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3 Famous Fires and the Lessons They Taught Us

October is Fire Prevention Month, and just because it's at an end is no reason to forget the related dangers. The mental_floss staff would like to take a few moments at this time to remind our readers of the importance of fire safety all year long. To emphasize the necessity for preparedness, we offer the third entry in our series (see previous entries here and here) to relate the true stories of some very tragic fires.

ValuJet Flight 592 - May 11, 1996

Miami, Florida

Walton Little, a computer engineer with a pilot’s license, was bass fishing in the L67 canal of Everglades Holiday Park on the afternoon of May 11, 1996. He heard the roar of a jet engine that seemed very close, so he looked skyward, thinking that perhaps an air show was taking place at Miami International Airport, 17 miles to the west. But instead of a military plane he saw a DC-9 passenger jet flying very low and banking steeply to the right. Seconds later, it plowed nose-first into the sawgrass and muck of the Florida Everglades. Little immediately dialed 911 on his cell phone and reported the crash.

Accident Waiting to Happen

The tragedy of Flight 592 is an extreme example of what can go wrong when an employee simply “signs off” on a seemingly mundane project during the work day without thoroughly reviewing his duties. John Taber, Eugene Florence and Mauro Valenzuela were mechanics for SabreTech, an aviation subcontractor hired by ValuJet. They had been assigned the task of removing and replacing the oxygen generators from two McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jetliners in a hangar at Miami International Airport. ValuJet had recently purchased the two planes from Adria Airways, and the generators were nearing the end of their 12-year lifespan. (Oxygen generators are small metal canisters tucked away in the cabin ceiling of commercial aircraft that create the oxygen that is delivered through passenger masks. Once ignited, the exterior surface of an oxygen generator can reach temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.) SabreTech crew chief Jude Casimir gave the mechanics routine work cards which explained the step-by-step procedure for removing and storing the generators, and which required a separate signature for each step completed. Taber noted that the canisters were missing safety caps, something specified on the work card (and which are required by federal law), but Casimir told him that “the company didn’t have any.” Over the next few weeks, the mechanics trimmed the trigger lanyards on the canisters and then taped the ends down, believing that this would prevent accidental discharge. They attached green “Repairable” tags to the generators, apparently unaware that the canisters could not be re-used, and packed them into five cardboard boxes. On the “Reason for Removal” portion of the tags, mechanics had jotted various notes from “Out of Date” to “Expired” to the cryptic “Generators have been expired fired.” Valenzuela signed off on Work Card #0069, indicating that all the necessary steps and safety precautions had been taken (including the installation of safety caps) and the five boxes were moved to SabreTech’s shipping department.

A SabreTech stock clerk drove up to Flight 592 on the tarmac shortly before takeoff and told ramp agent Christopher Rankissoon that he had five cardboard boxes and three aircraft tires bound for ValuJet headquarters in Atlanta, and asked if there was room for his cargo on this flight. Rankissoon noted the COMAT (Company Material) labels on the boxes and took the shipping paperwork from this last-minute load to co-pilot Richard Hazen. He told Hazen that “the only place I’ve got room is in the front.” The forward cargo hold was located just below and behind the cockpit, and was not equipped with smoke detection or fire suppression equipment. The additional freight would not put the flight over its weight limit, so Hazen gave his approval, despite the fact that the bill of lading indicated that the boxes contained “Oxy Cannisters (sic) – Empty.” Discharged oxygen canisters are categorized by the FAA as hazardous material, which ValuJet was not licensed to carry. Baggage handler Dennis Segarra stacked the boxes and the tires inside the cargo hold. While doing so, he heard a metal-on-metal “click”, but could not determine the origin of the sound. He braced the boxes between the tires and other passenger baggage and closed and latched the door.

The Fire

Unbeknownst to anyone aboard, as Flight 592 taxied to the runway, a fire was already burning in the forward cargo hold, sparked by the ignition of at least one of the boxed canisters, fueled by a combination of the emitted oxygen and the combustible tires nearby. The plane pushed off from gate G2 at Miami International Airport at 2:05PM, bound for Atlanta, Georgia. According to the Cockpit Voice Recorder, at 2:10 a chirp and a beep were heard in the cockpit. Pilot Candalyn Kubeck asked “What was that?” to which Hazen replied “I don’t know.” Seconds later, Kubeck announced “We’ve got some electrical problem,” and Hazen chimed in “That battery charger’s kicking in, ooh, we gotta..."

"We’re losing everything,” Kubeck replied as she radioed Miami tower for permission to return for an emergency landing. Meanwhile, below deck, the flames had melted the crucial wiring that ran beneath the floorboard of the plane (causing the electrical failure noted by the pilot) and were beginning to penetrate the floor of the passenger area, causing cries of “Fire! Fire!” from the passengers as the cabin filled with smoke and toxic fumes. A female voice, later determined to be that of a flight attendant who had opened the cockpit door because the intercom wasn’t working, stated “We’re on fire! We can’t get oxygen back here!”  The last transmission from the cockpit was “We need the closest airport available…” All 110 souls on board perished in the resulting crash.

The Aftermath

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that three parties were at fault for the crash of Flight 592: SabreTech for improperly packaging and handling hazardous materials, ValuJet for not properly supervising SabreTech, and the FAA for not requiring smoke detectors and fire suppression equipment in all cargo holds. Years of legal wrangling and various appeals followed, and ValuJet ultimately went belly-up in November 1997. A year later, the FAA revised its regulations and required all cargo holds on passenger aircraft to be fitted with devices to detect and extinguish fires.

Lake View School – March 4, 1908

Collinwood, Ohio

The previously small village of Collinwood, just outside of Cleveland, experienced a population boom in the early 20th century thanks to the railroad industry. As depots and terminals were constructed in the area, more and more families settled into the tiny hamlet. Unfortunately, other local construction didn’t keep pace with the burgeoning railroad. By 1908, the local elementary school, known as Lake View, was overfilled with 350 students packed into nine classrooms.

Accident Waiting to Happen

The three-story structure had two main entrances (contrary to legend, the doors did open outward), two staircases, and an exterior fire escape on the north side of the building with access from the third floor only. The exterior of the building was brick, but the interior floors, walls, stairs, and supports were all made of wood. The stairways were open with no fire doors in place. The exits consisted of two sets of double doors with a small vestibule in between. A vertical doorframe divided both sets of doors, and the left-hand inner door of each set was on a spring that automatically pulled it closed (and locked it) if it wasn’t being held open.

The Fire

About an hour after classes began on the morning of March 4, 1908, a 13-year-old student was making her way to the washroom in the basement when she noticed that the treads on the lower stairs were smoking. She descended to the lower level where she found the school custodian working nearby, and informed him that a fire might be burning somewhere in the school. He looked where she pointed, saw the smoke, and ran past her up to the stairs to ring the fire bell on the first floor. (Unfortunately, the bell was not connected to the local fire department, and did not sound on the third floor). The bewildered student went back up the stairs, exited the building, and told the first adult she found that the school was on fire. (The adult ran to alert the townspeople.)

The custodian then ran to the front doors, ensured they were unlocked, and tied one of them open. He then rushed to the back doors to make sure that they, too, were unlocked. As teachers began evacuating their students, they immediately knew that this was not a drill as the corridors were already filling with smoke. At first, the children filed out in an orderly fashion and walked down the stairs toward the front exit as they’d been instructed. But when flames began licking the stairwell and the smoke became blacker, the kids panicked and bolted toward the front doors.  Teachers were able to divert some of the youngsters to the back doors, but the spring device on the left door kept closing and locking. A teacher tried to disable the door’s spring device as frantic children pressed up against the 31-inch openings on each side of the vertical divider between the doors. For unknown reasons (perhaps overcrowding), the third-floor students were taught not to use the exterior fire escape, but rather to descend three flights of stairs to use the main exits on the first floor. One teacher on the third floor broke protocol after she saw the billows of black smoke literally rolling up the stairs – she directed her students to the fire escape. She stepped outside the window and lifted each child onto the outside landing and directed them down the ladder. (Of the few survivors of this tragedy, most were from the third floor.)

Like most towns in 1908, Collinwood's fire trucks were horse-drawn, so it took some time for firefighters to reach the school. Once they arrived, the crew found that their gas-driven pump didn’t have the power to spray water onto the upper stories of the building. Meanwhile, news had reached the town, and police, parents, and nearby railroad workers flocked to the scene to do what they could to help. It was a heartbreaking task, many would relate later, being unable to pull students through the narrow doorway because they were crushed into a pile, one atop the other. One burly railway man had tears running down his face as he described the scene to newspaper reporter: “They were packed so tightly… we couldn’t pull them out.” By the time the fire was finally extinguished, 172 students, two teachers and one rescuer had perished.

The Aftermath

The cause of the fire was never officially determined, but the local fire marshal speculated that a poorly-insulated furnace pipe ignited a nearby wooden joist. The Collinwood tragedy had nationwide impact; shortly after the disaster, "panic bars" became mandatory on exit doors in public schools. In public buildings in Ohio and many other states, officials relocated basement boilers to safer locations and retro-fitted buildings with alternate escape routes.

King’s Cross Underground Station – November 18, 1987

London, England

London’s Underground (“subway” to us Yanks, or "the Tube" to the locals) is the oldest underground railway in the world. It first utilized electric trains in 1890, and since then, the Tube has become a staple means of commuting around England’s capital city, transporting over one billion passengers per year.

Accident Waiting to Happen

So many Londoners depend upon the Underground for their daily transport that shutting down even one station can cause major service disruptions and enough public outrage to make the folks in charge abide by the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. That particular rule of thumb meant that the majority of the equipment deep in the bowels beneath London had been built and installed prior to World War II. The escalators leading from the streets above were made of wood, and the machinery beneath them were filled with half a century's accumulation of grease, oil and “fluff” (dust, lint, clothing fibers, rat fur, discarded tickets, etc.) Officials had banned smoking on the Tube two years earlier, but the rule was not strictly enforced, and passengers regularly lit up as they exited the train and headed up to the surface. King’s Cross is an interchange serving six different lines, making it one of the busiest stations on the Underground. Escalator #4 led from the Piccadilly line, 80 feet below ground, up to the large Ticket Hall (a reception-type area just below ground with ticket and information booths, vending machines, and the entrances/exits to the various train lines). A short flight of stairs led from the Ticket Hall to the street entrance.

The Fire

Rush hour in central London is usually over by 7:30PM, but on the evening of November 18, the Tube was more crowded than usual thanks to Christmas shoppers and tourists arriving to see the famed Christmas lights along Regent Street. An escalator passenger saw a bright glow coming from beneath the stairs and punched the “Emergency Stop” button. Police rushed to the site seconds later, by which time tiny flames were starting to poke through the gaps between a few escalator steps. Small fires like this were not uncommon on the wooden escalators, and usually only required a fire extinguisher or two to contain, so officials began evacuating the passengers calmly with no particular sense of alarm. Just 10 minutes later, however, the heat and smoke grew so intense that police stopped directing people up the escalator that ran parallel to #4. Suddenly, a huge blast of fire (survivors would describe it as “like a blow torch or a jet”) raced up the escalator well and exploded into the Ticket Hall. Smoke poured out of the exits onto the street.

Bravely but against regulations, the first few London firefighters on the scene ran inside without respiratory apparatuses in response to the cries for help they heard coming from the station. The suddenly superheated air, combined with toxic fumes and thick black smoke, caused most victims left in the Ticket Hall to collapse before they could find their way to an exit. Firefighters dragged as many victims as they could find out to the street until they too collapsed, one by one on the pavement, barely able to breathe. Thirty-one people perished in the blaze, including a 23-year veteran Fire Brigade Captain, who’d rushed in without an oxygen mask and assisted several people to safety before succumbing to smoke inhalation.

The Aftermath

The initial spark that caused the fire was believed to be a passenger’s carelessly discarded match, which ignited the fluff-packed grease beneath the stairs. But a more important question remained: how did a seemingly simple little “campfire” explode into a sudden inferno? After almost a year of study, investigators discovered a phenomenon that led to a new entry in the world’s fire-fighting glossary: the trench effect. The trench effect occurs in an inclined shaft containing combustible materials (i.e. wooden escalator stairs climbing upward at a 30 degree angle). Instead of extending skyward, as the flames from a typical house fire would, the degree of incline in the wooden stairs caused the buoyant plume to spread along the escalator floor and create a rapid airflow. While gases curled over and over towards each next step above, the airflow in the trench increased to such a point that it created a flamethrower effect. As a result of this tragedy, the London Underground took steps to replace all wooden escalators, install automatic sprinkler systems and heat-detection devices in escalator areas, and require regular cleaning of the machine rooms underneath escalators to eliminate grease and fluff build-up.

Your comments are always welcome, but PLEASE check out the previous entries in this annual series (part one and part two) before you list a fire that you feel we should cover next time.

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25 Regal Facts About Queen Elizabeth II
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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.

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