Top 10 Horror Movies Inspired by True Stories

Horror movie fanatics have likely seen the phrase “Based on a true story” rolling in the opening credits of a horror film on more than one occasion. But Hollywood is known for taking liberties when producing movies based on true stories. So just how accurately did they portray what really happened?

We went to to uncover the real events that inspired the Hollywood adaptations. Below are the top 10 horror movies inspired by the “spookier than fiction” true stories found on!

1. Poltergeist (1982, 2015)

Based on the mysterious happenings within the walls of James Hermann’s home in Seaford, New York, in 1958.

Newspapers across the state recounted lids falling off screw-top bottles, porcelain figurines crashing to the floor, and dressers tumbling over in the Hermann house. Several theories were considered, ranging from leprechauns and psychic abilities to scientists’ theories on energy and subterranean streams. The most popular theory, however, was poltergeists.

The Daily News in New York reported the Hermann home had received over 300 letters from readers, many of which detailed what the Hermanns needed to do to rid their home of the spirit. Readers and reporters were so captivated by the case that updates on the home sometimes made the front page news.

Although police and parapsychologists examined the case extensively, no conclusions were made that explained the strange phenomena. After more than five weeks of furniture crashing and bottles toppling, the occurrences finally ceased.

A picture of the Hermann home, taken from The Daily News, March 09, 1958

A picture of the Hermann home, taken from The Daily News, March 09, 1958

2. Jaws (1975)

Rumored to be inspired by the true events of a series of shark attacks that killed four people and injured one along the coast of New Jersey in 1916.

Over the course of two weeks, three fatal shark attacks were reported within 100 miles of each other. The third and final attack left two individuals dead and one injured.  Victims included 12-year-old Lester Stilwell, 25-year-old Stanley Fisher, 23-year-old Charles Etting Van Sant, 17-year-old Charles Bruder, and 14-year-old Joseph Dunn (survivor).

Swimmers along the coast were advised to stay out of deep water until the “man-eating” sharks were killed. A $100 reward was put in place by the mayor for whoever killed the shark, and the U.S. Coast Guard joined the war on sharks.

Panic spread across the coast of New Jersey and New York as hordes of sharks were slaughtered. On one occasion, a man drowned near a New Jersey shore after calling for help and receiving no assistance because onlookers feared he was being attacked by a shark. Frantic citizens were catching and cutting open sharks to check for human remains, but whether or not the man eating shark was ever caught is unknown.

Image of one of the sharks that was killed in 1916. The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1916

Image of one of the sharks that was killed in 1916. The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1916

3. The Exorcist (1973)

Based on the story of a 14-year-old boy in Maryland who was possessed by the devil and exorcised by a Catholic priest in 1949.

Skeptical religious leaders and neighbors invited the seemingly possessed boy to stay with them, only to report furniture falling over and the boy’s bed moving on its own while he slept.

After seeking medical and psychiatric treatments, the boy’s family approached the Catholic Church. A Catholic priest devoted himself to the exorcism, living in the same home as the boy for more than two months and attempting the exorcism on more than twenty occasions. The exorcisms were attempted multiple times due to the boy’s intense reaction of screaming, cursing, and speaking in Latin.

Finally, with the last exorcism performed by the priest, the devil was successfully driven out and all supernatural manifestations ceased.

4. Psycho (1960) and Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Psycho and Silence of the Lambs are just two of the many films inspired by the true story of Ed Gein, who slaughtered two women and had remnants of fourteen cadavers in his home that he stole from the local graveyard.

Gein claimed to have been in a “dazed” state when he murdered his victims and stole cadaver parts from the graveyard. Even so, his first victim to be discovered was found with her decapitated body hanging upside down by the heels, badly mutilated. A human heart was found in a pot on the stove, leading investigators to suspect cannibalism.

Among the stolen remnants of the fourteen cadavers were ten heads, which had been skinned and preserved as masks. Several other items in Gein’s home were also made from human skin, including a vest, chair upholstery, and belts. Gein’s two murders, numerous grave robberies, and creation of clothing from human skin were said to be motivated by his desire to be a woman.

When news of his crimes broke in 1957, most residents in Gein’s neighborhood did not suspect him of these gruesome crimes, although a local barber did recall Gein pinching his belly and exclaiming he was “just about right for roasting” (News Record, 21 Nov 1957).

