It’s time for your annual reminder that the past is haunted by horrors that would like nothing better than to rip a hole in the space-time continuum, reach across the decades, and punch your very soul. The simple combination of grainy black-and-white photos and our ancestors’ general insanity creates a recipe for ceaseless madness.
Melted and damaged mannequins after a fire at Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum
I’m so unsettled and captivated by this incredible photograph of wax figures burnt and melted after the massive 1925 fire that destroyed Madame Tussauds wax museum in London. I think wax models alone are already pretty creepy, but I don’t think even the Chamber of Horrors can touch the pathos of this unintentionally gruesome scene. With missing heads and appendages, charred skin and clothing in disarray, the uncanny wax models truly look like the causalities of some great trauma.
“What Is It? Seriously, We Have No Clue”
You know those Magic Eye photos, where if you stare at a seemingly random pattern in the right way a coherent image emerges? This is basically the old-timey equivalent of that, except for every moment you don’t figure it out you’re forced to look at Silent Hill’s take on the Coneheads. Of course, if you turn your head sideways you’ll see that it’s just a harmless puppy. But now you have a new problem of never wanting to turn your head back again. Or never trusting puppies.
Nothing’s Hotter Than Radiation Poisoning
If that cloud in the background looks ominous, that’s because it’s the remnants of a nuclear test. In the 1950s it was all the rage to mix city-annihilating super weapons with hot women, because nothing says the potential end of the world like sex appeal and interpretive ballet. Fresh, hot takes on mushroom-cloud photos made them easier to sell. Isn’t it comforting to know that your ancestors used the same sales techniques for nuclear destruction that we use in banner ads for fad diets and bad flash games?
The Valley of the Dolls Gets Nuked
Of course, you can’t have a nuclear test without something to test it on, and in 1955 that something was a town full of mannequins. Presumably they wanted to see if the shockwave was strong enough to make limbs pop out of sockets and ruin the latest fall fashions, just like how it works with real humans. It’s unnerving to see an entire community of mannequins who were minding their own business get annihilated. Maybe they look too much like actual people. Maybe the radiation gave them a dark un-life where they arise at midnight to stalk and punish those responsible for destroying their blissful idyll. Or maybe mannequins are just generally creepy.
“I’ve Got to Get Back to the Vault in Time for Our Cocktail Party”
Speaking of inappropriate reactions to nuclear war, here’s a “fashionable” fallout suit from 1961. See, this shows how messed-up the thought process of the previous generation was. Today we think of nuclear war as an unlikely scenario that would kill us all horribly. People in the ’60s figured it was an inevitable inconvenience that was no excuse for not keeping up with the latest trends.
Reach Out and Molest Someone
This device is called Magic Hands, and I dare you to think of a creepier name for what appears to be a child-molesting instrument. What, was “Infant Diddler” too on-the-nose? Technically, Magic Hands was designed to handle radioactive material. Out of all the questions this raises, two stand out. First, why demonstrate its precision by changing a doll’s diaper? And second, why hire an operator who looks like he’s going to take that doll home and saw off its head while he masturbates?
“Join Us … Joooiiin Uuussss …”
I understand why a Mickey Mouse Club would want to take a group photo. And I understand why members of the club would have Mickey masks. But neither I nor any of the gods I beseeched for answers could explain why you would take a photo that looks like it’s from the perspective of a human sacrifice. The longer you gaze into the abyss of the Mouse, the more unsettling details you notice. The person standing halfway up on the left, as though they just can’t wait to examine your gooey innards. The unmasked person on the center-left flailing their arms as though trying to escape while there’s still time. The men standing in the doorways, who dare not approach the worshipping children they themselves summoned. And all those dead eyes. Dear God, the eyes!
A House of Meat
You know how when you go into a grocery store you have to walk for literal moments before you can look at all the dead animal flesh? An English butcher in 1937 thought that was stupid, so he decided that customers wouldn’t even have to enter his store to buy his meat. Sure, his approach raises questions about hygiene, and taste, and whether passing children would ever sleep through the night again. But anyone who refused to buy from him probably got strung up next to the other corpses, so there’s that.
Casual Last Encounters
This picture demonstrates that A) the 1960s had its own version of Craigslist, and B) some of its users were also probably serial killers. His text says “I’ll try my best to please you,” but his face says “Humans are easy to please when they’ve been gutted and stuffed.” But maybe you’d prefer your murderer to be “big and vigorous.” In that case, meet the President of Sex Offending, Richard Nixon’s twin brother: He’s discreet, all right. You have to be when the police know the women are disappearing in your neighborhood.
