Fun and Fascinating Facts About Famous Figures You Won’t Find in History Books
While you may think you know some of history’s most famous historical figures, the typical textbook leaves much to be desired. In an attempt to cram as much knowledge as possible into the average education, few courses take the time to really delve into the lives of some of history’s most famous figures.
Here you’ll discover a collection of fascinating, fun and occasionally hilarious facts about historical figures that you didn’t learn in school.
Cleopatra and Mark Antony Loved to Party
While many picture Cleopatra as a model of elegance, it seems that Egypt’s most famous queen wasn’t afraid to let her hair down. One of the reasons that her renowned love affair with Mark Antony worked out so well was that the two were notorious pranksters.
Ancient texts reveal that one of their favorite pastimes was disguising themselves, roaming the streets of Alexandria and playing hilarious jokes on people. They founded their own drinking society called the “inimitable livers” in the winter of 41–40 B.C. The group’s purpose was feasting, binge-drinking and playing games.
Albert Einstein Was Once Asked to Become the President of Israel
Albert Einstein was one of the most brilliant men of the 20th century, but he wasn’t always great when it came to social interaction. At the height of his fame, he often claimed he was merely some guy who looked like Einstein when he wanted to avoid dealing with admiring strangers.
In 1952, Israel even asked Einstein if he’d like to become the country’s second president, but he ended up politely declining the offer. One of the reasons he cited was that he lacked the “natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people.”
Leo Tolstoy Had a Zany Side
Nineteenth-century “War and Peace” author Leo Tolstoy is still regarded as one of the greatest fiction authors. As seriously as he took his work, Tolstoy also had a quirky side. When he got on a particular bandwagon, he was known for going all out.
In one such instance, he decided to become a vegetarian. But the real fun began when his aunt complained one day that she’d really like chicken for dinner. She arrived at the table that night to find a live chicken tied to her chair and butcher’s knife on her placemat.
Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Huge Trekkie
While many of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous feats have gone down in history, few people know how much the civil rights leader loved Star Trek. When King heard that African-American actress Nichelle Nichols was considering retiring from the show, he set out to change her mind.
He implored the actress to stay, explaining that she was able to represent people of color in an intelligent, beautiful way on TV — which was (and still is) incredibly important. King’s words had such a profound impact on Nichols that she reconsidered retiring and stayed on the show.
Charles Dickens Was Fascinated by the Supernatural
Charles Dickens, the Victorian author of classics such as “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol,” had a mysterious side. Given that “A Christmas Carol” was essentially a holiday-themed ghost story, it makes sense that he was a member of London’s “ghost club.”
The group, which included other famous authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was dedicated to exploring paranormal activities and otherworldly beings. Dickens also had a pet raven named Grip, which he had stuffed after it died. He even studied hypnotism and was known to use his wife and children as his test subjects.
Marie Antoinette Had Her Own Literal Fantasy World
Even royal life can get a little boring sometimes. That’s why Marie Antoinette decided to use her riches to build her own fantasy world. It was called Hameau de la Reine (The Queen’s Hamlet) and was the queen’s own village where she could pretend to be whomever she wanted.
She retreated to it with her children or friends and had her servants pretend to be its inhabitants. The queen was fond of playing the role of a shepherdess and walked around and lived as if she were an average peasant for the day.
Winston Churchill Accidentally Inspired His Daughter to Join the Army
Winston Churchill once jokingly quipped, “No, I can’t spare any men; you’ll have to use women.” The comment ended up inspiring his daughter, Mary, to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service. By the age of 21, she rose to the rank of Junior Commander, which was equivalent to the rank of Captain.
While many assumed that she expected special treatment, she proved that nothing could be further from the truth and worked right alongside her fellow soldiers. She fought on the front line as the leader of 230 other women before retiring from the military in 1946.
Charlie Chaplin Once Lost a Charlie Chaplin Lookalike Contest
In the early part of the 20th century, comedian Charlie Chaplin became one of the world’s first movie stars. So it’s no surprise that, at the height of his popularity, a massive number of Charlie Chaplin imitators started springing up all over the world.
Chaplin had a great sense of humor, so legend has it that at some point between 1915 and 1921, he decided to enter a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest. While assuming that he would stack up quite well against his imitators, things didn’t go exactly as he planned, and he ended up losing.
Michelangelo Got His Start in Art Forgery
When Michelangelo was 19 years old, he created a sculpture that he passed off as an antique from ancient Greece. So dedicated was he to the forgery that he buried it and dug it back up so that it would have that old, timeworn look.
His efforts paid off when he sold the forgery to Cardinal Raffaele Riario for far more than he would have if he’d admitted the sculpture was an original. Ironically, when the Cardinal found out the truth, he was far more impressed than angry and helped launch Michelangelo’s career.
