A People's History of the Peculiar: A Freak Show of Facts, Random Obsessions and Astounding Truths

A People's History of the Peculiar: A Freak Show of Facts, Random Obsessions and Astounding Truths

by Nick Belardes, Caroline Leavitt

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A People's History of the Peculiar: A Freak Show of Facts, Random Obsessions and Astounding Truths by Nick Belardes

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson’s grandson was an ax murderer? Do you delight knowing that some dinosaurs were as teeny tiny as hens? Wonder what it’s like to live in Hell Town at the End of the World? How about an ailment so surreal it’s named after Alice in Wonderland? In A People's History of the Peculiar, historian Nick Belardes has dug into the raw source material found in historical archives, scientific studies, and libraries the world over to find facts, lists, definitions, and astonishing information guaranteed to provide readers with the best cocktail conversation topics for many years to come! Also found here are first-person interviews with people who can explain the unexplained, from the permanently puzzling Mothman conspiracy to secret Star Wars Jedi religious cults and the charmingly eccentric reason why British aerospace engineers sent teddy bears floating out into space. These real-world facts are outlandish enough to sharpen the brain and occupy readers’ minds for hours of entertainment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936740925
Publisher: Viva Editions
Publication date: 04/08/2014
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 734,000
File size: 470 KB

About the Author

NICHOLAS BELARDES is novelist, journalist, illustrator, memoirist and poet. His journalism has appeared on the homepage of CNN and his artwork has appeared in Memoir Journal, Knock Literary Magazine and 826 Seattle’s What to Read in the Rain (part of acclaimed author and philanthropist Dave Eggers 826 National). Nicholas currently teaches for Random Writers Workshop (RWW). He launched RWW in 2009, a low-cost writing critique, lecture and discussion group open to the public in Bakersfield and Fresno, California. He has most recently taught for Memoir Journal’s The (In)visible Memoirs Project, and has taught at Bakersfield College, CSU Bakersfield, the Art Institute of Las Vegas, and has guest lectured at UCLA, BARD College, various museums, libraries, galleries and writing groups. He has performed at the Texas State University’s Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, The Beat Museum, MTV’s Rock N’ Read, The Levan Center, art galleries, coffeehouses, pizza houses, bookstores, and more.

Read an Excerpt

The Yellow Fever Plague of 1792

Philadelphia was certainly known for its seasonal ailments. But could the idea of disease have kept the nation’s capital away from Philadelphia? Perhaps clues lie within a series of yellow fever epidemics that struck Philadelphia beginning in 1793.

Yellow fever is a devastating coastal disease spread by mosquitoes that feed off infected hosts. The bugs become carriers of the disease and spread the infection when feeding off other humans. Without the mosquito abatement found in cities of the modern era, severe mosquito populations easily harbored the infection and, breeding in stagnant waters, grew to untold numbers. Another disadvantage was that people didn’t know that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes. When the epidemic struck Philadelphia in 1793, some doctors simply thought it was a miasma caused by piles of rotting coffee dumped on docks.
Doctors couldn’t explain why those with the disease didn’t cause
it to spread when traveling to other areas. It was in the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that were breeding and feeding in Philadelphia, possibly originating with an infected person on a ship arriving from Africa or the West Indies.

Alexander Hamilton, along with his wife, also fell ill in September 1793, presumably of yellow fever. That likely didn’t help the cause of Philadelphia becoming the nation’s capital, as Hamilton, like George Washington, was already a proponent of building the nation’s capital elsewhere.

Yellow fever is mentioned several times in Alexander Hamilton’s papers. A letter from George Washington to Hamilton of September 6, 1793, states: “With extreme concern I receive the expression of your apprehensions, that you are in first stages of the prevailing fever. I hope they are groundless, notwithstanding the malignancy of the disorder is so much abated, as with proper & timely applications not much is to be dreaded.”

Architectural Mysteries of Washington, D.C.

