These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them

Aimee Heidelberg - September 5, 2023

Historic photos prove is worth a thousand words, but sometimes those words are, “Needs more information.” This photo collection shows funny, tragic, curious, horrifying, and heartwarming moments captured since the advent of modern photography. These photos, without context, would show curious and bizarre moments of time, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. But behind these curious moments are the stories. Stories that change history, capture intimate moments, or help us understand ourselves. Context is vital to translating the photo and making sense of its greater story. So yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t mean the words themselves should be lost in translation.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
First known selfie, Robert Cornelius (1839). Public domain.

The First Selfie: Robert Cornelius Changes Photography (1839)

In fall of 1839, 30-year-old photography enthusiast Robert Cornelius was experimenting with the daguerreotype method. His subject was a self-portrait, taken in the backyard of his family’s gas lighting business in Philadelphia. Historians consider Cornelius’s experimental image to be the first photographic ‘selfie.‘ Once the camera and lighting were set, he took the lens cap off, and ran into the frame. He then ran back to cover the lens. The daguerreotype was a new method of photography, using metal plates treated with iodine and (later) bromine, creating an image in 30 seconds to two minutes instead of the 25 minutes of earlier photography. Portraiture became much easier for the subject, making daguerreotype a commercial success. In a collection given to the Library of Congress by Cornelius’s descendants, he was no mere hobbyist. The collection contains experimental lenses and patent papers showing his serious interest in furthering photographic technology.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Satire on the popular crinoline undergarments (1860). Public domain.

A Commentary on Outrageous Fashion (1860)

This image is a mockery of fashion. In the 1860s, fashionable women had broad, billowing skirts that reached the floor in a mass of fabric and decoration. These skirts were held out by crinoline, a series of steel hoops held together by a strip of sturdy fabric to create a wide bell-shape cage held on at the waist. The skirts would be draped over this cage, giving skirts the desired width. It replaced the layers and layers of petticoats that would otherwise have been necessary to achieve the same look. This photograph, one of a series, pokes fun at the complicated undergarment, which was shunned by many as cumbersome and potentially dangerous. The wide, light skirts meant wearers couldn’t tell when the edges of their skirts were to close to hazards like machinery or fire, and documented cases of crinoline-related fatalities are recorded during the height of the crinoline craze.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Mary Todd Lincoln and ‘spirit’ of Abraham Lincoln (c. 1872). Public domain.

A Ghostly Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1872)

In the mid to late 1800s, spiritualism, the hope to connect to the “other side” and communicate with deceased loved ones, collided with advancing technologies in portrait photography. With a little creative license and some photographic technological skill, the two merged to create ‘spirit photography.” One of the customers hoping to capture the essence of a loved one was Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. This image of Abraham Lincoln’s “ghost” was captured by William H. Mumler, a Boston photographer, in the early 1870s. Mumler had built a reputation for capturing ghosts in pictures. Skeptics unsuccessfully tried to expose his trick techniques, but none at the time could figure out his method and dispel his ability to photograph spirits. Grieving families, including Mrs. Lincoln, clamored for his services. As people figured out his methods for capturing ‘spirits,’ Mumler would be tried – and acquitted – for ‘photographic deception.’

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Trick photo of ‘decapitated’ man, c. 1875. George Eastman House, public domain.

Going Headless Was All the Victorian Rage (1875)

Deceiving grieving families was one of the more sinister sides of Victorian trick photography. But the Victorians loved a good photographic joke, too. Headless portraits were popular ways to shock and amuse friends and relatives. Swedish photographer Oscar Rejlander developed a method of using two (sometimes more) negatives to create one image, giving photographers freedom to play with images and mix them up in creative ways. One of the more macabre, but silly, ways they did this was to remove the head from one negative and place it in random spots on another; a husband’s head might end up in his wife’s lap, a whole platoon of headless soldiers, or in this case, a man might hold his own severed head. Given the gaping mouth and droopy eyes of this man, he was definitely in on the joke, presenting a “dead face” for the intent of a headless photo.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
A snow blockade in southern Minnesota, US (1881). Elmer and Tenney, public domain.

