15 Old Photographs That Prove the World Used to Be Insane

From those bullshit seat belt laws to Big Kindergarten trying to tell you which preschools you can and can't take your gun into, it seems like today's nanny nation is intent on making our lives as safe as possible at the expense of any and all excitement. That's not how it used to be, though. Back in the good old days, when all men were mustachioed and all women preferred their men mustachioed (if they knew what was good for 'em), the people knew how to live: dangerously, recklessly, violently and awesomely. The following photographs definitively prove that somewhere along the way, we as a species have tragically misplaced our balls.

They're probably in the same place we left our mustaches.

Canne de Combat


This is not just evidence in an assault trial -- I mean yes, it is almost certainly exactly that; that man is clearly being beaten to death on camera, and I'm sure that justice has since been served -- but there's more to the photo than that. This is actually a pictorial how-to guide for a martial art called canne de combat: the gentle and sophisticated art of beating people with walking sticks. Canne de combat was developed in early 19th century France, and was most commonly practiced by civilized gentlemen in metropolitan areas, presumably because rural farmers could vent their bloodlust on livestock and wild animals. It was only city folk who had to save all the anger up, periodically venting their frustration via explosive cane beatings. But canne de combat wasn't sheer, purposeless fury. There was quite a bit of technique involved. Here you can see two gentlemen, both versed in canne de combat, executing muay-thai-style knee strikes and kung fu side-kicks.


It looks like a shoddily made steampunk fan fiction video. You'd laugh your ass off if you saw a Victorian gentleman in a period piece do this stuff. If Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice suddenly leaped to his feet and executed a savage cane-beating on Mr. Bingley, followed by a flawless jumpkick, there would be far fewer suspicious quotes from Jane Austen's Wikipedia page in our high school English papers. But that's exactly what 19th century France was all about. There was even a rival form, a kind of gentlemanly jeet kune do that incorporated elements from every martial art into a perfect fighting system. It was called bartitsu, and it looked like this:


In this image you will find: old-timey gentlemen wielding canes like samurai swords, a succinct demonstration of how to use a formal jacket as a weapon, and a mustache so magnificent and sharp that you could gut a bear with it. And likely it would not be the first time: The man sporting said murderstache is none other than Edward William Barton-Wright, inventor of bartitsu (the name is a combination of Barton and jujitsu, because both of those are equally deadly things for your opponent to know). Barton loved the brutal extravagance of Eastern martial arts, but he saw absolutely no reason that you had to wear all those silly pajamas. So he developed a fighting style that was unhindered -- nay, even augmented -- by the presence of a polka-dot ascot.

Oh, but don't go thinking civilized gentlemen like Barton-Wright were just idly inventing new ways to beat innocent passersby; they needed this stuff to defend themselves. Because back in the day ...

Criminals Were Apparently Way More Badass

Twisted Sifter

That is not the slick teaser poster for the new Capone biopic starring Liam Neeson. That is an actual mugshot, as used by the police department of New South Wales to document the appearance of a typical criminal in 1925. This one features one Mr. William Stanley Moore, whose chief infraction was apparently bringing sexy back without a permit. Oh, and drug dealing. Fake drug dealing. Yes, this was what the bottom-rung, sell-gullible-teenagers-bags-of-oregano drug dealers looked like in the Roaring '20s. And it wasn't just a matter of Moore having more style than you can stuff into a three-piece suit. Every criminal who passed through the New South Wales Police Department between 1910 and 1930 got the full glamor shot treatment.

Twisted Sifter

This is the official mugshot of William Cahill, taken in 1923. It looks like Russell Crowe shooting a tasteful whiskey ad, but this is the picture that went on his official criminal record. Not since Anne Hathaway in a catwoman suit has crime looked this good. Seriously, even the pettiest crook got the full-blown Batman villain treatment.

Twisted Sifter

This is Sydney Skukerman, looking like he's going to unleash hordes of mind-controlled rats on Gotham City if his demands aren't met. His crime? "Obtaining goods from warehousemen by falsely representing that he is in business." This guy got arrested for pretending that packages were for him. And he gets a forensic makeup team and a mugshot that looks incomplete without a death ray in the background.

I mean Christ, if you're going to frame the shots this elaborately, you could take any petty crook and make them look intimi-

Twisted Sifter

Oh, holy shit. Never mind.

Those two are legit supervillains. Those men's names are recorded as De Gracy and Edward Dalton. Their crimes were not recorded, but I'm suspecting it had something to do with carving souls from the flesh of the unworthy, judging by De Gracy's Skeletor eyes and Dalton's bitchin' facial scar.

But that's not to say that life back in the day was a constant struggle against supervillainy waged via savage street-beatings. It wasn't all crime and fighting; even old-timey badasses liked to kick back and relax with a nice game of ...

Recommended For Your Pleasure

Robert Brockway

  • Rss

More by Robert Brockway:

See More
To turn on reply notifications, click here


The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!