Pentagram city: A look at early maps or even satellite images of the street grid of Washington reveals what resembles the inverted five-point broken pattern of a pentagram. Some people say that early Masonic developers of Washington purposely incorporated the broken pentagram, honoring Sirius the Dog Star and related esoteric beliefs. The erratic astronomical path of Venus as viewed from Earth is said to resemble a broken pentagram just like the street grid and is also referred to as a five-pointed flower. A question remains whether these geometric celestial designs and the street grid symbolize Satan or the perfection of man.

Capital Building Ankh: It’s suggested that when viewed from the air, the dome of the Capitol building, along with portions of nearby streets, forms the shape of the Egyptian symbol of eternal life.

Washington Monument Obelisk: The Washington Monument’s design is that of a common obelisk with Egyptian origins. Ramses II had 14 such obelisks raised at Tanis alone. The original purpose of an obelisk was to proclaim a king’s power. Imaginary lines drawn upward from the sloping sides of obelisks are meant to meet in Heaven. Egyptian obelisks are also interpreted as Baal’s (the Devil’s) shaft.

White House Glyph: The White House grounds and driveway possibly form a sun disk. Could it be part of a scaled-down Crown of Hathor, such as Isis once wore?

Sirius Dome Stars: The star Sirius, also called the Dog Star, is symbolized by images of the Egyptian god Anubis guarding the gates of Hell. Such symbols are associated with the Devil in the form of the pentagram—a five-pointed star. Not only are five-pointed stars on the American flag, they also adorn the helmet of the bronze Statue of Freedom which stands atop the Capitol dome. In 1993, the statue was removed by a helicopter for repairs after $790,000 had been raised to fix corrosion, cracks, and rusting.

Cornerstones: Many prominent buildings in Washington had their cornerstones laid by a society of freemasons who used corn, oil, and wine during their ceremonies. The buildings include the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol. Anti-masons say that the true god worshipped by Masons is Baal.

Corn and Baal: One common theme in Washington’s architecture is corn. The Hebrew word for corn is dagan. A derivative of dagan is Dagon, who was worshipped as a fish god and god of corn. His son was Baal, interpreted by some religious experts to be Satan. Baal could be the model for the bearded male figure carvings that can be seen throughout the Capitol. One park even has a bearded giant awakening from a grave.

Athena Artwork: While many believe America was built on Christian principles, there are some who believe otherwise. Goddess images of Athena in sculptures and paintings throughout the U.S. Capitol suggest ties to Rosicrucianism. One painting of Athena can be found in the Library of Congress. Satyr carvings can also be found in the library.

Dante Alighieri Statues: There are statues of the writer of Divine Comedy throughout Washington. At least one statue commemorating the 600th anniversary of Dante’s death can be found at Meridian Hill Park, which is located on the 77th meridian. Dante was a Rosicrucian, a member of a secret society of mystics that inspired freemasonry.

Reflecting Pools and Star Alignment: In architecture, Hermetic principles such as the mystic idea “As above, so below” were incorporated into the triangle imagery of the Masonic square and compasses, as well as in the many reflecting pools that can be found at the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Supreme
Court. In keeping with the principle “As above, so below,” some buildings in Washington are aligned to stars, including Sirius.

Did Thomas Jefferson Have a Mental Condition? And Was his Grandson an Axe Murderer?
That anyone could consider Parisian life dreary is almost numbing to ponder. But there, in Paris, sat Thomas Jefferson in 1787, dreary, dull-minded, and in a lethargic state. He was practically an invalid. Truly, the pursuit of happiness was often just that for America’s often-dejected ideological architect. But then, it’s sometimes said a touch of insanity can come with brilliance or genius. Perhaps that was the case for the author of the Declaration of Independence.

In Michael Knox Beran’s Jefferson’s Demons: Portrait of a Restless Mind, Jefferson is described as having fits of laziness, where every object around him appeared loathsome. Beran writes, “His creative activity was rooted in the peculiarities of his nervous organization.” He adds that Jefferson’s anxiety led to bouts of apathy and dejection as he fell into sluggish moods, fought violent headaches, and had breakdowns that preceded periods of intense creativity.

But was Jefferson mad? Beran doesn’t come out and say that Jefferson had a mental condition, though there may have been some kind of cover-up regarding the mental health of the president.

As Beran points out, Virginians didn’t need to wait for Darwin to believe that the Jeffersons could pass down the mental wreckage of their household from one generation to another. Beran tells of tales of child murder in the Jefferson family and alludes to something perhaps a bit off in the Jefferson bloodlines.

A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution has stated privately that there is political cover-up over a murderous act committed by Jefferson’s grandson Lilburn. She claimed that Lilburn was a crazed and troublesome relative.

According to our source, as the story goes, Thomas Jefferson bought a plantation north of Cincinnati from George Washington for Lilburn. “The grandson was troublesome, so [Jefferson] wanted to get him out to the wild West,” she said.
Lilburn was shipped to Ohio along with a young wife and slaves. The reason? “He was crazy, psychotic, had fits of anger, and terrorized people. He had a favorite water pitcher his mother poured water from. A young male slave dropped the pitcher and he freaked out and hacked the slave to death with an ax. Then there was a big cover-up.”

When our source asked the Daughters of the American Revolution if the rumor was true, she said, “They wouldn’t show me the documents, but they said, ‘Yes, it’s true.’”

If the story is true, did Lilburn inherit some kind of mental condition through the bloodlines of the Jeffersons? Could there be hidden medical documents that discuss not only the state of Lilburn Jefferson’s mind, but the state of Thomas Jefferson’s as

Our source also claims that Lilburn’s story is told in Robert Penn Warren’s epic poem Brother to Dragons. “It seems greatly fictionalized. But where did he come up with the story?”

While the tale of Lilburn may be mere rumor, clues about Thomas Jefferson’s mental condition can be found in his biography. For example, though Jefferson suffered long periods as a near invalid, he also believed in taking two hours of exercise, especially walking, every day. Was he just trying to keep up his physical health? Or was that his way of also fending off something he knew deeply about himself? Jefferson believed that people could slip into a lazy, melancholy fit that could lead to madness if they didn’t walk each day. Now why would he say that?

Blennerhassett Island and Burr’s Conspiracy
Another historical mystery centers on an island on the Ohio River that is proposed to have been the meeting place for conspirator Aaron Burr and his cronies, whose aims were idiosyncratic at best. Some historians suggest that Burr’s aims were never truly known, as much evidence against him was discounted during a trial for treason in 1807. Burr’s alleged conspiracies include seeking to overthrow Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, pushing for war with Mexico, and seceding from the Union in a territory of his own with armed farmers where he could fight off the U.S. government.

One of the conspirators’ meeting places was the quasi-feudal Blennerhassett Island on the Ohio River, where Anglo-Irishman Harman Blennerhassett (who married his own niece Margaret Agnew) built a villa and science lab. Blennerhassett was an aristocrat of great fortune, who, along with Burr, wanted to separate the Western states from the Union. While the conspiracy failed and Blennerhassett was run off, his West Virginia island villa became a historic park and place of great mystery. The home burned down in 1811, but its foundation was rediscovered in 1973 and the mansion rebuilt. Reports of ancient Native American burial grounds and easily spooked horses add to the island’s mystery. A hotel on the island is said to be haunted by the “Four O’clock Knocker,” who pounds on doors at 4:00 a.m. The website WVGhosts.com claims that apparitions have been seen and that a curse was brought back along with the coffins of Mrs. Blennerhassett and one of her sons.

Was Oppenheimer an Idiot?
Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer had a unique role in the building and use of the atomic bomb, and as an overseer in the use of atomic energy long after the Manhattan Project. Sure, Oppenheimer later said, “I was an idiot” while on the hot seat for lying to Manhattan Project security officers in 1943. But that didn’t mean he was an intellectual moron. There remains an enigma about the man and the history in which he played an integral part. In the aftermath of World War II, historian Charles Thorpe, in his 2006 book The Tragic Intellect, said that Oppenheimer utilized a considerable behind-the-scenes influence over atomic energy policy that eventually was stripped away. Thorpe writes about Oppenheimer, “He frequently employed overtly moral, and sometimes even religious language to talk about the implications of the atomic bomb and the role of the scientist.” Did scientists involved with the atomic bomb see themselves as having some sort of messianic role, as well as being harbingers of doom? Could Oppenheimer really have held high morals and at the same time help create the most destructive weapon ever designed and used by mankind? What do you think? Grab a double mocha, a group of friends, and ponder.

The Strange Fires of Roanoke
One of early America’s enduring mysteries is what became of a lost 16th-century colony on Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. What happened to these colonists from England? Were they abandoned? What do early historical records tell us? Digging into the original narratives reveals first-hand accounts of the mystery of Roanoke Island. Original records, some compiled from Richard Hakluyt, well known for gathering many of the seafaring accounts of early exploration of the Americas, can be found in Early English and French Voyages: 1534–1608.

Dangerous Natives, Supply Failure, and Strange Smoke: In 1584, Captain Arthur Barlowe described native peoples on the island. Could they have wiped out the colony and what had been a peaceful cohabitation? Does this sound like a peaceful people? Or perhaps a sign of being surrounded by non-peaceloving natives? Barlowe writes:
“… and on the evening following, wee came to an Island which they call Raonoak … and at the north end thereof was a village of nine houses, built of Cedar and fortified round about with sharpe trees to keepe out their enemies, and the entrance into it made like a turne pike very artificially.”
The natives happily greeted and fed the explorer and his men. But around 1586 a colony was left on the island. After attempts to bring supplies to the colony failed, an exploration to find the colony in 1590 also provided fruitless, but not without shades of mystery. John White set out to explore the coast that year and saw smoke in two separate places above Roanoke Island. His words leave more mystery to the enigmatic disappearance of the colony than strange carvings found on a tree on the island. On August 15, White writes:
“At our first comming to anker on this shore we saw a great smoke rise in the Ile Roanoak neere the place where I left the Colony in the yeere 1587, which smoake put us in good hope that some of the Colony were there expecting my returne out of England.”
The next day, White writes about his team’s further exploration:
“… our 2 boates went a shore, and Captaine Cooke, and Cap. Spicer, and their company with me, with intent to passe to the place at Roanoak where our countrymen were left … out twoe boats put off unto the shore, in the Admirals boat we sounded all the way … we were very sore tired before wee came to the smoke. But that which grieved us more was that when we came to the smoke, we found no man nor signe that any had been there lately, nor any fresh water in all this waye to drink.

Drownings, Mysterious Fires, and Tree Carvings: As White and his men tried to reach the original colony, one of their boats sank. Seven out of 11 sailors on the boat drowned. Four were good swimmers and were saved by Captain Cooke’s sailors. Distraught from such a setback, White and his men redoubled their efforts and seemed ever more willing to find the missing colony, which by now was devoid of much-needed supplies from the motherland.

The account of what White and his men found goes down as one of America’s greatest mysteries. The men called out, sang songs, and made their way toward a fire they thought was that of the Roanoke colony. What were the mysterious fires and the strange footprints they found? Some historians suggest that the colony moved peacefully to nearby Croatoan Island (present-day Hatteras Island). Others suggest that they were massacred upon reaching their new destination by the order of Chief Powhatan before the arrival of the Jamestown colonists. But that could have just been boasting among tribes who wanted to appear more powerful to other tribes in the area. The reality is, the colony’s boats were gone and many of their stores left dug up, as the colony had tried to hide many of their wares underground. And, besides, no evidence of the colony was ever found on Croatoan.

