6 Catastrophes With Horrifying Aftermaths History Left Out
Every soul-crushing catastrophe in history has exactly one good thing in common: the part where it's over. The survivors are safe, the heroes are celebrated, and the rest of humanity can focus on picking an appropriate filter for our Facebook profile photos.
But here's the rub: A whole lot of these disasters have insanely nightmarish aftermaths that, for reasons of general human sanity, nobody ever talks about. Except us, apparently. Uh, you're welcome?
Lincoln's Dead Body Was Paraded Around America
President Lincoln's assassination sent shockwaves through the populace, reducing housewives and battle-hardened veterans alike to masses of inconsolable weeping. Fortunately, Edwin Stanton, spymaster and Secretary of War, was on hand to raise everyone's spirits in the most tactful way he could think of: going on a gaudy-ass farewell tour.
His attempts to pass off this train as a resurrected Lincoln didn't prosper.
Lincoln's body was to be taken from Washington to his burial plot in Springfield, Illinois. Ordinarily, this would have been a swift train journey; however, Stanton arranged for the president to be paraded through the streets of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois over the course of two weeks. Mary Todd Lincoln flipped her shit, but what could she do? She was only, um ... the widow.
The Lincolnollapalooza Farewell Tour departed on April 21, 1865, and things went well for the first few stops. It all started to turn south, however, after an extended open-air viewing in Manhattan. The body was exposed to the elements for 23 hours, and the papers began to remark that it "had very materially altered ... the lower jaw somewhat dropped, the lips slightly parted, and the teeth visible." One paper went so far as to declare this "not the genial, kindly face of Abraham Lincoln ... but a ghastly shadow." It's almost as if he'd died or something.
Still not our unhealthiest-looking president.
The conditions and vibrations of the train were causing ol' Abe to break down at an unexpected rate. His skin was beginning to darken and discolor. Still, at no point did anyone suggest cancelling the rest of the tour, lest the populace think they'd spent four years being governed by Skeletor's politically minded brother.
Finally, the train reached Illinois and Lincoln was buried -- but the indignities continued. In 1876, a criminal gang was arrested midway through stealing Lincoln's remains as part of a bizarre blackmail scheme, after which he was re-interred into a tougher grave ... which had to be re-opened in 1901 after conspiracy theorists started spreading rumors that Lincoln hadn't been buried at all. It was pretty much the "Paul is Dead," Tupac/Biggie of its day. And so, the coffin was chiseled out and opened, revealing the great man's trademarks: the beard, the fine suit, the foul look of disgust on his face.
Justified in this occasion.
The US Tried To Cover Up The Toxic Fallout Of The Atomic Bombings
After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. government found themselves with a dilemma: they wanted to flaunt how hard they'd wrecked Japan's shit, but they were still wrecking Japan's shit in the form of massive, widespread radiation poisoning. This was a story that they didn't want the media to get hold of. After all, what's the point in vanquishing evil if doing so makes you look pretty evil yourself?
Their solution was simple: Embark on a massive cover-up operation, with a little help from the New York Times.
"... especially if we help bury it."
On the orders of the U.S. military, no journalist was allowed to enter the cities and do any reporting, even though they claimed it was tooootally safe to be there. Instead, the press was to remain within the easy-to-reach clutches of the censors, far away from the frontlines and the remote possibility of doing that sweet "journalism" shit they'd read about somewhere.
Two journalists, however, broke through the lines. George Weller of the Chicago Daily News traveled to Nagasaki, whilst freelancer Wilfred Burchett hitched a ride to Hiroshima. Both saw the same thing: a massive number of civilians dying from a mysterious sickness. Weller, trusting soul that he was, submitted his report to the military censors so they could give it a once-over before he showed it to his editor. The censors responded by flipping him an epic bird and quashing the story. Burchett, meanwhile, was able to secretly wire his article out to a colleague. It appeared in the September 5, 1945 issue of London newspaper Daily Express, under a typically subtle title:
Hint: The headline is not "Man Is Stabbed During Dance."
The military responded by harassing Burchett, stealing his camera, and trying to get him expelled from Japan. New York Times reporter William Laurence, who was on the War Department's payroll, helped out by publishing puff pieces accusing Burchett and the Japanese of making the whole thing up as a sympathy ploy.
He won a Pulitzer. No, not the guy who reported the truth. The one who buried it.
After The Jonestown Massacre, Investigators Had To Wade Through Liquefied Human Corpses
In 1978, just prior to coining the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid," cult leader Jim Jones had his most fanatical followers assassinate Congressman Leo Ryan and his entourage. In response, military forces prepared to raid Jones' jungle fortress/shantyville, Jonestown. They knew that they weren't venturing into the land of rainbows and candy unicorns. The best-case scenario was that they were about to throw down against a heavily armed murdercult. The worst-case scenario was ... well, come on, what could be worse than a heavily armed murdercult?
On discovering the victims, investigators were called in to find out what-in-the-great-fuck had happened to everyone. They did as much as they could under the circumstances. See, Jonestown was in the middle of the hot, humid Guyana jungle -- not the best place to preserve dead bodies. This meant by the time the compound was raided, the heat and humidity had already turned most of the deceased into unrecognizable mush, forcing a small army of pathologists to rely on dental records in order to have a hope of putting names to ... fluids.
Oh, and just to compound the horror-movie vibe that this whole situation was throwing up, the authorities also had to contend with wild animals venturing into the homestead and chowing down on the abundant food sources laying around.
