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Day of the Dreadnoughts – Jutland

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 237th installment in the series.

May 31-June 1, 1916: Day of the Dreadnoughts – Jutland 

While for many ordinary people the outbreak of war in 1914 came as a shocking “bolt from the blue,” for the sailors of the British and German navies it first seemed like the long awaited consummation of the pre-war naval rivalry between Europe’s two greatest powers – followed by a discouraging anti-climax.

Indeed the First World War was above all a continental struggle whose outcome would ultimately be decided by fights on land, with naval power generally playing a secondary role. Although the navies made important contributions to the war effort – most notably the Royal Navy’s blockade of Germany – it soon became apparent that they were unlikely to take part in a decisive naval battle like Trafalgar. 

Knowing it was outnumbered, the German Admiralty kept its High Seas Fleet close to its home ports on the North Sea, where it fulfilled its role as a “fleet in being” – keeping a large part of the Royal Navy tied down simply by existing. On the other side, despite their numerical superiority the British were reluctant to attack the German ships in port, leery of mines, submarines and land-based defenses.

Despite this strategic stalemate, commanders on both sides believed it was still possible to fight a decisive battle and achieve victory. For the British, this meant luring the German High Seas Fleet into a spot where it could be engaged by the larger Grand Fleet (the main body of the Royal Navy) and destroyed. By contrast, success for the Germans depended on dividing the enemy: an encounter with the entire British Grand Fleet was to be avoided at all costs, but if the High Seas Fleet could lure part of the enemy fleet away and destroy it, it might be able to even the odds for another battle later on, or at least force the British to loosen their blockade. 

This was the strategic background for the biggest naval clash of the war, at the Battle of Jutland. Unfortunately for both sides, things didn’t quite turn out as they’d hoped.

Strange Symmetry

The battle unfolded with strange symmetry, beginning with the opposing sides’ plans. After the end of the North Sea’s rough winter, in the spring 1916 both the British commander, Admiral John Jellicoe, and his German counterpart, Admiral Reinhard Scheer, decided the time had come to coax the enemy fleet into a major battle – hopefully on their own terms. 

Basically, both admirals hoped to trick the other side into rushing into the North Sea by dangling bait in the form of a smaller detachment of ships to lure the enemy force into a trap. Running out to sea, the enemy force would first come under attack by submarines and mines – the German U-boats lying in wait near the British bases in Rosyth and Scapa Flow, the British subs near the Heligoland Bight off northwestern Germany. Then the entire surface fleet would close to destroy the rest of the enemy force (in the British plan this meant the entire German High Seas Fleet, in the German plan a large part of the British Grand Fleet). The symmetry extended even further to the order of battle for both sides, as both Jellicoe and Scheer dispatched smaller “scouting” forces of battle cruisers ahead of their main dreadnought fleets – the British battle cruisers under Admiral David Beatty, the Germans under Admiral Franz von Hipper – to serve as bait, luring the enemy within range of the heavily armed dreadnoughts. 

The scale of the coming clash was mind-boggling: between the battle cruisers, dreadnoughts, submarines, and swarms of light cruisers and destroyers, around 250 ships crewed by roughly 100,000 men would take part in the Battle of Jutland. However the main fight would always be between the heavy battle cruisers and dreadnoughts, and here the British advantage showed, with 28 dreadnoughts versus 16 for the Germans, and nine battle cruisers versus five. 

The outcome depended entirely on local circumstances: if the British were able to bring their whole fleet to bear against the Germans, the latter would be wiped out – but if the Germans could attack and destroy part of the British fleet in isolation, British naval dominance would suffer a body blow. 

First Encounter

With the opposing sides following two very similar plans, it all came down to timing – and here the Germans got the jump on the British (or so they thought). In fact that British had an additional edge in intelligence, as the Allies had cracked the German naval code early on without their knowledge: on May 30, 1916 Jellicoe received word that the German High Seas Fleet was preparing to sail into the North Sea. That evening the British battle cruiser squadron, followed by the super-dreadnoughts of the Fifth Battle Squadron, set forth from their base in Rosyth, Scotland, while the rest of the Grand Fleet headed south from the base in Scapa Flow, about 300 miles to the north; crucially, this meant that the British battle cruisers would meet the Germans before the British dreadnoughts. 

