Charts & Graphs

Midnight Mischief

Sleepy decisions to rethink at first light.

Night Falls Day Breaks
1155 bc
Deciding that an assassination is the only way her son can ascend to the Egyptian throne, Tiye, a secondary wife of Ramses III, plots to have her husband’s throat cut when he least expects it: during his nightly romp in the royal harem. According to a papyrus describing judiciary proceedings against the conspirators, Tiye’s plot fails, though perhaps not entirely: a 2012 CT scan of Ramses’ mummy reveals that the pharaoh indeed died from a slit throat.
415 bc
The night before a controversial invasion of Sicily is set to begin, nearly all the city’s many herms—stone pillars with carved heads and erect penises dedicated to the god Hermes—are castrated while Athenians sleep. “A blow struck against the herms,” writes classicist Robin Osborne, “was a blow struck against democracy.” Suspicion falls on Alcibiades, a joint commander for the Sicilian expedition, but he avoids trial by defecting to Sparta.
63 bc
After losing three consular elections in a row, Lucius Sergius Catilina—better known as Catiline—recruits disaffected veterans for after-hours coup-planning sessions. “Night is not able to veil your nefarious meetings in darkness,” Cicero proclaims in his Catiline Orations after leaked documents expose the plot. “Private houses cannot conceal the voice of your conspiracy within their walls.” Catiline flees the capital; many of his supporters are executed without trial.
Anagni, Italy
Fed up with Pope Boniface VIII after he blocks a proposed tax on clergymen, King Philip IV of France sends lackeys to kidnap and depose his foe. Arriving at the papal palace in Anagni before dawn, the kidnappers seize an unsuspecting Boniface in his nightgown. The enraged residents of Anagni come to the pope’s defense, repelling Philip’s soldiers. The eighty-five-year-old Boniface is safely returned to the Vatican, but dies within a month. Years later Philip pressures Pope Clement V to declare Boniface a heretic posthumously.
Hired to warn revolutionary leaders in the suburbs of Boston of a rumored impending British raid, silversmith Paul Revere borrows a horse and sneaks out of the occupied city around eleven at night. Arriving in Lexington shortly after midnight, Revere successfully alerts John Adams and John Hancock. He attempts to continue on to the neighboring town of Concord after stopping for a drink with a fellow messenger but is detained by a British sergeant, who confiscates his horse.
Morne-Rouge, Haiti
Two hundred enslaved men and women gather in the woods of Bois Caiman and agree to systematically set fire to Haitian plantations upon a secret signal. The plot is solemnized by a voodoo ritual. The fires kick off the Haitian Revolution. Rumors about the contents of the voodoo ritual grow ever more fantastic. In 2010 American evangelist Pat Robertson proclaims a devastating earthquake in Haiti to be belated divine punishment for the rite, which he calls a “pact to the devil.”
Though he is officially Mao Zedong’s “closest comrade” and successor, longtime Communist Party official Lin Biao senses the chairman’s affection waning and plots a preemptive strike. Codenamed Project 571, Lin’s plan involves blowing up Mao’s overnight train. Official accounts offer few details, noting simply that the plot “fell through.” A 1983 book about the conspiracy alleges that Lin changed his mind about the bombing, deciding instead to assassinate Mao with poison gas. This scheme also fizzles out, and later that year Lin is found dead in his car.
Teaneck, New Jersey
In a long-standing tradition of pregraduation senior pranks, dozens of teenagers break into Teaneck High School after hours. The students grease doorknobs, overturn desks, urinate on floors, and tape hot dogs to lockers. Police arrive around two am, alerted by the school’s burglar alarms. Sixty-three students—around 20 percent of the 2014 graduating class—are arrested and charged with burglary and criminal mischief.