Strange Coincidences

John Steele Gordon wrote a fascinating article in today’s Wall Street Journal that looked at coincidences, extremely unlikely things that happen more often than we perhaps realize. Here are some of the examples Gordon shared:

  • Sen. John McCain died Aug. 25 of a brain tumor, a glioblastoma. Sen. Ted Kennedy died of the same disease, also on Aug. 25, nine years earlier.
  • Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were the only signers of the Declaration of Independence to become president. They are also the only two presidents to have died on the same day, July 4, 1826. President James Monroe also died on July 4, but in 1831.
  • In the 1940s, the president of General Motors and the president of General Electric were each named Charles E. Wilson. They weren’t related. They were known as Engine Charlie and Electric Charlie to keep them straight. Chief Justice Earl Warren was succeeded on the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger.
  • In his only novel, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,” published in 1838, Edgar Allan Poe tells a story of a shipwreck where the starving survivors draw lots to see who will be killed so that the others can survive by eating his flesh. The man who lost was named Richard Parker. In 1884, a British yacht named Mignonette was lost in the South Atlantic. The survivors decided to sacrifice one so that the others could live. The man killed was named Richard Parker.
  • On Aug. 18, 1913, a roulette wheel in Monte Carlo came up black 26 times in a row. The odds against that happening are approximately 136,823,183 to 1. (about the same odds as someone reading my blog.)
  •  The first person killed building the Hoover Dam. was J.C. Tierney, who drowned on Dec. 20, 1922. The last man who died was Patrick Tierney, J.C.’s son, also on Dec. 20, 13 years later.
  • The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, set off World War I. He and his wife were riding in a car that bore the license plate A 111118. The war ended four years later when the armistice came into effect Nov. 11, 1918.

There were a few others, but those were my favorites. It reminded me of other unusual coincidences I have read about, and so I searched for some more. Here are some additional ones:

  • There are a lot of strange coincidences between John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. They were elected to Congress 100 years apart. Lincoln was elected in 1846 and Kennedy was elected in 1946. They were also elected as President 100 years apart; Lincoln in 1860 and Kennedy in 1960. They were both assassinated by Southerners, both shot on a Friday, and both shot in the head. They were also killed by two people with three names and those names each had 15 letters. After being assassinated, their successors had the last name of Johnson.
  • In 1975, a man riding a moped in Bermuda was struck by a taxi and killed. One year later, this man’s brother was riding the same moped his brother was on when he was killed. He was then struck by a taxi and died from his injuries. The coincidence is that it was the same tax driver and even the same passenger in the taxi that were involved in this accident.
  • Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835, the first day that Halley’s Comet appeared that year. When Twain passed away in 1910, it was also the first day of Halley’s Comet for that year! He actually predicted this would happen in 1909 when he said, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.”

And here’s one final batch I came across:

  • In Detroit, 1937, street sweeper Joseph Figlock was cleaning up an alley when a baby fell fromg a fourth-story window, struck him on the head and shoulders, injuring both Figlock and the baby. A year later, as Joseph Figlock was sweeping out another alley, two-year-old David Thomas fell from a fourth-story window, landing on Mr. Figlock with the same results.
  • The 19th-century King Umberto I of Italy was eating in a restaurant when he noticed the owner was a near-exact physical double. It emerged that both were born on the same day, in the same town, and had married women with the same name. The restaurateur had opened his establishment on the day of Umberto’s coronation. Umberto was shot dead on the day he learned the restaurateur had died in a shooting.
  • In 1965, at the age of four, Roger Lausier was swimming off a beach in Salem – he got into difficulties and was saved from drowning by a woman called Alice Blaise. In 1974, on the same beach, Roger was out on a raft when he pulled a drowning man from the water – amazingly, the man he saved was Alice Blaise’s husband.
  • Seventy-year-old twin brothers have died within hours of one another after separate accidents on the same road in northern Finland. The first of the twins died when he was hit by a lorry while riding his bike in Raahe, 600 kilometres north of the capital, Helsinki. About two hours later, his brother crossed the same road on his bicycle and was also hit and killed by a lorry.

While some of these are perhaps more credible than others, and some are written in a way to make it sound like the coincidence is perhaps more unusual than it really is, nonetheless, they are some fun stories to share next time you run out of things to say at a party (which coincidentally happens to me all the time…)

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