No one knows for sure why a hospital cleaning lady named Harriet Cole decided to donate her body to science, but her amazing contribution — her nervous system — lives on to this day.
Shortly after Cole died in 1888, Dr. Rufus B. Weaver got straight to work on what would be a medical first: the removal and subsequent mounting of a person's entire nervous system. The painstaking process took six months, but once it was complete it became an invaluable teaching tool — not to mention an exciting spectacle for aspiring physicians. Since then, this remarkable feat has only been successfully replicated three times.Drexel University Archives
French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (right) carries out an experiment in electrophysiology by triggering a subject's muscles with electrical probes in order to produce a given facial expression, circa mid-19th century.Wikimedia Commons
In April 1926, dozens of Ku Klux Klan members in Cañon City, Colorado walked down Main Street and enjoyed some fun and frivolity on a traveling carnival's Ferris wheel. There they posed for a photo at the carnival owner's insistence and a story about it appeared on the front page of the local newspaper the next day.
At the time, the Klan was at the height of its popularity in America and often free to conduct its business in the open and with the government's blessing. Local children of Klan members were even known to write "KKK" on their school uniforms and call themselves the Ku Klux Kids. Flickr Commons
A woman tests a stroller intended to be resistant to gas attacks in Hextable, England in 1938, not long before the outbreak of World War II.Wikimedia Commons
A picnic at Los Angeles' California Alligator Farm, where patrons were allowed to mingle freely among trained alligators from 1907 to 1953.Los Angeles Public Library
Adolf Hitler poses in lederhosen, circa 1930s.
Hitler had this photo and several others banned because, in his opinion, they undermined his dignity. The photos surfaced again after an Allied soldier found copies of them in a German house in 1945.Public Domain
Princeton University students after a snowball fight in 1893. Before the turn of the century, the snowball fight was a common tradition at the school — and many students packed their snowballs with rocks.Princeton
Members of the Young Pioneers, a Soviet government youth group, don gas masks as part of an attack preparation drill in the Leningrad area in 1937.Viktor Bulla/Wikimedia Commons
During a time when alarm clocks were expensive and unreliable, a knocker-upper was often hired by British people to wake them up in alternative ways.
Mary Smith earned about six pence a week using a pea shooter to shoot dried peas at the windows of sleeping workers in East London in the 1930s.Ragged School Museum Trust
One of the largest horses in history, Brooklyn Supreme stood 6'6" and weighed in at 3,200 pounds during the 1930s.Reddit/ryanman3690
Before Tim Allen became a household name for grunting on "Home Improvement," he was a low-level drug dealer who walked through an airport with a pound of cocaine. To avoid a life sentence, he ratted out his partners and went on to become the comedian you know today.Kalamazoo Michigan Sheriff’s Department
The Cyclomer, an amphibious bicycle that never caught on following its introduction in Paris in 1932.Wikimedia Commons
Las Vegas in 1955, before glitz and glam became a common sight. That year, LIFE magazine accurately predicted that the city was "set for its biggest boom."Loomis Dean/Life Pictures/Getty Images
A 106-year-old woman sits in front of her home guarding it with a rifle, in Degh village, near the city of Goris in southern Armenia in 1990. Armed conflicts took place in and around nearby Nagarno-Karabakh, a territory in Azerbaijan also claimed by Armenia.Armineh Johannes/United Nations
In 1917, 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths took photos with the "Cottingley Fairies" in the village of Cottingley, near Bingley in West Yorkshire. One of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century, they only admitted the photos were faked in 1983.Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to heavy fog, the steamship Princess May ran aground in Alaska in 1910. The ship was carrying almost 150 people, but thankfully no one was hurt.Wikimedia Commons
For a brief period in the 1930s, mothers in London kept their babies in cages suspended outside their windows to give them fresh air. Miraculously, no injuries or deaths were ever reported.Mental Floss
Robert McGee was left permanently scarred after surviving a scalping at the hands of the Sioux tribe in 1864, when he was just a 13-year-old orphan.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Jecinci
Spectators watch a horse diving act at an unspecified location (perhaps Pueblo, Colorado) on July 4, 1905.
Horse diving was a popular spectacle through much of the 19th century, with horses (with or without a person onboard) jumping from towers into a pool of water from heights as great as 60 feet.C.E. Holmboe/Library of Congress
Hundreds of young women who worked in watch factories throughout the 1920s were exposed to so much radium that they came home glowing in the dark.
The exposure often caused their vertebrae to collapse, their jaws to fall off, and their lives to end slowly thanks to agonizing battles with cancer. Real Clear Life
Vehicles and pedestrians stand in chaos in Stockholm, Sweden on September 3, 1967, the day that the country switched from driving on the left side of the road to the right.Jan Collsiöö/Wikimedia Commons
Participants in the Beautiful Leg Contest wear pillow cases over their heads so that the judges can see only their legs. Palisades Amusement Park, New Jersey. 1951.Bettmann/Getty Images
For years, Big Mary worked for the Sparks World Famous Shows traveling circus, where she entertained people from coast to coast. That all came to a crashing halt in 1916, when the town of Erwin, Tennessee arrested Mary for murdering a trainer who beat her with a hook. They later hanged her from a crane in front of a crowd of spectators.Wikimedia Commons
President Lyndon B. Johnson drives his Amphicar on April 10, 1965.
This amphibious land-to-water vehicle of West German origin was produced for several years during the 1960s.
Johnson, a practical joker, reportedly enjoyed bringing unsuspecting guests into his Amphicar and exclaiming that the car's brakes had failed as it sped toward, then into, the lake on his Texas ranch.Yoichi Robert Okamoto/LBJ Presidential Library/Wikimedia Commons
After John Dillinger was shot and killed by the FBI in 1934, a Chicago morgue put the bank robber's body on display to the public. Thousands of spectators lined up to see the fallen criminal, who by that point had become a mythical Robin Hood figure of sorts.
Though there is little evidence Dillinger ever shared his wealth, he had fully captured the public's imagination as a hero fighting Depression-era authorities — as well as being a renowned womanizer.AP Photo
Surrealist artist Salvador Dali poses for the photograph known as Dali Atomicus, a collaboration between himself and American photographer Philippe Halsman that was published in 1948.
The photo was meant to explore the idea of suspension, and thus used wires, thrown objects, and Dali's own jumping to create a tableau of objects in mid-air. It reportedly took 28 tries to get right.Philippe Halsman/Library of Congress
A creepy vintage Halloween costume. Date and location unknown.Mental Floss
Women wear plastic headgear intended to protect themselves from snowstorms in Montreal, 1939.Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons
In 1961, Soviet doctor Leonid Rogozov was stationed at a Russian base in Antarctica when he realized that he had acute appendicitis — and he was the only physician there.
Since escaping from Antarctica was out of the question due to harsh snowstorms, the doctor was forced to remove his own appendix. Not only did Rogozov survive, he was back on duty in just two days.The Atlantic
A woman of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Mangbetu tribe holds her child, circa 1929-1937.
The Mangbetu once practiced Lipombo, a tradition in which a baby's head was wrapped tightly with a cloth in order to achieve an elongated skull, believed to be a mark of beauty.Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen/Wikimedia Commons
Much of Boston's North End lies in ruin following the Great Molasses Flood of January 15, 1919.
A molasses storage tank broke apart, releasing as much as 2.3 million gallons into the streets at 35 miles per hour, ultimately killing 21 and injuring 150.Globe Newspaper Co./Boston Public Library/Wikimedia Commons
Olive Oatman was born a Mormon, but after her family was slaughtered by Native Americans, she became Oach, a Mohave tribeswoman in the mid-19th century. Although she later reentered Western society, she spent much of her adolescent life in the Native American tribe.Wikimedia Commons
The German airship Hindenburg, swastikas and all, flies over New York City on the afternoon of May 6, 1937, a few hours before its historic, fiery crash in Manchester Township, New Jersey.AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A U.S. Navy plane travels through a flow-induced vaporization off the coast of South Korea on July 7, 1999.
This phenomenon occurs when planes of a certain shape travel through humid air, causing abrupt air temperature and pressure variations that create the kinds of oddly-shaped vapor clouds seen above.John Gay/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons
Japanese Emperor Hirohito inspects his military's acoustic aircraft locators — used to detect planes by the sounds of their engines in the days before radar — sometime prior to the end of World War II.Wikimedia Commons
Enos the chimpanzee lies in his fight couch before being inserted into NASA's Mercury-Atlas 5 space capsule, in which he would become the first primate to orbit the Earth on November 29, 1961.NASA/Wikimedia Commons
Jakob Nacken, the tallest Nazi soldier ever at 7'3", speaks with 5'3" Canadian Corporal Bob Roberts after surrendering to him near Calais, France in September 1944. Reddit/PeJae
Beach policeman Bill Norton measures the distance between a woman's knee and the bottom of her swimsuit to be sure that it's not too large — in keeping with rules of the time — in Washington, D.C., 1922.Library of Congress
Cyclists smoke cigarettes while competing in the 1927 Tour de France. Wikimedia Commons
Alcohol, discovered by Prohibition agents during a raid on an illegal distillery, pours out of the windows of a storefront in Detroit, 1929.Detroit News Staff/Walter P. Reuther Library/Wayne State University
A man wears the Brewster Body Shield, the first body armor developed by the U.S. during World War I. This chrome nickel steel suit could weigh as much as 40 pounds and indeed stop some bullets. Circa 1917-1918.Wikimedia Commons
The as-yet unassembled face of the Statue of Liberty sits unpacked in New York soon after its delivery from France on June 17, 1885.Wikimedia Commons
An enormous octopus balloon rises from the ground at the barrage balloon training center of Tennesse's Camp Tyson, circa World War II.
Barrage balloons were used by several countries during both world wars in order to disrupt the attack movements of aerial bombers by ramming into them or obstructing their vision.Library of Congress
Serbian scientist Nikola Tesla sits near his magnifying transmitter — an advanced version of the famed Tesla coil that he used for the wireless transmission of electrical energy — in his Colorado Springs laboratory, 1899.Dickenson V. Alley/Wikimedia Commons
Jonathan the tortoise in Saint Helena in March 2020. The oldest known living terrestrial animal in the world, Jonathan was hatched circa 1832 and is now about 187 or 188 years old.Wikimedia Commons
A pile of American bison skulls sits at an unspecified location, waiting to be ground down into fertilizer, circa mid-1870s.Wikimedia Commons
A man holds a Krummlauf, an experimental curved rifle barrel attachment developed by the Nazis during World War II in order to shoot around walls and over barriers. The impractical device was produced in small numbers and never saw much use in the field.Public Domain
A man wears an early version of roller skates powered with pedals and wheels, 1910.Library of Congress
English archaeologist Howard Carter first opens the innermost portion of King Tutankhamun's tomb soon after its discovery near Luxor, Egypt in 1922.The New York Times/Wikimedia Commons
A Chinese woman whose feet were bound in the late 1800s.
While foot binding mostly fell out of favor by the 1930s, this painful tradition persisted in China for about 1,000 years. From getting their toes broken to having excess flesh snipped away, countless young girls endured an agonizing process to achieve an ideal three-inch foot, or a "golden lotus." The last shoe factory making lotus shoes only closed in 1999.Wikimedia Commons
A boy stands near a pissoir, one of the many outdoor urinals installed on the streets of Paris starting in the mid-19th century. At their peak, Paris' pissoirs numbered more than 1,000.Charles Marville/Wikimedia Commons
A train lays wrecked after entering Paris' Montparnasse station too fast and failing to brake before crashing through the station wall and down onto the street below on October 22, 1895.Wikimedia Commons
Wojtek — the Syrian bear that the Polish II Corps had officially enlisted into their ranks (even giving him a rank, paybook, and serial number) — sits for one of his comrades at an unspecified location during World War II, 1942.Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons
German-American farmer John Meints displays the ill effects of the attack he suffered on August 19, 1918, when locals took him from his home in Luverne, Minnesota, whipped him, then tarred and feathered him.
