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The History Blog

11 Things Lost, Then Rediscovered, At Museums

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The History Blog

Museums often have millions of items in their collections, so it’s not surprising that things occasionally get misidentified or even lost—but it must be a nice surprise to rediscover them. Here are just a few examples of specimens and artifacts that were lost, then found, in museums.

1. BEETLES COLLECTED BY DAVID LIVINGSTONE

In October, while he was searching the collections in an effort to catalogue some of it online, Max Barclay, the Natural History Museum in London’s Collections Manager of Coleoptera and Hymenoptera, found a wooden box with 20 beetles pinned inside and labeled “Zambezi coll. by Dr. Livingstone.” That would be Dr. David Livingstone, who collected the insects during his Zambezi expedition of 1858–64, which was the first to reach and explore Lake Malawi in Africa. The museum’s beetle collection, Barclay said, “includes almost 10 million specimens, assembled over centuries. ... I have worked here for more than 10 years and it was a complete surprise and incredibly exciting to find these well preserved beetles, brought back from Africa 150 years ago almost to the day.”

The beetles were among a collection of 15,000 insects left to the museum by Edward Young Western when the lawyer and amateur entomologist died in 1924; he may have acquired the specimens from one of the members of the expedition at a natural history auction in the 1860s. Although the specimens were technically the property of the government, they were never published, so selling them quietly would have been relatively easy.

The specimens aren’t just a cool find; they also have scientific value: Researchers at the museum can use the historical specimens “to study the effect of changing environments on plants and animals around the world,” Barclay said.

2. A 6500-YEAR-OLD SKELETON

Technically, Dr. Janet Monge, curator-in-charge of Physical Anthropology Section of the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, had always known about the mystery skeleton, which sat in a wooden box in basement storage. It had been at the museum as long as she had. But no one understood its significance until this summer, when researchers were working to digitize records from Sir Leonard Woolley’s 1929-30 excavation at the site of Ur in Southern Iraq.

Dr. William Hafford, Ur Digitization Project Manager, and his team found records indicating which unearthed objects went to which museums. According to a press release, half of the artifacts stayed in the newly formed nation of Iraq, and the other half was split between the two museums that had run the excavation, the British Museum and the Penn Museum. Among a number of items on the list were “one tray of ‘mud of the flood’ and ‘two skeletons,’” the press release notes. “Further research into the Museum's object record database indicated that one of those skeletons, 31-17-404, deemed ‘pre-flood’ and found in a stretched position, was recorded as ‘Not Accounted For’ as of 1990.”

Woolley’s field notes contained photos of the archaeologist “removing an Ubaid skeleton intact, covering it in wax, bolstering it on a piece of wood, and lifting it out using a burlap sling,” according to the press release. Monge told Hafford that she had no records of a skeleton like that, but did have a mystery skeleton in a box—and after the box was opened it was clear that the 6500 year old skeleton was the one unearthed during Woolley’s excavation.

Scientists have named the skeleton—which once belonged to a “well-muscled male, about age 50 or older,” standing 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches—Noah, because he lived after a great flood that covered Southern Iraq.

3. BARNACLES FROM CHARLES DARWIN

In the decade before he published On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin corresponded with Japetus Steenstrup, then head of the Royal Natural History Museum in Denmark (the precursor to the current Natural History Museum’s Zoological Museum), who lent the scientist some fossilized barnacles in November 1849 for his Species research. “It is a noble collection, & I feel most grateful to you for having entrusted them to me,” Darwin wrote Steenstrup when he received the box of barnacles in January 1850. “I will take great care of your specimens.” (According to the History Blog, when the packages were late, Darwin was so concerned that he actually put an ad in the paper offering a reward for their return.)

When she was studying the correspondence between the two scientists, Hanne Strager, the head of exhibitions at The Natural History Museum of Denmark, noticed in the correspondence that Darwin mentioned a list of 77 additional barnacles he had sent as a gift when returned the borrowed barnacles to Steenstrup in 1854. That list was found in Steenstrup’s papers, and the museum was able to locate 55 of the barnacles, with the original labels—not an easy task, because they had not been kept together; as The History Blog notes, there wasn’t a reason to keep them together: “On the Origin of Species was five years away. The barnacles were seen as specimens like any other, not the curated collection of a great pioneering scientist. They were spread throughout the museum collection according to their species.” The museum has since put the specimens on display. Most of the missing barnacles come from one genus, and were probably lent out to another institution or scientist who never returned them.

A number of Darwin specimens have been lost and then rediscovered, including a beetle he discovered on an expedition to Argentina (which was named Darwinilus sedarisi in the scientist’s honor 180 years later); the taxidermied remains of a tortoise he captured in the Galapagos and kept as a pet; and a Tinamou bird egg he collected during the HMS Beagle expedition.

4. THE EARLIEST TYRANNOSAURID

This exceptionally well-preserved fossil, found in Gloucestershire, England, during an excavation in 1910, ended up in the collections of the Natural History Museum of London in 1942. It was misclassified for a number of years—its discoverers thought it was a new species of Megalosaurus—but eventually it was recognized as an unknown genus and dubbed Proceratosaurus. In 2009, scientists used computed tomography scans to determine that the dino is the oldest known relative of the Tyrannosauridae. It lived around 165 million years ago.

"If you look at [Proceratosaurus] in detail, it has the same kinds of windows in the side of the skull for increasing the jaw muscles," Dr Angela Milner, associate keeper of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, told BBC. "It has the same kinds of teeth—particularly at the front of the jaws. They're small teeth and almost banana-shaped, which are just the kind of teeth T. rex has. Inside the skull, which we were able to look at using CT scanning, there are lots of internal air spaces. Tyrannosaurus had those as well."

"This is a unique specimen,” Milner said. “It is the only one of its kind known in the world."

5. A LONG-BEAKED ECHIDNA

Up until last year, scientists believed that the endangered, egg-laying long-beaked echidna had last lived in Australia 11,000 years ago—until the Natural History Museum in London found a specimen from their collections. According to its tag, the echidna was collected in Australia in 1901; the handwriting belonged to naturalist John Tunney, who visited north-west Australia to collect specimens for Lord Walter Rothschild’s private collection (Rothschild apparently kept common echidnas, among other exotic animals, as pets; here’s a photo of him riding a tortoise).

The only known population of long-beaked echidnas live in the forests of New Guinea, but this discovery might mean that the creature isn’t extinct in Australia at all, and is still living undetected in some remote part of the continent. The region where Tunney collected this specimen is still so hard to reach that to get to parts of it requires a helicopter. Scientists plan to look for the long-beaked echidnas. "Finding a species that we … [thought] was extinct for thousands of years and still alive, that would be the best news ever,” Roberto Portela Miguez, curator of the Mammals department at the Natural History Museum in London, told iTV.

6. ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE’S BUTTERFLIES

Interns are routinely saddled with less than desirable projects, and on the surface, Athena Martin appears to be one of those interns: During a four week internship at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the 17-year-old’s assignment was to go through 3340 drawers of butterflies searching for specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, a Victorian naturalist who came up with the idea of evolution and natural selection independently of Darwin. The museum knew that there were specimens of Wallace’s in its collection, but didn’t know which specimens were his, or what species he had collected.

Martin’s task was not an easy one—it required her to read the tiny, handwritten labels pinned beside each insect—but it paid off: The intern discovered 300 of Wallace’s specimens, including a Dismorphia, which Wallace collected in the Amazon from 1848-52. It’s a particularly exciting find because his boat caught on fire during the return journey and most of the specimens were lost at sea. “I was a bit confused when I first found the Amazon specimen,” Martin said in a press release, “because I thought there might have been a labelling error due to the unusual location in comparison to the other specimens I was finding. It wasn't until I showed the specimen to [my supervisor James Hogan] that I found out that it was from the Amazon.”

The butterflies weren’t the only Wallace specimen lost and then found: In 2011, Dr. Daniele Cicuzza of the Cambridge University’s Herbarium found fern specimens—33 species, 22 genera and 17 families—that Wallace had collected on Gunung Muan Mountain in Borneo.  

7. A BEAR CLAW NECKLACE FROM THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION

Sometimes, doing an inventory of what’s in storage can be very interesting, as two collections assistants at Harvard’s Peabody Museum found out in 2003. The duo was photographing artifacts in the Oceania storerooms when they came upon a grizzly bear claw necklace in excellent condition. They soon realized that the necklace had been incorrectly identified—it wasn’t Oceanic at all. Further research revealed that the necklace came from the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, and was one of just seven surviving Native American artifacts that were definitely brought back by the explorers. It had been missing since it was catalogued in 1899.

The primary purpose of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's two-year journey from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean was to map the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, but they also studied the area’s plant and animal life and tried to establish relations with Native American tribes. It was perhaps in one of those meetings that they received the bear claw necklace, which was probably given to the explorers by a chief. "Bear claw necklaces, which relate to the bravery and stature of warriors, were treasured by Indian people,” Gaylord Torrence, curator of Native American art at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, said in a press release. “They are rare from any time period. The newly discovered bear claw necklace acquired by Lewis and Clark is quite probably the earliest surviving example in the world."

The necklace—which contains 38 bear claws—had a convoluted path to the Peabody. After the expedition, it was donated to the Peale Museum in Philadelphia; when the Peale closed in 1848, the necklace went to the Boston Museum, owned by the Kimball family. When that museum suffered fire damage in 1899, 1400 objects from its collection went to the Peabody Museum at Harvard, including the bear claw necklace. However, the Kimball family apparently changed its mind and decided to keep the necklace, even though the Peabody had already catalogued it. A Kimball descendant donated the necklace to the Peabody in 1941, and a staff member catalogued it as an artifact from the South Pacific Islands.

