5 Freaky, Funny Moments in History

If today’s unsettled times have you feeling stressed, relax! Things were even more bizarre in the past. Here’s proof, courtesy of Joy Masoff, the author of Oh, Yuck!, Oh, Yikes!, and the newly published, Oh, Ick!: 114 Science Experiments Guaranteed to Gross You Out (with Jessica Garrett and Ben Ligon).



Abraham Lincoln was challenged to a duel after writing a series of mocking, anonymous letters to a well-known politician. When the politician, James Shields, found out that Lincoln was behind the notes, he challenged him to a duel. As the person being challenged, Lincoln got to choose the weapons. He opted for clumps of cow manure. Shields was furious–mocked yet again! He insisted on different weapons. This time Lincoln chose ”cavalry swords of the largest size” and stipulated that the duel be fought while standing in a square ten feet wide and twelve feet deep. Shields was a whole lot shorter than Lincoln, but still would not back out. At the last minute, his friends convinced him to give up. No manure was flung, no swords brandished! And Abe got a good chuckle out of the whole event.



Jump some rope? Spin a yo-yo? Play a little hopscotch? Fly a kite? Toss a lacrosse ball around? Innocent kid stuff, right? NOPE! In the olden days, this kind of fooling around would have helped launch a fleet of warships, hunted down animal prey, honed battle skills, and scared the poop out of your enemy. Our favorite goof-offs were once weapons of war.

Kites were invented in ancient China for military signaling in battle. Hopscotch—played on areas the size of football fields—was a training method to beef up Roman soldiers who hip-hopped across those fields wearing 40-pound packs.  Jump rope? Picture burly, bearded sailors in Phoenicia making strong, braided ropes for their sailing fleet. As they twisted great lengths of hemp over and over, other workers had to bring them more hemp. The hemp bringers spent all day jumping over the swinging ropes. Getting caught in the twirling lines could cost a guy his neck! And picture a yo-yo the size of dinner plate with razor sharp edges on a length of 20-foot-long twine. Hunters in the Philippines used these deadly devices to snare supper. They called the weapon a “come back,” which, in Tagalog, their language, is pronounced yo-yo.



For 28 long months beginning in 1804, Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery—30 brave men, one gutsy woman, and a big shaggy dog—trudged 8,000 miles from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back. They were supposed to leave markers of their amazing trip, and 200 years later, ONE marker of their journey remains—the places they dug their latrines in each encampment. Before setting out, Meriwether Lewis took a crash course in medicine and one of the most important items in his field kit was laxatives, which the Corps nicknamed “thunderclappers.” They were needed because the Corps had no access to fresh veggies and fruit. Each pill was loaded with mercury, which is a toxic chemical. To this day, traces of mercury remain in the soil along the route enabling archaeologists to locate many campsites. Talk about a toxic dump!



Why do shoes have all those weird sizes? Who decided that shoes should come in sizes 1-13? It began in 1324, when England’s King Edward II decided that shoe sizes should be based on barley corn (hey—it’s good to be king!). He took three barley corns and laid them end to end. He then decreed that three barley corns would equal one shoe size unit. The person with the biggest feet in his realm in those days measured 39 barley corns. Thirty-nine divided by 3 equals size 13. How many barley corns do you wear?



This election cycle has been a doozy, but there’s been plenty of drama in the White House since day one. Did you know that POTUS #6, John Quincy Adams, skinny-dipped in the Potomac River at dawn when the weather allowed it? Or that President Nixon’s favorite lunch was cottage cheese with ketchup (which looks just like a bowl of bloody brains)? And then there was Harry S. Truman, who became president in 1945, and left us with these heartfelt words: “No man should be allowed to become president who doesn’t understand hogs.”

The residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have been a remarkable assortment. Look at this lineup! There was Andrew Jackson’s potty-mouth parrot who could curse up a storm, Teddy Roosevelt’s one-legged chicken and six-toed cat, and President Eisenhower’s pup, Heidi, who could have used doggy diapers. So the next time you picture life in the White House, think of William Taft—all 350 pounds of him—stuck in a bathtub, struggling to get out. ALL HAIL TO THE CHIEF!

Want more, more, more? Check out Oh, Yikes! History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments and get the scoop on everything from Attila the Hun to Zany Zoos.

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