It's easy to think that, with the Internet existing and all, we should have access to pretty much every movie, TV show, and book ever made. But that's not remotely true -- for various (usually stupid) reasons, there are huge holes in our cultural history. Nobody bothered to keep copies of certain things, in any format. So, we can only be wildly curious about ...
After decades of successfully teaching kids about the elementary facts of life -- shapes, letters, and ... uuuhm, death -- in 1992, Sesame Street decided to teach kids about divorce. Hey, don't laugh. If anyone out there is capable of explaining divorce to kids, it's Sesame Street, a show which consults a team of child psychologists and psychiatrists on every topic they tackle to make sure they don't accidentally traumatize their impressionable audience.
The fact that their divorce episode, unofficially titled "Snuffy's Parents Get a Divorce," ended up traumatizing their impressionable audience is really of secondary importance here.
The Count teaches kids how to add gifts from two birthdays and Christmases.
So as you may have guessed from its title, the episode in question dealt with Mr. Snuffleupagus, Big Bird's woolly mammoth friend, coming to terms with his parents splitting up. The show did its best to explain to kids how, despite Snuffy's parents no longer living together, they still love him and his kid sister Alice, who definitely won't have to move away to Basil Boulevard or anything like that. Unfortunately, after watching the episode, the preschool test audience reportedly thought that, no, divorced parents did no longer love their kids, that divorce did mean losing all your friends, and that your folks arguing did automatically signal the end of your family.
Some confused kids even saw Snuffy's sister angrily hitting her teddy bear and somehow got it into their heads that she stabbed it with a knife. Holy shit! Now we have to see this thing.
"So ... is she single?"
We'll probably never get our chance, though -- in the end, despite sinking months of research and God knows how much money into the episode, Sesame Street decided to not unleash it on the general public, and probably fed all of its remaining copies to Cookie Monster. To this day, only the 60 children in the test audience have seen the divorce footage, and we imagine most of them have repressed most of it since then.
For much of its existence, TV was seen as a one-and-done sorta thing. It's hard to imagine now, but most early shows were never recorded at all, and if they were, it was done in the most primitive way possible -- by pointing a film camera at a TV when the show aired.
A tradition many shitty YouTubers keep alive today.
For example, in the case of sci-fi TV's great-granddaddy, the 1953 serial The Quatermass Experiment, the show's recordings were of such poor quality that one actually has a bug crawling on the screen for a good 15 minutes. But even if a show was recorded to videotape, there was still a solid chance that it'd get rubbed out so the tapes could be reused. This process is known as "wiping" or "screwing over Doctor Who fans."
We bring up the cult sci-fi series about a reincarnating time-traveler because it's currently missing 97 of its 800 episodes after the BBC had wiped the tapes containing them, in a foolish but noble effort to weaken the show's fanatical fanbase, probably. It apparently didn't work, though, because ever since then, BBC has been desperately scouring the globe for the lost episodes, some of which have turned up in attics, garage sales, far-flung former parts of the British Empire like Nigeria or Hong Kong, and the basement of a Mormon Church in London.
Don't worry. The best episode is completely safe.
Other classic shows, like Dad's Army and Z Cars, were also substantially gutted because of wiping. Most horrifying of all, even Monty Python's Flying Circus would have suffered the same fate if troupe member Terry Jones hadn't bought up the precious tapes at the last minute, which have better been made of freaking diamonds for how desperate the BBC was to recycle them. And even then, the surviving cuts were a bit butchered by BBC censors, who worried that the Queen would die of a heart attack if the Pythons were allowed to say the word "masturbation" on TV.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
This doesn't seem even remotely possible. Despite what we said above about how people didn't bother to record most shows, this is the historic first outing of what is literally one of the most-watched annual events in the history of human civilization. The last Super Bowl was watched by 112 million people, or more than a third of the entire U.S. population. And even the very first Super Bowl in 1967 was a relatively huge deal -- yeah, its viewership was "only" 27 million, but that was in a time when there were far fewer TVs. The game, incidentally, was played between the Green Bay Packers (NFL) and the Kansas City Chiefs (AFL), ending in a 35-10 win for the Packers. But if you want to go watch it on YouTube, too bad, because no TV station bothered to record it.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
"Eh, this whole thing's just a fad."
