Before he was a statue in Washington DC; before Emancipation and Gettysburg; before he was considered the greatest president in history, Abraham Lincoln was a lanky young man working for a shopkeeper named Denton Offutt in New Salem, Illinois. Denton loved young Lincoln—the kid was, after all, a lean 6’4” tall. Considering how people in those days were shorter than they are now, he could safely have been considered “giant.” Offutt was proud that he’d managed to get such an impressive specimen to work his store, and he would brag about Abe’s strength to anyone who would listen.
Eventually, some folks around New Salem got a little tired of Offutt’s boasting. If this kid was so strong, maybe it was time for him to prove it. Eventually, Bill Clary, who owned a saloon in town, bet Offutt $10 that Lincoln couldn’t throw a local bully named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong, a formidable young man himself, was the leader of a gang of toughs known as the Clary’s Grove Boys. They were known to pull playful “pranks”—like forcing anyone new to town into a barrel, nailing it shut, then rolling them down a hill. And wouldn’t you know it, Lincoln had just moved to New Salem that year.
Offutt took the bet, and word started to get around that a fight for the ages was going to take place: the stockboy versus the Clary’s Grove champion. In the two days between when the bet was placed and when the fight occurred, folks from as far away as 50 miles caught wind of the bout. Many made the trip into town to watch, with plenty more money getting put down on the outcome. Though this was hardly Wrestlemania, Lincoln v. Armstrong certainly had an audience—and the future President did not disappoint.
Lincoln and Armstrong could not have been built more differently. Lincoln was tall, but lean, weighing just around 180 pounds. Armstrong, on the other hand, was shorter, but powerfully built. Perhaps some of the people in town thought Armstrong’s greater age would be an advantage, or that Lincoln was too skinny to be able to overpower his opponent. Those people were wrong.
Lincoln easily managed to keep Armstrong at bay with his longer reach. Apparently, Armstrong quickly realized he didn’t have a chance and tried to resort to illegal tactics. But this was Honest Abe he was dealing with—he doesn’t abide by those who flaunt the rules so brazenly. Enraged, Lincoln decided it was time for the fight to end. He stormed in and grabbed Armstrong by the throat, shaking him like a rag doll before slamming him to the ground.
That’s right. Lincoln beat Armstrong with a chokeslam.
The crowd no doubt exploded after a finale fit for Monday Night Raw, but not everyone was happy. The Clary’s Grove Boys were apparently not too pleased to see their leader manhandled so easily. In one version of the story, the lot of them backed Lincoln up to the wall of Offutt’s store. Lincoln knew he couldn’t take them all at once, but he didn’t back down, offering to fight them all one at a time.
Just as it looked like things were about to turn ugly, Armstrong got up and called off his dogs. Even he had to admit, Lincoln had beaten him fair and square. He called Abe “the best feller that ever broke into this settlement,” and the two of them buried the hatchet—the start of a lifelong friendship.
Lincoln didn’t hang up the gloves after defeating Armstrong. He came from a family of wrestlers (his Uncle Mord was apparently just as fearsome), and he would end up fighting in around 300 bouts in his career—though his fights weren’t exactly what one might picture when we think of wrestling today. Rather, Lincoln competed in what’s known as “catch-as-catch-can” wrestling, a test of sheer brute strength with very few rules. It was a popular sport back in the day, Lincoln was one of the best.
The future-president was nearly unstoppable, and he knew it. Honest Abe even dabbled in a little bit of trash talk at the height of his career: In one fight, after easily dispatching his opponent he looked to the crowd and shouted “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns!” Okay, it might not sound too intimidating today, but in the 19th century, those were some fightin’ words.
Lincoln was so good that in his 300 or so matches, he only lost a single time, while he was with the Illinois Volunteers in the Black Hawk Indian uprising of 1832. A 23-year-old Lincoln was leading a company, and his men loved the fact that their towering Captain was a monster in the ring. Like old Denton Offutt, Lincoln’s company bragged throughout their camp that not a single soldier in the Army could throw Lincoln. 299 times out of 300, that boast would hold up—this was the other time.
