A picture says a thousand words (or so they say). While that’s true in the sense that photos are a direct connection to specific moments in time—and they represent those moments with the unbridled eye of a lens—it’s sometimes the stories behind photographs that give images an iconic voice. Sometimes, photos are only half the story.
That’s the case with these 12 photographs, each of which captures a glimpse into historic times. Most of them seem innocent enough, but each holds a sinister backstory that will cause any viewer to look twice.
Apollo 1 was NASA’s first manned mission of the Apollo Space program—a project with the ultimate goal of landing men on the moon. The Apollo 1 launch was set up for a low earth orbital test on February 21, 1967. On January 27, a launch rehearsal test at Cap Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 incited a fire which killed all three crew members and destroyed the command module.
In October 2003, Gabe and Tina Watson were married and planned to scuba dive for their honeymoon in the Great Barrier Reef just 11 days later. Gabe was a certified rescue diver, and Tina got her certification for diving right before the trip. Within two minutes of beginning the dive, Gabe was seen in an underwater bear hug with his wife, who was flailing as he forced her to drown. The murder case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence.
3. This permanent shadow was created by the body of a victim of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped a nuclear weapon on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The Nazis surrendered in May of that year, and Japan refused the Allies’ orders for their unconditional surrender. As a result, United States’ President Harry S. Truman told the Japanese to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.” It is estimated that 90,000-146,000 civilians were killed in Hiroshima by the nuclear attack.
4. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 8,000 people in Thailand, including Canadian couple John and Jackie Knill, whose camera was found with pictures of the beach right before the waves hit. This photo is eerily calm, and took place just minutes before the devastation began.
December 2004 saw a number of Asian countries affected by a huge tsunami caused by the third-largest earthquake ever recorded. Hundreds of thousands of people died, and on the beach of tourist destination Khao Lak, Thailand, where the Knill couple were vacationing at the time, people saw the wave coming. Unfortunately, many—like the Knills—were unaware of what was about to happen.
On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado planned a massive attack that included 99 explosive devices. The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered a total of 12 students and one teacher. They injured an additional 21 people and committed suicide when they were done.
Hugo Jaeger snapped around 2,000 color photographs of Adolf Hitler during World War II. At the end of the war in 1945, Jaeger hid his photos inside 12 glass jars outside of Munich. He dug them up in 1955 and kept them in a bank vault before selling them to Life magazine 10 years later.
Eisenstaedt famously photographed the first meeting between Hitler, Mussolini, and Goebbels at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1933. Eisenstaedt’s family fled Germany in 1935 and he went on to be a legendary photojournalist. Goebbels, who was in charge of controlling German intellectual and cultural life through propaganda, was disturbed and angered to find out that Eisenstaedt was Jewish.
He was the son of Tim Buckley, a well-known jazz, psychedelia, funk, and soul musician. The younger Buckley briefly played with the band Gods and Monsters but dropped out in 1992 to pursue a solo career. He reached a peak in his career and was about to make a return to Memphis for rehearsals and recording sessions when he went swimming and never returned.
On August 15, 1998, in Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland, a splinter group called the Real Irish Republican Army killed 29 people with a car bomb. The act of violence was in response to the Irish Republican Army’s ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement with the British. The bombing subsequently created local support for the Northern Ireland Peace Process between Ireland’s two main nationalist parties.
Hadley was a 17-year old in Fort Pierce, Florida when he killed his parents with a hammer. He told a friend about the incident before throwing a party at his house, and his friend turned him in the next morning. Hadley had a history of mental illness and is currently serving life without parole.
In April 2008, Elisabeth Fritzl of Amstetten, Austria told police that she had escaped from the clutches of her father, who had kept her in a concealed corridor of his basement for 24 years. She bore seven children during that time, four of which were kept with her in the basement while the other three were raised by Fritzl and his wife, who was told by her husband that they were abandoned at birth. Josef was sentenced to life imprisonment in March of 2009.
It may have occurred over 50 years ago, but the assassination of JFK is still considered largely unsolved. Although Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and believed to have acted alone, many conspiracy theorists think that LBJ was involved behind the scenes, because he had political motive in wanting to become president.
These images certainly hold more information than they appear to tell. But once the whole story is known, each photo becomes heavier and more powerful than anyone could have guessed.
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