To learn more about the disturbing story of Ed Gein, visit the Topic Page on here.

Mary Hogan (one of the victims) and Ed Gein. Stevens Point Journal, Nov 20, 1957

Mary Hogan (one of the victims) and Ed Gein. Stevens Point Journal, Nov 20, 1957

5. The Amityville Horror (1979, 2005)

Based on the true story of the paranormal activity the Lutz family experienced after moving into the home on Long Island where Ronald DeFeo shot his entire family during their sleep.

On November 13, 1974, at about 3 a.m., Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents, two brothers, and two sisters while they were sleeping by shooting them with a .35 caliber rifle. Despite the defense’s pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity, DeFeo was declared guilty in November 1975 and sentenced to life in prison.

Approximately one year after the tragedy and one month after DeFeo’s conviction, George and Kathy Lutz purchased the DeFeo home and moved in with their three children and dog. Only 28 days after moving in, the DeFeo home was yet again abandoned. The Lutz family had fled the property because of paranormal experiences, leaving behind the majority of their belongings and never returning to the home.

The paranormal incidents started with a tense atmosphere that increased aggression in the home and led to a more hostile environment. But it didn’t stop there. The Lutz’s daughter spoke of an imaginary friend that was described as a red-eyed pig; rotten smells and cold temperatures filled the home; mysterious red welts appeared on Kathy that were too hot to touch; doors and windows opened on their own; Kathy levitated out of her bed and took on the appearance of an old woman; and loud sounds filled the home around 3:15 a.m., the same time the DeFeo family was murdered.

After the Lutz family fled the home, Ronald DeFeo’s lawyer investigated the history of the home, wondering if demonic possession could have been a factor in DeFeo’s case. He found the home was built on an ancient Indian burial ground, and the remains of a man who was cast out of Salem for practicing witchcraft were also on the property.

The original home the Lutz and DeFeo families resided in. Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1976

The original home the Lutz and DeFeo families resided in. Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1976

6. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Based on the true story of the “Enfield Poltergeist” in north London, 1977.

Claimed to be one of the most publicized cases of famous ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, the Enfield Poltergeist captivated many readers in and around London. A reporter of The Observer described the poltergeist activity of Peggy Hodgson’s home as beginning with strange noises and escalating to marbles and Lego’s flying through the air and furniture moving on its own. The paper also mentioned the poltergeist’s fixation on Mrs. Hodgson’s daughter, Janet, and described the paranormal experiences Mr. Graham Morris from the Daily Mirror and Police Constable Carolyn Heeps had while in Mrs. Hodgson’s home. The paranormal experiences ceased eighteen months later, in 1979.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, 2010)

Based on the mysterious deaths of approximately 80 Laotian refugees who died in their sleep in the 1980s.

In the late 1970s to early 1980s, a number of Southeast Asian refugees came to America following the Cambodian killing fields. In 1981, the CDC recorded 38 deaths due to “Nightmare Death Syndrome” among seemingly healthy Laotian refugees. Two years later, the number increased to 79, and the cause remained unknown. The popular belief was the men were dying due to being frightened to death in their sleep. Others, however, theorized the deaths were due to delayed effects of chemicals in the killing fields or maybe even heart failure.

8. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Based on Anneliese Michel, who was being exorcised of six demons and ultimately died of starvation in 1976.

Although the events took place in West Germany, the story of Anneliese Michel become world news. According to claims by the two priests performing the exorcism and her parents, Anneliese was possessed by six demons, including Hitler, Nero, Judas, and Lucifer. During the numerous months of exorcism rituals, Michel refused to eat and ultimately died of dehydration and starvation at a mere 70 pounds.

Doctors noted that she had a history of epilepsy and could have been saved a week prior to her death had medical attention been sought. The two priests, along with Michel’s parents, were charged with negligent homicide.

9. When a Stranger Calls (1979, 2006)

Based on Janett Christman, who was strangled to death by an intruder while babysitting in 1950.

Mr. and Mrs. Romack returned home to a grisly scene when they found their young babysitter, Janett Christman, dead in the living room, having been raped and strangled by the cord from an iron after putting up a fight. Two-and-a-half hours previous to Mr. and Mrs. Romack’s return, the police received a call from a panicked girl saying “Come quick,” but the call was cut off before the police could get an address, and the call was untraceable. The Romack’s three-year-old son was found sleeping in his room, unharmed. Although the police found footprints and fingerprints, as well as possible blood and hair samples of the assailant, they never found the killer.