A soldier from another company, a man named Lorenzo “Hank” Thompson, took up the challenge. Lincoln was a big man, sure, but Thompson was no small town bully—he was so large that Lincoln said he looked like he “could have thrown a grizzly bear.” This didn’t worry Lincoln’s men though, and they bet whatever they had on them on their Captain: money, whiskey, knives, blankets, anything to spice up the monotony of camp life.
Before the fight started in earnest, Lincoln and Thompson grappled a bit to get a feel for each other’s ability. After a few minutes of this, Lincoln leaned over to his men and said, “Boys, this is the most powerful man I ever had a hold of.” There’s no word on how audibly the soldiers in his company gulped, but I’m sure more than a few of them were gazing over at their bets with regret.
Lincoln finally met his match in Thompson. Thompson scored the first point with relative ease, and even though the second throw looked like a draw, Lincoln knew he was licked. He looked to his men once again and said, “Boys, give up your bets. If this man hasn’t throwed me fairly, he could.” For the only time in his career, Old Abe admitted defeat. His men no doubt missed their belongings, but one loss in 300 is a pretty darn impressive record, any way you look at it.
Abraham Lincoln’s face is printed on the US penny and $5 bill. The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most popular sites in Washington DC. Those trinkets are all well and good, but the man is also memorialized in one of America’s most prestigious institutions: He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992.
Now, to be fair, he’s not the only President who excelled at wrestling. George Washington was a school champion at the Reverend James Maury’s Academy in Virginia; William Taft was the same at Yale, where he earned the nickname “Big Bill” for his prowess in the ring. And of course, we can’t forget about Donald Trump’s appearance at Wrestlemania 23. But none of those presidents can claim to only have one loss in 300 bouts.
So while Abraham Lincoln was arguably the greatest president of all time, topping more historical ranking lists than any other, I’d like to propose that another metric has been grossly overlooked. As far as I can tell, there is no historical ranking of presidents in regards to wrestling ability. However, if such a list were to ever exist, there’s little doubt that “Big Buck” Lincoln would top that one too—thankfully for him, Lorenzo Thompson was never elected.
Margaret and Roumania Peters: Forgotten Champions
On the Court
Today, women tennis champions like Venus and Serena Williams get paid millions of dollars in endorsement deals, prize winnings, and celebrity appearances. But for a long time, the sport was not only an amateur pastime—leaving even its top athletes unable to make a living from their talent—it was also heavily segregated by race.
In America, black athletes were effectively barred from playing against white athletes, and thus barred from competing in the most publicized matches, until 1950—when Althea Gibson (a tennis player herself) competed against a white player. As a result, the world never saw what many of the top athletes of the 1930s and 1940s were truly capable of. In fact, it almost never saw them at all.
If it had, maybe we would more easily remember the great tennis sisters who came before Venus and Serena: Margaret and Roumania Peters.
Tennis Stars Are Born
Margaret Peters was born in 1915, and in 1917, her little sister Matilda Roumania followed. The two girls were almost inseparable growing up in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC, so when Margaret began playing tennis at around 10 years old, it was only natural that Roumania (as she was known) joined too.
Their beginnings were humble: the two girls often played in Rose Park, located near their house, on terrain that was hardly Wimbledon-worthy. As Roumania later recalled, the court had “sand, dirt, rocks, everything. We would have to get out there in the morning and pick up the rocks, and sweep the line and put some dry lime on there.”
Nonetheless, their hard work paid off, and soon they were playing with the American Tennis Association. As this was still a segregated, Jim Crow-era America, the ATA was an exclusively African American league. In 1936, Margaret and Roumania attended the annual ATA tournament; Roumania made it all the way up the brackets, losing only in the finals.
And that was just the beginning.
Pete and Repeat
At that ATA tournament in 1936, both girls were scouted and then recruited as tennis players for Tuskegee University, a historically black college. At the time, Margaret was 21 years old and Roumania was only 19—and not yet finished high school. When they were both offered full, four-year scholarships, Margaret agreed to the deal only if she could wait until Roumania was old enough to enroll in Tuskegee. They entered the school together the next year.
