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21 Incredible Facts That Sent Me Down A Rabbit Hole This Week — Here's Everything I Learned

Tigers and cheetahs love Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men cologne, and more things you won't believe.

1. The person who committed the 1982 Tylenol Murders is still at large.

Bernard Bisson / Sygma via Getty Images

In the fall of 1982, in Chicago, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman died a very sudden and unexpected death. So, too, did 27-year-old Adam Janus, along with his 25-year-old brother, Stanley, and his 19-year-old sister-in-law, Theresa. In the following days, more would follow: Paula Prince (35), Mary McFarland (35), and Mary Reiner (27). Every victim died from a lethal dose of potassium cyanide — they'd been poisoned — and the unifying thread that tied all of these murders together would set off a nationwide panic: Each had taken an Extra Strength Tylenol.

In the following weeks, Johnson & Johnson would pull all of its Tylenol advertising and issue a sweeping product recall — aka "the recall that started them all" — and it would cost them over $100 million. This crime, however, wasn't committed on a national scale; it was local — at least that's what police believe. It was ultimately concluded that someone in the Chicago area had managed to discreetly place these contaminated bottles on the shelves of pharmacies and grocery stores. And almost 40 years later, that explanation is still only a theory; the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Tylenol Murders are the reason why all over-the-counter medication comes with a tamper-proof foil seal, and why pull-apart pill capsules are no longer the industry standard.

2. Before high school teacher Christa McAuliffe was selected, NASA had originally approached Big Bird about joining the disastrous 1986 mission in which the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, resulting in the tragic deaths of all seven crew members.

Big Bird posing with his sesame street mailbox
Sesame Workshop / Courtesy Everett Collection

In 2015 Caroll Spinney, the man behind Big Bird, wrote an essay for the Guardian in which he shared the following story: 

"I once got a letter from NASA, asking if I would be willing to join a mission to orbit the Earth as Big Bird, to encourage kids to get interested in space. There wasn’t enough room for the puppet in the end, and I was replaced by a teacher. In 1986, we took a break from filming to watch takeoff, and we all saw the ship blow apart. The six astronauts and teacher all died, and we just stood there crying."

Shortly thereafter, NASA released a statement that essentially confirmed Spinney's claim: 

"In 1984, NASA created the Space Flight Participant Program to select teachers, journalists, artists, and other people who could bring their unique perspective to the human spaceflight experience as a passenger on the space shuttle. A review of past documentation shows there were initial conversations with Sesame Street regarding their potential participation on a Challenger flight, but that plan was never approved."

After the Challenger disaster, NASA would rethink many of its programs and initiatives, and they ultimately decided to scrap the Space Flight Participant Program.

3. The first YouTube video ever was uploaded on April 23, 2005. It's called "Me at the zoo," and it's an 18-second-long video of YouTube cofounder Jawed Karim just sorta hanging out at the San Diego Zoo.

A screenshot from the video of Jawed Karim posing in front of the elephant enclosure
Jawed / Via youtube.com

Click here to watch the video.

4. Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon, is one of the likeliest places in our solar system to support alien life.

The icy, pocked surface of Enceladus up close in HD
NASA

This astounding photo, captured by the Cassini satellite, depicts Enceladus, the sixth largest of Saturn's 82 moons. How big is it? If plopped down on Earth, Enceladus would be small enough to fit within the borders of the United Kingdom.  

Beneath its icy shell, which is estimated to be as much as 25 miles (40 kilometers) thick, lies a vast ocean — which itself is about 6 miles (10 kilometers) deep. Enceladus's abundance of water makes it one of the likeliest places in our solar system to find life. 

One of the coolest things about this moon, so different from our own in so many ways, is its massive geysers. It's constantly spewing water and ice into orbit, which contribute to the formation of Saturn's iconic E-ring.

5. You're not allowed to visit Ilha da Queimada Grande — aka Snake Island — because you'd probably die if you did.

Leo Francini / Alamy Stock Photo, Google Maps

This gorgeous island is located off the coast of São Paulo, Brazil — but looks can be deceiving; Ilha da Queimada Grande is said to be one of the deadliest islands on the planet due to its unusually high concentration of the most venomous snakes on Earth. 

