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14 Things You Might Not Know About Forrest Gump

In 1994, the Oscar-winning film starring Tom Hanks as a lovable lummox named Forrest Gump became a box office behemoth (almost $1 billion worldwide in today’s dollars). It entered the name “Forrest Gump” into the zeitgeist, and generated the simile catchphrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” In case you didn’t know, here are some facts about the influential film.

1. SALES OF THE BOOK SKYROCKETED AFTER THE MOVIE CAME OUT.

Novelist Winston Groom published Forrest Gump the book in 1986. When it came out it sold a modest 30,000 copies in hardback, but by 1995—after the success of the film adaptation—it had sold 1.6 million copies in paperback. In 1995 Groom wrote a sequel, Gump & Co., and in 1994 the book The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cookbook was released, with a foreword written by Groom. The cookbook existed before the restaurant chain and has no affiliation with it.

2. THERE ARE BIG DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FORREST IN THE BOOK AND FORREST IN THE MOVIE.

In the book, Forrest ends up going into space, smoking weed, working with Raquel Welch, confronting cannibals, running for the United States Senate (his campaign slogan is “I Got to Pee”), and playing in a chess tournament. Also, in the book Forrest is described being 6’ 6” tall and weighing 240 pounds, which is why Groom wanted John Goodman to play Forrest in the movie.

3. THE MOVIE DIVIDED CRITICS.

The movie holds the #13 position on IMDb’s Top 250 movie chart, but many critics either loved the movie or really hated it. In his 1994 review, Roger Ebert gave Forrest four stars and called it “a magical movie,” whereas Entertainment Weekly gave it a “C” rating and said it “reduced the tumult of the last few decades to a virtual-reality theme park: a baby-boomer version of Disney’s America.” In 2014, LA Weekly revisited the movie and said, “The film is so afraid to dredge up debate that when Abbie Hoffman hands Forrest the microphone at an anti-war rally, someone unplugs the speakers so we can’t hear him—fitting for a movie with nothing to say.” Ouch. 

4. DESPITE GROSSING MORE THAN $600 MILLION WORLDWIDE, THE FILM FAILED TO TURN A PROFIT BY THE END OF 1994.

How is that possible? Well, the Los Angeles Times broke the outlays down: Paramount had to pay $61.6 million in distribution fees to theater owners, then it had to subtract $73.5 million toward advertising and making prints of the film (today, digital is much cheaper). The budget cost Paramount $50 million. Then, Hanks and Zemeckis took about $61.8 million for their fees (they signed a back end deal where they’d receive a share of the profits instead of a salary), and finally, theater owners took their cut of $159 million. After all was said and done, Paramount’s gross receipts were about $191 million. When the movie was released on video in 1995, it sold millions of copies.

5. ONLY SONGS FROM AMERICAN BANDS APPEAR ON THE SOUNDTRACK AND IN THE MOVIE.

With over 32 songs on the official soundtrack and more used in the movie—including one song from The Doors on the soundtrack and four others in the film—all of the bands featured in the film were American, and that was not a coincidence. “All the material in there is American,” Joel Sill, the film’s executive music producer, told The Los Angeles Daily News. “Bob [Zemeckis] felt strongly about it. He felt Forrest wouldn’t buy anything but American.” Though formed in England and not in the U.S., Fleetwood Mac contributed a song to the film and the 2001’s Special Collector’s Edition soundtrack. Fans liked the soundtrack so much it went on to sell 12 million copies worldwide.

6. TOM HANKS WON BACK-TO-BACK BEST ACTOR OSCARS, WHICH ONLY ONE OTHER MALE ACTOR HAS EVER ACCOMPLISHED.

Hanks won his first Best Actor Oscar in 1994 for his performance in Philadelphia (1993), and he followed that up with another Oscar for Forrest Gump the next year. To this day, only Spencer Tracy has won two Best Actor Oscars in a row—one in 1938 for Captains Courageous and another in 1939 for Boys Town. Actress Luise Rainer was the first actor of any gender to win back-to-back Oscars (for The Great Ziegfeld in 1937 and The Good Earth in 1938), and Katharine Hepburn matched Rainer in 1968 and 1969 (for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Lion in Winter, respectively). Before Hanks won, Jason Robards was the last actor to win two consecutive Academy Awards in a row, when he won Best Supporting Actor statues for All the President’s Men in 1977 and Julia in 1978.

7. THE VIETNAM SEQUENCES WERE FILMED IN SOUTH CAROLINA.

Much of the movie was filmed in Savannah, Georgia and parts of South Carolina, including Hunting Island and Fripp Island. They were stand-ins for some of the Vietnam sequences—including where Bubba dies—because of their dense palm trees and jungle-like forests. The military film G.I. Jane was also filmed on Hunting Island.

8. FORREST GUMP MADE DAVE CHAPPELLE MAD.

It’s unclear if comedian Dave Chappelle auditioned for the Bubba role, but either way, Chappelle is not a fan of the movie. In 1999 Chappelle went on The Daily Show and explained his beef with the movie to Jon Stewart: “That movie made me mad, Jon … because it’s hard for me to watch a retarded dude out-achieve me for two and a half hours. Like, how is this fair? This guy is doing more by accident than I can do on purpose. And I started getting furious. Who can be dumber than Forrest Gump? His black friend, that’s who.”

9. MYKELTI WILLIAMSON COULDN’T GET WORK AFTER THE MOVIE CAME OUT.

“I couldn’t get a job after Forrest Gump,” Williamson told USA Today. “The industry didn’t realize that I was wearing a lip device and that I was the same guy who had appeared in 11 TV series. They thought the director had discovered some weird-looking guy and put him in front of a camera.” He eventually went on Letterman and soon after people realized he wasn’t just some “weird-looking guy.” Williamson successfully obtained roles in Con Air and Heat and had a recurring role on Justified.

10. FOR THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MOVIE, THE FILMAKERS DISCUSSED FORREST’S POST-1980s FATE.

In September, USA Today caught up with Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth, director Robert Zemeckis, and Tom Hanks to ask them what adventures Forrest would’ve experienced later on. Roth stated that in the script for his unproduced sequel Forrest meets O.J. Simpson and Princess Diana. Hanks thinks Forrest “would have chatted up both Mark Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins about how it would be nice if you had a book that would show a person’s face and make a friend,” and that Forrest would’ve helped out in Hurricane Katrina. “Forrest would be the reason that the Navy SEALs find Osama bin Laden,” added Zemeckis.

11. FORREST’S INVESTMENT IN APPLE WOULD BE WORTH A LOT TODAY.

In the movie, Lieutenant Dan invests Forrest’s shrimp business money in “some kind of fruit company,” which is a nod to Apple. Business Insider calculated what the investment would be worth in 1994 and 2015. Because the movie doesn’t mention just how much was invested, they used the hypothetical amount of $10,000, which would come out to $18,173 in 1994 dollars. That doesn’t seem like a lot of chocolates until you consider that if Forrest held on to that investment, today it’d be worth $2.5 million.

12. YOUNG FORREST, MICHAEL CONNER HUMPHREYS, JOINED THE ARMY.

Humphreys’ first of only two movie roles was depicting Forrest as a child. Instead of pursuing a Hollywood acting career, Humphreys joined the Army and did an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq. After he joined the military, he tried to conceal the fact he starred in the blockbuster film, but his platoon discovered the truth. “I definitely got a lot of it in the ear after that and the drill sergeants would really mess with me about it,” he told the Daily Mail. Another fact: Humphreys’s Alabama-inflected drawl caused Hanks to base Forrest’s voice on it. “When I was a kid I had this deep Southern accent that the director, Robert Zemeckis, quickly picked up on and Tom Hanks liked so much that he ended up copying me and building his own accent around the way I spoke,” Humphreys said.

13. MANY OTHER PEOPLE HAVE RUN ACROSS AMERICA—INCLUDING ART GARFUNKEL.

Running across the country was among Forrest’s many accomplishments in the movie—and he’s not alone. A slew of other people have jogged or walked across the U.S., sometimes in the name of charity. In 1982 at the age of 16, Louis-Michael Figueroa traveled on foot from New Brunswick, New Jersey to San Francisco to raise money for cancer. Barclay Oudersluys is in the midst of running 3200 miles, starting from Forrest’s location at Santa Monica Pier and finishing at Marshall Point Lighthouse in Maine. In Britain this year, Ewan Gordon ran across his country dressed as Forrest, and most famously, singer-songwriter Art Garfunkel—whose song “Mrs. Robinson” appears in the movie—has been traversing the country for decades. Predating Forrest, in 1984, Garfunkel took eight days to walk across New Jersey. He spent the next 10 years wandering across the U.S. until 1996, when he celebrated his trek by performing a concert at Ellis Island.

14. CHRIS PRATT WAS DISCOVERED WHILE WORKING AT A BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP COMPANY.

Long before Pratt was “Pratt-ing” dinosaurs in Jurassic World, he was a waiter at a Bubba Gump restaurant in Maui. At the age of 19, Pratt was living in a van and waiting tables. “I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dining experience at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., but they love a gregarious waiter who will get in your face and sing you birthday songs and do trivia,” Pratt told Entertainment Weekly. One day he waited on actress Rae Dawn Chong, who subsequently offered him a role in her short film, the never-released Cursed Part 3. “I was like, ‘You’re in the movies, right? I always wanted to be in the movies,”’ Pratt said to Chong. “She said, ‘You’re cute. Do you act?’ I was like, f--k it, ‘Goddamn right I act! Put me in a movie!” Bubba Gump opened in 1996 and now has locations all over the world, including in the Philippines and Malaysia. Ironically, there isn’t one in Alabama, where Forrest grew up.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6 Priceless Treasures Lost in Shipwrecks
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In the lore around treasures lost at sea, most of the excitement goes to pirate’s gold and the sunken luxuries of the Titanic. But in the centuries of human seafaring, many lesser-known priceless objects, from literary manuscripts to scientific research, have been claimed by the depths. Here are some tales of those losses, from a lifetime of work by a 19th-century woman who was an expert in cephalopods, to a rare book by Dickens that went down with the Lusitania.

1. LOUIS DE JAUCOURT'S ANATOMICAL LEXICON

Always, always, always back up your work. Of course, that's easier now than it was in the 18th century, when French scholar Louis de Jaucourt dispatched his six-volume Lexicon medicum universale to his Amsterdam publisher, a move intended to evade French censorship. The medical dictionary, on which he'd spent 20 years, was completely lost when the ship it was on sank off Holland's coast. Luckily, Jaucourt rebounded when Denis Diderot asked him to contribute to the Encyclopédie, now considered one of the greatest works of Enlightenment thought, for which he used his notes from the lost manuscript. Jaucourt became the publication's most prolific author, penning 40,000 articles—so many he was nicknamed l'esclave de l’Encyclopédie, or the "slave of the Encyclopedia."

2. THE FIELDWORK OF ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh naturalist and explorer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1852, following four years of research in the Amazon, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was ready to return to England. He loaded his copious notes, animal and plant specimens, and drawings onto the brig Helen. Just 26 days into the voyage, the vessel caught fire. Wallace only had time to hastily fill a tin box with a few drawings of fish and palms and some scientific notes before joining the crew in the lifeboat. After 10 days marooned at sea, they were rescued by the brig Jordeson—but most of Wallace's work was gone forever. As he lamented in an October 19, 1852 letter, "The only things which I saved were my watch, my drawings of fishes, and a portion of my notes and journals. Most of my journals, notes on the habits of animals, and drawings of the transformations of insects, were lost.” While he continued as a leading naturalist—albeit one overshadowed in his evolution research by Charles Darwin—Wallace was never able to reconstruct those years of fieldwork.

3. THE CEPHALOPOD RESEARCH OF JEANNE VILLEPREUX-POWER

Before Jeanne Villepreux-Power’s 19th-century research, most scientists thought the Argonauta argo, or paper nautilus, scavenged its shell from other animals. But by inventing the modern aquarium, Villepreux-Power could study the species first-hand, and witness how it grows and repairs its own shell. The breakthrough was one of many discoveries made by the pioneer in cephalopod research, one of the few women to achieve prominence in Victorian science. She might be better known today if it weren't for the fact that when she and her husband decided to move from Sicily to London, the vessel on which they’d shipped their possessions—including the majority of her drawings, notes, and equipment—foundered off the coast of France in 1843. After the devastating loss, she never published again.

4. A COPY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL OWNED BY CHARLES DICKENS

Sinking of the Lusitania
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When Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat realized the RMS Lusitania was doomed that fateful day in 1915, he dashed to his cabin, using the light from a few matches to try to find the literary treasures he’d brought aboard. These included original drawings by Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as an edition of A Christmas Carol owned by Charles Dickens himself. The edition was irreplaceable, since it included Dickens’s notes related to his 1844 copyright suit against the illicit republishing of his story. In the book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson vividly describes Lauriat’s harrowing experience when the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland: Lauriat grabbed the leather briefcase containing the Dickens, but left the Thackeray sketches behind. Rushing out to the deck, he saw a lifeboat packed with women and children that was being dragged down by the sinking ship. He jumped in with the briefcase, yet was unable to free the lifeboat, and in the escape into the water he lost the precious cargo. Out in the waves, he managed to evade entanglement with an antenna, swim to a collapsible lifeboat, and survive. One of the few items he managed to save were photographs of his baby, which he told his wife were his "mascot."

5. WRITINGS OF JOSÉ ASUNCIÓN SILVA

Portrait of José Asunción Silva

Many Colombians can recite the first lines from the influential Modernist poet José Asunción Silva's "Nocturne III"—"A night / A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume / And incanting wing"—and it’s even printed in microtext on the 5000 Colombian peso bill. The poem, written in 1892, is believed to be a tribute to Silva’s half-sister. Silva suffered another blow in 1895, when many of his manuscripts, including a draft of a novel, were lost in a shipwreck. He left his diplomatic post in Venezuela, and dedicated all his time to reconstructing the drowned novel. But his melancholy continued: After visiting a doctor to ask the exact position of his heart, he shot himself in 1896. His rewritten novel—After-Dinner Conversation (De sobremesa) —wasn’t published until 1925.

6. THE ART OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI

The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens by Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Giovanni Battista Lusieri was a meticulous painter of the Italian landscape, particularly its classical ruins. In large panoramas and more compact watercolors, he depicted the Acropolis, views of Rome and Naples, and, his favorite, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of his most striking works captured the volcano at night, illuminating the darkness with its orange glow. Lord Byron called him "an Italian painter of the first eminence." Yet his name is now obscure. This is partly due to the years he stopped painting to help Lord Elgin remove and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London. But when Lusieri's artwork was being sent home from Greece after his death in 1821, a shipwreck destroyed nearly half of it (including a spectacular 25-foot-long panorama of Athens), helping to ensure his fall from fame.

BONUS: PEKING MAN

A replica of the Peking Man Skull
A replica of the Peking Man Skull

When paleontologists discovered the bones of "Peking man" in a dig near Beijing in the 1920s, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. However, scientists can now only study the bones—thought to be about half a million years old—from casts. The Peking Man fossils were last seen in December 1941, but vanished during the Japanese occupation of China while they were being sent to the United States for safekeeping. There are many conjectures on their fate, from being secretly stored away in Japan, to being under a parking lot in China. Yet one enduring theory is that they were lost at sea on the Japanese freighter Awa Maru: In 1945, the ship was torpedoed in the Taiwan Strait by the USS Queenfish despite being guaranteed safe passage by the United States, leading to the loss of more than 2000 lives—and, it's said, the priceless Peking fossils [PDF].

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