Creepy Things From History We Can't Get Out Of Our Heads

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Vote up the creepy history items that will stay with you for longer than you want them to.

Some historical moments just can't be erased from the brain. Disturbing mysteries or true stories with grotesque or terrifying details can swim around in your conscious memory day and night. 

From humanity's surprising obsession with mummy cannibalism, to mysterious archaeological findings with unsettling explanations, the creepy things from history on this list will stay with you, probably for longer than you'd like.


  • Six months after Pearl Harbor, the salvage crews who raised the remains of the USS West Virginia from the ocean found three cadavers in an airtight storeroom, along with empty emergency food rations, used batteries, and a calendar marked with 16 red X's from December 7-23. Once the cadavers were found, fellow service members and friends didn't have the heart to tell their families how they perished. 

    Ronald Endicott, Clifford Olds, and Louis “Buddy” Costin were trapped inside the ship when it sank. On December 7, most service members thought the banging noises they heard coming from the West Virginia were pieces of loose rigging hitting the side of the ship. As the other surrounding noises grew fainter, they realized men were still alive in the storeroom. 

    Because the water around the battleship was covered in oil, rescuers couldn't use a torch to create an escape. Besides, cutting any type of hole in the vessel would immediately cause the whole room to flood. Marines and sailors dreaded having to stand duty anywhere within earshot of the wreckage, knowing they would hear the cries of their friends stuck on board with no way to help them. 

    The fates of Endicott, Olds, and Costin remained a well-kept secret for 54 years. All three of their headstones still claim they perished on December 7, 1941. 

  • Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a New Orleans socialite in the 1830s, often threw parties in her Royal Street home, where several enslaved people served her guests and attended to her needs. While she outwardly treated the enslaved people politely, she hid a horrific secret behind closed doors. On April 10, 1834, a house fire revealed that she had been tormenting and slaying them. 

    The year before, LaLaurie had been ordered to sell the enslaved people after she chased a small enslaved girl over the mansion's roof to her death. She then sold them to loyal friends and family members who helped her sneak them back into the estate. 

    When firefighters arrived at the scene the night of April 10, they found an enslaved woman chained up in the kitchen, unable to escape, while LaLaurie was frantically trying to save her furniture from the flames. The 70-year-old Black enslaved woman told officials she started the fire to escape from the pain she was enduring, then directed them to the attic. There, firefighters found seven malnourished enslaved people wearing iron-spiked collars. Some had gaping holes in their heads, some were weighed down by heavy chains around their feet, and all were incredibly thin and covered in scars. 

    Although her reputation was ruined, LaLaurie was never charged for her offenses. 

     

  • Béla Kiss Was A Hungarian Serial Killer and Pickler
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Béla Kiss Was A Hungarian Serial Killer and Pickler

    To onlookers, he was a handsome gentleman from Budapest who ran a successful tin business and threw elaborate parties. But behind closed doors, the eligible bachelor killed and mutilated at least 23 women before pickling their bodies and storing them in steel drums on his property. 

    In 1903, Béla Kiss began placing ads in newspapers under the alias “Hoffman,” claiming to be a lonely widower looking for a companion. When a woman responded, he would convince her to give him all her money and assets before luring her into his home, where he would strangle her with a rope or his bare hands. He drained each woman's blood by making an incision in her neck, then placed her body in a steel barrel filled with methanol.

    Kiss stored the drums, filled with the pickled women's remains, on his property, eventually arousing suspicion from neighbors. Still, most people assumed he was using the drums to store gasoline. 

    The women's remains were undetected on his property until he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. After hearing rumors that Kiss had been killed in action, his landlord went through his belongings to make room for a new tenant. When he opened the first drum, the landlord was overcome by the smell of a decomposing corpse. He called the constable, who opened the remaining drums to find 24 pickled cadavers. 

    Kiss never returned home, and was never seen or heard from again. His fate, along with the names of many of his victims, remains unknown. 

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    An Incompetent French Captain Wrecked His Ship Before Leaving Its Passengers To Perish At Sea

    On July 2, 1816, a French naval vessel, the Medusa, got stuck on a sandbar off the coast of Africa. The incident immediately caused a scandal because the incompetent captain, Hugues Duroy de Chaumareys, had earned his position due to political connections. After three days of trying to redirect the ship, the crew decided to abandon the vessel. 

    More than 400 people were aboard, but the lifeboats could hold only around 250. De Chaumareys chose to save himself and his senior officers, leaving 146 ship passengers to fend for themselves on a hastily and poorly constructed raft

    The unfortunate raft passengers spent a grueling 13 days at sea, with only a bag of biscuits, some water, and a few casks of wine to survive. Out of desperation and growing hostility among the group, many were thrown overboard in fights, or slain and eaten by the remaining people afloat. By the time they were rescued, only 15 men had survived. 

  • People Turned Themselves Into Honey Mummies To Be Eaten
    Photo: Sachem31 / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Though people recognize honey as a tasty treat that can heal everything from cuts and scrapes to seasonal allergies, its use for mummification often goes overlooked. The ancient Assyrians embalmed the deceased with honey, and Alexander the Great was reportedly submerged in a coffin full of the amber liquid. 

    But in 16th-century China, people combined honey's use as a food and embalming substance: They ate mummies covered in honey to cure all types of ailments. The mummification process started while the person was still alive. 

    The process, mellification, gave the elderly population an opportunity to donate their cadavers to science. As they neared the end of their lives, they stopped eating or drinking anything but honey. Eventually, their insides basically turned into the substance; they would sweat, defecate, and bleed honey until they perished. Then, their cadavers were placed in coffins filled with honey and left to marinate for about a century. Once the body had turned into a sugary blob of candy, it was sold by merchants as a healing tonic. Patients could use it topically to treat scrapes and broken bones or ingest it to heal internal ailments. 

    Although no concrete evidence exists that patients used the mellified human remains as medicine, corpse medicine was common at the time, and archaeological dig sites suggest that honey entombment was a part of cultural practice. 

  • The Baby From The Little Albert Experiment May Have Met A Tragic End
    Photo: Vibha C Kashyap / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
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    The Baby From The Little Albert Experiment May Have Met A Tragic End

    In 1920, behaviorist John Watson set out to expand psychologist Ivan Pavlov's study of conditioning in dogs, deciding he should test the theory on humans. In the famous controversial study, Watson paid the mother of a 9-month-old baby $1 to purposefully create a fear-based response in the child. 

    After placing the baby boy, nicknamed “Little Albert,” in a room, he introduced several objects to see how the baby would respond. In the beginning, Little Albert was unafraid of the white rats, monkeys, masks, and burning newspapers placed in the room with him. However, his reaction dramatically changed when Watson started making startlingly loud noises every time the rat entered the room. Eventually, Little Albert correlated the scary noise with the rat and began fearfully crying at the mere sight of the animal. 

    The little boy and his mother moved away before Watson and his colleagues had the opportunity to decondition him. Because the psychologist referred to the child only by his nickname in notes, the experiment's lasting results and the child's welfare remained a mystery for almost a century. While some considered the experiment entirely unethical from the beginning, Watson's work fell under even more scrutiny once the mystery of the child's identity was solved. 

    In 2010, Appalachian State University's Hall P. Beck, along with his colleagues and students, spent seven years uncovering historical documents and using facial recognition technology to identify the child and reveal his tragic fate. They believed the little boy's name was Douglas Merritte, and he died from hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid in his brain) when he was 6, a condition he had since birth. In 2012, Beck and Alan J. Fridlund revealed an even more disturbing aspect of the tragedy when they presented substantial evidence that Watson knew of the baby's condition the entire time he was conditioning his fearful responses. 

    Another possible “Little Albert” was identified in 2014, however. Researchers posited that the little boy was Albert Barger. Born on the same day as Merritte, Barger had characteristics that resembled those of “Little Albert," his mother worked at the same hospital as Merritte's mother, and he also grew up to fear furry animals. His name (which was actually his middle name but the one he went by throughout his life) also supports claims that Barger was “Little Albert.”