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The first phase of the German plan quickly proved to be a dud, as not a single British ship was lost to U-boat torpedoes or mines – but Hipper would more than make up for this disappointing start during the second phase of the battle, when he benefited from an unexpected British mistake. When Beatty’s battle cruiser squadron left port the accompanying Fifth Battle Squadron, composed of powerful dreadnoughts meant to cover the battle cruisers, trailed behind by five miles, leaving the battle cruisers exposed to their more heavily armed German peers. Worse still, reports from British ships monitoring German radio traffic indicated (mistakenly) that the German High Sea Fleet hadn’t actually put to sea, meaning Beatty and Jellicoe both assumed they were just facing the German battle cruiser squadron, not the dreadnoughts. They were in for quite a surprise (below, the British fleet).

With these massive forces approaching each other off of the Danish peninsula, known as Jutland, events took an absurd turn with the appearance of a small Danish civilian steamer, which unwittingly sailed between the rival forces, provoking destroyers and cruisers from both sides to hurry over to check it out – of course spotting each other in the process. As they reported sighting the enemy ships via wireless, the ships opened fire on each other at 2:28 p.m. The battle had begun. 

Battle Cruiser Action 

After the initial sighting, the two battle cruiser squadrons made visual contact at around 3:25 p.m., with the British (to the west) heading south and the Germans heading north. Both sides swiftly changed course to close with the enemy, and then turned on to roughly parallel courses, heading southeast, still trying to shorten the distance while bringing their guns to bear on each other. 

This was exactly what Hipper hoped for, as it would lead the British battle cruisers (without their super-dreadnought protectors) directly into Scheer’s rapidly approaching High Seas Fleet, about 50 miles south of Hipper. Even worse, the German gunnery during the battle cruiser phase was clearly superior, as evidenced by the uneven losses suffered by the two sides, and British battle cruisers suffered from an unrecognized flaw in their armor plating around the gun turrets. Following the first German battle cruiser shot at 3:48 p.m., as high explosive 12- and 13.5-inch shells hurtled thousands of yards a couple dozen feet could spell the difference between a harmless fountain of water and a deadly plume of metal and fire. 

For its human participants the battle was characterized by an odd mix of terror and detachment, as recalled by a gun control officer on the British battle cruiser New Zealand:

I had great difficulty in convincing myself that the Huns were in sight at last, it was so like battle exercise the way in which we and the Germans turned up on to more or less parallel courses and waited for the range to close sufficiently before letting fly at each other. It all seemed very cold-blooded and mechanical, no chance here of seeing red, merely a case of cool scientific calculation and deliberate gunfire.

The experience would soon become much more real for crew members aboard the British battle cruiser Indefatigable. At 4:02 p.m. the German battle cruiser Von der Tann scored two direct hits on the Indefatigable, which apparently penetrated one or more of its gun turrets and ignited the cordite charges used to propel the shells, which in turn ignited the ship’s main magazine, resulting in a gigantic explosion. In less than a minute the Indefatigable sank with 1,017 men aboard, leaving just one survivor (below). 

This shocking loss was only the beginning of the British misfortunes. With the super-dreadnoughts of the British Fifth Battle Squadron slowly coming in range, the British battle cruisers were still highly vulnerable to German gunnery, especially concentrated fire from multiple enemy vessels. At 4:21 p.m. disaster struck again, as two German battle cruisers, the Derfflinger, both turned their fire on the Queen Mary – the pride of the British battle cruiser fleet – and again scored lucky shots on the weak battle cruiser turrets (below, the Queen Mary sinks to the right; Lion to the left). 

Commander George von Hase, the first gunnery officer aboard the Derfflinger, recalled the Queen Mary’s fate: 

First of all a vivid red flame shot up from her forepart. Then came an explosion forward which was followed by a much heavier explosion amidships, black debris of the ship flew into the air, and immediately afterwards the whole ship blew up with a terrific explosion. A gigantic cloud of smoke rose, the masts collapsed inwards, the smoke cloud hid everything and rose higher and higher. Finally, nothing but a thick, black cloud of smoke remained where the ship had been.

