History's Incredible Ironies
Irony is a Catch 22 proposition. For example, you can’t reach an island without a boat. But the boat is in the island. So you have to go to the island to get the boat so you can go to the island. Of course you can swim but that’s neither here nor there. The hit song Ironic by Alannis Morisette is a treasure trove of unsettling coincidences. The opening line alone is a classic: “An old man/ turned ninety-eight/ He won the lottery/ And died the next day.” The thing is, while the song topped the charts and at times even proves to be disturbing if you take it seriously, it makes you wonder if these things actually happen in real life. The answer is yes, they do. So brace yourself for a thought provoking – not to mention outrageously sardonic – journey to the zone between the rational and the bizarre.
Watching the Gallows
Joseph Samuels and Isaac Simmonds of Sydney Australia are professional thieves. one night, in the line of duty, they killed someone. Joseph was sentenced to hang on Sept. 1803. He protested that the real killer was Isaac, who was in the audience watching the gallows. The two friends cursed each other for a while, then the hangman’s noose was slipped around Joseph’s neck. As soon as Joseph was dropped, the knot unraveled. He lay stunned in the dust. So the good marshals repeated the entire procedure. Then the rope loosened -- again! On the third try the rope snapped as neat as you please. Joseph was returned to his cell. For some reason he was eventually released while Isaac was implicated on another homicide. Isaac was jailed, sentenced and later executed.
Gesture of Magnanimity
Before the Trojan War, the most popular fortune-teller in Greece was a wine maker named Calchas. While tinkering in his vineyard one fine day, a fellow soothsayer dropped by and told him of his impending death. Apparently Calchas will not live to taste the fruits of his toils. After the harvest, Calchas had a party and, in a gesture of magnanimity, invited his psychic friend. He was about to drink the wine pressed from his grapes when he deadpanned: “Repeat your prophecy of last summer.” His guest did. Calchas laughed, then choked, then literally dropped dead.
A Falling Object
Speaking of Greek psychics, there was one who told the playwright Aeschylus that he would die from a falling object. Aeschylus then moved into the open countryside. One day, an eagle carrying a turtle was flying over the meadow looking for the rock to smash the shell. And apparently the eagle thought the dramatist’s bald head was a rock so the eagle cracked open his dinner.
Sign of Goodwill
Still in Ancient Greece, one of the most beloved legislators in Athens was Draco. In the Aegina Theater in 590 BC, he was the guest of honor in a testimonial for a draconian legal code he had enacted. As was the custom, fans showered him with their cloaks and hats as a sign of goodwill. As Draco entered the arena, the well-wishers’ wardrobes buried and smothered him to death.
In the 70’s, Malaysia tried to remedy it’s escalating mosquito crisis by spraying DDT to critical areas. Since the mosquitoes were poisoned, they became vulnerable to roaches. The roach population boomed. And since gecko lizards are fond of roaches, they too increased. But the poisoned air made them fair game to cats. Then the cats were victimized by food poisoning so the number of rats skyrocketed. To end this strange food chain, the World Health Organization dropped planeloads of air-sick commando cats to the jungle strongholds of the bandit rats.
Down To Earth
Here’s something more down to earth. In 1877, the snow capped peak of Mt. Cotopaxi volcano near Quito Ecuador erupted. The lava flow was so miniscule it was embarrassing. But the resulting heat melted the surrounding glaciers. The glaciers caused a massive flooding. Then the flooding became a frightening mudflow. The mudflow barreled down the mountainsides at nearly a hundred miles an hour. Villages within a 150 mile radius were totally obliterated.
Thousands of Priests
During the reign of England’s King Harold, everybody wore long hair except priests. So Harold received an intelligence report about the arrival from the across the Channel of thousands of priests “to chant masses” although they turned out to be the close cropped Norman soldiers of William The Conqueror.
Penalty of Death
The ancient Greek city of Amyclae forbids rumors under penalty of death. So when the Spartans conquered them, no one knew about it.
Changed His Mind
A 40 year old Italian man from Biella tried to commit suicide. He doused himself with gasoline and lit up. For some strange reason he changed his mind and he rolled on the grass to put out the fire. Then he accidentally rolled off a cliff.
Happened In France
Two things happened in France. One, in Pointoise, a masher assaulted a girl. While trying to kiss her, the rapist had his tongue bitten off. And two, in Lyons, Ceasar Beltram was hit by lightning five times. He died from pneumonia.
Wayne Memmer works at the maximum security New Jersey State Prison in the U.S. Although having been married twice, he says: “I never felt right as a man," he told National Enquirer. "I dress like a man. I looked like a man. But inside I always felt like woman.” And so, in April 1999, 6’1 190 pound Correctional Officer Wayne Memmer became 38-30-40 Donna Marie Memmer – then sued for harassment. He – she – became the object of jokes and a fellow “even offered to pay me to see what I’d done.” It might have been funny if it weren’t so sad, but there’s a lesson there somewhere.