13 Historical Photos Straight From Your Nightmares

They say the past is a foreign country, but what they’ve neglected to tell you is that it’s a country full of horrors that want you dead. Check out expeditions one, two, three, four, five, and six, or jump straight into this latest trip through the kind of memories you won’t find in the average scrapbook.

WARNING: This article contains a pretty graphic picture of a guy doing surgery on himself.


“Blow Him Away” Used To Be Literal

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The death penalty continues to be fiercely debated in America today, but even its staunchest supporters would agree that there are better ways to carry it out than by crossing one of Wile E. Coyote’s plans with an execution from Saw. This instance of “blowing from a gun” occurred in 1890s Iran, although the method was used worldwide by authorities who had no regard for the fate of either the condemned or the people who would have to clean up afterward.

A witness to one such execution said that the victim’s head few up 50 feet, their arms shot off 100 yards to the side, their legs were pounded into the ground, and “the body is literally blown away altogether, not a vestige being seen.” Several Texas state representatives, having read that sentence, are now looking into bringing it back.


It’s Unsanitary To Not Wear Gloves

Rare Historical Photos

That man is in the middle of removing his own appendix, and no, this isn’t a test project for the future of American healthcare. The year was 1961, and surgeon Leonid Rogozov was part of a Soviet expedition to the Antarctic. One day he realized he had appendicitis, and the remote location, brutal winter weather, and roving shoggoths made getting help impossible. His choices were “wait to die” or “cut open his own abdomen and start rooting around in there,” so he did the latter. Without anesthetic after the initial cut, because he needed a clear head. And also because he had left absolutely all of his fucks at home in Russia.

After two hours of working by touch, he got his appendix out only a day before it would have burst and killed him. He was back to work two weeks later. His diary entry shows more concern for his “poor assistants” than himself, despite the fact that he almost lost consciousness from the pain. It’s now mandatory for Antarctic researchers to receive appendectomies, because no one wants to have to top Rogozov’s horrifying badassery, although it would be a great way to test for the presence of Things.


Don’t Trust Him When He Says “It’s For You”

Getty Images

It’s Phoneman! He picks up your phone! He stares into your soul! Those are his two main features! But he can also transform into … Coatman!

He takes your coat! He plots the robot uprising! But first, he must clean the floors to avoid arousing suspicion!

He’s clearly planning to murder that woman! He opens the door to greet a guest, but she knows to fear him!

That’s MM7, built by Austrian inventor Claus Scholz in the early ’60s. Scholz believed in a world where robots would serve man, but apparently wanted them to look like they hated every second of it. MM7 could perform basic tasks via remote control, but suffered from stability problems, both literally and in the sense that something in its simple programming probably caused it to go rogue, murder a family, and cover its robo-body in their skin in an attempt to enter society. But the upgraded MM8 model must have looked less like it was endlessly amused by its masters’ frail mortal bodies, right?



The Original Winter Soldier

Most people are only vaguely familiar with the 1939-1940 Winter War, given that contemporary world events kinda took historical precedent. The ultra-short version is that the Soviet Union invaded Finland because Stalin was a dick, and an unusually brutal winter turned the conflict into a nightmare for everyone involved.

That Soviet soldier froze to death, so Finnish troops propped him up as a warning to his comrades. Imagine you’ve been ordered to invade a foreign country, the temperature’s hit -40, you’re marching through a dark and unfamiliar land, and suddenly this pops into view like a vengeful zombie. You’d have second thoughts about your patriotism. There are two lessons to take away from this scene: War is a dehumanizing horror show that will never stop shocking and depressing us, and don’t fuck with Finland.


At Least It’s Not The Most Disgusting Thing To Ever Happen In A Pool

On June 18, 1964, civil rights protestors jumped into a whites-only hotel pool in St. Augustine, because having whites-only pools was a pretty shitty policy. The owner, James Brock, then proved their point by throwing hydrochloric acid at them. That amount of acid wouldn’t have done any harm, but that’s not obvious when it’s being tossed at you. The point was to scare them, and it worked.

The Civil Rights Act became law not long after, and Brock dutifully desegregated his hotel, only to then find himself picketed by the KKK. Facing financial ruin, he agreed to re-segregate to get rid of them, only to obey a judge’s order to re-de-segregate a few days later, which led to a pair of Molotov cocktails being thrown into his hotel’s restaurant. Today his hotel is gone and a Hilton stands in its place, and in 2004, one of the swim-in protesters visited it to point out how crappy it was that they didn’t employ a single African-American. History is complicated, kids.


Well, Crucifixion Looks Weird If You Do It Like That

We love to set horror stories in old abandoned mental asylums, but what were those places actually like? Well, here’s a photo of an 1890 German hospital, where a woman is being forced to stand with her arms out as part of her treatment. That would be depressing enough if she wasn’t in what appeared to be a prison cell, but combine the two factors and I’d say there’s an, oh, 100 percent chance she haunted the building after her death by somehow crawling out of the telegraph machine. But hey, at least Germany’s attitude toward mental health only improved from there, right?


“Can We Just Have Locusts Instead?”

We’ve all heard of the Dust Bowl, but removed from context, it’s hard to appreciate how apocalyptic the situation was. So here’s that context!

Those are photos of Black Sunday, a 1935 storm which displaced 300 million tons of topsoil at 60 miles an hour, suffocated people and animals who were caught outside, forced thousands to flee their homes, and blacked out the goddamn sun.

The modern world is obviously no stranger to natural disasters, but at least such catastrophes no longer look like God has grown tired of his creation and hit a reset button which takes the form of an all-encompassing black void.

And of course people both drove through the apocalypse and casually posed in front of it, because sometimes reality resembles a Stephen King novel about a town that simply wants to go about its business despite the supernatural horrors unfolding in the background.


They Excelled At Search-And-Rescue And Casting Doom

The role of women during wartime has often been underappreciated. What’s also been underappreciated is the fact that during World War II, Allied women occasionally dressed like a black mage who’s been forced to abandon (air?)ship.

The vest is bulletproof and the suit flame-resistant, but left unexplained is why they opted for a design which implied a Klan member with a freakishly enlarged cranium. If someone in that outfit marched into a fire to save you, you wouldn’t rush into their arms. You would flee deeper into the flames for a saner, less painful death.


She’s Got Something On Her Mind

That’s from a Fallout game, right? It’s part of a side quest about people having their brains uploaded into a computer simulation where life is perfect, assuming you’re a racist who loves 1950s decor?

That machine was actually designed to save brains, although it looks like it could just as easily destroy them by projecting endless visions of your worst fears into your mind. Created in 1961, it analyzed radioactive material injected into patients to determine whether their brain had tumors or if they were suffering from regular old nightmares as a result of being forced to wear that monstrosity. Having cancer used to suck even harder than it does now!


Otto Doesn’t Like To Talk About His Extended Family

Horror is all about context. We don’t think a thing about mannequins in a department store, but stick a few dozen in an airplane, and you can’t help but imagine them moving ever so slightly closer whenever your back is turned until they’re throwing you out the door 35,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

They’re being used as part of a 1984 test of a new fuel additive, but why did they go with the cultist look for the majority of mannequins, yet mix in a few black joggers? Why are all of their eyes closed in an unsettlingly rapturous expression? What’s with the one faceless infant-thing in the front row? Were they about to run the test when an engineer exclaimed “Wait! We need to see what would happen to a tiny child! Someone get me a homunculus you suspect could survive any fire, no matter how fierce!” And then this happened:

Purposefully crashing the plane somehow went awry, and it took over an hour to put out the fire. They didn’t roll with that particular additive, but the mannequins didn’t die horribly and then haunt the airstrip forever in vain — the FAA implemented new cabin safety standards based on what they learned. Precisely what they learned is unclear, because there are no post-explosion images of the mannequins. Presumably that’s because the first team sent into the plane’s charred remains went silent, and when a second team went to look for them, both their comrades and the un-baby had vanished.


Otherworld Horror On The Orient Express

So sometimes trains used to up and explode, and when they did, they turned into steampunk Cthulhu. A major form of transportation could burst into Lovecraftian spaghetti at any given time, thanks to a boiler explosion. Here’s one from 1869 Germany.

You can read up on the scientific explanation if you feel inclined, but there’s nothing that completely eliminates how unsettling it is to see a man-made creation become so alien.

They look … hungry. This train absolutely snatched and devoured the first few people to investigate the explosion, like a movie about a killer car, but stuffier and more Victorian.


Slender Man Is Old Money

Where do you even start here? It looks like a fancy European version of the Overlook Hotel. Those “ghosts” are from a famous 18th-century-themed party thrown in 1951 Venice. Guests included Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, and Christian Dior, and while most of the opulent details would inspire even conservative-minded people to start rooting for a communist revolution, one room was apparently dedicated to startling the shit out of whoever wandered into it. Whether they were then allowed to leave has been lost to time.


Meet The Scarecrow’s Grandparents

Those two look like they’re from a Blair Witch Project deleted scene, but they’re part of an Irish wedding tradition. That raises a question: What the fuck, Ireland?

That photo was taken in 1922, but the tradition continues today. The “straw boys” present themselves as wedding crashers, and provide “entertainment” by singing, dancing, playing games, and generally goofing around. It’s told to bring good luck, health, and wealth to the married couple, which I suppose is a fair exchange for the child they secretly whisk away from the party to raise as one of their own. Pretty convenient that this shit’s left out of all the Emerald Isle travel brochures.

Mark is on Twitter and has a book.

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