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9 of History's Most Confounding Coincidences

In their 1989 paper "Methods for Studying Coincidences," math professors Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller defined a coincidence as a "surprising concurrence of events, perceived as meaningfully related, with no apparent causal connection."

It's an apt definition, but it doesn't quite do justice to those occurrences which tie together people and places in a way that makes us do a double-take and wonder, are supernatural forces pulling the strings behind the curtain?

Here are nine such coincidences, some of historical significance, others just downright mind-blowing, which have rational people questioning the odds of just how things could have unfolded that way.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Both Died on the 50th Anniversary of Independence Day

United States Declaration of Independence with a vintage American flag.
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John Adams and Thomas Jefferson will forever be grouped among the American Founding Fathers, though they seemingly shared more of a cosmic connection with each other than the rest. After striking up a friendship at the 1775 Continental Congress, Adams and Jefferson teamed up to draft the Declaration of Independence, concurrently served in Europe as American diplomats, and became the second and third U.S. Presidents, respectively, before partisan fighting drove them apart. But they reignited a regular correspondence in their golden years through the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1826. That day, as he lay on his deathbed, Adams reportedly delivered his final words of "Thomas Jefferson survives," not realizing his old friend and rival had passed away a few hours earlier.

John Wilkes Booth's Brother Saved the Life of Abraham Lincoln's Son

View of the Ford's Theatre stage and box where Lincoln was shot.
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It may seem off-kilter to conflate the names of Booth and Lincoln for a story with a happy ending, but that's what transpired from a near-disaster at a crowded New Jersey train platform around late 1863. Then a student at Harvard, Robert Todd Lincoln found himself pressed against a train that suddenly lurched forward and spun him onto the tracks before a quick-reacting good samaritan hauled him to safety. Lincoln immediately recognized his savior as the famous actor Edwin Booth, though it took a congratulatory letter from a mutual friend for Booth to realize that he had rescued President Abraham Lincoln's oldest son. Regardless, any goodwill between the two families soon vanished when Booth's pro-Confederate younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, fatally ambushed the President in April 1865.

Wilmer McLean Hosted the First Major Battle and Formal Conclusion of the Civil War

Old cannon in Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia.
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Northern Virginia plantation owner Wilmer McLean was happy to cede his grounds to pro-slavery Confederates for what became the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. However, he was tired of the destruction by the time his plantation was again used for the follow-up battle in August 1862, and he moved his family south to the isolated village of Appomattox Court House the following year. Turns out he didn't get quite far enough away from the action, as an aide to General Robert E. Lee requested the use of McLean's new residence for a surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865.

Mark Twain Entered and Exited the World With Halley's Comet

Mark Twain sitting on a couch with his pipe in hand.
Credit: Universal History Archive via Getty Images

Two weeks after Halley's Comet passed its November 1835 perihelion — the point of orbit closest to the sun — a boy named Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri. Clemens went on to worldwide fame as Mark Twain, but there was no slowing the passage of time, and in 1909, the septuagenarian author told his biographer that he expected an astronomical bookending to his days. "It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet," he revealed. "The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'" The Almighty must have listened, and on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley's Comet again reached its perihelion, Twain died from a heart attack.

The Car That Brought About WWI Also Predicted its End

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria with his wife in Sarajevo walking down stairs towards car.
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It was the event that triggered World War I, yet also seemingly carried a harbinger for when peace would return to the land. On June 28, 1914, Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were shot at point-blank range by Bosnian revolutionary Gavrilo Princip as they rode through Sarajevo in their touring car. While onlookers converged on the dying royals and their assassin, no one could have grasped the significance of the car's license plate of AIII 118; read another way, with the I's switched to 1's and slight changes in spacing applied, and you have 11/11/18 — the date of Armistice Day, which formally ended the Great War.

The 1912 Titanic Disaster Was Predicted in an 1898 Book

Illustration of the sinking Titanic with lifeboats in the water.
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The April 1912 sinking of the Titanic became one of the world's most infamous disasters, but those who read Morgan Robertson's 1898 novella, Futility, may have already had an inkling of the doomed ocean liner's fate. In the book, the "unsinkable" Titan, measuring 800 feet long and capable of holding a maximum of 3,000 passengers, collided with an iceberg some 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland at around midnight. In real life, the so-called "unsinkable" Titanic, measuring 882 feet and designed to seat up to 3,000 passengers, smashed into an iceberg some 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland at 11:40 p.m. Morgan naturally rejected the accusations of his somehow predicting the disaster, though that didn't prevent his publisher from capitalizing on the headlines and republishing the novella that year.

A Father and Son Died Exactly 14 Years Apart While Working on the Hoover Dam

Aerial of the Hoover Dam.
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On December 20, 1921, a Missouri-born surveyor named John Gregory Tierny became one of the first casualties linked to the construction of the Hoover Dam when he perished in a flash flood on the Colorado River. While such an outcome perhaps should have deterred other family members from going anywhere near the dam, it wasn't enough to scare away Tierney's only son, Patrick, from later joining its construction as an electrician's assistant. Fourteen years to the day after his father's passing, Patrick became the project's last formal casualty when he fell more than 300 feet to his death from an intake tower.

Two Versions of “Dennis the Menace” Surfaced on the Same Day

Beano Comics pattern from above.
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On March 12, 1951, “Dennis the Menace” appeared for the first time in the British weekly comic magazine, The Beano. That same day, “Dennis the Menace” debuted in 16 American newspapers. Was it the same character arriving in different countries by way of an international distribution deal? Nope. The British Dennis, drawn by David Law, was dark-haired, scowling, and known to deliberately stir up trouble; American Dennis, from the hand of Hank Ketcham, was blonde, friendly, and more likely to foul things up through good intentions turned sour. It was reported that neither artist initially was aware of the other's work, and apparently, neither cared about any sort of copyright infringement, as both the British and American Dennis went on to long, successful runs in their respective countries.

The “Jim Twins” Led Remarkably Similar Lives

James Springer and James Lewis clinking coupe glass.
Credit: Ira Berger/ Alamy Stock Photo

Finally, there's the case of James Springer and James Lewis, identical twins who went their separate ways as infants through adoption yet went on to live eerily similar lives before reuniting at age 39. Each grew up with a brother named Larry, had a pet dog named Toy, went into law enforcement, and named his first-born son James Allan (with slightly different spellings). And even if you chalk some of those matches up to genetic disposition, it doesn't quite explain how each twin somehow married a woman named Linda before following with a second wife named Betty, or how both settled on the same vacation spot at a small beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, more than 1,000 miles away from where they were separately reared in Ohio.