A Train Stuck in a Wall of Snow (1881)

The winter of 1880 and 1881 was one of the most difficult on record for the upper Midwest. The blizzards started in October 1880, relentlessly and repeatedly pummeling settlers and Native people in the area until March of 1881. The snow drifts, like the one that trapped the train in this image, reached heights of eleven or twelve feet. The scale of the snow is especially noticeable when you compare it to the man standing on top of the car, observing the vast whiteness around him. Trains were unable to reach communities in the western part of the region, depriving people of the food and supplies they depended on. Laura Ingalls Wilder immortalized the blizzard that stopped this train in her book The Long Winter, telling of the suffering, danger, and loss her family and the people of DeSmet, South Dakota endured when the trains couldn’t reach their community.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
A tree pierces the upended Schultz house in the Johnstown, PA flood (1889). Public domain.

Devastation of the Johnstown Flood (1889)

A house toppled, pierced by a tree in its second story. The house next to it tilted and broke, as if someone shoved it over, and debris laying all about. This image from the Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889 shows the extensive damage the flood wrought. The devastation was caused by the failure of the South Fork Dam/ The owners of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club purchased the dam in 1875, patching some problem areas and lowering the dam to widen it for carriages. The dam, after years of malfunction and patchwork solutions, gave way on May 31, 1889, after days of heavy rains. 20,000,000 raged across the city, killing 2,209 people, 1,600 homes, and destroying the town sitting in the valley below. Despite the devastation to the house, all six of its occupants, the Schultz family, survived.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Owney displaying all his hardware (1895). Public domain.

Owney the Mail Dog Shows off His Honors (1895)

The scruffy dog in this picture, Owney, is an important figure in the history of the United States mail service. The metal he is festooned with are treasured markers of his service. He started his service in Albany, New York’s post office. Owney came, and never left. The little dog traveled with the mail bags, riding with them and protecting them on the Railway Mail Service train as it crossed the continent. As the beloved Owney traveled from station to station, postal workers put tags and other tokens on his collar to show where he’s been. He earned so many tokens that his collar started getting too heavy. Postmaster General John Wanamaker made Owney a body harness to display his medals. When Owney passed, he was preserved and sits, festooned with his medaled vest, at the United States Postal Museum in Washington DC.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Portrait of a woman superimposed within a man’s hand (1896). Public domain.

‘Heart in Hand,’ Victorian Photo Manipulation (1896)

Photography has brought out the ‘artiste’ in many a creative sort, and the Littleton View Company in Littleton, New Hampshire were no different. Victorian ‘creative’ photographs span a spectrum from post-mortem images that try to make the deceased look alive (often the only photograph of the person their family will ever have), to looking headless to capturing ‘spirits’ in an image. Understanding the artistic frontiers photography allowed them, photographers used special effects to create a curated photo, a sort of early form of filter. This might include using two negatives to manipulate an image and create a single photo print, a technique seen here. Littleton View Company staff superimposed a woman’s portrait into a man’s palm. This loving memento offers insight into the interesting – if not a little strange – side of Victorian special effects photography.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
John Hollowell and fifteen other faces (1901). Public domain.

Victorian Photoshop: John Hallowell and Fifteen Other Faces (1901)

Spiritual photography, like the images of the dead captured by Mumler, tried to convince the grieving family or the public that the photographer or the camera has a special method of reaching the deceased. Mumler’s images and technique were so convincing, they weren’t debunked for years. But some of the images are, to be polite, less than convincing. Perhaps John Hallowell was not actually trying to imply that these “faces” were spirits; as the faces were well-known photographs and paintings of famous people. Maybe Hallowell tried to prove how literally anyone could be superimposed into a picture, especially since trick photography was quite popular at the time. Or perhaps he was trying to count himself among greats such as George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Queen Victoria, who had passed earlier that year. His motives uncertain, this ‘spirit photograph’ is one of the more unusual entries of the era.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Annie Edson Taylor and the barrel she rode down Niagra Falls (1902). Public domain.

Annie Edson Taylor, Niagra’s original Queen of the Mist (1902)

Annie Edson Taylor, widowed and retired from her teaching career, had a wild idea. To help her financial status and do something nobody had done before. People had gone “barrel-riding” in the Whirlpool Rapids rapids beneath Niagara Falls for years. But nobody had started at the top. Unlike today, there were no rules outlawing it. Edson crafted an Annie-sized barrel, loading it with cushions and pillows. She added a harness to ensure she wouldn’t be tossed about. It had a tube run through a hole to pump fresh air into the barrel and prevent her from suffocating before she reached the Falls. After successfully testing her invention on a cat, she celebrated her 63rd birthday by getting into the barrel, being towed toward the falls, and going over the edge. She survived with only a few bumps and bruises, but never achieved the fame and fortune she chased.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Child workers at Bibb Mill No. 1 in Macon, Georgia. Library of Congress, Children’s Bureau Centennial (1909, CC 2.0).

Child labor at Bibb Mill No. 1 (1909)

Bibb Manufacturing Company mill in Macon, Georgia was a high-output textile mill. By 1895, the mill processed 20,000 bales of cotton and was growing. Bibb Mill advertised itself as “one of the largest and most important enterprises in the South.” By the late 1800s, it employed 700 workers. But the unspoken issue, seen in this photograph, is that many of those employees were children. Photograph Lewis W. Hine captured these boys, and other child laborers, working at the Bibb Mill. These boys were too small to reach the top of the machinery to perform their task of removing empty bobbins and resetting thread when it broke. In order to perform their job, they had to climb up on the spinning frame. While the photograph, and the other in the series, does not identify these boys, it shows the extend of child factory work before the establishment of child labor laws.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Theodore Roosevelt’s pet rooster (c. 1910 – 1920). Public domain.

Fierce Roosevelt, the Presidential rooster (c. 1910)

President Theodore Roosevelt’s family had an impressive pet collection, with at least forty pets joining the family as the children grew. Among the more traditional dogs, cats, and guinea pigs, the Roosevelts had Jonathan Edwards the bear who eventually went to the Bronx zoo. There was Bill the “horned frog” lizard., Eli Yale the macaw, Mame the pig. Joining them was Algonquin the pony, daughter Alice’s snake Emily Spinach, a badger named Josiah, and even a hyena. And to round out the strange menagerie, the one-legged rooster pictured here. The rooster, named Fierce, frolicked with the Presidential Hens. Fierce demonstrates the Roosevelt family’s appreciation for animals of all shapes, sizes, and physical traits. President Roosevelt was a staunch conservationist who shared his love of animals with his children, teaching them empathy and responsibility, and the fun of owning a pet.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Harry Whittier Frees animal photography (1914). Library of Congress, public domain.

Henry Whittier Frees and the Original Cat Memes (1914)

Cat photos captured audiences long before Internet memes took the world by storm. Henry Whittier Frees pioneered novelty cat photography. A chance encounter at a birthday party inspired Frees’ career. People were passing around a paper hat, and as a joke, someone put it on his cat. Frees took a picture, and his cat photography business was born. He put cats, dogs, and other animals into human-like clothes and photographed them in everyday situations such as voting, gardening, getting married, or having dinner. A LIFE magazine article looked in to his ability to get the animals to be dressed and sit still. The article says, “Mr. Frees attributes his success to his kindly treatment of his models and a sixth sense about animals. These unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times.”

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Ernest Schackleton’s icebound ship Endurance (1915). F. Hurley, public domain..

Ernest Shackleton’s ghostly ship, Endurance (1915)

In December 1914, the Endurance, under the command of Ernest Shackleton, set out from the Grytviken whaling station in South Georgia toward Antarctica. They intended to make the first crossing of the frozen continent. With the Endurance packed with supplies, dogs, and twenty-eight men, the group quickly encountered pack ice, but persisted with their mission, clearing ice as necessary. But by January of 1915, the ice pack was so thick and impenetrable the ship became lodged in ice, unable to move. The ship drifted with the ice for months, the men living off the supplies they brought along on the ship. During their time drifting with the ship, expedition photographer Frank Hurley documented the experience, capturing photographs and video of their misfortune. Hurley’s images include this ghostly image of the Endurance at night, shortly before the ice pack crushed the ship’s hull and sank it on October 27, 1915.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
College squashes Yale fun (1915). Public domain.

Yale’s Whiffenpoofs get Revenge (1915)

Each year since 1909, Yale seniors strive for selection to the all-senior a Capella vocal group, the Whiffenpoofs. The group started as a quintet that would hang out at Mory’s Temple Bar, where the barkeep encouraged them to hang out and test their improvisation skills and have a rollicking good time. The group, named after a comedy bit about the Whiffenpoof dragonfish from a Victor Herbert musical, “Little Nemo.” The Whiffenpoofs had (and continue to have) a diverse repertoire; contemporary, jazz, and Yale-themed classics, and always close performances with the “Whiffenpoof Song.” The prank(s) that led to the 1915 ban on Whiffenpoof pranks is lost to history. But they took it in stride, cloaking their jocularity in drab gowns and satirical funerary rites., Brown won the November 6, 1915 game over a de-spirited Yale in a 3-0 victory.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
A man and dog in a protective gas mask (1919). National Geographic Society, Louis Fuertes and Ernest Baynes. Public domain.

Protecting the War Dogs of World War I (1919)

World War I brought about a terrifying new weapon of war. In 1915, German troops used gas on Allied forces in the Ypres salient. Gas weaponry advanced quickly. Fortunately, so did gas mask technology. The National Geographic Society captured this photo in 1919. Every man and beast in a gas-exposed area had to wear a gas mask. The war dogs had a specially fitted mask. War dogs were pivotal for troops during World War I. They were messengers, rat-catchers, equipment haulers, and were vital to First Aid efforts. The dogs had a talent for finding the wounded and dead on the battlefield. This photo shows a stretcher with a soldier being hauled away from the battlefield. War dogs were also vital for morale; dogs being dogs, they bonded with their soldiers and served as faithful companions on a harsh front, and soldiers would adopt them after the war.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
‘Fearless Freddie’ drops from rope ladder into a moving car (1921). Library of Congress, public domain.

Fearless Freddie Lund defies death (1921)

“Fearless Freddie” Lund is shown in a daring moment, dropping from an airplane into a moving car. Freddie was a WWI Air Service veteran who served with the 4th Pursuit Squadron in Toul, France. After WWI, Lund joined the Gates Flying Circus, later moving into Hollywood stunt flying. His bravado led him to a test pilot career at the Waco Aircraft Company. He displayed his stunt skills at exhibitions, completing the first commercial plane outside loop. In 1930, he won the World Aerobatic Championship, but his stunt career was cut short in October 1931. During an air race in Kentucky, he collided with another plane. His plane bisected, and Freddie died from his injures. His wife, fellow pilot and exhibition partner Betty Elkins, said the accident happened so fast he didn’t even have time to cut the switch, as his experience and expertise taught him to do.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Society of Beaux Arts Architects 1931 ball. WABD Radio (CC 4.0).

Architects Get Rowdy at the Architect’s Ball (1931)

There was something curious about the Architect’s Ball at New York City’s Hotel Astor in 1931. Among architects enjoying drinks and shop talk stood the City Museum of New York. The Empire State Building. Metropolitan Tower. Even the Chrysler Building. The buildings were part of a costume parade, where architects dressed as their landmark designs. It was a way to celebrate the grand works of the day. Designers showed off their steel and glass monuments of the skyline. The ball celebrated the future of architecture, and gave the architectural community a chance tolet loose for a night. Luminaries such as Willam Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, Ralph Walker as Wall Street, and Leonard Schultz as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel mingled among the guests and posed for photos and video. The tradition has been revived as modern architects coming together with the fashion world to create replicas of their creations.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
A woman uses a phrenology psychograph, 1931. Library of Congress, public domain.

Questionable Medical Devices: Phrenology Psychgraph (1931)

The terrifying colander fitted on this woman’s head is an artifact of pseudoscience. The device read the bumps on someone’s skull in an effort to determine personality traits and psychological conditions. This practice, called phrenology, believed each part of the brain controlled a specific personality trait. The bumps on someone’s head were the brain pushing out of the skull. This allegedly mapped ‘well developed’ traits in the individual. In 1905, the patented psychograph helped phrenologists ‘read’ a patient’s personality. The patient would put the device on their head, and the sensors would rate each area of the skull (mapped to a specific personality trait) as “Deficient” to “Very Superior.” The readings would be printed out so the patient could see how their personality was defined. By the 1920s and 30s, as phrenology was relegated to a parlor trick. Psychometers became novelties found at department stores and theater lobbies.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Walt Disney shoos away cat from his famous mouse (1931). Harris and Ewing, public domain

Walt Disney Tells a Cat to Mind its Manners (1931)

When Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney dreamed up a cartoon mouse that looked like a descendant of their Oswald the Rabbit character. Disney’s distributor sold off Oswald’s rights, forcing the creative duo to create another character that would remain in their (officially patented) control. While Ub was the quiet designer of the infamous mouse, Walk Disney became the literal and figurative voice of the character, and eventually the face of the empire. This 1931 photo shows the jovial side of Walt Disney, scolding a cat for getting too close to his creation. The mouse was already revolutionary, even early on. Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse, was the first “synchronized sound” cartoon, changing animation forever, debut in 1928. Still six years away from their first hit feature Snow White, Disney and Iwerks could not have foreseen the mega global stardom their character would achieve in its first hundred years.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Hachiko, a dog whose loyalty made him famous, c. 1934. Public domain.

History’s Most Loyal Dog, Hachiko (1934)

January of 1924, agricultural professor Hidesaburo Ueno adopted a floppy eared little puppy, named Hachi (translating to ‘eight’). Each day, Ueno took the train to work. Hachi went with Ueno and saw him off on the train. The faithful pup would linger around the station with two other canine friends waiting for Ueno to return. But on May 12, 1925, Ueno passed away suddenly at work. Hachiko waited at the Shibuya train station for a friend that would never return. After trying unsuccessfully to rehouse the loyal Akita, Hachiko returned to the station, waiting for his master to return. In 1934, having grown famous for his loyalty and devotion, Hachiko was commemorated in a statue at the station. He continued to wait for Ueno until the day he died on March 8, 1935. Every April 8 a memorial service is held for the beloved Akita.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Dust storm hits Stratford, Texas in April of 1935. NOAA, George E. Marsh. Public Domain.

Black Sunday Dust Storm Hits Stratford, Texas (1935)

In this photo, a massive dust storm envelopes Stratford, Texas, part of the Black Sunday storms in April of 1935. The storms swept across northern Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle. It enveloped them in whirling clouds of dust so thick people couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces. The Black Sunday dust storms were by far the worst the region had experienced, although they had been hit by several other dust storms, the result of drought and the agricultural practices of the time. The sunny, bright day suddenly plunged into darkness. Mountains of dust and sand blasted across the land at speeds of up to forty miles per hour (roughly 64 kph) to 60 miles per hour (roughly 97 kph). Black Sunday was severe enough that the federal government finally admitted dust storms were more than just a nuisance. It sparked the creation of the Soil Conservation Service.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
A man recreates the early 1800s Dandy Horse craze (1938). Public domain.

Man Recreates the Dandy Horse trend (1938)

This photo shows a man riding a Dandy Horse, a precursor to the bicycle. German inventors Baron Karl Drias and Otto Schillinger wanted to create a device that would allow for faster movement using only human power, in part to replace horses for short-distance travel. They created this two-wheeled vehicle, with no pedals or chains, operated by the user pushing it along by running or walking. They would then lift their feet and glide until their momentum slowed, at which point they would put their feet down and push again. The Laufsmaschine, called the Dandy Horse in other European markets, balanced on two wheels, and would stay upright if pushed at a reasonable speed. The Dandy Horse soon stepped aside for a model with a pedal and chain mechanism. But for a while, the early balance bike ruled the man-powered transportation circuit.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Mickey Mouse gas mask for children, early 1940s. US Army Chemical Museum. frankieleon (2008, CC 2.0).

Mickey Mouse Gas Mask Intends to Soothe Scared Children (c. 1942 – 1944)

By 1942, Walt Disney was a household name – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say Mickey Mouse was the household name. When the United States entered World War II, Walt Disney, a veteran of World War I and with full knowledge of gas weapons, approached the civil defense and chemical warfare staff in Washington DC. He had designed a gas mask to resemble Mickey Mouse as protection against potential gas weapon. The mask, with mouse ears and molded “snout” meant to calm children and make mask wearing less scary. They made roughly 1,000 of the masks, but gas weaponry was never really a problem in the USA, unlike their English counterparts where every child had a government issued respirator that they carried around with them. Gas attacks weren’t England’s primary problem, either; Germans used explosives, not gas, on enemies, even as they deployed it in their concentration camps.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
German woman reacts to exhumed bodies. Cpl Edward Belfer, National Archives, 17 May 1945, public domain.

