In the year 222 – (1,795 years ago) – the eighteen-year-old Roman emperor Elagabalus was ambushed and beheaded in a plot instigated by his own grandmother. Some historians portray him as an eccentric who alienated Romans by appointing unqualified people to high positions, forcing changes to public religion and rituals, and violating sexual taboos. For example, he married a Vestal Virgin while keeping a stable of male lovers. In some accounts, Elagabalus was not only fond of cross-dressing, but actually turned tricks as a prostitute, selling himself in taverns and in the imperial palace. The ancient Roman historian Cassius Dio claims that the emperor also offered huge sums of money, in vain, to any surgeon who could give him a sex change — and some recent authors have theorized that he may well have been transsexual or transgender. But other modern writers suspect that Elagabalus’s reputation was mostly fabricated after his death by the political rivals who killed him. After his headless body was dragged around Rome and dumped into the Tiber River, his name was removed from the official public record, and many of his political allies were also killed.
In 1864 – (153 years ago) – a tiny crack was noticed in a newly constructed earthen dam at Bradfield Reservoir in central England. In late afternoon, the crack was barely wide enough to accomodate a knife blade. But throughout the evening it steadily grew, provoking alarm among workers who finally resorted to using gunpowder in a desperate attempt to open an emergency spillway and relieve the water pressure. Their efforts failed, and just before midnight the dam collapsed, dumping almost seven hundred million gallons of water in a raging torrent that surged into the nearby industrial town of Sheffield. The flood killed some 250 people, and destroyed more than 400 houses, 20 bridges, and 100 factories and shops. The dam was one of only two designed by the civil engineer Sir Robert Rawlinson. His other dam lasted just twenty-nine years, requiring constant expensive repairs the whole time. In contrast, nine other dams built by Rawlinson’s rivals around the same time, and in the same area, are still in service today.
In 1918 – (99 years ago) – at Fort Riley, Kansas, Private Albert Gitchell, a US Army mess cook, was diagnosed with a new and unknown strain of the flu. He was the first confirmed victim of what soon became a worldwide influenza pandemic that killed from fifty to a hundred million people, mostly young adults, over the next three years. Though Gitchell’s was the first confirmed case, experts believe that the flu virus may have claimed other victims up to two years earlier — especially in Europe, where it flourished in the unsanitary conditions of the First World War. The virus eventually spread across the globe. The Brazilian island of Marajó, at the mouth of the Amazon, was the only populated area on earth to avoid infection.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi