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    15 Historical Facts That Are The Funniest Things I've Ever Heard

    The inventor of roller skates smashed into and broke a $100,000 mirror when he debuted them.

    1. John Joseph Merlin, the inventor of roller skates, didn't practice stopping before debuting his invention. He ended up smashing into a huge mirror.

    An old illustration of John Joseph Merlin with one of his inventions, a single horse-drawn carriage

    The story, as told in The History of Roller Skating by James Turner, is absolutely hilarious to me. Picture this: It's the 1760s, and Merlin is going to debut his roller skates at a fancy masquerade party. "As his costume, he donned his roller skates and a violin and began to skate around the party playing the instrument," Turner wrote in the book. "Although well known as an inventor and musician, Joseph Merlin was not a good skater. He couldn’t control his speed or command his skates to go in the desired direction, and wildly crash-landed into a huge and expensive mirror (£500 value), smashed it to bits, severely wounded himself, broke his violin and sent roller skating technique back to the drawing board."

    And old-fashioned pair of roller skates sitting on steps

    So this guy was like, "Can't wait to show everyone my sick-ass skates. OH, WAIT, you know what? I should play the violin too!" And he then proceeds to skate around with his violin, smash into a mirror that was worth the equivalent of $100,000 in today's dollars, and lie there on the floor bleeding with his violin in pieces. My apologies to Mr. Merlin, but that is the greatest mental image.

    2. A group of undercover cops in Detroit posing as drug dealers accidentally met up with another group of undercover cops posing as drug buyers.

    The Spider-Man pointing meme, where two identical Spider-Men are pointing at each other in front of an NYPD van

    This incident happened in 2017. Basically, a couple of Detroit police officers from the 12th Precinct were undercover, posing as drug dealers, and went to a drug house to try to operate a sting. There, they met two buyers...who happened to be undercover officers from the 11th Precinct. From there, more officers showed up with a search warrant, and things escalated to the point where both groups of cops were shoving each other around and even throwing punches. It sounds like a cartoon come to life. Like, I would not have been surprised if Bugs Bunny orchestrated this whole thing.

    A Detroit police car parked on the street

    After the incident, Detroit Chief of Police James Craig said it was "probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department."

    View this video on YouTube

    3. During the Cold War, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was tasked with finding a mole in the FBI who was working with the KGB. It turned out that Hanssen was the mole.

    The state department ID and business card of Robert Hanssen

    Hanssen became an FBI agent in 1976 and spent a few years chillin' and gathering counterintelligence on the Soviets for the FBI. Then, in 1979 — most likely for financial reasons — he decided to start selling information TO the Soviets. This continued on and off for a while, and then, in 1987, Hanssen was tasked with looking into all possible security and intelligence breaches within the FBI related to the KGB. So Hanssen was basically in charge of looking for himself.

    William Hurt in the "Master Spy" CBS miniseries about the Hanssen case

    Eventually Hanssen was caught after the FBI paid $7 million to a former KGB agent, who had a tape recording of Hanssen speaking with another KGB agent. The FBI agents involved only recognized Hanssen because he used an offensive quote from Gen. George S. Patton about Japanese people, and the agents had heard Hanssen use it before. So it's extra delicious that Hanssen was caught because he couldn't stop being racist toward Japanese people.

    4. When President Jimmy Carter visited Poland in 1977, his interpreter mistranslated him multiple times. As such, his speech made it sound as if he'd left the United States permanently and was never going back, and he wanted to give Poland a hand job.

    Jimmy Carter walking past a line of guards at the Warsaw airport in 1977

    In his speech, Carter said that he wanted to know more about the Polish people's "desires for the future." Somehow, his interpreter translated that as Carter desiring Poland......sexually. Later, the interpreter also delivered mistranslations such as "I left the United States, never to return," and Carter "was happy to grasp at Poland's private parts."

    Carter speaking in a church

    That was the worst of it, but certainly not the end of it: Carter got a new translator (thank goodness) for a state banquet later in the visit. But when Carter gave a toast, his interpreter refused to translate anything Carter was saying. It turned out that the interpreter couldn't understand Carter's English and therefore just stayed silent. So basically, Carter's visit to Poland started with him saying he came to get kinky and he was never going home, and it ended with him trying to give a toast and being met with crickets.

    A Tumblr post about the Carter incident saying "Imagine being a Polish citizen and you hear the American president say he's here to fuck and he's not leaving"

    5. One of the popes tried to ban sneezing.

    A Tumblr post about Pope Urban VII trying to ban sneezing because it's too close to sexual ecstasy

    Seriously, Pope Urban VII thought sneezing was too similar to orgasms, so he banned the sale of tobacco, which was thought to induce sneezing.

    A portrait of Pope Urban VII

    First of all, good luck getting people not to sneeze. Second, what kind of sneezes was this guy having? Like, I love a good sneeze, especially after you get one of those fake-outs where you think you're going to sneeze and then it doesn't happen. But close to sex? I dunno.

    A woman with her hands near her face about to sneeze

    6. Sam Bartram, a goalkeeper for the UK's Charlton Athletic, once stood alone on the field for 15 minutes because he didn't realize the game had been called off due to heavy fog.

