Whether you earned a PhD in history or fell asleep every time your teacher brought up a time before the present, you’re bound to know Napoleon Bonaparte. He’s one of those immortal figures whose reputation proceeds him. You know, the tiny French guy who almost conquered Europe?
Well, it turns out that the emperor’s fame has done him a disservice, because he’s one of the most misunderstood individuals in all of history. Surviving documents prove that he’s a much more nuanced man than many take him for. There were sides of his personality that he hid from the public, while many popular conceptions of him were flat-out lies. So read on, or ignorance will become your Waterloo!
While today we picture Napoleon as a quintessential Frenchman, not everyone thought so in his time. Bonaparte’s family lived on the Mediterranean isle of Corsica, which, as a recent territorial acquisition from Italy, put him at odds with his peers from the mainland.
VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images
For starters, his birth name was Napoleone di Buonaparte before he changed it while attending military school in Paris. His classmates mocked his distinctive Corsican accent, and while he struggled through his coursework, he indulged in dark fantasies toward his country.
As a young man, Bonaparte adamantly supported Corsican independence. His extensive writing on the issue called the French government “monsters” and “the enemies of free men,” though Napoleon soon softened on the issue. He settled into French society and a military career.
Antoni E / Tripelonia
Napoleon became a close friend of Augustin Robespierre, whose brother Maximillian sent countless to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. This association led to Bonaparte serving a short sentence in house arrest, but someone else in his circle nearly faced much worse.
When the young officer met Joséphine de Beauharnais at a party, he was immediately sucked into her orbit — no matter that she was six years older and a widow. Her first husband was beheaded, and she was only freed from prison after a sudden political shift.
Popular lore holds that Napoleon was less than intimate with his wife, as he repeatedly turned down her advances by uttering, “Not tonight, Josephine.” It even became a popular song! But this idea was pure fiction, slander designed to insult Bonaparte’s manliness.
Few knew that Napoleon was a hopeless romantic. Besides penning explicit love letters, he actually wrote a romance novel during his early military career! Clisson et Eugénie detailed a love triangle in a military family, though it was never published during the author’s lifetime.
Napoleons’ work also contributed to ancient history. As a rising general, he advised invading Egypt to cut off the trade lines of their hated British rivals. His troops made an astonishing discovery while stationed there.
They discovered the famed Rosetta Stone, an ancient translator containing Greek, demotic, and hieroglyphic text that allowed Egyptian scrolls and carvings to finally be deciphered. That was just a bonus for Bonaparte, who was quickly becoming a national hero.
A 1799 coup resulted in Napoleon leaping up to become the first consul of France. Rallying together a fragmented country and defeating the nation’s enemies, he became an icon. But his autocratic ways cast a shadow across his once-gleaming reputation.
Bonaparte inspired a fit of genius in Ludwig van Beethoven, who originally composed his Symphony 3 with the consul in mind. However, one controversial decision caused the musical mastermind to tear up his work in despair.
In 1802, Napoleon consolidated his impressive power to declare himself consul for life. A couple years later, he upped his status to the Emperor of France — a country speeding toward democracy just a few years earlier. Many viewed the leader as a despot.
Jacques-Louis David / Wikimedia Commons
The Emperor’s detractors took shots at him whenever they could — anything to diminish his valor on the battlefield. A rumor spread that the French ruler was deathly afraid of cats, though this tale is unfounded. But what about the biggest urban legend surrounding Napoleon?
The first thing most modern-day people will bring about about the dictator is his height. But did you know Napoleon wasn’t actually short? This myth was perpetuated by his enemies and misunderstandings between countries’ measurement systems.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Best estimates put Napoleon at five feet and six inches tall, which was pretty average. This heavy criticism was no surprise, as Bonaparte became a folk hero even in hostile nations! Later on, the Brits refused him entry because they were worried he’d become too popular and incite a revolution!
Of course, he was only seeking refuge in Britain because he’d been exiled from France. A string of military defeats forced him to abdicate his throne and flee to the island of Elba, but his story nearly came to an abrupt end before then.
