11 of the Fiercest Real-Life Pirates and the Seas They Ruled

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istock

Despite what some cartoons and amusement park rides may have led you to believe, pirates were generally not a charming lot. They pillaged, they invaded, and they obeyed only the sea laws they made up as they went along. For proof, check out these 11 real ocean marauders and the waters they terrorized. 

1. BLACKBEARD 

While he would later settle into a kind of catch-all pirate cliché, Edward Teach’s actual exploits were nothing to sneeze at. Fond of arming himself to the teeth, he customized a stolen French ship in 1717 to include 40 cannons and then used it to threaten the port of Charleston, South Carolina, refusing to move until his extortion demands were met. He wasn’t above petty larceny, either: When a man refused to hand over his ring, he took both the jewelry and the finger. It took the British Navy to finally bring him down.   

2. CHARLES VANE 

Vane steered his ship Ranger into lots of trouble in the early 1700s—enough to grab the attention of newly appointed Royal Governor Woodes Rogers in New Providence. After Vane snubbed Rogers’s offer of a pardon, the two forces engaged in what amounted to an oceanic dogfight. Vane set one of his own ships on fire and aimed it at his enemies. As Woodes’s forces frantically steered out of its path, Vane sailed around them to freedom.  His cunning didn’t last, though: Captured in the 1720s, he was hung for his crimes.

3. ANNE BONNY AND MARY READ 

While many women occupied ships of all kinds during piracy’s “golden era” of the 1600s and 1700s, they were normally relegated to servant’s work. Anne Bonny, however, didn’t subscribe to gender roles: When one man complained of her presence, she stabbed him. Legend says Bonny met Mary Read after Bonny’s ship (captained by her lover, John Rackam) had seized Mary’s; the two became close, fighting together as Bonny’s pirate crew stormed fishing boats. When their ship was taken over by Jamaican forces in 1720, the men hid below deck while the women stood their ground. Sentenced to hang, they got stays of execution after it was found both were pregnant. 

4. “BLACK” BART ROBERTS 

After the Welsh pirate Howell Davis seized his African slave ship, Roberts had an understandable distaste for the pirate life—but when Davis was killed, Roberts had no problem taking his spot at the helm. He soon became one of the most successful (or feared, depending on your vantage point) buccaneers of piracy’s golden age. In one instance, Roberts pretended to be part of a Brazilian fleet so he could get close enough to pillage its richest ship. Roberts’s disposition was occasionally challenged by his crew, to which Roberts would typically answer by murdering them. Roberts was ultimately killed by the British Navy in 1722. 

5. EDWARD LOW 

Any pretense of British-born pirates being slightly more humane than their counterparts was abandoned as stories of Edward Low began to spread in the early 1700s. Sailing along North America and the Caribbean, Low seemed to enjoy tormenting his captured and frightened crew. His sadism grew nearly intolerable, but the final straw came when he abandoned his sister ship and all her crew to a British vessel that he could have defeated. His crew eventually abandoned him, and some accounts say he hanged in France, while others say he escaped with his life to Brazil. 

6. FRANCOIS L’OLONNAIS 

While many pirates had a reputation for brutality, L’Olonnais was in a (violent) class by himself. Terrorizing the Caribbean seas in the 1600s, he was fond of dismembering foes—in one instance, even taking a bite of a man’s heart. Some historians believe L’Olonnais was himself eaten by cannibals. 

7. CLAAS COMPAEN 

Dutch pirate Compaen achieved folk hero status for his maritime exploits. As many as 350 ships were victimized by his aggression, and it’s believed that Compaen protected his bounty by bribing authorities in exchange for safe harbor. Even after Compaen had hung up his captain’s hat and settled in Holland, parents would sometimes caution their children to behave—or else they’d call Compaen, their boogeyman, to come after them. 

8. CHENG I SAO 

Also known as Ching Shih, the Chinese widow took over her husband’s impressive fleet of pirate ships in the early 1800s. But her rule came with conditions: no female captive could be harmed; pirates were allowed to purchase the prettiest captives as wives, but if the pirates cheated, they’d be put to death; privateers who didn’t show up for work or deserted the fleet had their ears removed. She later ran a gambling house.

9. SAM BELLAMY 

It’s not often that love makes a man turn to a life of pirate crime, but Sam Bellamy was no ordinary looter: Cape Cod lore says that after being rejected by the parents of his love, Maria, for being too poor, Bellamy took to the seas to find his fortune. He even came close to some kind of righteous reprisal, capturing a slave ship along with all of its gold and silver. No lifetime criminal, Bellamy had gathered enough booty to steer home in 1717—and was promptly caught in a storm that killed him before he could prove his worth. Part of the wreckage was discovered in the latter part of the 20th century, making it the first pirate ship from piracy’s golden age ever recovered in North America. 

