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A good plot twist leaves the audience reeling, yet satisfied. It blindsides them, yet reflecting back on the story, they feel they should have seen it coming. A bad plot twist just leaves, however, just leaves them feeling ripped off and betrayed. That’s how it works in the movies, anyway: The real world doesn’t give a single preheated shit about your suspension of disbelief. History is full of tales that would be considered examples of hack writing, if their author wasn’t “reality.”

5

A Man Once Saved Alexander Hamilton From A Deadly Duel. His Name? Aaron Burr

We could sit here and recount the biography of Alexander Hamilton for you, but we all know what’s playing in your head right now. You know how it ends: Hamilton eventually faced Vice President and long-time enemy Aaron Burr in a dramatic 1804 duel, where Hamilton missed on purpose, but Burr’s bullet found its mark. Which is kind of ironic, seeing as only seven years earlier Burr had saved Hamilton from a different duel.

John Trumbull
Saved him for dessert.

Hamilton was a hot-tempered bastard who received and handed out around a dozen duel challenges over the years. The vast majority of these didn’t amount to much. “I’ma duel your ass” was mostly just frontin’ — an opportunity for both parties to give each other shit for a while, and let things cool down.

But in 1797, Hamilton found himself in a serious dueling situation. He was entangled in a government-fund misuse investigation and an adultery scandal, and became convinced that the future President James Monroe had something to do with his antics leaking to the press. So Hamilton sent Monroe a terse “heard you’ve been talking shit” letter, mentioning that Monroe should “bring a friend” when they’d meet — a common euphemism for dueling. The angry Monroe promptly accepted, and when they met in person, the two men were so close to trading blows that they had to be physically restrained. The duel was on. To facilitate negotiations, Monroe appointed an old friend to act as an intermediary: Aaron Burr.

John Vanderlyn
There were only around 20 people in those days, and they all knew each other.

It was plain to Burr that the whole thing was just a simple misunderstanding that had somehow escalated to the point of murder. So he started defusing the situation. Burr worked double-time to forge a truce between the two, relaying their messages while carefully omitting the worst of their insults. In the end, nothing came of the duel, and Burr may have saved Hamilton’s life. So really, when he killed Hamilton himself a few years later, Burr was kinda just taking back what was owed.

Library of Congress
“I am not throwing away my shot!”

4

Abraham Lincoln Created The Secret Service On The Day He Was Assassinated

Not many people know this, but Abraham Lincoln — 16th President of the United States, Freer of Slaves and Rocker of Stovepipe Hats — was assassinated in a theatre by John Wilkes Booth. It’s true! They even made a movie! The part about vampires might not be historically accurate, but the rest really happened.

But wait, why was some loony actor able to get into the President’s private box and shoot him in the head, anyway? Where the hell was the Secret Service?


“Doing… Uh… Secret stuff…”

Cut them some slack: It was literally their first day on the job. They had just been authorized into existence by Lincoln himself… on the very same day that he was killed. To be fair, Lincoln did not intend the Secret Service to be the platoon of presidential bodyguards that it is today. Lincoln envisioned the Secret Service as an elite force fighting against the number-one enemy plaguing America at the time: dastardly money counterfeiters. That’s totally still their responsibility, by the way — the whole “let’s try to keep the President alive” thing just sort of fell upon them. The Secret Service is the government equivalent of your coworker who never complains, and just gets more and more work piled upon them because of it.


Someone told them “protect this,” and things spiraled from there.

In 1867, they became responsible for “detecting persons perpetrating fraud against the government,” leaving them to deal with stuff like land fraud, mail robbing, smuggling, and the Ku Klux Klan. When William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, their to-do pile was hastily updated to include “oh, also try to keep the President alive,” and the rest is history.

3

JFK May Have Nailed Hitler’s Girlfriend

In 1941, Danish-born Inga Arvad was a hotshot journalist working for the Washington Times-Herald, and also a former beauty queen and actress. When she first set out to interview John F. Kennedy, there’s really only one way things could have gone… Although Kennedy was just a sickly 24-year-old Navy ensign at the time, he was already John “You Know What The ‘F’ Stands For” Kennedy.


“I actually have just three healthy organs, but all are between my legs.”

The two began a year-long affair that might have ended up in marriage, if not for JFK’s father, Joe, nixing the relationship.