Unable to face the shame, Bonaparte attempted suicide by swallowing a poison pill, which he’d carried around for years. The capsule, however, didn’t kill him. The exiled emperor then stormed back into France and regained power, only to lose it all again in the Battle of Waterloo.
That loss earned Napoleon a second stint in exile, one on the isle of Saint Helena. British authorities were unnerved by reports of wild escape designs, including hot-air balloons and low-tech submarines. The Emperor may have even planned to live elsewhere.
Fleeing France after Napoleon’s defeat, his loyal supporter Nicholas Girod became mayor of New Orleans. He spent the following years renovating a posh home there, where Bonaparte could reside following his escape from Saint Helena.
Chris McCorkle / Flickr
But Napoleon never set foot on American soil. He succumbed to sudden stomach ailments at the age of 51. High levels of arsenic in his blood led many to believe he was murdered.
That poisoning was probably due to environmental contamination, not foul play. Even so, historians will continue to debate Bonaparte’s historical legacy until kingdom come. It’s amazing how little we actually know about some historical giants — just take a look at this titan from across the English Channel.
A literary know-nothing might think that there’s not much to Shakespeare besides his fluffy collar and bohemian earrings. However, recent scholarship indicates the writer weathered quite a turbulent personal life — one that likely inspired many of his greatest works.
William’s father, John, was the definition of the self-made man, at least at first. After finding initial business success and winning a local office, the man disgraced himself after it was discovered he got involved in illegal trade and moneylending. His deeds cast a shadow upon the Shakespeare name.
First Foot Films
That dishonor surely affected William’s focus on money problems and corrupt power in his work, as well as compelled him to adopt a different trade. While his entire family was illiterate, he was educated at the New King’s School in Stratford-Upon-Avon, though he didn’t plan on becoming a playwright.
Instead, Shakespeare first took to the theater as an actor. Later on, he certainly appeared in supporting roles in many of his own plays, including as the ghost in Hamlet. But the early part of his career would be rather quiet.
Royal Shakespeare Company
As a matter of fact, William became a family man at just 18. After learning about the pregnancy of his older sweetheart Anne Hathaway — no, not the modern actress — they tied the knot and welcomed three children into the world.
Anne Hathaway / Instagram
From there, nobody knows exactly how the Bard occupied himself for some time. There’s no written mentions of him anytime between 1585 and 1592, though he probably spent those years raising his family and dabbling in writing. But the historical record would soon mention him in a big way.
Sony Pictures Classics
The first mention of Shakespeare as a writer was actually an insult! Prominent playwright Robert Greene called young William an “upstart Crow,” or a mediocre creator who “supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you.”
The Bedford Falls Company
Of course, Shakespeare’s stature only grew from there. Many audiences saw his plays because he helped build the famous Globe Theatre. Strangely enough, William and his colleagues — wielding axes instead of quills — borrowed the materials from a nearby playhouse that had recently closed.
Halcyon London International School
And shady dealings at the Globe didn’t end there. In Renaissance England, it was customary for theaters to act as a legitimate front for various criminal enterprises. Though there’s no hard evidence, Shakespeare may have had ties to thieves, thugs, and pimps.
Not unlike his father, William cut corners in business practices. Surviving financial documentation shows that he might have skipped out on taxes, and he made some money on the side by price gouging grain during a food shortage. Still, Shakespeare didn’t face any consequences.
His stature as a poet and author catapulted Shakespeare into the upper echelon of society. He was acquainted with the mighty Queen Elizabeth I and included a number of references to her in his stage works.
Shakespeare seemed to be quite the social butterfly, as he gained a reputation as a skilled matchmaker. Aspiring Romeos and Juliets around London apparently consulted him to find their perfect mate and broker marriage deals between families.
Tragically, the Bard’s own family life was far from fruitful. He was bereft when his only son, Hamnet, died at age 11. While his two daughters lived two adulthood, they failed to produce a lasting family line. Shakespeare has no direct descendants today.
Similarly, little of Shakespeare’s actual written work exists. While his plays and poems have been reprinted everywhere, the only surviving manuscript we have is a set of notes that he wrote for a friend’s controversial play called Book of Sir Thomas More, which was never staged.