8. INSECT FOSSILS FROM THE JURASSIC

In the 1800s, geologist Charles Moore excavated hundreds fossils from sites in the southwest of England, including a quarry called Strawberry Bank near Ilminster. Most of Moore’s collection—which contained as many as 4000 specimens—was bought by Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) in 1915, 34 years after the geologist’s death. But part of the collection was given away to the Museum of Somerset (then the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society), where it was put in storage and forgotten for almost a century. In 2011, these specimens—which includes insect fossils dating back to the Jurassic—were rediscovered when BRLSI received a grant to restore Moore’s fossils. "These packages haven't been unwrapped since 1915 and some are in wrappings dating back to 1867 so it's quite exciting to unwrap them for the first time,” Matt Williams, collections manager at BRLSI, told the BBC. “Amongst them I have been discovering unknown Strawberry Bank specimens.”

9. A HUMAN JUVENILE MANDIBLE

In 2002, scientists in the Department of Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History were reorganizing the European archeological collections when they found a juvenile mandible, which had come from Solutré, an Upper Paleolithic site that was excavated beginning in 1866. This particular specimen, unearthed in 1896, had somehow not been noticed, but in 2003, the pieces were analyzed, and according to a paper published in Paleo, “The specimen is comprised of approximately 60 percent of a juvenile mandible, broken post-mortem into two fragments …  The resulting age range for this individual is 6.7-9.4 years, with an average of 8.3 years.” Radiocarbon dating revealed that the mandible was much more recent in origin than the ground in which it was found; it dates to 240 AD and 540 AD. In the paper, the scientists write that it’s safe to assume “the human mandible, no. 215505, represents a much later burial which intruded into bona fide Upper Paleolithic strata. … While this result lessens the significance of the individual specimen, it does begins to offer some insight into the nature and stratigraphy of the archaeological levels of Solutré as is represented in collections at the Field Museum of Natural History.”

10. AN EMPEROR PENGUIN

Photographs taken of the University of Dundee’s D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum when it first opened in the early 1900s show a beautiful Emperor Penguin specimen on display. The bird made it through the demolition of the old museum in the 1950s, then disappeared. It turned up in the ‘70s, when it served as the mascot for the Dundee University Biology Society. The penguin got lugged around on nights out and even propped up the bar at one of the students’ regular drinking destinations. Eventually, those late nights and bar-prop duties took their toll: The hard-partying penguin’s condition deteriorated, and in the ‘80s, it was sent off to a natural history museum to be restored. And then it disappeared again.

The bird wasn’t found for another three decades, when it turned up in The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum collection in April 2014. “We have finally been able to have the planned conservation work carried out and our penguin is looking as good as new in its new home in the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum,” Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services at the University, said in a press release. The bird was promptly put back on display.

11. A TLINGIT WAR HELMET

In 2013, staffers at the Springfield Science Museum in Massachusetts were selecting objects for a new exhibition called “People of the Northwest Coast" when Curator of Anthropology Dr. Ellen Savulis came across a very interesting artifact. Described in records as an "Aleutian hat," it was ornately carved from a single piece of dense wood. None of the information she could find about hats made by Aleutians matched the object she was studying. So she called Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, to ask him about it. When he viewed images, Henrikson knew that it was a war helmet made by the Tlingit people of Southwest Alaska. Based on its decoration, he deduced that it was likely made in the mid-19th century or earlier.

The helmet entered the museum collection sometime after 1899 and was labeled "Aleutian hat," and was entered into the museum's collection records under that name. Forty years later, it received a permanent collection number, then sat in museum storage until Savulis discovered it. "It’s very rare," Henrikson said in a press release about the discovery. "There are less than 100 Tlingit war helmets in existence that we know of. I’ve been studying them for over 20 years and I’m sure I’ve seen most of them.”

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10 Creepy Candles to Get You in the Halloween Mood
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GraveDiggerCandles

Candles are always a handy household accessory, but they're especially useful around Halloween, when they can be used to light jack-o'-lanterns, summon spirits, or simply brighten a long, dark night. These spooky lights are more suited for tabletops than pumpkins, or soirees than seances, but they'll still make your upcoming costume shindig extra festive (and fragrant, to boot).

1. KISA CANDLE

PyroPet’s cat-shaped Kisa candle looks like an ordinary wax feline. But as it melts, a hidden surprise reveals itself: a macabre metallic skeleton with charred bones and bared fangs.

The Kisa candle costs $34 and comes in three colors: pink, gray, and an ultra-spooky black. Not into cats? Additional PyroPet offerings include birds, bunnies, reindeer, owls, and dragons, all with the same silver framework.

2. BRAIN CANDLE

Brain candle by Creepy Candles
Creepy Candles

This specimen-inspired candle by Etsy seller Creepy Candles would look equally at place in a mad scientist’s laboratory as it would at a Halloween soiree. A wax brain is suspended in green-tinted gel that resembles formaldehyde, but the candle itself thankfully smells like grapefruit. The Brain Candle costs $25 and is handmade to order.

3. HUMAN SPINE CANDLES

Beeswax human spine candles, set of three, by Grave Digger Candles
Grave Digger Candles

Grow a spine this Halloween—or at least buy one. These notched beeswax pillar candles are inspired by the Victorian Era, a period in which physicians created detailed wax models of flayed corpses to teach medical students the literal ins and outs of anatomy. Etsy seller Grave Digger Candles sells them in sets of three for $76.

4. OUIJA BOARD CANDLE

LED battery-operated Ouija board candle by Twisted Nightmares
Twisted Nightmares

This Ouija board-inspired, LED battery-operated candle probably won’t summon spirits, but it’s still spine-tinglingly spooky. Sold by Etsy user Twisted Nightmares, it costs $20 and requires three AAA batteries, which aren’t included with purchase.

5. BLEEDING HEART CANDLE

Bleeding Heart Candle by Cozy Custom Candles
Cozy Custom Candles

Love guts, blood, and Gothic romance? Your heart might bleed for this candle, which turns into a gushing heart when lit. Sold by Etsy seller Cozy Custom Candles, the heart-shaped light source has a white outer shell made from a high-melt point paraffin wax, while its core is made of a red-colored wax blend with a low melting point. The candle hemorrhages vital fluids as it burns, making it the perfect accessory for a bloody good time.

The Bleeding Heart Candle costs $17 and comes in multiple autumnal scents, including caramel apple, pumpkin pie, and sweet cinnamon-pumpkin.

6. PICK YOUR POISON CANDLES

Pick Your Poison candle by Mr. Toad's House of Wax
Mr. Toad's House of Wax

The “Pick Your Poison” candles by Etsy seller Mr. Toad’s House of Wax appear to have been snatched from the shelf of a Victorian apothecarist. But while labeled “Poison Hemlock Oil” and “Tincture of Wolfsbane Poison,” they smell like fresh fallen leaves, pumpkin spice, and other autumnal scents when lit. Both candles cost $21, and are embellished with a sparkly jewel and black velvet ribbon.

7. CREEPY WOODS & GRAVEYARD DIRT CANDLE

Woods & Earth candle by Geeky Girl Scents
Geeky Girl Scents

There’s nothing quite like the aroma of trees and fresh graveyard dirt on a fall night. With hints of wood and earth, this candle by Etsy seller Geek Girl Scents will make your living room smell like a haunted cemetery. An eight-ounce jar costs $15, and a 16-ounce version is also available.

8. WITCH FARTS CANDLE

Witch Farts Scented Soy Wax Candle by The Candle Crate
The Candle Crate

If you’ve ever wondered what witch gas smells like (who hasn’t?), you can find out by purchasing The Candle Crate’s flaming ode to supernatural flatulence. The Etsy seller’s “Witch Farts” candle is more Glinda the Good Witch than Elphaba, with top notes of peach, apricot, and blackberries and middle notes of mandarin, cinnamon, and rose.

The soy wax candle costs $12, and is sold alongside other witchy, Harry Potter-inspired products like “Number 12 Grimmauld Place” and “The Leaky Cauldron.”

9. GHOST REPELLENT CANDLE

Ghost Repellent candle by Nola And Neighbors
Nola And Neighbors

Even if you ain’t afraid of no ghosts, you can still keep them at bay with this “Ghost Repellent” candle by Etsy sellers Nola And Neighbors. It smells like lavender and sage, and comes with an instruction label informing owners to light it “at dusk or dawn” for best results—although the ghost’s removal is “not guaranteed.” At $17, it’s still way cheaper than hiring the Ghostbusters.

10. ZOMBIE GOLDEN GIRLS PRAYER CANDLE SET

Zombie Golden Girls prayer candle set by The Eternal Flame
The Eternal Flame

Golden Girls devotees who’d follow the Fab Four to the grave and beyond can light up their lanais with these zombie prayer candles by Etsy shop The Eternal Flame. They come in sets of four (one for each Girl, naturally) and cost $40. Color choices include white, orange, and purple.

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40 Fascinating Facts About Your Favorite Horror Movies
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United Artists

Now's the time when we pull out all of the scary movies in our collections and pile them up in preparation for a Halloween horror movie marathon. But before you grab the popcorn and dim the lights, bone up on your horror knowledge with these 40 facts about some of your favorite scary movies.

1. COUNT ORLOCK ONLY BLINKS ONCE IN NOSFERATU.

In the nine minutes of screen time Max Schreck has as Count Orlock in F.W. Murnau’s classic Nosferatu (1922), he blinks only one time (near the end of part one).

2. THE EXORCIST WAS THE FIRST HORROR FILM TO BE NOMINATED FOR A BEST PICTURE OSCAR.

The horror genre has never gotten much love from the Academy. Though there still seems to be a bias against scary movies during awards season, The Exorcist earned 10 Oscar nominations in 1974, including a Best Supporting Actress nod for Linda Blair, who was just 15 years old at the time.

3. ROBERT ENGLUND WAS NOT THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY FREDDY KRUEGER.

NEW LINE CINEMA

Wes Craven reportedly planned to have a stuntman play the seemingly immortal youth-hater known as Freddy Krueger, but (wisely) opted to go with an accomplished actor for the role instead. His first choice was the brilliant British character actor David Warner, who you'll no doubt recognize from Time Bandits, Titanic, and various incarnations of Star Trek. Warner had to pass on the project, which opened the door for the truly excellent Robert Englund.

