Jul 28

Top five Truth is Stranger than Fiction stories.

Which of these descriptions sounds more realistic?

  1. This creature is horse-like in appearance, with a typically white mane and a horn upon its head.
  2. This creature has a metre long neck and uses its head as a club to attack other animals with.

Number one, right? The description for the first animal is a unicorn and the second is a giraffe.

This is a crude example of the truth being stranger than fiction. This phrase is used when real life events are so bizarre that when they are written down and sent to publishers, they are dismissed as being too unrealistic despite the fact they have actually happened.

Here are five more examples of truth that is stranger than fiction.

  1. The Titan and the Titanic. 

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In 1898 Robert Morgan published a novella titled The Wreck of the Titan. The plot of this novella followed a down on his luck sailer, John Rowland, working as a deck hand on a ship called The Titan which hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Rowland saves the daughter of a former lover but is later accused of kidnapping her which results in a court case. Spoiler alert: At the end of the novel Rowland is cleared of his charges, has secured a job in the Government and is contacted by daughter and his former lover (who was the one who took him to court) who want to be a part of his life.

This novella would have slipped into obscurity if not for one event fourteen years later. The sinking of the Titanic. Although Morgan wrote the novel before the Titanic was even heard of, there are many striking similarities between the fictional shipwreck and the real disaster. For example, both ships have similar names, hit icebergs in similar locations, look alike, were traveling at similar speeds, did not carry nearly enough lifeboats for passengers and crew and both ship were described as unsinkable.

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This last statement was proven to be incorrect.

Although Morgan claimed that the parallels were caused by his knowledge of shipbuilding and shipwrecks, many fans credit him with precognition and clairvoyance. Eerily this isn’t the only example of a book predicting a disaster in the future.

Edgar Allen Poe published his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket in 1838. Although the book was not successful it did inspire Moby Dick by Herman Melville and An Antarctic Mystery by Jules Verne. In Poe’s novel, a whaling ship is wrecked at sea with only four crew members surviving in a life boat. The crew members, after exhausting their food and water supplies, draw lots on who they will eat first. A cabin boy called Richard Parker was chosen to be the first meal and murdered by the other crew members.

In 1888 the yacht Mignonette was stranded at sea with a crew of four aboard. Similar to Poe’s novel, once the food and drink had been consumed the crew drew lots on who would be eaten first. The unfortunate victim was… also called Richard Parker.

This link was discovered by a relative of the real Richard Parker while preparing for a now famous court case against the surviving crew members. Can you imagine what went through the relatives mind when he read Poe’s book, which was published fifty years before!

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Po claimed that his book was inspired by true events but it never revealed what events they were…

2) The unmanned SS Baychimo escapes capture for over forty years.

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In 1931, off the coast of Alaska, the cargo ship SS Baychimo ran into pack ice and became stuck. The crew abandoned the vessel and trekked across the ice the a nearby town of Barrow where they took shelter for two days. When they returned, the SS Baychimo had vanished.

The ship was discovered a few days later, stuck in more pack ice further up the coast. This time the crew constructed a shelter on the ice beside the ship and camped there for several weeks, waiting for the weather to improve. One night the crew slept through a storm and when they awoke the SS Baychimo had once again disappeared.

Believing that their ship had sunk in the storm, the crew were surprised when, one week later, they encounter a local Inuit who reported that he had seen the SS Baychimo sailing past, several days ago. For the third time the crew recaptured their ship. They emptied her hold of the fur she was carrying and deciding that this time she would definitely sink, abandoned her to the ice.

Can you guess the twist yet? The SS Baychimo didn’t sink. In 1933, two years after her abandonment she was boarded by a group of natives who spent more than a week onboard sheltering from a storm. In 1939 Captain Hugh Polson boarded the SS Baychimo seeking to salvage her but had to leave due to low supplies. In 1969, thirty eight years after being abandoned she was once again discovered trapped in pack ice. In 2006, the Alaskan Government launched search parties as the ship was sighted once more. This ghost ship has been roaming the waves for almost ninety years and there is a good chance that she is still out there.

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3) The Dancing Death

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In the year 1518, in what is now modern day France, a woman called Mrs. Troffea began to dance in the street. Mrs Troffea continued to dance for somewhere between four to six days (sources vary) without stopping for food, water or rest. During this time, the local residence started to dance along with her, like a flash mob, until by the end of the first week over four hundred people were dancing. If you’re struggling to picture this in your mind, don’t worry. Even historians are confused as to what happened. All we know is that once these villagers started to dance they couldn’t stop and eventually they would die from exhaustion. It’s unclear if these dancers were able to talk and explain their actions, it’s unclear what caused them to start dancing and it’s unclear as to why they were unable to stop. We do know that this event actually happened, it isn’t a hoax, as historians have found documents in the local church commenting on the event and it isn’t the only example in history.

The death toll continued to rise as more and more dancers collapsed. The French nobles asked the local physicians for advice. They claimed that the victims were suffering from “hot blood” and the best way to rid themselves of the disease was to continue to dance. The local authorities hired professional dancers from the French courts to join the mob and built stages for the afflicted. Unfortunately this only encouraged more people to dance which led to more people dying.

Eventually the dancers were herded into a monastery where one by one they stopped dancing. It’s unclear how the spell was broken, how many people died from this epidemic or what caused it. One theory states that the local food was poisoned by the same chemical found in LSD although this would not explain why everyone reacted in the same way. Another explanation is that it was a case of mass hysteria and that patient zero, Mrs. Troffea was having some sort of stroke that resulting in her body twitching. To others this would have appeared to be some form of interpretive dance.

4) The life and cons of Victor Lustig.

Eiffel Tower

Lustig was dubbed the most notorious con artist of his time, some would argue of all time. He is most well known for attempting to sell the Eiffel Tower and for conning Al Capone.

Whilst living in Paris. Lustig read a newspaper article that claimed the Eiffel Tower was too expensive the maintain and suggested that the structure be knocked down. Sensing an opportunity, Lustig  posed as the Deputy Director General of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes, invited several scrap dealers to a rich hotel and manipulated them to bid on who would destroy the monument. In order to keep his con a secret from the authorities, Lustig told the dealers that because the destruction would cause public outcry the French Government had ordered him to keep their meeting a secret. Among the scrap dealers was André Poisson who Lustig decided would be the profitable victim. In a one-on-one meeting with Poisson, Lustig attempted to back out of the deal, pressuring Poisson to bribe him to remain. Once Lustig had received the bribe money and the money for the sale of the tower he fled to Austria.

Lustig had correctly guessed that Poisson would be too embarrassed by the con to report it to the police and when there was no mention of his crime in the newspapers, Lustig returned to Paris to try the same trick again. The second time the police were informed about the bidding but Lustig evaded capture by fleeing to America.

In America, Lustig conducted another con called the money box. He claimed that he was in possession of a box that was able to print any notes in the American currency. You put the note you wanted to be duplicated into the box, waited six hours and another note would emerge. Lustig attempted to sell his magic box to the highest bidder and would wait with his victim for six hours as the money was being “manufactured” before taking them to the bank to confirm that the money was real.

Of course, the box was a fake. Lustig had stuffed the box with American notes and would release them after six hours by pulling a small lever. In one case, Lustig sold the box to a sheriff in Texas and then fled to Chicago. When the sherif caught up to Lustig, after chasing him across the country, Lustig persuaded the man that he was operating the machine incorrectly, paid him compensation money and fled the scene. The sheriff did not realise that the magic box was a con nor he had been paid in counterfeit money which would later lead to his own arrest.

