34 Hoaxes People Actually Believed

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Get your gullibility cap on. Here are 34 hoaxes—from alien autopsies to left-handed Whoppers—that people actually believed.

1. The One-Question Psychopath Test

A young girl chooses a smiley face over a frowning face being held by a woman
KatarzynaBialasiewicz iStock via Getty Images

While at her mother's funeral, a girl meets a guy whom she doesn't know; she falls in love with the guy on the spot, and then a few days later, that girls kills her own sister. What is her motive for killing her sister? If you answered that she was hoping that guy would appear at her sister's funeral, you think like a psychopath, as proven by a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. The only problem is it isn't a question from a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. It's just an internet hoax you probably got in a forwarded email.

2. A Televised Alien Autopsy

Autopsy tools.
James Player/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1995, Fox Television played a film featuring the dismantling of an alien corpse whose UFO had allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The culprit was Ray Santilli, an English filmmaker whose false footage was the basis of Fox's extraordinarily popular broadcast. Later, Santilli and his partner fessed up that their footage was merely a "re-enactment" of a real alien autopsy, which they didn't capture on camera, because, you know, reasons.

3. Lonelygirl15

Vlogging equipment.
sutiporn/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

So pretty much every vlogger here on the Internet owes a lot to a fake, homeschooled teenage girl video blogger named Bree, whose family just happened to be members of a murderous cult. Lonelygirl15 blew up in 2006, quickly gaining over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, which back then was a lot. But a sting operation by some of her fans revealed a connection between the project and a talent agency in Hollywood. It turns out that Bree was a 20-year-old actress named Jessica Rose, and the entire series was scripted. It ran for two more years after its cover got blown, proving that its popularity wasn't solely because people thought it was real.

4. The Cardiff Giant

Farmland.
Anastasia Yakovleva/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1869, a 10-foot-tall stone man was uncovered while workers were digging a well in Cardiff, New York. The owner of the New York farm, William Newell, started charging tourists $.50 apiece to view this giant, which was later discovered as a hoax, orchestrated by prankster George Hull. Hull had created the false giant as a tongue-in-cheek prank after getting into an argument with a Methodist on whether Genesis's claims that giants once ruled the Earth should be taken literally. He did score some money out of the argument, though, because he eventually sold the fake giant for $37,000.

5. Jarno Smeets Flies

A hawk flying.
Dgwildlife/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Jarno Smeets uploaded a video to YouTube in March 2012 in which he donned wings and then flew through the sky. Turns out, Smeets was not a bird-man, but actually an animator named Floris Kaayk who later admitted to the hoax on Dutch TV.

6. Camel Spiders

A spider web.
Ershela Hazizi/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

So when the second War in Iraq was just beginning, a photo emerged of a gigantic camel spider—this was sent around in emails, asking for sympathy for the troops. This email claimed that flesh-eating spiders were tormenting U.S. troops, could run 25 miles per hour, and jump 3 feet in the air. These spiders do exist, and they are big, but not quite that big. Also, they don't run that fast, and they can't jump at all. Rest easy, arachnophobes.

7. Napoleon Crashes the Stock Market

A portrait of Napoleon.
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1814, during the Napoleonic Wars, a man dressed as a colonel went around London claiming that Napoleon was dead, and that the Bourbons had won the war. The news resulted in British stock prices rising, before falling back to normal, when it was revealed that Napoleon was not dead. Lord Thomas Cochrane, the man who benefited from the stock fraud, was subsequently arrested for fraud.

8. Microsoft Buys The Catholic Church

A Catholic priest.
pmmart/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

People went wild in 1994 when an internet press release made the rounds stating that Microsoft had acquired "the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock." The press release was, of course, phony, but Microsoft had to come out with an official statement, assuring that they were not going to make sacraments available online anytime soon.

9. Fairy Bones

Bones at an excavation site.
Ирина Мещерякова/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

A widely circulated email in 2007 claimed that an 8-inch mummified fairy was found in a garden in Derbyshire, England, with descriptions of wings, teeth, hollow bones, along with pictures. Many people were hopeful that we had finally located Tinker Bell, but it was a hoax perpetrated by a professional illusion designer.

10. Fairy photos

Fairy mushrooms.
Shaiith/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

That's not the first fairy hoax, either; perhaps the most famous was the Cottingley Fairies, which were pictures taken by two young girls "proving" the existence of fairies in 1917. The fairies turned out to be cardboard cutouts, because, you know, no Photoshop.