German Woman Reacts to Nazi Horrors (1945)

The German World War II concentration camps are held as the standard of depravity and inhumanity to this day. Six million Jews, political prisoners, homosexuals, Gypsies and other ‘undesirables’ performed forced slave labor or were put to death. People living in the cities near camps would often claim they had no idea what was happening in their backyard. Allied showed them what happened to the victims after liberating the camps in 1945. The Allies made nearby residents face the results of the regime they supported. The photo, taken on May 17, 1945, shows a woman forced to march past the bodies of Buchenwald Death March victims near Nammering. Soldiers stand nearby as her face recoils in horror, whether from the odor or from the realization of what happened to these people. American forces would make citizens of Nammering dig mass graves for the victims.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Ernest Hemingway with beloved polydactyl cat (1954).

Ernest Hemingway and His Beloved Cat (1954)

Author Ernest Hemingway, creator of literary classics like A Farewell to Arms, When the Bell Tolls, the Sun Also Rises, and The Old Man and the Sea loved cats. In 1935 Hemingway was at a bar. Captain Stanley Dexter was also there with his six-toed cat Snowball. Hemingway, a lifelong cat lover, admired Snowball, so Captain Dexter gave Hemingway a white six-toed kitten. The cat, which he named Snow White, was polydactyl, meaning it had extra toes, and she captured Hemingway’s heart. As he said in 1943, “One cat just leads to another.” His Key West home soon filled with the chorus of cats. They roamed the grounds and accompanied Hemingway as he wrote. Today, 50 – 60 cats greet visitors touring Hemingway’s Key West home, some direct descendants of Snow White, living on the property, all either having the polydactyl toes or carrying the gene for it.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Barbie’s first clothing designer Charlotte Johnson posing with 1965 Barbie doll model. Nelson Tiffany (1964, CC 4.0).

Barbie meets her stylist, Charlotte Johnson (1964)

When Ruth Handler debut her “Teen Age Fashion Doll,” named Barbie, in 1959, her wardrobe was a huge part of the marketing campaign. This photo shows the first Barbie fashion designer, Charlotte Johnson, with one of the early Barbie models. Johnson would create the black and white striped swimsuit worn by the first Barbie doll. She also designed Barbie’s first gown, a black sheath with a mermaid-style puff at the bottom. Johnson had a keen attention to detail, bringing miniature couture to the dolls. Johnsons had a keen eye for fashion trends but knew there was a three-year gap between the design to production. Mattel, Barbie’s home company, sent Johnson to Fashion Week in New York and Paris to help ease this gap. This ensured Barbie’s fashions were always current. Johnson’s striped swimsuit design was so iconic, it featured in the opening sequence to the billion-dollar Barbie movie in 2023.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Infamous house in Amityville, NY, 1973. BrownieCharles99 (2013, CC 3.0).

Amityville House Before the Horror (1973)

This house in Amityville, New York with its gambrel roof and lunette windows, looks like a cozy family home. It even boasted the motto “High Hopes” in the yard. The hopes died in 1974. The home became a crime scene the night Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his family, parents Ronald and Louise DeFeo, and siblings Dawn, Alison, Mark and John. As horrible as the murders were, it would get worse. In 1975, the Lutz family moved in. Shortly after, the home went from former crime scene to a wild tale of demon pigs, bleeding walls, and spectral attacks. The Lutz’s residence was short, just 28 days. But their tale inspired books, movies, and a stream of media that continues to this day. Property owners replaced the telltale lunette windows and changed the house number. Even so, they are still plagued with visitors coming to see the infamous “Amityville Horror” house.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Roadside attraction Might Og, near Harvey North Dakota.

