11 Curious Events That Really Happened

iStock / Rebecca O'Connell
iStock / Rebecca O'Connell

Sometimes things happen that humans just can’t explain in the short-term—or for a long while after. 

1. THE KENTUCKY MEAT SHOWER

Would you eat meat that fell from the sky? In 1876, some people did. That’s because a Bath County, Kentucky couple witnessed meat seemingly falling from the clouds. On March 3, 1876, Allen Crouch and his wife watched chunks of meat inexplicably cover their farm; the newspaper report drew neighbors, spectators and local butchers who attempted to determine where the mysterious meat came from. Some (along with the Crouch’s cat) even sampled the meat and believed it to be "either mutton or venison," but no definitive source could be identified. Scientists at the time eventually concluded vultures flying overhead after an exceptionally large meal could have vomited the half-digested meat mid-flight, leading to the meat shower, but researchers were unable to confirm the theory.

2. SALISH SEA HUMAN FOOT DISCOVERIES

In February 2016, within days of each other, two shoes containing severed human feet washed up in the area of Vancouver Island’s Botanical Beach, and unfortunately, they were not the first. Since 2007, 16 severed feet have washed up along the Northwest Pacific coastline, only to be found by Washington or British Columbia beachgoers. Initially, investigators speculated that the feet could have come from victims of far-off natural disasters or serial killers, but after several years they determined that the identified remains belonged to people who had committed suicide or likely died accidentally during stormy weather. But why are feet the only found remains in these cases? Decomposition in water is tough business, with the push and pull of waves causing hands and feet to disconnect from a corpse. And with modern shoes being constructed with light materials and air pockets, those remains were more likely to float. Still, some believe that similarities between the remains—mostly right feet wearing running shoes or hiking boots—are too coincidental, and that something more sinister is amiss.

3. GERMANY'S EXPLODING TOADS

A small pond in Hamburg, Germany, became the center of an exploding toad epidemic in 2005. More than 1000 toad carcasses were found—including splattered remains—mystifying nearby residents and park visitors. After water testing proved inconclusive and autopsied toads appeared free of fungus or viruses, scientists let another theory take flight: hungry crows. Berlin veterinarian Frank Mutschmann suggested that crows with an affinity for toad livers likely pecked between the toad’s chest and abdomen, causing the amphibians to puff up in an effort to scare away their predators. Unfortunately, the missing liver and subsequent wound (and possibly a punctured lung) could cause the toad’s blood vessels and lungs to burst upon puffing. While this guess seems reasonable, scientists can’t confirm since bystanders haven’t seen it happen.

4. WAKING UP WITH PERFECT PRONUNCIATION

In 2014, Australian native Ben McMahon spent a week in a coma following a car accident. When he awoke, the English speaker instead spoke fluent Mandarin, which he had previously studied, but not to any strong level. Scientists understand that brain trauma can damage portions areas of the brain where speaking skills are stored, possibly causing the brain to re-circuit to other language skills—regardless of how minimal—stored in different zones. But how sudden fluency is achieved isn't known. McMahon isn’t the only person to emerge from a coma with new language skills; a Croatian teenager awoke speaking fluent German in 2010, while a British survivor of a six-car pileup came out of a coma speaking French—and also believing he was actor Matthew McConaughey.

5. RETURNING MORNING GLORY CLOUDS

For centuries, clouds have been used as real-time alerts for incoming weather. While meteorologists have extensively studied clouds, there's one they don't know much about: the Morning Glory cloud. These long, narrow clouds often appear in perfectly straight rows, each cloud reaching up to 600 miles long. When it comes to research, the Morning Glory phenomenon is often overlooked because it is normally only seen between September and November in the skies above northeastern Australia. Scientists know the clouds are created by the collision of sea breezes that lift moist air and forms clouds, but few scientists study beyond their formation, leading us to wonder how long Morning Glory clouds been occurring and why they’re sometimes also seen over Germany and the U.S.

6. A SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTING TENANT

Those curious about spontaneous human combustion may point to the case of Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old St. Petersburg, Florida, woman who died in a mysterious blaze. On July 2, 1951, Reeser’s landlady stopped by only to find Reeser’s charred remains in a chair, with the rest of the room seemingly untouched by flames. FBI investigators believed Reeser took a sleeping pill and after falling asleep, accidentally caught her highly flammable clothing on fire from a lit cigarette. The chair she slept in was made of fire-retardant materials, allowing it to remain relatively unscathed while Reeser’s own body fat fed the flames. Yet, many conspiracy theorists find the FBI’s findings unrealistic, puzzled by how a fire so hot could have minimal damage to Reeser’s apartment when cremation often requires temperatures well above 2000 degrees.

7. THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT

Even experienced climbers and hikers fear getting injured or worse. But what happened to a team of nine Soviet campers in February 1959 continues to puzzle and terrify many. Led by an experienced mountaineer, the students ventured into the northern Ural Mountains, only to be discovered dead weeks later, with no clear explanation of what went wrong. When five of the campers were initially found, their bodies exhibited signs of traumatic injuries yet there were no obvious clues to how they were harmed. A tent was cut from the inside out and bodies were found leading away from the base camp. Several in the group were missing clothing, revealing their bodies had turned an unusual hue of orange. The Russian government investigated the incident, noting that the bodies displayed some evidence of radioactivity, but case files were sealed, making it difficult to know why exactly that was noted. Plausible theories for the hikers’ deaths include accidental exposure to radioactive testing or infrasound frequencies that were misinterpreted as an avalanche, causing the hikers to flee into treacherous conditions. No matter what the cause, the only ones who truly know what happened on that mountain died there.