It sounds crazy nowadays, but during the '60s, NBC and CBS, who broadcast Super Bowl I, essentially had no archiving policy for anything other than primetime shows, so neither one kept a copy of the historic game beyond a few random clips. And seeing as home video technology was still a few years away, the broadcast footage was considered lost forever until a mostly-complete recording turned up in a Pennsylvania attic in 2005, made by a fan at a video production company.
For which he was thanked and immediately sent to federal prison for recording the Super Bowl without the NFL's permission.
And we have to emphasize "mostly" here -- the copy is missing much of the third quarter, the entire halftime show, and several smaller bits. The Paley Center for Media tried reconstructing these parts using official sideline footage and fan-made audio recordings, but the last we heard about the project was way back in 2011, right around the time the NFL started claiming sole copyright ownership of the footage. Probably a coincidence.
In an era when every brunch gets photographed 37 times before it's eaten, it's hard to grasp how much of history went undocumented. And we're not talking about how nobody was around to film the first caveman war -- even after the invention of cameras and newspapers, some huge moments simply got missed.
For example, in 1856, during the first Illinois Republican Party convention, Abraham Lincoln stood up and spoke against slavery and disunion "like a giant inspired," making a speech about how the formation of a new anti-slavery party was the only hope for saving the nation.
"And if that won't work, I have been working on a new type of hat ..."
The speech was so well-received that it made him a serious contender for the party's Vice Presidential nomination, setting Lincoln up for his successful 1860 Presidential campaign. Actually, that's not entirely true. The speech wasn't merely "well-received" -- it was so jaw-droppingly good that the stage would have been covered in bloomers had women been allowed to attend political conventions back then. In fact, the speech was so hypnotic and magical that all anyone remembers about it is waking up feeling as if an angel had made love to their ears (we are barely exaggerating here).
Want to know what he said? Too bad! Apparently everyone watching was too captivated to take any notes. A few vague descriptions did turn up from time to time, though, usually resembling random heavy metal lyrics, like: "His speech was full of fire and energy and force ... it was justice, equity, truth, and right set ablaze by the devine fires of a soul maddened by the wrong."
Sounds awesome. Too bad that only the few people sitting within earshot got to enjoy it, and they proceeded to take all of the most life-changing quotes to their graves. Yet 150 years from now, anyone will be able to dig up, say, the clip of that Quentin Tarantino interview where he started doing a wacky "black guy" character.
You know what all great war movies are missing? Actual war. Imagine if The Hurt Locker had contained scenes of real live bombs being defused. Of course, in order to get that sort of thing on film, you'd need actors willing to fight in a real battle or real soldiers who wanted to be actors. Either way, you'd be dealing with people who were borderline insane, and that brings us to Pancho Villa.
In the early 20th century, General Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, commonly known as Pancho Villa, gained somewhat of a cult following in America for the daring raids that he'd conducted during the Mexican Civil War (1910-1920). Viewing him as a sort of Mexican Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. fell absolutely in love with Villa, and basically treated the bigger-than-life revolutionary like a movie star. So much so that in 1914, acclaimed director D.W. Griffith got in touch with Villa about producing a quasi-documentary about his life, despite Griffith himself being a rather well-known KKK fanboy.
Library of Congress
"Come on, have you seen that glorious mustache? Nobody is THAT racist."
The resulting film, The Life of General Villa, turned out to be a hit, probably because large parts of it were filmed on location smack in the middle of the Mexican Civil War. The film crew accompanied Villa on several of his campaigns, like the Battle of Ojinaga. Yeah, they did have to film from a safe distance, but tell us you wouldn't pay good money to see that footage.
"But wait, isn't that just a regular war documentary, Cracked?" Nope! Whenever the director felt that all this completely authentic bloodshed wasn't authentic enough, he would have Villa reenact his triumphs, like riding through the gates of a captured city, but this time screaming and shooting wildly into the air. They were there to make a movie, goddammit!
"Would you mind if we gave those kids some rifles and smeared pig blood all over them?"
Unfortunately for history and our lust for wanton violence, shortly after the movie's premiere, the U.S. government cut ties with Pancho Villa, causing the snubbed general to march on Columbus, New Mexico, killing a bunch of American citizens. Consequently, the movie soon became as appropriate to show in cinemas as scenes of the Kaiser taking a dump on the American flag. The studio quickly pulled all reels of The Life of General Villa and apparently burned them, because to this day no one has been able to find a complete copy of the movie, effectively robbing us of one of the craziest stories ever put on film.
In 1941, famed director Orson Welles had recently finished Citizen Kane, today widely considered the greatest movie in history (at least until someone finally decides to put Batman in Star Wars, and casts Samuel L. Jackson in the role). However, despite its status nowadays, the movie wasn't exactly a financial hit when it came out, which, mixed with Welles infamously argumentative personality, did not result in a lot of goodwill from the studios. Therefore, when Welles needed financing for his next movie, The Magnificent Ambersons, RKO Radio Pictures said they'd give him the money if they got the final say on all creative decisions.
This would come back to bite Welles on the ass after he had given the studio a movie about the downfall of a wealthy small town family, which originally ended with a female character realizing that the man she loves will never return her affection, all the while a comedy recording plays in the background.
"I'll stop listening to Dane Cook!"
It was the perfect ending to a truly tragic film, one that RKO considered "long, dark and depressing." So they decided to cut it from its original 132 minutes to 88, and end the movie on a happy, uplifting note, barely stopping short of having butterflies fly out of everyone's buttholes and form a smelly rainbow in the distance.
And, you've guessed it, this mutilated cut is the only version of the film that remains today, because a few years later, the studio cleaned out all of its unused footage, including The Magnificent Ambersons clips, and dumped them into the fucking sea. Here's why that sentence should make you really angry: the original version of The Magnificent Ambersons wasn't just any old Orson Welles film; it was a film which Welles himself said was better than Citizen Kane, and which Siskel and Ebert wistfully brought up in the middle of other reviews decades later.
Though both versions do contain the movie's equivalent of King Joffrey, so that's at least something.
Ever hear of Confucius, or the freaking yin-yang? Good. Now picture the life's work of another hundred Chinese philosophers the world has never heard of, and their students, and try to imagine the cosmic, mind-expanding texts that they would have left behind. Now imagine all of it is on fire.
Yes, the Ancient Chinese equivalent of the Jedi Academy did really exist, until some guy decided to burn it all. In 213 B.C., nearly every scrap of paper attributed to the so-called "Hundred Schools of Thought" (an intelligentsia movement that bloomed in China for centuries) was burned to ashes by the first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, aka the King of Qin, the unifier of China, the builder of the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army, and all-around horrible asshole.
And Grandfather of Dragons ... probably.
The destruction of the scholarly texts was part of Qin Shi Huang's official policy of "burning of books and burying of scholars." As you have probably guessed, this meant that any scholar who didn't agree with the Emperor's idea that "learning is so gay LOL" was buried alive and had their legacy destroyed. The works of Mozi and Confucius thankfully survived, but pretty much every other school of thought from this historic period is now gone forever, all because Qin Shi Huang didn't want intelligent people to question his rule. Kind of a fragile ego, that guy.
So today "Confucius" is shorthand for "profound Chinese wisdom," but the only reason we know about him is because his texts survived while all the others did not. It could turn out he was like the Dean Koontz of ancient Chinese thinkers, and all of the really good ones got buried alive.
Chinese Santas are assholes.
James Amaz would like to thank the good people on the forums at Missing-Episodes.com for their help in researching this article. Check out James on Twitter. Jacopo is the author of The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, which he suggests you purchase before it disappears forever! Chris created a Twitter account. Follow him while he still has the secrets of the universe.
For more things we'll never have again, check out 5 Lost Photos That Could Have Changed History and 7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed the World.