If you search online for creepy photos, you’ll find plenty of black and white images that are hoaxes. Many people edit “ghost photos” for the scares. Where are the real ones? If you want real, historical scary photos, you’ve come to the right place.
These pictures are genuine snapshots of the dark sides of history. From old mental asylums to a Parisian cafe from Hell, we’ve gathered the creepiest black and white photos from history.
Whose Hand Is That?
Shot in 1900, this photo shows female workers of a linen factory in Northern Ireland. These workers made handkerchiefs and other cloth supplies. They stand in line with their arms crossed–nothing abnormal, right?
Look closely. The girl in the bottom right-hand corner has a hand on her shoulder. Whose hand is that? There is no one to the right of her to place that hand on her shoulder, and everyone’s arms are crossed. What do you think?
Why These School Girls Are Wearing Gas Masks
In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria, beginning the Fifteen-Year War. The war created a lot of anxiety in the 1930s. Residents of large cities worried about poison gas bombs. Gas masks became common and appeared on parents, children, and even horses.
This is the most famous photo from the era caught by Horino Masao. It shows school girls marching through the streets during the Tokyo Gas Mask Parade. There’s something about gas masks that are inherently creepy.
In 1890, a photographer captured this image that revealed the horrible ways people used to treat mental illness. This German woman stands in a narrow cell of a mental asylum. She is undergoing a “treatment” called forced standing, where patients can do nothing but stand.
It is possible that forced standing exhausted patients enough to make them appear calmer. However, they were incredibly painful. Psychological treatment has greatly improved since then, but these pictures remind us how patients used to be treated.
Yes, this is a real invention from 1925. American inventor Hugo Gernsback created this mask, called “the Isolator,” to increase productivity. The helmet was designed to block out all noise and sensations outside of a person’s work.
Gernsback’s invention never took off, possibly because it looked so horrifying. Believe it or not, some people have recreated the Isolator in modern times. If you want to focus on nothing but your homework, you may be able to buy it somewhere.
What World War One Did To Soldiers
In 1916, the French and British battled the German army in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. Like many battles during World War I, soldiers engaged in trench warfare. This photo was taken during that battle and shows a soldier with shell shock.
The term “shell shock” was coined by British psychologist Charles Myers to explain the post-traumatic reactions that soldiers experienced after a battle. After heavy bombardment (often from bombshells), soldiers would be unable to walk, talk, sleep or react–much like this man here.
Who Wouldn’t Eat Here?
Believe it or not, this was a real (and popular) cafe in Paris during the early 20th century. It was called the Cabaret de l’Enfer, or “The Cabaret of Hell” in English. Antonin Alexander created and ran the cafe from 1892 to 1950.
The cabaret was designed to mimic Hell as if customers were walking into Dante’s Inferno. It was incredibly popular with artists and surrealists such as André Breton. Next door, they made The Cabaret of Heaven, which was not as scary.
The Destruction After World War II
On February 13th, 1945, Allied forces carried out several bombings against the German city of Dresden. One the first night alone, the Allies dropped over 4,000 bombs on Dresden. Over 25,000 people died, and at least 75,000 buildings were destroyed.
This photo was taken the morning after the attack on Valentine’s Day. The statue stands on top of City Hall, peering down at the destruction. Every year, the city of Dresden commemorates the attacks.
What’s Happening To His Face?
In the 19th century, Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne had a unique view of neurology. He believed that facial expressions were directly linked to a person’s soul. To prove this, he carried out a series of experiments called The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression.
Duchenne used electrical probes to create grotesque facial expressions, which he would then photograph. He analyzed the pictures to discover the “accurate rendering of the soul’s emotions.” Today, we still have pictures of his bizarre experiments.
The Teenager Who Fell From A Plane
Fourteen-year-old Keith Sapsford itched to travel. He was described as “restless” and “a wanderer.” In 1970, he ran away from his Catholic home to the Sydney Airport. He snuck onto the wheel of a Douglas DC-8 heading for Tokyo, a common stowaway tactic at the time.
Meanwhile, amateur photographer John Gilpin was taking photos of the planes. He snapped a picture of the DC-8, and after it developed, he noticed Sapsford. He had fallen to his death around 150 feet above the ground.
