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If you've learned anything from reading Cracked, it's that the past is a bizarre and confusing place. That's why so many of its photos, when viewed out of context, are bizarre and/or terrifying. And in many cases, adding the context just makes them worse.

So let's do that now ...

13
Pass the Popcorn

National Nuclear Security Administration
Don't pop it first. We got that covered.

It looks like somebody cut the bleachers out of a photo of a little league game and cleverly pasted them onto this pic of a mushroom cloud, maybe for an awesome album cover or something. But this is in fact an unaltered photo depicting more or less how they passed the time around the beginning of the Cold War -- just gathering together to sing songs and share stories around the nuclear campfire.

Between 1951 and 1992, over 900 nuclear detonations were conducted there in the Nevada desert, and the mushroom clouds could occasionally be seen from Las Vegas. And people did see them -- as weird as it is to see military personnel just hanging out watching the detonation of a doomsday device, civilians around town would organize viewing parties on rooftops to get a good view of the blast (admit it -- you'd watch a nuclear explosion if you had the chance).

There's no real word on how many of these folks got leukemia or turned into Hulks, but let's just say there is a reason this is no longer a popular pastime.

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12
I Never Actually Passed Flight School

via RAFJever.org
Luckily, they taught "bail out" on day one.

If you look closely, you might notice something strange about the direction this plane is flying. Skilled aeronauts should be able to pick it out fairly easily.

Apparently, a farmer was in the process of snapping a photograph of his buddy riding a tractor in 1962 when, by a billion-to-one chance, he accidentally took an interesting photo instead. That's test pilot George Aird ejecting from his fighter jet as it was cruising a little too vertically for his comfort.

Aird survived, but not without injury -- rather than landing on the pillow-like soft grass of the farmer's field, he crashed Wile E. Coyote style through the roof of a nearby greenhouse and sustained several fractures. Here's a picture of the crash site from above -- check out the second greenhouse from the left. That's where Aird landed. The big smear in the field is obviously the wreckage of his plane.

via RAFJever.org
The smear he left on the plane's seat is something else.

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11
Friendship Is Magic

via MessyBeast.com
Magic enough to make a three-piece suit and bowler hat look shabby.

Stop scrolling. Take a moment and really let that photo sink in -- it gets funnier the longer you look at it. In fact, let's all just pause here for, oh, an hour or so. Have you noticed its tail yet?

Here's another one:

via MessyBeast.com
Every time it shits, they cut the tail off and start from scratch.

Seriously, what the fuck? Are they wearing wigs?

The truth is actually stupider -- these were Percheron horses, specifically bred for the purpose of growing those ludicrous long-ass manes. And yes, that hair has been braided:

via MessyBeast.com
No ribbons, though. That would look a bit showy.

Such princess-pimp rides were known as wonder horses (up there is the Oregon Wonder Horse and its 18-foot-long mane and 21-foot-long tail). They would take these horses on tour so crowds could gaze in amazement at this ridiculous achievement in animal husbandry, and at least one of them became such a moneymaker that its owners had it stuffed when it died so they could continue to show it off.

So, yeah, maybe we owe today's bronies an apology.

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10
We Honor Our New Spider Overlords

Metropolitan Post Card Club
Feed them train meat and they may spare us!

It may look like a vision from some terrifying alternative history in which giant alien spiders have enslaved the human race, but really these are just old-timey telephone wires coated in snow. Hundreds and hundreds of wires.

In big cities like Manhattan, telephone wires became a terrifying nuisance before someone had the good idea to run them underground. That's why nightmare scenarios like the below photo were a common sight:

Library of Congress
Christmas snows reached the ground on Valentine's Day.

It's difficult to tell from the quality of the photo, but you're looking at a world that nearly has enough utility wires to blot out the sun. How many birds were getting stuck in that shit? Did suicide jumpers get caught in the tangle and have to be rescued by the fire department?

Speaking of which ...

