Amelia Earhart standing in front of her Lockheed Electra.

7 Unsolved Mysteries of American History

The United States of America is one of the world's youngest nations. Owing its roots to the English settlement of the New World in the early 17th century, the story of the modern United States only stretches back a few hundred years. But just because the USA is a new face on the stage of world history does not mean it is in short supply of great moments of its own. Despite its brief existence, the United States has managed to build an incredibly rich and storied history. Throughout its history, the United States has birthed countless mysteries that not only captivate the imagination of the American public but the world's as well.

1. The Lost Colony of Roanoke

The lost colony of Roanoke,an independent city in the U.S. state of Virginia
John White and his men examining the abandoned village in 1590.

The first English settlement in what would one day become the United States was established in 1587 on a small island off along the Eastern Seaboard. The settlement consisted of only 115 people. The mayor of the upstart colony, John White, soon after left for England. White, who had left his wife and daughter behind, had planned on returning as quickly as possible but was forced to stay in England for two years thanks to the sudden eruption of war between the English and Spanish crowns.

Queen Elizabeth called upon every available ship to take up arms against their nation's new enemy, including John White. White obeyed his monarch's commands and handed his ship over for military use during the conflict. In 1590 White was finally able to return to his family. However, when he arrived in Roanoke with the supplies he had promised, he found a ghost town.  

The entire village had vanished, with next to nothing explaining what had happened. The only clue found was a cryptic message carved into a nearby tree reading "Croatoan." White and his crew were never able to locate the missing colonists or find out their fate. To this day, no one knows what happened to the Roanoke colony. Some historians speculate that the colonist likely traveled further inland in search of food. They could have all died from starvation, joined up with a friendly native tribe, or been killed by a hostile group of American Indians. There is a good chance that historians will never know for sure.

2. The Knights of the Golden Circle

Black and white of John Wilkes Booth 1865
John Wilkes Booth, a member of the KGC.

The Knights of the Golden Circle, or the KGC, were a group of wealthy Southern aristocrats who formed a secret society a few years before the Civil War. The members of this group defended their way of life along with their plans to conquer parts of Latin America in order to expand their influence and continue the slave trade without interference from the North.

Not too much is known about the intricacies of the group, but there were plenty of famous members. The infamous American outlaw Jesse James was a supposed member of the KGC along with the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. There are some who think that the KGC could have directly planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, while there are others who think Booth acted alone. The group disappeared in the decades following the end of the American Civil War and never entered the public eye again.

Theories swirl about whether or not the group still exists in secret. Other rumors claim that the group stashed their immense wealth someplace across the United States. No one ever found this treasure aside from a handful of gold coins in 2014 that have not been confirmed to be authentic.

3. DB Cooper

D. B. Cooper, revised Composite Sketch B - Winter 1972-1973
The infamous police sketch of D.B Cooper.

In the early 1970s, a man who called himself DB Cooper boarded a plane heading from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. According to other witnesses on the plane, DB Cooper calmly hailed over to one of the plane's stewardesses and informed her that he had a bomb onboard. 

He ordered the plane to land as scheduled. Once it reached Seattle, he demanded $200,000 and a parachute in exchange for the hostages that he had taken. The local authorities obliged his request, and DB Cooper, a man of his word, released the hostages without issue. His final request was that the pilots stay behind. He asked them to fly him to Mexico and to stay in the cockpit the entire flight. As soon as they took off from Seattle, he instructed them further to fly slowly and relatively low to the ground.

After they had traveled for a short period of time, DB Cooper unlocked the door to the plane and jumped. No one has seen him since. The FBI is adamant that Cooper died in his escape attempt, while others are certain that he lived. No body was ever recovered, and none of the money given to Cooper was ever found either. 

4. Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa

 An image of James R.Hoffa taken by John Bottega
Black and white image of Jimmy Hoffa.

The fate of Jimmy Hoffa is not much of a mystery, as is the method of his death and the location of his body. It was public knowledge, even at the time of his disappearance, that he had strong ties to the Mafia in the United States. Hoffa had been the president of the incredibly powerful Teamsters Labor Union for more than a decade and brushed shoulders with some shady characters on his way to the top. Hoffa himself was jailed on charges of tampering and bribery in 1964 but was released in 1971 on good behavior.

Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on July 30th, 1975, and was never heard from again. Authorities assembled a large manhunt, but he was not found. Seven years later, in 1982, he was officially declared dead by law enforcement. Aside from a short brown hair found in the backseat of a car, no body was ever found. No further information has ever come out about the exact details of his death either.

Despite a clear picture of what happened to Hoffa, it is all but certain that he was murdered by the Mob after he got in the way of their plans for the Teamsters Union. It is believed that after he went to prison, the Mafia wanted another face for the Teamsters Union, but Hoffa refused to step down after being released from prison. This left Hoffa and the Mafia at odds, and they had him killed.

5. Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart sitting in the cockpit of her Lockheed Electra airplane.
Amelia Earhart sitting in her Lockheed Electra.

By the end of the First World War, air travel and aviation had swept the world by storm. Taking airplanes from one place to another became much more common, and many people were slowly becoming comfortable with a technology that only a few years prior was viewed with suspicion and distrust. As flying gained popularity, so did the people who were brave enough to pilot these new and dangerous machines. Aviators quickly joined the ranks of celebrities from the emerging film scene in the United States.

One of the most famous of these aviators was none other than Amelia Earhart. She had made a series of daring trips across the globe and was the first woman to make a solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean in an aircraft. In 1937 she set off in an attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world. However, once she left California, she was never seen or heard from again. Two years later, in 1939, she was declared dead. No wreckage from her plane was ever recovered, and neither was the body of Earhart or her co-pilot Fred Noonan.

6. Alcatraz Escape

Cell of one of the Anglin brothers who escaped from the maximum security federal prison of Alcatraz, located in the middle of the North American bay
The cell of one of the Anglin brothers who escaped from Alcatraz. Image credit Lifes_Sunday via

Constructed in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Prison was once thought to be an impenetrable fortress that no prison could escape from. Despite many efforts from the inmates, no one was able to sneak their way off the island for nearly 30 years. That all changed in 1962 when a group of inmates convicted of robbing banks achieved what was once thought impossible and made it outside the walls of Alcatraz. Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris hatched an ingenus plan that involved tunneling their way to freedom with nothing more than spoons from the cafeteria and a raft made out of raincoats and tape.

By the time guards realized what had happened the next morning, it was too late. The police ordered a full-on manhunt, but nothing was ever found. Many members of law enforcement and the search team are certain the escapees all died once they got into the water. San Francisco Bay is notoriously cold and treacherous, with strong currents and undertows. 

However, with no proof to back up the claims of the police, there is no reason to believe that the escapees did not find their way to freedom. A letter was even discovered last year that was supposedly written by 83-year-old Jon Anglin. But it has not been verified. 

7. Sudden Arkansas Bird Death

A male red-winged blackbird flies past a flower patch of Eaton's Penstemon flowers. Silverthorne, Colorado.
Red-winged blackbird, the type of bird that died in Beebe, Arkansas.

In 2010 on New Year's Eve, in Beebe, Arkansas, the small town was celebrating the end of the year with the usual festivities of big get-togethers and fireworks. As the clock ticked closer to midnight, more than 5,000 birds started to panic and fly around in a frenzy. The pack of birds flew into buildings, homes, and vehicles, dying on impact.

The odd behavior was originally attributed to the fireworks frightening the birds. In order to make sure this tragedy did not happen again, Beebe banned fireworks for next year's New Year's celebrations.

But when 2011 New Year's Eve rolled around, the exact same mass casualty event took place among the local bird population despite the absence of fireworks. Only 2,000 birds died in 2011, but it was still odd, considering there was nothing that could have startled them into a panic like the previous year. This phenomenon has never been able to be fully explained by experts and has not happened again since 2011. To this day, it remains a mystery.


American history holds endless unsolved mysteries. No matter what era of the American story you are studying, chances are there is an intriguing and compelling case to go with it. Many of these stories have not only captured the imaginations of the American public but have managed to garner a sizable international audience as well.


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