#3. Posing for Victorian Headless Portraits
These days, even someone with the mental age of a 10-year-old knows how to create a faked photograph, as North Korea continues to prove whenever they release a new piece of propaganda. However, it turns out that people first discovered the joys of trick photography way back when a Photoshop was still a place you had to drive to in your horse and buggy, and today's novelty portraits are actually fairly mundane compared to those of days gone by. So here's a little riddle for you: Tear a Victorian mother away from her murder figurine collection long enough to pose for a portrait with the kids, and what do you get?
A week of insomnia?
Yep, a family portrait of the kids having hacked off mom's head with a hatchet. Suddenly that time your mom dressed up like an old-timey prostitute for a novelty photo at the boardwalk doesn't seem so creepy, does it? Judging by the sheer amount of examples available, "headless portraits" were a pretty popular fad back in the 19th century, and looking through those images, we're not too sure they weren't the original inspiration for Mortal Kombat:
"FINISH H- Oh, wow, really? You're actually going to? I was just ... I don't know what I expected there."
The effect was achieved the old-fashioned way, by layering images from different photo negatives. Of course, not everyone had a partner willing to pose as his or her headless victim, so self-decapitation was always an option:
For a little extra they could make it look like you were teabagging yourself.
There was also the ever popular "serve your own head on a platter" pose:
"Dammit, I told them to hold the mustache."
And the "we forgot to put the head somewhere" one, for which you presumably got a discount:
Unless these are actually freshly deposed French royals.
#2. Making Giant Bonfires (With Cats)
Everyone loves a good bonfire: surrounded by troves of friends, skin tingling as the open flames wrestle against the cool summer night air, the sacks full of cute widdle putty tats screeching in abject horror as they're fed to the pyre ...
*WHOOSH!* "Wait, what the hell have they been drinking?!"
Unfortunately, no, we didn't just make that last part up. You see, 18th century Parisians loved them some bonfires, too. Each year at the summer solstice, the masses gathered at Place de Greve and torched themselves up a massive bonfire, complete with all the stuff you tend to picture when you think of a bonfire -- laughing, dancing, singing, drunken men stumbling about and narrowly avoiding accidental flame-assisted castration -- along with the somewhat quirky addition of sacks full of live cats hung from a mast over the bonfire to be slowly devoured by the flames.
Then, the morning after their kitty-fueled bender, the partygoers collected the ashes and took them home as good luck charms. But why cats? You pick a reason: Because they thought cats had no souls, or were witches, or were the devil, or because fuck 'em.
Look at that evil bastard. Exhausted from a day of harvesting souls.
Such fiery traditions were apparently all the rage across France -- in Saint Chamond, "cat chasers" were less about bonfires and more about chasing flaming cats through the streets, while in Burgundy and Lorraine, folks went for the simpler tradition of dancing around a flaming Maypole ... with a (temporarily) live cat hanging from it.
Judging by this picture, Europe was full of pussy chasers, cock grabbers, and dog boners.
#1. Visiting Human Zoos
Since ancient times, zoos have been providing wholesome and educational entertainment for families across the globe. Alright, so for a long time zoos basically just ripped indigenous animals from their natural homes and charged visitors to ogle and possibly poke them with sticks -- but at least they never did that with humans, right?
Well, at least not with white ones.
Yeah, that happened. Though they may not have referred to them as "human zoos" back then -- Paris fancily referred to theirs as Le Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale -- we at Cracked firmly believe in calling a tomato a fucking tomato. Such exhibitions were shockingly common throughout the world for hundreds of years, from Europe to Japan to the good ol' U.S. of A. And just like we described with their animal equivalent, human zoos involved coercing or outright abducting indigenous people from all over the world (mostly Africa), building "villages" that loosely resembled their homes, and then putting them on display for a paying public, who presumably threw peanuts at them, because people paying to see this were awful.
"Haha, look at those idiots!" -The people on the left
Perhaps the most famous human-zoo connoisseur was German Carl Hagenbeck, who, during the last quarter of the 19th century, not only supplied zoos throughout Europe with their wild animals for display, but kept them well stocked up on two-legged specimens as well. Hagenbeck would also put together stage shows starring his most exotic finds.
His version of Macbeth got poor reviews.
Such shameful displays were known to exist up until freaking 1958, when the Belgians finally looked themselves in the mirror and asked, "What in the ever-loving fuck are we doing?"
Jason is a freelance editor for this fine website, Cracked.com. Like him on Facebook and he'll bake you an apocalypse cake.
For more reasons our grandparents were genuinely terrifying, check out 10 Old-Timey Medical Treatments Inspired by Your Nightmares and 13 Old-Timey Photos That Prove History Was Haunted.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out When 'Behind the Scenes' Documentaries Go Horribly Wrong.
And stop by LinkSTORM to remind yourself why you have it better now.
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Related Reading: What's that? You need more old-timey creepiness? Click this link and prepare for diagrams of infant children showing off their internal organs. Still haven't had enough? Here's another article full of crazy pictures from our even crazier past. And if those articles don't have you cowering in fear at every old person on the street, these olden-days medical photos are here for your shocked perusal. Wondering just what made our predecessors so batty? This collection of old-timey comics should make it clear. Batman doesn't have shit on an all-powerful hovering eye.