Bizarre Photos That Prove History Was Far Stranger Than You Ever Realized

Published February 16, 2017
Updated August 8, 2020

From Boston's Great Molasses Flood to Los Angeles' alligator picnics, these bizarre photos make history much more interesting.

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Bizarre Photos That Prove History Was Far Stranger Than You Ever Realized
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Sometimes, the most interesting thing about history books is what they leave out.

Our common understanding of the past is one of larger-than-life people, events, and movements. We remember the heroes, villains, triumphs, catastrophes, and trends that marked their eras and informed the eras to come.

But what that version of history leaves out are the far smaller moments, the ones that served neither as a culmination of recent trends nor as a sign of things to come. These are the odd, unique little pieces of the past that would never show up on a timeline, that don't reverberate through the ages but nevertheless remain utterly fascinating.

The Earliest Bizarre Photos From History

Huge Container

National Library of France/Wikimedia CommonsA man stands next to an enormous container used to store wine in Kakheti, Georgia in 1881.

One could say that strange photos first began to emerge not long after the invention of photography itself.

The earliest known photograph was taken by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in either 1826 or 1827. Titled, "View from the Window at Le Gras," the first photo is exactly what it suggests: the view from a window in Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France.

While it was just a simple black-and-white image, it was a technological marvel of its time. But before long, it was used for much more than showing a murky view.

During the 1840s, police departments began using the new invention to take some of the very first versions of mugshots. The nature of long-exposure photography meant that suspects often needed to be physically held down by several people in order to get the photo.

This, of course, led to some truly shocking images that could've never been captured in an old-fashioned illustration.

By the 1880s and 1890s, photography became far more commonplace, allowing ordinary people to capture — and admire — oddities in their daily lives.

From an image of an entire human nervous system extracted from the body to a picture of the unassembled face of the Statue of Liberty, it was easier than ever before for people to learn about the exciting — yet utterly strange — world around them.

Strange Photos From The 20th Century

John Dillinger Body

AP PhotoIn July 1934, people line up to view the body of gangster John Dillinger in a Chicago morgue.

Throughout the 20th century, countless photographers clamored to document the changing world around them. Whether it was taking snapshots of wars, new inventions, or just strange sights on the street, everyone with a camera had the potential to preserve a piece of history. And luckily, some of them chose to preserve the weirdest pieces.

From an unusually large horse to an amphibious bicycle that never quite caught on, it's clear that these bizarre photos caught the eye of both passersby and historians. But even more traditional photos — such as mugshots — could be considered bizarre depending on who's in them and the context of the images. (The mugshot of former drug dealer Tim Allen before he became a famous comedian is a great example.)

But while many of these bizarre photos from history are humorous, some of them are also quite sad and enraging — such as a circus elephant being hanged in public or a baby stroller being designed to be resist gas attacks.

Although these photos may evoke different emotions, it's clear that they're all thought-provoking in their own ways. Furthermore, they're all pieces in the intricate puzzle that is our past.

So while we cling to history's main threads, let us also remember its loose strands. Let us remember the strange inventions, outdated customs, and one-of-a-kind moments that truly evoke the past in all its bizarre glory, whether cheerful or tragic.

From the Great Molasses Flood to the Polish soldier bear to the amphibious car, view some of history's most fascinatingly bizarre photos in the gallery above.


Enjoy this collection of bizarre photos from history? Next, have a look at rare historical photos depicting landmark events that you didn't even know were photographed. Then, read up on the strangest riots in American history.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the Managing Editor of All That Is Interesting.