Given how many humans have existed in the world and how many events and incidents, both big and small, happen every day, history is littered with examples of strange coincidences. But the ones we will be looking at today are so unusual that they strain credulity and, should they have come from the pages of a book, they would have been deemed contrived or unbelievable.
10. Poe’s Tale of Cannibalism
In 1838, Edgar Allan Poe wrote and published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. It wasn’t one of his better-known works and even the writer himself later dismissed it as “a very silly book.” Basically, it tells the story of the eponymous character after he becomes a stowaway on a ship called the Grampus.
At one point, the ship wrecks during a storm and only four men survive and are washed ashore. With no food whatsoever, after a few days they resort to the most drastic solution – cannibalism. They draw straws and the unlucky one is a young man named Richard Parker who is killed and eaten.
At first, this would seem like a straightforward, albeit grisly story. But then we move forward 46 years and something strange happens. In 1884, a yacht called the Mignonette left England headed for Sydney, Australia. Carrying four men, it also shipwrecked and left the seafarers stranded with no food. As a last resort, they also cannibalized one of their own – a 17-year-old named Richard Parker. The only main difference was that the survivors saw no need to draw straws as the real-life Parker had fallen ill after drinking seawater and was considered a goner.
Eerie coincidences aside, the case that followed after the remaining men were rescued and arrested for murder represented a landmark ruling in English law. It stated that necessity does not excuse murder, meaning you cannot kill someone else to save your own life.
9. Where the War Began and Ended
On July 21, 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run marked the first major engagement in the American Civil War. Of course, the war was horrible for many people, but it was a particularly strange inconvenience for one wholesale grocer named Wilmer McLean. He lived on a plantation near Manassas, Virginia, and the Bull Run River passed right through his land. In fact, most of the battle took place on his property and the Confederate leader, General P.G.T. Beauregard even commandeered McLean’s house to use as his headquarters.
Obviously, McLean and his family couldn’t live in the middle of a war so they relocated. A few years later, they were residing in a house near a village called Appomattox Court House. As it happens, that is where the last battle of the Civil War took place. Afterwards, Confederate General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered to Union leader Ulysses S. Grant. And he did it in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s new home.
The McLeans later moved back to their previous estate and simply abandoned the house in Appomattox County. They also defaulted on the loans they took out to buy it so “Surrender House”, as it came to be known, was confiscated and sold at auction. Today, it operates as a museum and it is a designated National Historical Monument. As for Wilmer McLean, he liked to say that the Civil War “began in his front yard and ended in his front parlor.”
8. The Curse of Tecumseh
Ever since 1840, American presidents have died according to a pattern which is remarkable enough that people have ascribed it to a curse. Every president who is elected in a year ending in 0 (something which happens every two decades) is fated to die in office.
First was William Henry Harrison. Elected in 1840, he died of pneumonia a month after being sworn in. Then, in 1860 came Abraham Lincoln, and we all know how that ended. In 1880, James Garfield was elected president and he was also assassinated by a man named Charles Guiteau.
William McKinley might have escaped this alleged curse if he stuck at just one term. Alas, in 1900 he was elected president to his second term, and a year later, he was shot and killed by an anarchist. Next up was Warren G. Harding, who suffered a stroke three years after being elected in 1920. Afterwards came Franklin Roosevelt who passed away of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945. While he did die in office, he didn’t actually die during the term which allegedly sealed his fate. And last, but not least, there was JFK, who won the 1960 election and whose assassination is all too well-known.
As you can see, seven presidents followed this extraordinary pattern. Many see it for what it probably is – a series of incredible coincidences, but others claim it is a curse placed originally on William Henry Harrison by Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee people, for the former’s role in Tecumseh’s Rebellion.
Ronald Reagan would have been next in line. He was elected in 1980 and, although someone did try to kill him, he survived his injuries and died of old age decades after he left office. Even if the curse was real, it appears that he broke it.
7. The Church Explosion
At 7:25 p.m., March 1, 1950, the West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice, Nebraska, exploded due to a natural gas leak ignited by the fire from the furnace. It was a Wednesday and every Wednesday at 7:20 p.m. sharp, the church choir gathered there to practice. People were expecting the worst as they approached the smoking rubble, but it soon became apparent that nobody had been injured in the blast. Even though the choir director was very strict about tardiness, on this particular night, none of the 15 choir members arrived on time.
It wasn’t one single thing that caused the delays, either, but rather a series of minor occurrences that detained each person enough to evade the deadly blast. The reverend and his family, for example, were late because his wife had to iron a dress at the last moment. Two sisters both had car trouble. Two high school girls wanted to finish listening to a radio program, while another student was struggling with her geometry homework. The pianist fell asleep after dinner. A man was late because he wanted to finish writing a letter he kept putting off, while one woman was simply feeling lazy because it was cold outside and her home was warm and cozy.
And so went all the other excuses. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the circumstances, some people considered it divine intervention.
6. Right Place, Right Time
Joseph Figlock became a hero of Detroit due to a bizarre series of events that happened over the course of a year. One morning in 1937, Figlock was at his job as a street sweeper when he was struck by something that landed on his head and shoulders. That “something” was a baby girl who fell out a four-story window. Because Figlock broke her fall, the infant survived her drop that, otherwise, would have almost surely been fatal.
