16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google

Trista - November 6, 2018

Since the beginning of the internet, there have always been things you just shouldn’t google. Whether they were hoaxes, gross pictures with seemingly innocuous names, or hotbeds of malware. While many of the old hoax and track sites aren’t even live anymore, there are still many things you just shouldn’t google. Many notorious historical events of the 20th century have a tragic side of human carnage, much of which is preserved on film. From the desecrated remains at the Massacre of Nanjing to the countless artistic attempts to recreate Ed Gein’s famed human lampshade, these internet searches will require a great deal of eye bleach if you dare to look them up.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
An illustration of a rat king. Wikimedia.

16. The Rat King

Most people are probably only aware of rat Kings thanks to the extended 30 Rock joke in which Liz Lemon and her on-and-off-again boyfriend Dennis Duffy are in danger of becoming a human version. Alec Baldwin’s character, Jack Donaghy, cautions Liz that if her and Dennis’ lives become too intertwined, they will fuse and become a unified rat king. This warning motivates Liz to cut the troublemaking Dennis out of her life for good.

In reality, rat kings actually are a reality, not just a metaphor for a bad relationship in a comedy series. While rat kings have been depicted in art and literature since at least the 1500s, there wasn’t confirmed X-Ray evidence of the existence of a rat king until 1963. In that year, Dutch farmer P. van Nijnatten found a rat king which consisted of 7 rats all stuck together by the tail. An X-Ray confirmed that their tales had been mangled and broken and resulted in the fused creature.

It is believed rat kings are formed when rats come into contact with some sort of bonding or adhesive agent that causes their tails or limbs to become stuck together. The rats react with panic and often break appendages or cause other injuries that, as they heal, cause the rats to become further entangled to a point where they are permanently stuck together as one creature.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
The craft involved in the TWA Flight 800 crash. Wikimedia.

15. TWA Flight 800

TWA Flight 800, which left JFK Airport in New York bound for Rome in 1996, became the third deadliest airline crash in US aviation history when it exploded 12 minutes after takeoff, killing all 230 people on board. The explosion could be witnessed from New York City, with one bystander describing it as a 30-foot-high wall of flame and another stating it looked like the ocean was on fire.

While it was initially feared that the explosion was a result of a terroristic attack, a four-year-long investigation found no signs of terrorist activity. Rather, they found readings that indicated a short circuit in a fuel tank had caused the horrible explosion. After these findings were presented to the public, new regulations were put in place to improve the engineering and safety of fuel tanks.

The crash remains a favorite item of discussion among conspiracy theorists, many of whom blame the US Government for the plane’s demise. The explosion occurred in the same year as a contentious presidential election and the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building by domestic terrorists. Conspiracists believe a naval ship erroneously fired on the plane, thinking it was a terrorist attack, and covered it up with short-circuit findings.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
An albino laboratory mouse. Wikimedia.

14. The Vacanti Mouse

As if the rat king weren’t enough, rodents again make an appearance on the list of horrifying images. In 1997, two scientists attempted to use nude laboratory mice to create and grow human body parts for reconstructive and plastic surgery. The scientists, Joseph and Charles Vacanti, created the Vacanti mouse that same year.

The mouse became the home of a human-shaped ear created from cow cartilage cells. They implanted the ear in the back of the nude laboratory mouse. Nude mice were chosen for this experiment since they lack an immune system, so they will not reject any foreign bodies or cells implanted in them.

The mouse successfully bore the humanoid ear, but it had no medical value. The mouse had no human cells, having no genetic engineering, nor did the cow cartilage “ear.” The ear, therefore, could never be transplanted onto a human as anyone’s body would immediately reject it. All the Vacantis really accomplished was making a terrifying-looking illusion of a nude mouse and a human-shaped ear made of bovine cartilage. A famous photograph of the mouse with what appeared to be a human ear on its back circulated widely on the internet, often with no context. The disturbing photo led to a wave of protests against genetic engineering, even though no engineering was involved in the experiment.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
Early 20th-century Halloween costumes. Bored Panda.

13. Old Halloween Costumes

Today’s Halloween costumes are often trendy rather than scary. Walk through the aisles of your Halloween store, and you’ll see many licensed costumes from Star Wars, the Marvel and DC universes, cartoons, and more. The traditionally scary costumes are often a single aisle and not actually all that scary. The ability to watch into a store and find any pre-made costume, nonetheless a branded character, is a somewhat recent invention. Children used to wear exclusively homemade outfits, many of which were absolutely terrifying.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, store-bought costumes simply weren’t a reality. The vast majority of children had homemade costumes, many of which were cobbled together with whatever extra materials were laying around, especially during times of economic difficulty. Surprisingly, the results of these homemade costumes were often alarming. Simple elements like burlap or flour-cloth sacks were used to make incredibly powerful ghost and scarecrow masks.

Frightening in a different way, many historical Halloween costumes were deeply racist. Blackface was commonplace, with many white Americans going as stereotypical black characters like Little Black Sambo or, even more disturbingly, generic “black” people with exaggerated features and mannerisms. Blackface was also often used to indicate monstrousness or evil in general, as in the case of many historical devil costumes.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
A whale breaching the water. Wikimedia.

12. The Exploding Whale

In 1970, a huge whale carcass washed up on a beach in Oregon. It was so large the Oregon Highway Division thought it would be too difficult to cut the body up and haul it away. Just imagine the undertaking of a local highway division trying to dismantle a massive whale. They also thought about burning the carcass, but blubber creates a very smoky and hot flame, so it would have been dangerous and unpleasant to undertake on a beach.

The Highway Division turned to engineer Paul Thornton for advice on how to handle the carcass’ removal. In his “wisdom,” Thornton decided to blow up the whale carcass. With explosives. On a public beach. In Thornton’s defense, he believed the carcass’ pieces would rain down into the ocean where sharks and other marine wildlife would eat them.

What actually happened is that the carcass exploded without any clear trajectory and spread whale pieces everywhere. Pieces of dead whale rained down on bystanders and their cars. While some of the pieces did land in the ocean, as Thornton predicted, many did not. The entire debacle was captured on video, although it’s heavy viewing. A giant exploding whale’s worth of viewer discretion is advised.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
Tiny foot-binding shoes. Smithsonian.

11. Chinese Foot Binding

While the ages have seen many harmful beauty practices from smearing arsenic and lead on the skin to achieve pale beauty to ingesting radium for radiance, few have been as painful as the ancient Chinese tradition of foot binding. The first archeological evidence of foot binding was from the corpse of Lady Huang Sheng, who died in 1243. The practice continued in China for almost a millennia and was strongly associated with wealth and nobility.

Starting in early childhood, a girl’s toes would be broken and wrapped under her feet. The goal was for feet no longer than three inches, what were called “golden lilies” by the Chinese. Young brides with feet longer than five inches would see lowered marriage prospects as the longer feet indicated low status and poverty. The process of binding took several years, with near-daily bandage changes required to heal the mangled feet.

There were attempts at various stages in Chinese history to ban the practice, but men were fervent defenders due to the sensuality attached to the method. Men believed that bound feet made for more satisfying romantic partners and appreciated the gait that women developed from having their feet bound. Christian missionaries helped to finally end the foot-binding practice at the beginning of the 20th century.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
A victim of the Tuskegee study being examined. Centers for Disease Control.

10. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

One of the most deeply shameful parts of American medical history is the treatment of the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis study. The study was a 40-year project, taking place from 1932 to 1972. The subjects were poor African-American men who were lied to and manipulated throughout the entirety of the study. The men were never told they had syphilis, merely that they had “bad blood.” They were treated with placebos before any cure was found, and denied medication after one was.

When penicillin was discovered in the 1940s, it also served as a cure for syphilis bacteria. However, the men in the Tuskegee study were never told of this discovery, nor were they provided with the medication needed to cure their disease easily. Instead, the conductors of the survey quietly watched the men and documented their painful descent into mania and death from the now-treatable disease.

By the time the study became public knowledge in 1972, 28 men had died from the intentionally untreated illness. One hundred more died from untreated complications. The disease infected forty spouses and 19 children due to husbands and fathers going untreated. The study led to a massive overhaul of how ethical reviews are conducted for research experiments, and none too soon.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
A portrait of Vladimir Komarov. Space Safety Magazine.

9. The Remains of Russian Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov

Russian cosmonaut (astronaut, to Americans) Vladimir Komarov has the sad distinction of being the first human to die on a space mission. The captain of the ill-fated Soyuz 1, Komarov died when a parachute failed on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere in 1967. The parachutes were not designed with spin taken into account, which led to critical failure.

Tragically, Komarov had time to realize his impending demise. United States radio listening posts in Turkey picked up Komarov crying and cursing the men who had sent him into space in a deficient craft. The Russian space agency was aware of the deficiencies in the capsule shortly after launch and attempted to help Komarov fix it through radioed instructions, but Komarov was sadly unsuccessful.

Komarov struck the earth at the same, full speed of a meteor due to the total lack of deceleration from the failed parachutes. Upon hitting the ground, the rocket boosters that were intended to slow the descent fired, exploding the entire Soyuz 1 and the already deceased Komarov. By the time rescue and fire crews arrived, the rocket fuel fire was so hot it was melting the spacecraft. Komarov’s charred remains were displayed in an open casket to illustrate the cost of human-piloted space exploration.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
Prince Yasuhiko Asaka. Wikimedia.