11. The Mechanical Turk

The mechanical Turk.
Marcin Wichary, Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In the 1800s, in Hungary, the Mechanical Turk amazed everyone with its ability to play clever chess against human opponents, often winning. It even beat Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. But it was a hoax—turns out, there was a man inside controlling it the whole time.

12. The Fiji Mermaid

Mermaid Statue.
ELENAPHOTOS/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

The Fiji mermaid, allegedly discovered by an English doctor (known only as "Dr. J. Griffin"), was a widely discussed hoax in the mid-1800s. Many came to see it and were immediately disappointed by its non-beauty, which makes sense, considering that the mermaid was just a papier-mâché'd monkey connected to a fish bottom.

13. Not The Missing Link

Bigfoot Crossing Sign.
pabradyphoto/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1912, Charles Dawson found a bunch of skull fragments which were put together by his team to reveal the Piltdown Man. This completed skull would essentially serve as proof of evolution by fitting the description of half-man, half-ape. The scientists were right to be skeptical: the Piltdown Man skull was actually comprised of the bones of three different species.

14. Marathons Made Easy

People running in a marathon.
Sportpoint/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1904, Frederick Lorz won the marathon at the Summer Olympics...sort of. Lorz stopped after nine miles, got a car ride from his manager for the next 11, and when the car broke down, he walked back to the Olympic stadium and still wound up winning the marathon. Then he went on to claim that it was all a big joke, but only once people started to accuse him of not actually running the entire race.

15. Crop Circles

An ornate crop circle in the middle of a field
yuelan iStock via Getty Images

Alien crop circles are pretty common hoaxes these days, including in M. Night Shyamalan movies. That's all thanks to Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who cut the first of many flying saucer nests in an English wheat field in 1976.

16. The War of the Worlds

Orson Welles.
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In 1938, Orson Welles went on CBS Radio, reading from The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, but in a standard news format. Confused listeners believed that they were listening to a report of an actual alien invasion occurring in the United States, and this unintentional hoax was so believable that some people initially tried (but failed) to sue CBS for mental anguish.

Ready for a double hoax? The accepted knowledge that people panicked because of the broadcast might not be real.

17. Operation Copperhead

D-Day Landing.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A hoax was actually used to help ensure D-Day's success in World War II. Ten days before the fighting began in Normandy, the British used actor-soldier M. E. Clifton James, a general Monty Montgomery lookalike, to distract the Germans by doing high-profile appearances in Gibraltar. It's not clear whether the deception had much impact beyond confusion, but M. E. Clifton James later played both himself and Montgomery in a movie dramatizing the hoax.

18. The Left-Handed Whopper

A Whopper from Burger King.
Mike Mozart, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Did Burger King announce a Whopper specifically for hungry people with dominant left hands? Yes. That was a real hoax that had right-handed Whopper-eaters up in arms. Burger King said they were rotating condiments 180º for their left-handed customers, but that turned out to be an April Fool's Day joke, despite customers showing up and asking for it.

19. Hitler's Diaries

An old diary.
BlackQuetzal/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Those Hitler Diaries, purchased by a German news magazine for $6 million? Hmm...not Hitler's diaries, in fact.

20. Pope Joan

Pope Joan shrine.
A shrine to the nonexistent Pope Joan in Rome.
MarcPo/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

And I'm sorry, everyone, but Pope Joan, the pope who casually went into labor during a procession, is a hoax, deriving from folklore. There has never been a female pope.

21. Home Remedies for Burns

A knife with a pad of spreadable butter over a tub of butter
Gingagi iStock via Getty Images

Despite what you've heard on the internet: egg whites, flour, and butter do not heal burns. In fact, butter helps trap heat in the skin, which is really not good for burns. These ingredients do, however, make for delicious baking, if you want to turn your burns into cookies.

22. Balloon Boy

Hot air balloon.
Michael Kulmar/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Balloon Boy was up in the attic the entire time his family claimed that he was on a crazy balloon ride. The wildest part? They pulled the stunt to try to score a reality TV show.

23. A Font Predicting 9/11

A person typing on a keyboard.
undefined undefined/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Repeat after me. The Wingdings computer font did not predict 9/11. Typing in "Q33" NY does give you an airplane, towers, a skull, and a Star of David. And no, Q33 was not the flight number of either of the planes.

24. Triple WaterSpouts

A hurricane
Elen11/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

There's no such thing as triple waterspouts. The photo from Hurricane Lili was doctored.

