6 Insane Masks That Made Your Grandparents' Lives Terrifying
Masks aren't just for robbing convenience stores, taking hockey pucks to the face, and/or livening things up around the nursing home on Halloween. Throughout recorded history, we've been covering up our faces (or other people's, by force) for all sorts of practical reasons. Granted, just about all of these reasons are incredibly disturbing (the fact that they tend to be a popular accessory choice among the more fashionable serial killers notwithstanding), but it's impressive how such a simple idea can also be so versatile. Here are just a few examples of how we've taken the concept of slapping together whatever happens to be lying around and pulling it over our heads to its most horrifying extremes. Beginning with ...
German for "shame mask" and also known as a scold's bridle, a schandmaske was basically a way of inflicting shame upon the person who was forced to wear it. Pretty much like those medieval wooden stocks that angry townsfolk would stick people into for a rotten-tomato pelting (or the red letter S for "suck," which we should consider tattooing on the forehead of anyone who found Joe Dirt 2 even mildly entertaining), these masks were strapped on to people in the 1600s and 1700s as punishment for minor crimes. Specifically, women who were found guilty of "nagging" or gossiping.
But wouldn't that tube just amplify the rumor that Pastor Schwinghammer
has been making eyes at Fishwife Fenstermacher?
The practice of punishing "rude, clamorous" women by making them wear stylized metal and leather animal masks (or less intricate but more punishing versions) was once a fairly frequent phenomenon across Europe (it also saw some limited use in America, among the Puritans and on slaves). Some of the contraptions were built to include such features as an iron rod to prevent the wearer from speaking or a "sharp metal gag for restraining the tongue." And for an extra bit of humiliation, sometimes they'd install a cute little bell on top.
One has to imagine that children were incredibly well behaved during this period.
If you're thinking that this is probably pretty similar to the way they treated livestock back then, a male citizen of the era would likely stare at you sternly, then nod to confirm that you're getting the general idea. In England, this type of device was called a brank, and in some towns it was perfectly normal to see women being led through the streets while wearing one for crimes such as "telling her mind to some petty tyrant in office, or speaking plainly to a wrongdoer, or for taking to task a lazy and perhaps a drunken husband."
If the loser agreed to put one of these on for at least three news cycles, it would definitely
make presidential debates a lot more interesting.
The length of time a woman was compelled to wear these things basically depended on her attitude. Once she agreed to cut it out with all the "riotous" and "troublesome" behavior, then repented for all that calamitous, tongue-waggity sassmouth, she would then be free to rejoin society as a fully reformed citizen. And presumably plot to kill her drunken shithead of a husband in cold, calculated silence.
Alexander Peden's Mask
OK, that's some creepy shit right there. So I guess in the next Hangover movie Zach Galifianakis dies of exposure out in the desert and has his eyes gnawed out by Mike Tyson's pet coyotes? I wouldn't count it out! But, actually, this Leatherface-meets-Mumford & Sons fiendishness was the property of a man named Alexander Peden. He was a traveling preacher from 1600s-era Scotland whose fire-and-brimstone stylings so aggravated the local authorities that he was forced to travel incognito and hide his identity the best way he knew how: by impersonating a zombie from the Ozarks.
He must have been particularly effective when sermonizing about the resurrection.
The reason Peden had to keep things discreet was rather fitting, seeing that it was precisely because he was something of an indiscreet loudmouth that he wound up in that predicament in the first place. After sermonizing publicly and defiantly that Jesus Christ was the head of the Scottish Church (rather than the sitting monarch, King Charles II) Peden had to stay constantly on the run, traveling from cave to cave. And, as is befitting of one who spends inordinate amounts of time in caves, he disguised his true identity by looking like an undead wizard-ghoul. By the way, for those wondering if that thing was made out of human skin -- it isn't. It's leather and cloth. Although the beard and wig are probably made out of actual human hair. And there are feathers for some reason. Also teeth. And he seems to have given a whole lot of thought to those wild, abundantly fluttering eyelashes. Is that rouge? All right, there's the very real possibility that the man was just a complete freak. Or at least one of history's earliest examples of a fetish gimp.
