10 Nightmarish Facts History Somehow Forgot
It’s no secret that the past was a decidedly less pleasant place to live than our cushy modern era. Between the Black Death, the Nazi Party, and the terrible Wi-Fi, it’s a wonder our beleaguered ancestors managed to drag themselves out of bed every morning. Yet like any good horror show, history still has a few surprises up its bloodstained sleeves.
10 Pearl Harbor’s Condemned Sailors
On December 7, 1941, the USS West Virginia took heavy damage in the attack and settled into the soft mud of Pearl Harbor. Hemorrhaging oil, the twisted wreck was an explosion waiting for a spark.
After the battle, recovery crews were forced to wait for the sea to wash away the flammable liquid before they moved in, a simple task made torturous when the banging started. Three men — Ronald Endicott, Clifford Olds, and Louis “Buddy” Costin — were trapped somewhere in the flooded, pitch-dark tangle of steel.
A small bubble of air had kept the trio alive, and they were desperately signaling for help, completely unaware of the situation. Unfortunately, rescue was too dangerous to attempt. Helpless bystanders could only listen as the heartrending distress call carried on for days, never to be answered.
Six months later, the ship was finally raised, the corpses of the three men huddled in a small storeroom. A calendar revealed that it had taken them 16 days to suffocate.
9 Titanic’s Deadly Legacy
The word “titanic” has become synonymous with tragedy but for more reasons than many realize. Following the catastrophic 1912 failure of the Titanic, many authorities began demanding that water-going vessels carry enough lifeboats for at least 75 percent of passengers. Naturally, most people were firmly behind the decision, except for seamen operating on America’s Great Lakes.
They argued that, due to shallow water levels, ships traveling the lakes didn’t extend far enough below the surface to support so many heavy boats on the upper decks. They would be too top-heavy to stay upright. But no one listened.
Unfortunately, on July 24, 1915, the excursion steamer Eastland capsized only moments after setting off down the Chicago River for Lake Michigan. The disaster claimed the lives of 844 passengers, roughly 70 percent of them younger than 25.
8 The American South’s Eye-Gouging ‘Tradition’
The South of the 18th and 19th centuries was a place to be avoided for a number of reasons. When the residents weren’t doing everything in their power to injure people of a different skin color, they would blow off steam by injuring people of the same skin color.
These gory boxing matches were nothing like their modern counterparts. Not only were cheap shots like biting and eye gouging tolerated, they were encouraged. Spectators would gather to watch two men attempt to rip the other’s eyes from his skull. Folk hero Davy Crockett was even known to participate in this grand Southern tradition.
The dismemberment didn’t stop there, though. Boxers were known to file their teeth into points to remove an opponent’s lips, nose, and even testicles. Thankfully, the fights eventually lost popularity and died out.
7 Ancient Rome’s Government-Backed Serial Killer
Ancient Rome’s Locusta, considered the world’s first serial killer, had a real knack for poisons. In fact, she was so prolific that, following her eventual arrest, the emperor’s wife, Agrippina, sought her advice in poisoning her husband. Pleased with the results, Agrippina pardoned Locusta, who immediately resumed slinging toxins at an unsuspecting populace.
Then she was arrested again. However, this time, the new Emperor Nero sought her help in murdering his teenage stepbrother. Again, she proved her skill and was not only pardoned but granted a large estate and given students to carry on her work. She continued to perfect her grisly craft until she was executed following Nero’s suicide.
6 Abraham Lincoln’s Psychotic Bodyguard
Major Henry Rathbone of the Union Army was enjoying a lovely night at Ford’s Theater when the president of the United States happened to get murdered nearby. John Wilkes Booth had crept up and put a bullet in Lincoln’s head before Rathbone could react. Wilkes escaped soon afterward, and Rathbone didn’t take it well.
Devastated by his inability to protect the president and racked with guilt, Rathbone suffered intense headaches, stomachaches, and depression. Eventually, his condition led him to resign from the army and tour European health spas in search of relief.
