15 Places You Won’t Believe Have Seen Snow

iStock
iStock

Believe it or not, some of the world’s hottest regions have experienced winter blizzards, spring flurries, and even summer snowfalls. Here are 15 sunny places that are, surprisingly, no stranger to the white stuff.

1. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 

WHEN: January 1949

HOW MUCH: More than half an inch of snow covered L.A.’s downtown weather station, and the San Fernando Valley received nearly a foot.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: L.A. has experienced a handful of snowfalls over the decades, but this one lasted for nearly three days. Today, it’s remembered as the greatest recorded winter storm in the city’s history—not exactly a hard distinction to earn, considering it’s only snowed six times in L.A. since 1949, and not once in the past 54 years.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Even though they had to temporarily trade in their shorts and T-shirts for parkas, Californians managed to find humor in the situation. People built sombrero-wearing snowmen, and one hardware store erected a sign that read, “Snow Plows for Rent—Hurry!” The city of Reno, Nevada, even mailed L.A. a snow shovel.

“’The Big Snow of 49,’ we will remark to our wide-eyed grandchildren, “ one local newspaper rhapsodized. “Now that was a snow that really was a snow.” 

2. MUHAFAZAT AL WAFRAH, KUWAIT

WHEN: January 28, 2016

HOW MUCH: A light dusting of snow (if it was, in fact, snow) reportedly fell near a border post in Muhafazat al Wafrah, Kuwait.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Temperatures in Kuwait can dip as low as 36°F during the colder months, but to our knowledge, the tiny Gulf country has never experienced a white winter.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: "I asked my grandfather, he said there has never been snow before," one local man commented to a newspaper. "Everyone is surprised." However, the jury’s still out on whether Kuwait actually experienced its first official snowfall. People shared images and videos of the phenomenon on social media, but none were independently verified. Meanwhile, one meteorologist told an official state news wire service that the “snow” was really hail that had fallen onto wet grounds, forming a layer of ice.

3. MAUNA KEA, HAWAII

WHEN: June 14, 2016

HOW MUCH: A light dusting

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island that stands nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest peak in the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to its elevation, Mauna Kea has a sub-arctic climate zone. It’s no stranger to snow, blizzards, and ice during the winter, but it’s more unusual to see the volcano covered in frozen precipitation during warmer months. That being said, Mauna Kea has experienced summer snow before—once in June 2011, and other incidents that have occurred in July, August, and late May.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Native Hawaiians (and weather experts) know that snow falls on the top of the summits of Hawaii’s three tallest volcanoes—Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Haleakala—several times a year. But others were a little confused, so a weather service explained the science behind the phenomenon in a social media post on June 15, 2016: “Snow on Mauna Kea in June? How common is that?” they wrote.  “Although not common during the summer months, snow can fall and has fallen during the summer. Just last year, the summit saw snow on July 17th. The combination of cooler than normal upper air temperatures and thunderstorms bringing in moisture was what made snow possible yesterday.”

4. SOUTHERN FLORIDA

WHEN: The early morning of January 9, 1977

HOW MUCH: Miami’s beaches received trace amounts of white stuff, and even Homestead, Florida—a suburb that’s only 25 degrees, 28 minutes north of the equator—saw a few flurries. However, the phenomenon was short-lived, and the skies were clear by 9:30 a.m. The precipitation ended up being so slight that the freak occurrence wasn’t even officially recorded as a snow event.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The event marked the first time that steamy South Florida had ever seen snow. There hasn’t been a confirmed instance since—although one meteorologist says she received reports of flurries in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in January 2010. (These sightings weren’t officially confirmed by weather services.)

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Teachers allowed students to leave class and run in the snow, and a sanitation company in Pompano Beach playfully put "Free Snow Removal" signs on its garbage trucks. “Born and raised in Florida, I had never seen snow, and I will never forget that day as long as I live," one woman later reminisced to a local newspaper on the event’s 35th anniversary last year.