10. The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Although not broadly published in newspapers across the U.S., the Hartford Courant recounted the experiences the Snedeker family had while living in their new home, which had previously been a funeral home. The Snedekers claimed they had been touched and spoken to by a demonic spirit and had heard, smelled, and seen other unexplainable phenomena. Eventually, with the escalation of paranormal experiences, the Snedekers summoned the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who arranged for an exorcism to take place in their home.

The Snedekers fled their home prior to the exorcism and proceeded to write a book about their experiences with the help of the Warrens and horror novelist, Ray Garton. Neighbors and previous owners of the home remained skeptical and argued the Snedekers made up the story as a way to make money.

Learn more about these spooky true stories by searching! All the clippings in this post can be found here. And look for our #SpookierThanFiction hashtag on social media.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!


Share using:

The Forgotten Technology that Changed the News Forever

Many Americans were shocked by Ryan Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo when it appeared in newspapers around the nation after the racially charged 2017 rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. But they weren’t surprised that there was a photo.

In today’s world, we’re used to photos accompanying breaking news stories. We’re used to seeing as well as reading our news. In fact, we expect it. But this wasn’t always the case.

Before 1935, photos that accompanied breaking news stories—if there were photos at all—were rarely of the event itself, unless the event had happened locally. American newspapers had been able to quickly receive news stories via telegraph for nearly a century; but because images of a faraway event had to be sent by mail, train, or (later) plane, they wouldn’t arrive until days, possibly weeks, later.

In 1935 that all changed with the introduction of the AP Wirephoto. The way Americans consumed news would never be the same.

Wirephoto receiving machine (Hartford Courant, 01.13.1935)

Wirephoto receiving machine (Hartford Courant, 01.13.1935)

What Was AP Wirephoto?

The AP Wirephoto process involved using light and telephone wires to send and receive photos across long distances. The process is described in the following newspaper excerpt:

The introduction of AP Wirephoto was not the first time photos were transmitted via wire, but it was faster than previous attempts and the results were higher quality. No longer did newspapers have to wait days for photos of events from the other side of the country; instead they could receive a photo via the AP Wirephoto network 8 minutes after it was sent—an extraordinary advancement. For the first time, someone in Iowa could see a photo of a baseball game in New York before the game was even over.

Map of original AP Wirephoto map (Dayton Daily News, 12.19.1934)

Map of original AP Wirephoto map (Dayton Daily News, 12.19.1934)

The adoption of AP Wirephoto was not without opposition, however. Early detractors argued against the high cost of the necessary machinery, and some believed there weren’t enough important photos to justify the expense. As it turned out, they were quickly proven wrong.

Just days after the introduction of Wirephotos, the network was used to distribute photos of the Lindbergh baby murder trial—one of the most sensational trials of the time. This timely publication of the trial photos cemented the public’s appetite for photos of news events as they happened.

AP Wirephoto coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping trial (Minneapolis Tribune, 01.05.1935)

AP Wirephoto coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping trial (Minneapolis Tribune, 01.05.1935)

How Wirephoto Changed Everything

AP Wirephotos (as well as competing photo distribution wire services) changed the way Americans understood and consumed the news. It wasn’t just that photos of an event across the country could now be published alongside news of that event, as groundbreaking as that was. But for the first time in history, millions of people were seeing the same photo of the same event on the same day.

As photos came to dominate newspaper front pages—in some cases overshadowing the headlines—Wirephotos also helped evolve the idea that photos could be news in and of themselves. No longer were photos seen as merely an addition to the news story—they increasingly were the story. Many now-iconic photos—such as the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima—began as AP Wirephotos.

But part of the power of Wirephotos was that inconsequential photos—as well as the iconic ones—were now being published in cities on the opposite side of the country. Before Wirephoto, it likely would not have been worth the cost and effort to send a photo of a champion hog caller—for example—across the country by train or plane. But the ease of sending that same picture through Wirephoto meant that Americans could now see photos of relatively trivial events from around the country, helping to build a sense of national community.

Typical Wirephoto newspaper page (Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.11.1955)

Typical Wirephoto newspaper page (Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.11.1955)

The End of Wirephoto

Wirephotos dominated newspapers from 1935 to the mid-1970s, when papers began adopting new types of photo technology, eventually leading to the digital world we live in today. Now, photos of a newsworthy event are often published online before the story is even written. But although there have been advancements in news photo technology over the years, few compare to the indelible impact that Wirephotos had on the news industry.