25. Andy Kaufman Is Still Alive

Comedian Andy Kaufman.
Joan Adlen/Getty Images

He's not. Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Tupac, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison are also definitely dead.

26. And Paul McCartney is Dead

A picture of Paul McCartney.
John Downing/Getty Images

He's alive! Despite the perennial hoax machine revving up to mourn people who are still with us, the Beatles bassist is still alive and kicking and having a wonderful Christmas time. So are Gene Simmons, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Garth Brooks, Eddie Murphy, Tony Danza, Justin Bieber, and Dave Matthews.

27. The Masked Marauders

A picture of singer Bob Dylan.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Speaking of Paul McCartney, the Masked Marauders—an album featuring a collaboration between him, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and John Lennon—was the subject of a satirical article in Rolling Stone, much to the disappointment of many fans.

28. Charging Your iPod With an Onion

A pile of onions.
SabdiZ/iStock via Getty Images Plus

You can't charge your iPod using electrolytes. That YouTube video was a hoax; stop asking Yahoo! Answers and plugging your iPod into onions!

29. The Blair Witch Project

A production still from 'The Blair Witch Project.'
Artisan Entertainment/Getty Images

Groundbreaking in fusing advertising with its film, the cinematic tale of a trio going into the woods to find a witch made everyone wonder if the found footage was the real deal.

30. Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity movie audience.
Phillip Massey/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

It's surprising that a movie could pull it off years after Blair Witch, but a lot of audience members bought it wholesale, which is probably because it's still terrifying even when you know it's fiction.

31. Ghostwatch

A ghost in a haunted house.
solarseven/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

The original horror reality fake-out. Broadcast to unwitting British viewers in 1992 as a live, in-progress investigative report, Ghostwatch borrowed from War of the Worlds and used the news format to trick people into thinking ghosts were very, very real.

32. Youtube is shutting down

YouTube logo on a TV.
Stan Fisher/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

YouTube is not shutting down to select a winner of all-time best video; that was an April Fool's Day prank. Besides, we all know Mental Floss would win.

33. Facebook Is thinking about charging customers

A person scrolling through Facebook.
CASEZY/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Also, Facebook is not considering charging, because who would pay for that?

34. At-Home LASIK Surgery

Optometrist equipment.
Andrei Orlov/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

And lastly, this should really go without saying: Do not trust any website offering to sell you a device for at-home, do-it-yourself LASIK surgery. Maybe don't buy something online that will shoot lasers into your eyes. Just appreciate Lasik@Home as a joke, everybody.

For more hoaxes that fooled the public, check out the full video below.

10 Famous Siblings Who Conquered the World

The Williams sisters have won plenty of gold on their own and in doubles competition.
The Williams sisters have won plenty of gold on their own and in doubles competition.
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Whether you adore them or they drive you crazy, siblings play a major part in family dynamics. And while it’s noteworthy when one person in a family accomplishes great things, it’s doubly (or triply) remarkable when multiple siblings achieve greatness. To celebrate National Sibling Day, we’re taking a look at 10 sets of seriously accomplished siblings.

1. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

The Brothers Grimm.
A portrait of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even if you know nothing about the Brothers Grimm, you’ve no doubt read versions of the fairy tales and folk stories they compiled. Born in modern-day Germany in 1785 and 1786, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were young boys when their father died. Their family struggled financially, but both brothers were able to study law at the University of Marburg. Jacob went to work as his professor’s library assistant, and he later became the royal librarian for the new King of Westphalia, Jerome-Napoleon Bonaparte (that Napoleon's younger brother).

Wilhelm worked as his brother’s library assistant, and because Napoleon had recently conquered much of Germany, the two brothers wanted to help their fellow Germans preserve their culture’s stories. After gathering folk tales from books and committing oral stories to paper, the Brothers Grimm published collections of these stories, including Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin. Besides working together, Jacob also lived with Wilhelm and his wife, and Wilhelm named his first son Jacob. Before they died, the Brothers Grimm gave lectures and began work on a comprehensive German dictionary.

2. Louisa May and Abigail May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott
Culture Club/Getty Images

Louisa May Alcott is best known for her bestselling novel Little Women, which she based on her experience growing up with three sisters. But Louisa’s youngest sister—the inspiration for Amy March in Little Women—was an accomplished artist in her own right. Abigail (who went by May) had shown vast artistic promise as a child and young adult, even covering the walls and window frames in the family home with sketches of people and animals, and Louisa used a portion of her new-found fortune to further May's training.

After studying art in Boston, London, Rome, and Paris, May lived in France and earned spots for her still life and oil paintings in the Paris Salon’s exhibitions. The two sisters were so close that May named her baby daughter Louisa (nicknamed "Lulu"), and just before May died in 1879 (a month after childbirth), she told her husband to send baby Lulu to Louisa in Massachusetts. Louisa raised her niece until her own death eight years later, at which point Lulu went back to Europe to live with her father.

3. Wolfgang and Maria Mozart

Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, and Maria Anna Mozart.
Left to right: Leopold Mozart; his son, Wolfgang Amadeus; and his daughter, Maria Anna Mozart.
Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

We remember musical wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for his instantly recognizable symphonies and concertos, but his older sister paved the way for him to become one of history’s most famous classical composers. Born in 1751, five years before her brother, Maria Anna Mozart (nicknamed Nannerl) played piano to audiences across Europe before she hit her teens. Her technical skills earned her a reputation as a prodigy and one of the best pianists in Europe.

Nannerl and her younger brother also toured together, wowing audiences with their harpsichord performances. Nannerl wrote down (or possibly collaborated on) her brother’s first symphony, but her father made her stop performing once she turned 18. Still, Nannerl continued to compose music, and Mozart praised his sister’s work. Although some scholars dismiss Nannerl’s talent, others stress that her early interest (and success) in music deeply influenced and inspired her younger brother’s career.

4. Venus and Serena Williams

Venus and Serena Williams.
Venus and Serena Williams.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

There aren't many athletes more decorated than the Williams sisters. Serena currently holds tennis's Open Era record for the most Grand Slam singles titles (for a man or woman) with 23, while Venus has won seven on her own, and, in 2000, became the first African American woman to win a single's title at Wimbledon since 1957. The sisters both have four Olympic gold medals to their name, three of which they won together in doubles play.

The two were born just 15 months apart, with Venus being the oldest. Despite Serena's otherworldly success, she knows to respects her sister's seniority in doubles play.

"She’s definitely the boss out there," Serena joked during an interview with BBC. To which Venus added: "Well I’m the older sister, so it kind of falls on me."

5. Emily and Austin Dickinson

Emily Dickinson and her siblings.
Left to right: Emily, Austin, and Lavinia Dickinson.
Culture Club/Getty Images

Emily Dickinson’s poetry, as well as her mysteriously reclusive later life, continues to enchant readers more than a century after her death. But most people aren’t as familiar with her brother, Austin. Born a year and a half before Emily, Austin graduated from Amherst College and Harvard Law School before working as an attorney. A prominent member of the Amherst community, Austin served as the treasurer of Amherst College, founded the town’s private cemetery, and held leadership roles in civic organizations.

Austin and his wife lived next door to Emily and had a close relationship with the poet—who never had anything published under her own name in her lifetime. After Emily’s death, her sister Lavinia found the poems and was determined to get them published, ultimately enlisting Austin’s longtime mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd, who got her poetry shared with the world.

6. The Jackson Siblings

Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, Michael, and Marlon Jackson
Left to right: Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, Michael, and Marlon Jackson, with Randy up top.
William Milsom/Getty Images

From their home base in Gary, Indiana, Joe and Katherine Jackson raised nine children. In 1969, the five eldest brothers (Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael) hit it big as the Jackson 5, delighting audiences with catchy hits such as "I Want You Back" and "ABC." Since then, the members of the Jackson family have continued to make music, both together and separately.

Although Michael and youngest sister Janet achieved the most success with their music careers, each one of the couple’s seven other children—including sisters Rebbie and La Toya, and youngest brother Randy—achieved musical success in their own right. In fact, all nine Jackson siblings have released solo songs that charted on Billboard charts.

7. William and Caroline Herschel

William Herschel.
William Herschel was appointed court astronomer by King George III.
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Astronomer Sir William Herschel gets the credit for discovering, in March 1781, that Uranus was in fact a planet and not a star, as other astronomers had thought. Herschel also served as King George III’s official Court Astronomer, became president of the Royal Astronomical Society, and identified thousands of star clusters. But Herschel’s younger sister Caroline, born a dozen years after her brother, was also a seriously accomplished astronomer. As a young woman, she moved from her family’s home in Hanover to join her brother in England.