4. PSYCHO IS THE FIRST AMERICAN FILM TO FEATURE A TOILET.

Psycho is the first American film to show a toilet on screen. It's also the first American film in which we hear a toilet being flushed. (That's just how repressed Americans were in the 1950s.)

5. STEPHEN KING WASN’T A FAN OF THE SHINING.

In 1983, Stephen King told Playboy, “I’d admired [Stanley] Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result. Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fell flat.”

King didn’t like the casting of Jack Nicholson either, claiming, “Jack Nicholson, though a fine actor, was all wrong for the part. His last big role had been in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and between that and the manic grin, the audience automatically identified him as a loony from the first scene. But the book is about Jack Torrance’s gradual descent into madness through the malign influence of the Overlook—if the guy is nuts to begin with, then the entire tragedy of his downfall is wasted.”

6. JAWS DOESN’T FULLY APPEAR IN A SHOT UNTIL ONE HOUR AND 21 MINUTES INTO THE MOVIE.

While the lack of shark appearances works to heighten the tension in Jaws, the real reason the shark isn’t shown in full is because the mechanical shark that was built rarely worked during filming. Director Steven Spielberg had to create inventive ways (like Quint’s yellow barrels) to shoot around the non-functional movie shark. 

7. FAY WRAY THOUGHT SHE’D BE STARRING OPPOSITE CARY GRANT IN KING KONG.

WARNER HOME VIDEO

In his attempts to entice Fay Wray into starring in King Kong (1933), director Merian C. Cooper promised, “You're going to have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.” “While my thoughts were flying toward the hope that Cooper might be waiting for Cary's [Grant] arrival just as I was, Cooper went on to point at the giant ape and say, again, ‘The tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood,’” recalled Wray.

8. IT TOOK SEVEN YEARS TO GET ALIENS MADE.

Why did it take seven years to get a sequel made? Lawyers and money, of course. Talk of a sequel began shortly after the original Alien (1979) was a hit, but it was delayed because of a dispute between the film’s producers and 20th Century Fox over the distribution of the original movie’s profits. Fox, reluctant to make a sequel because it would be expensive, finally agreed to it as a way of settling the beef with the producers—basically, “We won’t give you any more of the first movie’s profits, but we’ll greenlight a sequel, and you can make money from that.” (Amusingly, the same producers plus James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd sued Fox again after Aliens, claiming the studio had used “creative accounting” techniques to avoid paying them.)

9. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN’T SEE SISSY SPACEK AS CARRIE.

Though Brian De Palma was a fan of Sissy Spacek’s work, he was convinced that he had already found his Carrie in another actress. His decision to let Spacek audition at all was mostly out of courtesy to her husband, Jack Fisk, the film’s art director. "He told me that if I wanted to, I could try out for the part of Carrie White,” Spacek recounted to Rolling Stone. "There was another girl that he was set on and unless he was really surprised, she was the one. I hung up and decided to go for it."

Spacek showed up at her audition in an old dress she hadn’t worn since grade school and with her hair slicked back with Vaseline. When she was done, she waited in the parking lot while her husband reviewed her audition with the rest of the production team. After Fisk came out to tell her that the part was hers, “We sped off before anybody could change his mind,” Spacek said.

10. ROMAN POLANSKI AND JOHN CASSAVETES HAD DIFFERENT IDEAS FOR ROSEMARY’S BABY.

In her 1997 autobiography, What Falls Away, Mia Farrow recounted the tense relationship between Roman Polanski and her Rosemary’s Baby co-star, writing that in the film’s climactic scene, “John became openly critical of Roman, who yelled, ‘John, shut up!’ and they moved toward each other,” and nearly came to blows. Apparently, it was Ruth Gordon and her “consummate professionalism” that calmed the situation down.

11. IN 2015, GEORGE ROMERO FOUND NINE MINUTES OF LOST FOOTAGE FROM NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Still from 'Night of the Living Dead'
Janus Films

While in Maryland for Monster-Mania Con this year, George Romeo shared that he recently unearthed a 16mm work print of Night of the Living Dead, which features approximately nine minutes of previously thought-to-be-lost footage at the jump cut in the basement, including “the largest zombie scene in the film.”

12. SERIAL KILLER ED GEIN INSPIRED THREE MAJOR HORROR MOVIES.

You’ve likely heard of Ed Gein. His house of horrors made headlines for years after he was sent to a mental hospital for his actions. They were so memorable, in fact, that he inspired some of the most iconic thrillers of all time: Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Among the items discovered at his Plainfield, Wisconsin farm were four noses, nine masks made of human skin, numerous decapitated heads, lampshades and bowls made of skin, lips being used as a pull on a window shade, and a belt made from nipples. Gein later admitted to only two murders and said most of the items had come from late-night cemetery raids.

13. THE HALLOWEEN SCRIPT DIDN'T CALL FOR A SPECIFIC KIND OF MASK.

The mask for Michael Myers was only described as having “the pale, neutral features of a man,” and for the movie the design was boiled down to two options—both were cheap latex masks painted white and bought for under $2 apiece at local toy stores by production designer Tommy Lee Wallace. One was a replica mask of a clown character called “Weary Willie” popularized by actor Emmett Kelly, and the other was a stretched out Captain Kirk mask from Star Trek. Carpenter chose the whitewashed Kirk mask because of its eerily blank stare that fit perfectly with the Myers character. 

14. THE BABADOOK SCARED THE HELL OUT OF WILLIAM FRIEDKIN.

IFC Films

On November 30, 2014, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook got a major publicity boost when The Exorcist director William Friedkin tweeted: “I've never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me.”

15. A DOUBLE AMPUTEE WAS USED TO CREATE THE THING’S QUINTESSENTIAL SPECIAL EFFECT.

One of the most memorable scenes in John Carpenter's The Thing (often referred to as the “chest chomp”) occurs when Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) attempts to revive Norris (Charles Hallahan) with a defibrillator. As he presses the paddles to his patient’s skin, Norris’ chest opens up and Copper’s forearms disappear into the cavity, where they are severed below the elbow by a set of jaws inside Norris’ chest.

In order to pull this off, special makeup effects designer Rob Bottin (known for his work on RoboCop, Total Recall, Se7en, and Fight Club) found a man who had lost both of his arms below the elbow in an industrial accident. Bottin fit the man with two prosthetic forearms consisting of wax bones, rubber veins, and Jell-O. Then, for the wide-angle shot, he fit the man with a skin-like mask taken from a mold of Dysart’s face (à la Hannibal Lecter) and placed the ersatz arms into the chest cavity, where a set of mechanical jaws clamped down on them. As the actor pulled his arms away, the Jell-O arms severed below the elbows. The rest is practical effects history.

16. THE ORIGINAL ENDING OF FRIGHT NIGHT WAS MUCH DIFFERENT.

The film’s original ending saw Peter Vincent transform into a vampire—while hosting “Fright Night” in front of a live television audience.

17. THE STARS OF THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT USED GPS TRACKERS TO FIND THEIR INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE DAY.

Artisan Entertainment

Production programmed wait points in the GPS unit for the actors to locate milk crates with three little plastic canisters in them. Each plastic canister contained notes on where the story was going for each actor, who would not show the other two their paper. From that point they were free to improvise the dialogue, provided they followed the general instructions given to them.

18. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY IS THE MOST PROFITABLE FILM OF ALL TIME.

Often compared to The Blair Witch Project because of its low-budget nature and huge grosses, 10 years after The Blair Witch Project’s release, the original Paranormal Activity ousted the earlier horror film as the most profitable movie, based on return on investment (ROI). The Blair Witch Project cost about $60,000 to make whereas Paranormal Activity’s initial budget was just $15,000. Blair Witch grossed $248.6 million worldwide, which comes out to a 414,233 percent return on investment. After grossing $65 million, it was calculated that Paranormal Activity made a 433,900 percent ROI. Of course that doesn’t factor in its final worldwide gross of $193 million (which, if you do the math on that total, works out to a 1,286,566 percent ROI).

19. SCREAM WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED SCARY MOVIE.

The original title of the film was Scary Movie, but it was changed to Scream by the Weinstein brothers in the middle of production. They allegedly decided on the change because Harvey Weinstein was listening to the Michael Jackson song “Scream” in his car with his brother Bob. They both liked the title for a horror movie.

20. THE BLOB IS BASED ON A (SUPPOSEDLY) TRUE STORY.

On September 27, 1950, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article with the headline "Flying ‘Saucer’ Just Dissolves." The night before, police officers John Collins and Joe Keenen swore that they’d watched a mysterious object fall from the sky. Rushing towards the landing site, the men stumbled upon a purple, jelly-like mass. Collins and Keenen immediately summoned two of their colleagues, who arrived just in time to watch the material evaporate without a trace. The FBI was contacted, a press conference was held, and the whole mess became a national laughing stock.

Fast forward to 1957: That year, producer Jack H. Harris was looking to make a creature feature, but he couldn’t come up with a decent premise. So he asked his friend, Irvine H. Millgate, to try and devise one. "It’s gotta be a monster movie," explained Harris. "It’s gotta be in color instead of black and white. It can’t be a cheapy creepie, it’s gotta have some substance to it. It’s gotta have characters you can believe in. And there’s gotta be a unique monster—never been done before. And the method of killing the monster would have to be something that grandma could have cooked up on her stove." Millgate remembered the Philly incident and the rest is history.

21. JOEL COEN GOT HIS FIRST BREAK AS AN ASSISTANT EDITOR ON THE EVIL DEAD.

Before becoming the Oscar-winning filmmaking duo he and his brother Ethan are today, Joel Coen got his start as an assistant editor on The Evil Dead. Inspired by Raimi’s DIY filmmaking, Joel and his brother created a pitch trailer (much like Raimi’s Within the Woods) to raise money for their first feature, Blood Simple. While Dan Hedaya stars in the final film, Bruce Campbell plays the lead in the two-minute trailer.

22. TIM BURTON WAS IN CONTENTION TO DIRECT GREMLINS.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding Tim Burton after the success of his short film, Frankenweenie—so much so that Steven Spielberg considered him to direct Gremlins. But the fact that Burton had yet to direct a feature film worked against him, and the gig was given to Joe Dante. A year later, Burton released his first theatrical feature, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

23. BOB CLARK’S IDEA FOR A BLACK CHRISTMAS SEQUEL SOUNDS AWFULLY FAMILIAR.

A Christmas Story (1983) will be a lasting part of Bob Clark’s legacy, but for horror fans, the work he did in the 1970s is just as important. Films like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) and Deathdream (1974) got him notice, but Black Christmas (1974), one of the first slasher films, became a cult classic and earned him a dedicated following.

Clark said in an interview that John Carpenter asked him if he had considered making a sequel to Black Christmas. “I was through with horror," Clark explained. "I didn't come into the business to do just horror.” Carpenter asked him what the sequel would be like if he did want to make one, and Clark gave him an idea that should sound very familiar to fans of the genre: “I said it would be the next year and the guy would have actually been caught, escape from a mental institution, go back to the house and they would start all over again. And I would call it Halloween."

24. GENE HACKMAN WAS SLATED TO STAR IN—AND DIRECT—THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

Gene Hackman and Orion Pictures split the $500,000 needed for the movie rights to the book. But Hackman dropped out days after he watched clips of himself at the 1989 Oscars as FBI Agent Alan Parker in the violent Mississippi Burning, deciding not to follow up a dark role with an even more unlikeable character.

25. CHILD’S PLAY WAS INSPIRED BY A REAL EVENT. (YES, CHILD'S PLAY.)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In 1909, Key West painter and author Robert Eugene Otto claimed that one of his family's servants placed a voodoo curse on his childhood toy, Robert the Doll. Supposedly, the doll would mysteriously move from room to room, knock furniture over, and conduct conversations with Otto. Robert the Doll was left in the attic until Otto's death in 1974, when new owners moved into his Florida home. The new family also claimed mysterious activities would happen in the house connected to the doll. Today, Robert the Doll is on display at the Custom House and Old Post Office in Key West, Florida.

26. THE CONJURING’S ED AND LORRAINE WARREN ARE REAL-LIFE PARANORMAL INVESTIGATORS.

The Conjuring is based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and their experience with the Perrons, a family who moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse and experienced ghostly and terrifying occurrences in 1971.

"When Insidious came out and was successful the story about the Warrens came to me and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is really cool,'” director James Wan told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. "But I didn’t just want to make another ghost story or another supernatural film. One thing I had never explored was the chance to tell a story that’s based on real-life characters, real-life people. So those were the things that led me to The Conjuring."

The Warrens also had a possessed Raggedy Ann doll that was the inspiration for the spin-off film Annabelle. Allegedly, a demon spirit possessed the Raggedy Ann doll, which is currently on display and under lock and key at the Warrens' Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut.

27. DAMIEN ORIGINALLY HAD A DIFFERENT NAME IN THE OMEN.

Screenwriter David Seltzer planned to name his antichrist Domlin after the “total obnoxious brat” child of a friend, until his wife convinced him that it would be a horrible thing to do to the kid. (Not to mention friendship-ending.) He landed on Damien after Father Damien, who started the first leper colony in the Hawaiian islands.

28. THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON WAS MODELED AFTER THE OSCAR STATUETTE.

Universal managed to snag an up-and-coming filmmaker with a prestigious resume to direct Creature from the Black Lagoon: Jack Arnold, whose documentary With These Hands had received an Academy Award nomination. Though he didn’t get the Oscar, Arnold kept the souvenir certificate that the Academy always mailed to its nominees. The little card would go on to become an unexpected source of inspiration behind the scenes of Creature from the Black Lagoon.

As Arnold told Cinefantastique magazine in 1975, “There was a picture of the Oscar statuette on it. I said, ‘If we put a gilled head on [the figurine], plus fins and scales, that would look pretty much like the kind of creature we’re trying to get.’ So they made a mold out of rubber, and gradually the costume took shape.” At first, the creature had what leading lady Julie Adams (credited as Julia Adams) described as an “eel-like” physique. Slick and streamlined, the outfit didn’t come with much in the way of fins, ridges, or body armor. These were later enhanced to give the monster a more menacing appearance. 

29. BRUCE CAMPBELL MADE $93,000 FOR ARMY OF DARKNESS.

Scream Factory

To illustrate the plight of the working stiff actor, Bruce Campbell once provided a helpful breakdown of his salary for 1992’s second Evil Dead sequel, Army of Darkness. With a $500,000 salary nipped at by agents, managers, income taxes, and a now-ex wife, he figured he made roughly $93,000. But the film took two years to complete, meaning his net profit for portraying horror icon Ash in a major motion picture was less than $50,000 a year.