One perplexing fact from Shakespeare’s collected letters is that he constantly spelled his name in different ways, with his surname appearing as “Shakspeare, “Shappere”,” and “Shaxberd.” All in all, the playwright used over 80 variations.
Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship
Ultimately, much of Shakespeare’s legacy went up in literal flames. During a 1613 production of Henry VIII, a prop cannon malfunctioned and shot sparks all over the wooden Globe Theatre. While this incident only caused minor injuries, the entire playhouse burned to the ground.
Shakespeare himself died of mysterious causes just a few years later, in 1616, despite being in good health immediately before. He requested that his tombstone be inscribed with a curse, probably in an attempt to ward off grave robbers. Though that’s not the end of Will’s story…
If it weren’t for Shakespeare’s friends John Heminges and Henry Condell editing and rereleasing his plays, his masterpieces could have been lost forever. Like other artists, the Bard’s popularity grew by leaps and bounds after his death, though this prominence has raised some questions.
Due to his incredibly large, diverse body of work, some scholars question whether Shakespeare truly wrote all of his plays. Christopher Marlowe and Edward de Vere have been named as possible authors of some works. Others proposed that “William Shakespeare” might have actually been a pen name!
More recent author cover-ups have been pulled off, after all. Back in the 1980s, Steve Brown got a job at his local bookstore. Unfortunately, the voracious reader spent most of the day ringing up orders and re-shelving books moved by mischievous kids. But his heart raced when he opened a new shipment.
On that 1985 morning, Olsson’s Books in Washington, D.C. was abuzz over display of fresh hardcovers. Steve grabbed a copy and tore through a chapter whenever he got a chance. Its author was making ripples in literary circles, after all.
The Georgetown Metropolitan
Steve’s fingers trembled as he turned each page of Thinner, written by Richard Bachman. It concerned a sleazy lawyer who, after killing an old Gypsy woman, is cursed to lose a staggering amount of weight each day. The story was yet another hit!
Thinner marked the fifth entry in Bachman’s bibliography — after Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man — but it stood out from the rest. For one thing, this novel involved a supernatural entity. Then there was also the matter of its prose.
It seemed like a ripoff of the leading horror writer of the past decade. Steve recalled, “When I read an advance copy of Thinner, I was no more than two pages into it when I said, ‘This is either Stephen King or the world’s best imitator.'”
However, Bachman came off as a completely different personality than King. In contrast to the colorful Maine-based author, the Thinner author was older and more reclusive. Steve heard some unusual rumors about his past, too.
Reddit / HunterHearstHemsley
Apparently, Bachman worked as a chicken farmer for most of his life before he ever sat in front of a typewriter. He was also severely disfigured, according to some other accounts, though Steve thought his author photo looked extremely normal.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / Jack Orton
Still, just like Wendy Torrance in The Shining, Steve was petrified by what he saw on the pages of King’s and Bachman’s books. The similarities ran too deep, and the book clerk swore he would get to the bottom of the matter.
Being highly resourceful when it came to archived materials, Steve visited the Library of Congress and requested all of Bachman’s copyright documents. He scanned through the paperwork and found a startling pattern almost immediately.
Library of Congress
Nearly every title was under the name of Kirby McCauley — a man best known as King’s literary agent! Moreover, Steve noticed that Richard Bachman’s author photo bore a striking resemblance to Kirby. The plot around Thinner thickened.
George R.R. Martin
Clearly, Richard Bachman had close ties to Stephen King, or was perhaps working with him. Steve decided to direct his questions to the horror maestro himself. He penned a letter to King, outlining his findings. Maybe Steve could write an article about the mystery.
However, the bookstore worker never got the chance. A couple of weeks later, he was hard at work when he heard his boss call out his name on the intercom. There was a phone call waiting for him, and it was urgent.
Steve could hardly breathe as the voice on the other end launched into a rapid-fire conversation. It asked, “Steve Brown? This is Steve King. All right. You know I’m Bachman. I know I’m Bachman. What are we going to do about it?”
The Toronto Star
King invented the entire persona of Bachman, meaning that Steve’s wildest theory came true. The author was surprisingly friendly about the big discovery and offered him an inclusive interview. But the question remained: why would a best-selling author use a pen name?