Thousands of golden lancehead vipers — which, coincidentally, are critically endangered — call Ilha da Queimada Grande home, and they're said to be an especially aggressive population. According to locals, many who have stepped foot there were later found dead, covered in snake bites. Allegedly, a man and his family lived there briefly so he could run the lighthouse until, legend has it, dozens of determined snakes came in through his windows, killing everyone. 

6. Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche is the only Black passenger to die when the Titanic went down. Additionally, he and his two daughters, Simonne and Louise Laroche, were the only three Black passengers on the entire ship.

The Laroche family posing for a portrait
Zuri Swimmer / Alamy Stock Photo

Born and raised in Haiti, Laroche moved to France at the age of 15 to study engineering. There, he would meet his wife, Juliette Marie Louise Lafargue, and have two children, Simonne and Louise. Joseph, who was unable to find work as an engineer in Paris due to racism and prejudice, decided to take his skillset back to Haiti, where he figured engineers must be sorely needed. These factors, coupled with the fact that Juliette was pregnant with their third child, are what led them to book second-class tickets on that doomed voyage to New York.

In the early morning hours of April 15, after the Titanic had struck the iceberg and it was clear the ship was sinking, Joseph Laroche acted swiftly and decisively. In their room, he filled his coat pockets with money and jewels, after which he took his family to the ship's deck. Escorting them to an open life boat, Joseph took his jacket, wrapped it around Juliette, and told her, “Here, take this; you are going to need it. I’ll get another boat. God be with you. I’ll see you in New York” — these are the last words he spoke to his family.

7. Here's a strange one: Some big cat species, like tigers and cheetahs, are apparently obsessed with Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men cologne.

Fiona Hanson - Pa Images / PA Images via Getty Images, Picture Alliance / dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Experiments with a variety of different scents were conducted at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, and Obsession for Men was a definite favorite. The cats enjoyed sniffing it, drooling over it, rolling around in it, and just generally basking in the musk — Michelle Meyers, spokeswoman for the Carolina Tiger Rescue, told the AP, "The musky scents come from extracts in mammals, and that’s likely why the animals like them a lot."

Different species have different preferences. Ocelots, for example, are said to prefer Axe Body Spray — no, I'm not kidding.

8. Nikola Tesla predicted the invention of the smartphone in 1926.

A young Nikola Tesla posing for the camera
Roger Viollet / Roger Viollet via Getty Images

In an interview for Collier's magazine in 1926, Nikola Tesla made a myriad of predictions about the future of technology and how it would revolutionize the world as we know it. Not all of his predictions turned out to be true, but one in particular did. Tesla described, in incredible detail, what is essentially the modern-day smartphone:

"When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole Earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do [this] will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

We shall be able to witness and hear events—the inauguration of a president, the playing of a World Series game, the havoc of an earthquake, or the terror of a battle—just as though we were present."

9. 536 is said to be the worst year in recorded human history.

A hazy landscape
Jhillphotography / Getty Images

Think 2020 was bad? According to medieval historian Michael McCormick, the year 536 is believed to be "the worst year to be alive" on record. So devastating and far reaching were the effects of that year that it would cast Europe into an economic depression that it wouldn't fully recover from for more than a century.

Early on in 536, there was a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland that sent so much ash into the atmosphere that the skies all across Europe and the Middle East, as well as much of Asia, were darkened for a staggering 18 months. So thoroughly was the sun blocked out that temperatures dropped — snowfall was recorded that summer in China — crops all across these continents died, and people began to starve to death.

At the time, no one knew volcanic ash was the culprit, so in addition to contending with this catastrophe, there was an uncertainty about where this "mysterious fog" had come from, what caused it, and if it would ever go away.

10. The Kola Superdeep Borehole, located in Murmansk, Russia, is the deepest hole ever dug by humans.

A round cap securely bolted over the hole, surrounded by rubble and debris
Rakot13 / Wikipedia Creative Commons

In the 1970s, strictly for experimental purposes, the Soviets began to dig a hole. Their objective was simple: see how deep they can go before they can go no farther.

