Sunshine Skyway: The Day the Bridge Came Down

In 1980, a cargo freighter ran into one of the major bridges over Tampa Bay, collapsing it and killing 35 people. It was the worst shipping accident in Tampa’s history.


The rebuilt Sunshine Skyway bridge

Continue reading Sunshine Skyway: The Day the Bridge Came Down

The Republic of West Florida

Most people in the US today know about the Republic of Texas and the Republic of California. But few people remember that, for a brief time in 1810, portions of what are now Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were also established as an independent nation, known as the Republic of West Florida.


The Republic of West Florida

Continue reading The Republic of West Florida

Three Mile Island: A History of America’s Worst Nuclear Accident

In 1970, nuclear power was assumed to be the bright future of humanity, providing us with nearly limitless quantities of cheap clean energy for the foreseeable future. Instead, by 1980, nuclear power in the US was dead, and no new plants were being built. Part of the reason was the accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which remains the worst nuclear accident in the US and the third-worst in the world.


Three Mile Island nuclear power plant                    Photo from US Dept of Energy

Continue reading Three Mile Island: A History of America’s Worst Nuclear Accident

Skylab and the Sit-Down Strike in Space

It was a one-of-a-kind event: in 1972, during a mission on the Skylab space station, a group of American astronauts, frustrated by an unreasonable work schedule, organized their own version of a sit-down strike in space. They won all their demands, but in the end, NASA had its final revenge.


The Skylab 4 space strikers.                                                     photo from NASA

Continue reading Skylab and the Sit-Down Strike in Space

Ferdinandea: The Island that Everyone Wanted and Nobody Got

In 1831, four naval countries of Europe–Britain, France, Spain, and the then-independent kingdom of Sicily–argued over ownership of an island in the Mediterranean Sea. An island which lasted less than half a year before vanishing.


The Island of Ferdinandea, as drawn in the logbook of the first ship to see it.

Continue reading Ferdinandea: The Island that Everyone Wanted and Nobody Got

America’s First Roswell: The Aurora UFO Crash

Everyone is familiar with the story of Roswell, New Mexico, where an extraterrestrial
spaceship supposedly crashed and alien bodies were recovered and hidden by the US
Government. But if the flying saucer fans are to be believed, Roswell was not the first
time that alien space travelers died in a crash in the US. The first fatal extraterrestrial traffic accident happened in the tiny little village of Aurora, Texas, in 1897. And according to conspiracy fans, the dead alien pilot may still be there.


The “alien” grave marker at the Aurora cemetery.           photo from Wiki commons

Continue reading America’s First Roswell: The Aurora UFO Crash

“On Its Stomach”: The History of Military Rations

Napoleon once famously said that an Army travels on its stomach. And it is thanks to Napoleon that the modern world has canned food. Troops, of course, grumbled about the quality of their rations anyway—just as they always have throughout history.


Civil War troopers cooking salt pork on an open fire.    photo from WikiCommons

Continue reading “On Its Stomach”: The History of Military Rations

Pi-Ramesse: Egypt’s Oddest Mystery

During his reign, the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II built an extraordinary number of monuments in his capitol city, Pi-Ramesse. In later centuries, Pi-Ramesse was abandoned and forgotten, lost in the sands of the desert for thousands of years. In modern times, the location of the lost capitol of Ramses II was eagerly sought by archaeologists. But when Pi-Ramesse was finally found, it was in the wrong place–a place that did not even exist at the time of Ramses.


The mummy of Ramses II.                                           photo from Wiki Commons

Continue reading Pi-Ramesse: Egypt’s Oddest Mystery

Written in Bone: Archaeopteryx

In 1859, a British naturalist named Charles Darwin published a book that shook Victorian England to its core. Titled On the Origin of Species, Darwin’s book argued that all living organisms (and, by extension, humans too) had evolved from earlier more primitive ancestors over a long period of time through a process of evolution. And just two years after Origin of Species was published, “Darwin’s Theory” was spectacularly confirmed by a stunning fossil found in Germany.


A cast of Archaeopteryx and two dromeiosaur skeletons, on display at the Field Museum in Chicago

Continue reading Written in Bone: Archaeopteryx

Icons of Aviation: Fokker D7

In April 1918, just six months before the end of the First World War, Germany introduced what would be the best fighter plane of the war. Although it came too late to prevent Germany’s defeat, the Fokker D7 was test-flown by top ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron himself, and at the end of the war became the subject of its own special provision in the peace treaty.


Fokker D7 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Continue reading Icons of Aviation: Fokker D7

Forgotten mysteries, oddities and unknown stories from history, nature and science.