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9
The Human Flytrap

Eugene de Salignac/NYC Municipal Archives
Four in a row diagonally. Pretty sneaky.

OK, this one really looks like a giant spider made a web for catching humans. Dapper, strangely unperturbed humans.

These are actually just some superhumanly badass painters goofing around during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (you just know that one of these guys decided to be a jackass and bounce on the cables while they all dangled precariously, waiting for the slow-ass camera to do its work).

Also, we're pretty sure the only workplace safety precautions they had was a big sign that said, "IF YOU FALL, PLEASE AIM TOWARD THE WATER AS NOT TO MAR THE PAINT. YOUR WIDOW WILL BE BILLED FOR ANY DAMAGE."

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8
Saving Private Ryan -- ON ICE!

Netherlands General News Agency
Absurd! They should be wearing shin guards.

We want you to picture, in your head, a serious, gritty war movie. The kind that wins Oscars and really focuses on the human suffering warfare inflicts on its brave young victims. Then we want you to imagine a harrowing climax in which our heroes have to escape across a border marked by a river. A frozen one.

Now imagine everyone is on ice skates.

Because that exact thing totally happened, over and over. These particular soldiers were from the Netherlands. And yes, the Dutch absolutely employed ice skates in order to pursue retreating enemies across frozen surfaces, so whoever these guys are fighting, they're already running away. Consider that before you think about how ridiculous they look.

WhaleOil/The Firearm Blog
Also consider the graceful photographer who skated in reverse.

Now imagine that guy on the left stopping and firing his bazooka and the recoil sending him sliding backward out of frame. "OH, SHIIIIIIIII-"

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7
Early Submarines Were Easy to Spot

The Gibsons of Scilly
Damn tree huggers and their insistence on wind power!

Either this is a rare photo of the Flying Dutchman emerging from the depths to drag sailors to their doom, or someone's efforts to perfect the hull-less boat have been met with yet another failure.

Actually, it's a ship captured on film mid-sink in 1912, just a few days before the Titanic disaster. Strangely, the vessel went gently down into the deep, perfectly upright, its sails still neatly unfurled. The crew of this embarrassingly ill-fated ship, the Mildred, couldn't say they hit an iceberg to save face when it came to explaining the mishap to friends -- fog was the cause of this maritime disaster. Specifically, the sailors' inability to navigate in it (the ship went off course and ran aground). We'll just assume for their sake that the fog was way worse than that photo makes it look.

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6
Iron Man: Origins

via TheRebreatherSite
Right down to the bitchin' facial hair.

This is another one you need to really stop and look at. Are you seeing its Captain Hook hand? How about its huge, hexagonal robo-nipples? WHY DID IT NEED NIPPLES?!?

While we would love to pretend that this is Tony Stark's grandfather Sir Augustus Leopold Stark and that this was his utterly terrifying crime-fighting suit, it is instead a man named Chester MacDuffee standing beside a diving suit he invented. It weighed about 550 pounds and wasn't completely watertight, which meant that it came equipped with a pump to suck the water out as you struggled not to drown. Shit, what did you expect from pre-World War I diving gear?

And if you think that 1911 model looks cool, check out its subsequent spawn, which inspired the Big Daddies we all learned to fear in BioShock.

NOAA Photo Library
Piloted by Steampunk-Bane.

It's hard to believe you could actually fit someone into their own underwater Iron Man suit so goddamn long ago, but the photos come from a 1935 attempt to examine the wreck of the Lusitania. Which was to be preceded by a wedding, apparently:

NOAA Photo Library
The wedding night featured two minutes of sex after three hours of strenuous undressing.

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5
Back to the Future Part II, Circa 1947

Ben Ross
Where we're going, we don't need logic.

Every New Year's, jokers on Facebook pose the same question -- why don't we have flying cars yet? What the hell are you waiting for, science? Well, you can all shut up, because it turns out we had flying cars as far back as 1947.

via Diseno Art
The plane's not behind the car. You're thinking three-dimensionally.