Learn more about the history of AP Wirephoto by searching And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

The Amazing Real History Behind “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”

What’s the true story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society?

Behind the fictional tale of Juliet, Dawsey, and the rest of the Society lies the very real history of the German occupation of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands during World War II. The history is just as fascinating as the fiction, and this gripping true story can be discovered with the help of newspapers of the time.

The Invasion

Located in the English Channel, Guernsey and the other Channel Islands have long been self-governing possessions of the United Kingdom. But with the onset of World War II, the British government concluded that the islands weren’t strategically valuable enough to defend and so decided to demilitarize them on June 15, 1940.

Demilitarization of the islands meant an increased threat of German invasion, so about a quarter of the population left the Channel Islands, including many school-age children, who were evacuated to the United Kingdom without their parents.

Then on June 28, about two weeks after demilitarization, the Germans invaded, killing dozens of civilians in an air raid.

The Occupation

Life in the Channel Islands during the German occupation was far from easy, but it was manageable for most residents—at least at first. The German occupiers were described by some as well-behaved, and there was little open resistance to the occupation.

However, island residents faced confiscation of property, restrictions on certain activities, rationing, censorship, curfew, limited communication with the outside world, and other hardships.

In addition, more than two thousand Channel Island residents were deported to internment camps in Germany, where most remained until the German surrender in 1945.

As the occupation dragged on (it would ultimately last almost 5 years), goods and food became increasingly scarce. The winter of 1944-45 was especially difficult, as the Allied invasion of France meant the Channel Islands were cut off from supplies from France and Germany. Residents were saved from impending starvation by a Red Cross ship bringing supplies beginning in December 1944.

With the German occupation came a buildup of military fortifications on the islands. The Germans used thousands of foreign laborers (many of them slave workers) to build bunkers, air raid shelters, and gun emplacements as part of the Germans’ “Atlantic Wall.” The laborers were held in work camps on the Channel Islands, including in concentration camps on the island of Alderney.

The Liberation

The liberation of the Channel Islands began on May 9, 1945, the day after islanders were informed that the war with Germany was over. Guernsey and Jersey were the first islands to be liberated, and British forces landing there on the 9th were met by cheering crowds. The King and Queen visited just a month later.

Learn more about Guernsey and the other Channel Islands during World War II by searching And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

4 Daring Wildfire Rescue Stories You Won’t Want to Miss

Wildfires are devastating, but they can also be scenes of amazing bravery and heroism. Check out these 4 incredible wildfire rescue stories:

Train Engineer Saves Hundreds from Forest Fire

In 1894, a massive forest fire burned through the pine forests of Minnesota, engulfing the town of Hinckley and other nearby settlements. Though more than 400 people perished in the fire, the death toll could have been higher if it weren’t for James Root, a train engineer.

Root’s train was headed south from Duluth toward St. Paul, and as it drew nearer the fire, it became increasingly filled with heavy smoke, making it difficult to breathe. Nevertheless, when desperate townspeople flagged down the train near Hinckley, Root stopped to get them on board. With the fire quickly approaching, Root began backing the train down the track.

Although Root increased the train’s speed, the fire finally caught up to them and surrounded the train. Still, he pressed on through the flames, until finally, they reached Skunk Lake, where the passengers were ordered to abandon the train and take refuge in the water. About 250 people were saved by the bravery of Root and the other train crew. [Read the newspaper account]

Forest Ranger Protects His Crew During Wildfire

Forest ranger Edward Pulaski was overseeing fire crews in the mountains of northern Idaho when one of the biggest wildfires in U.S. history burned through parts of the northwest in August 1910. Once the fire in his area had grown too dangerous to fight, Pulaski evacuated all the fire crew he could find.

He gathered 45 men and led them through the fiery, mountainous terrain to an old mine tunnel, where he ordered them to lie on the ground. When one panicked man attempted to rush out of the tunnel, Pulaski pulled his gun on the man and threatened to kill the first person who tried to leave.