Steve learned King’s stunning productivity was responsible. He restlessly churned out multiple tomes each year, but his publishers feared saturating the market. Rather than hold off on his latest work — the in-progress classic Misery was the current example — he attributed them to his alter-ego.
Castle Rock Entertainment
In addition, King was curious if his newer works, particularly those that were a less horror-centric, could find their own audience. His first attempted pseudonym was Guy Pillsbury. He immediately dropped it, however, once publishing insiders discovered that was the name of King’s grandfather.
By that point, King needed to invent a name in a hurry. He noticed a paperback on his desk by Richard Stark — a moniker used by mystery author Donald E. Westlake. That was half of the answer King needed.
The New York Times / David Jennings
At that same moment, King’s office sound system was spinning a record by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, so the author decided to publish those books as Richard Bachman. Naturally, he dropped the act after Steve’s revelation. But Bachman still played a key role in King’s subsequent career.
King’s dynamic with his alter-ego inspired the 1989 novel The Dark Half, and he cameoed as a biker called Bachman on Sons of Anarchy. King enjoyed telling the story of how he came up with the name too, though it wasn’t the only time real-life events got his creative juices flowing.
The Linson Company
Years earlier, the author was struck by the Stanley Hotel, located deep within the Rockies. At first glance, it was a large and well-maintained inn that housed a variety of guests and events. However, the hotel possessed a rather creepy history.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
The story of the Stanley Hotel began in 1903 when American inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley, founder of the carpet cleaning service company Stanley Steamers, landed on his deathbed with a severe case of tuberculosis. Following medical advice, he and his wife ventured out to Colorado for the therapeutic mountain air.
After a few calm weeks, Freelan became bored of the rural living. So, he and his wife, who had a lot of money, designed a massive 48-room Georgian mansion on 160 acres of land, complete with lavish luxuries to attract guests.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
When their vision was completed and finally opened to the public in 1909, people took interest in it. Snagging a room at the Stanley was a sign of wealth, and everyone who wanted to flaunt their finances showed up.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
Indeed, business at the Stanley Hotel was booming right from the start. Though not too long after its grand opening, guests began reporting unusual things happening.
Patrons of the hotel frequently heard strange noises echoing through the winding halls and empty corridors. Many left with an eerie feeling, but it wasn’t until a popular author stayed overnight in the ’70s that the hotel truly developed its frightening reputation.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
Stephen King, his wife Tabitha, and their son sought refuge in the hotel one wintry evening. They were the only guests in the entire place, which was creepy on its own, but what happened to King while he slept truly chilled him to the bone.
In the dead of night, a nightmare haunted King: a demonic presence was chasing his son all throughout the halls of the hotel. Even after waking, King couldn’t shake the horrible feeling, and he turned his experience into perhaps his most popular novel, The Shining.
The room King and his family stayed in was number 217, which was changed to 237 in the film adaptation of his book. But, there was actually a sinister history to room 217, which may have explained King’s terrifying ordeal.
Duncan PJ / Flickr
In 1911, two years after the hotel opened, there was a severe gas leak in the room unbeknownst to any of the hotel staff. The head housekeeper went in, lit a candle, and was killed instantly when the gas exploded. Her spirit allegedly never left the room.
But Room 217 is not the only area of the hotel said to be haunted. Many visitors claim to have heard the music of a piano coming from the concert hall, even though the room was empty. Some even swore they saw the piano’s keys moving on their own.
There’s also an entity known as “Paul” who apparently haunts the hallways of the hotel. He was once an employee whose job it was to ensure guests followed the 11 p.m. curfew. People claim to hear the words “get out” murmured after dark.
One of the spookiest presences said to roam the hotel corridors is a 13-year-old girl named Lucy. As the story goes, she ran away from home and hid in the basement of the hotel. When employees found her, they tossed her out into the cold, and she froze to death.
Need proof of Lucy? Well, this was a picture taken by a hotel guest named Stephanie Reidl. The photo captures what looks like a small girl dressed in pink standing in front of the wall, but Stephanie adamantly denied there was ever a young girl on her hotel tour that day.
