16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares


As we have explored before, taking old-timey photos out of context is a recipe for awesomeness. But there is a dark side, too.

Some of what passed for everyday life 75 or 100 years ago would send you running screaming in the other direction today. And when those scenes are captured on grainy old-school film, you get the stuff of nightmares.

Religion Used to Be So Badass

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares
José Ortiz Echagüe, Vintage Photography

The only "music" that could rightly accompany this scene is toneless human screaming.

We mean no offense to any particular faith here, but if you were standing in this spot taking this photo, you would fully expect to be human sacrificed within the hour. Everything from the costumes to the spooky mountain temple setting screams "ancient murder cult."

This was actually taken in Spain in 1940, and this is a procession of people repenting their sins in a ritual for Semana Santa, celebrated the week before Easter. We would stop and point out how religion used to be so much more badass than it is now, but they still do it today.

So Creepy You Don't Notice the Skates ...

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares
Corbis Images

It's a testament to the creator of this 1910 Halloween costume that she still manages to look terrifying despite the fact that she's apparently about to hit up the local roller dome. She's ready for whatever the night brings, whether it's taking a tight inside turn to beat the man that challenged her to a race or cracking that man's skull open and feasting on its rich, gooey innards.

The Last Thing He Heard Was a Whisper in His Ear

Steven Kasher Gallery

We'd have less crime if modern cops looked this dapper.

This would appear to be a certain policeman's "last known photo" before his skin was found pinned to the wall of a torture dungeon.

It's true that had you been at this anti-Vietnam War demonstration when the photo was taken, you would have seen a protester mocking an authority figure. But the passing of time has given this scene historical perspective, and a modern audience can see it for what it really is: a crazy guy in a scary as fuck pig mask, his unhinged eyes boring into our souls.

Inside This Thing Is Nothing But a Skull

The Isolator By HUGO GERNSBACK MEMBER AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY The author at work In his private study aIdedl by the Isolator. Outside nolses being e
Science and Invention 1925, via A Great Disorder

Replace that oxygen tank with a nitrous tank and you'd have the ultimate cure for finals blues.

For some reason, putting this bulbous terror mask on a guy calmly sitting at a writing desk makes it worse than if it were chasing you through a dark alley. If you ever see the above in real life, it's playing on a video screen while the disembodied voice explains the exact nature of the torture machine you're strapped to.

In reality this is the Isolator, a 1925 invention intended to block absolutely all external stimuli, and also to make you look like a bad guy from BioShock. It shuts out all sound, oxygen is piped in through a tank and the eyes have slits so you can only see one line of text at a time, making it the perfect productivity tool for people who want to terrify their coworkers into never interacting with them.

Sometimes a Costume's Simplicity Is What Makes It Scary

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares

Holy shit. Every little thing in this picture is just off somehow, just enough to be nightmarish, from that fucked up jack-o'-lantern to the horrifying twist on the "holes in a sheet" ghost costume.

In 1905, pretty much all Halloween costumes were homemade, and we don't doubt that the effect here was more the result of laziness than intentional horror. But you could give us six months to try to think up a way to make a sheet and a pair of scissors into something scary, and we couldn't beat that.

Sexual Assault in 3 ... 2 ...

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares
Museum Ludwig Köln

His eyes say "Yes" but his hands say "I'm hiding a small knife."

Proving that it's the man that makes the costume, if you took this exact same outfit and put it on a little girl it'd probably be adorable. But put it on that guy, in those tights, with that leering facial expression? Your face is about to be on a fucking milk carton.

Supposedly this 1865 photo of a half-man/half-insect monster is representative of the early stages of the bohemian movement. What else could it possibly be?

You Should See the Snow Fort He Manned

7s ea
University of Oregon Libraries

There are no side pictures available, but we're sure that's a crotch bulge.

Back in 1902 they didn't settle for building snowmen. They built snowtitans, the kind that looked like they'd come alive at night and squish people for fun. And then they added a pedophile mustache. And stood in front of it in terrifying Men in Black silhouettes with their demented dwarf.

The Silence of the Lambs: 1938 Edition

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares
Raoul Ubac, via Vintage Works

Here we have a photo by Raoul Ubac, and we're actually a little shocked to find that's a mannequin head instead of a real one. Or at least that's what he claimed. Either way, it was apparently a law in the early 20th century that if you were a European with a camera you weren't allowed to take photos unless they were glimpses into the mouth of insanity.