The MIGHTY OG Rises from the Prairie (2002)

Just outside Harvey, North Dakota, a mighty gorilla rages upward from the vast prairie grasses, his mouth stretched in a wide scream, fists ready to pound. Or perhaps the beast is yawning and stretching; it’s difficult to tell at first glance. The beast is the Mighty Og. Og originally served as marketing for Rawhide City, a frontier-themed tourist attraction in Mandan, North Dakota. Og, or “O.G.” (for “Oh, gee!”) was the Rawhide City mascot. Rawhide City went bankrupt, and Og auctioned off. James Lelm, purchased Og to market his hardware store. He moved the gorilla 120 miles (193 km) to Harvey, North Dakota. Instead, a hornet sculpture (the local school mascot) was added to the Og attraction, showing that even Og can’t best a Hornet. A 2005 storm hit Og hard, however. The monument was beyond repair, dismantled, and now Og bellows on only in memories.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
Astronaut Leland Melvin sits for his NASA portrait with his faithful friends, rescue dogs Jake and Scout. NASA (2009), public domain.

Astronaut Leland Melvin Takes the Best NASA Portrait Ever (2009)

NASA’s astronaut portraits are generally all the same. The beaming astronaut, dressed in their blue, orange, or white flight suits, in front of a United State flag. They often hold a helmet or some symbol of their upcoming flight. When astronaut Leland Melvin sat for his portrait in his ACES suit, it became the most noteworthy – and adorable – NASA portrait to date. While sitting for his 2008 International Space Station flight aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, his beloved rescue dogs Scout and Jake are clamoring for cuddles. Melvin snuck the dogs past security, took them up the back stairs and into the portrait area. As he sat for the portrait, the dogs ran over to him. Melving told photographer Robert Markowitz, “Dude, start shooting!” The result has become an Internet sensation. Melvin was told he could bring family to join him for the photo session, and his dogs are family.

These Historic Photos Have Some Truly Odd Stories Behind Them
NASA’s SCA carries the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the STS-125 mission. Public Domain (2012).

The Space Shuttle Goes Home (2012)

There is no shortage of fascinating photographs from NASA. This one shows the Space Shuttle Atlantis riding piggy-back on a modified 747 on a flight back to Kennedy Space Center in 2012 after it landed at Edwards AFB. When the Space Shuttle enters Earth’s atmosphere after its missions, in this case mission STS-125, it is essentially a glider; it cannot take off and fly under its own power. NASA modified a Boeing 747 to ferry the shuttle around. When the shuttle landed, it took about a week to fit it out for transport on the SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft). It had to be lifted above the 747 and placed properly. The shuttle was then attached by three struts and secured into place. With the load of a shuttle on top and the drag caused by the shape of the combined structure, the SCA had to stop frequently for refueling.

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Amityville Horror: Horror or hoax? (n.a.) ABC, 31 October 2002.

A costume ball where architects dress as buildings. Amanda Kolson Hurley, CityLab Design, 31 October 2019.

Dogs in WWI: Man’s best friends during the war. (n.a.) National WWI Museum and Memorial (n.d.)

“Fearless Freddie” Lund: Nationally known aviator once lived in Troy. Judy Deeter, Troy Historical Alliance, (n.d.).

How the Boeing 747 carried the Space Shuttle. Justin Hayward,, 18 October 2021.

Meet Mr. Mumler, the man who “captured” Lincoln’s ghost on camera. Peter Manseau, 10 October 2017.

North Dakota substitutes ‘Art’ for natural wonders. John MacDonald, Los Angeles Times, 21 November 1999.

Presidential pets: Roosevelt’s menagerie. (n.a.), 27 November 2020.

Remembering the Queen of the Mist. Carol Rogers, New York State Parks and Historic Sites, 12 January 2021.

Robert Cornelius and the First Selfie. Wendi Maloney, TIMELESS: Stories from the Library of Congress, 25 July 2022.

The long, strange history of the mighty ‘Og,’ a 55-foot, 2.5-ton gorilla. Ann Erling, Prairie Public,, 6 July 2023.

The photographer who claimed to capture Abraham Lincoln’s ghost. Dan Piepenbring, The New Yorker, 27 October 2017.

The sad, happy life of Harry Whittier Frees. Linton Weeks,, 6 January 2016.

The story behind this astronaut’s viral photo is even cuter than his dogs. Rae Paoletta, Gizmodo, 1 February 2017.

The stunning survival story of Ernest Shackleton and his Endurance crew. Kieran Mulvaney, History Channel, 21 October 2020.

The woman behind Barbie’s wardrobe: Charlotte Johnson. (n.a.), Bloomers and Frocks, (n.d.).