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Only the Creepiest Photos Ever Taken

Mourning is a strange thing, and different cultures deal with it in vastly different ways. But there are reasons people associate the Victorians with morbidity and death, and one of them is memento mori.

The fact is, postmortem photographs like this were taken more than any other kind of photograph in the Victorian era -- especially in the U.S. -- and in many cases these carefully arranged, meticulously staged pictures were the only ones ever taken of their subjects. From Stanley Burns' book Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America:

These photographs were a common aspect of American culture, a part of the mourning and memorialization process. Surviving families were proud of these images and hung them in their homes, sent copies to friends and relatives, wore them as lockets or carried them as pocket mirrors. Nineteenth-century Americans knew how to respond to these images. Today there is no culturally normative response to postmortem photographs.

So, given your lack of a "culturally normative response" to these pictures, dear reader, we advise the faint of heart among you to click elsewhere.

"Child in Coffin at the Death Room"
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From PBS.com: "This portrait appears to have been taken in the formal parlor of a family home. The parlor, or "death room," was an important part of funerary rituals for most of the 19th century, the place where deceased family members were laid out for final respects. This image dates to c. 1890-1905, a time when many funerals were still taking place at home. Soon, however, death would begin to leave the home and by end of World War I most Americans will receive their health care in doctor's offices and hospitals and most funerals will take place in funeral homes. As the funeral "parlor" came into vogue, the home parlor was rechristened a "living room." A 1910 issue of Ladies Home Journal declared the "death room" to be a term of the past."

Also, did you notice the strange silhouette on the right side of the picture? That's the photographer's assistant, holding the casket lid open for the shot.

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For me, though, more intriguing than the dead are the living who pose with them -- usually stoic and reserved, it's the little bit of emotion their faces betray that make these portraits so compelling ... and heartbreaking. (Above and below: siblings with their brothers.)

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Another common theme in Victorian-era postmortem photography was the staged scene of mourning, which was often highly melodramatic, like this one, "Orphans at Their Mother's Grave":
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The photograph above also reveals another Victorian preoccupation: spirit photography. Likely a double-exposure featuring an "actress" portraying the childrens' mother, this style seems to me a highly theatrical way to deal with one's grief.

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Another style was the photograph in which the dead were posed to look alive -- the first in this series, at the top of this post, is an "eyes-open" example. The use of props like this man's newspaper was less common; perhaps it was included to distract from the unnatural rigidness of his hands, among other giveaways.

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By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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History
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran // CC NC SA
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Space
Mind-Bending New Images of Jupiter From Juno's Latest Flyby
NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran // CC NC SA
NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran // CC NC SA

NASA’s Juno spacecraft left Earth in August 2011, and has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, completing its eighth close flyby in late October. While flying beneath the dense cloud cover that obscures the solar system’s largest planet, it captured some incredible close-up views of the gas giant, as Newsweek reports.

With the JunoCam community, the public can alert NASA to points of interest and help direct the Juno mission. Citizen scientists have processed the raw, black-and-white images Juno beams back to Earth to highlight particular atmospheric features, collage multiple images, and enhance colors, releasing the edited color images before the space agency has a chance to. A whole new batch just emerged from the latest flyby, and they're well worth a look. Take a peek at a few below, and see more at the JunoCam website.

A swirl appears on Jupiter's surface.
NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Shawn Handran // Public Domain

A partial view of Jupiter
NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Shawn Handran // Public Domain

A close-up view of Jupiter's surface
NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran // CC NC SA

A view of Jupiter's surface
NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran // CC NC SA

[h/t Newsweek]

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