20 Facts That Truly Shocked And Surprised Me This Week
There is a theory that a fire onboard the Titanic contributed to the ship’s tragic sinking. In photos from the shipyard taken about a week before the Titanic left for its maiden voyage, there are black streaks running along the ship’s hull, in the same area where the ship was later gouged by an iceberg. Experts believe that the marks were the result of a fire that had been burning in the boiler room for about 10 days, and think that it might have significantly weakened the ship’s infrastructure, potentially worsening the damage from the ship’s fatal collision.
In 1974, actor Jack Nicholson learned that the woman he believed to be his sister was actually his mother, and that the woman he thought was his actual mother was his grandmother. A reporter for Time magazine was preparing for an interview with Nicholson to promote the movie Chinatown when he came across the shocking discovery, and called Nicholson to ask him if he knew that his “sister” was actually his mother. Nicholson was able to verify the story and told reporters that he was “stunned,” but asked them to not report the findings in the article.
So, how exactly did this happen? Nicholson’s mother June had reportedly gotten pregnant with Nicholson when she was 17 years old. His father was married to another woman, and June’s mother Ethel allegedly threatened him with the Mann Act, a law that was used to prosecute sexual acts with minors. Ethel decided to raise the baby to protect the family from the shame associated with a child born out of wedlock. Meanwhile, June had aspirations of becoming an actor, and moved to Los Angeles when Nicholson was about 4 years old. Over a decade later, he decided he also wanted to pursue acting, and moved to Los Angeles to join his “sister.” After the findings became public, Nicholson joked that June was his “sister-mother,” but has rarely spoken about it since.
When shopping carts first made their debut in the 1930s, they were pretty unpopular. Many women claimed they looked too much like a baby carriage, while men thought pushing a cart was too feminine, and were worried they would be seen as weak. Grocers hired actors to push carts around their stores and fill them up to demonstrate how useful they were, and soon, shopping carts became widely used.
Before becoming the classic that it is today, Back to the Future was rejected over 40 times, with one of the most notable rejections coming from Disney. In the movie, Marty McFly time travels from 1985 to 1955, and is tasked with ensuring his parents meet and get together, only to find the plan going incredibly wrong when Marty’s mother inadvertently ends up falling for him. Screenwriter Bob Gale said that Disney believed the movie was far too risqué for their family-oriented audiences.
After getting rejected by Disney, director Robert Zemeckis took a second draft of the script to Columbia Pictures. Columbia was fresh off of hits like Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which were full of raunchy humor. When Columbia executives read the script, they allegedly said that it was too tame for their audiences and passed on the film. Universal Studios eventually bought the rights to the film, which went on to become the highest grossing film of 1985 and was nominated for several Academy Awards.
Blue whales are not only the largest animal in the ocean, but the biggest animals to ever live on Earth. They’re even larger than all known dinosaurs. A blue whale’s heart weighs about 1,000 pounds, which is the average weight of a cow.
When World War II broke out in 1939, Queen Elizabeth II (then known as Princess Elizabeth), and her sister Princess Margaret were evacuated from Buckingham Palace and sent to Windsor Castle. During this time, many British children were evacuated from densely populated areas. In an effort to appeal to these children, Princess Elizabeth, who was 14 years old at the time, gave her first radio address as part of the BBC’s Children’s Hour. “My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all,” she said. “To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy, and at the same time, we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.”
Some thought the speech was a kind gesture, while others thought it was propaganda. Following the speech, Elizabeth continued to stay plugged into the war efforts. She maintained a garden as part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign to help combat food shortages. On her 16th birthday, Elizabeth performed her first military regiment inspection and was named honorary colonel of the Grenadier Guards. Once Elizabeth turned 18, she insisted on joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), which was the women’s branch of the British Army.
