CLOSE

4 Famous Fires and the Lessons They Taught Us

October is Fire Prevention Month, but let's face it, fire is deadly and we should be vigilant every month, period. Fire damage to human flesh and property can be devastating, and we should be aware of potential fire hazards and property safety procedures every day of the year. To drive this point home, we now continue a series we started last year that details the not-too-pleasant consequences of fire, and what precautions could have been taken to prevent such a disaster.

1. Cocoanut Grove, November 28, 1942

Boston, Massachusetts

The Cocoanut Grove supper club was located on Piedmont Street, a narrow cobblestoned road near Boston's Park Square theater district. Built in 1927, the main bar (the Melody Lounge) was located in the basement and operated as a blind pig during Prohibition. Once liquor was legal again, the Grove was expanded and by 1942 the ground floor consisted of a large dining room, a bandstand, and several smaller bar areas off the main dining room.

Accident Waiting to Happen
The Cocoanut Grove was festooned with Casablanca-type décor: fake palm trees made of flammable material that doubled as lamps, with yards of lush fabric draped along the walls and from the ceiling (some of which obscured the exit signs). The main entrance to the club was a single revolving door. Many of the alternate exits had been locked to prevent patrons from sneaking out without paying their tabs. The posted maximum capacity of the club was 460, yet there were over 1,000 patrons in attendance the night of November 28.

The Fire

Even though the official report lists the origin of the fire as "undetermined," most eyewitness accounts report that at around 10:15 p.m. a 16-year-old busboy had been ordered by management to replace a light bulb in one of the "palm trees" in the basement Melody Lounge that had been removed by a patron. Unable to find the light socket in the dark, the busboy struck a match in order to illuminate his working area. Moments later, several patrons watching the busboy noticed the decorations changing color. Suddenly the palm tree burst into flames and several waiters attempted to extinguish it with seltzer bottles. Patrons started rushing for the four foot wide staircase that led to the main floor. The ceiling drapes and furniture quickly caught fire, and toxic fumes filled the room. When the door to the main floor was finally opened, a fireball rolled up the stairs and burst into the foyer. Cries of "Fire!" erupted and most of the crowd rushed to the revolving door in an attempt to flee. The door quickly became clogged with an influx of hysterical patrons, and rescue personnel would later tearfully describe the scene as "people piled up like potato sacks." Those who had managed to escape had done so by following Cocoanut Grove employees who were familiar with corridors leading to the few unlocked (and unmarked) exit doors. Even though the firefighting crews (26 engine companies and five ladder companies) responded very quickly to extinguish the blaze, the major human damage had already been done, thanks to toxic fumes. The fire claimed 492 lives and seriously injured 166 survivors.

The Aftermath
The Cocoanut Grove tragedy led to some medical advances as well as building code revisions. Penicillin had not yet been tried on non-test subjects at that time, but doctors used it on Cocoanut Grove victims in an attempt to ward off infection. Its success helped to accelerate production of the drug for further study. The influx of so many burn victims at major Boston hospitals at one time led to major advances in several sub-specialties of burn treatment, including fluid retention, infection prevention, and respiratory trauma. Structurally speaking, new laws were enacted nationwide that mandated all revolving doors must be fitted with two outward-opening doors on each side, and decorations for public buildings had to be non-combustible. In addition, laws regarding illuminated exit signs and unlocked emergency exit doors, kept free of blockage by tables or decorations or any other obstructions, were added to the books.

2. MGM Grand Hotel, November 21, 1980

Las Vegas, Nevada

The MGM Grand Hotel was located on the famous "Strip" at the corner of East Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. It had opened in late 1973 and consisted of a large ground floor area that included the casino, show rooms, and several restaurants, and a below-ground "Arcade" level which housed shops, boutiques, a movie theater, service areas, and underground parking. The 26-story "high-rise" portion of the building was the hotel itself, which contained 2,083 guest rooms.

Accident Waiting to Happen
During construction, the hotel owners had skimped on, of all things, sprinkler systems. Installing sprinklers in the casino and the Deli restaurant (where the fire originated) would have added an additional $192,000 to the cost of the $106 million project. Savvy attorneys had found a loophole in the fire code: if an establishment was open for business 24 hours per day, ceiling sprinklers were not mandatory, because (supposedly) someone would always be in attendance to sound an alarm and initiate extinguishment. There were no smoke alarms or automatic fire alarms within the complex; there were manual pull-stations ("In case of fire, pull here") on each guest floor of the hotel, but they were rigged to contact the hotel switchboard, not the fire department.

The Fire
The Deli, a restaurant located at the east end of the Casino level, was open 24 hours a day when the MGM Grand first opened, but had since reduced its operating hours. Around 7:00 a.m. on November 21, an employee arriving for work cut through the then-closed Deli as per his usual routine and heard a "crackling" sound. He stepped in further and saw flames shooting up from a service station to the ceiling. He dialed security from a nearby phone and was asked, "Is it enough to roll the fire department?" he responded in the affirmative and then broke the glass to a nearby emergency fire hose and started to unwind it when a security guard rushed in and advised him against using water on an electrical fire. (It was later determined that the fire had started inside a nearby wall by faulty wiring used to refrigerate a food display cabinet.) In that short time, the smoke had become so thick that the two were forced to leave the building via some nearby fire exit doors. The flames spread rapidly, fed by the glue used for the decorative wallpaper and tiles throughout the building, which in turn filled the casino and hotel corridors with toxic fumes. The "eye in the sky" tunnel above the casino—used to house surveillance cameras—lacked any smoke dampers, which enabled black clouds to quickly permeate the building's air circulation system, spreading deadly fumes into the high-rise section of the complex. Of the 84 people who perished, only four died from burns; the rest died of smoke inhalation, many in their sleep (due to the lack of audible alarms).

The Aftermath
Investigators concluded that, at first ignition, the MGM Grand incident would have been a "one sprinkler fire" had proper equipment been in place. That is, the flames would have been contained and extinguished if The Deli had been outfitted with a sprinkler system. As a result, a new law went into effect in Las Vegas that required every casino to be retro-fitted with sprinkler systems. Additionally, stricter regulations were put into place regarding functional smoke dampers in all ductwork, as well as a proviso mandating that all public facilities in Clark County undergo a thorough fire safety inspection every two years.

3. Iroquois Theater, December 30, 1903

Chicago, Illinois

Located on W. Randolph Street, between State and Dearborn, the majestic six-story Iroquois Theater was described in promotional literature as a "virtual temple of beauty" and "absolutely fireproof." the latter description might seem like an unusual boast today, but at that time many folks in Chicago still had vivid memories of the Great Fire which had swept through their city 35 years prior. The Iroquois had three large audience levels and seated 1,790 people.

Accident Waiting to Happen
Despite the theater management's fire safety guarantee, a Chicago fire department captain noticed during a pre-opening inspection that the building had no sprinkler system, no water connections, no fire extinguishers, and an inadequate number of exits. Most of the decorative trim was made of wood and the only firefighting equipment on hand were six canisters of a powdered chemical called "Kilfyre," which was commonly used on household chimney fires. He reported his findings to the Fire Marshall, who told him to forget about it: even if the information was relayed to the "syndicate" that owned the building, nothing would be done. The theater held its grand opening as scheduled on November 23, 1903.

The Fire
It was bitingly cold that Wednesday afternoon. The matinee show on December 30 was "standing room only," meaning that the theater had oversold the tickets and there were almost 2,000 people in the audience, many literally standing in the aisles. Headliner Eddie Foy would later remember that his first impression when he took the stage that day was that there seemed to be nothing but women and children in the audience, which made sense since it was a weekday afternoon—the school kids were on their Christmas break and most of the men were at work. The second act of Mr. Bluebeard had just begun at 3:15 p.m., and the chorus was on stage singing and dancing while the pit orchestra played "In the Pale Moonlight." High above the stage, out of sight of the audience, thousands of square feet of painted canvas scenery flats hung suspended by ropes. A stagehand noticed one of those flats brush against a hot reflector behind a calcium arc spotlight. When a small flame erupted, he tried to douse it with Kilfyre, but the fire was just beyond his reach. Within moments the fire spread, spraying rivulets of flame onto the velvet stage curtains and flammable props. Crew members tried to lower the protective asbestos curtain, but it got caught on a special wire that had been strung near the ceiling (for use in a Peter Pan-type flying fairy act in the show) and wouldn't budge. Actors rushed to exit via the stage doors, and when those doors were opened, the sudden burst of cold air that rushed in forced the fireball from the stage into the audience area. The doors leading from the balcony to the downstairs area had been locked to prevent patrons from sneaking down to better seats. Many of the exit doors on the main floor were concealed by heavy drapery, and those doors that the panicked audience members did find opened inward, so they were useless against the crush of the crowd. Firefighters extinguished the blaze within 30 minutes, but when rescue personnel eventually managed to get the various theater doors open, they were stunned to find bodies stacked seven feet high. The initial blaze killed 575 people, and an additional 27 people succumbed to their injuries during the week following the fire.