They ended up making it 7.5 miles down (12.1 kilometers) — deeper, even, than the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, which is 6.8 miles (10.9 kilometers) beneath the surface of the Pacific. Apparently they had expected to go even deeper, but the 356-degree Fahrenheit temperature (180 degrees Celsius) wouldn't allow them to.

The Soviet Union officially dissolved in December 1991, and they stopped drilling not long after that. Nowadays the site is abandoned, and the hole, pictured above, is sealed shut. If it looks small, that's because it is; the hole is only 9 inches wide (22.9 centimeters).

11. This is Magawa the rat, and in 2020 he received a gold medal for his bravery and heroism.

Magawa wearing a gold medal around his neck
PDSA / Cover Images / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Over the course of five years, Magawa — an African giant pouched rat — has located 71 active land mines in Cambodia, which he was trained to sniff out. Despite his valiant efforts, there are still an estimated 6 million undiscovered land mines in Southeast Asia, but every one counts.

Magawa, now 7 years old, made the news recently because his handler, Malen, just announced his retirement, stating simply that she wants to "respect his needs." 

Thank you for your service, Magawa.

12. President Andrew Jackson stored so much cheese in the White House that it still stank long after he left office.

Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images, Tim Ur / Getty Images/iStockphoto

This might be one of the strangest (and grossest) US Presidential facts you've ever heard — at least I thought it was.

The story goes that while President Andrew Jackson held office, a dairy farmer from New York gifted him a 1,400-pound (635-kilogram) wheel of cheese. Not only did Jackson graciously accept the gift, but he allowed it to open-air age in the White House Entrance Hall for *two years*.

Then, in 1837, a going-away party was thrown to celebrate the conclusion of President Jackson's second term, and he decided the colossal wheel of cheese had to be a part of the festivities. Benjamin Perley Poore documented the cheesy free-for-all in his book Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis. He wrote:

"For hours did a crowd of men, women and boys hack at the cheese, many taking large hunks of it away with them. When they commenced, the cheese weighed one thousand four hundred pounds, and only a small piece was saved for the President’s use. The air was redolent with cheese, the carpet was slippery with cheese, and nothing else was talked about at Washington that day."

It was left to Martin Van Buren, the president who succeeded Jackson, to eliminate the pungent, cheesy odor that lingered long afterward, which allegedly entailed taking the carpet out to air for "many days," getting rid of the curtains, and repainting the entire room.

13. As ferocious as alligators are known to be, they actually coexist peacefully with manatees.

D Williams Photography / Getty Images, Naluphoto / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Manatees will even politely bump — or rudely nudge (however you'd prefer to look at it) — an alligator when they need to get by.

14. This is the silk vest King Charles I was wearing in 1649 when he was beheaded.

An intricately patterned top that resembles a long sleeved tunic covered in stains and markings
Heritage Images / Heritage Images/Getty Images

Knowing he would be executed before a crowd, he asked to wear something warm so that he wouldn't shiver and appear to be afraid — this is what he was dressed in. Despite appearances, it seems he was afraid; researchers believe those stains were left behind by either sweat or vomit (not blood).

15. Lake Baikal, located in Siberia, is the largest, deepest, most ancient lake on Earth. It contains a whopping 20% of the entire planet's fresh water — oh, and strange things are rumored to have happened there.

The shoreline and water of Lake Baikal with misty mountains in the distance
Ralph White / Getty Images

Lake Baikal is situated within a large, 25 million-year-old rift valley in the Earth's crust caused by two tectonic plates moving in opposite directions. There are also what's described as "magnetic anomalies" in and around the lake that would cause, say, a compass to spin aimlessly like something out of a sci-fi movie. 

There have been several reported instances of boats setting out on Lake Baikal and never returning. One such incident occurred in 2011 to a boat called Yamaha, which inexplicably vanished. The men in charge of piloting the boat are said to have been experienced sailors, but it appears they were no match for the thick fog that descended on the lake that day and seemingly swallowed them whole.

But that's where the verifiable facts end. The tricky thing when it comes to local legend is that the claims can be difficult to confirm, so please take all of the following information with a grain of salt.

One such claim is that Jesus Christ personally visited the lake. Another is that Genghis Khan was born on one of the lake's many islands — specifically, Olkhon Island.