When Elizabeth joined the army in 1944, her father, King George, ensured that she was not given a special rank. Elizabeth worked as a mechanic, and the media soon dubbed her “Princess Auto Mechanic.” She spent most of her time in the training facilities and not on the frontlines, so she continued to live at Windsor Castle throughout the duration of her service. During her time in the military, Elizabeth eventually worked her way up to Junior Commander, which was the equivalent of Captain. When World War II ended in 1945, Elizabeth snuck into the celebrating crowds in her military uniform to celebrate with her fellow soldiers. In 1985, she told the BBC that she was scared that she would be recognized during the celebratory parade, but called it “one of the most memorable nights of my life.”
The Brady Bunch was developed in 1966 after creator Sherwood Schwartz, fresh off of the success of Gilligan’s Island, read an article in the LA Times claiming that over 30% of marriages involved children from previous marriages, and decided to create a show that explored blended families. Despite the fact that the entire premise of the show centered around a family with children from previous marriages, the series never revealed what happened to Carol Brady’s first husband.
Although Schwartz maintained that Carol and her husband were divorced, he was hesitant to portray this on the show, as divorce was still seen as taboo at the time. Florence Henderson, who played Carol, decided to devise her own backstory about what exactly happened in her first marriage. “I killed my husband,” Henderson joked in a 2015 interview. “I was the original Black Widow. Nobody ever said, but I always say I just got rid of him.”
In 1955, Jack Ryan, an engineer at Raytheon, was lured away from his role designing guided missile systems by Ruth Handler, who wanted him to come work at Mattel, her new toy company. Ryan agreed and became the head of research and development. While working at Mattel, Ryan designed and patented the original Barbie doll. Ryan’s contract entitled him to 1.5% of royalties brought in from sales of the doll. In 1980, he sued Mattel for nonpayment of millions in royalties, and ended his relationship with the company. Ryan was also responsible for the design behind Hot Wheels cars.
Contaminated water at the White House is believed to be responsible for not only the deaths of three presidents, but the death of Willie Lincoln, one of Abraham Lincoln’s sons. You’ve probably heard Washington, DC be referred to as a swamp, which is a nod to not only the politics of the nation’s capital, but the fact that Washington was actually built on a swamp. When John Adams moved into the White House in 1800, it was allegedly incredibly damp and humid inside at all times.
Washington, DC lacked a sewer system, so people would leave their “night soil” in the streets, where it would be collected overnight and taken to a more isolated section of the city. At this time, the White House didn’t have any pipes. Instead, servants would carry water into the house in buckets, where it was stored in two wells. While there were several proposals to build pipes in the White House in the early 1800s, the plans were denied due to a lack of funding. By 1833, construction on the pipes was underway, with the water slated to come from a spring located near the White House in Franklin Square.
The problem? The spring was located less than a mile away from the “night soil” depository. In addition to its proximity to the dumping grounds, the White House was also close to the Washington Canal, which was full of human waste and animal carcasses, and allegedly had a notoriously foul smell. These two factors led to some purportedly contaminated water flowing through the White House’s new pipes. In 1844, William Henry Harrison died just a month after his inauguration. While it was initially believed that Harrison died from pneumonia, researchers theorized that Harrison actually likely died from bacteria believed to be found in the White House’s water, adding that his symptoms lined up with enteric fever and a gastrointestinal infection.
In June 1849, James Polk died just a few months after finishing up his term as president. Polk’s symptoms were incredibly similar to those that Harrison experienced shortly before his death. In the years between their deaths, the White House allegedly did not make any improvements to their water system. Just a year later, President Zachary Taylor began experiencing cramps after consuming large quantities of cherries, milk, and White House water. His symptoms were consistent of those experienced by Harrison and Polk, and were indicative of a water-borne illness. Taylor died five days later.
By 1860, James Buchanan pushed for running water to be pumped to the second floor of the White House for bathing. Abraham Lincoln was elected before Buchanan’s request could be fulfilled, so Lincoln’s family became the first to use the running water in the White House for bathing. During this time, Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War often relieved themselves in the water that was later pumped to the White House for bathing and drinking. In 1862, Willie Lincoln died from typhoid fever, believed to have been caused by the White House’s contaminated water supply. His brother, Tad, was also sick, but ended up recovering.