8. The Nanking Massacre

Few historical events are more notable for their barbarity than the Nanjing massacre of the Chinese at the hands of the imperial Japanese. On December 13, 1937, Japanese troops occupied the city of Nanjing, often anglicized as Nanking, which was the capital of the Chinese Republic at the time. The atrocities the Japanese committed in the six weeks after the occupation are indeed the things of nightmares.

For six weeks, the Japanese slaughtered their way through the people of Nanjing. It is estimated that over 250,000 people were slaughtered in just six brief yet hellish weeks. Worse yet were the manner of the deaths and the additional cruelties visited upon Nanjing. Not content just to murder, the Japanese troops also raped and tortured many victims, and desecrated the corpses of many more.

At least 20,000 women and young girls were raped during the massacre. Most were executed immediately after, often in cruel and misogynistic ways. Children as young as newborns were murdered. The extent of the barbarity and cruelty can scarcely be imagined, especially given the massacre’s place in the 20th century. It would likely have shocked even the medieval mind, despite the frequently violent and cruel nature of punishments and warfare at the time.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
An aerial view of the Holmesburg Prison. Wikimedia.

7. The Agent Orange Experiments

When one thinks of human medical experimentation, the inhuman cruelty of Dr. Mengele or Japan’s Unit 731 likely comes to mind. What is sadly far less known is that medical experiments were performed on prisoners who could not legally give informed consent right here in the United States, and in the 20th century to boot. While the Holmesburg Prison is sadly far from the only case of illegal and unethical medical testing in the United States, it stands out for the length of its duration and the unrepentant cruelty of the principal investigator.

Dr. Albert Kligman, a dermatologist, led a military-funded experimentation program on skin conditions and toxic compounds on the inmates at the Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was famously quoted callously describing the prison and its inhabitants, saying “All I saw before me were acres of skin. It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.”

His experiments included injecting inmates’ skin with the blistering compound Agent Orange to see how the surface would respond to chemical attacks. He tested other toxic compounds including dioxin, poison ivy, and more. The prisoners were given small payments for their “willing” participation. Records showed Dr. Kligman disproportionately targeted black inmates for his experiments. Kligman never apologized for or acknowledged his wrongdoing.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
The reactor after the Chernobyl disaster. Wikimedia.

6. Chernobyl First Responders

The meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in what is now Ukraine remains the most severe atomic power incident in the world. It is one of only two category-seven nuclear episodes in history, the other being the Fukushima Daiichi disaster after the Japanese earthquake of 2011. In 1986, one of the Chernobyl reactors entered severe and irreversible meltdown. An unexpected power surge during a test caused several explosions which triggered a collapse by exposing the reactor’s graphite moderator to air, which caused it to ignite.

While it was clear something terrible had happened at Chernobyl, the USSR did not publicly acknowledge the extent or severity of the meltdown for some time. This decision exposed first responders to incredible danger. Chernobyl’s line of first responders was called the Chernobyl Liquidators, and they responded immediately to the steam explosions with the intention of putting out any fires and attempting to limit the reactor’s meltdown.

The first responders heroically dove headfirst into the site and attempted to contain and mitigate as much damage as they possibly could. They were given no protective equipment against radiation and were exposed to levels of radiation that are not compatible with life. Many died gruesome deaths from radiation poisoning within hours or days of exposure. Their heroism did help to mitigate some of the damage and likely saved other lives through the reduced radioactive fallout.

Check this out: Infamous 1986 Chernobyl Disaster Photos.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Wikimedia.

5. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was one of America’s most fatal industrial accidents. It also became a lightning rod for worker rights, immigrant rights, and women’s rights. One hundred and forty-five of the factory’s 600 workers perished in the fire, most of the fatalities of which would have been preventable if it weren’t for the terrible decisions of management and the shoddy safety equipment of the factory.

When a small fire broke out in a wastebasket in the factory, it likely didn’t seem like much of an emergency. They had a fire hose in the building, after all. Tragically, the belief in safety from that hose was ill-found, as it had been allowed to rust and was utterly inoperable. The fire quickly spread due to the cramped conditions and the vast quantities of textiles housed in the factory.

Management made the callous decision to lock the doors to prevent the workers from leaving their work. Many of the dead died from jumping out of windows to escape the flames. The workers were almost exclusively women and immigrants who did not speak English. The callous treatment of their lives by management became a focus for union organizing and women’s and immigrants’ rights.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
A still of Marshall Applewhite from a cult initiation video. Wikimedia.