Over the centuries, there have been countless "sightings" of an ancient lake monster lurking beneath the surface that resembles a "giant sturgeon." There are even 3,000-year-old petroglyphs etched into the cliffs that line the lake, some of which depict this mysterious creature.

Additionally, there have been dozens of alleged UFO and strange "humanoid" sightings, along with reports of mysterious lights appearing both above the lake and beneath its surface. Lake Baikal has been called a "UFO hotspot," and in 2009 the Russian Navy declassified some UFO files that added a degree of legitimacy to these claims in the eyes of some believers. 

16. This amazing animal is called a glaucus atlanticus, or more commonly a blue dragon, and it's probably the coolest looking slug you've ever seen.

A blue dragon resembling an alien creature or something from a fantasy story
S.rohrlach / Getty Images

And here's how big they are:

A blue dragon sitting in someone's hand, roughly the size of a penny
S.rohrlach / Getty Images

17. The blade of this dagger found in King Tut's tomb is made up of iron, nickel, and cobalt — this combination of metals is most commonly found inside meteorites, and researchers believed that's precisely what was used to forge it:

An ancient dagger with a hilt and sheath made of gold
B.O'Kane / Alamy Stock Photo

18. Extremely rare white ravens have been spotted on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

An extremely rare, all white raven
Martin Smart / Alamy Stock Photo

A local writer and photographer named Mike Yip told the Vancouver Sun that the birds are most likely leucistic as opposed to albino, which means they're only missing some of their pigment, whereas albinism is a total absence of pigment. 

19. Julia Child was an intelligence officer for the OSS — the predecessor to the CIA — during World War II.

Julia Child posing with a whisk and spoon
New York Times Co. / Getty Images

Before she taught America how to cook French cuisine and became one of the most beloved figures on television, Julia Child spent time working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which would later become today's CIA.

Like many former intelligence officers, Child was notably tight-lipped about her OSS days. In 1981, however, the CIA decided to declassify some files pertaining to her service, and it was revealed that she helped develop shark repellent to help prevent downed pilots from being eaten alive.

20. Ignaz Semmelweis was one of the earliest doctors to champion hand-washing as a means of preventing the spread of disease and infection, and for this he was ostracized and fired — and eventually he'd be committed to an asylum.

A sketch of Ignaz Semmelweis washing his hands in a basin
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Dr. Semmelweis was working in a maternity ward in Vienna, Austria, where lots of patients were falling ill with "childbed fever" and dying. He wanted to know the cause, so he compared the practices of his own clinic to that of a midwives' clinic, which boasted a vastly lower mortality rate.  

After some trial and error, it occurred to him that the midwives' clinic wasn't performing autopsies. He wondered if there was cross contamination happening between the corpses and the patients, so he ordered his staff to more thoroughly clean their hands and tools in a chlorinated lime solution. They listened – at least at first — and the change yielded positive results; fewer women were falling ill and dying. 

At the time, in 1847, doctors didn't really know about germs. The connection between bacteria and disease wouldn't be made until a few decades later. So it was left to Dr. Semmelweis to convince his colleagues of his discovery without a full understanding of the root cause of the issue, and he failed. It certainly didn't help that, when challenged, he would become very angry and resort to throwing around insults, which ultimately lost him his job — the newly adopted hygienic practices he had implemented were soon dropped.

Ignaz Semmelweis wouldn't be committed to an asylum until nearly two decades after this episode, so it would be a stretch to assume it was because he advocated for hand-washing (as is popularly told). Some theories suggest he might've had a bad case of syphilis that spread to his brain, an infection that would ultimately kill him while he was institutionalized. Others believe he might've had Alzheimer's and that he was beaten to death by the asylum's staff — a sad end for a man who only wanted to save lives.

Well, would you look at that! Another frog fact:

21. This new species of glass frog that was discovered in Costa Rica in 2015 resembles Kermit the Frog:

BRIAN KUBICKI / COSTA RICAN AMPHIBIAN RESEARCH CENTER

The species is called "Diane's Bare-hearted glass frog" — Brian Kubicki, who discovered the frog, named the species for his mother, Janet Diane Kubicki.

Want to see what I learned last week? Click here to find out. And click HERE to see what I learned in May.

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