Really Awesome and Inspiring People

Audrey Hepburn

She wasn’t just a pretty face. Seriously. She was just about the coolest woman to grace the silver screen.

And she was pretty.

As a young woman living in the midst of World War 2 and the daughter of a Nazi sympathizer, she danced ballet (called Black Performances because of their secrecy)to raise money for the war effort amongst the Dutch resistance; she sometimes even smuggled secret messages for them in her ballet slippers. Because of the Nazi presence in her hometown, and little to eat, she subsisted mainly on tulip bulbs for some time, along with grass, and the resulting undernourishment was partially to blame for her small figure.

At one point, she was even suspected by the Nazi’s, and taken to be questioned. The woman actually escaped when they pulled over to the side of the road and got away! By the time she was 16, she was a nurse attending to Allied soldiers (and happened to nurse Terence Young, a future director, back to health).

She got into the movie business completely by chance, but managed to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony — only one of twelve people to have achieved that feat. And despite being considered one of the great beauties of her time, a world reknowned actress, and one of Givenchy’s favorite models, she never came to see herself as beautiful, and never understood what the public saw in her.

She had a pet deer named Pippin. And she spoke five languages.

In her later years, she worked with UNICEF as a Goodwill Ambassador and won the presidential Medal of Freedom for her work. “Elegance is the only beauty that never fades,” Audrey once said, and while I think she was right, I think the best beauty she bestowed upon the world was simply herself.

Robin Hood

Yes, guys; he was real. Robin Hud (or Robin of the Hud) was a real, historical figure. Hud is an old English word for “forest” or “woods”, so the name might have been more along the lines of “Robber of the Woods”. Whether his name was Robin, or Roger Godbeard (a possible contestant for the true identity of the 12th century vigilante), or maybe his surname really was Hood — the fact remains that beneath the legend of a tight wearing archer roaming Sherwood, there is a true historical figure.

And that’s rockin’.

The depictions of Robin Hood as the good friend of Richard the Lionhearted might be slightly off; he might have even been a bit of a violent man with a propencity for kicking butt and robbing people. Okay: maybe that’s not a good thing. An English yeoman out to steal from just anyone (rather from the rich to give to the poor) may not be the best role model, but there were some accounts of freedom fighting and such, so that’s good news.

However, the man behind the legend gave wings to a figure that would inspire people under oppression for years to come.


Annie and I were appalled in our recent reading of the Lewis and Clark expedition in her school that during the entire section, Sacagawea was not mentioned once by name — only that a Shoshone Indian woman helped to lead them across the territories.

Helped to lead? HELPED? This woman — actually more like a girl at the time of the journey — was the ultimate working mother, guide, outdoorswoman, and all around incredible human being. She was kidnapped at twelve from her tribe, and sold to be the wife of Toussaint Charbonneau at thirteen. She was about sixteen when Lewis and Clark hired her for their expedition, and gave birth to her first child while with them. When a boat capsized with most of their records and journals, who jumped in and saved just about all their stuff? Yup. Sacagawea. Who kept them alive with her knowledge of edible plants when the men were resorting to eating candles? Freaking Sacagawea. Who found a pass through the Rocky Mountains? Ding-ding-ding — Sacagawea. Who was a peaceful presence while encountering other Indian tribes and kept everyone from getting killed? If you guessed Clark, you’re wrong. It was Sacagawea. Again.

Also, she probably knew one of my great ancestors, Sergeant Patrick Gass (I’m not sure if we are really related, but it’s pretty rare to find someone with my last name, so I roll with it), which is also pretty awesome. You can even read his full account of the expedition, as he was one of the only ones to keep a daily and continuous log of their epic journey (Amazon’s description).

Vincent VanGogh

You’re probably thinking of a ginger man with one ear. You might be seeing pinwheels of yellow in a swirling cobalt sky above a steepled town, or purples crocuses in bloom, or a orange lit cafe beneath a twilight sky at dusk. To tell the truth — his paintings were just about the only beautiful things in his life, because his was one of tragedy.

Vincent was always poor, and a little on the nutty side. Often anxious and depressed, it was perhaps in the height of his mental illness that his greatest works were born. But maybe the greatest reason for the genius of his art can be found in his statement that he wished, “to try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God, one man wrote in a book, another in a picture.”

I think most people know the sad story of Vincent’s descent into depression — after failed love and turning away from his faith, he became a different man, consumed by his failures, largely depressed, and given to strange fits of temper. He cut off his own ear and sent it as a memento to a friend he was at odds with, and the pain of the amputation sent him into a severe psychotic episode.

Exactly what happened to Vincent in the case of his death by rifle is unclear — the theory held by most is that he shot himself in a field he had painted, but the bullet didn’t kill him. Rather, he walked back to the home he was living in, was attended to, but the bullet wasn’t removed, and he died several days later due to infection and the untreated wound.