This is the Convair Model 118. Although it looks like a shitty Photoshop job where somebody copy-pasted an old-timey plane onto a picture of a car, this is a legitimate thing that really worked as advertised.

via Diseno Art
The hugely successful advertisement read, "Flying car. 'Nuff said."

So why aren't we zipping around space highways and getting caught in atmospheric traffic jams like in The Fifth Element? Despite two successful test flights, nobody wanted to invest in the damn thing, and so the company cancelled the program by 1948. Come on, guys! We can't think of a single problem that thing would cause driving down a busy street. Not a single one.

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4
That's No Moon ...

via NavSource.org
What's with the delay?"
"Some crazy chick with weird hair stole the blueprints."

What, you thought zeppelins were just blown up like gigantic balloons? Those badass mothers were actually enormous, rigid structures the size of the Death Star. And back in those days, there was only one way to build a frame of this magnitude: a ladder and a hammer. Are you seeing the tiny workers waaaaay at the top of those ladders?

Yeah, these photographs of the construction of the USS Macon should serve as testament to what a magnificently hardcore process it was to give birth to the largest aircraft in human history.

NASA
And a hangar that inspired Darth Vader's helmet.

Speaking of the insanity of zeppelins ...

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3
Wheeeeee!

US Navy
As though ordinary zeppelins weren't phallic enough.

If you think that's a little bit of stunt flying by a daredevil zeppelin pilot, think again -- that shit is not intentional. That is what happens when you dock a zeppelin and it gets hit by a huge gust of wind.

That pic is from August 25, 1927, when the USS Los Angeles had a serious problem with wind gusts while it was moored at a New Jersey docking station. Before it could correct its orientation, the airship was picked up tail-first and wound up balancing vertically on the tip of the station. On the inside, it probably felt like The Poseidon Adventure.

US Navy
"Someday, gentlemen, we're going to set one of these fuckers on fire."

Miraculously, the airship suffered only modest damage and was back in use the next day. After all its walls and floors were hosed down for vomit, of course.

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2
The Paris Eye of Sauron

via Boston College
If you remember Lite-Brite, your childhood was magnifique.

Oh come on, it looks like someone just sketched an outline of the Eiffel Tower onto this photograph. At best, it's some gaudy Paris replica in Las Vegas or Disney World.

In reality, this is what the Tower looked like during the 1900 World's Fair in Paris, complete with a beacon on top that looks like Sauron's eye gazing over Mordor. The frame is so dark that it's nearly invisible in old-fashioned photography, so the lights just make it look fake, even in the color version:

via io9.com
It flashed and thumped the city with techno music 24 hours a day.

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1
Mark Twain, Topless

via OpenCulture

We leave you with this image, and no further comment.

Seriously, there are no further words in this article. Not just because there's nothing more that needs to be said (are you looking at it?), but also because nobody actually knows why Mark Twain sat for a naked photograph. And he is nude; don't try to tell yourself he's not. "What? He could be wearing pants, Cracked!" Really? Look at his facial expression. Yeah, he's naked, and fully erect.

There is speculation that Twain was asked to take the photo as a model for a bust that was being made. If so, we like to think that nudity was nowhere in the instructions.


For more jaw-dropping goodness from the old-timey era, please pre-order Jacopo's upcoming book, The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other fine stores today!

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Related Reading: We've got more unbelievably unphotoshopped old-timey photos, right here. Hey, while we're going back to simpler times why not bring the cages back to basketball? And if you think that's a sketchy past-time, we'd like to introduce you to live Civil War battle tourists.

It's hard to imagine, but a singular great idea can come from more than one brain. In this week's podcast, Jack O'Brien, David Wong, and Kristi Harrison look at the curious cases of the telephone and Harry Potter to determine whether plagiarism took place, or if something more bizarre is at hand. You can download the episode here, and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast here.

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