Petty Officer Ernest Francis, a gunner’s mate aboard the Queen Mary, was one of the few survivors. As the ship was wracked by explosions, eventually splitting in half, Francis recalled swimming desperately to avoid the whirlpool which would follow her sinking: 

I struck away from the ship as hard as I could, and must have covered nearly 50 years, when there was a big smash, and stopping and looking round the air seemed to be full of fragments and flying pieces. A large piece seemed to be right above my head, and acting on an impulse I dipped under to avoid being struck, and stayed under as long as I could, and then came to the top again, when coming behind me I heard a rush of water, which looked very much like a surf breaking on a beach, and I realised it was the suction or back-wash from the ship which had just gone. I heardly had time to fill my lungs with air when it was on me; I felt it was no use struggling against it, so I let myself go for a moment or two, then I struck out… 

By this time the other ships in the British battle cruiser squadron – Lion, Tiger, and Princess Royal – had also sustained damage, and the super-dreadnoughts of the Fifth Battle Squadron arrived not a moment too soon. In fact the Barham, Warspite, Malaya and Valiant got there just in time to greet the approaching German High Seas Fleet, first spotted at 4:30 p.m. and closing fast. The day of the dreadnoughts was at hand.

Dreadnought Battle 

The main phase of the battle, involving the main bodies of both fleets, commenced in late afternoon and continued as the sun went down through nightfall, forming a dramatic image as over 200 ships of all sizes blasted away at each other in the dusk.

As the Germans rejoined forces to the south, at 6:15 p.m. Jellicoe ordered his dreadnought battle fleet, previously cruising south in six rows of four ships, to form a single line for battle heading east to engage the Germans. For their part the Germans were completely taken by surprise by the appearance of the Grand Fleet under Jellicoe, which delivered a blistering barrage as it sailed perpendicularly across the path of the lead German ships – a classic battleship maneuver called “crossing the T.” However German gunnery continued to tell, as the Derfflinger and Lutzow sank the Invincible around 6:30 p.m. (below, the Invincible explodes). 

A crewman from the British destroyer Badger later recalled rescuing the few survivors from the Invincible:

As we neared the wreck we could see the water all round thick with flotsam and jetsam, mainly composed of floating seamen’s kit bags, with a few hammocks scattered amongst them. We also spotted a raft on which were four men, and on the bridge they spotted two other survivors in the water… It was a great shock to us when [the commander] made us understand that… we were picking up the only six survivors from her ship’s company of a thousand men.

Under heavy fire, around 6:33 Scheer ordered his outnumbered fleet to reverse course, heading west, but Jellicoe was determined to engage them before they slipped away, while also avoiding the risk of torpedoes from German destroyers, requiring him to keep a certain distance. At 6:55 Scheer, knowing that nightfall and relative safety wouldn’t come until 8 p.m., decided to pull a surprise move by reversing course again and heading right for the British Grand Fleet – a daring maneuver which caused no little confusion, as intended. Then at 7:15 p.m. Scheer reversed course yet again (this time for good) and made a run for it, leaving behind destroyers and the battle cruisers to lay down a covering fire against the onrushing British. 

Throughout this period the battleships pounded each other at relatively close ranges of as little as four miles, resulting in incredible carnage on both sides. One British sailor, a 16-year-old midshipman aboard the battle cruiser Malaya, recalled the scene below decks around 7:30 p.m.: 

I went down to the battery, where everything was dark chaos. Most of the wounded had been taken away, but several of the killed were still there. The most ghastly part of the whole affair was the smell of burnt human flesh, which remained in the ship for weeks, making everybody have a sickly nauseous feeling the whole time. When the battery was finally lighted by an emergency circuit, it was a scene which cannot be forgotten,– everything burnt black and bare from the fire; the galley, canteen, and drying-room bulkheads blown and twisted into the most grotesque shapes, and the whole deck covered by about 6 inches of water and dreadful debris…

The main phase of the Battle of Jutland was already ending, but fighting would continue through the night of May 31 into the morning of June 1, as the British pursued the retreating Germans with limited success, including a point-blank engagement between British destroyers and some older German battleships in the hours around midnight, while the British cruiser Black Prince was sunk after losing contact with the main British fleet. A British officer aboard the destroyer Southampton recalled the surprising engagement: 

At that moment the Germans switched on their searchlights and we switched on our. Before I was blinded by the lights in my eyes I caught sight of a line of light grey ships. Then the gun behind which I was standing answered my shout of “Fire!”… The range was amazingly close – no two groups of such ships have ever fought so close in the history of this war. There could be no missing. A gun was fired and a hit obtained; the gun was loaded, it flamed, it roared, it lept to the rear, it slid to the front; there was another hit.

Another British officer described the night engagement: 

The sea seemed to be alive with bursting shells and the air with the whistle of passing projectiles… Suddenly a huge explosion took place in the third German ship, and with a deafening noise and shock she seemed first of all to open out, then to close together, then to go. Evidently someone’s torpedo had hit, but as explosions were taking place all round from bursting shells and guns were firing, a torpedo explosion was almost impossible to distinguish until the ship itself blew up. 

In the days following June 1, both sides tallied up the costs of Jutland. The British had clearly suffered more, losing 14 ships and over 6,000 killed, versus 11 ships and 2,500 dead for the Germans. Meanwhile propaganda machines immediately sprang into motion, with both sides claiming Jutland as a victory – but it quickly became clear that it was something closer to a draw, a huge outpouring of blood and treasure which nonetheless left the basic situation unchanged.

The British diarist Vera Brittain summed up the ambiguity:  “I returned to a London seething with bewildered excitement over the Battle of Jutland. Were we celebrating a glorious naval victory or lamenting an ignominious defeat? We hardly knew; and each fresh edition of the newspapers obscured rather than illuminated this really quite important distinction.” 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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15 Surprising Facts About Steve Carell
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Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

From the seven seasons he spent as the star of NBC’s The Office to leading man roles in comedy classics like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carell has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand funnymen. But he has proven his dramatic chops, too, particularly with his role as John du Pont in Foxcatcher, which earned Carell an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 2015. Even if you’ve seen all of his movies, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about the Massachusetts native, who turns 55 years old today.

1. HE THOUGHT HE WANTED TO BE A LAWYER.

Steve Carell attended Ohio’s Denison University, where he received a history degree in 1984, and had planned to move on to law school. But when it came time to apply, he found himself stumped by the first question on the application: Why do you want to be a lawyer?

“I had never considered acting as a career choice, although I’d always enjoyed it,” Carell told NJ.com in 2011. “I enjoyed hockey and singing in the choir, and I didn’t think of them as potential careers, either … But I began to realize I really loved acting, and telling stories. Reading a book, watching a movie, going to a play, it’s transporting, and very, very exciting. And to be a part of that, creating things with your imagination, whoa."

2. HE WORKED AS A MAILMAN.

Shortly before he moved to Chicago and performed with The Second City, Carell worked as a postal carrier in the tiny town of Littleton, Massachusetts. Because the post office didn’t have its own mail vehicles, Carell had to use his own car. He kept the gig for just four months, then took off for the Windy City. “And months later, I found mail under the seat of my car,” he admitted. Carell also said it was the hardest job he has ever had.

3. HE WAS HIS WIFE’S TEACHER.

No, it’s not as risqué as it sounds. Carell met his wife, Nancy Walls, through an improv class at Second City; he was the teacher, she was one of his students. “I beat around the bush [before asking her out] and said something stupid like, ‘Well, you know, if I were to ever ask someone out, it would be someone like you,’” Carell told Details of his earliest attempts at flirting. “It’s so stupid, but it was all self-protection. She was the same way: ‘If somebody like you were to ask me out, I would definitely go out with him. If there was a person like you.’” The couple married in 1995 and have appeared in several projects together.

4. THE COUPLE HAD TO BREAK UP (ON CAMERA) ON THEIR 17TH ANNIVERSARY.

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For Lorene Scafaria’s underrated 2012 end-of-the-world dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Steve and Nancy played a married couple who split up when it’s announced that an asteroid heading toward Earth will obliterate the planet in three weeks. Their break-up scene happens very early on in the movie, and they ended up filming it on their 17th wedding anniversary.

“She gets to leave me right at the beginning,” Carell told Parade. “They used the take where her shoe came off in the car, and she bolted across that field with one shoe on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her run that fast. We shot the scene on our 17th anniversary. [The director] got us a cake and the crew sang ‘Happy Anniversary’ to us. It was very sweet, a very special night."

5. HE AND HIS WIFE AUDITIONED FOR SNL TOGETHER; ONLY ONE OF THEM MADE IT.

In 1995, the same year they married, both Carell and Walls auditioned for Saturday Night Live. Walls made it but Carell didn’t, which must have made for one awkward celebratory dinner. But it all turned out well in the end; Carell went on to become a household name and has hosted the show on two occasions.

