Top 10 Creepiest Historic Events That Are Scarier Than Horror Movies

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Top 10 Creepiest Historic Events That Are Scarier Than Horror Movies

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
The best horror stories were written by our ancestors. For this list, we'll be including both well-known events and relatively unknown reportedly true stories. Our countdown includes The Stanford Prison Experiment, The Mary Celeste, Plague Riots & Refugees, and more!
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Top 10 Creepiest Historic Events That Are Scarier Than Horror Movies


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 creepiest historic events that are scarier than horror movies.

For this list, we’ll be including both well-known events and relatively unknown reportedly true stories.

Which historical event do you consider the scariest? Let us know in the comments below!

#10: The Stanford Prison Experiment

If you need proof that power corrupts, look no further than the highly controversial Stanford Prison Experiment. This social test was conducted from August 14th through 20th, 1971 and saw student volunteers playing fake prisoners and prison authorities. The goal of the experiment, led by professor Philip Zimbardo, was to study the effects of unchecked power in prison guards. The experiment quickly flew off the rails, with some of the “guard” students veering into psychological torture by enacting extreme measures, including psychological abuse and harassment. That said, the experiment’s methodology is extremely contentious, as it had repeatedly been compromised by Zimbardo’s goading. Some of the “prisoners” also knew the study’s hypothesis and acted accordingly, which is an unwanted variable in psychological experiments called “demand characteristics.”

#9: Octavia Hatcher

The story of Octavia Hatcher is a popular one around the small town of Pikeville, Kentucky. The legend states that the young mother fell sick and passed away a few months after she gave birth to a son - who died shortly after delivery. Due to the southern heat, they buried her very quickly. Soon after her death, however, other locals seemingly showed similar symptoms, only to recover. The culprit, retrospectively, was likely encephalitis. Locals promptly dug up Hatcher’s grave and realized that she didn’t die, but had fallen into a coma. They found evidence of her having woken up, including scratches on the coffin and Hatcher’s bloody nails. The veracity of this story has been questioned, but according to a member of Big Sandy Heritage Center’s board of directors, “Most local historians do agree that [Hatcher] did fall ill and was buried alive.”

#8: Advice to Animal Owners

Can you imagine killing your own pet? Unfortunately, that was a reality that many in pre-World War II Britain were forced to face. Pets were seen as an unwanted nuisance in wartime, as they would either roam the streets following a bombing or eat the already limited and rationed food. A committee was formed to solve the problem, and their solution was unimaginably horrific. They released a pamphlet advising pet owners to either release them into the countryside or have them euthanized. Included in the papers was an ad for a captive bolt pistol, said to be “the standard instrument for the humane destruction of domestic animals.” All told, an estimated 750,000 pets were killed in a week - more than 107,000 per day.

#7: Recycling Deceased Soldiers

Turns out, there’s nothing better for farming than human bone. The Napoleonic Wars cost upwards of two million soldiers their lives, and it was common practice for the survivors to loot the dead for supplies. This included tearing out teeth with pliers for use in dentures. The Battle of Waterloo proved especially fruitful for the denture market, and the resulting products became known as Waterloo Teeth. Battlegrounds were also looted for bones after the dead had decomposed, and these bones were ground into dust and sold to farmers. A British paper from 1822 reported that human bone made for “a substantial manure” and that “the good farmers of Yorkshire are… indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread.”

#6: Knocking in Space

Imagine you’re an astronaut, and you’re all alone floating through the quiet vacuum of space in your cozy little spacecraft. And then, you hear someone - or something - knocking. It’s enough to make you go mad! Luckily, astronaut and famed knock-hearer Yang Liwei didn’t go mad, but he was understandably creeped out. Liwei attempted to replicate the knocking sound after returning to Earth, but nothing proved successful. Future Chinese astronauts also reported hearing the eerie knocking sound, leading some to believe it was caused by the spacecraft itself. The source was later attributed to changes in air pressure and temperature morphing the capsule’s inner wall. Mundane explanation aside, we couldn’t imagine how utterly terrifying that experience would be...

#5: Hinterkaifeck Murders

There are literally countless creepy true crime stories, but there’s just something really unsettling about the infamous Hinterkaifeck murders. These took place at a farm in Bavaria, Germany in 1922. Prior to the murders, Andreas Gruber found human foot tracks in the snow leading from the nearby forest to his house. That night, the family heard footsteps coming from the attic but failed to notify the police. On March 31st, every member of the household, including their daughter, her grandchildren and their maid, were killed with a mattock. It would be four days until the bodies were discovered; the still-unknown murderer had long made their escape. This unsolved case truly has it all - gruesome violence, no survivors, an unidentified culprit, and an incredibly creepy case of home invasion.

#4: The Sad (But Creepy) Case of Henry Rathbone

Everyone knows of Lincoln’s assassination, but the role played by Major Henry Rathbone is less common knowledge. Rathbone and his fiancée were attending the play with Lincoln, and Rathbone tried subduing John Wilkes Booth after he shot the president. His artery was severed in the process. Rathbone survived, but he blamed himself for Lincoln’s death and spiraled into insanity. On December 23rd, 1883, he assaulted his own children, and when his wife intervened, he stabbed and shot her to death before stabbing himself in a failed attempt at his own life. When police arrived, they found a deranged and bloody Rathbone and his wife’s corpse. Rathbone was deemed insane and committed to an asylum while his children were sent to live with a relative.

#3: The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

The Ancient Romans experienced Hell on Earth in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius famously erupted. The eruption launched a massive cloud of gas and debris 21 miles into the air, effectively blocking out the sun. This in turn caused a tsunami in the Bay of Naples, and ash rained down on nearby cities. The volcano later released pyroclastic flows, which are essentially 1,800 degree Fahrenheit clouds of gas and volcanic matter that can travel upwards of 400 miles per hour. The flows decimated the nearby cities and killed people instantly, vaporizing their blood and organs. All told, the eruption buried the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae, killing at least 1,500 people - based on the human remains uncovered - but likely many more.

#2: The Mary Celeste

Ghost ship stories are a dime a dozen, but none is as arguably popular as the Mary Celeste. This was a sailing vessel built in Canada and named the Amazon before it was wrecked and sold to American buyers, who renamed her Mary Celeste. On December 4th, 1872, the ghost ship was found floating off the Azores Islands. The ship was in good condition, there was nothing recent in the captain’s log, her provisions were undisturbed, and the crew’s belongings were still on board. However, the lifeboat was missing, leading many to wonder why the crew had abandoned ship. Naturally, conspiracy theories abound to this day. And while numerous sound theories have been put forth over the years, the mystery remains unsolved.

#1: Plague Riots & Refugees

The Black Death wasn’t just the deadliest epidemic of infectious disease in human history; it killed an estimated 30 to 60% of Europe’s entire population! Seriously, the entry can just end here. But it also turned into what’s probably the closest thing we’ve ever had to a real life zombie movie. London quarantined plague victims inside their homes and armed guards were reportedly stationed nearby to prevent escape. This didn’t sit well with the quarantined, and they often fought back by attacking, and in some cases, murdering the guards. This led entire neighborhoods to be quarantined, which only instigated rioting and more death. If some plague victims happened to escape, they wandered the countryside pretty much like zombies, as no towns or villages would permit them entry. In some cases, they were even attacked on the road by the healthy.
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