The 7 Creepiest Old School Robots
Robots are terrifying, we all know that. They murder our loved ones and assume their identities, and yet when we yell about it in the street, we're the ones who get put in a cell. The only upside is that the sin of robotics has only recently advanced to the worrying stages, and it might not be too late to stop it.
But that's just another filthy robot lie, meant to deceive you into a false sense of security. Creepily advanced robots have been around forever, and they have always, always wanted to destroy everything good on this Earth and then process your children for fuel.
Evil Robot Children in the Age of Enlightenment
In the late 18th century, Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz needed a good way to publicize his products among the European nobility. And what better way to sell watches than by building horrible mechanical non-children?
Watch that video featuring three of Jaquet-Droz's creations and you'll finally understand what schizophrenic Amish people scream about in their padded cells. "The Draughtsman" and "The Writer" are two life-size automaton twins created by Jaquet-Droz between 1768 and 1774 to be toured across Europe and shown to aristocrats. One could draw four different pictures on a piece of paper (including the baffling image of a nude baby driving a chariot pulled by a butterfly), and the other could write any custom text up to 40 characters long.
It's like Twitter, mixed with the embalmed corpse of a Victorian-era child.
Needless to say, this sort of technology was astounding for the 1700s. The Writer alone was made out of no less than 6,000 moving pieces, and still functions to this day. Since it was programmable (in that you could change the message it wrote), it's been called one of the earliest ancestors of modern computers. Though they were obviously recovered (seeing as how we have video of them now), these priceless automatons were actually "lost at several points" in history, where they presumably underwent Pinocchio-like adventures together.
Fifty bucks says this thing killed Archduke Ferdinand.
The Clockwork Monk
In 1977, the Smithsonian acquired a small statue of a medieval monk that was carved out of wood and capable of autonomous movement. Not much was known about this strange artifact at the time, except for the fact that it still functioned, and that it was very, very old. Clearly, that's the beginning of a horror film. Some teenagers are going to have sex in its display room, the fresh sin will awaken it and you'll spend the next 90 minutes watching the Clockwork Monk stab horny vixens with a sharpened crucifix. If you don't believe us, here, take a look at the monk in action:
When it first slowly starts to turn to you, at about 13 seconds in, you just know, intrinsically, in the unmapped part of your brain that tells you when a loved one has died seconds before you actually get the call, that this is the last thing you're going to see in this world and that there is naught beyond it but solitude and cold.
Also he happens to be unclothed here, which is frankly just uncomfortable.
In actuality, the elaborate pantomime of terror the monk is pulling off was supposed to be prayer. The clockwork monk "walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he raises his cross to his lips and kisses it."
And when you sleep, it kisses you and whispers your name from the closet.
The Smithsonian estimated that the monk was made around 1560 in Germany or Spain. That's all they knew at first, and probably all they wish they knew still. But alas, they eventually discovered more information: In 1562, the heir to the throne of Spain sustained a serious head wound that caused him fever and blindness. His father, the king, thought all was lost, until the heir was reportedly cured by the miraculous corpse of a Spanish monk that had been dead for 100 years. You see, in his desperation, the king had allowed the monk's mummified remains to be placed in bed with his sick son -- a totally legit medical practice recommended by Dr. Corpseboner -- and he was so thankful when this dubious medical treatment actually worked that (according to some historians) he commissioned a moving replica of the dead monk.
Wow yeah, Spain, that's uncanny. Uncanny is exactly the right word for what this is.
Apparently, the king wanted to repay the miracle of God with a miracle of his own. And what better way to thank the lord than spitting right in his face with a mockery of everything living, much less holy? Oh, and as a final middle finger to the big guy in the sky, the king ended up killing his son a few years later anyway.
Something tells us it was a mercy killing.
As you get older, the things that scared you as a kid slowly become tame, and even ridiculous. You grow up and suddenly realize you're not scared of Freddy Krueger anymore -- he's just a wacky burn victim who really likes puns. Big dogs, the dentist, clowns -- all these childhood traumas start to fade. And then Laffing Sal brings it all cackling madly back.