T-Shirts? Check the Back Left of the Rib Cage


The head is actually in the head.

Alexander Dabell was a man with a dream: to run a store out of a whale carcass. Dabell bought a beached whale at an auction, because that's the sort of thing you could do in 1842, and used its bones as the basis of a souvenir shop in an amusement park he founded.

The park is still in operation today, and the whale bones remain a major attraction. "Look, kids! This is what an internal organ sees!"

That Will Look Great on the Mantle

Stuffed' Girl's Heads! only $2.98 (E Conquest Blondes. radheads and brumettes for every man to boast of his conquests... the first reslistie likanes
Dangerous Minds

Honor House was a company that sold crappy novelty goods out of the back of comic books. If you had a spare $2.98, you could buy a perverted symbol of your sexual conquests. But in a tragic paradox, anyone who would pay money for a fake head with a "full sensuous mouth" would have no sexual conquests to speak of.

It's obviously a gag gift, but you don't joke about mounting a woman's head on your wall unless you're the sort of person who would actually do it if you could move to a country where it was legal. We can't think of a target audience for this product beyond rapists, unless there was an early 20th century precursor to the pickup artist community.

What Do You Mean It's Not a Costume Party?

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares
Neato Coolville, Flickr

That guy on the right looks so shocked his pants could leap up another eight inches.

Have you ever been to a Halloween party where one guy forgot to dress up and looked like an idiot? This 1950s party is the opposite of that -- one man forgot he wasn't supposed to come dressed as pure nightmare fuel.

What the hell is he supposed to be? And what the hell is that on his left hand? Pincers?

She Was Always a Leg Up on the Other Girls

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares

So this is just another prank photo, right? There's a second girl hiding up the first girl's dress or something?

Nope. That's Myrtle Corbin, who was born in 1868 as a dipygus, which is a medical term for "Is that an extra pelvis? Oh man, it totally is." Myrtle spent her early years in a circus sideshow but later married a doctor, raised five children (using both of her two functional reproductive systems), lived to the age of 60 and had what must have been the kinkiest sex of the century. Are you imagining it? You are now!

No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Batshit Craziness


We bet you could get it to chase after two different strings.

If your kitten dies, you mourn its death and dispose of its remains respectfully. Unless you're a taxidermist named Walter Potter -- then you slap four spare limbs and an extra tail on it and stick it in your museum of horrors.

This photo was taken in 1871. Potter's taxidermy museum was in operation as late as 2003, at which point someone finally said, "Jesus, what are we doing?" and shut the place down.



"War is eternal, kids! Haw haw!"

What better way to introduce children to the horrors of war than with a beloved cartoon icon? These masks were made in 1942 so kids could be ready to defend themselves in the event of the Axis turning the United States into the Poison Gassiest Place on Earth.

Thankfully, they were never put to use, and after the war the leftover masks were given to senior officers as mementos, should they ever forget that the universe pumps horror the way a body circulates blood.

Damn, That Almost Looks Like a Pile of -- OH SWEET MOTHER OF GOD

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares

At first, it could be a pile of anything. Then you look closely at the guy standing at the top ...

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares

And you realize these are animal skulls. Thousands. Millions.

Specifically, they are the skulls of American bison, which were driven to the brink of extinction by ... these two guys, apparently.

Also, the 1870s photo proves that what we call a heavy metal album cover people in the 19th century called "everyday life."

And Now, a Lady Fucking a Skeleton

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares
apfelauge via Flickr

Cracked.com and skeleton erotica, together at last.

When you picture life in the early 1920s, do you picture this? How long did you look at that before you noticed the "Hell yeah!" expression on the skeleton's face?

This 1922 photo by German photographer Franz Fiedler was part of a necromancy-themed series called "Fool Death, My Playmate," which sounds like an artistic way of saying "Let's commit necrophilia!" There's a whole set for you to enjoy:

16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares
apfelauge via Flickr

Yeah, you just know someone in the '20s masturbated to this.

You can read more from Mark at The Smoking Jacket or see him mess with the world of fan fiction at Zug.

For more ways to help cure your healthy sleeping schedule, check out The 5 Creepiest Unexplained Broadcasts and The 5 Creepiest Unsolved Crimes Nobody Can Explain.

Scroll down for the next article


Forgot Password?