History is full of interesting animals that are barely remembered today. From wartime wildlife to fraudulent fauna and showbiz stars, these are their stories.
10. Mocha Dick, the Giant Whale
Readers of classic American literature will undoubtedly be familiar with Moby Dick, the giant white whale from Herman Melville‘s eponymous 1851 novel. They probably won’t know that the legendary creature was inspired by a real-life sperm whale named Mocha Dick.
The cetacean lived in the Pacific Ocean during the early 19th century. It was frequently spotted near the Chilean island of Mocha, hence the name.
Americans such as Herman Melville likely became aware of Mocha Dick from the writings of explorer J. N. Reynolds. In 1839, he published his account titled Mocha Dick: Or the White Whale of the Pacific. He described Mocha as an “old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength” which was “white as wool.” The animal survived a hundred encounters with whalers and destroyed, at least, 20 ships. Like its fictional counterpart, it had an unusual spout. According to Reynolds, Mocha Dick met its end after attacking a whaling ship that had just killed a calf.
9. Lady Wonder, the Psychic Horse
Claudia Fonda was a woman who lived in Richmond, Virginia, in the early 20th century. She believed that her horse, Lady Wonder, was gifted and began testing her using wooden blocks with numbers and letters on them. This not only convinced her that Lady Wonder was intelligent, but that she was also psychic.
Fonda was not the only person who believed this. Thousands of people came from all over the country to ask the horse three questions for a dollar. Among her touted accolades, Lady Wonder was allegedly able to predict the gender of unborn babies, guess women’s maiden names, find oil, and correctly name the winners of matches and elections. She even helped find the body of a missing boy in Massachusetts.
The horse’s talents brought out a lot of skeptics in the form of horse trainers, professors, and even magicians. While some were convinced that Lady Wonder was the real deal, others believed it was simply a case of the Clever Hans effect.
A few decades prior, another horse named Clever Hans was astounding audiences. Although he was never purported to be psychic, he was allegedly able to do arithmetic. Closer study revealed that the horse’s trainer was giving him involuntary sensory cues to help him pick the right answer. Many believed that Fonda did the same to Lady Wonder.
8. Tirpitz, the Defecting Pig
In December 1914, the British Royal Navy defeated the Imperial German Navy at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The only German warship that managed to escape was the SMS Dresden. It fled south and reached the Chilean island of Más a Tierra, now known as Robinson Crusoe Island. Allied cruisers were in hot pursuit, though, and caught up to the Dresden. With nowhere to go, the Germans scuttled their own ship and surrendered.
Aboard the Dresden was a pig that got left behind when everybody jumped overboard. She managed to make her way topside and started swimming for her life. Fortunately for her, British seamen were prowling the waters looking for booty from the sinking warship. A petty officer from the HMS Glasgow rescued the pig and brought her aboard.
The British sailors named the pig Tirpitz, after German Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. They even presented her with an Iron Cross in a mock ceremony for being the last one to abandon ship. She stayed on for a while as the mascot aboard the Glasgow before being sent to a maritime school on Whale Island in Hampshire, England.
It would seem that Tirpitz made somewhat of a nuisance of herself and was returned to the former commander of the HMS Glasgow, Captain John Luce. In late 1917, he auctioned her off with the proceeds going to the British Red Cross. She raised around £20,000 in today’s money.
The next years of Tirpitz’s life are a bit of a mystery. She died in 1919 under the ownership of William Cavendish-Bentink, 6th Duke of Portland. He had her head stuffed and donated to the Imperial War Museum in London where it still sits today.
7. Maudine Ormsby, the Homecoming Cow
In 1921, Ohio State University (OSU) started its tradition of electing homecoming queens. Five years later, the committee named Maudine Ormsby as Homecoming Queen of 1926. The peculiar thing about this was that Maudine was a Holstein cow.
She wasn’t just any bovine, though. In fact, Maudine was a world record milk producer. This made her quite popular with the agriculture students of OSU who nominated her in the competition. Alas, it looked like Maudine would be ineligible to compete. Not strictly because she was a cow, but because she wasn’t registered in the student directory.
On Election Day, OSU officials declared that there have been “irregularities” or, in other words, rampant cheating. Although only 3,000 ballots had been printed, over 12,000 were found in ballot boxes.
Technically, a student named Rosalind Morrison won the 1926 election. However, because it was impossible to determine which votes were legit and which were fraudulent, she graciously withdrew from competition.
Because no human winner could be accurately established, OSU officials decided to bend the rules a bit and named Maudine as Homecoming Queen. Unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed to attend the homecoming dance because her owners were afraid all the noise and excitement might curdle her milk.
6. Jimmy, the Silver Screen Raven
The 1938 romantic comedy You Can’t Take It With You by Frank Capra was a huge hit. It won two Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and was the highest-grossing movie of the year. It also launched one of the most prolific careers in Hollywood – that of Jimmy the Raven.
Capra felt that it would fit the nature of his movie’s eccentric Vanderhof family if they had a bird. He turned to animal trainer Curly Twiford who had just the feathered thespian for him. In 1934, while hiking through the Mojave Desert, Twiford came upon an abandoned nest with a raven chick inside. He took the baby bird home, named it Jimmy and raised it in his house.
It soon became apparent that Jimmy was exceptionally intelligent. He was taught many tricks such as lighting cigarettes, using a typewriter, dropping coins into a piggy bank and even riding a tiny motorcycle. Capra was so happy with the bird’s performance that he used Jimmy regularly from then on.
The raven accrued hundreds of film credits in a career that spanned almost two decades. Among them were classics of Hollywood’s Golden Age such as The Wizard of Oz, Arsenic and Old Lace, and It’s a Wonderful Life. While filming the latter, Jimmy Stewart hailed the raven as “the smartest actor on the set” because he needed the fewest retakes.
