16 Early Photographs That Prove History Was Evil
One day you'll be dead, and the people of the future will look at your photos and wonder about the strange days you lived in. But for now you can look back on your ancestors and be reminded that the past contained a lot more mind-numbing terror than history class was comfortable revealing to you. Get warmed up with parts one, two, three, and four, and then gaze even deeper into history's dark abyss.
"Would You Kindly Let Me Drag You To The Watery Depths?"
Even today the depths of the ocean remain mysterious, with every deep-sea creature we discover looking more terrifying than the last. In 1926 we knew full well that horrors were awaiting us in the dark below, so apparently we decided to make our diving suits so terrifying that even the most disgusting monsters would flee before us. Just look into that man's shadowy eyes. That's a person who knows he's going to have to punch at least one ichor-spewing fish-man in the face and is fully prepared to do so. And by 1931, terror-suit technology had only grown more advanced.
Imagine being a fish, just minding your own business, when that hulking monster lumbers into view. Now imagine being a human on a beach when it walks out of the waters, looking like it intends to kidnap you and take you to its watery kingdom.
The Elephant Parade Didn't Go Well
Holy shit, how big of a steamroller do you have to build before you can crush an entire elephant? OK, fine, that's not what happened, but those staff members of the American Museum of Natural History sure went out of their way to make it look like that's the case. They're cleaning the museum's elephant skin on a beautiful day in 1933, because back then we didn't view elephants as a majestic endangered species so much as a mobile source of ivory for fancy snuff boxes. And we all know that at least one of those workers wore that elephant like a cape and ran around trumpeting to scare passersby.
Getting Ahead In Medicine
That's a 6-foot-tall model head in the German Health Museum, because in 1955 Germany was experimental and still trying to find itself after the war. "It will stand before awestruck visitors emitting an inaudible and interminable, 'Aaah,'" Life Magazine tells us, because why calmly report the facts when you can write a sentence that you know will unsettle people for decades? Hey, do you think the head looks any weirder from the back?
Of course it does! But it inspired imitators as well as nightmares, because in 1960 Britain's Royal Air Force conceived of this dental hygiene training tool/constant mocking reminder of our mortality.
It seems there were a few brief years in human history where all medical knowledge had to be passed along with the aid of giant, grotesque models, which makes me a little concerned about what sex education looked like in the '50s.
Welcome To The Petting Then Fleeing In Mortal Peril Zoo
In 1907, an alligator park where you could just walk right up to the gators opened in California, because people had only like a 50-50 shot of living to old age anyway and figured they might as well live (in the face of reptiles that could rip them to pieces) a little.
Just imagine that photograph being taken today without an endless series of waivers, lawsuits, protests, and BuzzFeed articles full of GIFs of television characters looking shocked and appalled. Now imagine this one:
There's no denying that showing that to your grandkids 70 years down the line would make you the world's coolest grandma. There's just a decent chance that you'd have to handle the photo with the nubs of what used to be hands.
"Fragile, Handle Carefully"
This is supposed to be a fun, lighthearted photo of a 1900 mail carrier. But because no one from the era could take a picture without looking like a dead-eyed victim of a medical experiment gone horribly wrong, it instead looks like the man is going to stab you and the baby is going to feed on your still-warm flesh.
But don't worry, it's all perfectly innocent. They're simply mocking the idea of sending a child through the postal service. Because that's a thing that actually happened. People slapped stamps on their children and shoved them into trains with mail carriers to keep an eye on them. Never, ever forget that the past couldn't give less of a fuck.
"Would You Like Some Flesh? I Mean ... Chocolate Flesh?"
In the old days, every holiday was about horror. Those children know full well that this 1950 Easter bunny has no intention of returning them to their family or their former state of youthful innocence. They will paint eggs now and do nothing else until they grow old and meaty enough to be turned into the slurry that fills them.
That's a "Happy Easter" card from 1921, because when you've just emerged from years of war and a flu pandemic your memory of what happiness is becomes as cold and distant as that rabbit's eyes. That bunny bears no chocolate gifts. That bunny bears a reminder that the Easter spring of your youth will soon become a dark, dark winter.
A Pandemic Is No Excuse To Not Have A Little Fun
Speaking of one of the deadliest diseases in human history, the 1918 flu pandemic understandably had people reacting in ways that would make our recent Ebola scare look like a lighthearted inconvenience. But life still had to go on, and Netflix hadn't been invented yet, so Americans would gather for some happy-go-lucky games of plagueball.
But it wasn't all fun and praying you wouldn't suffocate on your own blood. Seattle's police force looks ready to either take on a zombie uprising or drag you from your home in the middle of the night to perform an ancient, arcane ritual with unspeakable intent. Or both, if they have time.
Possibly Insane Bleeding Peasants For Jesus
No, that's not a screenshot from the upcoming American Horror Story: Nuns, Or Whatever, Fuck It. That's Therese Neumann, a German peasant who lived from 1898 to 1962 and who claimed to be a stigmatic. If you need a brush-up on your religious miracles, a stigmata is a mystical wound that corresponds with the wounds Jesus received when he was crucified, and Neumann's made her look like Carrie on prom night. Depending on whom you ask, Neumann was either a miraculous servant of God or a lying crazy person, but either way there's no denying that she knew how to make herself look metal before metal existed.
"Welcome To Macy's; Don't Fuck With Our Robots"
Department stores in the '30s and '40s used robots to attract shoppers, because humanity had yet to be taught that robots could betray and annihilate us at any moment. 1932's "Alpha" could perform simple tasks like standing up, lighting a cigarette, and clanking its way into an early version of Linda Hamilton's nightmares. Hey, what's that in Alpha's right hand? It looks like a revolver, but surely it ...
