Facts About Famous People Throughout History
Edgar Allan Poe and James Abbott McNeill Whistler both went to West Point.
The English poet Thomas Chatterton died at seventeen. Mozart died at thirty-six. Raphael died at thirty-seven, Aubrey Beardsley died at twenty-six, and the painter Masaccio died at twenty-seven.
The famous Swedish astronomer Tycho Brahe had a nose made of gold. It was a replacement for his own, which he lost in a duel with a Danish nobleman in 1566.
Thomas Edison was deaf from the time he was twelve years old. The malady was caused while Edison was trying to board a train at Frazer Station, Michigan. A conductor took hold of his ears to help pull him aboard. “I felt something snap inside my head,” Edison later said. “My deafness started from that time and has progressed ever since.” Edison never went to school—his formal education consisted of three month's attendance at a public school in Port Huron, Michigan.
Faust, the protagonist of works by Christopher Marlowe, Goethe, and dozens of other writers, was an actual person. Johann Faust was a sixteenth-century doctor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. Many stories were told about him during his lifetime, including one in which he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for external youth and wisdom. The tale captured the imagination of authors for centuries afterward.
Napoleon had conquered Italy by the time he was twenty-six.
Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, was an ophthalmologist by profession.
Christopher Columbus had blond hair.
Karl Marx once served as a reporter on the new York Herald Tribune (the paper was then known as the New York Tribune). In 1848 he worked in the London office of the Tribune, and his boss, the managing editor, was Richard Henry Dana, who himself became a world-famous as author of Two years Before Mast.
Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, was not an architect. He was a mathematician and an astronomer. Wren was in fact a great astronomer, having developed a method for computing eclipses and another for measuring the rings of Saturn.
Casanova, the greatest adventurer and lover of his time, ended his life as a librarian. From 1785 to 1798 he lived in Bohemia, semi-retired, working as librarian for Count von Waldstein in the Chateau de Dux. He died quietly at the job.
Lord Byron had four pet geese that he brought everywhere with him, even to social gatherings. Byron, though considered one of the most dashing and attractive men of his time, was fat and had a club foot.
Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Dostoyevsky were all epileptics.
Alexandre Dumas père was one-quarter black.
There is absolutely no documented proof that Betsy Ross designed the American Flag.
Attila the Hun was a dwarf. Pepin the Short, Aesop, Gregory of Tours, Charles III of Naples, and the Pasha Hussain were all less than 3 and a half feet tall.
Rudyard Kipling would only write when he had black ink in his pen. Beethoven poured ice water over his head when he sat down to create music, believing it stimulated his brain. Dickens wrote (and slept) facing north, aligning himself with the poles of the earth. Rossini covered himself with blankets when he composed. Proust worked in bed, and only in a soundproof room.
In 1898 P. T. Barnum's side show included a man who looked like a Skye terrier; a woman with a goatee; a woman with scaly alligator-like skin; a blue man (he had permanently dyed himself by accident with silver nitrate); the most tattooed woman in the world (she claimed to have been stabbed by the tattooer's needle 100 million times); a Ubangi with saucers in both lips; an “India-rubber man” who could pull the skin several inches off his cheeks; a woman whom no one could make laugh (her facial muscles were paralyzed); a “hardheaded man” (people could break blocks of granite over his skull. A doctor once examined him and found his skull to be 2 inches thick); an ossified man (his flesh had completely hardened and crystallized before he died); a “living skeleton” (6 feet tall and 70 pounds); a “gorilla girl” (billed as the ugliest woman in the world); and “What Is It,” a congenital idiot so misshapen and retarded that some people believed him to be an unknown species of monkey.
One of Napoleon's drinking cups was made from the skull of the famous Italian adventurer Cagliostro.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who made John and Priscilla Alden famous in his poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” was related to both these actual historical personages.
Tom Fuller, a slave brought to America when he was fourteen years old, could tell the exact number of seconds in any given length of time. Once, when asked to give the precise numbers of seconds in seventy years, he obliged in less than one and a half minutes. Yet Fuller could neither read nor write.
Lafayette was a major general in the United States at the age of nineteen. Lafayette's whole name takes up an entire line on a page: Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.
An eighteenth-century German named Matthew Birchinger, known as “the little man of Nuremberg,” played four musical instruments including the bagpipes, was an expert calligrapher, and was the most famous stage magician of his day. He performed tricks with the cup and balls that have never been explained. Yet Birchinger had no hands, legs, or thighs, and was less than 29 inches tall.
There is absolutely no evidence that Adolf Hitler was a paperhanger.
The Mongol conqueror Timur the Lame (1336-1405), whom Christopher Marlowe called Tamburlaine, played polo with the skulls of those he had killed in battle. Timur left records of his victories by erecting 30-foot-high pyramids made of the severed heads of his victims.