The two siblings shared a love of music and science, and Caroline worked as her brother’s assistant, providing technical support for the telescopes he built. She also was the first woman to be credited as the discoverer a comet (it’s called Comet C/1786 P1) and, after King George III began paying her, the first female scientist to ever be paid for her work. Caroline was awarded a Gold Medal from London’s Royal Astronomical Society and a Gold Medal for Science from Prussia’s King Frederick William IV.

8. The Wright Siblings

Wilbur Wright and his sister, Katherine.
A photo of Wilbur and Katherine Wright in 1909.
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

We know that Wilbur and Orville Wright were the inventors of the first successful airplane. But Katharine, the Wright brothers’ youngest sibling, played a huge role in facilitating her brothers’ aviation success. After graduating from Oberlin, Katharine worked as a Latin teacher in Dayton, Ohio. Although she wasn’t an engineer, she frequently corresponded with her brothers when they were in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, testing airplane prototypes. The brothers bounced ideas off of her, and she gave them emotional support and encouragement when they worried that flight simply wasn’t possible. Katharine also helped run her brothers’ bicycle company, which provided the funds that the brothers used to finance their airplane experiments.

Additionally, Katharine played an integral role in publicizing the Wright Brothers’ success, encouraging them to give speeches and do public flight demonstrations. Katharine even learned French, so she could hobnob with European royalty and aristocracy, spreading the word of her brothers’ aeronautical achievement.

9. Harriet and Catharine Beecher

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Though most of the world knows Harriet Beecher Stowe, her sister, Catharine, made tremendous strides for women's education.
Culture Club/Getty Images

Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a landmark piece of work for the anti-slavery movement, but she also had 12 siblings, many of whom also worked tirelessly for causes like abolitionism and women’s suffrage. Catharine, the oldest sibling, was passionate about seeing young girls become educated, and she opened the Hartford Female Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1824. Working from textbooks she wrote herself, Catharine taught groups of young girls everything from philosophy and art to chemistry and algebra. During her life, she opened schools in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois.

10. The Brontë Sisters

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte
Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte
Rischgitz/Getty Images

Decades before J.R.R. Tolkien would create Middle-Earth, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë wrote stories together in childhood that revolved around fantasy worlds with names like Angria and Gondal. After a brief separation when they reached young adulthood, the sisters eventually reunited in 1845, following the death of their aunt Elizabeth, and began writing together once again. The next year, they published a book of poems under pen names titled Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Soon, each sister would write her own defining work: Charlotte published Jane Eyre in 1847, while Emily penned Wuthering Heights the same year, and in 1848, Anne Brontë published The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

14 Famous People Who Survived the 1918 Flu Pandemic

National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Over a century ago, a deadly flu pandemic swept across the globe. The first cases of the so-called Spanish Flu—named because that’s where early news reports of the disease originated, though research has put its actual origin anywhere from China to Kansas to France—are traditionally dated to Kansas in March 1918. The disease ultimately infected some 500 million people, and estimates put the death toll anywhere from 20 to 50 million. The people on this list contracted the deadly flu and lived to tell the tale.

1. Walt Disney

Walt Disney sitting in a chair.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

If Walt Disney hadn’t contracted the flu, we might never have had Mickey Mouse. Even though he was only 16 at the time, Disney lied about his birth year to sign up for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps at the tail end of WWI. Then he got sick. By the time he was ready to ship out, the war was over.

2. Mary Pickford

A close-up photo of silent film star Mary Pickford smiling.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star was at the height of her fame when she fell ill; thankfully, Pickford’s bout with the flu was uneventful, but as the disease spread, many movie theaters were forced to close. Irritated theater owners in Los Angeles, claiming they had been singled out, petitioned for all other places that people gathered together (except for grocery stores, meat markets, and drug stores) to be forced to close as well. While stores were not forced to close, schools were and public gatherings were banned.

3. David Lloyd George

David Lloyd George sitting outside with his dog and reading a newspaper.
Ernest H. Mills // Getty Images

Weeks before the end of World War I, Lloyd, Prime Minister of the UK at the time, came very close to dying of the flu. He was confined to his bed for nine days, had to wear a respirator, and was accompanied by a doctor for over a month. Because it was thought that news of the Prime Minister’s illness would hurt the morale of the British people and “encourage the enemy,” his condition was kept mostly hidden from the press.

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Portrait of a young Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

In 1918, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and had been in Europe for two months before contracting the flu on the boat home. The New York Times described his illness as “a slight attack of pneumonia caused by Spanish influenza.” Roosevelt convalesced at his mother’s New York City home until he was well enough to head back to Washington, D.C.

5. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson circa 1912.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Considering Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States and he was dealing with the end of WWI, early 1919 was a seriously inconvenient time to get sick. Not only did he get the flu, but he fell ill so violently and so quickly that his doctors were sure he had been poisoned. When Wilson was well enough to rejoin the “Big Three” negotiations a few days later, people commented on how weak and out of it he seemed.

6. Wilhelm II

Wilhelm II in his uniform.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the German Kaiser was undoubtedly upset to get sick himself, he had reason to be happy about the flu epidemic, or so he thought. One of his military generals insisted—despite the fact that the surgeon general disagreed—that the illness would decimate the French troops, while leaving the Germans mostly unharmed. Since Germany needed a miracle to win the war, the flu must have seemed like a godsend. In the end, it ravaged all armies pretty much equally, and Germany surrendered.

7. John J. Pershing

John J. Pershing in uniform sitting on a horse.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the great American general got sick himself, the flu gave him a much larger problem. His troops were dying at a faster rate from illness than from bullets. Soon there were more than 16,000 cases among U.S. troops in Europe alone. Pershing was forced to ask the government for more than 30 mobile hospitals and 1500 nurses in just over a week.

8. Haile Selassie I

Haile Selassie sitting in a chair drinking tea.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The future emperor of Ethiopia was one of the first Ethiopians to contract the disease. His country was woefully unprepared for the epidemic: There were only four doctors in the capital available to treat patients. Selassie survived, but it's unknown how many people the flu killed in Ethiopia; it killed 7 percent of the population of neighboring British Somaliland.

9. Leo Szilard

A black and white photo of Leo Szilard in a suit and tie.
Department of Energy, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You may not have heard of him, but the atomic scientist Leo Szilard might have saved the world. While he survived the flu during WWI (he was supposedly cured by spending time in a humid room, the standard treatment for respiratory illness at the time), what he should be remembered for is his foresight before WWII. When he and other physicists were discovering different aspects of nuclear fission, he persuaded his colleagues to keep quiet about it, so that the Nazis wouldn’t get any closer to making an atomic bomb.

10. Katherine Anne Porter

Author Katherine Anne Porter sitting in a chair wearing a hat with a bow on it.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The author turned her experience with sickness in 1918 into a short novel called Pale Horse, Pale Rider. The story is told by a woman with the flu who is tended to by a young soldier. While she recovers, he contracts the disease and dies.

11. Alfonso XIII

The King of Spain working at his desk.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Alfonso was the King of Spain when the “Spanish” flu hit, and he was not immune to its outbreak. The flu was no worse in Spain than anywhere else, but unlike most journalists in other countries—who were under wartime censorship—the Spanish media actually covered the pandemic, leading to an unfair association that persists to this day.

12. Edvard Munch

A portrait of Edvard Munch standing in the snow.
Nasjonalbiblioteket, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Munch, the artist behind The Scream, had an apparent obsession with sickness and death long before he came down with the flu—he painted many works on the subject. But the flu obviously affected him especially: He painted a few self-portraits of both his illness and shortly after his recovery.

13. Lillian Gish

A portrait of Lillian Gish.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star started feeling sick during a costume fitting and collapsed with a 104-degree fever when she got home. Fortunately, she could afford a doctor and two nurses to attend to her around the clock. While she recovered, it wasn’t all good news. Gish complained later, “The only disagreeable thing was that it left me with flannel nightgowns—have to wear them all winter—horrible things.”

14. Clementine Churchill

Clementine Churchill speaks at a microphone.
Arthur Tanner/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

While Winston was in France in 1919, the Churchill household—including his wife Clementine and their nanny Isabelle, who was looking after their young daughter Marigold—contracted the flu. According to Churchill’s daughter Mary Soames, Isabelle grew delirious and took Marigold from her cot despite being sick herself. Clementine grabbed the child and was anxious for days about Marigold’s condition. Isabelle died of the flu, but Clementine and Marigold survived. (Sadly, Marigold would die from a bacterial infection that developed into sepsis in 1921.)

During World War II, Clementine served as a close adviser to Winston. She was also the “Chairman” of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, which raised 8 million pounds during WWII and resulted in her being awarded the Soviet Order of the Red Banner of Labor, being made a Dame, and being given a 19th century glass fruit bowl from Stalin. Churchill’s Chief Staff Officer, General Hastings “Pug” Ismay, would later comment that without Clementine the “history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER