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History of the World: Four Goofy Things About the Crusades

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Coming soon, to a bookstore or online retailer near you: the Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits. Around here, we like to call it "MFHOTWAIRTCBB." Until the book's October 28th release date, we're going to treat you guys to snippets from the book we find especially interesting. Today's topic: the Crusades, an excerpt right from MFHOTWAIRTCBB. Catchy, right?

Peter the Hermit

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A French priest who got harassed when he tried to visit the Holy Land and helped recruit volunteers for "the Peasants' Crusade," part of the First Crusade in 1096, Peter the Hermit lost 25 percent of his force on the way. Most of the rest were killed or captured by the Turks while he was elsewhere. Peter tried to desert when he and his Crusaders were caught in a Muslim siege of the city of Antioch, then talked the besieged Crusaders into attacking the besiegers, who promptly slaughtered them. After the Crusaders took Jerusalem, Peter went back to Europe.

Walter the Penniless

A French knight who wasn't actually broke, Walter got his name when later historians mistook his French surname Sans Avoir, as "without means" instead of as a reference to the Avoir Valley. Anyway, he co-led the Peasants' Crusade with Peter, and was in charge when most of the Crusaders got wiped out. That included Walter.

The Goose Crusade

According to Jewish historians, a fanatical group of German peasants decided in 1096 that a goose had been "blessed by God." They followed it around for a while, and along the way attacked and killed any Jews they encountered.

The Children's Crusade

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Sometime in 1212, large groups of poor people wandered around France and Germany, and the word got around that thousands of children were marching to the Holy Land. It was probably more aimless shuffling of homeless people than a crusade, but a bunch of kids apparently did show up in Marseille to seek passage to the Holy Land. Most of them ended up being sold into slavery in North Africa.

Picture 4.pngIt's the greatest deal in the history of history books! Our first hardback, The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through History's Best Bits, hits stores later this month, and we're so excited that we've teamed up with the fine folks at Amazon.com to give you a special deal. Pre-order the book before October 27th and we'll throw in 6 FREE MONTHS of mental_floss magazine! Just click here to get the deal now.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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