Why would I consider Vincent to be “inspirational”, when his story is just about nothing but pain? I certainly can’t imagine anything better to do with all that pain than to create beauty, and it is the heritage that he left behind for the world to enjoy at his hands. As the song says,

“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you…”

Beryl Markham

Fasten your seatbelts, everybody. No, seriously — Beryl was one of the coolest pilots to ever grace the skies over Africa and the Atlantic.

Markham moved to Africa at the tender age of four with her father to run a farm and mill in the dark country of lions, Siafu ants, and great elephants. From a young age, she could be found traipsing the jungle with the natives, learning to hunt and stalk prey as well as one of the children of Africa herself. She would be attacked by a lion (and keep the scar of it to prove it) before she was ten, thrown from horses many times as she trained thoroughbred racehorses, and was among the first women to gain their pilots license and roam the arid expanse of Africa.

She worked with big game hunters searching for prey from the skies, took supplies back and forth across the perilous land, and quickly became known as one of the best pilots of her time. She met Ernest Hemingway, and he said that she “put him to shame as a writer”, after reading her West with the Night, her autobiography, saying, “I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers… bloody, wonderful book.”

On September 4 of 1936, Beryl set out on a transatlantic, east to west flight from Abingdon, England. Only one man had successfully completed that flight before — her friend Jim Mollison — and no woman had performed the flight solo, though many people had died trying. After a gruelling flight of 21 hours and 25 minutes, Markham crash landed Baleine Cove in Nova Scotia, Canada. During the flight, ice had formed in the fuel tanks of her Vega Gull, and caused a blockage. Her hands were so numb from the cold, she could barely even tell she had ripped the palms of her hands open as she reopened and shut the fuel tanks again and again in an attempt to feed the engine the fuel it needed to make it to land, barely getting inland before settling nose down on the island. Though short of her goal, she was still heralded as an aviation pioneer, being the first woman to cross the Atlantic east to west solo, and also the first person to make it from England to North America non-stop from east to west.

Nikola Tesla

Quite literally, the king of all geeks. I’ve been obsessed with Tesla since I was a teenager, reading his auto-biography, and *trying* to read some of his scientific work. Not only did he invent the electric light bulb — NOT EDISON — but he is also responsible for wireless radio, the ever famous Tesla coil, alternating current (which is used in just about every home in America safely) radar, super cool earthquake machines, and was generally light years ahead of his time every time. Reading his work is incredibly simple and yet terribly confusing, like reading the ABC’s in Martian.

Unfortunately, he got cheated out of a lot of his recognition by greedy competitors and businessmen like Thomas Edison (who promised Tesla a large sum of money for creating the lightbulb, only to insist he was joking, and that Tesla didn’t get American humor, when the job was done). He wasn’t really one to complain, saying that he wasn’t upset that people stole his ideas, but disappointed they had none of their own. When Einstein was asked what it was like to be the smartest man alive, he replied, “I wouldn’t know — you’ll have to ask Nikola Tesla.” He even believed that one day, the female gender would come to be dominant in culture because of their acumen and intelligence (thanks Tesla; that’s sweet of you. We just want equality, though. We happen to like guys like you.)

In his last days, Tesla even created a tower that could supply practically limitless wireless energy, but the idea was shut down because it wouldn’t make any money. All he ever wanted to do was make the world a better place with his ideas and inventions, but those who were just out for greed and a couple bucks consistently threw up walls in his face. Besides Edison, another man named Marconi (who takes most of the credit for the creation of the radio) used seventeen of Tesla’s patents to send the first transatlantic message with radio, giving no credit to the man behind the work. Tesla only said, “Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue.”

Also, Tesla was kind of crazy. Like, the guy invented a death ray (and shut it down because he feared its implications) and an earthquake machine (that worked and nearly leveled a city!) and worked for many years on a device that could, in layman’s terms, take pictures of thoughts. He foresaw the creation of the Internet as a result of his work with wireless. During the last years of his life, he was almost completely insane, talked to laser eyed pigeons (just don’t ask; it makes me sad) and lived on milk and crackers. All that this brilliant man had in the end was a life of unappreciated work and the inability to distinguish reality from vivid hallucinations of beautiful birds. This was a man whose brain was capable of designing schematics with such accuracy that he never needed to draw blueprints to plan out his inventions. A brain that could memorize books and learned several languages. He was absolute proof that not all mad scientists are evil — they can be flipping awesome.

A more complete list of his work would include rotating electrical fields, radar, x-rays, hydroelectric and cyrogenetic engineering, transistors, remote controls, ball lightning, an earthquake machine and earth resonator, frequencies, neon lighting, the electric motor, wireless, and communications. He also believed that there was an invisible force holding the entire universe together which he called the ether (I’d call it God) and saw evidence in it during his work in frequencies. Oh, and he was the first to record radio waves from space. What? If you want to hear from the man himself, you should read his “My Inventions”.

But unless you’re a mad scientist yourself, don’t expect to understand all of it.



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