Margaret and Roumania attended Tuskegee from 1937 to 1941, honing their skills and rising up in the ATA ranks. Most good athletes have signature moves, and the Peters sisters became particularly known for their slice serves, which used an underspin to keep the ball low, as well as their chop shots, which used a now-rare technique that returns a serve with an underspin.
Yet while both girls were talented singles players, they really shone together—earning them the nicknames “Pete” and “Repeat.” They won no less than 14 doubles titles in their tenure as world-class athletes, a record for the time. This understandably gained them fame, and the girls performed for luminaries like Gene Kelly, as well as members of the British royal family. Black theater owners would even show the Peters’ matches in cinemas.
But there was a big problem.
For all their fame, the Peters siblings were stymied by the state of both tennis and American culture in their prime years of the 1940s. For one, tennis only entered the professionally-oriented Open Era in 1968. Before this, players competing in most large tournaments had to be amateurs, and thus had to pay for their own equipment, transportation, and miscellaneous fees, all while getting no remuneration. For another, most of the prestige of tennis competition in the era was centered in whites-only clubs, leaving the Peters sisters out in the cold.
Times were changing, but far too slowly. In the late 1940s, African American superstar Althea Gibson rocketed through the tennis world, and after persistent lobbying the powers that be caved and invited Gibson to the Nationals in 1950, effectively breaking segregation. Gibson, however, was a full decade younger than Roumania Peters; by the time tennis opened up, the Peters girls were no longer at their full strengths.
This is not to say that they finished their careers unaccomplished. Aside from their 14 ATA doubles titles, Roumania also won multiple singles titles on her own individual steam. In fact, the youngest Peters sister won one of those titles against none other than Gibson herself; Roumania is still the only African American woman to have ever defeated the Grand Slam champion.
In 1977, the Peters were rightly inducted into the Tuskegee Hall of Fame—but by then, life was much different for the sisters.
The Retired Life
With the odds stacked against them, Margaret and Roumania simply couldn’t support themselves on tennis alone, but this didn’t mean they floundered. The two sisters got masters degrees—Margaret actually got two—and became teachers later in life, with Roumania even teaching at Howard University. Margaret remained unmarried, but in 1957, Roumania wed a man named James Walker, giving birth to two children, Frances Della and James George.
In 2003, while Venus and Serena Williams were dominating tennis, Roumania died at the age of 86. Never one to be too far apart from her little sister, Margaret died a year later, in 2004.
Gone and Not Forgotten
Just after the peak of their athletic careers ended, the Peters witnessed some of the biggest upheavals of the 20th century, inside the tennis world and beyond—from the desegregation of the sport to the wholesale Civil Rights Movement. Though many may not remember their names today, Margaret and Roumania Peters were an essential foundation of this history—not just for women’s tennis or African American players, but for tennis as a whole.
How Did Bob Marley Die?
Jim Morrison. Kurt Cobain. Jimi Hendrix. Many talented musicians have died tragically young from the self-destructive habits of their superstar lifestyle. But while we often place reggae singer Bob Marley in the ranks of these rock gods gone too soon, few people know the truth about Marley’s early death. So how did Bob Marley die?
RIP Bob Marley
Bob Marley wasn’t necessarily known for fast and reckless living; a Rastafarian icon, Marley infused reggae music with his spiritual beliefs of gentle love and beautiful harmony. Yet on May 11, 1981, he died at just 36 years old. It felt sudden, but those who knew him had actually spent years preparing for his death.
That’s because back in 1977, the legendary singer was diagnosed with a malignant, and eventually fatal melanoma just underneath one of his toenails. When he died fewer than five years after his diagnosis, Marley was deeply mourned in both his home country of Jamaica and around the world.
His death was tragic, but there’s much more to the story than that.
Death Comes for Marley
You see, many people believe that Marley could have been saved.
When the cancer was first diagnosed, Marley’s doctors suggested amputating the toe to give him a better chance for survival. However, the singer refused. Although this might seem irrational, he actually had a good reason: his religious beliefs prevented him from amputating, as Rastafarian tenets state that the body is a temple and that no part of it should be cut off.
