Potpourri: Incredible Coincidences

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Podcast Transcript

The dictionary defines a coincidence as “A sequence of events that, although accidental, seems to have been planned or arranged.”

We have probably all experienced coincidences of some type or another. However, there are coincidences, and then there are coincidences. There are cases that are so mind-bogglingly improbable that it would seem that they were fabricated. 

Yet, they are indeed true. 

Learn more about some of the world’s most incredible coincidences on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

It has been a while since I’ve done a potpourri episode. The premise behind a potpourri episode is pretty simple. I come across things in the course of doing research that are interesting, but there isn’t enough there to do an entire episode about it. 

So, every so often, I throw them all together in a single episode with some sort of theme tying them all together. 

So, in this episode, the topic is strange coincidences. All of us have had some odd coincidences we’ve experienced. However, there are some coincidences which are bigger than others. 

In the course of researching this episode, I came across many stories that turned out to be simply false. Many of these incredible stories are really nothing more than urban legends or, at least, have been exaggerated. 

So, as far as I know, these stories are true, but I am going to make a caveat that I can’t 100% vouch for their accuracy. Nonetheless, they do make for good stories. 

The first story deals with the Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins. In the early 1970s, Hopkins was slated to play the role of Kostya in a film adaptation of the book The Girl from Petrovka.

In the course of researching his role, he wanted to find a copy of the book so he could read it before filming. So, in London, he searched for a copy of the book in London bookstores. He searched far and wide in bookstores all over London, and none of them carried the book. 

On his way home from looking for the book, he stopped to sit down on a bench in the London Underground. Next to him, sitting on the bench, was a copy of The Girl from Petrovka that someone had left behind. 

Moreover, the book was signed by the author, George Feifer. 

About a year later, Hopkins met Feifer at a reception, and he told him the story of how he found the book. 

Feifer, in turn, told him that around the same time, he was in London, and he had lost his copy of a book that he was annotating to change the spellings from American English to British English. 

Hopkins then showed him the copy of the book, and it was the exact same book. 

That might seem like a fantastic story, but there are others that are even more incredible. 

Take the case of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. 

The assassination of the Archduke was the spark that ignited the First World War. When he and his wife were killed, they were driving in a car in the city of Sarajevo. The license plate of the car was A111118.

Fast forward four years and the deaths of millions of people. The war finally came to a conclusion. The armistice was signed on November 11, 1918….the exact same date that was on the license plate. 

A for armistice: 11-11-18. 

This is not the only incredible story to come out of the Great War. The next story ties into a previous episode I did on the last soldier to die in the war. 

The last British soldier to die in World War One was named George Edwin Ellison. He died on November 11, 1918, at 9:30 in the morning, an hour and a half before the armistice began.  He is buried at the cemetery of St Symphorien in the Belgian town of Mons. 

Directly across from his grave is another grave—the grave of another British soldier by the name of John Pons. 

John Pons has the distinction of being the first British soldier killed in the war. He was killed on August 21, 1914.  Without any intention, the first and last British soldiers killed in the war are buried right next to each other. 

There is one other incredible coincidence from the war. The RMS Carmania was a British passenger ship owned by the Cunard Line that was converted into a military ship. It was classified as an armed merchant cruiser and sent to the waters off of South America to hunt German ships that were raiding British merchant vessels. 

On September 14, 1914, off the coast of Brazil, the RMS Carmania encountered a German ship named the SMS Cap Trafalgar.

Why was this noteworthy? 

Because the SMS Cap Trafalgar was also a passenger ship that was converted to a military vessel, but this wasn’t just a battle of passenger ships. 

The SMS Cap Trafalgar had been purposely retrofitted to look just like……the RMS Carmania. The ship was disguised so it could get close to merchant ships. 

The Cap Trafalgar was sunk by the Carmania, which was its twin ship. It was the only fight that the Cap Trafalgar was ever in. 

Another historical personality who had a host of odd coincidences associated with him and his family was Abraham Lincoln. 

The first coincidence had to do with his son, Robert Todd Lincoln. This story was retold by Robert Todd Lincoln several times. Supposedly, in 1863 or 1864, while he was on break from Harvard, he was traveling from New York to Washington. He was at the railway station in Jersey City, New Jersey.

While waiting in line for a train, there was a crush of people who were pushing forward. This caused him to lose his footing and fall in the space between the track and the platform, and that was when the track was starting to move. 

He was in danger of getting crushed by the train when suddenly a hand grabbed him by the color and pulled up back up to the platform. 

The man who pulled him up was Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the man who killed his father.  According to his biography, he recognized him immediately as he was a famous actor. The man Booth was traveling with was the owner of Ford’s Theater. 

That isn’t the only coincidence involving Robert Todd Lincoln. There have been four presidential assassinations in US History. Robert Todd Lincoln was in the vicinity of three of them. 

He wasn’t in the theater when his father was shot, but he was at his side when he died. In 1881, he was walking towards President Garfield when he was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac train station. 