They passed on the drinks ...
To make matters worse, investigators weren't able to give a reliable death toll for days because the bodies weren't just strewn around haphazardly. No, they were in layers, with primarily children at the bottom. Over the several days it took to extricate the remains, the death toll would rise in hundred-strong increments as the world's unluckiest pathologists pulled back each layer of this horror lasagna.
The US Missed Killing A Pre-9/11 Osama Bin Laden By *This* Much
In 1995, before we thought of sticking a bunch of missiles on them, Predator drones were used by the Air Force for reconnaissance missions in places like the Balkans. They were so useful, in fact, that they were then co-opted by a top-secret skunkworks group known as "Big Safari" in order to find some other use we could give these flying doo-dads.
That use, it turns out? It involved a certain shithead who was going to hit the big time in the most horrifying way possible.
Thanks for all those airport gropings, fuckface.
In 1999, as the entire intelligence community looked for Osama bin Laden after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Big Safari was tasked with finding his porno-loving ass. After re-modifying the drone for the mission, they took to the skies and eventually tracked bin Laden down to a compound outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. The date was September 2000. The time was now. All the higher-ups had to do was call in some kind of air strike and they could congratulate themselves on a job well done.
And then ... nothing happened. The world's biggest manhunt (up to that point) ended in an anti-climactic staring contest. With no orders and not enough fuel remaining for an effective kamikaze strike, they were forced to let him slip. One month later, the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen. It was only after this bombing that the military went, "Hey, we can put weapons on these Predators!" Yeah, those might have come in pretty handy a little while earlier.
The "Miracle On The Hudson" Led To A Geese Murderpocalypse
They turned this story into a Tom Hanks movie, so you already know it had a feel-good ending. In 2009, the engines exploded on an aircraft carrying 155 passengers, and it took a swan dive into the Hudson River. On the upside, the landing was successful and no one was killed. On the downside, their newly invented seaplane was in grave danger of floating towards New Jersey.
"O' mighty Poseidon, seriously just take us now."
A subsequent investigation revealed that the crash wasn't caused by mechanical failure or Twilight Zone gremlins: rather, it was birds. The plane had accidentally flown into a flock of migrating geese who immediately clogged up the engines, causing them to burst into a terrifying, delicious-smelling inferno. In order to prevent any incidents like this (or worse) in the future, therefore, local officials descended on the area and took swift action against the insidious bird menace -- which is to say, they massacred over a thousand geese.
The United States Fowl-Murder Agency was just glad to feel useful.
Focusing on several geese hotspots across the city, officials from the Department of Agriculture and NYC's Parks & Recs team "rounded-up" 1,235 fowl and shipped them off to be gassed, probably by that weird kid you grew up with around the time all those cats went missing. Just to be sure that their younglings wouldn't eventually seek revenge on the bird-wranglers, the government also suffocated 1,739 eggs by coating them with oil. This would have been, like, the third saddest episode of Parks & Recreation.
So, that was kind of a bummer, but they were solving the problem of bird strikes, right? Yes ... except it soon transpired that the birds who brought down Flight 1549 weren't local residents, just a migratory species that happened to be passing through. Considering that the geese population of NYC is reportedly within the millions, killing a few thousand did precisely shit for their already-slim odds of getting bird-struck. Basically, the most tangible consequence was making the New York Post happy:
May God have mercy on their souls.
Newly Liberated Holocaust Survivors Died From Overeating
OK, picture this: You're a soldier liberating people who have spent up to several years being starved for no reason other than cruelty and madness. You have rations of meat, cheese, chocolates, and biscuits for yourself. What do you do? You share it around, right?
Congratulations: You just killed a whole bunch of people. This is exactly what happened at the end of World War II.
See, whilst you'd expect food to be the answer to any problem involving not having food, feeding a severely-starved person with nutrition-packed foodstuffs can cause them to suffer from "refeeding syndrome" -- basically, a condition caused when the body adapts to starvation and gets overloaded with a deluge of nutrient-rich food. This isn't a mild condition, either. It stresses the body so badly that patients can suffer side effects including hypertension, heart failure, seizures, coma, and straight-up death. And those are some of the less disgusting ways to go. You know, because these people hadn't gone through enough already.
If you zoom in, the aforementioned "Atomic Plague" headline is light reading for them.
Without any official guidance on how to re-nourish Holocaust victims, they'd be given rations or gorge on whatever they could find, and become seriously ill or die. As one inmate described the scene, the distribution of rations "produced a tremendous death rate, instantly. People were eating that stuff and got diarrhea, and there was nothing in the world to stop it ... It was like poison." Some prisoners who'd been doctors in their previous life were even seen wandering the camps warning their fellow inmates not to eat the abundant pork rations that were being distributed, and probably looked like the biggest jerks in existence.
The crisis was eventually ended by calling a halt to the willy-nilly distribution of food. Inmates were instead moved onto a diet of thin soups, followed by a slow-but-steady progression to rations and real food. It's hard to put a figure on how many prisoners died from refeeding syndrome/diarrhea, but one estimate places the figure at 2,000 people. We don't know what the take-home message is from this, but it for sure adds a whole new darkness to the saying "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook. He also has a newsletter about depressing history, if you're into that sort of thing.
Also check out The 17 Most Hilarious True Stories Left Out of History Class and 6 Disasters With Details So Awful, History Left Them Out.
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