10. CHARLES GIBBS 

Originally a member of the U.S. Navy, Gibbs was active during the last wave of pirates in the early 1800s. Once he was captured and standing trial, Gibbs’s practice of killing most of his seized shipmen ignited debate over capital punishment: He murdered most witnesses, he said, since murder and piracy both carried the same punishment (death) and also because “dead men tell no tales.” He was hanged for his crimes in 1831 at Ellis Island. 

11. HENRY AVERY 

Avery, whose cruelty was considered excessive even by pirate standards, stormed the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in the late 1600s. When the volume of gold and silver on board an Indian treasure boat Avery captured while sailing back from Arabia wasn’t enough to satisfy his appetite, Avery is said to have ordered his men to torture passengers to make sure no valuables were hidden. Satisfied he had squeezed them for every ounce, their bodies were thrown overboard. Avery was last seen with a horde of money, but whether he was able to spend it without being identified—making him one of the few pirates to retire in comfort—is lost to history.  

10 Things You Might Not Know About Columbo

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

For more than 40 years, Peter Falk entered living rooms around the world as Lieutenant Columbo, an unconventional L.A. homicide detective known for his ruffled raincoat and trademark cigar. The actor would go on to win four Emmys for the role, while the series itself remains a benchmark for television crime dramas. But if series creators William Link and Richard Levinson went with their initial choice, the iconic role of Columbo would have gone to a syrupy-smooth crooner rather than the inelegant Falk. Get familiar with one of TV's most unique heroes with facts about Columbo.

1. BING CROSBY WAS ORIGINALLY EYED FOR THE ROLE.

Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link's first choice to play their low-key detective was crooner Bing Crosby. Der Bingle loved the script and the character, but he feared that a TV series commitment would interfere with his true passion—golf. It was probably providential that Crosby turned the role down, since his death in 1977 occurred while the series was still a solid hit on NBC. 

2. PETER FALK WAS AN UNEXPECTED SEX SYMBOL.

Peter Falk in 'Columbo'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Character actor Lee J. Cobb was also considered for the role, until Peter Falk phoned co-creator William Link. Falk had gotten a copy of the script from his agents at William Morris and told Link that he’d “kill to play that cop.” Link and Levinson knew the actor back from their days of working in New York, and even though he was the opposite of everything they’d originally pictured for Lt. Columbo, they had to admit that Falk had a certain likeability that translated to both men and women. Falk was described by a certain female demographic as “sexy,” and males liked him because he was an unthreatening, humble, blue-collar underdog who was smarter than the wealthy perps he encountered.

3. FALK WAS A GOVERNMENT WORKER BEFORE BECOMING AN ACTOR.

Peter Falk wasn’t too far removed from the character he played. In real life he tended to be rumpled and disheveled and was forever misplacing things (he was famous for losing his car keys and having to be driven home from the studio by someone else). He was also intelligent, having earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, which led to him working for the State of Connecticut’s Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert until the acting bug bit him. He was also used to being underestimated due to his appearance; he’d lost his right eye to cancer at age three, and many of his drama teachers in college warned him of his limited chances in film due to his cockeyed stare. Indeed, after a screen test at Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn dismissed him by saying, “For the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.”

4. COLUMBO'S DOG WASN'T A WELCOME SIGHT AT FIRST.

Columbo's dog
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

When Columbo was renewed for a second season, NBC brass had a request: they wanted the lieutenant to have a sidekick. Perhaps a young rookie detective just learning the ropes. Link and Levinson were resistant to the idea, but the network was pressuring them. They conferred with Steven Bochco, who was writing the script for the season opener, “Etude in Black,” and together they hatched the idea of giving Lt. Columbo a dog as a “partner.” Falk was against the idea at first; he felt that between the raincoat, cigar, and Peugeot his character had enough gimmicks. But when he met the lethargic, drooling Basset Hound that had been plucked from a pound, Falk knew it was perfect for Columbo's dog.

The original dog passed away in between the end of the original NBC run of the series and its renewal on ABC, so a replacement was necessary. The new pup was visibly younger than the original dog, and as a result spent more time in the makeup chair to make him look older.

5. FALK'S REAL-LIFE WIFE PLAYED A ROLE IN THE SERIES.

Falk first met Shera Danese, the woman who would become his second wife, on the set of his 1976 film Mikey & Nicky. The movie was being filmed in Danese’s hometown of Philadelphia, and the aspiring actress had landed work as an extra. They were married in 1977, and she was able to pad out her resume by appearing on several episodes of Columbo. Her first few appearances were limited to small walk-on parts—secretaries, sexy assistants, etc. By the time the series was resurrected on ABC in the early 1990s, she was awarded larger roles.

She originally auditioned for the role of the titular rock star in 1991’s “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” but her husband adamantly refused, since the role included a scene of her in bed making love to a much younger man. She instead played the role of a co-conspiring attorney, and was also allowed to sing the song that was the major hit for the murdered star.

6. THE CHARACTER'S TRADEMARK RAINCOAT CAME FROM FALK'S CLOSET.

The initial wardrobe proposed for Columbo struck Peter Falk as completely wrong for the character. To get closer to what he wanted for Columbo, the actor went into his closet and found a beat-up coat he had bought years earlier when caught in a rainstorm on 57th Street. And he ordered one of the blue suits chosen for him to be dyed brown. The drab outfit would become one of the trademarks of the character for decades.

7. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT AN EARLY BREAK ON COLUMBO.

“Murder by the Book” was the second Columbo episode filmed, but it was the first one to air after the show was picked up as a series. Filming was delayed for a month, though, when Falk refused to sign off on this “kid”—a 25-year-old named Steven Spielberg—to direct the episode. Finally he watched a few of Spielberg’s previous credits (all of them TV episodes) and was impressed by his work on the short-lived NBC series called The Psychiatrist. Once filming was underway, Falk was impressed by many of the techniques employed by the young director, such as filming a street scene with a long lens from a building across the road. “That wasn’t common 20 years ago,” Falk said. He went on to tell producers Link and Levinson that “this guy is too good for Columbo."

8. COLUMBO'S FIRST NAME WOUND UP THE SUBJECT OF A LAWSUIT.

Fred L. Worth, author of several books of trivia facts, had a sneaking feeling that other folks were using his meticulously researched facts without crediting him. He set a “copyright trap” and mentioned in one of his books that Lt. Columbo’s first name was “Philip,” although he had completely fabricated that so-called fact. Sure enough, a 1984 edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game listed the “Philip” Columbo name as an answer on one of their cards, which led to a $300 million lawsuit filed by Mr. Worth.

The board game creators admitted in court that they’d garnered their Columbo fact from Worth’s book, but the judge ultimately determined that it was not an actionable offense. By the way, years later when Columbo was available in syndicated reruns and HD TV was an option, alert viewers were able to freeze-frame a scene where the rumpled lieutenant extended his badge for identification purposes in the season one episode “Dead Weight” and determine that his first name was, in fact, “Frank.”

9. THE SERIES DIDN'T FOLLOW A STANDARD MYSTERY FORMAT.

The premise of Columbo was the “inverted mystery,” or a “HowCatchEm” instead of a “WhoDunIt.” Every episode began with the actual crime being played out in full view of the audience, meaning viewers already knew “WhodunIt.” What they wanted to know is how Lt. Columbo would slowly zero in on the perpetrator. This sort of story was particularly challenging for the series’s writers, and they sometimes found inspiration in the most unlikely places. Like the Yellow Pages, for example. One of Peter Falk’s personal favorite episodes, “Now You See Him,” had its genesis when the writers were flipping through the telephone book looking for a possible profession for a Columbo murderer (keep in mind that all of Columbo’s victims and perps were of the Beverly Hills elite variety, not your typical Starsky and Hutch-type thug).

A page listing professional magicians caught their eye, and that led to a classic episode featuring the ever-suave Jack Cassidy playing the role of the former SS Nazi officer who worked as a nightclub magician. When the Jewish nightclub owner recognized him and threatened to expose him, well, you can guess what happened. But the challenge is to guess how Lt. Columbo ultimately caught him. 

10. THERE WAS A SPINOFF THAT KIND OF WAS BUT THEN WASN'T.

The 1979 TV series entitled Mrs. Columbo was not technically related to the original Peter Falk series. In fact, Levinson and Link opposed the entire concept of the series; it was NBC honcho Fred Silverman who gave the OK to use the Columbo name and imply that Kate Mulgrew was the widowed/divorced wife (the series changed names and backstories several times during its short run) of the famed homicide detective. The “real” Mrs. Columbo was never mentioned by her first name during the original series, but actor Peter Falk possibly slipped and revealed that her name was “Rose” when he appeared at this Dean Martin Roast saluting Frank Sinatra and asked for an autograph.

12 Savory Facts About Bacon

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iStock

Bacon is everywhere these days. You can find it in ice cream, coffee, cupcakes, and chewing gum. There are bacon-scented candles, bacon lip balm, and even a bacon deodorant. With bacon saturating every corner of the market, it’s worth looking at the origins of this smoky, salty food and how it became so wildly popular. In honor of National Bacon Lovers Day, here are a few facts to whet your appetite.