6. HE WAS ONE HALF OF “THE AMBIGUOUSLY GAY DUO.”

Though he missed out on the chance to become a regular SNL cast member, there was a silver lining: He was free to say “yes” to taking a role on The Dana Carvey Show, a sketch show that SNL alum Dana Carvey created for ABC. Though it was short-lived, the show was full of amazing comedic talent; in addition to Carvey and Carell, the show featured Stephen Colbert, Bob Odenkirk, and Robert Smigel and a writers room that included Louis C.K., Charlie Kaufman, and Robert Carlock. The show marked the debut of Smigel’s recurring animated sketch, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo,” which followed the adventures of Gary and Ace, who were voiced by Carell and Colbert, respectively. After the show was cancelled, Smigel brought the “Duo” over to Saturday Night Live.

7. HE OWNS A GENERAL STORE IN MASSACHUSETTS.

While many A-list stars run side businesses—restaurants, wine companies, clothing lines, etc.—the Carells' second gig is a little less glamorous. In 2009, they bought the Marshfield Hills General Store in Marshfield, Massachusetts—where they spend their summers—in order to preserve it as a local landmark. 

“The main impetus to keep it going is that not many of those places exist and I wanted this one to stay afloat,” Carell told The Patriot Ledger. “Just generally speaking, there are not that many local sort of communal places as there used to be ... I think it’s nice for people to actually go and talk and have a cup of coffee and communicate with one another."

8. HE PLAYS THE FIFE.

Yes, Carell has got some musical talent and can actually play the fife. It’s a skill he acquired early in life, and shares with several of his family members. And it came in handy when he joined a reenactment group that portrayed the 10th (North Lincoln) Regiment of Foot, a line infantry regiment with the British Army.

9. HE WAS NOT THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MICHAEL SCOTT IN THE OFFICE.

Though Michael Scott, the clueless manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton, Pennsylvania branch in The Office, is still probably Carell's best-known role, he wasn’t the first choice for the part. Paul Giamatti was reportedly the first choice, but he declined. Hank Azaria and Martin Short were also in the running. Bob Odenkirk was actually cast in the role because Carell was committed to another series, Come to Papa. But when that show was cancelled after just a few episodes, the role of Michael Scott was recast with Carell. (Odenkirk appeared in one of the series’s later episodes, playing a boss who was eerily similar to Carell’s Scott.)

10. WHEN CARELL LEFT THE OFFICE, THE CAST AND CREW “RETIRED” HIS NUMBER ON THE CALL SHEET.

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When Carell left The Office after seven seasons to focus on his film career, the cast and crew continued one tradition in his honor. “Steve was No. 1 on the call sheet because he was the lead of the show,” co-star Jenna Fischer told TV Guide. “And when he left, we retired his number. No one, ever since he left, was allowed to be No. 1."

11. HE WAS IN TALKS TO PLAY RON DONALD ON PARTY DOWN.

Before Party Down made its premiere on Starz with Adam Scott playing failed actor Henry Pollard, it was supposed to be an HBO series with Paul Rudd in the lead. And Rudd was pushing for Carell to play bumbling catering manager Ron Donald, as The Office didn’t get off to a great start and looked to be in danger of getting cancelled. Ultimately, HBO ended up abandoning the project, which Starz scooped up—with Scott as Pollard and Ken Marino as Ron Donald.

12. JAMES SPADER REALLY WANTED TO PLAY BRICK TAMLAND IN ANCHORMAN.

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Though it was The 40-Year-Old Virgin that turned Carell into a leading man on the big screen, his role as oddball meteorologist Brick Tamland in Anchorman brought him a lot of attention. But if James Spader had his way, Carell would never have appeared in the role at all. In a 2013 interview with Baller Status, director Adam McKay shared that before the film was even cast:

“I get a phone call and I hear that James Spader is obsessed with Brick's character. I say ‘James Spader? That is insane, will he come in and read?’ They say, ‘No, he's not going to come in and read; he's James Spader!’ James Spader and I end up talking and he called it about the Brick character. He thought it was one of the funniest character he ever read and we weren't even sure if it was going to work. He literally said, ‘I will do anything to get this role.’ Eventually, we were just like, ‘This is James Spader; he is too good for this role.’ But, he was right about how funny it was. The movie studio even questioned us and said how bizarre Brick is, and it wouldn't work. I felt bad we didn't cast James, but Carell was so good.”

