Man crosses Atlantic in raft with no water
In 1952, Alain Bombard grew concerned with how many lives were being lost at sea. As a well-regarded scientist, it was within his means to start developing safer nautical emergency equipment. But Bombard was ridiculously stubborn, and had already convinced himself that people were dying in life rafts simply because they weren't good enough at managing their resources.
To prove his theory that safety required better people and not better safety equipment, Bombard prepared to set sail on a little raft across the Atlantic ocean. He didn't bring any fresh water, and only a sextant to guide him. Neither a newborn baby, nor Bombard's sailing partner abandoning him could deter the will of this determined Frenchman.
At sea, Bombard fashioned a harpoon and began catching fish, which he used as a source of water. Using water from fish, rainwater, and a limited amount of sea water, Bombard was barely able to stay hydrated. (No word on how much pee he drank, so we'll just assume a lot.)
After two grueling months of riding the waves and drinking horrible fish-juices, his raft finally finished crossing the ocean, arriving in Barbados.
Bombard had lost 25kg, but the important thing was that he never had to admit he was wrong.
Man starts international war over argument with neighbor
Consider this petty argument from way back in 1859. Charles Griffin (irish) and Lyman Cutlar (american) were neighbors on the San Juan Islands, a Pacific Northwest piece of territory whose ownership was disputed by the U.S. and Britain.
The dead pig belonged to Griffin, and the two men set about haggling over restitution. Cutlar offered $10 – approximately $280 in modern money – but Griffin demanded ten times the amount: $100 ($2,800). Our scientific study into pig prices reveals that a decent one goes for about $50 to $100 on Craigslist, so that must have been one helluva special pig. Then again, Griffin let it roam free without supervision.
A reasonable compromise couldn't be met, so the two neighbors started fighting. A likely apocryphal account holds that Cutlar told Griffin, "It was eating my potatoes" – to which Griffin replied, "It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig." We can't know if that is true, but we do know that the argument resulted in Griffin calling the British police to arrest Cutlar.
But since Cutlar was American, military protection stormed over to stop his arrest by a foreign power. This set in motion a spiral of escalation that reached such a point that by August 10, 461 Americans with 14 cannons were opposed by five British warships mounting 70 guns and carrying 2,140 men. Both sides exchanged insults for several days, attempting to goad the other into attacking first, but luckily no one fired a shot. The standoff could have been resolved at any point by the irishman taking to reason, accepting the $10 ($280), and calling the arrest off.
When bigwigs in Washington and London heard about what was happening on the islands, they were pretty damn embarrassed at how stubborn their citizens could be. British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes thought that "two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig" was foolish. Both nation's leaders then took steps to end the conflict peacefully, which in this case meant “we both build up our militaries on opposite ends of the disputed area and let the joint military occupation become the status quo for an indeterminate amount of time.”
In an accidental but fitting allusion to the stubbornness of the pig owner, The Union Jack flies above the "English Camp" to this day, being raised and lowered daily by park rangers. The military standoff is now referred to as the Pig War.
Swedish king refuses to admit what day it is
It was the Age of Enlightenment, and reforms of all kinds were sweeping through Europe. Almost everywhere, leaders worked together to rid themselves of the inaccurate Roman-era Julian calendar and unite under Georgian time and date.
This worked pretty fine for everyone – except the King of Sweden. Rather than simply adjusting the date to be on the same page as practically everyone on that side of the world, Charles XII came up with a way dumber solution. Since the Swedes were at the time 11 days behind, Charles XII decreed that Sweden should just skip the next 11 leap years. Effort was the enemy of Charles XII, obviously.
Why was this so backwards? For starters, it ensured that the date in Sweden was always wrong compared to the rest of the world, and Swedes themselves had trouble keeping track of the date. Also, Sweden got into a war and everyone kinda tried to forget about the King's dumb time change plan.
But they couldn't forget about the King. Rather than simply admit he was wrong, Charles XII next declared the original system to be the best, and changed everyone back to the Julian calendar. However this didn't work right either, and the King was forced to make up a date, February 30th, just to get everything back the way it was.
Charles XII refused to “get with the time” for the remainder of his reign and Sweden didn't switch to the calendar used by everyone else until 50 years after they started trying.
Woman refuses to quit smoking for 97 years
Judging from her health habits, we have to assume that Calment only lived that long because of a stubborn refusal to die. She started smoking when she was around 22 years old. Despite turning 100 she still refused to give it up. Hey, we can't blame her: it couldn't possibly send her to an early grave.
Which is why it was so funny that she decided to quit at the age of 119.
This wasn't due to health reasons or any other reasonable explanation. Calment was simply too stubborn to have someone else light her smokes for her. Rather than ask for help, she just gave up smoking after nearly a century of puffing coffin nails.
This also explains why there aren't that many centurian meth smokers: they're just too proud to request assistance.