Galileo’s Middle Finger Is on Display in a Museum
One hundred years after famed Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei died, his remains were reburied in the Santa Croce Basilica. During the move, however, several of Galileo’s admirers decided to take a few ghoulish souvenirs. By the time he was reburied, he was missing three fingers, a vertebra and a tooth.
The bizarre keepsakes were passed down through various families until two of the fingers and the tooth appeared at an auction in 2009. The remaining middle finger traveled through various museums and was on display at the aptly named Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy.
Charles Lindbergh Secretly Had Multiple Families
Though the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was known for several things, he managed to keep some huge personal secrets. It turns out that during his marriage to his American wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, he also managed to father children with at least three other secret mistresses.
The children from his love affairs grew up only knowing their father by a false name and were told never to mention him to anyone. Though two of his secret lovers were sisters, neither seemed to mind the arrangement. Lindbergh supported them financially and visited a few times a year.
Fidel Castro Thwarted Hundreds of Assassination Attempts
Fidel Castro will go down in history as a Cuban communist revolutionary and president, but it’s not because the United States didn’t try to stop him. During the Cold War, the CIA was adamant about finding new and exciting ways to bring Castro down by any means.
It was revealed that the organization made over 600 attempts to humiliate or assassinate the Cuban leader, though he always proved stealthy enough to avoid falling into the traps. Some of the more outlandish schemes involved poisoning his wetsuit and attempting to blow him up with an exploding cigar.
Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin Were All Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
Though thankfully none of them won, it’s incredible that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini were all nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. Hitler was nominated as a sarcastic joke by an antifascist member of the Swedish parliament in 1939.
Stalin was actually nominated not once but twice, in 1945 and 1948, for his efforts to help bring World War II to an end. Mussolini was up for the award in 1935 for helping get the Italian economy back on track. Collectively, the three dictators win the award for the most ironic nominees ever.
No One Has Any Idea How Voltaire Created His Pen Name
While the 18th-century French writer and philosopher known as Voltaire is still famous for his work today, Voltaire wasn’t his real name. His legal name was actually François-Marie Arouet, and Voltaire was a pen name that no one is quite sure how he came up with.
Given that he was far from shy in his writings, publishing them under a false name was definitely a good idea. Due to his bold criticism of the French government, he made a habit of living close to the border so he could flee at a moment’s notice.
Elvis’ Death May Have Been Partially Due to Severe Constipation
When Elvis Presley’s girlfriend discovered him dead in his bathroom, it was announced that a sudden heart attack had killed the rock ‘n’ roll legend at 42 years old. Over the years, doctors who took part in his autopsy have admitted that that was far from the whole story.
Unfortunately, Elvis was struggling with a huge pill addiction and was on massive amounts of opiates, which can cause severe constipation. Many doctors now believe it’s likely that the huge size of his colon and severe constipation played a significant role in his death.
Robert E. Lee Opposed War Monuments
Tensions have escalated over whether or not Confederate Civil War monuments should be taken down. Back in 2017, the announcement of the pending removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee was met with protests and violence.
Ironically, General Lee himself was openly opposed to the idea of all war monuments. As he once put it, “I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
Abraham Lincoln Was Honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame
President Abraham Lincoln was famously known for his ability to mesmerize an audience. In 1856, it’s said that he gave a speech in Bloomington, IL, that was so moving that all the reporters present forgot to take notes. Consequently, no transcript actually exists, and it’s still referred to as “Lincoln’s lost speech.”
What few people may know, however, was that Honest Abe was also a killer wrestler. As a young man, he only lost one out of 300 wrestling matches and was even honored as an “Outstanding American” in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Rousseau Enjoyed a Full Moon
While famous philosopher, composer and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau may seem like the model of an 18th-century gentleman, he also had a pretty bizarre habit. He liked going around mooning random women, and in his autobiography he explained why.
After being spanked as a child by a woman who helped raise him, he was surprised to find that he enjoyed the experience. Seeing how this was long before the age of Fifty Shades of Grey, he spent much of his life yearning to recreate the experience and would expose his bottom to strange women in alleyways.
Napoleon Wrote a Romance Novel You Can Still Buy on Amazon
Some people are lovers, while others are fighters, but Napoleon Bonaparte was a bit of both. The famed French general and emperor had a soft side, which led him to write his own romance novel called “Clisson et Eugénie.”
Written a year before Napoleon met and married his wife, Josephine, the story revolves around a young soldier and his love interest who continuously find themselves separated by love and eventually death. Though an English translation of the novel wasn’t available until 2009, you can check it out today by purchasing a copy on Amazon.
Sir Walter Raleigh’s Wife Kept His Head for Years After He Was Executed
As a renowned soldier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh was among the most famous figures of Elizabethan England. Ultimately, he succumbed to a charge of treason under King James I and was beheaded in 1618. While his body is believed to be buried in Westminster, what happened to his head is uncertain.
Many accounts claim that his wife, Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton, one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, kept her husband’s head for years after his death. Some said that she had it preserved in a case; others said that she kept it in a leather bag.
Nikola Tesla Once Loved a Pigeon Like “One Might Love a Human”
Nikola Tesla made revolutionary contributions to the modern world with his work on the AC electrical supply system, but his romantic side was complicated. He insisted on remaining celibate throughout his life and allegedly died a virgin, though he was known to have entertained an intense love for pigeons.
He claimed that a white female pigeon had visited him through the open window in a hotel room and died in his arms. Tesla noted that the bird’s eyes produced “a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory.”
Mark Twain Based Huck Finn on a Real Kid He Grew Up With
One of the most prolific writers in American history, Samuel Clemens, went through several ill-fated pen names before he settled on Mark Twain. Among those that lost out were Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass and W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab.
Clemens was forced to drop out of elementary school after his father died, and he went on to become self-educated via public libraries. The title character in his famous novel, Huckleberry Finn, was based on a real boy whom Clemens grew up with named Tom Blankenship. Though poor, Clemens said that Blankenship had “as good a heart as ever any boy had.”
Amelia Earhart’s Prenup Insisted on an Open Marriage
Famous aviator Amelia Earhart was an independent woman, and the prenup she drew up for her husband made sure that he knew what he was getting into. George Palmer Putnam proposed to Earhart six times before she agreed to marry him, with a few conditions.
The prenup made it clear that not only would she keep flying, but that she’d prefer to have an open marriage. She made her terms clear by writing, “I shall not hold you to a medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.”
Stonewall Jackson’s Arm Has Its Own Grave
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was one of the most famous Confederate generals of the American Civil War. Ironically, he was accidentally shot in the arm three times by friendly fire during a reconnaissance mission on May 2, 1863.
His arm had to be amputated which, along with pneumonia, was part of the cause of his death on May 10, 1863. A chaplain who served with the company didn’t think it would be right to simply toss the arm into the regular pile of amputated limbs, so he gave it its own Christian burial, complete with a headstone.
Eleanor Roosevelt Used to Hold Women-Only Press Conferences
Though there are many celebrated female journalists today, things weren’t always easy for women reporters in the 1930s. That’s why First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt decided to hold a White House press conference in 1933 that was exclusively for female reporters.
The conference was such a success that the First Lady turned it into a tradition and held nearly 350 women-only press conferences over the course of the next several years. The sessions covered subjects that were important to women at the time, including everything from equal pay and affordable housing to minimum-wage concerns.
Thomas Edison’s “Last Breath” Is on Display in a Museum
In the annals of fandom, Henry Ford went above and beyond in his devotion to his idol, Thomas Edison. Ford even had the good fortune of having a friendship with Edison throughout his life. Some say that Ford asked Charles Edison, Henry’s son, to collect his father’s last breath when he died.
Whether at Ford’s request or not, Charles asked for eight open test tubes at his father’s bedside to be sealed upon Edison’s death. He later sent one to Ford, and “Edison’s Last Breath” is still on display today at the Henry Ford Museum.
John Quincy Adams Was a Skinny-dipping Eccentric
Not only was John Quincy Adams the only U.S. president who was elected despite losing both the popular and electoral votes, but he was also quite a character. He was a massive fan of a good skinny dip and rose each morning to swim in the Potomac River completely naked.
President Adams kept a pet alligator in the White House bathtub, claiming that he enjoyed “the spectacle of guests fleeing from the room in terror.” He also believed that mole people lived in the center of the earth and authorized an expedition to find them.
King Henry VIII Had a Personal Toilet Team
If you think your job is rough, then imagine being one of King Henry VIII of England’s “Grooms of the Stool.” These guys were responsible for all the king’s toiletry needs, including wiping his bum after he deposited various royal excretions.
The job wasn’t without its perks, as each of the grooms was knighted and considered somewhat influential. Their proximity to the King was about as close as it gets. They were sought out to pass along important information to Henry during his…downtime. He also gave them his old hand-me-down clothes.
Benjamin Franklin Only Had Two Years of Formal Education
Benjamin Franklin is still known as one of the most brilliant men in American history, and by 1785 he was the wealthiest person in the United States. Despite earning honorary degrees from schools such as Yale and Harvard, he only had two years’ worth of formal education before dropping out.
He spent whatever money he had on books and became a literary sensation at the age of 16. He sneaked letters into his brother’s newspaper under the name “Silence Dogood.” Silence became so popular that she received several marriage proposals before Franklin revealed “her” true identity.
Walt Disney Made His Housekeeper a Multimillionaire
Walt Disney is synonymous with everyone’s favorite cartoon characters, but the truth that he was terrified of mice was a secret closely guarded from Mickey’s enormous ears. After being fired from a newspaper job for “lack of imagination,” he went on to enjoy the last laugh.
Working for him had its perks; he gave his beloved housekeeper shares of Disney stock as bonuses. Though she never sold the shares out of respect for Walt, when she died, her estate was discovered to be worth $9,000,000 — half of which she left to charity.