5. Terrible Ted, the Wrestling Bear
Staying in the world of entertainment, we now look at a 7-foot tall, 700-pound Canadian wrestler named Terrible Ted… who also happened to be a bear. He worked various promotions in North America from the 1950s throughout the ’70s. He tangled with multiple future WWE Hall of Famers such as “Superstar” Billy Graham, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and Jerry “The King” Lawler.
Although not very common today, bear wrestling was once a popular attraction on the carnival circuit. It wasn’t so nice for the bear who had his teeth and claws removed to make the fight safer. That was the beginning for Ted who started wrestling in the early 1950s. When the carnival went bankrupt, a wrestler named Dave McKigney adopted him.
On most nights, McKigney would fight with Ted himself, although other wrestlers occasionally got involved. Sometimes, the trainer offered cash prizes to those in attendance who dared challenge Terrible Ted and win. On multiple occasions, this got him into trouble with the law for not paying up when people pinned the bear.
In 1978, McKigney’s girlfriend, 30-year-old Lynn Orser, was mauled to death by another one his wrestling bears named Smokey. Consequently, the Ontario Humane Society took both bears and their ultimate fates remain unknown.
4. Rob, the Parachuting Dog
The Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 and was presented to animals that served with gallantry in World War II. At first, it was only awarded between 1943 and 1949, although it has been revived in recent years. During its initial run, the Dickin Medal was given to 54 animals, 18 of which were dogs. The most interesting story, however, belongs to the one recipient who turned out to be a fraud. His name was Rob the collie and his only crime was being too beloved by his unit.
Rob was raised on a farm in Shropshire, England. In 1942, his owners, Basil and Heather Bayne, enlisted him with the Special Air Service (SAS). Three years later, he was honored in London for taking part in 20 parachute jumps during raids in Italy and North Africa and for acting as a sentry while the troops slept.
The only problem was that none of that ever happened. Rob mainly served as companion to the quartermaster. One day, the Baynes wrote to the unit and asked for the dog back. That is when the soldiers made up all of Rob’s heroics to show how invaluable he was to the war effort. In reality, they simply didn’t want to give him up. The dog’s owners were so proud that they showed the letter to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, who decided that Rob was worthy of the Dickin Medal.
3. Simon, the Resilient Cat
Of the 70 animals that received the Dickin Medal, only one of them was a cat. His name was Simon and he was awarded the distinction for his service aboard the Royal navy sloop HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident.
Simon was found wandering the streets of Hong Kong by a British crewman of the Amethyst in 1948. Although it was against the rules, the seaman smuggled Simon aboard the vessel where he quickly ingratiated himself with the crew. Even the captain, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner, was fond of Simon and allowed him to stay in his cabin.
In April 1949, the Amethyst was traveling on the Yangtze River when it was attacked by field gun batteries operated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during the Chinese Civil War. One blast hit the captain’s cabin. It killed Skinner and severely wounded Simon.
Other British ships tried to come to the aid of the Amethyst, but were also bombarded and had to retreat. The vessel was trapped on the river, unable to move without being hit. It was under siege for 101 days.
During that time, Simon made a surprising recovery from his injuries. He soon resumed his regular duties of hunting rats that targeted the ship’s dwindling food supplies. Despite burns and shrapnel wounds, Simon proved himself an able hunter, even taking down a particularly vicious giant rat the sailors named “Mao Tse-tung.” That plus the morale boost he brought to the crew made Simon more than worthy of the Dickin Medal.
2. Cher Ami, the Hero Pigeon
“We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it.”
Those were the desperate words of Major Charles Whittlesey who commanded the Lost Battalion during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I. His entire squad might have been decimated if not for one pigeon named Cher Ami who managed to deliver the crucial message despite being shot mid-flight.
In October 1918, several companies of the United States 77th Division were isolated by enemy forces in the Argonne Forest. As if that was not bad enough, a miscommunication led to them also being bombarded by friendly fire.
They needed to let headquarters know their position in order to redirect the artillery onto German forces. Their only way of communication was using homing pigeons, but the enemy was trained to spot and shoot the birds out of the sky. Multiple pigeons were sent out, only to be gunned down.
Only one bird named Cher Ami remained. Almost as soon as it took flight, it was shot and fell towards the ground alongside the last remaining hopes of the American troops. However, it got up again. Although injured, it kept flying for 25 miles until it reached headquarters. Cher Ami had been hit in the breast, was blind in one eye and had a leg dangling off, but it delivered the message and saved the lives of 194 soldiers.
1. Gua, the Human Chimpanzee
Gua the chimpanzee had an upbringing unlike any other of her kind. She was raised as a human by an American psychologist who wanted to see if a human environment would cause a chimp to behave, even think like a person.
Winthrop Kellogg was fascinated by the role that environment played in one’s development. Specifically, he would have wanted to study a child brought up completely in the wild with no human contact. However, even a century ago, such an experiment would have been out of the question, so Kellogg decided to do the exact opposite: he raised a wild animal in civilization.
In 1931, the psychologist and his wife adopted Gua, a seven-and-a-half-month-old chimpanzee. They started treating her like their baby, raising her alongside their real child, Donald, who was two months older.
The experiment lasted for nine months. Both Gua and Donald were regularly given both physical and mental tasks to see how they perform. At first, due to her faster development, Gua actually surpassed her human brother. However, when language started coming into play, Donald would always best her. No matter the care and training she received, Gua was still a chimpanzee and unable to speak.
The Kelloggs ended the experiment rather abruptly without a clear reason why. Some speculated that they feared that Gua might harm her “brother”. Others reported that it was due to the effect it had on Donald. While Gua might have been unable to take on the characteristics of a human, he began mimicking her noises and acting like a chimp.