After physicist Niels Bohr won the Nobel Prize in 1922, the Carlsberg beer company, located in Copenhagen, gifted him a house located directly next to their brewery. The house contained a direct pipeline to the brewery, so Bohr could pour himself a beer on tap right from the comfort of his own home. Although Carlsberg is a beer company, they also had a passion for science, and even developed a laboratory to experiment with brewing.
While some might assume that “Mother Mary” from the Beatles’ “Let It Be” is the Virgin Mary, the song is actually a sweet ode to Paul McCartney’s mother. McCartney said that he was going through a period of stress and anxiety due to the band’s overwhelming fame and popularity, when he had a dream in which his mother Mary, who died when McCartney was 14 years old, appeared. “She was reassuring me, saying, ‘It’s going to be ok, just let it be.’ It felt so great. She gave me positive words,” he said during a Carpool Karaoke segment. “So I wrote the song ‘Let It Be’ out of positivity.”
Despite McCartney’s story about his mother, Malcolm Evans, who was one of the band’s managers, claimed that he inspired the song. “Paul was meditating one day, and I came to him in a vision, and I was just standing there saying, ‘let it be, let it be…’ And that’s where the song came from,” he said in 1975. To give Evans credit, McCartney can actually be heard singing “When I find myself in times of trouble, Brother Malcolm comes to me,” on a rehearsal track from the 50th Anniversary edition of The White Album.
Bandmate John Lennon allegedly was not a fan of the song because he believed that people would misconstrue the “Mother Mary” line as a biblical reference. “Let It Be” was the final single the Beatles released together before McCartney announced he was leaving the band. When “Let It Be” was released, it entered the charts at No. 6 before later hitting No. 1.
Although Disney had been in the animation business for over 60 years, The Lion King was actually the first original Disney animated movie that hadn’t been adapted from any source material. While working on the movie, animators went to the University of California’s Field Station for Behavioral Research to observe hyenas. The visit was granted under one condition: The filmmaker would not portray the hyenas in a negative light. When the movie came out in 1994, the biologists were allegedly furious when they saw that hyenas were villains in the movie.
Some biologists began to boycott the film because they felt that the depiction of the animals was harmful to efforts to protect wild hyena populations. One of the researchers was reportedly so upset by the portrayal of the hyenas that he sued Disney for “defamation of character” on the animals’ behalf. The alleged lawsuit never actually made it to court. The Lion King went on to rake in over $1 billion in theaters, and is the second highest grossing G-rated movie of all time.
The only time foreign national anthems are typically played at Buckingham Palace is during visits by foreign dignitaries, but Queen Elizabeth II made an exception after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. On September 13, 2001, Queen Elizabeth II ordered the Bands of the Household Division to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” to show solidarity to the United States. This marked the first time in 600 years that a foreign national anthem was played at Buckingham Palace outside of a state visit.
In 1992, a group of best-selling authors and creatives teamed up to form a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Notable members included authors Stephen King, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. The group was started by book publicist Kathi Kamen Goldmark. “In the fine rock & roll tradition, the Rock Bottom Remainders were conceived in a car,” Goldmark said. “As a semi-pro musician with a day job in book publicity, I spend a lot of time driving touring authors around San Francisco. … I decided to form a band of authors!”
The group made their debut at the American Booksellers Association world convention in 1992, and went on to perform several more charity shows over the next 20 years. Members of Rock Bottom Remainders even performed an NPR Tiny Desk Concert in 2010 before officially retiring in 2012. Despite their retirement announcement, the band eventually reunited for a performance at the Tucson Festival of Books in 2015.
During the 19th century, there was a push to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Southern states saw this as a “culture war,” designed to force Northern values on Southern states, and refused to accept it. Some Southerners even saw pumpkin pie as an anti-slavery symbol. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday to promote unity, but some Southern states still refused to participate. In the 1880s, Texas still refused to celebrate Thanksgiving, while other Southern states changed the date because they didn’t want to participate in Lincoln’s wish for “national unity.” Some Southerners began to change the traditional Thanksgiving food to represent their own culture and values. In 1941, Congress officially ruled that Thanksgiving was a national holiday.
