Dark Moments In History We Never Learned About In Class

Human bones used to decorate Sedlec Ossuary
Wikimedia Commons | Jan Kameníček

Everyone likes a positive, happy, feel-good story. Perhaps this is because the default state of the world seems, at times, to be pretty dark.

Indeed, if you look at the historical record, plenty of grim things have happened — oftentimes, things we were never told about in school.

If you're up for it, we have a curated list of dark historical moments for your, um, enjoyment.

The real Dracula

Vlad Tepes, 'Vlad the Impaler'
Wikimedia Commons | Anonymous

Vampires have never really existed, as far as we know. But Vlad Tepes, a 15th century Romanian, came close. He was known for impaling his victims, hence his nickname of Vlad the Impaler. We likely wouldn't have vampire mythology today if not for Vlad Tepes.

Human remains in medicine

Mummy at British Museum
Wikimedia Commons | Unknown

People took all kinds of weird remedies back in the day. Up to the 20th century, it was relatively common to find human remains inside various medicines. Bizarrely, the remains of Egyptian mummies were highly valued as medicine.

Human flesh books

Ladder in front of a library shelf
Unsplash | Henry Be

We're not sure if this one is more or less gross than the previous one, but in any event, some books in the 18th and 19th centuries were bound with actual human skin. Fortunately, this wasn't particularly widespread and soon fell out of practice.

The BTK Killer

Serial killer Dennis Rader
Wikimedia Commons | Kansas Department of Corrections

Serial killer Dennis Rader was known to bind, torture and kill his victims after casing them out. The serial killer then hid in plain sight, volunteering with a church, until he was finally caught in 2005 — decades after his killings began.

Early photography was creepy.

Post mortem portrait of Kaiser Frederick III
Wikimedia Commons | Reichard & Lindner

Like any new trend, people were eager to find ways to utilize photography. In Victorian England, this took the form of photographing deceased family members — sometimes propping them up in lifelike poses and painting expressions on their faces.

Hinterkaifeck murders

Farmstead where Hinterkaifeck murders took place
Wikimedia Commons | Andreas Biegleder

On the night of March 31, 1922, six people were murdered on a farm north of Munich. The creepy part is that evidence suggests the assailant had been stalking the farmstead beforehand. Speaking of the assailant, they were never found.

"Fallen women"

A 'Magdalene asylum' in England
Wikimedia Commons | Unknown

History is full of misogyny and abuse, and the Magdalene asylums of Ireland combined the two. These facilities, which were in operation from 1837 all the way until 1996, "rehabilitated" women who'd apparently strayed too far from their religious beliefs. They were unpaid and subjected to various abuses.

That's where some dentures came from

Set of dentures
Unsplash | Quang Tri NGUYEN

In the early 20th century, dental care wasn't great and lots of people needed dentures. There were also a lot of dead young people with good teeth, thanks to World War I. Put these two things together and you get a grisly truth: many sets of dentures around this time were made from the teeth of dead soldiers.

The only New Zealand woman ever sentenced to death

Murderer Minnie Dean
Wikimedia Commons | Unknown

Minnie Dean was known as a caregiver for children in late 19th century New Zealand, and after awhile, suspicions began to arise that she may be killing the children. It turns out that's exactly what had been going on, and she was executed in 1895.

The Champawat Tiger

Man posing with dead Champawat tiger
Wikimedia Commons | Unknown

Tigers are skilled hunters, and when they turn their attention to humans, it's bad news. The Champawat Tiger killed upwards of 436 people in Nepal and parts of India in the 1900s. It was finally gunned down in 1907.

Black Plague

San Francisco wharves in 1900
Wikimedia Commons | Unknown

Everyone knows about the bubonic plague that killed millions in the 14th and 15th centuries, but what's lesser known is that a variant of the plague hit San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th century. By the time it was all said and done, 172 people had died.

Getting buried alive

Painting of man buried alive
Wikimedia Commons | Antoine Wiertz

We never hear about this anymore, largely because modern medicine is better than old-timey medicine. But back in the day, people were buried alive all the time. It was common enough that people would have safeguards installed inside coffins so they could sound the alarm.

Coffin birth

A sleeping infant
Unsplash | Taksh

One that's gross and sad in equal measures, coffin birth refers to a baby that's born after its mother has already died. There's evidence of this going back centuries. In a nutshell, the gases released by the decomposing body can help push the still-viable baby out.

Dancing mania

Drawing showing the 'dancing plague'
Wikimedia Commons | Pieter Bruegel

It sounds fun, but it really wasn't. Dancing mania refers to a phenomenon that went on for a few centuries in Europe in which people danced. They danced like maniacs until they could dance no more, and many of them dropped dead as a result.

Radium-luminous paint

Small container of radium paint
Wikimedia Commons | TheBeSphereOfCourse

After the discovery of radium, it was found that the substance had a pretty neat trick: it could glow in the dark. After a certain point, radium paint started being used in pretty much everything, including women's makeup. It was some time before a connection was drawn between the adverse health effects and radium paint.

Can babies feel pain?

A baby chewing on a toy
Unsplash | Colin Maynard

Any parent will tell you that babies most definitely can feel pain, but this piece of information is fairly recent. Up until the 1980s, the medical community believed that babies couldn't feel pain — and as such, they were operated on without anesthesia.

Baby cages

While we're talking about injustices done to babies, check this out: cramped city dwellers in the 1930s would get their babies fresh air not by taking them for a walk, but by...hanging them outside in these window-mounted baby cages.

Mary Toft's rabbits

Several rabbits eating grass
Unsplash | Aswathy N

This may be the grossest item on the list: a hoax in which an 18th century woman named Mary Toft had doctors fully convinced that she was giving birth to rabbits. Eventually the ruse was up when it was found that Toft was, uh, inserting the rabbits into herself before "birthing" them.

Told you it was gross.

The Vipeholm Experiments

Vipeholm facility in Sweden
Wikimedia Commons | Gymnasieskolan Vipan

This one starts with an ominous name and gets even weirder. Basically, Swedish dentists set out to find out why so many people had tooth decay back in the 1940s. The secret experiment gave patients in a mental hospital sugary candy against their will. Unsurprisingly, the experiment violated all kinds of medical ethics.

Skeletons were used as decorations

Human bones used to decorate Sedlec Ossuary
Wikimedia Commons | Jan Kameníček

For centuries, ossuaries were used to store human remains to save on cemetery space. Once a body had decomposed into a skeleton, it was sometimes moved into a church, where it (along with many other human bones) were used to decorate the interior.