The First World War wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for one fatal coincidence involving a sandwich and a botched assassination. Had a car not stalled in just the right place, at just the right time, maybe the entire 20th century would have been completely different.
Not all coincidences from history carry the same weight but they sure are interesting. Whether it’s a curse bringing forth Hitler’s attack on the USSR, or a crossword accidentally leaking British Secrets, or the many things John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln have in common, there is something fascinating about the symmetry of a good coincidence.
A coincidence is described in the dictionary as, “A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.” However some people might begin to wonder if fate has something to do with it. After you’ve survived your third ship sinking disaster (each of the three sister ships that the Titanic belonged too) you might start to wonder if a higher power was trying to send you a message.
Fate or not, one thing is for sure, history is riddled with coincidence.
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy
Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy, may have lived 100 years apart, but they had a lot in common.
Both presidents were elected in ’60 and were both succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.
Both died after being shot in the head on a Friday, while seated next to their wives.
Both presidents had four children and both lost a son during their presidencies.
Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theatre. Kennedy was shot in a Ford Lincoln.
Lincoln sat in box number seven at Ford’s theatre. Kennedy sat in car number seven in the motorcade.
After Lincoln’s assignation, John Wilkes Booth (the killer), ran from the theatre to a warehouse. After Kennedy was shot his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, ran from a warehouse to a theatre.
The Titanic was one of three sister ships built by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line. The three ships were, RMS Titanic, RMS Britannic, and RMS Olympic. Violet Jessop was on both the Titanic, and the Britannic when they sank, and was on board the Olympic when it crashed into a warship.
In 1910, Violet Jessop started working as a stewardess on RMS Olympic. On 20 September 1911 the luxury liner left Southampton and collided with the British warship HMS Hawke. Nobody died and they managed to get the ship back to port before it sank.
Violet boarded the RMS Titanic on 10 April 1912. She worked as a stewardess for four days and then the Titanic crashed into an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank. As an interesting aside, she was ordered onto lifeboat 16 and handed a baby. When Violet and the rest of the survivors were picked up by the RMS Carpathia a woman grabbed the baby she was holding and ran off without saying a word. She never found out what became of the baby or if the woman was the child’s mother.
The First World War started and Violet served as a stewardess for the British Red Cross on the Britannic, which had been converted into a hospital ship. An unexplained explosion caused the ship to sink in the Aegean Sea. 30 people died. Violet Jessop survived.
Undeterred by these events Violet returned to the White Star Line in 1920.
Tamerlane was a 14th Century Turko-Mongol military leader. He followed in the footsteps of Ghengis Khan, who reigned a century earlier. Tamerlane idolized Genghis Khan and used similar methods to build his empire. His wife, Saray Mulk Khanum was a Chagatai princes and direct descendant of Genghis.
During his reign, Tamerlane’s armies killed seventeen million people, about 5% of the entire population of the globe.
In 1941, Russian archaeologists escavated Tamerlane’s tomb and found inscribed within were the words, “When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble.” Another inscription on his coffin read, “Whoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.”
Within two days Hitler invaded the USSR.
King Umberto I Of Italy And His Doppelganger
On 28 July 1900, King Umberto I of Italy was having dinner in a restaurant. The owner came over to take the King’s order they quickly realised they had a lot in common.
For a start they were both called Umberto and were almost perfect doppelgangers of one another. They got to talking and discovered some more unusual coincidences. They were both born on 14 March 1844 in the same town of Turin, and were both married to women named Margherita, who they married on the same day, and the both had a son named Vittorio.
The restaurant owner opened his restaurant on the same day that King Umberto was crowned King of Italy.
The following day the restaurateur was shot dead. Later that same day, while out in a public street, King Umberto learned his death from his aide. While expressing his regret a rogue anarchist in the crowd pulled out a gun and assassinated him.
Franz Ferdinand And The Sandwich
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the catalyst that kicked off the First World War. But it almost didn’t happen. Ferdinand’s assassin was 19 year-old Gavrilo Princip. He was part of the freedom-fighting Black Hand Gang.
While waiting in the street for the Archduke to pass in his open-top car, so that he could shoot him, another member of the Black Hand Gang, further up the street, threw a bomb at the car. The bomb hit Franz Ferdinand’s car and bounced off. It rolled under the car behind and exploded, injuring an officer and several bystanders.
The car carrying the Archduke sped off towards the town hall to escape. Gavrilo Princip, feeling dejected that the assassination had failed, walked around the corner and entered a delicatessen for a sandwich.