Laffing Sal is a mechanical monster that steals hope from the eyes of children. If you watch that video closely, you can pinpoint the exact moment when that boy's soul flees from his body to a place of safety. What remains of his life will be joyless and empty, thanks to Laffing Sal's dead gaze and horrible, monstrous giggling, but at least his eternal essence won't end up a meal for the unliving clownbeast.
Even in restraints it still managed to strangle six people.
When activated, Laffing Sal swivels around in a manner that demons mistakenly think looks human, and a record player located under her feet plays a looped recording of her haunting, mirthless laughter, which does not signify joy so much as the complete and utter absence of it.
Originally created in the 1930s by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (presumably via Stygian alchemy), Sal was meant to be a decoration for fun houses, carnivals and fairs. Sal was so iconic that she's said to have been "a part of almost every fun house across the United States built in the 1930s and '40s."
Most of the children who saw it then are now dead. Coincidence?
So how did one creepy machine make its way all across this country like that? The Philadelphia Toboggan Company made far more than just one. Dear lord, how many? Ten? Twenty? No, there were hundreds of copies of Laffing Sal. This wasn't a fluke invention that its creator would regret until his dying day (roughly only 15 minutes after Sal first came online). They actually mass produced that nightmare machine.
Oh god, we never thought we'd say this, but put the clown suit back on!
Satan Machines and Robot Jesus
For anyone in a position of power, fear is an effective means of control. And if you can create said fear by building and deploying robots that look and behave like Satan, several centuries before they should even exist, all the better.
If you can make the crank look like a demon penis, more power to you.
That's exactly what many churches did in the 15th century: They adopted the now tried-and-true practice of scaring the Jesus into people, and did so primarily with demonic automatons that waved around, curled their tongues and howled like banshees. This one survives in a museum in Italy, where it just wants to run its tongue down your back as you slumber, that's all.
"You taste like old sin and new shame."
An even more effective means of control than fear, however, is faith -- rather, the callous manipulation of faith. Churches often tried to draw new parishioners through the use of intricate automatons depicting various Biblical scenes, but that's not quite what the Rood of Grace did. It was a large crucifix kept at Boxley Abbey in England, and it didn't use brimstone, smoke or fire to scare people, nor did it appeal to their sense of wonder in hopes of getting them to drop a few coins in the collection plate. It just totally lied about being a robot: The Rood of Grace had a Jesus figurine on it that would move and change expressions based on the size of the donation.
"Better put some more coins in the slot if you don't want Jesus to be sad."
The machine drew in thousands of pilgrims each year, mainly because the Church itself promoted the thing as a miracle. They never acknowledged that the whole thing was an automaton. But when Henry VIII gave his historic middle finger to the Catholic church, the people tasked with cleaning out the abbey ultimately discovered that the whole affair was a big fake, controlled by wires and engines. Much like Scientology.
In the 18th century, Tipu, King of Mysore (located in modern-day India), spent the majority of his rule battling British invaders from the East India Trading Company.
The rest of his time was spent looking like a giant baby with a mustache.
Tipu was intrigued when he got word that a young man named Munro, son of one of the British generals, had been dragged off by a tiger and mauled to death while hunting with friends. Tipu, you see, was obsessed with tigers: Everything he owned -- from his guns to his throne to his army's uniforms -- was decked out in tiger print. Being such a big fan of their work to begin with, Tipu saw the attack as divine retribution against the invaders, and became so enamored with the story that he commissioned a mechanical automaton to recreate the events. So hey, here's a life-size machine built to recreate a savage animal attack. Don't say we never gave you nothin'!
"I like to hear the screams. It's better than a charity single."
Turning the handle on Tipu's Tiger causes the Munro-bot's hand to demurely cover his mouth, as if to say "Oh my, isn't this mauling business terribly droll?" While the tiger seems, if anything, rather unenthusiastic about its repeated throat-tearing.
But if you do find all of this boring, you can always just whip open up the robo-tiger's side, where you'll find a full keyboard powered by a bellows inside the body. You know, just in case you want to fulfill that one wonderful fantasy we've all had at some point: Rocking out on a fatal animal attack.
If this isn't already in a Danzig song, it will be soon.
