Hidden Histories

Histories researched and written by Mary Kay McBrayer.

f you’ve heard of Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra, but not Hatshepsut, you’re not alone. Hatshepsut was an exceptional ruler of Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty, from c. 1473 to 1458 BCE. Although all three women named above were powerful, only Hatshepsut was such a great ruler that her successor was jealous of her even after her death. So much so that he defaced her temples and monuments and inscribed his own insignia on top of them. 

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In 19th-century Egypt, Ahmed Abdel-Rassoul stumbled upon ancient antiquities on his family’s land, which he thought his family could sell and live off the profits for generations. The Abdel-Rassouls could not have expected to be accused of stealing history only to have French and British colonizers seize the artifacts and give them away to other Western nations, but that is exactly what happened.

Sometimes I beg my friend who’s still associated with a university system’s library to “just do me a quick search, Sara, please!” in the middle of the night so I can evade some particularly steep paywalls. My point is, I’m not a quitter. I have some strategies, and I don’t generally expect information to come easily.

It’s not until hunting down this particular Norse myth from Cold Earth that I’ve ever found almost nothing. And that creeps me out.

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Between sixteen to twenty feet below the surface of a natural spring named “Weeki Wachee” in central Florida—off the side of US 19—mermaids swim. These mermaids have been there, swimming, flipping, dancing, putting on lipstick, and drinking Grapette, since 1947—when a Navy man named Newton Perry had a stroke of genius. And they are still there today.

While at the hospital, Tarrare ate a meal intended for 15 German laborers, including two meat pies and four gallons of milk. When spurred by the military board that he should soon report once more for service, one doctor, M. Courville, had the idea to weaponize Tarrare’s skill. Courville had Tarrare to swallow a wooden box with a document inside. Two days later, when Tarrare returned from the latrine with both the box and the document in good condition, they decided to employ Tarrare as a spy. 

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Though this photograph in particular is immortalized in the popular consciousness, the Abdel-Rassoul family was famous—or rather infamous—generations before the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, though. Sheikh was a descendent of some of the most infamous tomb robbers Egypt has ever known.

Shortly after Solomon’s coronation, he dreamed that he talked directly to God, and God said, “Ask what I shall give thee.”

In the Bible, Solomon asks for wisdom; he desires to be a great and fair ruler. Because he didn’t ask for treasure, prestige, victory over his conquests, or any of the more typical things kings asked for, God made him the wisest man in the world—in addition to making him rich and powerful.

But in other texts, Solomon received more than just wisdom. Islamic traditions agree that Sulaiman (the Arabic name of Solomon) was uncommonly wise, but he also understood the language of birds, animals, and insects. Plus, when he asked God for wisdom, God gave him another gift, too: the ring called the Seal of Solomon—purported to grant dominion over evil djinn.

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In 1794 the people of Guadeloupe briefly tasted freedom. A woman named Solitude decided she’d rather die than go back into chains — but her heroism was nearly lost to history.

"The 19th-Century Nurse Who Was Secretly a Serial Killer" at Narratively

“Jolly Jane” Toppan overcame a miserable Dickensian childhood to become a medical professional patients adored. She was also slowly murdering them one by one.