6 Historical Deaths That Read Like Crazy Myths (But Aren’t)

2. Benjamin Guggenheim Put On His Best Suit To “Die A Gentleman” Aboard The Titanic

As a member of the then-richest family in the world, Benjamin Guggenheim was able to buy his way aboard the inaugural voyage of the RMS Titanic, the ship famously wrought entirely of iron and hubris. But at the time, no one knew what was to come; it was just an extremely luxurious trip they were all taking. And what’s the point in opulent luxury if you can’t show it off to anyone? So Guggenheim brought his mistress, Leontine Aubart, a maid, Emma Sagesser, and his valet, Victor Giglio, along for the ride as well.

Guggenheim and Giglio were asleep in their cabin when the infamous iceberg came a-knocking. After the gentlemen helped Aubart and Sagesser into a lifeboat, Guggenheim reassured them that this was only a temporary problem, and that the ship would be up and working by the next day. Which was total bullshit. He was rich, not an idiot. Guggenheim and Giglio knew they were going down with the ship, and set about literally going down in style. They returned to their quarters and changed into their evening attire, then after finding a crewmember boarding a lifeboat, Guggenheim asked for a message to be passed on to his estranged wife: “Tell her I played the game straight to the end and that no woman was left on board because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”

According to eyewitness accounts from the sinking, Guggenheim and Giglio were last seen relaxing in deckchairs, knocking back brandies and smoking fat cigars. Within hours, the ship was on the bottom of the ocean, though it might have lasted longer if Guggenheim, Giglio, and Father Thomas Byles weren’t weighing the craft down with their gargantuan balls.

Speaking of sinking ships …

1. Teddy Sheean Stayed Aboard A Sinking Submarine To Shoot The Bastards Responsible

Ordinary seaman Edward Sheean died when he was just 18, with a 20mm anti-aircraft gun in his hands and a sinking ship under his feet. During World War II, Sheean was serving aboard the HMAS Armidale, an Australian corvette ship tasked with carrying reinforcements and supplies to Timor. The ship was spotted by Japanese aircraft, which began to attack it. Two torpedo hits later, the ship was doomed.

Sheean didn’t have much training for what to do next, or really much training at all. He was an teenaged volunteer; most of his “training” was what he managed to gather watching veterans on his assignment. Also, he’d already been wounded twice when he heard the order to abandon ship. The young man delivered his rebuttal in the form of a storm of fury, bringing down two, possibly even three, of the Japanese bombers by himself while the sea roiled around him. And finally above him.

That’s a painting — probably not painted contemporaneously — of Sheean after he’d strapped himself to his weapon, which was itself bolted to a sinking ship. This wasn’t just bloodlust; he was reacting to an atrocity. The survivors in the water were being shot from the air by the Japanese. It’s quite possible that it was thanks to his efforts, there were 49 survivors instead of none. The gun was still firing when it finally slipped beneath the waves.

Sheean would go on to win several posthumous awards and honors, and became an almost legendary figure in Australian naval history. And not long after, somewhere in Valhalla, Odin would pull out a chair and hold up a horn of thousand-year-old mead.

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