As It Happens

This researcher is digging up 'quirky' historical facts for anyone who wants one

Myko Clelland has promised a bespoke historical fact to anyone who retweeted him — but he says he may have bespoke too soon.

With 2K requests and counting, Myko Clelland vows: 'Everyone gets one eventually — if I can keep myself alive'

Myko Clelland, known as @DapperHistorian on Twitter, poses in a lush leather chair surrounded by books and a taxidermic badger. (Submitted by Myko Clelland)

Story Transcript

Myko Clelland may have bitten off more than he can chew. 

The Scottish genealogist and historian promised last month on Twitter to provide an "individual, quirky historical fact" to everyone who retweets him. 

As of Wednesday, he's been retweeted over 2,000 times. 

"I'm doing my best to get in as many as I can. And currently for every person I reply to, I'm getting about four back coming in, so I know it's pretty unsustainable," Clelland told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"They do say people who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. And I agree with that. It's a really good proverb. But what they didn't tell me is that people that do know history might still have to repeat it, but they do it one tweet at a time."

Clelland, who lives in Edinburgh, is a genealogist with the company Find My Past. He's been researching his Twitter factoids late into the night after he clocks out of his day job.

"Everyone gets one eventually — if I can keep myself alive until the end," he said.

While it's hard work, he says he finds it immensely rewarding, especially when his tidbits mirror the way people behave today.

For example, in one tweet he revealed that ancient Greeks and Romans liked to visit the Egyptian pyramids as a "holiday destination." One popular spot was the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses VI.

"Inside that is more than 1,000 bits of graffiti from ancient Greeks and Romans, leaving reviews almost like TripAdvisor of the day. And the reviews include things like, 'I can't read the hieroglyphs,' and 'I visited, and I didn't like anything except the sarcophagus,'" he said.

"Everything in history has kind of been done before, and everything we look at today, there's always something that's a parallel from the past that we can look into."

A 1922 aerial view of archaeological excavations of the tombs of the Pharoahs Ramesses VI and Tutankhamen in Thebes, Egypt. Ramesses' was once a hot tourist destination for the ancient Greeks and Romans. (Getty Images)

Not all of his facts are about people. Some are about historical pets. Like the cat who emerged dazed and confused from a canister after being shot through New York City's new pneumonic tube mail system at 56 kilometres an hour in 1897. Or former Andrew Jackson's parrot, who had to be removed from the former U.S. president's funeral because it wouldn't stop swearing.

Each fact he tweets, he says, is bespoke. He tailors them to each individual based on their location or other information gleaned from their Twitter bios.

For example, did you know that German chocolate cake isn't German at all? He let one Dallas, Texas, woman know the dessert was, in fact, invented in her hometown.

Another Twitter user was proud of her red hair, so he told her about how some ancient Greeks believed redheads become vampires when they die.

"We're now almost up to 500 facts and … I have not repeated one yet," Clelland said. "History is so limitless that I think I'm going to run out of energy before I run out of history."

Despite the labour of investigating and fact-checking into the wee hours, Clelland says he's thrilled that people are interested in learning about the past.

"When I see them happy and when they say thank you or anything, it gives me a little bit of incentive and a bit of fuel to keep going," he said.

"All of these different quirky facts, I think, really show that history is exciting and it's something not to be scared of. I think school makes you a little hesitant when it comes to history because you have to learn what you're told. There's a little niche that you have to really dig into. But history is everything."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Lisa Bryn Rundle. 

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