Old Joe’s reasons were typical, overprotective-father horse crap: He objected to the minor detail that Arvad was, in fact, already married. Also, he was kind of worried about the FBI actively investigating her as a possible Nazi spy. And he wasn’t super keen on the rumors that she might have also been banging Hitler.


But other than that, wife material!

Kennedy’s epic womanizing meant that, at one point, he may have been figuratively crossing pork swords with none other than Adolf freaking Hitler. You’ll notice this was a bit of a problem for a politically oriented family in a country that had just declared war against Germany. In fact, Kennedy prominently featured on the FBI’s surveillance tapes of Arvad, known as her mysterious suitor “Jack” — well before someone figured out who he really was.

See, Arvad’s illustrious journalistic career included covering the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. There, she caught the eye of old Chaplin-stache, who became infatuated with the “perfect Nordic beauty” (his words, not ours). So the Fuhrer invited Arvad to watch the Games from his private box, and made her his personal guest. The two remained inseparable for the entirety of the event, and while there is no direct evidence that they boned… come on.


“It’s not just the hair on my face that’s styled like a toothbrush.”

JFK wasn’t super stoked upon learning about the FBI investigation. Especially since that meant the Feds now had plenty of surveillance material on his fucking habits, and possibly even a covertly filmed sex tape. More so, Kennedy was bothered by the fact that he had actually talked with Arvad. She knew his deepest insecurities and most hidden vulnerabilities. She knew about his medical issues, and how he worried he wouldn’t live up to his older brother. And now, the FBI knew all of that too.

Man, if we were the suspicious type, we might imagine J. Edgar Hoover had some kind of leverage during the Kennedy administration. But that can’t be true…

2

The Captain Who Ferried Darwin To The Galapagos Became A Fierce Critic Of Darwinism

Robert FitzRoy was captain of the HMS Beagle, the ship that carried Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, where he would reach the epiphanies that led to his theory of natural selection, the precursor to evolution. The wealthy, strapping, intelligent FitzRoy was not only a celebrity of his time, but also a scientifically minded renaissance man himself. He got on very well with Darwin for the duration of their five-year trip. Which made it all the more surprising when he became an absurdly staunch critic of Darwinism.


Was he bitter that Charles never called afterward?

Captain FitzRoy was a temperamental man who didn’t have much luck in life, post-Darwin Tour. His fame, fortune, and political power slowly dwindled. He sought solace in religion, and became a committed Christian fundamentalist by the time Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859. FitzRoy thought the whole “apes are our ancestors” thing was particular bullshit, and made sure Darwin knew this via several letters of condemnation. By 1860, FitzRoy was in full impotent-rage mode, and actually turned up at the great Wilberforce-Huxley Oxford evolution debate to renounce Darwin’s theories in person. Two guesses as to how that went for him.


If you guessed “he died penniless by his own hand five years later,” good job.

1

The Former FBI Agent Who Tried To Warn Everybody About Impending Al-Qaeda Attacks Died… On 9/11

John P. O’Neill was an office nuisance: That guy who won’t shut up about that one little thing that nobody else cares about. Only, instead of whining about photocopier restocking protocol or dual dental plans, O’Neill kept prattling on about the possibility of an al-Qaeda-orchestrated terror attack within the United States.


“The good guys from Rambo III? Get real.”

O’Neill wasn’t the easiest guy to work with. Though he rose to the rank of chief of counterterrorism for the FBI, and managed to track down the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, he was still a divisive figure. Although brilliant, he was both arrogant and brash, and so bullish about his theories that others often actively ignored him. Unfortunately, this included his theory that the FBI and the CIA needed to start preparing for an inevitable major terror attack on home soil, likely perpetrated by al-Qaeda.

In the summer of 2001, the rest of the Bureau finally caught on and started looking into this whole “attack on American soil” thing, but that was too late for O’Neill — he had been worn out by financial troubles, tumultuous personal and professional problems, and a growing paranoia about enemies within the intelligence community. In search for greener pastures, O’Neill left the FBI and got himself a cozy, lucrative new job… as the chief of security at the World Trade Center in New York.


Ruh roh.

Mere weeks into his new job, O’Neill was on the receiving end of the exact worry that had cost him his last job and landed him his new one. He was one of the thousands of victims who perished in the 9/11 attacks. We hope his last words were “I told you so.” Nobody has ever earned them more.

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