A Gallery of the Most Shocking Historical Photos

Are you drawn to old black and white photographs of people and places from a historical time period? Time travel into the past from the comfort of your couch – prepare to be amazed by twenty of the most shocking historical photos you will ever see on your computer screen!

Photographs capture memories of a time that has long since passed. They educate us about how life used to be and remind us that history can teach us valuable lessons.

The job of black and white photography is to communicate and tell stories as opposed to impressing with visually pleasing colors. We have included mostly black and white photographs in this post : let us know what you think of them.

1. A Clever Trick or a Ghostly Image?

 

1. A Clever Trick or a Ghostly Image
Scary reflection

This photo dating to the 1900s at a burial ground gave everyone the jitters many years after the sinister ‘extra’ girl was captured on film. The setting, the sombre face, and the freaky reflection defying the laws of nature make the photograph particularly compelling. Don’t know about you, but we’re reminded of the spooky twins from The Shining.

2. Swimming in Air

 

2. Swimming in Air
Swimming lessons

More kids, this time doing some kind of drill or playing a game you might think. But this photo taken in 1922 is actually a lesson in swimming for young boys – minus the water. Do you get it now when your great grandfather said that life was tough back in the days? If you have air guitar now, there was ‘air swimming’ back then if your school couldn’t afford a pool.

3. 90s AIDS Outbreak
3. 90s AIDS Outbreak
Young man dying of AIDS

The incidence of AIDS peaked in the 1990s, and up to 85 per cent of those who contracted the disease were in the 20-49 age group. LIFE magazine offered a poignant look into the anguish of people suffering from the deadly disease with this photograph taken at the scene of a young AIDS sufferer’s deathbed, where he is surrounded by his grieving family. A heart wrenching image that will stay with you for a long time.

4. Eerie Asylums

 

4. Eerie Asylums
Early 20th century mental institution

America is home to a number of abandoned asylums from the past when there was a huge supply of crazy people, and the poor souls had to endure ice pick lobotomies, frequent sedation, and brusque care.

5. Armenian Holocaust

 

5. Armenian Holocaust
Starving children

The Armenian Genocide was a series of heinous and systematic eliminations of the minority Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire by the Turkish government. Armenians were tortured, massacred, starved, deported or banished to the deserts to die a lingering death. This 1915 photograph of a Turkish government official mocking malnourished kids with a piece of bread is an example of the atrocities suffered during this grim period in history.

6. Classic/Antique Cars

 

6. ClassicAntique Cars
Kings of the unpaved road

Karl Benz invented the world’s first true automobile in 1886. By the 1920s, automobile ownership had surged, with every man desiring his own set of rather large wheels. Like these three guys in this 1925 photo who seem to be staring intently at their destination in what appears to be a 3-seater. At 25 miles per hour, we’re guessing these three would have had far from a wind-in-the-hair experience!

7. Wives Wanted

 

7. Wives Wanted
Desperate for love

In the early 1900s, men were more direct in stating their requirements – even when it came to finding partners. These woodsmen seem lonely alright but they’re not exactly wooing potential mates with their insensitive appeal. Or maybe that was the style back then, and women really dug the direct, straightforward approach.

8. Majestic Cathedral

 

8. Majestic Cathedral
Interior of the Amiens Cathedral

This photo takes you inside France’s largest cathedral – the Amiens Cathedral – during World War II. It stood stolidly against the devastation brought by the war. It is, today, a World Heritage Site, its medieval interior being the largest in Western Europe.

9. Last Public Execution

 

9. Last Public Execution
Public hanging

The year was 1936 and Rainey Bethea was led to the gallows to be publicly hanged in front of an estimated 15,000-20,000 people. The case drew a lot of attention mainly because the sheriff involved was a woman. As the hanging didn’t exactly go smoothly and in light of previous botched executions, it was the last public execution in the United States.

10. Military Fireworks

 

10. Military Fireworks
Grim lights in the sky

Military fireworks lit up the sky during World War I. Awe-inspiring and frightening in equal measure, the bright lights from trench warfare would have deterred anyone but a brave British photographer. Little did he know at the time that his amazing photograph of mortar rounds would be one of the most captivating photographic records of the war.

11. Meeting Hitler

 

11. Meeting Hitler
For the love of Hitler

Adolf was a monster, but even monsters have their tender moments. This photo from the early 1940s shows a frostbitten German soldier trying to lift his arm and salute Hitler. Der Fuhrer, however, would have none of it, as suggested in the photograph (we don’t actually know for sure – maybe he was helping the man raise his arm? This was Hitler, after all).

12. Bad Parents

 

12. Bad Parents
Unsuspecting children

There are several instances where moms have tried to sell their kids for cash. This is a photograph dating somewhere between the late 1940s and early 1950s of a ‘for sale’ advertisement where four kids were being sold off by their parents. Apparently, the man and woman were in dire poverty and had no other means of making money. Unconscionable, we say, especially since the kids went on to be mistreated in their new homes.

13. Einstein’s Workstation

 

13. Einstein’s Workstation
Einstein’s office on the day of his death

In this cluttered office sat one of the brightest human minds to exist on planet Earth : Albert Einstein. It was his last workplace in Princeton, New Jersey. The photograph was captured on the day of Einstein’s death on April 18, 1955.

14. Kids During WWII

 

14. Kids During WWII
Girl clutching to her toy

World War II changed the lives of Londoners caught in the air raids that reduced everything around them to rubble. It must have been especially traumatic for kids, and at a time when no one could give them solace, they found comfort in their toys. This photo dating to the 1940s of a young girl clutching to a doll amidst the ruins of her bombed home is yet another reminder that war is always wrong.

15. Assassination on Camera

 

15. Assassination on Camera
Right wing versus socialist

In 1960, Inejiro Asanuma – the leader of Japan’s socialist party – was stabbed by Otoya Yamaguchi, a member of a right-wing group, during a televised political debate. Asanuma did not survive the attack to his abdomen by the traditional Japanese sword wakizashi. Live footage of the event was also captured on video, which you can watch here.

16. Before PTSD

 

16. Before PTSD
Disturbing reaction to death

Our brave servicemen who’ve returned from war are battling PTSD, a mental health problem that’s understood better today than it was previously. During World War I, PTSD was known as ‘shell shock’, characterized by emotional shock writ large on soldiers’ faces. In this photograph from 1919, the ludicrous expression on the soldier’s face shows the ugly and disturbing side of war.

17. Fishy Record

 

17. Fishy Record
Record-breaking haul

This grotesque photograph of a fish may put you off just a little bit. Taken in 1903, it marks an important day in the history of fishing – as it were – because on this day, a man named Edward Llewellen broke the World Record for the biggest sea bass ever caught. He single-handedly caught the mammoth fish weighing a whopping 425 lbs.

18. Blast from the Past

 

18. Blast from the Past
Sickening shotgun

This one will get trigger-happy people all excited. The rest of us will be relieved that there’s something called gun control. The punt gun was a large shotgun capable of killing 50 waterfowl in one shot. Thankfully, people came to their senses and the nasty weapon was banned in the 1860s.

19. Winnie-the-Pooh

 

19. Winnie-the-Pooh
Winnie and Christopher

An adorable photograph from 1927, this is Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A.A.Milne best known as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, who needs no introduction. And the teddy bear in the photo is the actual Winnie, the toy that inspired the famous character. The bear was named after a black bear named ‘Winnie’ at the London Zoo that Christopher was so fascinated with, while ‘Pooh’ was the name of a swan that the young boy had met during one of his holidays.

20. Escape from Alcatraz

 

20. Escape from Alcatraz
Inmates leaving Alcatraz

Maximum security prison Alcatraz – which has housed such criminals as George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and Al Capone – shuttered its doors in 1963. Housing the country’s most dangerous anti-social elements, the infamous prison cost the government a boatload of money, the reason why it was closed after thirty years in business. This is a historic photo of the remaining few inmates of Alcatraz making their way out of the inescapable prison.

Have these photographs boggled your mind? Don’t see a photograph that you think should have made it to the list? Drop us a line and we’ll expand our list to include many more fascinating moments from the annals of history for you.

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