Don’t Worry; These Aren’t Real People
Although these figures look like real people, rest assured: they are wax dolls. In 1925, a fire ravaged Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London. The wax figures were meant to be pieces of art, but the flames turned them into horror figures.
Fireman worked for an hour and a half to extinguish the fire, and afterward, the building became a skeleton. Fortunately, nobody was injured, and the wax models were later repaired. But the remaining photo still sends shivers down peoples’ spines.
The Ten Seconds Of Light
On May 24, 1913, one of the most famous incidents in boxing history occurred. American boxer Luther McCarty fought Arthur Pelkey in Wild Horse Canyon, Nebraska. During the fight, McCarty’s knees buckled, and he fell to the floor.
As the referee rushed to McCarty, a beam of light poured down on the boxer for ten seconds. Eight minutes later, McCarty was pronounced dead at the scene. The “Ten Seconds of Light” would be a legend if not for the photo shot that day.
This Is Not What You Think It Is
It’s hard to tell what this is at first. A doll? A person wearing a mask? The truth is far more terrifying. This is the corpse of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos after her face was covered in wax and plaster.
Thank German radiology technologist Carl Tanzler for this photo. Tanzler was Maria’s doctor, and he obsessively courted her. After she died in 1931, Tanzler stole her corpse, decorated it, replaced the eyes with glass eyes, and kept it for seven years.
What Are They? Witches?
When this photo from 1940 was posted online, it caused a lot of debate. Who were the hooded figures? Witches? And ancient cult? The truth is actually quite benign. This is a traditional religious event in Penitentes en Cuenca, Spain.
The people are celebrating Semana Santa, the week before Easter. They gather to repent their sins before Lent. But why the outfits? Well, the costumes disguise people so that they can repent without embarrassing themselves in front of their neighbors.
The Man In The Pig Mask
In 2008, photographer David Fenton displayed his photos from the ’60s in the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York. Of all of his pictures, this one became the most famous (or infamous). The mysterious man in the pig mask has captured the imaginations of many people.
The photo was taken on April 5, 1969, during the Central Park Peace March. Protesters of the Vietnam War mocked authorities in various ways. Here, a man in a pig mask snuck up behind an officer for the photo.
A Train Straight Out Of Lovecraft
Although this train looks like a supernatural monster, there’s actually a reasonable explanation. In May 1948, this train traveled down the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in Ohio. After it entered Charleston Pike, just south of Chillicothe, the boiler exploded.
At least three people died from the scalding water: the brakeman, the fireman, and the engineer. According to reports, the boiler became too dry and overheated. This photo shows the aftermath of the tragic train accident.
The Hiroshima Shadows
If you look closely, you’ll see the silhouette of a man with a cane. This shade was once a real man. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. launched an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. People close to the bomb vaporized instantly. The heat from the explosion created outlines of victims.
These outlines, called the Hiroshima Shadows, remained on some surfaces for up to ten years. It shows exactly what people were doing when the bomb when off.
Look Closely At The Pile
At first glance, you may not understand what that man is standing on. Look closely–he is standing on a large pile of bison skulls. In the 19th century, hunters ground the bones for fertilizer. This photo, captured in 1870, explains why bison almost went extinct in the U.S.
Within 50 years, the number of bison shrank from 30,000,000 to 300. Hunters targeted them for meat, supplies, and sport. Back in the day, these piles of skulls did not bother hunters.
A Priest Comforting A Dying Soldier
A photo does not have to be unusual to convey a sense of unease. In 1962, a photographer captured this photo during a revolt in Venezuela. El Porteñazo, as it became known, was a four-day-long rebellion where rebels tried to overtake Puerto Cabello.
Here, Priest Luis María Padilla holds a wounded soldier and gives him his last rites as he dies. The picture was captured by Héctor Rondón, who risked his life by being there. In 1963, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography.
The Black Dahlia
There is something about this photo of Elizabeth Short that has haunted people since it hit the papers almost 100 years ago. In 1947, a family found this woman’s corpse in a Los Angeles neighborhood. The body was cut clean in half, but there was no blood at the scene.
