Amazing Coincidences

History is chock-full of odd and amazing coincidences. It’s not entirely surprising. After all, if you examine the history of millions of people over thousands of years, you’re certainly going to find some coincidences here and there. But that doesn’t make them any less amazing when they actually happen. Here are a few good examples:

– Late one night in 1863, a group of passengers gathered on a platform at a train station in Jersey City, New Jersey. A conductor walked up to sell tickets for the sleeping berths, and since it was late and everyone was tired, the crowd became quite excited. Few noticed a well-dressed young man in his twenties at the edge of the crowd, and even fewer noticed when the crowd accidentally pushed the man into the gap between the train and the platform. The man fell, and just at that moment the train started moving. The young man tried to lift himself back up to the platform, but found his arms pinned to his side. Just as the young man started to panic, he felt hands on either side of his collar. A pair of strong arms lifted the young man out of the gap and gently put him down on the platform. It took the young man a few seconds to recover, but when he did he noticed that the man who saved him was one of the most famous actors in the country (think Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt level famous). The young man was Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln. The famous actor who saved his life was Edwin Booth, older brother of John Wilkes Booth. More incredibly, Booth was traveling to Richmond, Virginia with… John T. Ford, owner of Ford’s Theatre… where Booth’s younger brother would shoot Lincoln’s father a couple of years in the future.

– Speaking of the Civil War, at the start of the conflict, both sides expected the war to be over in a matter of months. The Battle of First Manassas changed everyone’s mind. It was a huge victory for the Confederate Army, in large part due to the military acumen of Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard. At the start of the battle, Beauregard needed a building for his headquarters, and staff members found the house of Wilmer McLean perfect for the job. This, of course, made McLean’s house a giant target for Union gunners, and soon the Federals began shelling the house without mercy. After the battle, McLean decided that living directly between the US capital (Washington DC) and the Confederate capital (Richmond, Virginia) probably wasn’t the smartest place to be, so he decided to move somewhere out of the way. He couldn’t, however, make up his mind where to move, and in the meantime, The Battle of Second Manassas broke out in his back yard. McLean finally decided that enough was enough, so he moved his family to a small town called Clover Hill, Virginia. But guess what the town is known as today? Appomattox Court House. Yep, the place where the Battle of Appomattox Court House was fought on April 9, 1865. It was the last battle between the armies of Lee and Grant… and Lee signed his surrender in the parlor of the home belonging to… Wilmer McLean. McLean said that “the war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.” And he was right!

– American author Anne Parrish, a cousin of the more famous painter Maxfield Parrish, was wandering through Parisian bookshops with her husband one day. When she saw a copy of her favorite book from childhood – Jack Frost and Other Stories – she picked it up to show her husband, industrialist Charles Albert Corliss. Imagine his surprise when he opened the book and saw this written on the flyleaf: “Anne Parrish, 209 N. Weber Street, Colorado Springs”. How a book from Anne’s childhood ended up in Paris is a mystery.

– I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s too good to not repeat: in July 1975, a British man named Erskine Lawrence Ebbin died while on vacation in Bermuda when the moped he was riding on was struck by a taxi. This isn’t particularly amazing… until you hear that one year before, Ebbin’s older brother (also 17 at the time) was killed on the same street, while riding the same moped, by the same taxi driver, who was carrying the same passenger.

– Speaking of death, on July 28, 1900, Italy’s King Umberto I walked in to a small restaurant in Monza with his aide-de-camp, General Emilio Ponzia-Vaglia. When the restaurant’s owner came over to take their order, the king was shocked by how much the owner looked like him. It wasn’t just a passing resemblance – when they looked at each other, both felt as though they were looking in a mirror! Of course, the two talked about it, and in doing so they found out that they were both named Umberto. Both were born in Turin on March 14, 1844. Both married women named Margherita (it was the king’s wife for whom the “Margherita pizza” is named). The restauranteur had even opened his restaurant on the same day that Umberto was crowned King of Italy! The very next day, an aide walked up to the king to tell him that the restauranteur had been shot earlier that morning under odd circumstances, and just as the king began to express his condolences, he was shot four times by Italian-American anarchist Gaetano Bresci. Incidentally, Bresci was the first European to be convinced of regicide but not executed, as Italy had abolished capital punishment in 1899. Also, American anarchist Leon Czolgosz said that Bresci inspired him to assassinate President William McKinley in September of 1901.

– The “She Probably Won’t Win ‘Mom of the Year’ Award” entry goes to a mother in 1930s Detroit. In 1937, a street sweeper named Joseph Figlock was cleaning an alley when a year-old baby named David Thomas fell from a fourth storey window. Luckily, the baby landed on Figlock’s head, and neither the street sweeper nor the baby were seriously injured. In October 1938, the same baby fell yet again, and his fall was once again broken by Figlock. According to most of the websites that repeat the story, Thomas fell from the same window; however, the October 17, 1938 edition of Time magazine says that the family had moved, and that Thomas fell from a different window.

– In 1973, actor Anthony Hopkins accepted the role of “Kostya” in the film adaptation of George Feifer’s novel The Girl From Petrovka. Hopkins wanted to read the book, but couldn’t find a copy in any of London’s bookstores. In fact, he spent a entire day going from bookstore to bookstore, but came up empty-handed. Tired from his fruitless search, Hopkins sat on a bench at the Leicester Square tube station whilst waiting for his train. He then noticed, to his complete surprise, an abandoned copy of the book sitting on the bench next to him. He took the book home and read it, but was confused by the enormous number of odd symbols marked in red ink throughout the book. Some months later, Hopkins met Feifer in Vienna while shooting the film. As they chatted, Feifer talked about all the trouble he’d had with the book: the first American edition contained so many errors that his publisher had given up trying to fix them. Instead, they wanted Feifer to “de-Anglicize” the British edition of the book (by changing “colour” back to “color”, for instance). Feifer said that he’d almost completed the task, but had lent the advance copy to a friend, who’d promptly lost it in London’s Bayswater neighborhood. You can see where this is going: Hopkins had miraculously found Feifer’s personal copy in Leicester Square! As the book had sentimental value to Feifer, Hopkins gladly returned it.

– In 1953, an American reporter named Irv Kupcinet was in London covering the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He was staying at the Savoy Hotel, and in one of the room’s drawers he found some personal items belonging to Harlem Globetrotter Harry Hannin. Oddly, Kupcinet knew Hannin, because he’d been a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times before switching over to TV. He wanted to call Hannin to tell him about the find, but was busy covering the coronation. Two days later, Kupcinet received a letter from Hannin, who was staying at the Hotel Meurice in Paris. It seems that Hannin had found one of Kupcinet’s ties in the drawers in his room in Paris!


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