Last week, I saw this tweet that recently re-elected senator Chuck Grassley, who was born in 1933, is older than chocolate chip cookies. This little factoid made me extremely curious about the story behind the invention of one of the world’s most beloved desserts. It all began with Ruth Wakefield and her husband, who owned the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. Ruth made all of the food for the inn’s guests.
One night, Ruth was allegedly trying to make “Butter Do Drop” cookies, and had the idea to put chopped up bits of a Nestlé chocolate bar in them. She believed the addition of the chocolate pieces would yield solid chocolate cookies, but once she pulled them from the oven, found that the chocolate had remained in bits. Ruth’s cookie invention, known as the “Toll House Crunch Cookie,” became a massive success. The recipe was printed in a Boston newspaper, and by 1939, appeared on the back of Toll House packaging, as it still does to this day.
In 1989, a man bought a picture frame at a flea market in Pennsylvania for $4. When he took the print home, he removed the painting from the frame, and found a print of the Declaration of Independence inside. The man showed it to a friend, who encouraged him to get the print appraised. Experts found that the print was actually one of 24 copies of the first printing of the Declaration of Independence. In 1991, the printing sold for $2.42 million at auction.
In 2000, Thad Roberts, a 23-year-old recent college graduate, nabbed a coveted internship at NASA. Roberts allegedly declared that he was going to be the first human to reach Mars. During the moon landing in 1969, astronauts collected moon rocks to bring back to study. Upon their return, the rocks were sealed to prevent contamination. In 2002, while working at NASA, Roberts and two other interns stole some of the moon rocks from a safe in the Johnson Space Center lab in Houston. Roberts and his accomplices, Tiffany Fowler, who was then 22, and Shae Saur, who was 19, then put the stolen rocks up for sale on the website for the Mineralogy Club of Antwerp, Belgium.
A rock collector saw the post and alerted the FBI, who set up a sting operation and arrested the group in Tampa, Florida on July 20, 2002, which was coincidentally the 33rd anniversary of the moon landing. The FBI found that they had stolen $21 million worth of moon rocks. In addition to the theft, they had contaminated the rocks by taking them out of their sealed environment. In an interview with CBS, Roberts even claimed that he had put some of the rocks under his pillow while having sex. “It was more about the symbol of what we were doing — you know, basically having sex on the moon.” All three interns pled guilty. Roberts was sentenced to more than 8 years in prison for the theft, while Fowler and Saur were fined and sentenced to probation.
The nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” is believed to have a pretty dark origin story. The rhyme is supposedly about three Protestant bishops — Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer — who attempted to overthrow Queen Mary I of England, who was also known as Bloody Mary. Mary, who was Catholic, executed hundreds of Protestants during her five-year reign. The men were burned at the stake when their overthrow attempt was revealed. Historians believe that the “blind mice” represent the men’s religious beliefs.
And finally, Effa Manley broke barriers in the sports world by becoming the first female owner of a professional sports team. Manley, who grew up in Philadelphia, moved to New York City, where she frequently attended Yankees games. During this time, Manley was involved in social causes and picketed in a campaign for local businesses to hire Black workers. In 1932, Manley attended a World Series game at Yankee Stadium, where she met her husband Abe, who was well-known in the baseball industry.
Together, they owned the Newark Eagles, a baseball team in the Negro Leagues. The Eagles ultimately won the Negro League World Series in 1946. People took notice of Manley’s contributions to the team, and praised her for her management and promotion styles. In 1946, Manley and her husband sold the team. Manley turned her focus to fighting for fair compensation and contracts for Negro League players. She helped players involved in the Negro League become seen as legitimate athletes, and helped them gain respect. Manley stood up for civil rights causes throughout her life, and advocated for Negro League players to be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2006, she became the first woman inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.