A year later, the street sweeper was back at his job when he was, again, hit by a falling object. And you guessed it – it was another baby. This time, it was 2-year-old David Thomas who also fell out of his window on the fourth floor. This baby did sustain some injuries but, once more, had escaped certain doom thanks to Joseph Figlock being in the right place, at the right time.
5. Miss Unsinkable
Violet Jessop was born in Argentina to Irish immigrants in 1887. When she turned 21, she found work as a ship stewardess and, in 1911, secured a position aboard the RMS Olympic, the first of the Olympic-class ocean liners built by the White Star Line at the start of the century.
At the time, these were the largest, most luxurious ships in the world. Jessop was probably thrilled with her new job but, pretty soon, she might have reconsidered her fortunes. In September 1911, Jessop was onboard the Olympic when it collided with a warship called the HMS Hawke. The collision wasn’t too bad and the ocean liner managed to make it to port without any fatalities.
This incident didn’t deter Jessop from continuing her career as a stewardess. Although she was content aboard the Olympic, her friends persuaded her that it would make for a much more exciting experience to work aboard the White Star Line’s new ocean liner. After all, this vessel was proclaimed to be “unsinkable” and its name was the Titanic.
You already know how this went down – just four days into its maiden voyage, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. Jessop survived the ordeal as she was lowered down into lifeboat 16 which was later picked up by the RMS Carpathia. She later recalled that, as the boat was being lowered, an officer put a baby in her lap. Later, aboard the Carpathia, a woman leaped at her, snatched the baby and ran. Jessop always assumed that was the mother, but she never saw either one of them again.
Then World War II started and Jessop served as a nurse for the British Red Cross. She worked aboard the Britannic, which was the third and last of the Olympic-class ocean liners and had been repurposed into a hospital ship. In 1916, the vessel suffered damage from a mine explosion and sank in the Aegean Sea. For the third time in five years, Violet Jessop had survived a shipwreck, retroactively earning her the nickname “Miss Unsinkable.”
4. The Opposing Graves
Just outside the Belgian town of Mons sits the St. Symphorien Military Cemetery which serves as the final resting place for over 500 soldiers who died in the First World War.
Many of these men perished in the Battle of Mons which took place on August 23, 1914, and is considered to be the first major action of the British army in the war. One of these men, however, died a little earlier. John Parr was a private who was born in London and lied about his age so he could enlist. He served as a reconnaissance cyclist and scouted the area ahead of his battalion. However, he was gunned down by enemy fire and died on August 21, at only 17 years of age. He is generally considered to be the first British serviceman killed in action during the First World War.
His grave is at St. Symphorien and opposite of it, just a few yards away, is the grave of Private George Ellison. He died years later on November 11, 1918. This date is significant because it is, in fact, the day that Germany and the Allies signed an armistice, bringing an end to the war. George Ellison was killed just 90 minutes before peace was declared, thus giving him the unfortunate distinction of being the last British soldier killed in the war.
These two graves face each other, although this was done completely unintentionally as nobody was aware of their “first” and “last” positions when they were buried.
3. Death at Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam was one of the greatest, most ambitious engineering projects of its day, but it came with a heavy price as a lot of people died during construction.
Exactly how many is a matter of debate. Officially, the death toll was 96, but historians argue that the real number would be much higher because the official version didn’t take into account workers who died off-site of construction-related injuries or illnesses. An inquiry by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation increased the number to 213 deaths between 1921 and 1935.
The first fatality was a surveyor named John Gregory Tierney who drowned in the Colorado River on December 20, 1921, after he got caught in a flash flood. Technically, another worker named Harold Connelly died first, but his demise was completely unconnected with the project as he drowned in the river when he went swimming.
Here is the truly tragic part – the last fatality registered during construction of the Hoover Dam occurred on December 20, 1935, exactly 14 years to the day after Tierney drowned, when a 25-year-old electrician’s helper plummeted 320 feet from one of the intake towers. That man was Patrick Tierney, the surveyor’s son.
2. The King and His Double
Some say that we all have a doppelganger somewhere in the world, a person who isn’t related to us in any way but they look just like us. King Umberto I of Italy found his doppelganger in 1900 when he went to eat at a little restaurant in Monza. He discovered that the proprietor looked almost exactly like him but, more than that, they had been born on the same day.
At this point, you would think this was more a case of twins separated at birth, but the coincidences did not stop there. Both men had married women named Margherita and had sons named Vittorio. Moreover, the restaurant owner had opened his establishment the day of King Umberto’s coronation.
Shocked to his core by these revelations, the king invited his doppelganger or long-lost twin to an event taking place the next day. Sadly, neither one made it. The next morning, the restaurateur was killed under unexplained conditions. Just hours later, when King Umberto found out about his demise, he was assassinated by an anarchist named Gaetano Bresci.
1. The Writer and the Comet
The life of American writer Mark Twain has been inexorably linked to the passing of Halley’s Comet from beginning to end.
This famous comet visits us every 75 to 76 years. It will next be visible in 2061, but a noteworthy appearance happened in November 1835. Just two weeks after its perihelion (meaning the point of its orbit which is closest to the Sun), Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri. He would go on to adopt the pen name Mark Twain and become America’s most celebrated author.
Throughout his life, Twain took a keen interest in science and he was well-aware of his connection to Halley’s Comet. In the early 20th century, the writer was getting on in years and knew that the end was near. However, he also knew that the comet was due to pass by Earth again soon, and he was convinced that he would not die before that happened. As he put it: “Now there are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”
He could not have been more right. Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, just one day after Halley’s Comet reached its perihelion.