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Siblings of Famous Figures That History Nearly Forgot About

Photo Credit: John Cox Collection, Public Domain & Library of Congress / Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Photo Credit: John Cox Collection, Public Domain & Library of Congress / Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Behind many great historical figures are even greater siblings! The stories of these nine siblings and their own claims to fame will make you wonder what else has been forgotten by historians.

Harry Houdini and Theodore Hardeen

Left: Harry Houdini poses with his arms and legs shackled together. Right: Theodore Hardeen stands with his hands and feet handcuffed.
LEFT: Harry Houdini in chains, circa 1899. RIGHT: Vaudeville magician Theodore Hardeen circa 1916. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress/Getty Images & University of Washington/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

When it comes to terrifying stunts and unexplainable escapes, we bet that only one Houdini comes to mind. Surprisingly, Houdini‘s younger brother Theodore Hardeen was also a successful magician and escape artist! While he advertised himself as “Houdini’s Brother,” Hardeen loved to push the boundaries and out-perform his brother’s stunts. Hardeen was the first magician to ever escape from a straitjacket in full view of an audience rather than behind a curtain.

When Houdini died in 1926, Hardeen continued to perform his brother’s routine on the Vaudeville circuit. It was clear that the brothers had loving respect for one another. In fact, Houdini included in his will that Hardeen would inherit all of his magic paraphernalia “to be burned upon his death.” Hardeen kept Houdini’s promise, burning all his brother’s personal files and artifacts two years after his death.

John Wilkes Booth and Edwin Thomas Booth

Left: John Wilkes Booth poses for a portrait. Right: Edwin Booth photographed in costume for his role in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
LEFT: Portrait of American actor and future presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. RIGHT: Stage actor Edwin Booth plays the title role in Hamlet. (Photo Credit: PhotoQuest/Getty Images & Bettmann/Getty Images)

John Wilkes Booth was a stage actor who rose to fame in a very unconventional way when he became the first person to successfully assassinate a US President. Booth was from a family of prominent stage actors, including his brother Edwin Thomas Booth. While John Wilkes was responsible for taking Lincoln’s life, Edwin actually played a role in saving the life of Lincoln’s son Robert.

Edwin Booth was a more successful actor than his brother. Edwin gained notoriety traveling Europe performing Shakespeare. He is still known today as one of the greatest actors to play the role of Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet.

Edwin also received notoriety after a coincidental event that happened at a train station in New Jersey. While waiting on the train platform, Booth noticed a gentleman fall onto the tracks. He grabbed the man by the collar, rescuing him from a potentially fatal situation. It was later revealed that the rescued man was Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son. Edwin supposedly felt comforted by his role in the rescue following his brother’s assassination plot.

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D. C. where Booth performed regularly.

Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn

Left: painted portrait of Anne Boleyn. Right: Painted portrait of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's sister.
LEFT: A late 16th-century portrait of Anne Boleyn (c.1500-1536) by an unknown artist on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. RIGHT: 18th-century portrait of Mary Boleyn, artist unknown. (Photo Credit: Robert Alexander/Getty Images & Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Anne Boleyn‘s tragic downfall from the court of Henry VIII to the Tower of London still fascinates historians today. Born in 1501 to Thomas Boleyn, the 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and Lady Elizabeth Howard, Anne was the middle child of the Boleyn family. Her older sister Mary and younger brother George also gained influential status when Anne became Queen consort of Henry VIII.

Anne and Henry’s relationship began in 1526 while the King was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. After his marriage was annulled, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were married in 1533. The same year the couple welcomed their first child, Elizabeth – or as we know her, Queen Elizabeth I.

King Henry was known to have a wandering eye, and soon after they were married Henry grew tired of Anne. The King took many mistresses, including his wife’s sister Mary Boleyn. It is rumored that she gave birth to two of Henry’s children! The tense relationship between the Boleyn sisters came to a head when Mary married a man below her station, which angered the King and her sister Anne. Mary was banished from the royal court and banished from her sister’s life. They would never speak again.

Anne Boleyn was executed at the Tower of London in 1536 on charges of adultery, incest, and treason. The next day, Henry VIII announced his engagement to his mistress and soon-to-be third wife, Jane Seymour.

Emily Dickinson and William Austin Dickinson

Left: Portrait of Emily Dickinson. Right: Portrait of William Austin Dickinson, Emily Dickinson's brother.
LEFT: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. RIGHT: Daguerreotype of William Austin Dickinson from the Amherst College Class of 1850. (Photo Credit: Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain & The Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain).

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 to a well-off family in Amherst, Massachusetts. While her poetry wasn’t well known during her lifetime, she has since become one of the most celebrated American poets in history. Dickinson lived most of her life in secret and seclusion, only communicating with friends through letters. Although she wrote more than 1,800 poems, Dickinson’s beautiful work wouldn’t be published until after her death.

Dickinson’s older brother William Austin Dickinson (or just Austin to friends and family) followed in his father Edward’s footsteps and became a successful lawyer. It was later discovered that Austin had a secret affair with Mabel Loomis Todd, who edited the first few collections of Emily Dickinson’s writing.

Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwell

Left: Portrait of Jackie Kennedy. Right: Portrait of Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy's sister.
LEFT: Undated photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy, seated, leaning on the back of a couch, circa 1960s. RIGHT: A portrait of Princess Lee Radziwill, voted among the World’s Best Dressed Women for 1962 in the annual International Fashion Poll. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images & Bettmann/Getty Images).

