5 Oddball Tales from History You’ve Likely Never Heard Of (Part 5)

Continuing on from Part 4 here are five more oddball hidden gems from history which you’ll be able to bedazzle your friends and relatives with.

Murderous Mary, 1916

Mary the elephant lived during the turn of the 20th Century performing with Sparks’ World Famous Shows — a travelling circus with all the bells and whistles; clowns, acrobats and many exotic animals. Mary became the star attraction, playing musical instruments, standing on her head, and even catching baseballs.

This gentle giant awed crowds across the USA but then the circus reached Virginia and something happened that sent this big girl into such a rage the repercussions cost her life. There circus owner Charlie Sparks, a refined gentleman, made the ill-advised decision to hire Walter “Red” Eldridge, a transient hotel clerk with a horse-jockey’s physique and so irritable the smallest hindrances triggered bouts of hollering and flailing limbs. He had absolutely no experience working with animals, less so as their head elephant keeper of all things.

Although instructed to treat the elephants with care, being the buffoon he was, he armed himself with a bullhook to control his charges and would readily use it.

One day he was riding atop Mary and the big girl stopped to nose a watermelon rind. Unbeknown to Eldridge, Mary was suffering from acute toothache which probably contributed to what happened next. ‘Red’ jabbed at her to get going again, likely in the area around the bad tooth and the big girl finally snapped. Mary flung her tormentor off her back, gored him with her tusks before delivering the coup-de-gras with a crushing stomp to his head.

A crowd quickly gathered and, aghast at the spectacle and in their ignorance of both sides of the story, began to chant ‘Kill the Elephant’. Within minutes the local blacksmith tried to do that; firing five rounds with little effect.

Word spread and, with folks threatening to boycott the circus if this elephant remained, the circus owner Charlie Sparks reluctantly decided that the only way to quickly resolve the potentially ruinous situation was to kill the wounded elephant in public.

On the following rainy September day, 1916, a crowd of over 2,500 people assembled in the Clinchfield Railroad yard and the elephant was hanged by the neck from a railcar-mounted industrial derrick. The first attempt resulted in a snapped chain, causing Mary to fall and break her hip as dozens of children fled in terror. The severely wounded elephant died during a second attempt and was buried beside the tracks.

A heart wrenching tale that nonetheless reminds us that, though we’re still far from perfect, we’ve since come a long way with regards to our treatment of animals, at least.

Saddam Hussein Given Keys to The City of Detroit, 1980

From the day his tanks rolled over the Kuwaiti border in 1990 until he met his demise in 2006 Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, was public enemy no.1 in the USA.

First he invaded Iraq’s neighbour Kuwait in an act of naked aggression and conducted himself disgracefully during the 1st Gulf War. Then for the rest of the ’90s Iraq remained a pariah state under his tyrannical rule until rancour across the West climaxed with the second Gulf War in 2003. This time Saddam was firmly in the crosshairs; he was hunted down like a dog before being executed three years later.

What may surprise a lot of people then is that just ten years prior to the First Gulf War President Hussein was seen in a very different light within America. So much so, in fact, Saddam was bestowed the key to Detroit City — a symbolic meaning evoking medieval walled cities when the gates would be guarded during the day and locked at night. The key symbolises the freedom of the recipient to enter and leave the city at will as a trusted friend of city residents.

In 1979 Reverend Jacob Yasso of the city’s Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church had sent a congratulatory message to the newly appointed president. Flattered, Hussein responded with a $250,000 donation to the church. A year later Yasso was welcomed to Hussein’s palace and there Yasso presented the president with a key to the city and kind words passed along by then-Detroit mayor, Coleman Young. Upon hearing of a debt on the church, Hussein soon sent another $200,000 Yasso’s way.

Looking back in a 2003 Associated Press interview Yasso recalled: “He was a very kind person, very generous, very cooperative with the West,”

R. Christian’s Enigmatic Stones, 1980

In June 1979, a man using the pseudonym Robert C. Christian approached the Elberton Granite Finishing Company on behalf of “a small group of loyal Americans” which intended to remain anonymous and commissioned a structure. Christian delivered a scale model of what he wanted with ten pages of specifications. He explained that it would function as a compass, calendar and clock, and should be capable of withstanding catastrophic events.