Meints was attacked amid anti-German sentiment that had taken root during World War I.National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons
Inventor Hugo Gernsback models his television goggles for LIFE magazine in 1963.LIFE/Wikimedia
Eight beams from the American nuclear missile known as the Peacekeeper light up the skies above Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands during a test launch in 1984.
The Peacekeeper could launch up to ten nuclear warheads at ten different targets simultaneously. Ultimately, with the Cold War over, the U.S. retired its final Peacekeeper in 2005.Wikimedia Commons
In the winter of 1936, a clothier in Denmark came up with an odd but effective sales scheme: he hung more than 1,000 overcoats from a scaffold around his shop. So many customers turned up to see the spectacle that the police were called — and he sold every single coat.Reddit/smokyartichoke
Two men construct a death mask in New York, circa 1908.
Death masks — wax or plaster casts made around the recently deceased's head — were used for various purposes, largely those meant to honor the deceased with a statue or display of some kind.Wikimedia Commons
A French Red Cross dog wears a gas mask, 1917.Flickr Commons
Smog lies over Almaty, Kazakhstan on January 12, 2014.
Such smog is the result of a temperature inversion, in which several factors cause an area's warm air to rise above its cold air, which is then trapped, along with any pollution, below.Igors Jefimovs/Wikimedia Commons
A Native American telephone switchboard operator sits at work at Montana's Many Glacier Hotel on June 26, 1925.Library of Congress
A Chinese car driver who was convicted for speeding poses for a photo after being condemned to wear the traditional cangue — a wooden board weighing as much as 30 pounds and used in punishment for centuries throughout east Asia until the 1900s — for 24 hours.AFP/Getty Images
The first American hydrogen bomb test creates a massive cloud over Eniwetok Atoll, in the Marshall Islands on October 31, 1952.OFF/AFP/Getty Images
A man stands next to an enormous container used to store wine in Kakheti, Georgia, 1881.National Library of France/Wikimedia Commons
Joe Arridy gives his toy train to another inmate before he's taken to the gas chamber in 1939. Called by the warden "the happiest prisoner on death row," Arridy had an IQ of 46. He was pardoned 72 years after his execution when it was revealed that local police had coerced a false confession from him.YouTube
Jack the baboon worked on the railway system in South Africa for 9 years in the late 19th century — and never made a single mistake.Wikimedia Commons
On November 10, 1938, Maryland inventor George Stern displays his invention, a highly volatile fluid that vaporizes so rapidly that flames from the gases released will not burn.
However, Stern stated that the formula's only practical use would be in creating strange effects for horror films.Library of Congress
A man poses with a motorcycle equipped with skis in order to travel through the snow in Kehrsatz, Switzerland during World War I. Swiss Federal Archives/Wikimedia Commons
A dog named Laika, the first living creature ever sent into space, sits aboard the Soviet Sputnik II spacecraft, launched from Kazakhstan on November 3, 1957.OFF/AFP/Getty Images
A man demonstrates a steel cap, splinter goggles (vision is obtained through thin slits in goggles), and a steel dagger gauntlet, manufactured for the British military during World War I.Horace Nicholls/Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons
James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, holds an early ball and basket used for the game at an unspecified date sometime prior to 1939.Wikimedia Commons
German youths wear bike tires repurposed as swimming aids, 1925.Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons
A pair of thylacines stand in their enclosure at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., circa 1904.
Commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger, this wolf-like marsupial inhabited Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea for millions of years until several factors included mass hunting brought it to extinction in 1936. E.J. Keller/Smithsonian Institution/Wikimedia Commons
In July 1921, a crowd reportedly consisting of approximately 10,000 men gather outside the New York Times building in New York's Times Square in order to receive updates on the boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier.Wikimedia Commons
A Mongolian woman sits trapped inside a wooden box as a form of punishment, 1913.Wikimedia Commons
A soldier sprays the interior of an Italian house with a mixture of DDT and kerosene in order to control malaria during World War II, circa 1945.Wikimedia Commons
Waiters serve lunch to two steel workers on a girder high above New York City on November 14, 1930, during construction of the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.Keystone/Getty Images