Here’s another unsettling photo taken by a family from Aurora, Colorado, during one of the hotel’s “spirit tours.” You can clearly see the shape of a young girl dressed in white walking down the grand staircase; the family swears the girl wasn’t there when they snapped the picture.
Jessica Martinez-Mausling / Facebook
Of course, all the sightings of apparent ghosts and otherworldly energies do little to deter guests from booking rooms. People from all over flock to the Stanley to hopefully get a dose of the excitement — and the scares — it offers.
The hotel completely embraces the fact it was the basis for The Shining. Decorating the walls of every room are stills from the movie and artwork dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s terrifying vision.
In fact, every Halloween, the hotel hosts a massive costume party that anyone can attend. Everyone dresses up to the nines and parties all night long. It’s a fantastically fun way to honor America’s most haunted hotel!
Both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick helped the Stanley Hotel become a massive tourist attraction. If the spirit of Freelan Oscar Stanley does, in fact, watch over the premise, it makes you wonder what he thinks of everything…
Are you the kind of person who likes to get spooked? There are plenty of haunted locations throughout the country, like the Shanley Hotel in Napanoch, New York. It’s more than just the subject of some silly ghost stories. What people have seen there is just terrifying.
The Shanley Hotel is widely considered the East Coast’s most haunted hotel, to the point that you actually must sign a waiver if you want to stay there, and they don’t allow any guests under the age of 16.
It’s located in the quiet town of Napanoch, New York, at the heart of the Shawangunk Mountains, and features 35 rooms, as well as a hidden chamber in the basement. Most notably, of course, is the countless paranormal activity reported on the property.
This may have something to do with its tragic history. It was built in 1895, and since then the owner’s three children died as infants and an on-site barber’s daughter died after falling into a well. Several other people have gone missing, suffered accidental deaths, or were murdered.
Though there has been supernatural activity reported in every part of the hotel throughout the day, there is a part of the building that was once a speakeasy and brothel in the Prohibition era which remains the most haunted area.
Investigators have confirmed that there is indeed paranormal activity in the “Bordello,” with guests experiencing problems such as shortness of breath and alternating feelings of joy and sadness when they enter the room.
Other strange events reported in the Shanley Hotel include whistles and footsteps (supposedly from the spirit of former owner James Shanley), laughing children when no children are present, and even the sight of apparitions and mysteriously moving objects!
We can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to spend a night here, but America isn’t the only place to shack up with some ghosts. Near a waterfall in the jungles of Colombia sits a strange sight: A massive stone European-style mansion built right into the side of a hill.
The stunning building overlooking the Bogota River and the Tequendama Falls. Was once one of the premier destinations in the entire country, until it sat abandoned for decades. As nature reclaimed the structure, sinister rumors swirled the countryside.
The building was designed and constructed as a mansion in 1923 by architect Carlos Arturo Tapias, for some of Colombia’s wealthiest citizens. It was known for its great beauty and the magnificent view of the falls.
According to local lore, during the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, native Colombian people in the area would jump off the waterfall and become eagles to fly to their freedom, escaping slavery.
The mansion itself, however, served as a venue for indulgence and excess for over 60 years. Carlos was famous for throwing over-the-top parties for the colombian elites. If you went to a party at this place, you were basically a celebrity.
In 1928, just five years after the mansion was built, an addition was complete and Carlos’s mansion became a hotel. And not just any hotel, but the most luxurious hotel the country had ever seen!
When Hotel del Salto first opened it attracted people from all over the world. The architecture was classic and the views were stunning. Carlos Tapias had truly created a destination in his beloved Colombia.
But in the 1950s there became a demand to expand the hotel. The actual construction, however, was slow to begin due to the precarious integrity of the original structure. In the end, no work was ever done the expand Hotel del Salto.
Increasingly heavy pollution in the Bogota river made the whole area stink mightily. People began to leave the area in droves and soon the hotel was abandoned and completely overtaken by nature.
According to local legends, the spirits of the many people who died on the falls during the Spanish conquest in South America and those that later came and followed in their footsteps, still haunt the mansion.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that the Institute of Natural Sciences of the National University of Colombia decided to convert the structure into a museum as part of their efforts to rehabilitate the area. Even so, the building is still believed to be cursed.