The song “Midnight Special” is about a steam locomotive that used to pass the Louisiana State Prison and its light would shine into the cells. Prisoners developed a superstition that having the light shine on you would bring fortune and freedom.
2. During the siege of Leningrad in World War 2, a group of Russian botanists holed up in a secret vault starved to death rather than consume the greatest collection of seeds they were guarding for a post-apocalyptic world.
3. The human brain filters incoming information using prior knowledge. This leaves us with an experience of the outside world that is shifted away from reality and more towards our beliefs and expectations.
4. On a trip to Nepal, Apollo astronaut Stu Roosa met Nepalese who believed that the spirits of their dead resided on the Moon. Roosa could not understand why a few of the local citizens treated him like a God, nor why they were distressed when he told them he saw no one else on the moon.
5. In 1915, surrounded and faced with imminent defeat, the entire Serbian army and government, numbering 400,000 (~10% of the population), retreated through Albania to the sea and evacuated to Greece. Half of them died on the march, but the rest came back in 1917 to liberate their country.
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Lisztomania was a term that was coined in the 19th century to describe the obsessive fan hysteria surrounding the classical composer Franz Liszt. Admirers would fight over his locks of his hair, pull his carriage like horses, and carry glass vials of his old cigars and coffee dregs.
7. Ninjas avoided garlic or any pungent food to prevent their body odor from being detected by the enemy when hiding.
8. Pirate Joe's was a popular specialty grocery store in Vancouver, Canada that exclusively resold Trader Joe’s products that the owner bought from USA (Canada does not have TJs) which he did via weekly trips in an unmarked van to various locations that he became banned from.
9. For 20 years, J.R.R. Tolkien sent his children illustrated letters from Santa Claus where Santa would battle goblins flying on bats, and included fireworks, a prank-loving polar bear, and multiple invented languages.
10. Immediately after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, her secretary will inform the Prime Minister via a secure phone line by saying “London Bridge is down”, thus initiating Operation London Bridge, a detailed procedure that outlines the action for days and weeks after the sovereign’s death.
11Siege of Vienna
At the start of the 1539 siege of Vienna by the Ottomans, their leader, Suleiman I, was so sure of his victory that he boasted that he would be having breakfast in Vienna cathedral within 14 days. 14 days later, the Austrians sent him a letter, telling him his breakfast was getting cold.
12. In addition to “Pig Latin” there is an actual phrase called “Dog Latin”, which is effectively the creation of fake phrases made to sound like Latin, the most common example of which is probably “Biggus Dickus.”
13. Standard Arabic, the Arabic taught in a majority of schools, is based on the language Prophet Mohammad spoke. It is a language that nobody naturally speaks, and is preserved through formal education and news broadcasts. Egyptian Arabic is the most widely-understood dialect.
14. Jerry Rice (one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history) started playing football in his sophomore year of high school after his principal caught him skipping class. The principal noted how fast Rice sprinted away from him, which led him to recommend Rice to the football coach.
15. Hans and Margret Rey, creators of Curious George, escaped France on homemade bicycles less than 48 hours before the Nazis invaded Paris.
The whitewashed village of Juzcar, Spain used 4,000 liters of paint to turn the entire village blue for the release of Smurfs (2011). After the movie had been released, residents voted to keep it blue as it had helped increase tourism.
17. In 1687, the Parthenon in Athens exploded when it was hit by a Venetian mortar round in a war between Venice and the Turks. The building was being used by the Turks to store gunpowder. One account says the Turks did not expect the Venetians to target such a historic monument. 300 people died.
18. The Sacred Band of Thebes was a company of 150 pairs of homosexual lovers, who were considered amongst the most elite soldiers of their time. They were formed in the 4th century BC and helped end Spartan domination.
19. In 1962, elephant bones were discovered under the Vatican. Decades later, it was discovered that they were the bones of Pope Leo X's pet elephant Hanno, who died in 1516 after doctors (in an attempt to treat constipation) inserted a gold enema up its rectum.
20. Using ‘shm-’ in phrases like “Rainforest Shmainforest” or “Rules Shmules” used to deride or dismiss a concept is called a “shm-reduplication” and similar concepts are found in English, Yiddish, German, and Turkish speech.
Samurais in Japan had the right to execute commoners who paid them disrespect. This right continued until the 1870s when the Samurai were abolished, as Japan modernized its military into a national fighting force modeled on Western standards.
22. The Kiplingcotes Derby is the world’s oldest horse race, which began in 1519. The rules state it must be run every year or never be run again. The weather has threatened the race several times, causing a single rider to lead a horse around the track to prevent the race from being canceled permanently.
23. Hens store semen in storage tubules and can periodically release portions of it over the course of a month to produce numerous fertile eggs. If they happen to mate with a male they don't like, they can simply expel the entire sample and produce infertile eggs.
24. During the long winter of 1886, horses and cattle on the Great Plains died when their breaths froze over the ends of their noses, making it impossible for them to breathe.
25. In 2008, fossilized ink sacs were recovered from preserved remains of Belemnotheutis cephalopods. Mixed with an ammonia solution, the team was able to return the ink to its liquid form and used the ~150 million-year-old ink to draw a replica of the original illustration of Belemnotheutis.