What do the First Lady and a Polish Princess have in common? What if we told you they’re sisters! Jacqueline Bouvier was born in 1929 to successful Wall Street businessman John Vernou Bouvier III and popular socialite Janet Norton Lee. Jackie married John F. Kennedy in 1953 and became the third-youngest First Lady in United States history after her husband’s inauguration in 1960. Her impeccable fashion sense and dedication to her family made her a popular First Lady, but she wasn’t the only Bouvier daughter to rise to stardom.

Jackie’s younger sister Lee Radziwill (born Caroline Lee Bouvier) traded in her “socialite” status and upgraded to the title of Princess. In 1959, Lee married Polish noble Prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł. The couple had two children together but unfortunately divorced in 1974. Lee Radziwill was also a successful interior designer for many wealthy clients and, like her sister, was renowned for her fashion sense.

Cleopatra VII and Arsinoe IV

Left: Elizabeth Taylor in costume for her role as Cleopatra. Right: Arsinoe is portrayed as a young child in the HBO series "Rome".
LEFT: Elizabeth Taylor in costume wearing eye make-up in a publicity still issued for the film, ‘Cleopatra’, 1963. RIGHT: Arsinoe as portrayed in the 2005 HBO Series ‘Rome.’ (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images & HBO via MovieStills DB).

When it comes to Egyptian rulers, Cleopatra is one of the most recognizable figures. While not Egyptian herself, Cleopatra’s reign is still considered a major part of ancient Egyptian history. Cleopatra also didn’t have the best track record when it came to her siblings. In 51 BC, she jointly reigned over Egypt with her brother Ptolemy XIII until their personal conflicts grew into a civil war. Cleopatra’s half-sister Arsinoe IV sided with Ptolemy XIII during the Siege of Alexandria. Ptolemy and Arsinoe led the siege to seize the throne from their sister Cleopatra, who had joined forces with Julius Caesar and his Roman army.

For her role in the rebellion, Cleopatra had her sister exiled to Ephesus, Greece. 10 years later, Cleopatra asked her lover Marc Antony to execute Arsinoe. Fast forward to 1926, when the skeleton of a 15 to 18-year-old woman was found at Ephesus. It was immediately speculated to be the remains of Arsinoe IV, but scientists still don’t believe that all the facts point to the tomb belonging to the exiled Egyptian princess.

Al Capone and Frank Capone

Al Capone (right) aged 5 and his older brother Frank (left).
Al Capone as a child around 1904 (right) with his older brother Frank (left). (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain).

Iconic Chicago mobster Al Capone was just as much a family man as he was a mob boss. Sometimes referred to by the most bad-ass nickname ever: Scarface, Capone and two of his brothers Frank and Ralph Capone worked for the Chicago Outfit. The Outfit was an organized crime syndicate that sought to control the bloody business of illegal alcohol distribution during Prohibition.

Frank Capone was reportedly mild-mannered in his business dealings, unlike his brother Al. Frank’s job was to oversee the mob’s connection to the town council of a Chicago suburb. During this time, many local politicians who claimed to support the public’s desire to shut down mobs and gang violence were actively involved with the Capone brothers and other mobsters.

When a local election threatened the control that Frank Capone had over local government, he sent gang members armed with sawed-off-shotguns to terrorize voters at polling stations into “voting right.” During this attack, Frank Capone was shot and killed by plainclothed police officers.

Al Capone was eventually apprehended and jailed for tax evasion – which was probably a picnic compared to the murders, theft, and massacres Scarface carried out.

Amelia Earhart and Muriel Earhart

Left: Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her airplane. Right: Amelia Earhart's mother Amy and sister Muriel stand side by side.
LEFT: Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her autogiro after setting a new altitude record for women in planes of this type. RIGHT: Amelia Earhart’s mother Amy and sister Muriel. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images & © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

When American aviator Amelia Earhart disappeared during her flight around the globe, speculation and conspiracy surrounding the disappearance threatened to overwhelm her legacy as a pioneer in aviation and women’s rights. Earhart’s younger sister Muriel – a high school teacher, author, and activist – refused to let tabloids tell the story of Amelia’s life.

Following her sister’s disappearance, Muriel took charge of her sister’s affairs, coordinated donations, and spoke to fans. She also discussed Amelia’s legacy with museums, aviation clubs, and even the U. S. Air Force. When people began speculating that Amelia Earhart died during a “spy mission,” Muriel spoke up and denied the accusations. Finally, Muriel wrote two biographies of her sister’s life and amazing accomplishments.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Maria Anna Mozart

Left: A portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Right: A portrait of Wolfgang Mozart's sister Maria Anna Mozart.
LEFT: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 1819. Canvas by Barbara Krafft (1764-1825). (Photo Credit: Imagno/Getty Images). RIGHT: Portrait of Maria Anna Mozart, known as Nannerl (Salzburg, 1751-Salzburg, 1829). (Photo Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart rose to the height of Austrian society as a child prodigy who performed for royalty at the age of six. The musical brilliance of Mozart is still celebrated today, but without his older sister Maria Anna Mozart he may have never become a musician at all!

Maria Anna Mozart, who often went by her nickname Nannerl, was seven years old when her father Leopold began teaching her to play the piano. Three-year-old Wolfgang began to watch the lessons and eventually started to compose his own pieces for his father to record in a book now called the Nannerl Notenbuch.

More from us: Famous People With Historical “Twins”

Maria Anna traveled around Europe with her father and brother performing original compositions. As an adult, Maria Anna continued to play and teach music but the societal expectation to marry and become a mother drastically limited her career. While her little brother was able to become one of the greatest musicians of his time, Maria Anna was sadly not given the same opportunity.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast