The writing on this photo says, “Lydia Jane had smallpox.” Smallpox is possibly the disease that has shaped humanity more than any other since its origins in Egypt in the third century BCE. The disease wiped out most Native Americans when Europeans landed in the New World. This picture should give a clue as to why smallpox has been so deadly throughout history. The woman has pimple-like blisters that come through even in the low-quality black-and-white photograph. The writing on the photo indicates that she may have survived, though she certainly would have been worse for wear.
44. Before Photoshop, People Still Played with Photos
Photoshop has been around only since the 1990s. However, calotype — which allows you to develop multiple photos from negatives — has been around for longer. Ever since calotype first came out, people have been messing around with images, evidenced by an enormous baby gazing down lovingly at a mother in a baby carriage. This photo may not be all that creepy compared to what photo editors come out with today. However, just think that this kind of hijinks was the kind of thing that set off Photoshop and everything that has come since.
Sweltering summer days are nothing new, nor is the need to cool off from them. However, modern refrigeration and freezing, which make the production of ice a breeze, have only been around for the past few decades. Before that, they spent a lot of time and energy producing 300-pound blocks of ice that had to be carted around to homes and businesses. With a cup of ice water hard to come by, these boys in the picture all decided to lick a community block of ice. Just imagine how many people got sick of that one antic.
In Victorian England and on the other side of the Atlantic during the 1800s and early 1900s, dabbling in the occult became an increasingly respectable way of spending free time for the wealthy. One means of doing so was hiring mediums who insisted they could contact spirits, enabling those left behind to have a conversation with the dearly departed. This picture is of a medium who tried to prove that she could contact the spirit world by covering herself in “ectoplasm.” However, she looks like she is probably just wearing cotton balls all over her face. Which she probably is.
41. This Is What the Atomic Bomb Explosion Looked Like From the Ground
Can you imagine the horror that would settle in the pit of your stomach as you watched an atomic bomb drop out of an airplane and fall onto your city? The explosion would claim the tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, and cause massive radiation poisoning for those who survived. This photo was taken on the ground immediately as the explosion began. One can scarcely imagine someone this close surviving the blast, but thanks to him, we have this haunting photo of the horrors that humanity can unleash on itself.
Dorothy Counts, pictured above with boys mocking her, was the first African-American student to attend a school that had been exclusively white up until that time. From the jeers and humiliation, one can see that she faced how difficult her task was, but her face is filled with resolute determination not to be defeated. If you had any questions about how integration happened, it was not an inspiring, spine-tingling era. No, the people who led the way for integrating schools faced constant harassment from their white peers, who made no secret of their feelings about integration.
Someone snapped this photograph in China during World War II. While the horrors of the Nazis in Europe tend to get the most attention from people who study World War II, no corner of the world was untouched. The Japanese military bombed the Shanghai South Railway Station in China. The result was complete devastation, where there had once been a thriving city. This child’s mother died in the hostilities, but a silver lining is that his father survived, and they reunited. The real horror is that humanity seems to have learned nothing, and we continue bombing civilians to this day.
38. This Family of Mannequins Served as Nuclear Bomb Test Dummies
What could be sweeter than a child at his mother’s knee while his two brothers play on the sofa? Or more picturesque than a perfectly coiffed woman in the 1950s sitting with her children, high heels and pencil skirt intact? Oh, but don’t worry. She won’t stay perfectly intact, and neither will her children. They constructed this family of mannequins to serve as test dummies for nuclear bomb testing that the US carried out during the Cold War. You may have seen movies pay homage to this disturbing era in our country’s history, with dummy ghost towns built near nuclear testing grounds.
In parts of Europe and Cuba, there was once a custom requiring families to pay to keep their dearly departed interred. When the families stopped paying, a gravedigger would dig up the body and bring it to a boneyard so that someone with financial means could use the grave. By the end of the nineteenth century, the boneyard was 30 feet deep in Cuba. Having boneyards for people whose families couldn’t pay to keep them interred was a pretty common thing.