Oh, it totally is. That's a feminine version of Alpha hanging out in a Macy's in 1934. It could shill by giving lectures on the merits of Macy's products, but it could also threaten to kill. It once clunked someone on the shoulder so hard that the man was hospitalized with a nasty bruise, and another time the pistol went off and blasted a hunk of skin from someone's arm. Why was the department store robot's gun loaded? Because Macy's used to be badass, man.
It Dries Your Hair While Annihilating Your Mind!
Hair dryers are a technology we take for granted -- how could they ever have been anything but the simple devices they are now? But, much like how the computing power in your laptop once took entire rooms to contain, the hair dryers of the '30s were massive contraptions that looked like they were stealing thoughts from your unwilling mind. And God help you if wanted anything other than a simple cut. This 1935 hair-and-scalp-treatment machine looks like something Darth Vader would use to torture Rebels for the location of their hidden base:
The man is calm, possibly because he's been reduced to a simple-minded child. But the operator recoils in terror from the camera, as though she knows well the horrors she's unleashing with that contraption. She feels a mixture of shame for being party to this profanity and fear that she'll be next if she doesn't obey.
There's Nothing Like A Nice, Traumatizing Day At The Spa
American women in the '30s were expected to do all the housework, raise a gaggle of kids, and still constantly look beautiful enough to give Hitler a jealousy boner, so it's no wonder they had to resort to techniques that look like they came out of a Nine Inch Nails music video. This lovely lady is relaxing in a milk bath in a New York spa, although I'm guessing the milk came from the stomachs of calves who were slaughtered the moment they suckled it from their mother's breasts. The mask is "a special device for restoring youthful contours," possibly by slicing off a younger woman's face and carefully attaching it to the customer's own skull. But she looks positively inviting compared to this young lady ...
... who's having her freckles frozen off. The eye coverings, nose plugs, and breathing tube are ostensibly for her protection, but come on. You could provide all of those safety measures without making her look like a criminal you're testing an experimental new treatment on because the Ludovico technique was proving ineffective.
After freezing the freckles from your face you'd want to relax with a mask that warmed your skin, which supposedly stimulated blood circulation and kept your cheeks rosy. Not that anyone would be paying attention to your cheeks when you're chasing them with a chainsaw.
Good Armor Keeps You Safe And Makes Your Enemies Flee Before You
Hey, remember that time we fought a war that made us all look like the Cenobites from Hellraiser? No?
We tend to picture World War I being fought by khaki-clad dudes standing around in trenches, but every now and then they wore something that would look more at home at Comic-Con's fantasy bondage panel. The chains over that man's eyes are intended to protect them from shrapnel, and also to make him look like a dancer from one of the more exotic neighborhoods of hell. And the armor below is intended to protect the American soldier wearing it from, uh ...
Shit, I don't know. Were the Germans fighting with large, angry bears or the vengeful spirit of Otto von Bismarck at some point?
They Have Amazing Poker Faces
So what happened to the soldiers who were injured because they weren't lucky enough to get bondage armor, like this fine young Australian? Well, a lot of them committed suicide, drank themselves to death, or abandoned their families and withdrew from society to live in isolation because the same countrymen that asked them to risk their lives now found them repulsive and useless. But others got creepy masks!
Sure, it's not exactly lifelike, and you were permanently limited to "resting trauma face," but considering plastic surgery at the time amounted to "We can fix your cleft lip, maybe?" it was better than nothing. But no good deed goes without creating a few surreal, haunting images that remind you of humankind's frailty and capacity for brutality.
Those are casts from a Paris war mask studio, where your reward for helping wounded veterans was spending every day looking at rows of disfigurements and half-finished replacement faces fresh from the uncanny valley.
In Soviet Russia, Pig Devours You
There are many circumstances where you wouldn't think twice about a giant pig being paraded down the street. But go back to the Soviet Union in the late '20s, show a bunch of grim citizens marching with a pig that looks indifferent to the praise being lavished upon it, and give the scene a nice, grainy, black and white coating, and suddenly it looks like they're parading some blasphemous porcine god. That pig is being led to a willing human sacrifice, and that's so routine that it couldn't care less if it tried.
Come Into The Light
We think of kids not getting enough sunlight as a new problem for today's modern youth, what with all their gaming videos and cellphone telephones. But for decades ultraviolet light therapy was used on children who had various old-timey illnesses, because 1928 London was even grayer and gloomier than the sacrificial ritual it looks like they're preparing that child for.
That's the same treatment in 1948, intended to counteract the nutritional deficiencies brought on by wartime rationing. It was effective, although it made the kids look like the deformed, neglected children that would stalk you through the halls of an abandoned orphanage. Oh, and it may have given them skin cancer. Oops.
"Thanks, Honey, I Can't Wait To Drink Out Of It"
One of the less proud moments in American military history was when soldiers fighting in World War II thought it would be a swell idea to send their sweethearts the skulls of Japanese soldiers. It was just sort of considered normal to boil the flesh off a corpse and make yourself a prop for your wacky comedic stylings.
But to be fair, they were just continuing a long-standing military tradition that's spanned all periods and cultures yet rarely makes it into war movies unless it's one of those really depressing ones about Vietnam.
Look at those dreamy young guys! Those are Republican soldiers in the Spanish Civil War posing with a mummy from a convent's tomb, because what else were they supposed to do? Not disturb the dead? Don't be ridiculous. Just think -- one day, long after you're dead, a bunch of soldiers might dig you up and pose with your rotting corpse so they can have a precious wartime memory to share with their loved ones. Happy Halloween!
You can read more from Mark at his website.
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