Read carefully as White clearly explains the mysterious day of August 17, 1590, then try to think of what could have happened to the missing colony on Roanoke:
“… it was so exceeding darke, that we overshot the place a quarter of a mile: there we espied towards the North ende of the Island the light of a great fire thorow the woods, to which we presently rowed: when wee came right over against it, we let fall our Grapnel neere the shore and sounded with a trumpet a Call, and afterwardes many familiar English tunes of Songs, and called to them friendly; but we had no answere, we therefore landed at day-breake, and comming to the fire, we found the grasse and sundry rotten trees burning about the place … we came to the place where I left our Colony in the yeere 1586. In all this way we saw in the sand the print of the Salvages feet of 2 or 3 sorts troaden in the night, and as we entred up the sandy banke upon a tree, in the very browe thereof were curiously carved these faire Romane letters C R O … at my departure from them in An. 1587 I willed them, that if they should happen to be distressed in any of those places, that they should carve over the letters of name, a Crosse … but we found no such sign of distresse … and 5 foote from the ground in fayre Capitall letters was graven CROATOAN without any crosse or signe of distresse …”

Table of Contents

Foreword by Brad Listi

Introduction: Boyhood Maps, Modern-Day Trivia

Chapter 1 Amassed from the Past: Curious and Fantastic Facts from the Archives of History

Chapter 2 Unnatural Sciences: Bizarre Discoveries from Biology to Outer Space

Chapter 3 Puzzling Ailments: Most Mysterious Maladies

Chapter 4 Idiosyncratic Inventions: Technologies We Depend on Every Day and Some Useless Contraptions

Chapter 5 Odd Occupations: Some of the Dirtiest, Weirdest Jobs that You Never Wanted but Have to Know About

Chapter 6 Saturday Night Fever: Popular Films for Obsessive Fans

Chapter 7 Eccentric Authors and Fantastic Art: Great and Little-Known Works by the Wildly (and Weirdly) Creative

Chapter 8 Mysterious Places: Exploring Some of the World's Most Mystifying Nooks and Crannies



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A People's History of the Peculiar: A Freak Show of Facts, Random Obsessions and Astounding Truths 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Truly fascinating facts you will not find ANYWHERE else. I am amazed by the secret history of the United States. Feed your head!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most entertaining book I have read in a long time, and I mean a LONG time. Did you know that you can get the green color out of your hair from chlorine if you wash your hair with ketchup? I didn't, and now you know too! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a fun book! Full of crazy facts (seriously, who knew) on pretty much every topic you can imagine. Easy to browse -- lots of quirky lists -- but also goes deeper on plenty of subjects. It's an oddball history lesson that will make you laugh, cringe, question, and wonder. Definitely would make an awesome present for the know-it-all in your life, and the folks who run your local trivia night probably need a copy too.
Scarlet_Slept More than 1 year ago
Perfect for anyone who wants to fill their head with little tidbits of history and odd facts. You can read cover-to-cover or pick and choose a page here and there, so it's great for busy folks, too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just couldn't get into this one. No rhyme or reason, no direction. I saw no sense, no points being made, no cohesion. I tried, but just can't do it.
JennieMM More than 1 year ago
What a fun book! I really enjoyed the sections when he picks a theme and runs with it: "Twenty Five Weird Dinosaur Facts" was probably my favorite section. It has neat trivia about history, politics, sciences, illness and more--no matter your area of interest, there's going to be something in here that will interest you.
YGK More than 1 year ago
This book is full of interesting tidbits that you have probably never heard of before in your life. I love informational books about random things and this one definitely caught my interest. It functions perfectly for casual reading during a commute or during any free time. Definitely a must read if you are looking to learn some new facts and impress your friends!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really neat! My favorite chapter focused on films (I like to think of myself as an amateur film critic). It's fascinating all the films I've never heard of, especially the ones on the list of longest films of all time. Did you have any idea a film could be 24 hours long? Me neither! I also liked checking off how many of the random cult movies I've seen. Great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I swear to God, whenever I can't think of a conversation-starter, I always whip this book out. It's a book that everyone will love. It has references to famous movies, past history events, famous writers, and many other things. READ IT! You won't regret it.