Having calmed down a bit, Franz Ferdinand decided to go to the hospital to visit the victims of the attack. Unfortunately the driver took a wrong turn and while trying to reverse to turn around stalled the car. They had stalled directly outside the delicatessen that Princip was now exiting with his sandwich.
He saw, to his utter astonishment, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, right there in front of him. He pulled out his gun and shot them both dead.
Robert Lincoln, Presidential Angel Of Death
Robert Todd Lincoln was the son of President Abraham Lincoln. His life was riddled with coincidence. In the history of America there have been four presidential assassinations. Robert was present for three of them.
Robert wasn’t at Ford’s Theatre during his father’s assassination but he was rushed to his bedside and was present when the President succumbed to his injuries.
16 years later, in 1881, Robert was working as Secretary of War for President James Garfield. A few months after he started the job, Robert was accompanying President Garfield to the train station in Washington. A man named Charles Guiteau jumped out with a pistol and shot the president twice.
In 1901 President William McKinley invited Robert Lincoln to join the Presidents entourage at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. An anarchist named Leon Czolgosz ambushed the President. Leon shook President Garfield’s hand, pulled out a gun, and shot him twice.
After this event Robert Lincoln refused any invites to events involving Presidents. After one such invite he said, “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about Presidential functions when I am present.”
There is one more coincidence in Robert Lincoln’s life that is worth mentioning. When he was still a student at Harvard he fell onto the tracks at a train station between the carriage and the platform. A man reached down and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him to safety and saving his life. That man was Edwin Booth, one of the most famous actors of the 19th century and the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the man who would one day assassinate Robert’s father.
During the Cold War soviet spies used to use hollow coins to hide secret messages in. A delivery boy named Jimmy Bozart, who worked for the Brooklyn Eagle, was collecting payments on his round when something odd about one of the coins caught his attention. He examined it briefly and then threw it to the ground where it spit in half and revealed a small piece of paper inside.
Jimmy showed his friend at school who then told his dad, who was an NYPD officer, who passed the coin up the chain of command until it ended up in the hands of the FBI.
The piece of paper found inside the coin turned out to be a tiny photograph that consisted of columns of numbers. It was a code. There was no key for the code and cryptologists and code-cracking machines were unable to decipher it.
Four years later a Russian KGB officer named, Reino Hayhanen, was called back to the USSR. Not wanting to return he stopped on his way from America to the USSR in Paris and gave himself in. From there he called the U.S. embassy and soon found himself back on US soil.
Someone involved remembered the coin from four years previous and asked Reino if he would be able to decode it. He could. It turned out the message was meant for him and was simply welcoming him to Amercia from Moscow.
Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet
Mark Twain, author of Huckleberry Finn, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was born 30 November 1835. Halley’s Comet, which passes Earth every 75 years, also made an appearance in 1835.
74 years later Mark Twain gave a prediction. He said, “It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together’.”
On 20 April 1910, Halley’s Comet came by again. The following day Mark Twain died of a heart attack.
In 1944, D-Day codenames started to appear as solutions in the Daily Telegraph’s crosswords.
The crosswords were created by Leonard Dawe. When not creating puzzles Dawe was the headmaster at Strand School in Leatherhead. Next to the school was a large camp of US and Canadian troops getting ready for D-Day. The security at the camp was so lax that school boys were able to enter the camp and hang around with the soldiers. The boys overheard codenames for D-Day landing sites and spoke about them at school.
Looking for new words for the crossword, Leonard Dawe, put some of these codenames the boys were unknowingly sharing into the crossword.
For a few months leading up to the D-Day landings the words, Gold, Sword, and Juno, all appeared. Those words were codenames for landing sites. The British Secret Service put these down to coincidence but a full investigation was launched when things got more specific. Overlord, Utah, Neptune, Mulberry, Omaha, and Dieppe, all appeared as solutions in the puzzle, and all were codenames for different aspects of the attack.
The War Office called for an investigation and Leonard Dawe was interrogated by MI5. They concluded that Leonard had no idea he was leaking British secrets and the whole thing was put down to coincidence.
The building of the hoover dam was bookended by two related deaths. On 20 December 1921, John Gregory Tierney died in a flash flood while surveying locations for the dam along the Colorado River.
96 people died during the construction of the dam but John Tierney was the first.
Fourteen years later to the day, on 20 December 1935, the last person to die while working on the dam was Patrick William Tierney; John Tierney’s only son.