5. PHOENIX, ARIZONA

WHEN: Two record-breaking instances: January 20, 1933, and January 21-22, 1937

HOW MUCH: 1 inch

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Believe it or not, Arizona isn’t dry as a desert year-round. Come winter, heavy snowfalls often blanket the state’s mountainous north central regions. But snow is almost unheard of in Phoenix—which is why it was so monumental when the metro area received an inch of the white stuff on two separate occasions in the 1930s. Today, these incidents remain in the books as the greatest amounts of snow ever recorded in the region. (Snow fell again in Phoenix in 1998, but only .22 inches of precipitation—and a trace amount of snow—was measured.)

 WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Local newspapers described the 1937 snowfall in dramatic terms: “Winter subjected Arizona to an unrelenting barrage of bitter cold yesterday, sending snow flurries [to] Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma,” one news outlet wrote—even though a subsequent paragraph revealed that only a few flakes fell during the late afternoon and evening, and melted before hitting the ground.

6. GUADELOUPE

WHEN: March 31, 2016

HOW MUCH: : “A very fine snowfall” reportedly covered the hills above the municipality of St. Claude, northeast of the capital city of Basse-Terre, after the region experienced a cold front and accompanying precipitation. 

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Caribbean news outlets claimed it wasn’t an April Fool’s Day Joke: For the first time in recorded history, snow had actually fallen on the tropical French island of Guadeloupe. (We haven’t been able to find accounts by non-locals, so the jury’s still out on whether the alleged phenomenon was actually a prank.)

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: “This has never before been seen in Guadeloupe,” a French meteorologist said on TV. “This is an exceptional event that we will never forget.”

7. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

WHEN: June 28, 1836

HOW MUCH: Up to one inch 

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Overnight rain turned into morning snow, and by 7 a.m. people reported measuring as much as one inch piling on top of rooftops and awnings (although it reportedly melted in an hour). Over the following decades, Sydney reportedly experienced several other snowfalls, but none were as dramatic—or as strange—as the 1836 incident.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Sydney officially become Australia’s first city in 1842. Before that, it was a colony of British settlers and former convicts. According to a local newspaper, the surprised European transplants “were reported to have made light of the unusual occurrence,” a reporter wrote. “Some of the ‘Old hands’ express a hope that their old acquaintances, Messrs. Frost and Snow do not intend emigrating to New South Wales.”

8. ROME, ITALY

WHEN: February 4, 2012

HOW MUCH: Parts of the city were covered in nearly a foot of snow, and even more fell the following day.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Can’t imagine white weather in the Mediterranean? Neither can its inhabitants. This was Rome’s heaviest snowfall since the mid-1980s—and the city was completely unprepared for the chaos it caused. Schools shut down, some commuters took as long as eight hours to arrive home from work, and some 33,000 homes were left without power the next day. Later that week, officials were forced to shut down the Colosseum after they discovered that frozen chunks of its walls were falling off, and the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were closed to tourists.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: One journalist told a Canadian news outlet that Rome’s mayor announced nobody should drive in the snow without snow chains, “which no one has in this city because it never snows,” she said. They did, however, have shovels: Civil protection authorities handed out around 2000 shovels in Rome’s central public squares, and asked locals to lend a hand and help dig the city out.

9. THE SAHARA DESERT

WHEN: February 18, 1979

HOW MUCH: It’s hard to pinpoint an official recorded depth, but the snowstorm reportedly lasted a half-hour and melted within a few hours.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Saharan mountain ranges (which include Chad’s Tibesti Mountains and Algeria’s Ahaggar Mountains) experience snow around every seven years—but this time around, it fell in the city of Ghardaïa, Algeria. The phenomenon marked the first time that snow was ever recorded in the desert’s low altitude areas.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: The snowstorm reportedly caused traffic delays, but we still don’t know if locals complained or used the weather as an excuse to skip work.

10. BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

WHEN: July 9, 2007

HOW MUCH: A front of Antarctic air drifted north, causing normally warm temperatures to dip and precipitation to fall. Newspapers didn’t name an official snow depth, but the soft, wet layer of white stuff covered Buenos Aires and portions of the western highlands.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: According to the national weather service, Buenos Aires hadn’t experienced a major snowstorm since June 22, 1918. (The occasion may have also felt particularly festive because it occurred on Argentina’s independence day holiday.)

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Children pelted each other with snowballs, motorists drove with tiny snowmen on their car hoods, and crowds gathered at the city’s famous Obelisk monument to enjoy the historic weather. "Despite all my years, this is the first time I've ever seen in snow in Buenos Aires," an 82-year-old woman told a newspaper. 

11. BAGHDAD, IRAQ

WHEN: January 11, 2008

HOW MUCH: Flurries (they melted quickly)

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Snow is a regular occurrence in northern Iraq’s mountain regions. In Baghdad? Not so much. Locals reportedly couldn’t agree on when (and even whether) Baghdad had received snow before. Some people said it had never happened whereas others argued snow struck the region once, a little over 40 years prior. Others only remembered occasional rain or hailstorms.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Some people said they’d only seen snow in movies, so they were eager to capture the moment. “I rushed quickly to the balcony to see a very beautiful scene,” said one 19-year-old college student. “I tried to film it with my cell phone camera. This scene has really brought me joy. I called my other friends and the morning turned out to be a very happy one in my life.”

12. SOUTH TEXAS

WHEN: December 24-25, 2004

HOW MUCH: 12.5 inches in Victoria, Texas; 4.4 inches in Corpus Christi, Texas; and 1-3 inches across parts of the Houston metro area.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Forget about white Christmases—South Texas rarely ever gets snow, much less a measurable amount. This was the most snow that the region had seen since the late 1800s, so naturally, it set several historic records: Corpus Christi experienced its heaviest-ever recorded snowstorm, Victoria weathered its greatest 24-hour snowstorm, and the city of Brownsville received its first measurable amount of snow since February 1895.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Nobody believed forecasts calling for snow—so when the storm finally hit, locals had nothing to wear. One man remembers his children playing in the snow, plastic bags taped around their ankles to stay dry. Other people recall snowball fights and snowmen, and refer to the phenomenon as a Christmas miracle.

13. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

WHEN: February 14-15, 1895

HOW MUCH: More than 8 feet

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Big Easy is famous for its bayous and swamps, but it’s also experienced 17 measurable snowfalls since 1852 (including a 1-inch dusting in December 2008).  The city’s greatest snowstorm on record is the 1895 blizzard, which reportedly also caused flurries to fall even further south, in Tampico, Mexico.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Here’s one local newspaper’s account of the wintry weather phenomenon: “For more than 12 hours past snow has fallen here steadily and tonight [evening of February 14] the Crescent City is wrapped in a mantle of white such as she never wore before … Street car service was entirely suspended this afternoon, and the hackmen reaped a harvest, charging unheard of prices for their vehicles.”

14. DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA

WHEN: Weather stations have only officially recorded two instances of snow in Death Valley. The first occurred on January 9 and 11, 1949; the second, on January 4 and 5, 1974. (This isn’t counting four inches of snow that was spotted at an unofficial weather station at Cow Creek, the national park’s employee housing area, on January 12, 1949.) 

HOW MUCH: A trace amount

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Death Valley is Earth’s hottest place, and North America’s driest. Its average rainfall is less than two inches per year, and temperatures often soar above 120°F (although it does get chillier during the winter months).

15. THE ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE

WHEN: The snowfall began on July 3, 2011, and lasted for several days.

HOW MUCH: Thanks to a rare Antarctic cold front, parts of the arid region received nearly 32 inches of snow.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, thanks in part to the Andes Mountains and Chilean Coast Range, which naturally block moisture from the region. Parts of the 600-mile-long plateau have never even experienced a recorded rainfall.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Locals of nearby San Pedro de Atacama said the snowstorm was the largest the region had received in three decades. Roads to the city were temporarily blocked, and thousands of people were left without electricity, cell phone service, radio, and food.

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