8. MYSTERIOUS "CHUPACABRA" ATTACKS

While the lore of a vampire-like beast has existed in the Rio Grande region of Texas since the 1970s (usually described as a giant bird), it wasn’t until the mid-1990s when chupacabra fears hit a fever pitch. In March of 1995, Puerto Rican farmers reported a series of attacks by the chupacabra (which translates to "goat sucker") after finding eight sheep dead and drained of their blood. The only evidence of the killings was a set of small puncture wounds on each animal. By August, the town of Canóvanas saw more than 100 dead farm animals and pets, all drained of their blood with similar wounds. While speculation initially considered satanic cults, many believers found it entirely possible that there were vampire beasts on a bloodsucking frenzy.

By the 2000s, attacks from el chupacabra spread throughout Latin American, Florida, and Texas, where several residents and ranchers captured suspected beasts—though DNA tests show that the animals were simply coyotes or wild dogs with intense mange. Biologists believe there is no such thing as a chupacabra, but instead the attacks were the work of frenzied coyotes and wild dogs that often kill but leave behind their prey. As for the suspected blood drainings, many of the examined animals lost an amount of blood typical of bleeding to death from a bite, proving they weren’t a bloodsucker's meal. Yet many chupacabra believers claim the beast exists simply because the theorized wild dog attacks haven't been witnessed, and so, the legend of the chupacabras continue to haunt the night.

9. THE TOXIC WOMAN

The story of the Toxic Woman sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, except it really happened. On February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez entered the General Hospital in Riverside, California, for complications attributed to advanced-stage cervical cancer. Within minutes, doctors and nurses who had contact with her mentioned the smell of ammonia before falling ill, with some even passing out due to fumes coming from Ramirez’s body. As a precaution, the emergency room was evacuated, and a doctor and nurse were hospitalized for side effects attributed to the unusual fumes; Ramirez died of heart failure that evening. The autopsy on her body required the coroner’s office to build a special enclosure and follow hazmat procedures, including suits and being washed with decontaminants afterwards, but the autopsy was inconclusive.

While it’s not perfectly clear what exactly happened or why Ramirez’s body emitted ammonia-like fumes, doctors believe it was due to her cancer treatments. Ramirez is believed to have taken a pain-relieving home remedy that included dimethyl sulfoxide, which built up in her body due to a urinary blockage. When oxygen was administered, the chemical transformed into dimethyl sulfone, and the use of defibrillators on Ramirez would have changed that compound to dimethyl sulfate—a poisonous gas.  While researchers in the mid-1990s believed this to be a logical solution, additional testing was not possible due to the decomposition of Ramirez’s body. And so, theories of extraterrestrial interference and the hospital’s wrongdoing have continued to live on.

10. THE TUNGUSKA EVENT

More than 100 years after an explosion charred a Siberian forest, scientists still don’t know what exactly happened. In 1908, the remote Tunguska region of Siberia experienced a blast so intense that scientists say it produced nearly 185 times more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The closest eyewitnesses, who were 35 miles away, claimed to see a fireball light the sky above the forest before hearing and feeling a crash, followed by heat. At most one or two people were killed, along with hundreds of reindeer. Initial speculations included a volcanic explosion or meteorite impact, but investigations proved difficult due to the rural, rugged area and Russian politics. During the past century, scientists have leaned on the theory of an asteroid or air burst, yet little physical evidence supports this idea.

11. MEOWING NUNS

Modern science understands mass hysteria—a situation where groups of people suffer from the same mysterious effects of a strange illness or behavior—and how easily it can spread. We also now know it can be common among people who live in strict social settings for extended periods of time. But before modern psychology, no one understood this phenomenon or knew how to deal with it—especially when an entire convent of nuns got a little … catty. After one nun mysteriously began meowing, an entire French convent took on the persona of cats. Soon, many in the convent also began meowing for hours each day, gaining the attention of nearby villagers who eventually had enough. Soldiers were called in to circle the convent and nuns were warned that if they didn’t stop meowing, they’d be whipped. Not surprisingly, the meowing stopped pretty quickly, but how the cattitude started and why it lasted so was never clearly documented. How curious.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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22 Creepy Cryptids From Around the World

Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx's interpretation of the Mongolian death worm.
Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx's interpretation of the Mongolian death worm.

According to Merriam-Webster, a cryptid is an animal "that has been claimed to exist but never proven to exist." But as Bigfoot believers and Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts are often quick to point out, it’s pretty difficult to prove that something doesn’t exist. Plus, it’s much more fun to indulge in the idea that giant sea monsters and hairy humanoids are roaming the uncharted corners of the planet.

On this episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is taking viewers across time and space to unearth legends about lesser-known monsters that, again, haven’t been proven to not exist. Take the Mongolian death worm, a lamprey-like nightmare that supposedly lives in the Gobi Desert and radiates a poison so strong that you could die just by standing near it. If you’re an ill-behaved child or a Catholic who scarfs down steak every Friday during Lent, watch out for the Rougarou, a Louisiana-based werewolf that sniffs out those two demographics.

Learn about more fearsome, fascinating cryptids of all kinds in the video below, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for future episodes of The List Show.