Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, creators of the comedy podcast The Dollop, explore the most bizarre stories from American history in their new book. From the time Elvis became a federal agent to the day meat rained from the sky in Kentucky, the tales in The United States of Absurdity revel in the country’s wacky past.
The book, which features illustrations by James Fosdike and a forward by Patton Oswalt, highlights 29 events, people and animals that contributed to the nation’s absurd history. Check out the gallery to view a handful of these insane stories.
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October 13, 1876 – April 1, 1914
"Why don't you know about one of the most feared pitchers of all time?" Anthony and Reynolds write. "Because he was an idiot." Rube Waddell bounced between major league teams, because he made a habit of causing trouble (playing with kids in the sandlot, fighting fans, leaving in the middle of games to go fishing). But he was an amazing athlete. "One day, the Rube pitched a 17-inning game, and then pitched another full game later that afternoon, completely shutting out the other team. He pitched a 26-inning one-day shutout, all while having a gerbil's brain."
"When all was said and done," Anthony and Reynolds write, "the Rube had accidentally shot a friend in the hand, been bitten by a lion, saved 13 people's lives, earned rave reviews for a vaudeville show where he was allowed to improvise all his lines, and made it to the World Series but was unable to play because of an injury he picked up after fighting a teammate—and he had no idea how many women he'd married."
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Mike the Chicken
September 10, 1945 – March 17, 1947
Mike the Chicken was famous for living without his head for a year and a half. Yep, you read that correctly. Lloyd Olsen, Mike's owner, was planning to feed the chicken to his mother-in-law, so he chopped off the bird's head. But Mike didn't die. It turns out that "Mike's cerebellum was left intact," so he "could still walk around and 'think' to some extent." This led to national fame for Mike, who was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records and toured the country with Olsen. Sadly, Mike died 18 months later when he choked on corn (Olsen fed him by dropping food and water down Mike's open esophagus).
"Mike is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to Robert F. Kennedy. Kidding!" Anthony and Reynolds write. "Every year, however, there is a Mike the Chicken Festival in Colorado. See ya there, fellow chicken-head-heads!"
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May 22, 1977 – July 13, 1993
Rollen Stewart, aka "Rainbow Man," was a failed actor who gained notoriety in the late-1970s for wearing a rainbow Afro wig and "[dancing] around like an idiot" at televised sporting events. His comical story took a "dark turn" in the '90s, though. Convinced the apocalypse was near, he took a hotel maid hostage and demanded a primetime press conference in exchange for her freedom. A SWAT team eventually freed the hostage and arrested Stewart.
Anthony and Reynolds write: "In [Stewart's] room [the SWAT team] found his supplies: a loaded handgun, two ammo clips, 47 live rounds of ammo, three days' worth of food, Bibles, and, of course, one rainbow Afro wig. That's a weird pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow Man."
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The Vampire Panic
February 1817 – March 1892
The U.S. had a "serious tuberculosis problem in the 1800s"—as in one in four kids died from it. "People didn't like what they were seeing," Anthony and Reynolds write, "and back then, when people didn't like something, they did crazy shit in response." In this case, people believed dead family members were vampires who were "making everyone else sick from the grave." So, naturally, they exhumed said vampires from their graves and tried everything from burning the bodies to eating their organs to stop the spread of disease. Spoiler alert: None of this worked.
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The United States of Absurdity is available now from Ten Speed Press.