Spader proved his comedic chops in 2011, when he was cast as Robert California, Michael Scott’s replacement on The Office (who quickly manages to convince the company owner to appoint him as CEO).

13. UNIVERSAL STUDIOS' EXECUTIVES WERE CONCERNED THAT CARELL WAS COMING OFF AS A SERIAL KILLER IN THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN.

Though it turned out to be one of 2005’s biggest hits, getting the tone right on Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin proved to be a fairly difficult task. At one point, executives at Universal Studios expressed their concern to Apatow that Carell might come off as a serial killer to viewers.

"There is a fine line," producer Mary Parent told the Los Angeles Times. "Men and women alike could look at him and if he's too much of a sad sack, they will think, 'Dude, get a life.’” Apatow ended up adding several lines about the fact that Carell’s character could be a serial killer.

14. HE LEARNED MAGIC FROM DAVID COPPERFIELD.

In 2013, Carell played a magician in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. In order to get the role just right, he went straight to the top: David Copperfield. The famed illusionist taught Carell and co-star Steve Buscemi a trick called “The Hangman,” and they were both sworn to secrecy. “I actually had to sign something that I would not divulge,” Carell told The Hollywood Reporter. “So that was kind of cool.”

15. HE OFFERED PRINCETON'S 2012 CLASS SOME TIPS FOR SUCCESS.

In 2012, Carell delivered a speech to Princeton University graduates—which included his niece—during Class Day. He ended his talk by offering some tips to the grads:

“I would like to leave you with a few random thoughts. Not advice per se, but some helpful hints: Show up on time. Because to be late is to show disrespect. Remember that the words 'regime' and 'regimen' are not interchangeable. Get a dog, because cats are lame. Only use a 'That's what she said' joke if you absolutely cannot resist. Never try to explain a 'That's what she said' joke to your parents. When out to eat, tip on the entire check. Do not subtract the tax first. And every once in a while, put something positive into the world. We have become so cynical these days. And by we I mean us. So do something kind, make someone laugh, and don't take yourself too seriously.”

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25 Future Stars Who Appeared on Are You Afraid of the Dark?
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Nickelodeon via YouTube

A number of future celebrities stopped by Are You Afraid of the Dark? over its seven-season run—first from 1992 to 1996, and then again from 1999 to 2000 as part of Nickelodeon's SNICK lineup. Some were members of the Midnight Society, and some were merely there to help bring the creepy campfire tales to life. Here they are, on the 25th anniversary of the show's premiere, submitted for the approval of Mental Flossers.

1. RYAN GOSLING // SEASON 5, EPISODE 3

Fresh off his stint in The Mickey Mouse Club—and well before he was Young Hercules—Ryan Gosling appeared in the 1995 episode “The Tale of Station 109.1.” He played Jamie Leary, a T-shirt and flannel-wearing kid whose younger brother, Chris, is obsessed with death. To break him of his morbid obsession, Jamie locks Chris in a hearse, cautioning him to "keep it down, or you'll wake the dead!" before he leaves him there. (Nice brother!) Comedian Gilbert Gottfried also appears in this episode as a DJ at the titular radio station.

2. NEVE CAMPBELL // SEASON 3, EPISODE 13

Future Scream queen Neve Campbell played Nonnie Walker in the 1993 episode “The Tale of the Dangerous Soup,” in which recurring villain Dr. Vink makes a dish that requires a very special ingredient: his employees’ fear.

3. AND 4. EMMANUELLE CHRIQUI AND ELISHA CUTHBERT // SEASON 5, EPISODE 12

Future Entourage star Emmanuelle Chriqui had just five roles on her resume when she played Amanda, a teenage hospital volunteer who has to contend with a shape-shifting vampire, in “The Tale of the Night Shift.” 

Happy Endings and 24 star Elisha Cuthbert had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her part in that episode, too. Series co-creator D.J. MacHale directed her in the episode, although he didn’t remember it. “There’s one scene where a nurse walks out of the room [in the hospital where a shape-shifting vampire was shacking up] and sees a little girl [who had shape-shifted from said vampire] whom she follows,” MacHale said. “And that little girl was Elisha Cuthbert. For all I know, that was the first time she was ever on camera, so that was kind of cool!” It was, in fact, Cuthbert’s first on-screen role; later, she would return to the series during its second run as Megan, a member of the Midnight Society.

5. MIA KIRSHNER // SEASON 1, EPISODE 5

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Before she starred in The Crow: City of Angels, Not Another Teen Movie, and The L Word, Mia Kirshner appeared in the 1991 episode “The Tale of the Hungry Hounds.” Kirshner played Pam Pease, a teenager who discovers her dead Aunt Dora’s horse riding jacket in a trunk in the attic … and promptly becomes possessed with Dora’s spirit.

Despite the fact that the show always begins with a campfire, this was the only episode to show a kid striking a match. “[Nickelodeon] didn’t want to teach kids how to strike matches,” MacHale told Splitsider. “They were afraid someone would burn their house down or something like that. So the campfire was always already lit when [the Midnight Society] showed up. There was one episode where someone did light a match when it slipped by Standards and Practices in an episode I directed. Mia Kirshner was the star in that episode, and in that scene, she had to light a lantern, and she didn’t know how to light a match! We practically had to fake it because she was like, ‘I’ve never done this before!’ Which I guess maybe gives credibility to Nickelodeon’s theory that we didn’t want to teach kids how to light a match.”

6. DANIEL DESANTO

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You probably recognize him as Gretchen Weiner’s kinda-sorta-boyfriend in Mean Girls, but before that, Daniel DeSanto was providing the voice of Carlos Ramon on the cartoon The Magic Schoolbus and playing Tucker, a Midnight Society member, on 65 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? from 1992 to 2000.

7. EUGENE BYRD // SEASON 1, EPISODE 6

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Shortly after he played Eugene on The Cosby Show, Byrd booked the role of practical-joke loving Weeds in a 1992 episode, “The Tale of the Super Specs.” He buys his girlfriend, Mary Beth, a pair of weird glasses that allow her to see terrifying black-clothed beings from another dimension (who are even into playing creepy games of basketball!). Spoiler alert: The episode does not have a happy ending for Weeds and Mary Beth. Byrd would go on to star in shows like Ghostwriter, Bones, DaybreakCrossing Jordan, True Blood, and Arrow.

8. JOANNA GARCIA SWISHER

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Joanna Garcia Swisher—then just Joanna Garcia—had a few small roles on other series before she played Sam, one of the members of the Midnight Society, beginning in Are You Afraid of the Dark's third season. She later appeared in Party of Five and Freaks and Geeks and starred on the TV series Reba. More recently, she played Ariel on Once Upon a Time.

9. JAY BARUCHEL

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The Knocked Up and Man Seeking Woman actor appeared in a few episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, including Season 6's "The Tale of the Zombie Dice” and "The Tale of the Walking Shadow,” and the Season 7 episode “The Tale of the Time Trap.” He made his first appearance in Season 5’s “The Tale of Dead Man's Float” (above), playing a little kid who, in 1954, gets attacked by a ghost in a pool (which was, naturally, built over a graveyard). When the pool is reopened in the present day, things don’t go so well.

10. HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN // SEASON 6, EPISODE 13

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Before he was Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christensen played Kirk in the 1999 episode “The Tale of Bigfoot Ridge.” The episode involved snowboarding, some excellent ‘90s music, the search for a missing friend, and a ghost that kidnaps people.

11. EDDIE KAYE THOMAS // SEASON 3, EPISODE 9

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Future American Pie star Eddie Kaye Thomas had his first-ever screen role in Are You Afraid of the Dark? in the 1994 episode “The Tale of the Curious Camera.” He played Matt, a kid that nobody notices—unless they’re bullying him. When he fails to show up in his basketball team portrait, the photographer gives him an antique camera. But it’s no ordinary camera: Bad things seem to happen to anything Matt takes a picture of. It’s all fun and games when it’s a picture of the wall or a bully at school—less so after Matt accidentally snaps a photo of his parents. (This is probably an homage to the Twilight Zone episode “A Most Unusual Camera.”)

12. COLIN FERGUSON // SEASON 5, EPISODE 7

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This actor, who starred on the SyFy series Eureka, got his start on Are You Afraid of the Dark?. In “The Tale of C7" Ferguson plays Tommy, one of the spirits summoned from a nearby lake by an old jukebox.

13. RACHEL BLANCHARD

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Blanchard had a few roles under her belt when she played Kristen, a member of the Midnight Society, on 26 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? from 1990 to 1993. Later, she played Cher in the TV version of Clueless, had a guest-starring role on 7th Heaven, and, most recently, appeared in the TV series Fargo.