The Aftermath
Dozens of people, from the theater owners to the mayor of Chicago, were indicted after the fire but all of their cases were eventually dismissed on technicalities. The mayor ordered 170 theaters, churches, and public halls closed for several months so that all could be inspected and retro-fitted with such safety devices as outward-opening doors, illuminated exit signs, and steelfire curtains. None of the victims' families ever received any sort of financial compensation after the tragedy, and many of them faced further financial hardship when the mayor's forced closing of so many venues left 6,000 people unemployed.

4. Haunted Castle, Six Flags Great Adventure, May 11, 1984

Jackson Township, New Jersey

The Haunted Castle was a walk-through dark ride designed to frighten customers. Visitors had to feel their way along a dimly lit maze of corridors and were confronted en route by spooky props, monstrous mannequins, and park employees dressed as Dracula and other scary creatures.

Accident Waiting to Happen
While the actual human toll in this case is a mere fraction of other famous fires, it deserves mention because it occurred in a very common type of venue that is frequented by millions of visitors every year, and one where most of us have seen people disobeying "no smoking" signs or tinkering with equipment to amuse their friends. Certainly none of the parents who bid their teens good-bye that May afternoon thought that would be the last time they'd ever see them. What could happen at an amusement park?

Even though the Haunted Castle had been in place for five years, it was still considered a "temporary structure" by township authorities since it was comprised of several inter-connected semi-trailers. As a result, the Castle was exempt from most of the fire laws applied to permanent structures. It was not equipped with sprinklers or smoke or fire alarms. The mazes inside the trailers were constructed of plywood and tar paper, and the various props were made of foam rubber, fabric, and wax. Some of the walls in the darkest parts of the maze were covered in polyurethane as a cushion, since so many patrons bumped into them. Vandalism became an increasing concern; so many of the actors (employees dressed in costume) had been assaulted by rowdy teenagers that a clause promising criminal prosecution for such an act was added to the posted rules of the Castle. The illuminated signs over the emergency exits had been destroyed so many times by vandals that the park had stopped replacing them. The alcoves where certain costumed actors (like the Hunchback) lurked were eventually fenced in, to prevent visitors with hijinks in mind from climbing inside. Sadly, these same alcoves were equipped with emergency exits which, due to the next protective grating, were inaccessible by the general public.

The Fire
To avoid congestion and bottlenecks, Castle employees at the entrance only allowed small groups of patrons in at one time, then waited several minutes before letting the next group proceed. There were 25 visitors and four employees inside the castle at 6:35 that Friday evening. A 14-year-old boy, whose name has never been released publicly, was using a cigarette lighter to illuminate the way down a darkened corridor for himself and a companion. The pair stumbled in the blackness and bumped into the protective foam padding, which caught fire from the lighter. The boy tried to beat down the flame with his hands, but it spread quickly, fueled by the flammable accoutrements and the oxygen pumped via the air conditioning vents, and he and his friend ran back toward the entrance and escaped. Their cries of "Fire!" prompted an employee to go inside and investigate. (It wasn't uncommon for mischievous visitors to set off smoke bombs in the Castle, which is why an emergency alarm wasn't sent out immediately.) The actor playing "The Butcher" smelled the smoke, jumped from his post, and led a group of patrons outside to safety. A group of nine high school friends who were deeper inside the attraction at first thought the smoke was part of the show. But when the fumes became overwhelming, they dropped to their knees and attempted to crawl toward an exit, even though visibility was nil. One of the group, 14-year-old Suzette Elliott, managed to grope her way close enough to the entrance, where an employee found her and carried her out to safety. Once the fire had been extinguished, rescue workers found the bodies of eight teens in two groups inside one of the trailers, all with their faces pressed against the air conditioning grates cut into the floor.