Instead, Marley went with a less invasive but ultimately less effective procedure. He simply had the nail and nail bed removed with the help of a skin graft from his thigh. Ever the trooper, Marley and his band continued planning the world tour for the album Uprising, even after finding out about the cancer. The tour saw Marley reach new heights, playing his biggest-ever crowd in Milan and even playing the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York. For now, it seemed like the storm had passed.
But dark days were coming.
Die Another Day
Near the end of the Uprising tour, Marley’s illness had taken a toll on his body, and it began to show. Just two days before a concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in September 1980, Marley suddenly collapsed while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors performed a series of tests—and the results were devastating.
The tests revealed that the small melanoma from his toe had spread over the past three years, and was now infecting his brain. In an incredible feat, Marley still made it out to his scheduled Pennsylvania show, but this appearance would be the last concert of his world tour. His team canceled the rest of legs, and Marley—again partly in accordance with his religious beliefs—began to seek out alternative medicines to fight for his last scraps of life rather than submit to chemotherapy.
It was a radical, peaceful choice in keeping with his religion, but it did not delay his death.
Although Marley tried to keep the cancer at bay by eschewing certain food and drinks, after eight months it became clear that the end was near for the cultural icon. The alternative methods had not stymied the cancer. Bravely facing up to his fate, Marley made a heartbreaking decision to go back to Jamaica to live out his days.
But in a cruel twist of fate, he was denied the chance to die in his beloved homeland.
In May 1981, a very sick Marley was traveling home from Germany to Jamaica. In the middle of the flight, his vitals plummeted. When the plane landed in Miami, Florida, he was rushed to the hospital so doctors could try to save his life.
This time, however, there was no hope to be had: Bob Marley died in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami. Before he left this world, though, Marley had one last act to finish.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Just before he died, with the melanoma rapidly spreading into his lungs and deeper into his brain, Marley gave his son Ziggy some final advice, father to son: “Money can’t buy life.” They were fitting words for a man who lived by his own harmonious principles and died on his own terms.
After his death, the world felt robbed of one of its brightest stars. There was one consolation: in the end, Marley made it to Jamaica. The country gave him a state funeral on May 21, 1981, following Rastafarian traditions for the ceremony. He was buried alongside his guitar in a chapel near where he was born.
During the funeral, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Edward Seaga gave the eulogy, saying that, “Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.”
To Die, to Sleep, Perchance to Dream
The story of how Bob Marley died is not one of partying and excess, but of a principled man unwilling to compromise for modern medicine. In many ways, this makes him an even more tragic figure than some of his fellow fallen rock stars. The melanoma that killed him at the age of 36 might have been managed and eventually defeated, had he only wanted it.
This, however, was not the way that Marley chose to go. Instead, he fought the cancer in his own way, and succumbed when it was his time. It was his life, and he chose how to leave it. Though he is still dearly missed, we have his many albums and inedible songs to help remember him by.
Rest in peace, Bob Marley.
The King Who Fell To Earth: The Life And Mysterious Death Of Albert I Of Belgium
Albert I was King of the Belgians at a very tumultuous time in the country’s history. He ruled through World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, and oversaw his nation’s reconstruction after the War ended. Despite such an eventful reign, it’s not this that he’s remembered for—it’s his sudden and tragic demise in a mountaineering accident. The circumstances surrounding his death immediately drew suspicion, leading to the rampant spread of rumors and conspiracy theories about the monarch’s tragic end. So what really happened to King Albert of Belgium on that fateful day?
A Death in the Family
Albert I was born on April 8, 1875, the grandson of the first King of the Belgians, Leopold I, and the nephew of the reigning king, Leopold II. At that point, he was third in the line of succession, following his father and his older brother, but when Albert was just 16, tragedy struck. His brother, Prince Baudouin, died after a bout of the flu. He was only 21 years old. Prince Baudouin’s sudden death sparked many rumors and conspiracy theories—notably, one that said the Prince had died in a situation remarkably similar to the mysterious suicide of Prince Rudolf of Austria just two years earlier.