With the fire raging outside, Pulaski hung wet blankets over the entrance and used his hat to scoop up water from the mine to throw on burning timbers inside the tunnel. His men eventually lost consciousness from the heat and smoke, and Pulaski finally did as well. When they came to, they discovered that although five of the men had died inside the tunnel during the fire, Pulaski’s strong leadership had saved the majority. [Read the newspaper account]

Hermit Leaves Fortune to Man Who Rescued Him from Fire

Around 1910, a young piano salesman named Eber Smith got on the bad side of a recluse named “Old Tom” Simpson, who lived in the mountains near San Bernardino, California. However, Eber eventually managed to befriend Old Tom by repairing his violin, and Eber began visiting Tom whenever he passed through.

When a wildfire swept through the area in 1914, Old Tom was laid up in bed with a broken leg. The firefighters were not willing to take the risk to reach Tom’s remote mountain cabin, but Eber braved the flames and carried Old Tom to safety above the timberline. About two years later, when Old Tom passed away, he left Eber his fortune of $500,000 (about $12 million today). [Read the newspaper account]

Sheepdog Proves Wildfire Hero

During a 1929 forest fire in southern Washington, a flock of sheep got trapped by the flames. The sheep panicked, and no attempts by the herders could get them out, so the sheep were finally abandoned. But they weren’t abandoned by a sheepdog named Laddie.

All on his own, Laddie herded the sheep to safety, and when the fire subsided the following day, the herders returned to find that not a single sheep was missing or injured. [Read the newspaper account]

Find these wildfire stories and others by searching on And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

Beyond Shark Attacks: 3 Unusual But True Shark Stories

Take a break from the typical shark attack stories with these 3 unusual—but true—shark encounters!

Sailor Says Shark Saved His Life
When a seaman is forced to jump from a sinking ship into shark-infested waters during World War II, you don’t normally expect his story to end with a shark saving his life. But that’s what happened to Charley Matthews.

After a series of explosions sank his ship, 17-year-old Matthews hit the water only to hear others shouting “Sharks! Sharks!” He was about a block-and-a-half’s distance from a lifeboat, which he managed to reach despite torn ligaments in his knee. But when he reached the lifeboat, it was already overcrowded, and the man in command refused to let him on. That’s when Matthews noticed a shark approaching him.

But before the shark could reach him, a bigger shark blocked it. Matthews gave up hope, believing that the big shark would attack him itself, but instead he felt hands dragging him into the lifeboat. The big shark that had unintentionally saved him (which Matthews named Wilbur) and other sharks followed the lifeboat until the men were rescued 5 days later.

Shark Eats the Evidence
Important evidence for a trial can be found in all manner of unexpected places, including the belly of a shark.

It was 1915, relatively early in World War I, and officials of the Hamburg-American Steamship Line were set to go on trial in the United States for violating American neutrality laws.

Important to the government’s case were the ships’ clearance papers, but there was a problem. When one of the Hamburg-American ships had put in to port in Brazil, the captain dropped the papers overboard in a waterproof bag and then claimed they were lost.

But luckily for the U.S. government, a shark happened to eat the papers when they were tossed overboard. Then that same shark was later caught by the crew of a Brazilian warship, who, when they opened up the shark, discovered the papers in its stomach. This chain of events might sound a little too convenient, but nevertheless, there was a government witness prepared to testify to it under oath at the trial.

Bitten by a Dead Shark
You might think that if a shark is dead, it no longer poses a danger, but in 1950 23-year-old Lola Allison of Australia learned differently.

The daughter of the proprietor of a “man-eating sharks” sideshow, Lola was trying to pry open the jaws of a 7-foot nurse shark when the stick she was using snapped. The shark’s jaws clamped down, and she suffered deep puncture wounds to her right hand.

Similarly—and also in Australia—9-year-old Leonard Balmer was taking a shark’s jaw to school in 1961, when he slipped, and the shark’s teeth gashed him on the leg.

And lest you think these things only happen in Australia, in Florida in 1935, a county commissioner was prying open the jaws of a dead shark for a photograph, when the jaws snapped shut and caught the man’s finger.

Find these shark stories and others by searching on And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

5 of the Strangest Sports You’ve Never Heard Of

Bored? How about sticking ferrets down your pants or sitting on top of a flagpole? Strange as they may sound, these are real sports—there’s even evidence in the newspapers!

From the weird to the wacky, we’ve collected 5 of the strangest sports people have participated in over the years. Check them out!

Ferret Legging
Ever felt inspired to put two sharp-toothed, carnivorous, weasel-like animals down your pants and let them run around? No? Well, it’s a real thing people have done.