The Aftermath
During the resulting criminal trial, several Castle employees testified that they'd complained to management about the safety hazards inside the attraction—the missing light bulbs, the torn crash pads on the walls that were spilling exposed foam rubber. The two park executives who'd been charged with manslaughter avoided trial by agreeing to attend an intervention program which prescribed them a lengthy stretch of community service. The year following the fire Six Flags Great Adventure management assured prospective patrons that the $5.2 million worth of sprinklers and computerized smoke and heat detectors that had been newly installed in all their enclosed attractions would prevent another such tragedy.

It probably can't be repeated too many times — if you live in a dorm or apartment building and you see bikes and other clutter being stored on a landing near an exit door, report it. If you see some prankster smoking where they're not supposed to, or propping open a fire door, or disabling a smoke alarm in a common area, be that cranky spoilsport and report it. Being that "hey you kids, get off my lawn" guy now is better than having to grope your way to a blocked exit through toxic black smoke while breathing superheated air later.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty
arrow
Lists
25 Regal Facts About Queen Elizabeth II
Getty
Getty

In February 2017, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee, marking her 65-year reign as Queen of England. Her Majesty surpassed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, as Britain's longest-ruling monarch, and now also holds the title of the world's longest-reigning monarch. Here are 25 more royal facts about Queen Elizabeth, to celebrate her 92nd birthday (her real one—she has two, after all).

1. SHE WASN'T BORN AN HEIR APPARENT TO THE THRONE.

The Queen Elizabeth (3rd-L, future Queen Mother), her daughter Princess Elizabeth (4th-L, future Queen Elizabeth II), Queen Mary (C) , Princess Margaret (5th-L) and the King George VI (R), pose at the balcony of the Buckingham Palace in December 1945.
The Queen Elizabeth (3rd-L, future Queen Mother), her daughter Princess Elizabeth (4th-L, future Queen Elizabeth II), Queen Mary (C) , Princess Margaret (5th-L) and the King George VI (R), pose at the balcony of the Buckingham Palace in December 1945.
AFP, Getty Images

For the first 10 years of her life, Princess Elizabeth was a relatively minor royal—her status was akin to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York today—but that all changed with the death of her grandfather, King George V, in 1936.

The next in the line of royal succession was Elizabeth's uncle, Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne less than a year after taking it so that he could marry an American socialite named Wallis Simpson. Edward didn't have any children at the time, so his brother Albert (Elizabeth’s father) ascended to the throne, taking the name George VI and making the then-10-year-old Elizabeth the first in line to become Queen.

2. HER YOUNGER SISTER GAVE HER A FAMILY NICKNAME.

Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth in 1933.
Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth in 1933.
AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth and Margaret were the only children of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and King George VI, who said of his daughters: "Lilibet is my pride, Margaret my joy." "Lilibet," of course, is Elizabeth, who earned her nickname because Margaret—whom the family affectionately called Margot—constantly mispronounced her big sister’s name.

3. SHE DIDN'T GO TO SCHOOL.

Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret at Waterloo Station, London, 1939.
Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret at Waterloo Station, London, 1939.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Heirs apparent don’t just show up to primary school like normal kids. Instead, Elizabeth was tutored at home during sessions by different teachers like Henry Marten, vice-provost of Eton College (which is still for boys only), and was also given private religion lessons by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

4. BUT SHE AND MARGARET TECHNICALLY DID HAVE A TEACHER.

Stamps from 1937 featuring Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey, The Coronation Coach, The Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the King's Coronation.
Stamps from 1937 featuring Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey, The Coronation Coach, The Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the King's Coronation.
London Express, Getty Images

Just because she didn't attend school doesn't mean that Elizabeth didn't receive an education. She received the bulk of it through her nanny, Marion Crawford, who the royal family referred to as "Crawfie." Crawford would eventually be ostracized by the royal family for writing a tell-all book in 1953 called The Little Princesses without their permission; the book recounted Crawford's experiences with Elizabeth during her younger days.

5. SHE WANTED TO GO TO WAR, BUT WAS TOO YOUNG.

Queen consort Elizabeth holds Princess Margaret's hand as Princess Elizabeth follows, in 1936.
Queen consort Elizabeth holds Princess Margaret's hand as Princess Elizabeth follows, in 1936.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When World War II broke out in 1939, Elizabeth—then just a teenager—begged her father to join the effort somehow. She started out by making radio broadcasts geared toward raising the morale of British children. During one of the broadcasts, the 14-year-old princess reassured listeners, "I can truthfully say to you all that we children at home are full of cheerfulness and courage. We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers, and airmen and we are trying too to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war."

6. SHE EVENTUALLY SERVED IN WORLD WAR II.

Princess Elizabeth changing the tire of a vehicle as she trains at as ATS Officer during World War II in April 1945.
Princess Elizabeth changing the tire of a vehicle as she trains at as ATS Officer during World War II in April 1945.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite the risks, Elizabeth eventually joined the women's Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a truck driver and mechanic in 1945, when she was 18 years old.

Queen Elizabeth remains the only female royal family member to have entered the armed forces, and is currently the only living head of state who officially served in World War II.

7. SHE CELEBRATED THE END OF THE WAR BY PARTYING LIKE HER SUBJECTS.

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1947.
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1947.
William Vanderson, Fox Photos/Getty Images

When then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that the war in Europe was over on May 8, 1945, people poured out into the streets of London to celebrate—including Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The sheltered duo were allowed to sneak out of Buckingham Palace to join the revelers at their father's behest.

"It was a unique burst of personal freedom," recalled Margaret Rhodes, their cousin who went with them, "a Cinderella moment in reverse."

8. SHE MARRIED HER COUSIN.

Then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, following their wedding ceremony in November 1947.
Then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, following their wedding ceremony in November 1947.
AFP, Getty Images

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth are third cousins; both share the same great-great-grandparents: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

9. ELIZABETH AND HER HUSBAND HAVE KNOWN EACH OTHER SINCE CHILDHOOD.

A family portrait in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947.
A family portrait in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Philip, son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, first met Elizabeth when she was only eight years old and he was 14. Both attended the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece (Prince Philip's cousin) and Prince George, the Duke of Kent (Elizabeth’s uncle).

Five years later the pair met again when George VI brought Elizabeth to tour the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where Philip was a cadet. In a personal note, Elizabeth recalled falling for the young soldier-in-the-making: "I was 13 years of age and he was 18 and a cadet just due to leave. He joined the Navy at the outbreak of war, and I only saw him very occasionally when he was on leave—I suppose about twice in three years," she wrote. "Then when his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, were away he spent various weekends away with us at Windsor."

10. SHE DIDN'T TELL HER PARENTS SHE WAS GETTING HITCHED.

Princess Elizabeth, Philip Mountbatten, Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother), King George VI, and Princess Margaret pose in Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1947, the day the engagement of Princess Elizabeth & Philip Mountbatten was officially announced.
Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II), Philip Mountbatten (also the Duke of Edinburgh), Queen Elizabeth (future Queen Mother), King George VI, and Princess Margaret pose in Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1947, the day the engagement of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten was officially announced.
AFP/Getty Images

In 1946, Philip proposed to Elizabeth when the former planned a month-long visit to Balmoral, her royal estate in Scotland. She accepted the proposal without even contacting her parents. But when George VI finally caught wind of the pending nuptials he would only officially approve if they waited to announce the engagement until after her 21st birthday.

The official public announcement of the engagement finally came nearly a year later on July 9, 1947.

11. SHE HAS A VERY ROYAL NAME.

Princess Elizabeth (left) and her mother, Queen consort Elizabeth, in 1951.
Princess Elizabeth (left) and her mother, Queen consort Elizabeth, in 1951.
Reg Speller, Fox Photos/Getty Images

She's the second British monarch named Elizabeth, but Elizabeth II wasn't named after Henry VIII's famous progeny. Queen Elizabeth II's birth name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, after the names of her mother, Elizabeth, her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and her paternal grandmother, Queen Mary.