His mental instability only worsened, however, and on Christmas Day 1883, he reached his breaking point. After murdering his wife with his revolver, he attempted suicide by stabbing himself five times. But he survived and spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum.
5 England’s Pet Genocide
World War II was an era of willing sacrifices on an unprecedented scale. But not content with simple food and gasoline rationing, England took another, more drastic measure. They massacred their pets.
Goaded on by government pamphlets predicting wartime food shortages, citizens were urged to either “destroy” family pets or release them into the wild to conserve food. These same pamphlets also contained advertisements for a small, handgun-like device specifically designed to humanely kill animals.
Sure enough, commitment to the cause won the day. Within a week of its commencement, the government initiative saw 750,000 pets euthanized. It should also be noted that this took place in 1939, before the war had officially begun.
4 Renaissance Italy’s Syphilis Epidemic
The Italian Renaissance is commonly believed to be a time of refinement, artistic brilliance, and puffy clothing. But around 1495, the disease we now call syphilis also made its way to Naples, Italy.
Completely unprepared for this new plague, the primitive doctors could do nothing for it. As it slowly spread, the severity of the epidemic became clear. In addition to extreme pain throughout the body, sufferers would develop foul-smelling sores which caused the complete destruction of the flesh on which they formed.
It was not uncommon for the face to completely fall away as the victim died in agony over the course of a few months. So the streets of the average Italian city would have been crammed with shambling, moaning, half-rotten zombie-people.
3 Herculaneum’s Exploding Heads
The AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the resulting destruction of Pompeii are well-known. However, the much darker fate of neighboring Herculaneum is often forgotten.
A pyroclastic surge is a ground-hugging cloud of superheated ash and gases which often accompanies a volcanic eruption. One such cloud left Mount Vesuvius at around one o’clock on the morning of the eruption, heading for the doomed seaside town of Herculaneum. The 110-kilometer-per-hour (70 mph) surge hit shortly thereafter, releasing hell on Earth.
The terrified residents had taken refuge in boathouses on the waterfront, the standard shelter from the area’s frequent earthquakes. Unfortunately, the boathouses provided little protection from the superheated cloud, which vaporized the flesh of its victims in a fraction of a second.
Most horrifically, archaeological evidence suggests that the heat was so intense, it caused the brain to boil, resulting in the explosion of the skull. Thankfully, death was instantaneous.
2St Joan of Arc’s Murderous Companion
Saint Joan of Arc is one of those iconic historical figures whom everyone’s heard of, but no one seems to know much about. Believing that she had been chosen by God, she attempted to lead France to victory over England in the Hundred Years’ War. Oh, and she hung out with a vicious child-killer.
Gilles de Rais, close friend of the famed French folk hero, is known to have murdered over 800 children in his long career. He tortured his victims both physically and psychologically.
He would take breaks from sadistic games like hanging his prey from the neck to soothe the terrified child, convincing them that it was all a game before finishing them off. His grotesque mutilations and necrophilia eventually led to his execution by burning at the stake, the same fate that befell Saint Joan herself.
1 Challenger’s Dark Secret
Due to a mechanical failure, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven crew members. Most assumed that the crew was killed instantly by the force of the blast. Unfortunately, that’s likely untrue.
The portion of the shuttle that housed the crew was ejected in the explosion but remained mostly intact. Additionally, recovery teams sifting through the wreckage found three activated emergency oxygen canisters, suggesting that at least three of the doomed astronauts survived the initial blast. This means that the unfortunate crew had a horrifically long time to stare their unavoidable death in the face during the 20-kilometer (12 mi) free fall back to Earth.
In the wake of the tragedy, NASA took steps to hide evidence that the astronauts were aware of their impending doom, partly to spare the families of the dead but also out of simple embarrassment. However, sufficient evidence has been revealed to suggest that the astronauts suffered a fate far worse than death.
When not writing, Alex enjoys collecting vintage garden gnomes, breeding jellyfish, and lumberjacking at a professional level.