4. The Heaven’s Gate Suicides

The Heaven’s Gate cult was founded by self-proclaimed mystic Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles. The cult was based in a suburb of San Diego, Rancho Sante Fe. Police received a call about a mass suicide in March of 1997; the premise seemed so absurd the police were hesitant to respond and treated it as the equivalent of getting a call for littering or jaywalking. When the police finally entered the compound, they were horrified by what they found.

Applewhite had convinced 38 adherents of Heaven’s Gate to commit ritual suicide to board an alien spacecraft that Applewhite believed was trailing the comet Hale-Bopp, which traveled through the sky in early March 1997. His followers drank a mixture of vodka and the depressant phenobarbital and placed bags over their heads to expedite asphyxiation.

When police entered, they found 38 men and women neatly arranged on beds with purple cloths covering their faces and torso. Every corpse was laid out peacefully on an identical bed, in identical clothing, and with $5.75 in a pocket. Every corpse also had an armband that read “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.” All computers in the compound also had an alert flashing on the screen. The uniformity of the dead must have presented a disconcerting scene.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
A polio wing full of patients in iron lungs. Wikimedia.

3. Polio Pandemic

One of the greatest fears of American parents in the 1950s was Polio. Visiting towns every summer like a scourge, countless American children were falling ill from the disease with many becoming permanently paralyzed or, in the worst case aside from death, being bound to iron lungs for artificial respiration for the rest of their lives. It was an extra element of cruelty that the disease always struck over the summer in what should have been a happy, carefree time for children.

Before Jonas Salk’s vaccine was created in 1955, Polio was an ever-present scourge. In 1952, over 60,000 children were infected with the disease with over 3,000 dying. For lucky children, the condition was like a mild case of the flu. For the unlucky, paralysis or post-polio syndrome were a result. Severe cases were so prevalent that hospitals began having to construct special iron lung and Polio wings to care for the most severely affected.

There are few things sadder than seeing the old photos of the iron lung hospital wings. Countless rows of massive machines sit with tiny children’s heads sticking out. Negative pressure ventilators, as iron lungs are properly called, were invented to force a paralyzed patient’s lungs to breathe through pressure changes within the machine. While artificial respirators still exist, they are much smaller machines than the original iron lungs that condemned children to years of total inactivity.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
A radium girl painting a dial. The Telegraph UK.

2. The Radium Girls

In yet another case of corporate negligence and cruelty, the radium girls of the US Radium Corporation paid the ultimate price for the profits of their bosses. Starting in the 1910s and continuing through the 1920s, female workers, many of whom were from lower social standing, were hired to paint newly discovered radium pigment onto watch and clock dials, which allowed the numbers to be seen in the dark.

The job paid exceptionally well, especially for women of lower social ranks, and was a highly glamorous and desirable job. Radium was seen, at the time, as borderline miraculous so women would often paint their lips or eyes with the radium pigment before significant dates. Tragically, the women were never told how toxic radium was, and the company knowingly falsified and denied the evidence of the toxicity.

Even after countless radium girls had died of cancer, anemia, and other disfiguring and painful ailments the US Radium Corporation continued to deny their responsibility and also tried to suggest that the girls had all died of syphilis. Eventually, the truth won out in court, and the girls and their families were compensated, but not before far too many bright-eyed young women had died young from their mouths and jaws literally rotting away.

16 Historical Events Too Gruesome to Google
A photograph of serial killer Ed Gein.

1. The Ed Gein Murders

One of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th century is Wisconsin’s Ed Gein. His crime spree was so horrifying he inspired numerous reproductions in literature and film including Norman Bates in Psycho and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Ed Gein eventually was caught and admitted to killing two women, but the real horror of his crimes extends far beyond just murder.

Raised by a genuinely abusive mother who kept Ed isolated from other people his age and instilled him with fanatical religious beliefs focused around damnation and the idea that women (aside from her) were inherently evil, Ed was a strange person from childhood. Teachers described him as seeming to be in his own world, often laughing at jokes that no one else could hear.

Police raided his home after a string of murders in his town and found a truly terrifying collection of female carnage. Ten female heads were found, as well as masks made of skinned human faces and bowls made from female human skulls. A human heart was found in a pot on the stove, as well as human organs in his refrigerator. A lampshade made from a human face was seen, as well as a collection of severed female genitals.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“15 Historical Events You Should Never, Ever Google Search” Mariel Loveland, Ranker. N.d.

“Wiping Out Polio: How the U.S. Snuffed Out a Killer” Jason Beaubien, NPR. October 2012.

“Unwitting consent: “Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison” Meyer, C.R., Minnesota Medicine. July 1999.