30. AN ACTUAL WITCH WAS HIRED TO HELP MAKE THE CRAFT MORE AUTHENTIC.

To make sure that the depiction of Wicca in The Craft was as close to real life as it could be, the filmmakers hired Pat Devin as a consultant. Devin is a member of one of the largest and oldest Wiccan religious organizations in United States, Covenant of the Goddess, and at the time she was the First Officer of the group’s Southern California Local Council. Devin played a big role in the production process and at times worked directly with the actresses. “A lot of my suggestions were acted upon and virtually all of my suggestions were given careful consideration,” Devin shared, “ even if they didn’t all end up in the final version of the film.”

31. THE NAME OF THE DEMON IN THE EXORCIST IS PAZUZU.

Though it’s never stated in the film, the demon that takes possession of Regan MacNeil has a name: Pazuzu, which is taken from the name of the king of the demons in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. 

32. WES CRAVEN REGRETTED TEASING A SEQUEL IN A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

Craven was rather staunchly opposed to any sort of "sequel tease" finale, but the big boss (that'd be New Line's Bob Shaye) insisted on one. “Bob wanted a hook for a sequel,” Craven told Vulture. “I felt that the film should end when Nancy turns her back on Freddy and his violence—that’s the one thing that kills him. Bob wanted to have Freddy pick up the kids in a car and drive off, which reversed everything I was trying to say—it suddenly presented Freddy as triumphant. I came up with a compromise, which was to have the kids get in the convertible, and when the roof comes down, we’d have Freddy’s red and green stripes on it. Do I regret changing the ending? I do, because it’s the one part of the film that isn’t me.”

33. STANLEY KUBRICK ALLEGEDLY TYPED ALL OF THOSE “ALL WORK” PAGES IN THE SHINING.

Warner Home Video

No one is quite sure whether Kubrick typed 500 pages of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Kubrick didn’t go to the prop department with this task, using his own typewriter to make the pages. It was a typewriter that had built-in memory, so it could have turned out the pages without an actual person. But the individual pages in the film contain different layouts and mistakes. Some claim that it would have been characteristic of the director to individually prepare each page. Alas, we’ll never know—Kubrick never addressed this question before he died.

34. THE ENDING OF PSYCHO WAS SPOILED MONTHS BEFORE THE FILM'S RELEASE.

Despite Hitchcock's fervent and admirable attempts at keeping the project a secret, both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter published very thorough spoilers regarding the Psycho plot months before the film actually came out.

35. STEVEN SPIELBERG THOUGHT HIS DVD COPY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY WAS HAUNTED.

As the urban legend goes, Spielberg, whose DreamWorks Studios was considering distributing Paranormal Activity, took a DVD of the movie home to watch, but then got freaked out when the door to his bedroom locked by itself. “So the whole story about how the doors to his bedroom got locked from the inside ... personally I believe it,” Peli told Moviefone. “It’s not something the marketing department just came up with before releasing the movie.” Spielberg famously carried the DVD to work in a trash bag because he thought it was haunted. Despite the shock, Spielberg loved the movie and suggested a new ending that was used in the theatrical release.

36. DREW BARRYMORE WAS SLATED TO STAR IN SCREAM.

Barrymore changed her mind about playing the lead five weeks before production was set to begin. Barrymore instead suggested she play Casey Becker, the teen terrorized by the killer in the opening scene, to cleverly subvert audience expectations that a star of her stature would survive the movie. Casting directors approached Alicia Witt, Brittany Murphy, and Reese Witherspoon to take over the Sidney Prescott role before eventually casting Neve Campbell.

37. JAMES CAMERON HAD TO QUASH A MUTINY ON THE SET OF ALIENS.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Aliens was shot at England’s historic Pinewood Studios, which provided its own unionized crew members for productions using the facilities. Some of these workers resented the 14-hour days and, having no idea what James Cameron was capable of (The Terminator hadn’t opened yet), thought he was in over his head. In particular, the first assistant director thought he should be directing Aliens. He mocked Cameron, called him “guv’nor,” rolled his eyes at him ... and got himself fired for insubordination. The new first assistant director behaved respectfully, and things were better after that.

38. SISSY SPACEK WAS ADAMANT THAT HER OWN HAND APPEAR IN CARRIE’S FINAL SCENE.

Though Brian De Palma wanted to get a stunt person for the final scene, where Sue Snell visits Carrie’s grave, Spacek insisted that it needed to be her hand that was shown, which required her to be buried in the ground. “I laughed about that,” Spacek told NPR. "I do all my own foot and hand work, and always have."

39. BUFFALO BILL’S DANCE IN THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS WAS NOT IN THE SCRIPT.

But it was in the original book, and Ted Levine, the actor who played the serial killer Jame Gumb, insisted that the scene be included because it helped explain the demented character better.

40. JAWS ORIGINALLY ENDED JUST LIKE MOBY DICK.

The original ending in the script had the shark dying of harpoon injuries inflicted by Quint and Brody à la Moby Dick, but Spielberg thought the movie needed a crowd-pleasing finale and came up with the exploding tank as seen in the final film. The dialogue and foreshadowing of the tank were then dropped in as they shot the movie.

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