The papers dubbed this the “Black Dahlia case,” after a movie that Short acted in called Black Dahlia. It became the largest search in LAPD history. But to this day, the case is still unsolved.
Halloween Wasn’t Always Fun
In the early 20th century, Halloween costumes were designed to look scary. People believed that by dressing up as monsters and ghouls, ghosts would not bother them. As a result, we have horrifying photos like this one.
The picture, shot in 1905, likely depicts a school teacher. She wears a terrifying costume while standing behind a lunch table with decorations–pumpkins, haystacks, and cutouts of witches. If you feel like being spooked, google vintage Halloween photos.
Two Scientists, A Man, And A Dog
It’s hard to tell what exactly is happening here. A man and a dog have buckets over their heads, while two other men seem to be studying them. This photo is from a 1937 series of experiments known as “New Animal Psychology.”
In the 1930s, German jeweler Karl Krall teamed up with private scholar Wilhelm von Osten to research dog telepathy. The two believed that horses and dogs had souls and can communicate with humans. Their research did not go far.
This Picture Looks Worse Than It Is
In 2019, this vintage photo went viral for giving people a start. With a cursory look, it appears that these women are spraying a child as he’s falling down the stairs. But look closer: they are actually washing a church statue.
While the photo itself is innocent, it deserves points for giving people a slight heart attack. The photo was shot by American church minster Walter Martin in 1938. He had no idea that it would spook people in the future.
Two More Legs Than Expected
At first glance, it may look like this girl is holding a doll under her shirt. But those extra pair of legs are real. This is Myrtle Corbin, an American sideshow performer born with dipygus. The condition occurs when the pelvis forks left and right, causing two more legs to form.
Corbin performed as the “Four-Legged Girl from Texas” throughout the late 19th century. But she didn’t have a terrible life; she eventually married and had five children.
The Woman Who Has Been Kissed A Thousand Times
In the late 1880s, a woman’s body was found in the Seine River in Paris. Officials believe that she ended her life by drowning. A mortician created a death mask of her face so that people could identify her. To this day, no one knows who this woman was.
But if you recognize her, you’ve likely taken a CPR class. In the 1940s, Asmund Laerdal used her death mask to create the first CPR doll, Resusci Anne. CPR Anne is now the most kissed woman in history.
A Factory Straight Out Of Nightmares
Dolls can be so inherently creepy that several horror films focus on them. It’s no wonder why this photo from 1947 freaked out some internet users. Here, doll heads in a factory drip as they dry.
During this time, polymer and plastic were melted onto a mold of a doll face. The torso, head, and limbs would be attached later. With this method, dolls could be mass-produced and created far more cheaply than porcelain dolls. But that doesn’t make it any less creepy.
A Girl From World War II Draws “Home”
This is Teresa Adwentowska, a Polish Catholic girl who grew up during World War II. Her parents were activists whose home got destroyed during the bombing of Warsaw. Adwentowska had the left side of her brain damaged by a piece of shrapnel.
The incident left Adwentowska with insatiable hunger, and she later entered a mental asylum. In 1948, UNICEF photographer David “Chim” Seymour visited her school. He asked her to draw her home, and this is what she drew.
Nothing Creepy About Mickey Mouse, Right?
Before The Mickey Mouse Club show aired in 1955, a real-life club existed. The Mickey Mouse Club began in 1930, and members held their first meeting in Fox Dome Theater, Ocean Park, California. This picture shows the first club meeting.
Despite how scary the Mickey Mouse masks looked, the club skyrocketed in popularity. By 1932, it had over one million members. Plenty more meetings gathered throughout the 1930s, but no photo is as creepy and overwhelming as this one.
Hundred-Year-Old Plastic Surgery
Did you know that plastic surgery arose because of World War I? Because of the new technology, soldiers experienced facial wounds like never before. To help men eat, talk, and drink again, surgeon Harold Gillies developed sculptures of veterans’ faces.
These sculptures replicated a veteran’s face. The photo shows several faceplates used throughout the stages of surgery. Gillies developed the first facial reconstruction surgery, and he would later create the first gender reassignment surgery.
The Afterlife Boy
At first glance, it looks like an officer and a boy are alert to a potential threat on the other side of the wall. In actuality, the man is observing the 12-year-old boy who believes he comes into contact with the afterlife every night.