When Hitler’s anti-Semitic actions kicked up in 1938, a program called Kindertransport began that transported 10,000 Jewish children from Germany and Poland into Britain. Jewish children continued arriving in Britain as late as 1940, and there are many stories of people who risked — and sometimes gave — their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Yet many Jews did not survive, as six million perished in the flames. This heart-wrenching picture is of a child ripped from her family, and she likely never saw them again. She lived, but her family most likely perished.
Nowadays, heavy machinery takes up the task of grave-digging, so most people don’t even think about the chore that it was before modern technology. During World War II, Australia (like many other places) experienced a severe labor shortage. Why? Because of all of the men who had gone off to fight in the war. The people dealt with the labor shortage by pitching in whatever way they could. This picture is of a woman in her eighties digging a grave, a task that was indeed necessary though not particularly desirable. Yet, at the heart of the picture is the story of a community coming together and getting things done.
Reportedly, when one unfortunate bystander accidentally opened the box containing this dummy. A local newspaper reported, “Visions of ‘Jack the Ripper‘ and Deeming floated through her mind and shrieked loudly. She soon attracted a large crowd, who were at a loss to discover the cause of the commotion, owing to Miss Hebe’s hysterical condition. However, becoming somewhat calmed, the frightened lady pointed to the box. A “council of war” was held, and a policeman called in, who said it was a clear case of double murder. He was just about to convey the gruesome objects to the city morgue when the ventriloquist returned and quietly explained the situation.”
This picture seems to be of a child praying before bedtime. However, a ghost appears to be reaching out to pat her on the head. You may have seen an ominous photo like this before, such as Mary Todd Lincoln being overshadowed by her husband’s specter. The reality is that Victorian-era people loved playing around with photography, especially making weird photographs that featured ghosts and other aspects of the paranormal. There is no question about where this picture came from any more than there is any question about the graphic effects in the latest Stephen Spielberg movie.
32. Before the Cat in the Hat, There was the Cat in the Mask
This picture isn’t really all that odd, creepy, or haunting when you consider for a minute the kinds of photos that people regularly post about cats nowadays. Still, let’s stop for a minute and think about a cat wearing a mask, sitting at a table, and reading a book. The whole idea is incredibly clever, not to mention humorous. People have been dressing up their cats and taking funny pictures of them for far longer than the internet has been around, and this picture proves it. Maybe even Dr. Seuss took some inspiration from this feline and its owner.
Long before the current idea that people can accept themselves as beautiful no matter what, there were very stringent standards for beauty that led to some people undergoing rather bizarre and painful procedures. This one is of a freckle remover, during a time when people deemed freckles to be less than beautiful. The woman in the chair has a doctor literally freeze the skin on her face with carbon dioxide. He would then peel the skin off to have no freckles remaining. Supposedly, the skin would heal within two weeks, but the scars would last forever on the inside and out.
30. Before Stephen King’s It, Clowns Were Already Horrifying
If you thought that the idea of clowns being creepy originated with Stephen King, think again. Did you know that they initially designed clown make-up to imitate the appearance of a deceased person? If you have read Shakespeare, you may know that the clowns he wrote of worked in graveyards. This picture is of the actor Lon Chaney. He played the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera in the 1924 movie He Who Gets Slapped. He runs away from an overwhelmingly stressful life and becomes a clown in the film. Chaney reinvented the horrifying clown of Shakespeare and may have served as a bit of inspiration for Stephen King.
You may already know that Germany was a leader in pioneering poisonous gasses in the years leading up to World War II. They would use them on civilians, most notoriously in the concentration camps where Hitler and the Nazis murdered Jews and other “undesirables.” During the war, London endured a year of attacks that left parts of the city in ruins, and experts feared a chemical attack from Germany might be imminent. Gas masks were made for people of all ages, including infants, as seen in this picture. These gas masks covered just about the entire body except for the legs.
28. This Pig Man Was For Real If You Believe this Haunting Photo
Do you see that butcher knife in the pig man’s apron? Moreover, just to make things even creepier, he appears to be standing next to a door saying “Woman Only,” probably a women’s restroom. What could be scarier than a horrid pig man standing outside a women’s restroom with a butcher knife? Nevertheless, you know, maybe the creepy pigman was there to shield people inside the bathroom, to protect them from any intruders who might have untoward thoughts. Whatever the case may be, this photo is seriously creepy, and I do not want to be anywhere close to the pigman.
Someone on a street corner in Chicago in 1902 took this picture of a demonic-looking Santa Claus. It looks like someone gouged the mask’s eyes, and the ramshackle suit looks like he got into a bar fight with a ghost. Furthermore, who knows what this guy is raising money for? He says the cause is sending Santa down 10,000 chimneys, but maybe he needs resources to rob 10,000 houses. This picture could easily have been taken in Times Square in New York this year, but it is over a century old. People really don’t change; they enjoy dressing up like creepy Santa and asking for money so that they can break into houses through the chimneys.
There have been plenty of stories of parents who filed lawsuits after their kids saw characters at Disney World with their masks off. And there have been cartoons about animatronics backfiring and wreaking havoc. But this?! He is animatronic with such incredible detail that his butt is nearly perfect. Furthermore, he is full of machines on the inside, and mechanics are poking and prodding around him with his skin flayed open. Seriously, this picture looks like it belongs in a Frankenstein movie, not in the world of animatronics and Disney characters gone wrong.
We all have heard about the horrifying, torturous practices used at insane asylums and psychiatric hospitals before realizing that mentally ill people are, well, people who deserve dignity and respect. This picture is of a girl in an insane asylum who was shackled so that she was forced to stand up with her arms stretched out, not unlike a crucifix position. There is absolutely no telling how long she had to remain in this position. She clearly could not eat or use the bathroom while chained to the wall like this.
24. This Doctor Took Haunting Pictures During Procedures
This picture looks like the poor soul is being tortured, and by modern standards, he might as well be. Duchenne de Boulogne was a French doctor who pioneered many new medical techniques, and he documented his work by taking pictures of his patients while undergoing procedures. He made many advancements, and modern medicine would not be the same today without his contributions. However, as you can tell from the picture, the procedures were not entirely pleasant, and the patients did not benefit from anesthesia the way we understand it today.
23. This Woman Isn’t Getting Eaten by a Crab, But It Sure Looks Like It
Aren’t humans supposed to be at the top of the food chain? Not according to this picture! This photo is of an enormous crab lovingly perched on a lady’s head and eating it while she smiles. Actually, this picture is a promotion for the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that promotes women’s involvement in public life, particularly voting. This woman must have been doing some kind of publicity stunt by wearing a crab hat and smiling for the camera. Hopefully, she succeeded, and many women registered to vote due to her valiant efforts.
If you were wondering where babies come from, the answer is from a baby factory — kidding! This haunting picture shows a baby factory in which dozens of baby heads are put together. They are dripping with paint as they prepare to be connected to their bodies. Actually, this picture was taken in a factory decades ago and gave a glimpse into making dolls. Imagine the kind of nightmares that the factory workers must have experienced, having to live with this kind of image burned into their eyes. No wonder dolls came to be a popular object in horror movies.
The Russell’s viper is responsible for as many as 40 percent of snakebites in Sri Lanka and most of the bites that become life-threatening. These snakes will bite anyone who gets in their way, including the little boy in this picture here. His father rushed him to receive medical treatment and, even more heroically, brought the snake so that doctors could diagnose what was ailing the boy. A bite from the Russell’s viper can cause paralysis and eventually claim the victim, but fortunately, the boy in this picture survived.
Have you ever wished that you could see your great aunt or your grandmother just one more time? You can take just the right photograph in the perfect lighting, just like this family did. Actually, this photo is another example of Victorian-era people meddling with film to create a ghost-like effect. There is no ghost, just an imprint of another picture overlaid onto the film. Nevertheless, these photos undoubtedly served as inspiration for many horror movies that leave people up late at night today.
This picture, at first glance, appears to be the aftermath of a brutal gang attack or violence in a prisoner of war camp. The half-naked man at the end has lots of his head and arms in what may have been a bombing, and everyone else looks so shell-shocked that they might as well be dead. The good news is that none of the people in this photo were ever even alive because they are actually wax mannequins, not people. In 1925, the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London caught on fire, and the blaze reportedly leaped 50 feet above the building. It burned for an hour and a half, and these mannequins were all that remained.
18. This Group of Men is Plotting for World Domination
This photograph is of the Skull and Bones Club, originally founded in Oxford, England, in the 1800s. The group’s symbol is the Jolly Roger, as seen on the table, and the Skull and Bones Club has become notorious for its secrecy. Many suspects that it has been training men who would become presidents, prime ministers, and other global leaders, as more than a handful have belonged to Skull and Bones at both Oxford and Yale. So yeah, this is a photograph of men from the 1800s secretly planning world domination.
This photo was taken at New York’s Coney Island and is of a supposedly headless woman. The people who ran the attraction claimed that she had lost her head but was kept alive by feeding tubes and various apparatuses. Onlookers were horrified to see her moving around, but we can look at this sideshow today and know that some pretty cheap special effects were going on. The headless woman may have just been a mannequin hooked up to the device shown in place of her head, which allowed the body to move around as if it was alive.
Paris has long been known for its attractions that bring people from all over the world to its streets. Visitors enjoy museums and more, let’s say, cultured attractions by day and then can feast on the city’s nightlife. This picture is from a rather macabre nightclub in Paris known as the Cabaret de L’enfer, translated as the Club of the Inferno. The walls were supposedly smoking hot, and a person dressed up as Satan would torment visitors. The people in this photograph do not seem too concerned about dining in hell, though; they actually seem to be in relatively good spirits (literally).
If you have seen Star Wars, the original trilogy, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the man-like beast known as Chewbacca. This haunting historical image might look like a photo of him as a child, and as you can see, he was pretty distinguished from a very young age. Actually, this photograph is of a boy who suffered from Ambras Syndrome. Ambras syndrome occurs when an error in someone’s genome causes the gene that causes hair to grow to repeat itself repeatedly, like someone is constantly hitting copy and paste on the DNA.
Society has long had unattainable standards of beauty, and both men and women have gone to horrifying lengths to make them a reality. Harvey Glatman was known as the “Glamor Girl Slayer” because he would dress up his victims, bind them with ropes, and then take pictures of them before murdering them. Before taking her life, this photo is the last known picture of one of his victims, Judy Dill. He was arrested in 1958 while attempting to take his fourth victim- and met his end in a gas chamber.
13. This Gothic Paradise Is a Reminder of Human Mortality
This underground crypt, the Museum and Crypt of the Capuchin Friars, is located in Rome. It contains several different chapels decorated with human skulls and bones in twisting, Baroque patterns. There are even chandeliers made of human bones. Yet the site is not meant to terrify, though it certainly is terrifying. The intention is to remind visitors of human mortality, and it certainly does so. If you decide to visit, make sure that you only get souvenirs from the gift shop and don’t actually bring human remains home with you. The nightmares that come after visiting are complementary.
12. Australian Aborigines Were Treated Like Animals
Aborigines are the original inhabitants of Australia, and they were in the land for tens of thousands of years before white settlers arrived a few hundred years ago. White people mistreated them, and an urban legend claimed that until 1967, they were legally considered animals. The legend is a complete, well, legend, but people still treated them like animals, as this photograph shows. They were often sent to re-education centers or enslaved. Today, there are very few remaining Aborigines, and they still fight for their civil rights.
11. The Poor Campers Snapped a Picture Before Their Haunting Fate
In 1959, a group of polytechnic students in Russia went off on a trip and stopped for the night in a particularly treacherous area. The students’ families realized that something was wrong when they did not make contact as intended. So, they sent out a rescue team to try to find them. This photo is of the rescue team uncovering the students’ tent, which they abandoned. Two bodies were a mile away, but there was no indication of what actually happened to the students. Their fate became one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century.
People love to read stories about children who survived the Holocaust, but the reality is that the mental anguish they suffered robbed many of them of the rest of their lives. They rescued this child from a concentration camp and asked her to draw a picture of home. She just drew spiral after spiral until the photographer realized that this was home in her brutalized mind. As a teenager, she was admitted to an insane asylum because she became so violent that no one could care for her. She tragically died from choking on a piece of sausage that she stole from another patient.
9. These Men Were Proud of all the Buffalo Killed by Settlers
Manifest Destiny, America’s heroic claiming of the land all the way to the Pacific Ocean, led to more than a near-total genocide of the Native American population. The buffalo population in America was once well into the millions and the white settlers who pushed westward made short work of them by killing them and leaving them to rot in the wild. By 1900, there were only 325 buffaloes left in the wild. As you can see in this picture, there was an absolutely devastating number of buffalo killed. The two men in this picture are posing by the mountain of buffalo skulls. They are proud of the atrocity wrought on these creatures by all appearances.
Circuses have a reputation nowadays for being inhumane, for making a spectacle out of people who do not fit in, and for using animals in ways that deprive them of their fundamental rights. However, they have also been notoriously unsafe, as epitomized by a fire at a Ringling Brothers Circus in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1944. This picture is of “Weary Willie,” a clown persona created by Emmett Kelly, who performed for a crowd of 6000 people when the circus tent caught on fire. He rushed to begin helping people escape and then helped put out the fire. Yet 168 people still lost their lives that day.
When the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, the explosion literally vaporized so many people within seconds that there is no accurate count of how many people perished. The blast’s radiation caused imprints on the surfaces where people were vaporized, leaving thousands upon thousands of “death shadows” on the city. This picture looks like something spilled on a porch. However, it is all that remains of someone vaporized by the explosion, and we have no idea who the person was.
6. This World War I Soldier Had a Haunting Form of PTSD
The original term for PTSD was “shell shock.” It referred to soldiers returning home after World War I who had severe mental distress due to their experiences in the trenches. The fighting was so brutal that it literally broke down the minds of the soldiers and altered them forever. While the soldier in this picture appears to be smiling, he was one of 80,000 British soldiers from World War I who developed PTSD because of atrocities that no human should ever experience. The unnatural look on his face leads one to easily believe that the man was not happy; instead, he suffered.
The “Lipstick Killer” was a woman named Frances Brown who, upon claiming her second victim, wrote this chilling message on the wall in lipstick. Detectives who found the victim’s body also found a bloody thumbprint on the doorknob, and the newspapers went to town on the message the perpetrator had left behind. Brown claimed one more person before being apprehended, a fate that she wanted if she really believed the writing on the wall. The assumption was that the guilty party was male, but it turns out the perpetrator was a 32-year-old woman.
Do you remember watching cartoons with a damsel in distress tied to the railroad tracks? In the comics, she was always there so that the hero could save the day. But this woman? We really don’t know why or when they took this picture or what it is even about. Perhaps the woman was just engaging in some good-natured horseplay in this historical photo. Alternatively, maybe someone had tied her to a tree with more sinister intentions and decided to take a macabre picture of her legitimately crying out for help. We certainly hope the reason is the former.
This picture is of Lord Combermere, allegedly taken four days after he passed from a blood clot. During his funeral service, which took place four miles away from his study, Sybell Corbet took this long-exposure photograph, which shows the ghost of Lord Combermere sitting in his chair. Is this another picture of a ghost caught on film? Not likely. We know that Victorians were the first to experiment with cameras. Plus, they were fascinated with ghosts and loved to tinker with photographs to make it appear that a spirit was present.
You may know that Chernobyl was the site of an epic nuclear disaster that was so severe that the rest of the world began to question the use of atomic energy seriously. This picture is of the “elephant’s foot” formed beneath the core that melted down in the nuclear plant. It is a mixture of sand, concrete, and sealing material that melts together with nuclear waste. Today, the elephant’s foot only radiates about 10 percent of the radiation emitted when the disaster first happened, but that is still enough to cause severe radiation poisoning.
1. This Haunting Guy Looks Like the Ultimate Slasher
This photo looks like it came straight out of a horror film, but it is from real life. Decades after Jack the Ripper terrorized London, Edward Paisnel dressed in a woman’s wig and mask and terrorized the inhabitants of England’s Island of Jersey. During the day, he helped his wife run an orphanage, but at night, he allegedly prayed to Satan and committed unspeakable acts. When they caught him, he was convicted of 13 crimes and received a prison sentence of 30 years. Imagine the horror his wife must have felt.