept off stomach cramps during the race! It’s a shame no one got it all on film!
#1: Pepsi Had the World’s 6th Largest Military
We couldn’t make this up if we tried! During the late ‘80s, the Soviet Union’s love of Pepsi proved problematic for those in charge. Their initial agreement with the American company had expired, and their currency wouldn’t be accepted. So, they did a trade – 17 submarines and several other large naval vessels in exchange for 3 billion dollars’ worth of Pepsi! While Pepsi soon sold their newfound fleet to a Swedish company who scrapped it, for a brief window, Pepsi had more military might than all but 5 countries on Earth! They could have turned their Cola Wars with Coca-Cola into a literal war!