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May 11: Baron Munchhausen’s Birthday

It’s Baron Munchhausen’s Birthday. Now, if you’ve read the books or watched the movie, you probably think Munchhausen is a fictional character, especially considering the highly improbable adventures he got up to. In fact, the real Baron Von Munchhausen, upon whose stories the fiction was based, was born on this day in 1720. He was a German cavalry officer who served in the Russian Imperial Army against the Turks. Upon retirement, he spent the next 30 years getting drunk at aristocrat dinner parties and reciting highly-exaggerated tales of his adventures in Russia. He became so well known for his drinking stories that¬†writer Rudolf Erich Raspe gathered and further exaggerated his adventures in a series of books, which quickly went viral, partly because Raspe placed this encouragement on the front cover, “Humbly dedicated and recommended to Country Gentlemen; and, if they please, to be repeated as their own . . . in Watering Places, and other such polite Assemblies, around the bottle and fireside.” They were not the first viral tavern tales in human history, but they are among the best.