Remember when your parents would check the monsters in your closet before bed? This is similar, only the child, Dominique Perrot, genuinely believes there’s something there. It’s like the real-life version of The Sixth Sense.
A Foggy Graveyard
For some, cemeteries are peaceful places where you can visit lost loved ones. For others, the mere thought sends a shiver down their spine. This image explains the latter. The gravestones were lined along St. John the Baptist’s Church in the UK city Stoke-on-Trent.
The headstones are eerily close to one another and look especially menacing surrounded by thick fog. Even creepier is that the church and memorial stones were demolished in 1979.
The UFO Sighting
This photo shows four UFOs flying over Salem, Massachusetts at 9:35 in the morning on July 15, 1952. The eerie image shows four glowing spots in the sky that at the time would have been extra terrifying to see.
Considering how far we’ve come in technology, many of us would see any image like this and assume there’s an explanation. But back before the days where the internet held all the answers, people would be more likely to jump to assuming aliens were in the sky.
Not A Suit You See Every Day
These men in a line look like aliens in their unusual suits. There’s something creepy about a person who is unidentifiable. It’s almost like it makes them seem less human, especially in those massive gloves.
In actuality, these are models at a factory where the suits are made. The outfits are specially designed for use by the Royal Navy. They are referred to as asbestos fire fighting suits. The reason they look heavy duty is because they are!
Listening To The Radio
This image shows just how far we’ve come in terms of technology. This massive contraption to the left is a radio from the ’20s. The man to the right is listening in with a focused look on his face that makes him look a bit insane.
That circular item on the radio is none other than a lamp that casts light into the mirror and creates a shadowy effect. If the photography was trying to capture creepiness, they did a great job.
Another Odd Vogue Session
If you’ve ever wondered why fashion models look so serious, perhaps its because horror used to be all the rage in modeling. Here is yet another Vogue photoshoot that went creepy.
The model is Marion Morehouse and she’s posing in a two-piece outfit that would have been extremely stylish at the time. Too bad she won’t get to show it off in real life because a stalker behind the tree is about to sneak out.
The Mysterious Hooded Man
This image is from Bologna, 1978, but that’s all we know. We would guess that the photo was an ad for a horror film, but your guess is as good as ours. Just imagine if this were a candid!
The thing that makes this image especially creepy isn’t the hooded man, but the expression on the passing man’s face. He looks so disturbed that we have to wonder what’s on the other side of the mysterious hood.
Playing With Fire
This frightening image has a legitimate purpose behind it. Back in 1953, experts were testing how quickly clothes would catch on fire. They used this mannequin to bring a dress into contact with an electric bar heater.
The results showed that it only took 20 seconds for the outfit to go up in flames. That goodness this isn’t a real person, but the likeness makes it frightful to look at just the same.
This image shows a man messing with a boy by holding him over a lobster. While the joke is innocent enough, there’s something sinister about the smiling man in contrast to the concerned look on the boy’s face.
Both fellas are actors on the set of the 1952 film Hunted. Fitting to the name, this still is from one of the movie’s scenes. At that time, boys were taught some interesting rules regarding “toughness.”
An…Interesting Way To Do Your Hair
This complex device looks like it’s about to execute the woman. In reality, it’s much more mundane. This is one of the first inventions that gave people a perm; it is called the Nestal Comb Waver.
In 1909, German inventor Charles Nessler designed this machine to give hair permanent waves through electricity. He actually made quite a bit of money off of this device in the 1920s, but the Great Depression hit him hard. Now, we only have this creepy photo to remember him.
A Dangerous Chair
It may take a moment to register what this is; it’s a chair made from taxidermied bear legs. Can you believe that this chair once stood in the White House? In 1865, Wild West hunter Seth Kinman made this chair for president Andrew Johnson.
Kinman became famous for his chairs made from animal parts. He created several chairs for US presidents throughout his life. For a while, Johnson kept this chair in the Yellow Oval Office.
In the late 19th century, weapon performances became popular as a part of “Wild West” circus acts. One of the most famous (or infamous?) shows was sword-swallowing. In this photo, a circus performer called Miss Victoria swallows ten swords.
Sword swallowing was one of many acts that involved knives. Another was called “The Wheel of Death,” in which a woman was strapped to a wheel while another performer threw knives at her. They were all incredibly risky.
One Of These Kids Is Not Like The Others
At first glance, this looks like a standard photo of five children. But if you look at the youngest child on the left, you may notice that she’s slouched and has closed eyes. That’s because the child is dead, and she’s being propped up for the photo.
In the 1800s, many children died before the age of five. A style of Victorian photography rose in popularity, called memento mori photography. Families would take photos of dead family members to preserve their memory.
No, It’s Not A Movie Prop
This couple seems to be wearing a mask of either dogs or an anteater. Believe it or not, this creepy photo does not come from a movie or theater set. It’s a creative (and disturbing) Halloween costume.
Vintage Halloween costumes looked a lot scarier than modern costumes. Even if they weren’t designed to scare, they still look jarring. Most Halloween photos were taken at night, and black and white photos don’t register everything well in dull lighting.
At first glance, this picture looks like a tragic accident. That’s the point! This is an American circus performance in 1937. The performer has trained the elephant to lift her by the mouth without hurting her.
In the past, circus acts were far more dangerous than we see today. Animal tamers skyrocketed in popularity during the 19th century, and many acts continued into the 21st century. Although this performer is fine, the act is still deadly.
Is This Real?
In this black and white photo, a man holds a woman’s head underneath his arm. Is it real? Fortunately, no. This is one of the many art pieces by Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe. After World War II, Hosoe snapped many pictures that captured the psychology of post-war Japan.
Hosoe became know for his disturbing and surreal images. This photo, titled Man and Woman, was his 20th published photo. If you want to be creeped out, you can find many of his other pictures online.
Thirteen Decapitated Soldiers
This photo doesn’t look real, does it? It shows 13 soldiers holding their own heads, which shouldn’t be possible in 1910. But it is real. “Headless portraits” were a common gag in the Victorian era.
Thank Oscar Gustave, a Swedish photographer who invented many picture tricks before Photoshop. Gustave layered two photo negatives on top of each other, creating the illusion of a headless person. Several people took these joke photos; who says the Victorians didn’t have fun?
Letter From A Schizophrenic
At first glance, you may not be able to tell that those markings are words. In 1909, schizophrenic patient Emma Hauck wrote this letter. Those scribbles are the German phrases Herzensschatzi komm (“darling please come”) and komm komm komm (“come, come, come”) written over and over.
This letter was actually a part of an art collection called Prinzhorn Collection. Art historian Hans Prinzhorn gathered artworks from mental patients after World War II, when mental illness was misunderstood.
Look Closely…Those Aren’t Real People
This may look like a normal photo of a family in their home. But look closely; those people aren’t real. They are mannequins, the only residents of an abandoned town in Nevada called “Survival Town.”
In 1955, the US government enacted a series of nuclear tests called Operation Teapot. Researchers set up fake homes to see how many survived the nuclear blasts. Survival Town no longer exists; most houses were destroyed in the blast, and others were torn down later.
Exorcising A Haunted Attic
In 1979, stories about a farm in France began making international headlines. The farm, in a village called Seron, was supposedly haunted. Mysterious fires started breaking out, and things got so bad that the family enlisted the help of exorcists.
Here, we see the exorcism in progress. It was not successful, because in the end, it turned out that two people in the family were setting all the fires. The photo is still just as creepy, though.
Clowns Are Even Scarier In Black And White
People have been terrorized by clowns for decades, and this vintage photo is early proof of that. This scene took place at a children’s hospital in the 1930s. “Young Bernaby Flick appears [traumatized] by the experience of riding miniature horse ‘Kneehi’ during a visit by the circus,” reads the caption.
The costumed visitors, Cinderella and a smirking clown, are not helping the situation. A little boy in the foreground appears equally terrified.
Surrounded By Wax Heads
Are these apparently disembodied heads real? Or are they fake? After a closer look, it’s evident that they’re not real but that’s not exactly reassuring.
The one live human being in the photo is a wax artist named L. E. Case, who was famous for making startlingly realistic reproductions of people. Case is surrounded by some of his masterpieces, many of which were made for a Los Angeles-based movie producer.