The final notable con Lustig pulled was on the famed American gangster, Al Capone. During the Great Depression, Lustig asked to borrow fifty thousand dollars from the gangster to invest in a con. Al Capone agreed, with the condition that if he felt he was being tricked he would have Lustig murdered. Two months later Lustig returned to Al Capone with the fifty thousand dollars and wearing hand me down clothes. He explained that the con he was trying had failed and that he had lost his home, his car and his girlfriend as a result but had spent past two months collecting the fifty thousand dollars to pay back. In reality, Lustig had kept the money in his safety deposit box in the local bank. Al Capone was so touched by the story and believing he was “dealing with the first honest man in my life” he gave Lustig five thousand dollars to tide him over. Lustig then skipped town having conned the king of crime.

Lustig’s criminal career soon came to an end. After being betrayed by his lover, Lustig escaped from prison but was recaptured after a month on the run. He died in captivity shortly before his trial.

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I really want to write a screenplay about this man.

5 The real Final Destination(s)

The premise of every Final Destination film is similar. A group of late teens or young adults will survive a horrific mass causality event only to be killed in freak accidents afterwards in the order they would have originally died. One or two of the survivors will have premonitions of the approaching deaths and try to save everyone. The scene below perfectly sets up this premise at the start of the fifth film. I recommend you watch but be warned there is lots of blood.

The films are notorious for their Rube Goldbert machine like deaths. A Rube Goldbert machine is a machine that is intentionally designed to achieve a simple task in an overly complicated way. Likewise most of the deaths in the films are overly complicated. For example, in the third film, a box of glue falls into a forklift truck which knocks over a shelf of hammers which, in turn knocks over a second shelf, the shrapnel of which hits the trigger of a nail-gun which shoots someone to death. Other deaths are much more simple like a girl falling off a balance beam and breaking her neck or someone stepping into traffic without looking. It’s the anticipation, red herrings and ironic twists that keep the audience captivated.

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An example of a Rude Goldbert Machine. The machine with thirteen different parts is a self operating napkin.

Sadly some deaths in real life seem to have been taken from the cutting room floor on Final Destination films. In June 2012, Jessica Ghawi was at a Canadian shopping centre to eat dinner and buy sports equipment. Originally Ghawi wanted sushi for dinner but changed her mind at the last moment and ordered burger and fries. Her receipt shows she brought her dinner at 18:20. Instead of eating her food she had a sudden urge to go outside. In her website post Ghawi said:

“after that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek.”

At 18:23 a gunman opened fire killing one and injuring seven. The victim, a twenty five year old male, was in the sushi restaurant and was standing where Ghawi would have been if she hadn’t had a change of heart. Many of the injured were in the restaurant Ghawi had visited and if Ghawi had stayed she would have been in the line of fire.

Tragically, shortly after publishing her website post summarising the event (which you can read here) Ghawi attended a midnight screening of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. At the screening, James Holmes entered the threater wearing tactical gear, threw two tear gas canisters into the audience and opened fire, killing twelve people and injuring seventy more. Ghawi was shot six times, four in the torso and limbs and once in the head which proved to be fatal.

This isn’t the only death that sounds similar to final destination. A man in Floria, celebrating his eighty ninth birthday, crashed his car into a fire hydrant. Although he was, at first, unhurt the impact of the crash created a sinkhole that claimed both man and car. The water from the fire hydrant then filled the hole, drowning the victim.

In Chicago an elderly man passed away while in his parked car. The brakes on the old car gave out and it rolled down the hill, striking a second man who was about to burgle someone’s house.

Another man, whilst drinking alone, locked himself out of his house and slept on his porch. As he slept he was struck through the head by a meteor and killed insanity.

If you have a morbid curiosity or a gallows/ black humour I recommend the 1000 ways to die show, a tongue in cheek look at the world’s weirdest deaths.

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I hope this list proves that sometimes, the truth can be stranger than fiction.

Do you know of any more examples of real life strange stories. Let me know in the comments down below and I’ll see you next time.

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