Marie Antoinette's Mini-Me
For the stupidly wealthy French upper class, the pre-Revolution era was a time of lavish celebrations, ridiculous garments and ... robots? Apparently? "La Joueuse de Tympanon" ("The Dulcimer Player") was one such "musical android," created somewhere around 1780 for Queen Marie Antoinette. Check it out:
In 1797 the automatons gained sentience and started playing what they damn well wanted.
Unearthly pale chicks sitting silently in the dark just not doing it for you? Well, Japanese horror and fans of the Cure beg to disagree, but OK -- let's find out what sort of jolly melody it plays:
The song starts at about 1:00 in the video. Your genitals clench in apprehension at about 1:13, when the disturbingly fluid movements suddenly flip on, and you forget how to love at about 1:50, when the automaton turns to look at you with a faint smirk that you swear wasn't there before. The automaton can play eight different songs (here's another one) by changing the cylinders under the seat, and oh yeah, remember how this is supposed to look like a miniature version of the queen herself?
"Let them have soulless robot doppelgangers!"
Toward that end, the robot was built using Marie Antoinette's real clothes and hair, making La Joueuse the world's first (and we hope only) cybernetic voodoo doll. La Joueuse was badly damaged during the French Revolution, but it was restored in the 1800s and finally brought back to life, and it now sits in a museum in Paris. Waiting.
Waiting to play you her song.
It ain't "Stairway to Heaven."
"The Turk," an 18th century chess-playing robot that faced, and usually defeated, live opponents, is probably the most famous automaton ever (after the pooping duck, naturally). But after touring the world for over 80 years, it was ultimately revealed to be at least partially a hoax -- albeit one so impressive that it managed to fool such shrewd historical figures as Napoleon, Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin.
He's clearly Azerbaijani, not Turkish.
The Turk was constructed by Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1770. Before each game, von Kempelen would open the doors in the robot's cabinet to show the mechanism inside and prove there wasn't a person hiding in there. The Turk would then raise the pieces on the board with its own hands and react to its opponent's movements. It even had a bit of a temper: If the other player took too long, it would move its eyes and tap its hand on the table in exasperation. When Napoleon Bonaparte repeatedly attempted to make an illegal move, the Turk eventually lost its patience and knocked the pieces off the board.
After it stared at him with those dead eyes, Napoleon would never maintain an erection again.
And it could do all of those amazing things because there was totally a person in there after all. One common theory at the time claimed it was secretly operated by a legless Polish officer that von Kempelen had smuggled into Russia inside the machine. How anyone arrived at the bizarrely specific details of that story is anybody's guess, but here's a picture of a tiny half man reclining in his private study located inside of a robot anyway.
If you're ever unsure of what's going on, just assume tiny legless men live inside of it.
Others believed that the Turk was possessed by evil chess-playing spirits. The truth is slightly more mundane, in that there was a completely normal, leg-having chess master sitting inside the thing (though his identity remains unknown) who simply moved around within the cabinet and hid behind fake pieces of machinery when the interior was displayed. The player was able to follow his opponents' movements thanks to a magnetic board on the ceiling, and from there he could use some levers to operate the robot's hands and move the pieces.
There is no limit to your profits when you shut a man inside a small cupboard.
You might think the Turk doesn't belong here because it's not an automaton, but remember we said earlier that it was "at least partially a hoax." That's because most of the robotic mechanisms it employed were real, and crazy advanced for the time. But if you think the Turk doesn't belong here because it's not creepy enough, we suggest you really contemplate the fact that even the most logical and reasonable person on Earth at the time thought that there was an amputee genius/dwarf piloting this machine from a little box inside of it -- like a twisted, abusive, archaic battlemech. If that idea is indeed less terrifying than the concept of an intelligent robot, we would like to submit that it is only marginally so.
Ashe recently wrote a short story for a charity book that you can buy here. For more of his stuff, check out Weird Shit Blog and Bad Metaphors.
Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile and likes to waste his time writing back to scammers or making stupid comics.
For more things from the past that should terrify you, check out 8 Terrifying Instruments Old-Time Doctors Used on Your Junk and 7 Songs From Your Grandpa's Day That Would Make Eminem Blush.
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