Though it does appear suspiciously thick and slightly curly, let's just not dwell
on what area of the body the hair may have been harvested from.
After years on the lam, Peden was eventually captured, imprisoned, and slated to be banished to an American plantation in Virginia, where his descendants might presumably have drawn upon his backwoods experiences to sexually assault passing kayakers. He was able to escape, however, and would return to his native land, where he would continue preaching and eventually pass away from natural causes. Sure, it was in a cave, but at least he died free. And the mask would be passed on through the generations until it wound up in Scotland's National Museum, where it continues to scare the training kilts off visiting schoolchildren to this very day.
Legend has it that wishes are granted to those who can
pluck a scabies mite from within the beard.
Madame Rowley's Toilet Mask/Hangover Heaven
So the first thing you're probably wondering is what in the world a toilet mask is and why you haven't heard any mention of it on those German "specialty sites" you keep erasing from your browser every 24 hours. Well, while they're not quite as gross as the name might suggest, the true purpose of a toilet mask still sounds pretty far from pleasant:
My invention consists in the application, as a medical agent, to the face of a person suffering with certain forms of disease, or afflicted with a bad complexion, of a mask made of flexible india rubber, either for the purpose of exciting perspiration with a view to soften and clarify the skin by relieving the pores and the superficial circulation, or for the purpose of applying and confining unguents or other medical preparations to the skin of the face for the palliation or cure of cutaneous eruptions, blotches, pimples, or other similar complexional defects.
Also known as the "Bea Arthur Marital Aid."
The person doing the talking up there was Madame Rowley, who acquired the first patent for a toilet mask way back in 1875 (coincidentally the same year that Alexander Graham Bell hogged all the limelight by inventing the telephone). Despite the fact that "flexible rubber palliates erupting complexional defects with confining unguents and perspirational excitement!" sounds like a Japanese movie poster for a porno starring Mickey Rourke (or something equally as dreadful), toilet masks were heartily endorsed by celebrities of the era. You know, like how Brett Favre wants very much for you to believe that copper socks are magic.
I would imagine that one famous guy who liked to hang under the Paris Opera
and kill people with chandeliers was certainly a big fan.
Another celebrity-approved item from the Cenobite Day Spa product line is this bonnet devised by cosmetician-to-the-stars/greasepaint-merchant Max Factor, called Hangover Heaven. Originally created to keep starlets' studio-light-baked faces cool without smearing their makeup, the contraption later earned its boozy moniker after it was "quickly diverted to another purpose by festive Hollywoodians."
Admittedly, this is one of the more creative ways to serve Jell-O shots I've ever seen.
"Hollywoodians"? Does anyone use that term anymore? Personally, I prefer "Hollywoodite." You know, because it rhymes with "turgite," which is a very pretty, yet basically useless, type of rock that's often referred to as "unicorn dung." I don't know, it just seems more appropriate.
Hugo Gernsback's Isolator
Hugo Gernsback is remembered as "the father of science fiction" because of his work as a publisher, and he is the man for whom the Hugo Awards (given for excellence in making shit up about robots and unicorns) are named. He was also way, way into porn. While some saw the man as a visionary who foretold many of today's current technologies, there were others (including Cthulhu baby-daddy H.P. Lovecraft) who viewed him as nothing more than a crook who habitually stiffed his writers, and referred to him as "Hugo the rat."
He was a wearer of many hats over his lifetime, each one stupider than the last.
Gernsback was also something of an inventor, in that when he showed people the stuff he came up with (such as an office chair that electrocuted you for taking a nap) they likely tended to say things like, "Well, that's certainly ... something," and, "I think I left something back at the house and need to get out of here right fucking now." One of Gernsback's inventions was something called The Isolator, which was a helmet intended to increase the wearer's focus and concentration by "isolating" him or her from the distractions of the outside world, while presumably plotting the destruction of it. And the reason I added that last part was because it looked like this:
No one since has come up with a more effective method of getting shitfaced on whippets.
He put his dubious brainchild on the cover of one of his magazines, perhaps in an attempt to become rich by selling his helmet to certain niche markets. Unfortunately, there apparently just weren't enough people in the "deep-sea diver trying to write his memoirs" or "self-conscious CEO looking to maintain an aura of fear while simultaneously concealing a herpes outbreak" demographics to propel him into Bill Gates territory.
"Productivity has increased 70 percent since we started this Atlantis guest-worker program."
The Mustache Knights
Back in the days when knights of the realm equipped themselves in fearsome, metal suits of armor, those having to face such warriors in mortal combat found little to smile about, one might imagine. Well, unless they ran into the types who looked like they spent their weekends working kids' birthday parties for grog money.
Kids back then needed a little levity when they discovered their pinatas
were filled with nothing but plague rats.
Maximilian armor, named for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, was a highly decorative (borderline foppish) form of battle dress that was designed for not just deflecting incoming sword strikes but also to show off the wearer's sassy fashion sensibilities. To imitate the popular clothing of the day, metalworkers included plenty of fancy extras like ridges, grooves, and fluting. Extra attention often went into the helmets, and while the addition of a solid steel mustache to the mix must have been a gigantic pain in the ass for the craftsmen, clearly it was indispensable for those particular knights who simply couldn't be seen prancing into battle without their abundant, soup-straining lady ticklers on full display.
Seth Rogen's Excalibur.
Europe wasn't the only place where ancient warriors clobbered one another while sporting helmets that featured unkempt, Rollie Fingers-esque expressions of their unbridled masculinity. Some Japanese samurai adopted the look of an enraged Wilford Brimley to terrify and bewilder their foes. They preferred hemp over metal in the construction of their snot mops, which actually seems a bit more practical in the long run. At least for the guy who's looking for a convenient and hilarious souvenir after having just lopped one of their heads off.
While they may initially disorient an approaching foe, sneezing fits
are generally considered a drawback in sustained conflict.
The Aztecs' True Face Of Horror
More than most Ancient civilizations, the Aztecs were known for being some horrific motherfuckers. From the human sacrifices involving live, "Kali maaa!"-style heart removals to their ability to make the most terrifying whistles the world has ever known, one would think their enemies already had plenty of reasons to give them a wide berth. But just in case their neighbors needed another unnecessarily brutal, over-the-top reason to avoid them entirely, the Aztecs also liked to pull out this little trick on vanquished foes: tearing their faces off to wear like a party mask.
This poor guy was too humiliated to even think about haunting the museum after hours.
Of course, something like that would get pretty disgusting after a while, so instead of actually doing the whole Texas Chain Saw Massacre thing, Aztecs would often use the hacked-off faces as a template for something a bit more permanent and festive. A victorious warrior might also take a victim's skull and adorn it with the shiniest and most expensive materials available, then add some snakes and of course two scream-bulging eyeballs, and create a trophy worthy of the finest death-worshiping Mesoamerican rumpus room.
With just a little marshmallow and licorice, you too can teach your children
to fear the power of Quetzalcoatl.
A lot of the time these "death masks" were used simply as ornaments, rather than worn as hideous fashion statements, which surely came as cold comfort to the many restless souls doomed to spend eternity looking like a Home Shopping Network/Dia De Los Muertos holiday-savings extravaganza.
Perfect for reminding grandma what could be in store if she doesn't keep
coming up with those $15 birthday checks.
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For more from Ross, check out 5 Insane Police Forces That Have Zero Right To Arrest You and 6 Brothels that Turn Sex Into A Day At An Amusement Park.