1. IT DATES BACK TO 1500 BCE.

The Chinese were the first to cook salted pork bellies more than 3000 years ago. This makes bacon one of the world’s oldest processed meats.

2. ROMANS CALLED IT "PETASO."

Bacon eventually migrated westward, where it became a dish worthy of modern-day foodies. The Romans made petaso, as they called it, by boiling salted pig shoulder with figs, and then seasoning the mixture with pepper sauce. Wine was, of course, a frequent accompaniment.

3. THE WORD REFERS TO THE "BACK" OF A PIG.


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The word bacon comes from the Germanic root “-bak,” and refers to the back of the pig that supplied the meat. Bakko became the French bacco, which the English then adopted around the 12th century, naming the dish bacoun. Back then, the term referred to any pork product, but by the 14th century bacoun referred specifically to the cured meat.

4. THE FIRST BACON FACTORY OPENED IN 1770.

For generations, local farmers and butchers made bacon for their local communities. In England, where it became a dietary staple, bacon was typically "dry cured" with salt and then smoked. In the late 18th century, a businessman named John Harris opened the first bacon processing plant in the county of Wiltshire, where he developed a special brining solution for finishing the meat. The "Wiltshire Cure" method is still used today, and is a favorite of bacon lovers who prefer a sweeter, less salty taste.

5. "BRINGING HOME THE BACON" GOES BACK CENTURIES.

These days the phrase refers to making money, but its origins have nothing to do with income. In 12th century England, churches would award a "flitch," or a side, of bacon to any married man who swore before God that he and his wife had not argued for a year and a day. Men who "brought home the bacon" were seen as exemplary citizens and husbands.

6. IT HELPED MAKE EXPLOSIVES DURING WORLD WAR II.

In addition to planting victory gardens and buying war bonds, households were encouraged to donate their leftover bacon grease to the war effort. Rendered fats created glycerin, which in turn created bombs, gunpowder, and other munitions. A promotional film starring Minnie Mouse and Pluto chided housewives for throwing out more than 2 billion pounds of grease every year; "That’s enough glycerin for 10 billion rapid-fire cannon shells."

7. HARDEE’S FRISCO BURGER WAS A GAME CHANGER FOR BACON.

Bacon took a beating in the 1980s, when dieting trends took aim at saturated fats and cholesterol. By the '90s, though, Americans were ready to indulge again. Hardee’s Frisco Burger, one of the first fast-food burgers served with bacon, came out in 1992 and was a hit. It revived bacon as an ingredient, and convinced other fast-food companies to bacon-ize their burgers. Bloomberg called it "a momentous event for fast food, and bacon’s fate, in America."

8. THE AVERAGE AMERICAN CONSUMES 18 POUNDS OF BACON EACH YEAR.

Savory, salty, and appropriately retro: The past couple years have been a bonanza for bacon, with more than three quarters of restaurants now serving bacon dishes, and everything from candy canes to gumballs now flavored with bacon. Recent reports linking processed meats to increased cancer risk have put a dent in consumption, and may have a prolonged effect. But for now, America’s love affair with bacon continues.

9. THERE’S A CHURCH OF BACON.

This officially sanctioned church boasts 13,000 members under the commandment "Praise Bacon." It’s more a rallying point for atheists and skeptics than for bacon lovers, per se, and there’s no official location as of yet. But the church does perform wedding ceremonies and fundraisers, and has raised thousands of dollars for charity. All bacon praise is welcome, even if you're partial to vegetarian or turkey bacon over the traditional pork. Hallelujah!

10. THERE'S ALSO A BACON CAMP.


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It’s like summer camp, but with less canoeing and more bacon cooking. Held every year in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Camp Bacon features speakers, cooking classes, and other bacon-related activities for chefs and enthusiasts eager to learn more about their favorite food.

11. MODERN TECHNOLOGY WANTS TO HELP YOU WAKE UP AND SMELL BACON.

An ingenious combination of toaster and alarm clock, the Wake 'n Bacon made waves a few years back with the promise of waking up to fresh-cooked bacon. Sadly, the product never made it past the prototype phase, but those intent on rising to that smoky, savory aroma were able to pick up Oscar Mayer’s special app, which came with a scent-emitting attachment.

12. THERE’S A BACON SCULPTURE OF KEVIN BACON.

It had to happen eventually. Artist Mike Lahue used seven bottles of bacon bits, lots of glue, and five coats of lacquer to create a bust of the Footloose star, which sold at auction a few years back. No word on how well the bacon bit Bacon bust has held up.

This article originally ran in 2016.

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