Finally, in 1901, he pulled into the train station in Buffalo when he was notified that President McKinley had been shot. He went to visit him at this house, where he was able to meet with the president for a few minutes after he was shot. 

One of the oddest stories to come out of the Civil War had to do with Wilmer McLean. Wilmer McLean owned a farm in Manassas, Virginia. It just so happened to have been the location of the first major battle of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run, on July 21, 1861. 

After having lost his home and farm to the battle, he moved to restart his life in the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. On April 8, 1865, a messenger knocked on his door and indicated that Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant wanted to use his home to sign the surrender document. 

As McLean later said, “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”

Another highly improbable story of combat in the 19th century involved Henri Tragne, who lived in Marseilles, France. Tragne was involved in five separate duels. 

When I say he was involved in five duels, that doesn’t mean he actually fought in five duels. 

On four separate occasions, he agreed to take part in a duel, and in every case, his opponent died naturally before the duel took place. 

In his fifth duel, his opponent didn’t die before the duel took place. This time, he died before the duel. 

These are far from the only coincidental deaths. During the 1930s, the Hoover Dam outside of Las Vegas was one of the biggest construction projects in the world. However, it was a very dangerous worksite. Over the course of construction, 94 men would be killed. 

The first person who is credited with having been killed in the construction of the Hoover Dam was one J.G. Tierney.   On December 20, 1921, he was in a boat on the Colorado River, conducting a survey to determine where the best spot would be to build the dam. He fell out of the boat and disappeared.  

Exactly 14 years later, to the very day, on December 20, 1935, his son Patrick Tierney fell to his death in one of the intake towers on the Arizona side of the dam.  Patrick was the last person to die in the construction of the dam.

One of the coincidences that defies belief but has been verified to be true has to do with the death of two brothers on the island of Bermuda. 

Nevile Ebbin was a 17-year-old who lived in the island’s capital of Hamilton. On July 30, 1974, Nevile was driving a moped on Middle Road when he was hit and killed by a taxi driven by a man named Willard Manders..  This is certainly a tragedy, but traffic fatalities do happen.

What made that event extraordinary was what happened almost one year later, on July 18, 1975. Nevile’s younger brother, Erskine, was driving the very same moped his brother was killed driving. He was driving the moped on the same Middle Road, which admittedly is a very long road, when he too was hit by a taxi and killed.

The taxi was the exact same one that had killed his brother and was driven by the same driver.

What makes the story even weirder is that the passenger in the taxi was the same person in both accidents. 

Some coincidences are just…..bizarre. 

For example, how many times have you been walking down the street when a baby fell out of a window and hit you in the head? I would be safe in betting that not a single person listening to this podcast anywhere in the world has ever had a baby fall out of the window of a building and hit you in the head as you were passing by. 

That happened in 1937 to a street sweeper for the city of Detroit named Joseph Figlock.  A small girl fell out of a fourth-story window and hit Mr. Figlock, injuring both him and the baby. 

As improbable as that seems, that actually isn’t the bizarre part of the story. 

One year later, when he was working in an alley, a two-year-old boy fell out of a fourth-story window and again landed squarely on Joseph Figlock. 

This incredibly improbable event happened to him not once but twice. 

Another improbable occurrence took place with the married couple of Alex and Donna Voutsinas.

Alex grew up in Montreal, and Donna grew up in Miami. Later in life, the two met, dated for several years, and were engaged to be married in 2002. 

Just a few weeks before their wedding, they were going through old family photos from Donna’s family when they came across a photo taken at Disney World in 1980. 

The photo was of five-year-old Donna and her two brothers posing with a Disney Character. 

However, what caught everyone’s attention in the background of the photo was Alex’s father pushing three-year-old Alex in a stroller. 

Two people from different countries by pure chance were in the same photo who twenty years later would get married. 

Shockingly enough, in my research for this episode, I found several other examples of this exact same thing that happened in Japan and Brazil. 

I want to close with my own personal strange coincidence. 

In July 2015, I visited the Florida Keys, where they hold an underwater music festival every year. The festival is more of an awareness campaign for conservation efforts in the Keys. People will don SCUBA gear, go down about 3 meters or 20 feet, and pretend to play instruments while music is being piped in from underwater speakers. 

I was there for the event that year, and I was in the water SCUBA diving with everyone else. 

One of the most famous people associated with the Florida Keys is the swimmer Diana Nyad. She famously attempted to swim from Florida to Cuba back in the 1970s and failed several times before completing the swim in 2013 at the age of 64. 

While she has done many things in her life, she is probably best known for swimming in the waters of the Florida Keys. 

While I was there in 2015, I came up to the surface after being on the bottom for a bit, and I wasn’t paying attention to what was immediately above me when I surfaced. 

When I surfaced, I bumped into someone, and the person I bumped into was…..Diana Nyad……swimming in waters of the Florida Keys. She was the grand marshall for the event that year, and I bumped into her as she was doing the very thing in the very place that made her famous. 

Any given coincidence seems like an improbable event. However, coincidences generally are quite common. There are an enormous number of variables and over eight billion people. Eventually, something is going to happen which is a low probability event.