12. SHE GOT TO CHOOSE HER OWN SURNAME.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, circa 1951.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, circa 1951.
OFF, AFP/Getty Images

Technically, the Queen's last name is "Windsor," which was first chosen by George V in 1917 after the royal family wanted to distance themselves from "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha"—the dynasty to which they belonged—for sounding too Germanic during World War I.

But as a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of the royal family, in 1960 Elizabeth and Philip adopted the official surname Windsor-Mountbatten. (Fans will surely remember that the surname drama was briefly discussed in Netflix’s series The Crown.)

13. SHE HAS TWO BIRTHDAYS.

Princess Elizabeth just before her 21st birthday in April 1947.
Princess Elizabeth just before her 21st birthday in April 1947.
AFP/Getty Images

Like most British monarchs, Elizabeth gets to celebrate her birthday twice, and the reason why boils down to seasonably appropriate pomp and circumstance.

She was born on April 21, 1926, but April was deemed too cold and liable to fall during inclement weather. So instead, her official state-recognized birthday occurs on a Saturday in late May or June, so that the celebration can be held during warmer months. The specific date varies year to year in the UK, and usually coincides with Trooping the Colour, Britain’s annual military pageant.

14. HER CORONATION WAS TELEVISED AGAINST HER WISHES.

Queen Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953
Queen Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953.
AFP, Getty Images

Elizabeth officially ascended to the throne at just 25 years of age when her father, George VI, died on February 6, 1952. Elizabeth was in Kenya at the time of his death and returned home as her country's Queen. As fans of The Crown will remember, the hubbub surrounding her coronation was filled with ample amounts of drama.

The notoriously camera-shy Elizabeth—who didn't even allow photos to be taken of her wedding—didn't want the event televised, and others believed that broadcasting the coronation to commoners would break down upper-class traditions of only allowing members of British high society to witness the event. A Coronation Commission, chaired by Philip, was set up to weigh the options, and they initially decided to only allow cameras in a single area of Westminster Abbey "west of the organ screen," before allowing the entire thing to be televised with one minor caveat: no close-ups on Elizabeth's face.

15. SHE PAID FOR HER WEDDING DRESS USING WAR RATION COUPONS.

A 1947 sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell.
A 1947 sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell.
Central Press, Getty Images

Still reeling from an atmosphere of post-war austerity, Elizabeth used ration coupons and a 200-coupon supplement from the government to pay for her wedding dress. But don't be fooled, the dress was extremely elegant; it was made of ivory duchesse silk, encrusted with 10,000 imported seed pearls, took six months to make, and sported a 13-foot train. (It cost just under $40,000 to recreate the dress for The Crown.)

16. SHE DOESN'T NEED A PASSPORT TO TRAVEL.

Queen Elizabeth II in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in December 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in December 1953.
STRINGER, AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth II is the world's most well-traveled head of state, visiting 116 countries between 265 official state visits, but she doesn't even own a passport. Since all British passports are officially issued in the Queen’s name, she technically doesn't need one.

17. SHE DOESN'T NEED A DRIVER'S LICENSE EITHER.

Queen Elizabeth II drives a car in 1958.
Queen Elizabeth II drives a car in 1958.
Bob Haswell, Express/Getty Images

It's not just because she has a fleet of chauffeurs. Britain also officially issues driver's licenses in Elizabeth’s name, so don’t expect her to show off her ID when she gets pulled over taking other heads of state for a spin in her Range Rover.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, recounted to The Sunday Times the time when Elizabeth drove former Saudi crown prince Abdullah around the grounds of Balmoral: "To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off," he said. "Women are not—yet—allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen."

18. SHE DOESN'T HAVE TO PAY TAXES (BUT CHOOSES TO ANYWAY).

Queen Elizabeth rides in a carriage in 2000.
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth has voluntarily paid income and capital gains taxes since 1992, but has always been subject to Value Added Tax.