He Got Sick of Boner Jokes Pretty Quickly
Oh man, there are just no good explanations for why someone would be hauling a giant cart of bones around. “Don’t mind me, I’m just transporting my vict- I mean, Halloween victims. Uh, decorations. Victim decorations.” Don’t you hate it when the femur you want is at the very back of the pile? OK, so he’s actually a worker in the Paris Catacombs circa 1860, not that that helps. Anyone who’s comfortable using a stick to shovel around piles of human bones probably got the job so they’d have the perfect alibi for why their neighbor’s body was found in their workplace.
“Don’t Worry, I’ve Got Your Back”
Goddammit, old-timey medicine. Weren’t you terrifying enough without turning your anatomy lessons into Hannibal’s meat chart? Lady back ribs will never catch on with civilized society, OK? I understand that medical training is always going to be a little gruesome, but there’s absolutely no reason for this 1745 print to show the woman as still alive. At least she seems pretty chill about having her back cracked open like a liquor cabinet, but that’s probably just the drugs they gave her. What, you don’t think they used a live model? You’re adorable.
Don’t Ask Him to Turn Around
I’m no architect or spirit-master, but when you name your dam Diablo Dam, you’re just asking for trouble. This 1946 shot of the dam/Portal to Azmodan’s Heart of Sin looks like it’s straight out of a horror movie. You call to the motionless figure, but it doesn’t answer. You creep closer, cautious but intrigued. Again it ignores your words. Worried, you reach out and hesitantly tap its shoulder. It whirls around, and in the split-second before the piercing scream that emits from its unhinged jaw shatters your soul you realize that it has no face. Why would it need one when it’s about to take yours?
“It’s for Safety. Mine, Certainly Not Yours”
What you’re looking at is ostensibly a sand-blasting helmet, but I haven’t called nonsense this hard since I visited a cattle farm run by conspiracy theorists. There is absolutely no reason a protective helmet should make you look like steampunk Sandman. That man is going to come to you in your sleep, inject some vile poison into your body, then open his face-mask so you can gaze into the black pits that were once eyes. “Sweet dreams,” he’ll say, in a tongue where every word lasts an eon of suffering.
The Six Stages of Scarring Viewers
Thanks, 1798, I’ve always wanted to see a time-lapse drawing of a man getting his face beaten to a pulp. Look at his innocent eyes in the first stage — that poor, naive fool has no idea that he’s about to be punched so hard his neck will snap, his hair will fly off, and his mouth will start spewing spaghetti. There’s no way this has any sort of medical value. There are no notes or annotations, or anything that suggests this is something other than 18th-century torture porn. It’s like an old-timey Mortal Kombat fatality.
These Are the Worst Selfies Ever
Oh, come on. Was torturing people recreationally a beloved hobby in the past? Was gathering the family around to look at these photos the 1862 equivalent of sitting down to watch Wheel of Fortune with your kids? OK, so these are actually shots of an experiment designed to re-create facial expressions with electrical currents, but that just raises further questions. How did they convince a circus clown to donate his off hours to science? Is he actually in pain, or did the scientists want to simulate pain for their own amusement? And why? Like, just as a general question?
Flying at the Speed of Inappropriate
You’re looking at an old-timey race pacing vehicle, and while this shot was presumably taken for “fun,” that doesn’t change the fact that there’s something deeply unsettling about fascist Tobias Funke making half-naked Benjamin Button do all the work. The boy’s facial expression indicates that he knows more about life than he should at his tender age, and this knowledge has scarred him greatly. “Hurry, Manfred, to the lovenasium!” says the man. “Our latest acquisitions are await!” “Please, sir, my name is Charlie. And I’m so very, very tired.” “Quiet, Manfred! You speak not, or else you get the whipping, yes?”
“We’re Saving the Last Dance for You”
This is a Nigerian dancer from the early 20th century, and presumably the dance in question involves revenge upon imperialist Europeans. If you don’t believe me, ask the guy with the knife. Or, as I like to call him: “Where George Lucas Stole Chewbacca’s Look.” The only time dancing should involve miniature machetes is if you’re involved in a West Side Story spinoff. This guy looks like his favorite style of “dance” involves crawling through the forest and slitting throats. As for their partners, screaming and running away in fear doesn’t really count as a dance move, but that’s the only reaction anyone would have to being asked to dance by Bugeyes the Scarecrow there. He enjoys the two-step, in that it takes only two steps for him to reach you and hollow out your eye sockets so you’ll look just like him.