14. AARON ASHMORE

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Now best known for playing Jimmy Olsen on Smallville and Steve Jinks in Warehouse 13, Aaron Ashmore had just one screen credit to his name when he played Billy in the 1993 episode “The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor.” In 2000, he appeared on the show again, this time playing Jake in “The Tale of the Lunar Locusts.” The episode starred figure skater Tara Lipinski, who played an alien named Ellen, and dealt with alien babies buried beneath a school football field.

15. JEWEL STAITE

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Firefly and Serenity star Jewel Staite appeared on two episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?. In the Season 3 episode “The Tale of Watcher’s Woods," she played Kelly, a sorta-snooty summer camp attendee who gets lost in a dark and dangerous woods. Then, in Season 4, she got to rock the truly '90s fashion combo of turtleneck and strong-shouldered blazer as Cody in “The Tale of the Unfinished Painting.”

16. CHRISTOPHER HEYERDAHL

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Now known for his roles on Van Helsing, Hell on Wheels, Caprica, and True Blood, and for playing Marcus in the Twilight series, Christopher Heyerdahl had just one screen credit to his name when he appeared on Are You Afraid of the Dark? in two Season 2 episodes. First, he played Nosferatu in “The Tale of the Midnight Madness” (above), and, just two episodes later, played Leonid in “The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor.”

17. CHARLIE HOFHEIMER

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The man who would play Peggy Olsen’s boyfriend Abe Drexler on Mad Men and later take a starring role in 24: Legacy appeared in two episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? in the mid-’90s: “The Tale of the Water Demons” in Season 4—he played Dean Wilson, the cousin of the bad boy main character—and Season 5’s “The Tale of the Unexpected Visitor,” in which we learn a very valuable lesson: Never hack into the satellites your dad is using for deep space research. Not even to get "World War Four: Their Finest Hour" for free.

18. GREGORY SMITH // SEASON 4, EPISODE 13

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Future Everwood star Gregory Smith played train-obsessed Tim Williamson in “The Tale of Train Magic.” When a ghostly conductor gives Tim a new car for his train set, Tim is transported onto train 713 ... which had actually crashed years earlier, killing everyone on board.

19. CHRISTOPHER REDMAN

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Yet another actor who appeared on multiple episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Christopher Redman played Mike Carter, big brother to a truly awful little kid who steals the money for their mom's birthday gift and buys a Nintendo game, in the Season 3 episode “The Tale of the Crimson Clown” and, in Season 4, played Simon Lewis in “The Tale of the Renegade Virus.” He would go on to have roles in StarGate: SG1, Touching Evil, and Saved. He also played Michael Travers in 25 episodes of CSI: Miami.

20. AND 21. A.J. BUCKLEY and TED WHITTALL // SEASON 5, EPISODE 8

After he appeared as camp counselor Lonnie in the 1995 episode “The Tale of Manaha”—which featured monsters hungry for human flesh!—A.J. Buckley played Adam Ross on CSI: New York, Ed Zeddmore in Supernatural, and Danny Crowe in Justified. And in just his second-ever role, Ted Whittall—who has since appeared on The L Word, Smallville, Once Upon a Time, and Beauty and the Beast—played an unnamed Park Ranger.

22. KYLE DOWNES

Now best known as Lizzy McGuire’s Larry Tudgeman, Kyle Downes appeared in two Season 6 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, playing two different characters. In “The Tale of the Forever Game,” he played Nathaniel, a guy trapped in a tree until he can win a Jumanji-esque board game, and in “The Tale of Vampire Town,” he played vampire slayer Adder Carballo.

23. VANESSA LENGIES

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The American Dreams, Stick It!, and Glee actress became a member of the Midnight Society in 1999, playing Vange on the show's final two seasons.

24. LAURA VANDERVOOT // SEASON 7, EPISODE 11

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After she played Ashley Fox in the 2000 episode “The Tale of the Laser Maze”—which involves laser tag, karate, and clones—Laura Vandervoot appeared in Instant Star, had a role in Ted, and played Supergirl on Smallville.

25. EMILY VANCAMP // SEASON 7, EPISODES 1, 2, AND 3

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The future Everwood and Revenge star played Peggy Gregory in final season's three-part opener The Tale of the Silver Sight. It was her first-ever on-screen role.

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