Archive for the 'Historical Figures' Category

Captain Kidd’s Alliterations

Tales of Captain William Kidd often tell of his cruel deeds committed on the high seas during the late 17th century. Few tales, however, acknowledge his uncanny knack for speaking and writing in alliterations and rhymes.


Captain Kidd – as he demanded to be called because of the alliteration – noticed signs of laziness among his ship’s crewmen in 1696, so he designed a series of linguistic exercises which we now know as tongue twisters. When recited these exercises sharpened the minds of Kidd’s men, helping them perform better while also lifting their spirits. One that was found in Captain Kidd’s diary went as follows:

The seething seas ceaseth
and twiceth the seething seas sufficeth us.

One of the most famous tongue twisters Captain Kidd wrote came after he relieved a ship of its precious cargo near Madagascar. He and a few of his men then took the treasure to a remote island where they buried the goods. Kidd would typically kill all of the men who buried the treasures, but this time a man got away from the murderous, yet poetic, captain. This event inspired Kidd to write the famous tongue twister that goes like this:

Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.

A study in the life of Captain Kidd is entertaining, but ultimately it is a tragic study. He was hanged on May 23, 1701, at ‘Execution Dock’ in London for murder and five counts of piracy. His personal belongings were given to First Mate Peter Piper.


For more about Captain Kidd, visit our friends at the National Geographic Channel. Kidd had abandoned the Quedagh Merchant ship loaded with valuables, and its location was left a mystery. Shipwreck! will be airing on Tuesday, November 18 at 9PM. (Photo courtesy of Indiana University)


Attila the Term of Endearment

Known as the Scourge of God, Attila is an unlikely beginning point for one of the most common terms of endearment.

The leader of the Hunnic Empire from 434 until his death in 453, Attila is known for his unparalleled cruelty and recklessness. Despite his successes as a leader, he was a lonely man who needed companionship; companionship that he believed he had found in Honoria, sister of Valentinian III who was one of the last Western Roman Emperors.

In 450, Honoria wrote a letter to Attila promising him half of the Western Empire along with her hand in marriage. Throughout the correspondence to follow, Honoria would frequently refer to Attila as “hun.” Word of the contents of the letters got out, leading to the popularity of the term hun along with its now romantic connotations.

A coin bearing the image of the sumptuous Honoria.

Attila never met Honoria. He was turned back after an ill-planned invasion of Italy in an attempt to take her to his empire. Opposing forces and disease reduced Attila’s army into almost nothing compared to what it had been at the outset of the invasion.

Records give no hints about the fate of Honoria, however, we do know that while at a feast Attila suffered a nosebleed, choked, and died.

Although the two lovers died apart from each other and in a degree of obscurity, their love continues on. It thrives each day as people express their feelings with that special someone. The expression of that love is often the simple phrase with which Honoria would always sign her letters: “Love you, hun.”

That Aztec Empire Loved Their Corn

Never a historical society to be accused of partiality, we at The History Bluff happily write the following article in reply to our many patient Aztec readers. The Aztecs have eagerly waited for this – their first time in the spotlight since their little skirmish with the Spanish in 1521.

This scene shows the Spanish shortly before they conquered the Aztec empire – after they were at first beaten back by ill-mannered Aztecs armed with cornstalks.

The Aztecs were a proud empire in central Mexico from 1325-1521. While they prided themselves on cacao beans, it was corn that they most enjoyed.

Corn, one of the best sources of fiber, lowered the cholesterol levels of the Aztecs and helped regulate their systems. Much like the pilgrims and other Indian tribes, the Aztecs used the corn husks for bathroom tissue. This practice led to the first use of the term rawhide.

The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes first saw popcorn in 1519 on Aztec headdresses, necklaces and ornaments to gods. Cortes acquired the formula for popcorn from Montezuma Redenbacher, who was the ruler of the Aztec empire at the time.

Down through the recent centuries the Aztecs have been out of the spotlight but have continued to affect the world through popcorn. It was Orville Redenbacher, a distant relative to Montezuma, who oversaw the perfection of the treat through the popcorn brand that bears his name.

When you next sit down to watch a movie and enjoy a bowl of popcorn, take pause to reflect on the still great Aztec empire.

President Abraham Lincoln the Magician

Because of his political celebrity and dazzling career in magic, President Abraham Lincoln popularized the top hat among magicians.

The first use of the top hat among magicians is unknown, but Lincoln’s magic career didn’t start until 1833, well after the top hat had been introduced to society. Lincoln’s first magic performance came at a small saloon in Illinois. The performance went well and he decided to continue magic along with his political career, which was not successful at the time.

Lincoln pictured with his top hat and his rabbit named Topper.

His performances, beginning with the first and continuing to his last in 1865, were marked by jokes, character impersonations, a hat-trick, and complex illusions involving ropes. He pulled all of his props out of his top hat.

Fans of President Lincoln said that his illusions truly were mesmerizing, but it was his impersonation of the famous actor John Wilkes Booth that brought the house down with uproarious laughter. Lincoln would imitate each idiosyncrasy of the famous actor, even down to Wilkes’s habit of breathing loudly through his noise after delivering an emphatic line.

In a twist of irony, it was John Wilkes Booth who shot President Lincoln on April 14, 1865 during the play Our American Cousin. Lincoln was scheduled for a surprise magic performance following the play.

The True Story of Jim Thorpe

In 1907, four boyhood friends, who looked strikingly similar, came together at Carlisle Indian Industrial School to dominate the world of sports. They created “Jim Thorpe” who won Olympic gold medals, and successfully played American football, baseball and basketball.

“Jim Thorpe” at a public appearance.

Although Jim Thorpe existed in name only, he transcended sports and became a legendary icon because of his athletic versatility. His multifaceted athletic career was actually the four careers of the friends blended together by the common alias of Jim Thorpe.

Timmy Wolfe

Photographs of the day were not widely circulated, which did not allow people to compare photographs of the legendary athlete. When a publicized event was to occur in honor of Thorpe, Timmy was selected as the representative.

During the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe (Timmy Wolfe) won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. In 1913, Thorpe’s medals were revoked when officials found that Thorpe (Olsen Riley) had played professional baseball for a short period of time. Thorpe had played for the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1909 and 1910.

After the revocation of the medals, Timmy lost interest in sports competitions and settled down in Berlin, New Hampshire. He is said to have lived near the White Mountain National Forest and worked at the local ski club, which had been organized in 1872.

Olsen Riley

Thorpe (Olsen Riley) signed with the New York Giants baseball club in 1913 and played in the outfield with them for three seasons. He moved around a lot during his career, playing for at least five clubs. At the end of his career in 1922, he had scored 91 runs, batted in 82 runs and held a .252 batting average.

Tony Densher, another of the friends, never had much of a basketball career under the name of Jim Thorpe. He lived in Huntersville, North Carolina for the remainder of his life as a local businessman.

Henry Jenning

Thorpe (Henry Jenning) played football for the Canton Bulldogs from 1915 until 1919. In 1920, Andy Zeirwer took Henry’s spot and continued Jim Thorpe’s football career when the Bulldogs became a part of the National Football League (known at the time as the American Professional Football Association). Jim Thorpe’s football career ended at the age of 41.

Andy Zeirwer

Andy never escaped from the view of the public and was never able to shed the name of Jim Thorpe. He became an alcoholic as his personal life spiraled downward. He suffered a heart attack in his trailer home in Lomita, California and died on March 28.


Special thanks goes to reader and fellow historian Matt L of Greenville, SC for his help in the research of this story.

Babe Ruth: Corked Shot

Baseball historians recently discovered 53 of Babe Ruth’s bats and found that all of them were corked. Twenty-one of the bats were labeled as being used in the seasons of 1930, 1931, and 1932. The remaining bats had no date markings.

A cork sample taken from one of Ruth’s 1931 baseball bats.

Corked bats are illegal in professional baseball because cork reduces the bat’s weight and shifts the center of mass to the bat’s handle. The result is a faster swing with little to no reduction in hitting power. Naturally, this helps batters send the ball farther.

What will remain a mystery for the foreseeable future is knowing when Babe Ruth used the bats. The obvious time now in question is Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot.” This famous moment in baseball history took place in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series between the Yankees and Cubs. Ruth was facing a 2-2 count when he pointed out to center field as if to tell everyone where the next pitch would end up. The next pitch was a curveball, and it was launched deep past the center field wall.

Lou Gehrig, one of Ruth’s teammates, said, “What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey. Imagine the guy calling his shot and getting away with it.” Gehrig was remarking, along with many others, at the unusual confidence Ruth displayed during that at-bat. The unusual confidence could be because he knew he had an advantage with the corked bat.

Several of Babe Ruth’s baseball bats from historic moments are on display, but they will never be analyzed for fear of damaging the valuable artifacts. With a lifetime .342 batting average and .609 slugging percentage, Ruth’s abilities as a baseball player are undeniable despite the use of corked baseball bats. Just how great he really was, we’ll never know.

All-Time Major League Baseball Homerun Hitters

1. *Barry Bonds 762

2. Hank Aaron 755

3. *Babe Ruth 714

4. Willie Mays 660

5. *Sammy Sosa 609

The Red Baron: A Lesson in Literally Altering History

Baron Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron) was a WWI German flying ace who altered the books in order to give himself 80 confirmed air combat victories. He was a member of an aristocratic family with many famous relatives who pressured him into his dishonest actions.

Richthofen was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by his high school classmates. Mysteriously, nobody claims to have voted for him. Manfred tallied the election votes and declared to his dying day that he was the unanimous decision.

He was schooled in Schweidnitz, Germany for a period of time in which he began to develop a habit of not cheating, but altering his score when the teacher was not looking. On one occasion, he broke into the school late at night and changed everybody’s scores for the past four weeks in mathematics. Confused, but optimistic, the professor rewarded the class handsomely throughout the rest of the semester for their great work in mathematics.

From 1911 to 1915, Richthofen served in the German cavalry and infantry before requesting to be in the flying service. For the first two months, he was an observer on reconnaissance missions, which is when he recorded his first kill. The sensation was intoxicating for Richthofen. Manfred’s devious ways began to rush back into his veins.

Manfred would often fly solo and return, reporting that he had downed an enemy craft. The field staff were confused many times as Richthofen often came back with a cool gun and multitudes of ammunition. He would also sneak into the field office and change his flight records to reflect a higher number of kills than was truthful.

In the end, Richthofen’s sin found him out. It was on April 21, 1918 when he was killed while flying near the Somme River. He was shot through the lung and died shortly after making an emergency landing. Not until recently was it discovered that Richthofen accidentally shot himself in a field as he was trying to adjust his triplane’s guns.

Author’s Suggested Reading: The Red Baron Update