19. SHE SURVIVED AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II rides a horse side saddle and salutes during a Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London in 1952.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II rides a horse side saddle and salutes during a Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London in 1952.
STRINGER, AFP/Getty Images

During the 1981 Trooping the Colour, the Queen led a royal procession on horseback down the Mall toward Buckingham Palace when shots rang out. A 17-year-old named Marcus Sarjeant, who was obsessed with the assassinations of figures like John Lennon and John F. Kennedy, fired a series of blanks toward Elizabeth. Sarjeant—who wrote in his diary, "I am going to stun and mystify the whole world with nothing more than a gun"—was thankfully unable to purchase live ammunition in the UK. He received a prison sentence of five years under the 1848 Treason Act, but was released in October 1984.

20. SHE ALSO SURVIVED AN INTRUDER COMING INTO HER BEDROOM.

Queen Elizabeth II in Australia in 1954.
Queen Elizabeth II in Australia in 1954.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A year after the Trooping the Colour incident, Elizabeth had another run-in. But instead of near Buckingham Palace, this time it was inside Buckingham Palace. On July 9, 1982, a man named Michael Fagen managed to climb over the Palace's barbed wire fence, shimmy up a drain pipe, and eventually sneak into the Queen's bedroom.

While reports at the time said Fagen and the Queen had a long conversation before he was apprehended by palace security, Fagen told The Independent the Queen didn't stick around to chat: "She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor."

21. SHE TECHNICALLY OWNS ALL THE DOLPHINS IN THE UK.

The HMAS Vengeance seen from a helicopter, as the Australian Naval crew spell out the signature of Queen Elizabeth II on the deck, in 1954.
The HMAS Vengeance seen from a helicopter, as the Australian Naval crew spell out the signature of Queen Elizabeth II on the deck, in 1954.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In addition to owning all of the country's dolphins, she owns all the sturgeon and whales, too. A still-valid statute from the reign of King Edward II in 1324 states, "Also the King shall have ... whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm," meaning most aquatic creatures are technically labeled "fishes royal," and are claimed on behalf of the Crown.

As the song goes, "Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!"

22. SHE HAS HER OWN SPECIAL MONEY TO GIVE TO THE POOR.

Queen Elizabeth II hands out maundy money in 2004.
Queen Elizabeth II hands out maundy money in 2004.
PHIL NOBLE, AFP/Getty Images

Known as "maundy money," the Queen has silver coins—currently with Elizabeth's likeness on the front—that are given to pensioners in a ceremony called Maundy Thursday. The royal custom dates back to the 13th century, in which the royal family was expected to wash the feet of and distribute gifts to penniless subjects as a symbolic gesture to honor Jesus’s act of washing the feet of the poor in the Bible. Once the 18th century rolled around and washing people's dirty feet wasn't seen as befitting of a royal, the act was replaced with money allowances bequeathed by the monarch.

23. GIN IS HER DRINK OF CHOICE.

Queen Elizabeth II sipping a drink.
RUSSEL MILLARD, AFP/Getty Images

The Queen drinks gin mixed with Dubonnet (a fortified wine) and a slice of lemon on the rocks every day before lunch. She also reportedly drinks wine at lunch and has a glass of champagne every evening.

24. SHE CREATED HER OWN BREED OF DOGS.

Queen Elizabeth with her dog Susan, circa 1959.
Queen Elizabeth with her dog Susan, circa 1959.
AFP, Getty Images

Elizabeth has a famous, avowed love of Corgis (she has owned more than 30 of them during her reign; her last dog, Willow, recently passed away), but what about Dorgis? She currently owns two Dorgis (Candy and Vulcan), a crossbreed she engineered when one of her Corgis mated with a Dachshund named Pipkin that belonged to Princess Margaret.

25. SHE'S ON SOCIAL MEDIA … KIND OF.

Queen Elizabeth II tours a Canadian Blackberry factory in 2010.
Queen Elizabeth II tours a Canadian Blackberry factory in 2010.
John Stillwell, Pool/Getty Images

The Queen joined Twitter in July 2009 under the handle @RoyalFamily, and sent the first tweet herself, but hasn't personally maintained the page since then. In fact, a job listing went up in 2017 looking for an official royal Digital Communications Officer to help out. She's also on Facebook (and no, you cannot poke The Royal Family).

This story originally ran in 2017.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
quiz
Author by Second Book
iStock
iStock

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios