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8 Prehistoric Creatures from Your Nightmares

We see fossil reconstructions or illustrations of species that have come and gone and we sometimes say, "Come on now, that can't be real!" Or maybe you don't, but I have, because these creatures look like they came from a horror film or a child's most frightening nightmares.

1. The Creature: Platybelodon
The Nightmare: Pink Elephants on Parade on Acid

Quick -how many prehistoric relatives of the elephant can you name? Mammoth, mastodon, and ...that's it, right? Meet Platybelodon. Even the minds who conceived Heffalumps and Snuffleupagus would consider this creature to be too ridiculous to believe. When I first encountered Platybelodon in this illustration by DeviantART member Sk00tie, I thought the artist had made up the species. But no...

Platybelodon was a "shovel tusker". Ten million years ago, it roamed Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America, eating trees and plants that grow in swamps. It is one of several ancient elephants from the Gomphothere family. See more of Platybelodon in a YouTube video.

2. The Creature: Bullockornis
The Nightmare: The Demon Duck of Doom

What looks a bit like a duck, but is eight feet tall and eats wombats? Bullockornis planei was a bird that roamed Australia as far back as 15 million years ago, but possibly also survived to see mankind.

A giant skull found a few years ago led scientists to believe Bullockornis was omnivorous, and devoured other animals whole. This bird earned the nickname the Demon Duck of Doom.

3. The Creature: Opabinia
The Nightmare: Nunu with Five Eyes

Opabinia regalis flourished 500 million years ago during the Cambrian period. This odd creature had five eyes, two of them on stalks, and a proboscis resembling a vacuum cleaner hose that made up about a third of its body length. Just think of the Teletubbies' Nunu with extra eyeballs! Fossil specimens are pretty small -shorter than your finger- but there is speculation that these were juveniles and the creature may have grown bigger. Opabinia is a creature that so far defies classification. Should it be labeled an arthropod or an annelid, related to crustaceans or trilobites? It may be an ancient ancestor of them all. Illustration by Nobu Tamura.

4. The Creature: Quetzalcoatlus
The Nightmare: Flying Dragon Wants to Eat You

Quetzalcoatlus northropi may have been the largest flying animal ever. The estimated wingspan gleaned from fossil evidence is 36 feet, although earlier extrapolations put it as high as 60 feet. Either way, that's a big animal. It took a lot of muscle power to get 500 pounds off the ground! This pterosaur lived about 65 million years ago. Quetzalcoatlus northropi ate dinosaurs for breakfast, which is enough to fuel anyone's nightmares. Illustration by Mark Witton and Darren Naish.

5. The Creature: Titanoboa
The Nightmare: Big Snake

The name Titanoboa means "big snake." The species Titanoboa cerrejonensis is the biggest snake ever discovered, which was about four years ago in Colombia. The fossil remains of a couple of dozen such snakes were studied, leading scientists to estimate their size at a maximum 15 meters, or 50 feet! Titanoboa cerrejonensis was a constrictor that lived around 60 million years ago, eating animals the size of crocodiles -whole. Illustration by Jason Bourque.

6. The Creature: Dunkleosteus
The Nighmare: Jaws with Armor

You might have seen this scary fish, if you had been around 400 million years ago. Dunkleosteus was an armored fish that grew to be twenty feet long and had sharp teeth in massive jaws that could slice through bones. Scientists have been divided on how to classify Dunkleosteus among fish, since evidence discovered at different times links it to different types of existing species.

DeviantART member DNK-Anais gives us this illustration of how terrifying Dunkleosteus would seem to other sea creatures and any land animal that got too close.

7. The Creature: Procoptodon
The Nightmare: A Hairy Grinch with Claws

Procoptodon goliah was a giant short-faced kangaroo. It was about twice the weight of the modern red kangaroo (but not much taller), and hopped around on feet that had one toe each! It ate only plants, and could stretch to reach branches 12 feet above ground. This kangaroo had eyes that faced forward, which gave it the ability to see depth and a resemblance to the Grinch from the Dr. Seuss book. There were also smaller species of Procoptodon, which were all extinct by 40,000 years ago.

8. The Creature: Pristerognathus
The Nightmare: What's Behind the "Beware of Dog" Sign

The genus Pristerognathus were animals that lived 250 million years ago in Africa. They are Therocephalians, which are reptiles that have mammalian characteristics. One of the few things we know about Pristerognathus is that it was carnivorous and had a huge head compared to the rest of its body, and most of that head was jaws and teeth. However, the whole animal was about the size of a house cat. Illustration by Dmitri Bogdanov.

See also: The Bigger They Are: 10 Ice Age Giants

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
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It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
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With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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Miss Cellania
10 Famous Birthdays in May
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856


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Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899


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Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894


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Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907


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Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859


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French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844


Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859


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Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810


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Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837


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James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

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