History is full of horror stories. In fact, it’s so jam-packed with nightmares that some of the most disturbing incidents on record have been almost entirely forgotten in the popular consciousness. Fortunately, your old friends at Cracked are always around to inflict them on you, and we're here right now to do it again. 

Mexico Set Up A Guano Mining Colony In The Pacific, Then Forgot About It, Leading To A Full-Scale Lord Of The Flies Situation

Clipperton is a tiny island located off the west coast of Mexico (which is a large country located off the east coast of Clipperton). Pretty much everyone ignored it until the late 1900s, when they realized it had one very valuable property: it was covered in shit. Millennia of compacted seabird droppings were worth a fortune as fertilizer, and a three-way diplomatic standoff occurred between Mexico, the US, and France, all seeking to claim the island and become the world’s first pooperpower. Mexico eventually won, and by 1910, the island was home to a bustling little community of guano miners. Unfortunately, that was the year when civil war broke out in Mexico. Not willing to let the Mexicans have all the fun, the rest of the world quickly dived headfirst into the First World War. In all the chaos, everyone just kind of forgot about Clipperton

Rebels with a homemade cannon during the Mexican Revolution.

Library of Congress

In their defense, everyone spent the whole war patting their pockets and going “I’m sure I’m forgetting something.” 

Since TikTok hadn’t been invented, the people of Clipperton had no way of learning about world events. They just knew that their regular supply ship didn’t show up one month. And then the next one didn’t show up either. A passing American ship offered to take the islanders to safety, but the offer was refused by the colony’s commander, Captain Raymond Arnaud, who feared a trick to seize the disputed territory. The other islanders voted to remain with Arnaud, determined to do their duty and remain in place until relief came from the mainland. It was a horrible mistake. 

As the months turned into years, it gradually became clear that nobody was coming. With supplies exhausted, the islanders began to go mad from malnutrition. By 1915, they were reduced to gnawing on seagulls and fiercely guarding the dozen coconut trees that were the only vegetation on the island. Wracked with guilt, Captain Arnaud set out on a suicidal mission with the last three fit men, desperately paddling an old canoe through huge waves in pursuit of a distant ship. As his eight-year-old son watched from the shore, the canoe vanished between the waves. Scurvy quickly finished off many of the remaining islanders, leaving just 15 women and children. And that’s when the door of the lighthouse opened. 

Palm Trees on Clipperton Island in the Pacific Ocean

NOAA

There had been one ship in five years, how badly could this place need a lighthouse?!

Early in the crisis, the lighthouse keeper had barricaded himself inside the solid building. Now, as the last remaining man, he declared himself “King of Clipperton” and began a terrifying campaign of rape and murder against the surviving women. Destroying all the guns except for his personal rifle, he stalked the island for almost two years, until the surviving women carefully laid a trap. Catching the “King” by surprise, they repeatedly stabbed him and then beat him to death with a hammer. Literally hours later, a US Navy vessel happened to sail past the island and rescued the 11 survivors. The island is currently uninhabited, except possibly by whatever seagull demon started this whole thing. 

Soviet Bureaucrats Set Some Bad Economic Targets, Accidentally Decimated The World's Whales In The Process

Between 1946 and 1970, the world’s whales all but vanished. And nobody knew why. An international treaty had supposedly set limits on commercial whaling, and yet whale numbers continued to fall year after year. At least a couple of them were probably stolen by Starfleet, but conservationists couldn’t be sure what was happening to the rest. That’s because the Soviet Union was secretly sending out four vast whaling fleets, which swept the southern oceans in lines, killing every whale they came across.

The Soviet authorities carefully altered documents and fudged numbers to hide the true scale of their whaling operation. Between 1946 and 1986, they reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales. In reality, they slaughtered over 13,000 in 1959 alone. In total, Soviet whalers secretly killed around 180,000 more whales than officially reported. 

Sperm whales party for oil wells eliminating whaling

Vanity Fair 

Probably because whales are notorious capitalist fat cats.
 

It was a complete bloodbath. Whales were killed so quickly that the bodies rotted before they could be processed. In 1957, the humpback whales off New Zealand were so thick it was joked you could land a helicopter on their backs. By 1961, the ocean was “a desert.” In the North Pacific, whales were so common in the '50s that one Soviet scientist remembered thinking the spouts from their blowholes looked like a forest. When he went back with a whaling fleet years later he found the water filled with floating whale corpses. And things weren’t much better for the whalers, who experienced a high casualty rate (one guy died when his foot got caught in a loop of whale intestine as it slid overboard). 

But the killing continued at a steady rate, as did the cover-up. In 1972, an international treaty began requiring whaling ships to be monitored by an independent observer. So the Soviets simply exchanged observers with Japan, which was also illegally catching whales, although on a smaller scale than the Soviets. Unsurprisingly, both sets of observers somehow failed to notice anything was going on. In fact, we only have any evidence of the true scale of Soviet whaling thanks to a scientist named Dmitri Tormosov, who secretly kept copies of the yearly reports in his potato cellar. The hunts continued until 1986, when the declining numbers prompted a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling. 

Humpback Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Whit Welles

Since then, everyone’s been having a whale of a time! 

Why did the Soviets hunt so many whales? No reason in particular. The USSR had no use for whale meat, and precious little for blubber. Many of the whales caught were simply butchered and then dumped back in the sea to rot. As it turned out, Soviet economic planners had been setting whaling quotas based on historic whaling as a percentage of the fisheries industry, regardless of its actual usefulness. When Soviet scientists complained to the fisheries minister that their grandchildren would live in a world without whales, they were told “your grandchildren aren’t the ones who can remove me from my job.” Meanwhile, the world’s whales were massacred for basically no reason at all, except to meet a line item in an economic plan.

A Volcano Erupted In Peru And Killed A Third Of The Population Of Russia

Back in the year 1600, the people of Peru were in the process of being brutally enslaved by the Spanish when they were rudely interrupted by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. Comparable in size to Krakatoa, the Huaynaputina eruption was so big that half the houses in Arequipa collapsed under the sheer weight of ash, while the countryside was pelted with boulders described as ranging in size from small wine jugs to large wine jugs (the chronicler in question had a serious drinking problem). Peru actually recovered fairly quickly, but the same couldn’t be said for Russia, where the blast killed a third of the population and plunged the nation into years of chaos. 

1615 illustration of the ashfall on Arequipa

Felipe de Ayala

We’ve never seen hell on Earth captured through the medium of scribbling before. 

The massive clouds of ash released by Huaynaputina caused climate disruption across the northern hemisphere, including dramatic red skies (similar to those seen after the Krakatoa eruption) and one of the coldest years on record. Nowhere was this more keenly felt than in Russia, where freezing summers wiped out the harvest in 1601 and 1602. Conditions improved in 1603, but by that point, there were no longer enough seeds left for planting. The government was unable to respond to the crop failures, and widespread starvation ensued. Cannibalism was reportedly rampant, with one shocked writer claiming to have seen “human flesh, ground fine, baked into pies” sold in the markets. Meanwhile Moscow was filled with the stench of dead bodies. It’s estimated that two million Russians died of hunger and disease, roughly one-third of the entire country. 

To make matters worse, the country was already in crisis. Before his death, Tsar Ivan the Terrible had accidentally killed his oldest son by striking him with an iron-tipped cane during an argument. Ivan was immediately overcome with regret, as immortalized in Ilya Repin’s famous painting Captain Dipshit Screws Up Again, and promptly died just to prove how sorry he was. 

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 (1885)

Ilya Repin

We’re not sure if Ivan’s expression conveys regret or “oh God, not on my carpets!” 

His next oldest son, Feodor, was mentally challenged, while his youngest son Dmitri was left in the care of the power-hungry regent Boris Godunov. Dmitri soon accidentally brutally cut his own throat while playing (seriously, this was Godunov’s actual story), and Feodor died as well, leaving Boris to take power. As far as a large part of the country was concerned, Boris had killed the God-anointed Tsar to usurp the throne. And then everyone watched as the sky turned red and summer stopped coming.

The country immediately collapsed into anarchy. At least three fake Dmitris emerged, claiming to have miraculously survived Godunov’s assassins. False Dmitri I was crowned Tsar amid the burning remains of Moscow, while False Dmitri 2 ravaged the north with a massive horde of cossacks. To add a little extra Game of Thrones-style intrigue, they both ended up marrying Marinka the Witch, a Polish noblewoman who later recruited her own Cossack horde and tried to seize the crown for her infant son, the “Baby Brigand.” The whole situation was finally resolved when a local butcher lost all patience, put together his own army, and won the day. But in the meantime everyone in Russia had learned an important lesson: Keep an eye on Peru. 

A Wave Of Mysterious Diseases Swept China (Because Of Secret Japanese Bioweapons

In 1942, a seven-year-old in rural China woke up to find “pools of blood everywhere. The skin on my face had rotted and turned black, and my flesh was pulpy like fermented tofu. All the teeth on one side of my face had fallen out and the bone of my jaw and my cheekbones had begun to crumble and fall out, too. When I tried standing up, my body was all stooped and the blood and saliva fell out of me in sticky, stringy ropes.” Her father rushed her to a doctor, but shortly afterwards his leg turned black and rotted away from the bone. His daughter survived. He didn’t.

Before long, hundreds of thousands of people had fallen prey to similar mysterious illnesses. Doctors eventually identified waves of unusually deadly anthrax, dysentery, bubonic plague, glanders, and other diseases sweeping the country. Many of these diseases had previously been unknown in China, which is unsurprising, given that they were secretly being released by a Japanese scientist named Shirō Ishii.

Shirō Ishii, commander of Unit 731

Masao Takezawa

If you scroll up and down this picture leaves a trail of slime on your screen like a slug. 

As head of the Japanese bioweapons research group Unit 731, Ishii is best remembered for his research on unwilling human subjects, who were infected with deadly diseases and then dissected alive and without anesthetic at his secret base in Northern China. Others had body parts frozen off in order to study the effects of frostbite, or were kept in tiny cages and used as food for thousands of plague-bearing fleas. But what is sometimes overlooked in the West is that Ishii’s work didn’t stay in the lab. His weaponized diseases were deployed over vast areas of China, where hundreds of thousands of civilians died horribly from conditions that seemed to suddenly appear out of thin air.

Ishii’s crimes didn’t even end when the war did. When news of Japan’s surrender broke, he destroyed his labs and informed his entire staff that he would personally murder them if they ever talked. To completely erase the evidence, he released his cages full of plague-bearing rats into the countryside, causing an epidemic that killed 20,000 people. Bear in mind that he had the facilities to safely dispose of those rats. And Ishii was a legitimately talented scientist, he knew exactly what would happen if he released them. He was just in a hurry to get back to Japan. Shiro Ishii killed 20,000 people because it was slightly easier than not killing them.

Rat at Fairlands Valley Park

Airwolfhound/Wiki Commons

This is either Ishii or one of the rats, there's really no way of telling. 

In the end, he didn’t even need to bother, since he was given full immunity by the US in exchange for his bioweapons research. In fact, none of the senior members of Unit 731 were ever prosecuted for their crimes. Still, we shouldn’t give in to despair. Humanity has already invented the baseball bat and the knuckleduster. Now we just need to work on the time machine and we should be all set. 

Top image: NOAA, Wiki Commons

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