With the death of his older brother, Albert found himself in a position where he would inevitably become King of the Belgians. His father, Prince Philippe, although next in line for the throne, was already 54 at the time of the Prince Baudouin’s death. Prince Philippe would go on to pass away in 1905, while his older brother Leopold II was still on the throne. When Leopold II died in 1909, it was time for Albert to take his place as King.
By that time Albert had already married, to a Bavarian Duchess named Elisabeth, and the couple had had three children. The first few years of his reign went relatively smoothly, especially since his subjects regarded his stable home life favorably. In the final years of Leopold II’s reign, a public scandal had erupted over human rights abuses in the Congo, Belgium’s only colonial property. The Belgian government had wrested control of the colony from the monarch shortly before his death. Albert’s first few years of rule must have seemed like a fresh start after all the public disgrace that had been heaped on Leopold II over the episode. But all the goodwill in the world couldn’t make up for what would befall Albert—and Belgium itself—in the ensuing years.
At the outset of World War I, Belgium found itself stuck between Germany and France—and not just geographically. German forces demanded safe passage through to France, claiming that France planned to invade Belgium to get through to Germany anyway. Belgium refused Germany, leading the Germans to invade Belgium on August 3, 1914. As a result, Britain was then forced to declare war on Germany the next day.
Albert became commander of the Belgian Army and led numerous campaigns to drive the German forces back, but ultimately, his army wound up pushed back into a small area, where they remained entrenched for years. Albert fought alongside his men while his wife worked as a nurse, but the entire time, he tried to encourage other diplomats to negotiate peace with Germany, seeing the damage that the occupation was doing to his kingdom. The forces at war ignored his pleas, however, and eventually, Albert led the drive that liberated Belgium.
When the War ended, Albert and his family returned triumphantly to Brussels, where he spoke to his subjects about the future of the kingdom. He assisted in the Paris Peace Conference in April 1919, but his advice—to not punish Germany too harshly, in an attempt to quell future hostile behavior—was largely ignored, despite Belgium’s heavy losses during the War. He also did what he could to help rebuild his realm, working with the Belgian Ministry of Internal Affairs to create the King Albert Housing Fund for communities that had been destroyed, among other initiatives.
Tragedy in the Mountains
Albert was known to have a strong interest in mountaineering, so when he asked his driver to pull over so that he could go for a short climb on the afternoon of February 17, 1934, it wasn’t seen as an unusual request—although later, everything that led up to that moment would come into question. He was climbing the Roche du Vieux Bon Dieu in a Namurois village called Marche-les-Dames. Albert’s driver watched him navigate the rocks from where they’d parked. The moment the King went out of sight was the last time that he was seen alive.
As minutes turned into hours, the driver knew something was wrong—after all, the King had an engagement in Brussels to get to that night. He went to the nearby village to ask for help, and soon enough, a search party was formed. At around 2 AM, one of the volunteers stumbled across Albert’s body. He looked to have died of a massive head wound. Albert’s involved role in WWI had made him a name around the world, and when news broke of his tragic death, both his subjects and the rest of the world mourned.
Almost immediately after Albert’s death, whispers about foul play began to circulate. Yes, the king was aging—58 years old at the time he died—and his eyesight wasn’t perfect, but he was also an expert climber with many years of experience, including in solo climbs, under his belt. Many of those closest to him claimed that Albert had told them he planned to stop climbing—so why would he have undertaken such a dangerous climb alone?
One First World War hero-turned-fascist activist gave a speech in which he alleged that despite Albert’s actions during the war, the King’s push to negotiate peace during WWI had angered the wrong people, and that was the reason he’d been targeted for assassination. Others claimed that he must have been killed in another location and had his body dumped in the mountains as a convenient cover-up.
Beloved among his subjects, the area where Albert died became a place of pilgrimage, with many taking souvenirs from the site—rocks, leaves, other debris. A century later, one of these souvenirs would finally provide some insight into that fateful day, finally shutting down some of the more insidious conspiracy theories about the king’s death. A journalist found one souvenir hunter who had taken some blood-stained tree leaves from the site. He purchased the foliage, then had it sent for DNA testing. In 2016, the blood was compared to samples from some of Albert’s descendants, and it came back a match—meaning that the King had, in fact, died at the scene of the climbing accident.
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