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7 Crazy Ways People Have Entertained Themselves

Roman Colosseum under sun light with blue sky
Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock

History is full of strange tales about the things people did to entertain themselves. Many of these “fun” events are gruesome and disturbing by today’s standards. Before Netflix, having fun was often a bit of a horror show.

Watch Gladiator Combat

Ancient Romans spent time as spectators watching gladiators battle to the death. Well, the fights didn’t always lead to death; that depended on the mood of the crowd. The loser had a chance to live if he wasn’t killed during combat, but the onlookers got a vote on whether he would live or die.

What may have made it more entertaining for those watching was when animals were added to the ring. It wasn’t always man-on-man. Elephants, tigers, and even bears were sometimes pitted against man.

Gladiator events sound like something rich aristocratic people would watch, seeing the poor get mangled by bears. However, it was actually a public event paid for by the emperor as a way to entertain people with no money and no jobs.

Gawk at Freak Shows

From Siamese twins to the bearded lady, freak shows were a huge draw to people living in the 1800s. While these days, people visit the circus to see tigers jump through hoops and people breathing fire, in days of the freak shows onlookers were drawn to the strange. P.T. Barnum started their foray into the obscure with Tom Thumb, a child that stood only two feet tall at five years old. Tom’s short stature was about a foot and a half shorter than he should have been.

The draw was to see something strange and unusual. Most people didn’t experience people with dwarfism or conjoined twins in their daily lives.

Freak shows still exist, although they are less tied to the circus as we now know it and are more an entity all their own. At them, you’ll find sword swallowers, tattooed ladies, and more.

Visit Premature Baby Exhibits

Speaking of sideshow freaks, in the early 1900s, Coney Island was a mecca for the strange and curious. One such curiosity was a museum called Infant Incubators. This museum was home to live premature babies in incubators.

The owner cared for babies who were born at hospitals unequipped to keep them alive. Tourists and passersby paid a quarter to get a look at the tiny babies struggling to stay alive.

Attend Public Executions

Medieval gallows on the background of a medieval castle

Until the mid-1800s, Britains enjoyed crowding into the streets to watch public executions. Usually, the chared wrong-doer was hanged. The United States also had public executions, and currently, you can find countries that still do them.

In the times of the witch trials, contrary to popular belief, women were not burned at the stake. Instead, during the Salem Witch Trials, the accused were hung. However, in England, women were all publically burned to death for acts of treason and heresy.

In the United States, capital punishment was momentarily suspended from 1972 to 1976. Some executions were a draw due to the person dying, such as serial killer Ted Bundy. In 1989, people showed up in droves outside the Florida prison where Bundy was housed in, and many tuned into the live broadcast on television to know precisely when Bundy was dead. They may not have seen it happen, but it was an entertainment highlight—whether they were cheering for his death or protesting the death penalty.

Hosting Seances

a seance from the 1920s
Everett Collection/Shutterstock

At one time, people were entertained by the notion of talking to the dead. These days psychic-mediums perform that job. Yet, in the past, communications with the dead were done at seances. Many of these ghostly get-togethers were hosted in the family home of the dearly departed.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries seem a popular time for oddities, and it was then when seances were the most prevalent. The people having the most fun were those who performed the seances. Many of them duped unsuspecting folks who were desperate to speak to their loved ones who had passed on. While there’s a chance that some mediums were truthful, skeptics were testing and proving people wrong at these events.

Famous people held seances. The wife of President Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd, had mediums come to her home to help her keep in touch with her dead son. Harry Houdini had an obsession with the occult, and after his death, his family annually used seances to try to reach him. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was extremely interested in spiritualism, became a member of the British Society for Psychical Research, and participated in seances.

Participate in Cat Burning

Cats are cute and cuddly family members, but in medieval times they were seen as being familiar to witches and in consort with the devil. Because they were deemed evil, some places killed them (and did so brutally).

Cats would be tossed from the belfry and then burned in the streets, often inside wicker cages. The idea was that by killing the cat, you would get rid of the evil brought by the witches or the evil feline itself.

These days, you would go to jail and pay a hefty fine for practicing such an act of animal cruelty.

Vandalize on Devil’s Night

If you think that all of the creepy fun happened in centuries past, then you probably never heard of Devil’s Night. The night before Halloween was a night of mischief as far back as the 1940s. When this way of entertainment began, it was mostly children egging homes and cars, tossing toilet paper into trees, and leaving dog poop in lunch bags on people’s doorsteps.

In the 1970s, the mischievous fun became malicious acts, especially in large cities like Detroit, Michigan. Instead of tossing toilet paper, inner-city youth and adults set fire to vacant buildings and vandalized businesses and homes. Devil’s Night, however, is almost a distant memory these days.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »