10 Shocking Historical Photos Explained

10 Shocking Historical Photos Explained

10 Rare Historical Photos Explained

The saying is that a picture is worth a 1,000 words; while that is certainly true, combining rare historical photos with their sometimes shocking descriptions can create an even more powerful narrative. The following 10 historical photos all depict different moments in history spanning the last century or two. Each image comes with a short description behind the photo to better tell its story: some are sad, some amazing, and some are even scary. However, they all are important, each carrying a piece of the human condition for the reader to take in.

1. American Bison in the Face of Manifest Destiny: Grinding Their Bones to Make Our Bread

American Bison Bones Historical PhotoBy the late 18th century the bison roaming the great plains of America had been hunted to near-extinction. This was despite being the dominate herding animal on the continent a century before with a population estimated at over 50 million. This photo shows the mountain of bison skulls that would later be refined to make fertilizer.

2. Finnish Scarecrows: Scaring the Reds

Shocking Historical Photos Finnish ScarecrowWhen the Soviet Union invaded the Finnish over a border dispute during WWII, the heavily outnumbered Finns utilized psychological warfare to provide them an edge in the “Winter War”. In this picture is an example of that tactic, a dead Russian body propped up as a warning to the rest of the invading Red army.  (rarehistoricalphotos.com)

3. The Towering Inferno on Marlborough Street

1975 Historical Photo Falling Off Fire EscapeA 19 year old godmother and her goddaughter were photographed falling after a fire escape collapsed during a fire in their apartment building in 1975. There were moments from rescue by firemen when the structure gave way. The woman died hours later in the hospital and the child survived only because the woman’s body cushioned the fall.

4. Proudly Parading in a Sheet: Bigotry on a Ferris Wheel

1926 Historical Photo KKK Canon City ColoradoIn 1926, the KKK was considered to be at the height of its power and influence. It was so large that during the time of this picture, the organization claimed to include 15% of the country’s male population. This picture represents 41 members posing proudly for a photo after a parade down Main St. in Canon City, Colorado.  This shocking public display seems to spite the KKK’s reputation for terror and murder against minorities.

5. Standing Tall: a Tragic Weight

Historical Photos - 1945 Ten Year Old Boy and Dead BrotherTragic Historical Photos – Before the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki there was already extensive collateral damage from air raids and fire bombs across Japan. This tragic 1945 photograph embodies the military’s influence and the human heart break of war as a 10 year old boy stands at attention having performed his duty and brought his dead brother to a cremation site.

6. Wartime Normality: An Eye for an Eye

1968 Historical Photo Vietcong Execution by Saigon PoliceIn 1968, this picture of a Vietcong war criminal being executed by the Saigon Police Chief was considered a perfect snapshot of the conflict’s brutality. While this photo was used by American anti-war activists it failed to tell the whole story; the man being executed was a captain of a Vietcong “revenge squad”, which had murdered dozens of unarmed civilians earlier that day.  (rarehistoricalphotos.com)

7. Over 20,000 Attend Last Public Execution 

Historical Photos - Last US Public Execution 1936 Owensboro KentuckyRare Historical Photos – This photograph is of the last public execution in the United States.  It took place in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1936. This picture shows the massive crowd that gathered to watch 22-year-old Rainey Bethea, a black man convicted of raping a 70-year-old white woman, be hanged.  (motherjones.com)

8. Last Transfer Off the Rock: We’ll See You at the Movies

Last Prisoners Leaving Alcatraz 1963The island prison of Alcatraz began life as a fortress and was then turned into an Army disciplinary barracks.  The Bureau of Prisons took it over in 1934, transforming Alcatraz yet again into a home for America’s most notorious criminals. In 1962, Alcatraz was closed for good by U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy when he signed an order to shut down the island prison.  The closure was said to be due to the facility’s prime location in the San Francisco bay and expensive upkeep. This is a photograph, taken in 1963, of the very last prisoners of Alcatraz being transferred out of the infamous prison.  (DailyMail.co)

9. Who’s a Good Space Pup?!

Historical Photo Laika Space Dog 1957In the early days of rocket science, animals were used to test the effects of weightlessness on living creatures. Laika, a rescue dog from the streets of Moscow, was the first dog to be sent into space in 1957. This photograph shows how her capsule had to be built around her. Sadly, while she made it into space just fine, no provisions were made to return her to Earth and she died in orbit.  (space.com).

10. She Sees You When You’re Sleeping: Why You Should Check Your Closet Before Bed

Sister Rosenthal Maria Rosenthal HeadSister Rosenthal was thought to be possessed in the 18th century when she became pregnant while living in an isolated convent. Sister Rosenthal died of blood loss during child birth and her baby, whom she claimed was an immaculate conception, was named Maria. Maria lived to 33 years of age and it is said to be Maria’s head in this photo, packed away with a vial of her blood, and a lock of her hair. (merrylinmuseum.com)


January 19, 2017 / 8 Comments / by / in ,

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