There are a number of Americans who are related to Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome, married an American.
The famous nineteenth-century bullfighter Lagartijo (born Rafael Molina) killed 4,867 bulls.
The Graham cracker was named after Sylvester Graham (1794-1851). A New England minister, Graham not only invented the cracker but also published a journal in Boston that took a rabid stand against tea, coffee, feather beds, and women's corsets.
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, also designed the inner structure of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
President James Garfield could write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other—simultaneously! Leonardo da Vinci could draw with one hand and write with the other, also simultaneously.
The Second Marquess of Ripon, a well-known British sportsman, killed a total of 556,000 game birds in his life. The Marquess dropped dead on a grouse hunt in 1923, after having bagged 52 birds that morning.
Irénée du Pont, one time president of E. I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company, kept pet iguanas on his estate in Cuba. Mr. Du Pont spent many hours training these pets and succeeded in teaching them to stand at attention and to come when called.
Pierre Beaumarchais, one of the leading French dramatists of the eighteenth century, invented a device called the escapement, without which modern wristwatches would have been impossible. Beaumarchais was one of the most important Frenchmen to fight on the side of the colonies in the American revolution, was a secret agent for Louis XVI and gave harp lessons to the King's daughter, instituted in France the practice of paying playwrights royalties for their performed works, spent several years in jail for bank fraud and treason and pleaded his own case in court several times, edited the works of Voltaire, and wrote the operas The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro.
The African country of Rhodesia is named after an English entrepreneur, Cecil Rhodes, Rhodes, prime minister of Cape Colony in South Africa in late nineteenth century and creator of the South Africa diamond syndicate, at one time controlled 90 percent of the world's supply of diamonds. When he died, in 1902, his will stipulated that a great part of his fortune was to be used for the establishment of a foundation for the furtherance of higher education, which today grants the Rhodes Scholarship.
Nobody knows where the body of Voltaire is. It was stolen from its tomb in the nineteenth century and has never been recovered. The theft was discovered in 1864, when the tomb was opened and found empty.
David Kennison, born in 1736, lived to 115 and was the longest-surviving participant in the Boston Tea Party. He served in both the American revolution and the War of 1812. he served in the latter at the age of seventy-six, and had his hand shot off at Sackett's Harbor. Several years later, his skull was fractured when a tree fell on his head, and several years after that, while he was training for a militia drill, a premature explosion from a cannon shattered both his legs. When he recovered from the injury, his legs became covered with sores that never healed, and he was stricken with rheumatism. Some time later, his face was mutilated when he was kicked by a horse. He finally died a quiet death in Illinios in 1851.
After Sir Isaac Newton died, a sealed trunk was found among his belongings containing nearly 100,000 pages he had written on the subjects of alchemy, astrology, and the occult.
Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890), the English explorer and the first westerner ever to enter the sacred Moslem city of Mecca, spoke twenty languages, almost discovered the source of the Nile, fought Indians with Kit Carson, was a close friend of Brigham young, was one of the first white men to sail down the Amazon, and wrote the first western translation of The Arabian Nights.
Charles Lindbergh was instrumental in the development of a method for preserving human tissue outside the body. He co-authored a book on the subject, The Culture of Organs, with the French scientist Alexis Carrel. Lindbergh was also among the first to perfect a mechanical heart, a pumping apparatus that supplied blood to organs to keep them alive outside the body.
Both Josef Stalin and Kaiser Wilhelm had crippled left arms. Stalin, despite his popular image, was not a pipe smoker. He used the pipe only for effect at conferences and public appearances. In private he chain-smoked cigarettes.
When he was a child, Blaise Pascal once locked himself in his room for several days and would not allow anyone to enter. When he emerged, he had figured out all of Euclid's geometrical propositions totally on his own.
Geoffry Hudson, a famous dwarf at the seventeenth-century court of Charles II of England, stood 3 feet high and enjoyed entertaining the king by popping out of large pastries. Hudson once fought a duel against a full-sized man for a full-sized woman and won.
Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, colonial governor of New York and New Jersey from 1702 to 1708, was a professed transvestite. He commonly robed himself in women's outfits, rouged and powdered his face, and promenaded through the town in drag. He was once arrested on a morals charge. For his official portrait Viscount Cornbury posed in a low-cut evening gown holding a fan and wearing a sprig of lace in his hair. He was fired in 1708—not for his outrageous behavior, but for taking bribes.
Charles Carroll, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, lived long enough to help lay the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1828. Carroll, the longest-lived of all the signers, died in 1832 at the age of ninety-five.
When the circus dwarf Lavinia Bump married the circus dwarf Tom Thumb, more than 2,000 guests attended their wedding, including the president and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and the entire United States Cabinet. The famous ceremony was dubbed “The Fairy Wedding.”