Man refuses separation from his dead Siamese twin
Humans are capable of engaging in tremendously deep relationships. Some of the most developed relationships include that between a husband and wife, a mother and child, and a nu-Star Wars fanboy and his soy products. But no relationship can beat the levels of weirdness established by Chang and Eng Bunker.
Joined by the liver as Siamese twins, Chang and Eng achieved world fame as a touring freakshow. This allowed them to save enough money to retire to a nice North Carolina farm. There, they successfully attempted to lead as normal lives as possible, including owning slaves and chasing women.
The two Bunker brothers managed to make a combined 21 babies. None of their babies were Siamese twins, but if all 21 were stuck together we'd pay to see that.
Although they initially slept in a bed built for four, their wives squabbled. A Big Love situation was worked out, with the Bunker brothers alternating days spent with each spouse. Weird, but understandable when you've got a disability to work through.
What is not understandable is why in 1874 Eng decided to not cut himself lose from his brother. The process of separation had been medically safe for some time, but the Bunker brothers elected not to risk losing their public spectacle cash cow. One morning, Eng woke up to find his brother had passed in the night – there was now a dead corpse sticking out of his sternum.
Eng's wife begged him to get surgery to remove the decomposing brother, as did Eng's doctor. But Eng would have none of it, insisting he would stay with his brother until death. Which happened later that day. Apparently, the human body can only take so much rotting ooze flowing into its bloodstream. Who knew?
Man refuses to admit witches aren't sex freaks
It's 1484, and German Heinrich Kramer (also known as Henricus Institor) hates witches with a nuclear passion. Unfortunately, it would still be several centuries before society devolved to be stupid enough to support his views.
That didn't stop Kramer from being obstinate, however, desperately attempting to arrange witchhunts in Western Europe. This really didn't take, and he was thrown out of the area and even called senile by a local bishop.
At this time maybe most of us would stop worrying about old hags on brooms, and maybe just spend our time trying to avoid the plague, or maybe finding clean water to drown ourselves in. But not Kramer, oh no. He set about getting collegiate approval to write a theoretical explain-all book about witchcraft.
How did he get this rare endorsement? He lied. His witchcraft book, The Malleus Maleficarum, contains a lengthy approval from the University of Cologne. In fact, that university asserts it outright rejected Kramer's proposal as error-prone and shady.
It didn't matter, because the money started rolling in. The Malleus Maleficarum became the go-to manual for secular courts to prosecute witches. At this point, Kramer was too far invested to ever admit the truth. He responded to critics with hilariously bad explanations for his mistakes, all of which seem to involve penises.
For example, his book claims that witches can make a man's penis disappear. When someone pointed out that an agent of the devil can never destroy something made by God, he decided that witches just turned penises invisible. Problem solved.
Next was the claim that magic devils can knock up women. But conception is creation, and the devil can't create. Kramer explained it all by asserting that a devil has sex with a guy, steals his sperm, gives it to another devil, who uses this hand-me-down sperm to impregnate a lady. In Kramer's mind, the world of witchcraft has more sperm swapping than a porn website.
Finally the Spanish Inquisition came along, took one look at the Malleus Maleficarum, and decided it was too savage even for them.
Unfortunately, nowhere in the Malleus Maleficarum does it mention chasing down witches while accidentally frying balls on moldy bread. So, it would be another 200 years before humans finally learned their lesson.
Mountain man chooses dynamite load over taking to the police (who just wanted to give him a warning)
Albert Johnson seemed friendly enough, at least for the brutal Canadian wilds of 1931. He checked into the settlement of Fort Macpherson, shaved up, then proceeded to build a tiny cabin in the woods in which to live. Nice enough, so when Mounties heard that some rude person was disabling traps in the area and all signs pointed to Albert Johnson, they probably just wanted to give him a verbal warning.
But Albert Johnson was far too bullheaded to be warned. When police came to talk to him, he refused to answer the door, ignoring them until they went away. Soon, the police obtained a search warrant, and four policemen went out to Johnson's shack. After being ignored once again, the police broke down the door of the shack.
At this point, we'd probably just give up and receive our judgment, probably a small citation by this time. But not the recalcitrant Albert Johnson. He opened fire on the police, and managed to battle all four of them back.
Fed up, police organized a party of nine armed men, 42 angry dogs, and a load of dynamite. They blew up the building with the dynamite, as you do, only to find Albert safely tucked away in a hole in the floor. Police were unable to subdue him despite 15 hours of gunplay.
One has to wonder if Johnson also shot 42 dogs, or if the dogs just ran around happily marking trees and ignoring the situation.
By now the legend of Albert Johnson had spread around the area. Forming a posse to take him down was not difficult, and a large group of men chased Johnson through the woods. Johnson still managed to back them off, shooting a constable through the heart. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police blocked off the area and enlisted natives to track Johnson. Despite all of this, Albert managed to scale a 7,000 foot cliff to make a new hideout.
An airplane was then enlisted to scout and Albert Johnson's location was discovered. Sending a by now veritable battalion of men, Johnson was finally cornered and taken down. We imagine he laughed maniacally throughout the entire ordeal.