    Sam Bartram smiling on the field

    The match was between Charlton Athletic and Chelsea in 1937. During the match, a thick fog rolled over the field. A hella-thick fog. So thick that the referees called off the match. However, nobody bothered to tell Bartram that the match was over, so he was just standing there in front of his goal, ready for the ball to come his way, for a full 15 minutes. Hilariously, Bartram just thought his team was on a crazy offensive run, pinning down the Chelsea defense but somehow failing to actually score a goal.

    A soccer goalie playing in a dense fog

    Finally, a police officer went on the field and was like, "What the heck are you doing? The game's over, mate" (not an actual quote). According to Bartram, he shuffled off to the locker room, where he was met with uproarious laughter by his jerk teammates.

    Bartram shaking hands with Chelsea goalkeeper Vic Woodley

    7. The CIA made some truly bonkers assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, including trying to kill him with an exploding seashell.

    In case you didn't read all of the above Tumblr post or the linked article, highlights include giving Castro poisoned cigars, gifting him with a scuba suit lined with a skin-eating fungus, and stabbing him with a poisoned needle hidden inside a pen. None of these methods worked, and several were scrapped before even being attempted.

    Castro in 1977 smoking a cigar

    Oh, and not all of the plots were assassination attempts. The CIA also wanted to spray Castro's broadcasting studio with an LSD-like substance so he'd trip balls while giving one of his speeches and (hopefully) sound very silly. And they wanted to dust his shoes with a substance that would make his beard fall out. Those didn't come to fruition either. Shock me, shock me.

    Castro smiling while holding a newspaper with a headline that reads "Plot to Kill Castro"

    8. Japan and Montenegro were technically at war for 101 years. The war officially ended in 2006.

    A Montenegro flag flapping in the wind

    Yep, you read that right. See, in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 between Japan and Russia, Montenegro decided to side with Russia. The conflict ended after about a year, but Montenegro did not participate in the peace talks conducted by US President Theodore Roosevelt. So technically, while Japan, Russia, and all the other involved countries signed a peace treaty, Montenegro remained "at war" with Japan, at least on paper.

    Japanese and Russian cavalry clash at the Battle of Te-li-ssu in 1904

    Later, in 1919, Montenegro became part of what would become known as Yugoslavia, and didn't become an officially recognized sovereign nation of its own until 2006. Since the country never technically declared peace, one of its first acts as a newly independent nation was to sign a peace treaty with Japan...101 years after the war started.

    Supporters of Montenegrin independence waving Montenegro flags in 2006

    9. The first recorded human flight in the UK was that of an English monk who made himself wings, jumped off a tower, glided for a bit, and promptly crashed and broke both his legs.

    An illustration of Eilmer of Malmesbury attempting to fly off a tower

    As the story goes, Eilmer of Malmesbury built himself a pair of wings around the year 1005. He climbed up onto a tower and jumped off, managing to glide into a headwind for about a furlong (that's roughly 200 meters or 220 yards). But the headwind was strong — and he probably panicked a bit — so he ended up veering off to the side and crashing.

    Will Ferrell says "Ohhh, I'm hang gliding, honey, take a good picture—" and then "I'm dead!"

    According to writings about the event, he survived the crash but broke both legs and had a limp for the rest of his life. He figured he would've been more successful if he had also made himself a tail.

    The outside of a building entrance with signs outside

    10. In World War I, the Germans disguised a cruise ship as a British warship in order to execute surprise attacks on the British Royal Navy. It worked, until the ship accidentally came across the *real* ship it was disguised as. Oops.

    A painting of the Cap Trafalgar being sunk by the Carmania

    Basically, the Germans were like, "Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Let's take one of our old passenger liners, slap some guns on it, and dress it up like a British Navy ship." It worked surprisingly well. The problem is, they disguised it as an ACTUAL British navy ship, the RMS_ Carmania_, and by sheer happenstance, the two ships met at sea.

    The crew members of the real RMS Carmania were about 99.9% sure they weren't looking at a giant mirror, so they opened fire on the German impostor. Eventually they sank it. The best part is, it's reported that another German ship was actually nearby and got the impostor's distress call, but when they showed up, they weren't able to determine which ship was which, so they just turned and left. That allowed the surviving British ship to stay afloat long enough to be escorted back to safety.

    The real Carmania docked before its eventual scrapping

    11. After sacking the city of Antioch in 540 CE, Sasanian Emperor Khosrow I built a new city that looked almost exactly the same and called it "Weh Antiok Khusrau," which translates roughly to "Khosrow Made This City Better Than Antioch."

    The Antioch gate in Syria

    So basically, imagine if Vladimir Putin invaded Boston and burned it to the ground, then built a brand-new city that looked EXACTLY like Boston, and then called  it "Putin's Brand-New Better-Than-Boston." And THEN he made all the survivors from Boston live in the new Boston, which Khosrow reportedly did with the Antioch survivors. It'd be pretty weird, right?

    12. At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, the marathon was an absolutely chaotic disaster: First off, the entire course was very dusty, and breathing in that dust caused all kinds of injuries — including for one runner who was hospitalized with hemorrhaging after the dust tore his esophagus and stomach lining. The organizer of the race purposely withheld water in order to test the effects of dehydration. So the whole thing was a nightmare from the start.

    Runners in the 1,500-meter race at the 1904 Olympics

    The guy who finished first, Fred Lorz, got terrible cramping and had to be picked up in a car that drove him to the finish line. He jumped out of the car and jogged across the finish, confusing people into thinking he'd won. He claimed he did it as a "joke." The second-place finisher, Thomas Hicks, had been given an injection of rat poison and egg whites as a supposed performance enhancer, along with some brandy. He collapsed during the race and collapsed again right after he crossed the finish line. Since Lorz was disqualified, Hicks got the gold.

    The fourth-place finisher, Felix Carvajal de Soto, was a Cuban national who raised money to attend the Olympics by running the entire length of Cuba. He gambled away all the money when he arrived in the US and showed up for the race in dress clothing. Thankfully, another runner used a knife to cut his pants into shorts. Carvajal stopped at a roadside orchard for a snack during the race, but the apples were rotten, so he was struck with stomach cramps and had to sleep it off.

    Carvajal standing on an Olympic track in his running uniform

    The best part about all of this is that there wasn't much notable about the third-place finisher, Arthur Newton. Amid all this chaos, he just kinda...ran the race.

    13. James Madison, in one of his first official actions under President George Washington, wrote four letters to himself.

    A portrait of James Madison

    Let me explain: When Washington became president, he had Madison pen a letter to Congress for him, expressing that he was excited to work with them. Washington wasn't the greatest wordsmith, and Madison was an excellent writer, so he had Madison do the job. Congress responded, but it, too, enlisted Madison to write the letter. So Madison wrote a response to the original letter saying that Congress was also very excited to be working with the president.

    A seated portrait of George Washington circa 1795

    You would think that would be all, but no: Washington sent a response to the response, and Congress sent a response to THAT response, and Madison wrote those as well. So all in all, Madison had a whole little conversation with himself by mail in the form of four separate letters.

    A painting of the first continental congress in session

    14. Juan Pujol García — also known as Agent Garbo — was a Spanish national who hated the Nazis so much that he volunteered to "spy" for them, but actually spent the whole time spying for the British. For a year, he sent the Nazis false information about British military operations and strategic locations, despite the fact that he had never even been to England. In fact, he was just hanging out in Lisbon and making everything up. He almost blew his cover when he said that Scottish people are obsessed with wine.

    Juan Pujol García in his later years

    Originally, García had tried to go straight to the British but had trouble getting in contact with them to volunteer. So instead, he went to the Germans and was basically like, "I'll go to England and send you all kinds of info." Then he continued to try to contact the Brits and fed the Nazis all kinds of BS intel, which the Nazis ate up. They were all like, "Wow, this guy is giving us such great detail," but he was pulling it all from his local library. He'd never once been to the UK.

    He'd been successfully tricking the Nazis for a year before he finally contacted MI5 and was brought to London. Once there, he had all the resources of MI5 and was an even BETTER spy than before, having invented 27 completely fictional agents, each with their own personality and writing style, to create a fuller illusion. He even provided real intel to the Nazis about a military convoy, but timed it so that it would arrive too late to be useful, so that the Nazis would see it and think, Well, it got here too late, but he was spot-on. It worked perfectly. García's work with MI5 was so instrumental that he actually contributed to the success of the D-Day invasion by convincing the German High Command that it was just a diversion, causing the Nazis to station valuable troops and equipment far away from Normandy.

    Juan Pujol García in his later years standing outside Buckingham Palace

    In 1944, he received an MBE from the British government, FAKED HIS OWN DEATH (which worked for 36 years), retired, and went to live out the rest of his days in Venezuela.

    A long Despicable Me meme detailing Juan Pujol's accomplishments

    15. A French farmer tried to sue some rats — like, actual rats — for eating his barley. The rats won the case and were acquitted.

    Rats eating crumbs off of the ground

    Apparently, animal trials were something of a fad in the Middle Ages. Often, the animal would be put on trial, immediately found guilty, and then sentenced to either death or excommunication for their crimes. Maybe it was to reinforce the authority of the church and the law to locals? Maybe it was entertainment? Or maybe they really wanted to execute justice on animals.

    An illustration of a pig and her piglets on trial in 1457

    This story may have been exaggerated, but it went like this: Rats were eating a farmer's barley, so they decided to sue the rats in one of these animal courts. The rats were assigned a lawyer (by the name of Barthélemy de Chasseneuz, as the story goes), and the trial began. Of course, the rats didn't show up for their court date, because they were rats, and presumably did not understand time or calendars or the legal system. So the lawyer for the rats argued that they all live in different places, so their summons might not have reached them. The judge agreed, and the trial was rescheduled.

    Naturally, the rats failed to show up for their second court date as well. The lawyer then argued that it was daytime, cats were out and about, and the rats would be unable to move about freely while their mortal enemy was prowling around looking for them. The law at the time excused defendants from appearing in court if their life was in danger, so the rats were acquitted.