If Horrible Histories taught us one thing as children, it’s that history is creepy. All those gruesome murders and germs flying around and violent dictators have led to at least a few bone-chilling tales, and that’s before we even get on to vengeful ghosts and fucked up modern psychological experiments.
Over on Reddit, people have been discussing their creepiest historical facts, and it makes for some pretty interesting if not hugely calming reading. We’ve compiled a list of some hair-raising favourites below.
There is an accidental graveyard called the ‘Rainbow Valley’ on Mt. Everest. It got its name from the multi-coloured jackets and climbing gear attached to the numerous corpses littered along the hillside. People seeking to climb Mt. Everest have to pass these colourful corpses on the way to the top. Over time, the mummified bodies have become goal posts for would-be climbers.
Carried out by John Watson, the Little Albert Experiment aimed to find out if fear was inherently ingrained or culturally taught. To find out, he essentially repeatedly traumatised a sick baby that he kidnapped every day from the on-campus daycare facility without its mother’s knowledge by presenting it with soft, fluffy things while slamming a gong with a hammer from behind a curtain to scare the child. The baby developed a phobia of white, fluffy things, and the experiment ended because Albert’s mother found out and moved them away.
According to relatives, Little Albert never learned to walk or talk, and eventually died at the age of six.
Probably the most well-known of these creepy historical facts, at least in pop culture. The People’s Temple Agricultural Project, aka Jonestown, came to an end after the cult’s leader - Reverend Jim Jones - forced 918 people in the town to drink Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide, chloral hydrate, valium and Phenergan. The events have often been referred to as mass suicide, but were really closer to a mass murder as all who drank the poison did so under duress, and a third of the victims were minors. It was the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until 9/11.
Minnie Dean, aka ‘The Baby Farmer’, is the only woman to receive the death penalty in New Zealand. To make ends meet, she used to take in unwanted babies, many of whom either got mysteriously sick and died, or went missing. Eventually, after a police investigation, it was discovered she had killed them and put their remains in hat boxes. She was found guilty of infanticide and hanged.
When French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre realised he was to be executed, he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the mouth. He was unsuccessful, and when they took him to the guillotine the executioner ripped off the bandage holding his wounded jaw together causing him to scream in agony before the crowd until he was silenced by the blade of the guillotine. Jaw-dropping stuff.
Shihuangdi was the founder of the Ying dynasty and the first emperor of China. Like many powerful men, he decided he wanted to live forever and so commanded his doctors to find the elixir of immortality or they would be killed. His doctors shortly ‘discovered’ the magic potion and he set about drinking it daily. Unfortunately he was actually drinking mercury and eventually died from mercury poisoning.
While on an expedition into Africa during the late 19th Century, James Jameson - heir to the Jameson Irish whiskey empire - reportedly asked to witness cannibalism in action. In order to make his horrifying desire a reality, he purchased a slave girl and handed her over to men who murdered her and feasted on her flesh. Jameson is said to have sketched out the gruesome scene, later turning his rough illustrations into a series of watercolors.
STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT
One of the most well-known psychology experiments of all time, The Stanford Prison Experiment was an attempt to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power. Guards and prisoners were chosen randomly from the volunteering college students, but the experiment quickly took a dark turn as those in power doled out psychological torture. The prisoners accepted it, and some started to go crazy. The whole exercise was abandoned after only six days due to questions of its morality, but continues to provide a benchmark for how quickly ‘normal’ people can turn cruel when given authority.
All six inhabitants of a farm were killed with a mattock in 1922. A few days prior to the attack, one of the victims had seen footprints in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to the farm but none leading back. A newspaper appeared that no-one had purchased. Six months earlier the maid had left, claiming the house to be haunted. The murders remain unsolved to this day.
Raymond Robinson, aka, Green Man, lost his face as a young boy due to an electrical accident. He somehow managed to live to the age of 74 despite having no eyes, mouth, nose and only one ear. His severe disfigurement meant he stayed inside during the day, but his habit of going for long night-time walks made him into an urban legend.
There was a woman in Kentucky by the name of Octavia Hatcher. After losing her infant son, she fell into a depression and eventually became ill with a sickness that resulted in a coma and her being pronounced dead. Over the course of the next few days more local people fell ill, displaying the same symptoms as Octavia, but eventually recovering. It struck the village that Octavia may have had the same illness and her coffin was dug up, but it was too late: Octavia had been buried alive and when they opened the casket they found the lining of the lid torn from Octavia’s bloody nails as she had attempted to claw her way out. She eventually died of oxygen deprivation, and a life sized monument was erected above her grave by her grieving husband.
Apparently being buried alive was pretty common back in the day: some coffins were made with air vents and a bell to ring if you happened to wake up.
The French Revolution again! During all the beheading and overthrowing, a scientist by the name of Dr. Beaurieux was studying death. He asked a condemned prisoner - Henri Languille - who was about to be executed via guillotine to blink as long as he could after his head was chopped off. He ended up blinking for 30 SECONDS.
NEED FOR SPEED
Gordon Smiley - a “cocky young driver from Texas” - died during the 1982 Indianapolis 500 qualifications as he attempted to break a record speed. He crashed into a wall head-on at 185mph. The doctor on site at the time, Steve Olvey, witnessed the crash and wrote about what he saw in his 2006 autobiography:
“While rushing to the car, I noticed small splotches of a peculiar gray substance marking a trail on the asphalt leading up to the driver. When I reached the car, I was shocked to see that Smiley’s helmet was gone, along with the top of his skull. He had essentially been scalped by the debris fence. The material on the race track was most of his brain.
“His helmet, due to massive centrifugal force, was literally pulled from his head on impact… I rode to the care centre with the body. On the way in I performed a cursory examination and realised that nearly every bone in his body was shattered. He had a gaping wound in his side that looked as if he had been attacked by a large shark. I had never seen such trauma.” Jesus.