Joe Fendley of Elberton Granite assumed that Christian was “a nut” and attempted to discourage him by giving a quote several times higher than any project the company had taken, explaining that the guidestones would require additional tools and consultants but Christian happily accepted the quote. The finished product was unveiled on March 22, 1980.

That structure is called the Georgia Guidestones, a granite monument in Elbert County, Georgia, in the United States. It has been carefully crafted with astronomical features, with the four outer stones being oriented to mark the limits of the 18.6 year lunar declination cycle, for example. A set of ten guidelines is also inscribed on the structure in eight modern languages:

  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
  2. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
  3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
  4. Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
  5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
  6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
  7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
  8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
  9. Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
  10. Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

The fact that the guidestones’ authors are anonymous and they apparently advocate population control, eugenics, and internationalism, has made them a target for controversy and conspiracy theories.

Man Cuts off Own Arm to Save Life, 2003

It was May 1st, 2003 and a man named Aron Ralston found himself well and truly between a rock and a hard place. He was alone at the bottom of Bluejohn Canyon starving, dehydrated, beginning to hallucinate and was in the grip of death’s maw. All this was because his right hand was pinned to the canyon wall by a 360 kg (800 lb) chockstone and it refused to budge or break no matter what Aron tried.

After five days of this predicament, he’d come to accept that, in order to ever see his family again he and his hand were going to have to part ways. The problem was how to break through the bones to do so. How the hell had he got into this predicament anyway?

27 year old Aron Ralston had once worked as a mechanical engineer for a few years but found himself burned out working in a large corporation. In 2002 he quit and moved to Aspen, Colorado in order to pursue a life of climbing mountains.

He’d actually had a brush with death before, surviving a major avalanche on Resolution Peak, Colorado. Now, five days earlier, canyoning down the dark nether-regions of the Bluejohn slot canyon a suspended boulder was dislodged as he clambered over it and smashed his left hand before crushing his right against the canyon wall. Aron was alone, hadn’t informed anyone of his plans and had no way to call for help.

He spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water and eating his small amount of food while repeatedly trying to extricate his arm, but his efforts were futile. By the fourth day he came to terms with the fact that he had to cut through the arm bones, but his dull 5.1 cm (2 inch) pen-knife was not up to the task.

Eventually, delirious, he had the epiphany to break his radius and ulna bones using torque against his trapped arm. He did so and used his pen-knife to cut through the rest. Aron hiked out of the canyon, came across a Dutch family who gave him food and water before calling in a rescue chopper and he was rescued just four hours after amputating his arm. Aron Ralston went on to write a book of his harrowing experience, became a motivational speaker, got married and had 2 children. A movie of his incredible tale was made called: 127 Hours.

The ‘Baltic Gold’ Gift from The Sea, 2015

Amber is hard, transparent fossilised tree resin, the sort famous for entombing tiny insects from prehistory for us to marvel at in their original state. It is a gemstone used to make jewellery and a variety of decorative objects and has been appreciated for its colour and natural beauty since Neolithic times.

It’s also pretty valuable, with 2020 values for Baltic Amber (the source of 95% of the world’s amber) worth between $13–15 per gram. In 2015 Christmas came early for residents of Pionersky in the Russian Kaliningrad region on the Baltic coast as a storm began washing up large deposits of ‘Baltic Gold’. Locals flocked to the beach to line their pockets.

Some, dressed in wetsuits, waded out up to 30 metres (100 ft) into the sea to catch large amber chunks, each worth hundreds of dollars, in cages. The less intrepid combed the shoreline for smaller pieces, being able to collect a handful in just five minutes feverish searching. Even pensioners forgot their ailments and age and scratched the frozen soil with sticks like babies in a sandpit.

The timing could not have been better as this free gift from nature helped people out during the country’s economic crisis and raised spirits in the region.

Click here to read part 6

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