Called “ferret legging,” the sport was popularized in Great Britain in the 1970s. It entails putting the ferrets (who can’t be sedated or missing teeth) down your pants, which are tied at waist and ankle to prevent an escape. No undergarments are allowed, and you can’t be drunk (though the idea of someone attempting this without being drunk boggles the mind). Then you see how long you can endure the gnawing, clawing, and biting of the squirming, furry creatures. Amazingly, the record is five-and-a-half hours.

Ferrets put in pants to gain record, 1972Ferrets put in pants to gain record, 1972 Sat, Jan 29, 1972 – 3 · Orlando Evening Star (Orlando, Florida) ·
Balloon Jumping
Touted as the “next innovation” in 1924, “balloon jumping” (or “hopping”) was set to take off as the next big thing in the 1920s. Basically, you attach yourself to a balloon whose lift is slightly less than your own weight. (So if you weighed 150 pounds, you would use a balloon whose lift was 100 pounds.) Theoretically, this was supposed to allow you to “casually jump over lakes, trees, houses, moving automobiles, and almost anything else,” because you would essentially “weigh” only 50 pounds, while your muscles would be used to moving 150 pounds. The sport never really caught on, however, due to the dangers of the sport, including the high-profile death of one of its early adopters.

Balloon jumping photo, 1928Balloon jumping photo, 1928 Tue, Sep 18, 1928 – Page 24 · Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) ·
Flagpole Sitting
Also a product of the 1920s was the baffling sensation of “flagpole sitting,” which was exactly what the name implies: set up a little platform on the top of a flagpole and see how long you can sit there. The stunt attracted crowds and made celebrities out of those daring enough to do it, such as Betty Fox and Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly. Kelly’s record for flagpole sitting was an astounding 49 days!

Shipwreck Kelly demonstrates flagpole sitting, 1928Shipwreck Kelly demonstrates flagpole sitting, 1928 Mon, May 21, 1928 – Page 1 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) ·
Snail Racing
No one really knows how long people have been racing snails, but mentions of it began cropping up in newspapers in the 1880s. At that time, it was said to be all the rage in Paris, where enthusiasts would race snails on a smooth board with a lighted candle at one end. The rules of later iterations of the sport got more intricate, with standardized course lengths, time limits, bait restrictions, and handicap guidelines. Reportedly, snail racing got so popular in Paris that in 1912 it had to be banned in governmental offices because the clerks were betting on the races.

Snail racing has seen resurgences in popularity over the years and remains a pastime today, with the annual World Snail Racing Championships taking place in England.

Snail racing, 1963Snail racing, 1963 Sun, Nov 10, 1963 – Page 58 · Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York) ·
Toe Wrestling
If feet weird you out, this next sport is not for you. In “toe wrestling,” two competitors lock toes and then try to turn the foot of their opponent, though apparently the toe hold is often broken before either foot is turned. Another variation created in 1974 involves only locking big toes with your opponent. This type of “toe wrestling” is not to be confused with a popular older game by the same name in which two opponents seated on the ground used their feet to try to make the other player lose his  balance.

Toe wrestling, 1968Toe wrestling, 1968 Mon, Oct 7, 1968 – Page 8 · The Petaluma Argus-Courier (Petaluma, California) ·
Learn more about these sports and others by searching on And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

Murder or Suicide? The Mysterious Death of Annie Dorman

The girl was found dead on the bedroom floor, lying in the blood that pooled from two bullet holes marring her body.

The Times of Philadelphia, 10.06.1897

The Times of Philadelphia, 10.06.1897

Her name was Annie Dorman, and she died September 1, 1897. Accounts of the investigation into her death filled up newspaper columns for weeks, not only in the Pennsylvania papers near where the event occurred, but also as far away as South Dakota.

Why so much coverage of the death of an obscure teenage girl in the rural outskirts of Philadelphia?

Perhaps because no one could conclusively prove whether her death was suicide or murder.

The Facts
The facts of the case (as told by nearby Philadelphia newspapers) were these:

  • Annie Dorman, about 18 years old, had been living with her half-brother (John) and his family off and on for 5 years, working for them as a nanny and all-around maid. She was described by most who knew her as having a happy disposition.
  • On the day of Annie’s death, her sister-in-law, Lizzie, went to Philadelphia, and her half-brother was working outside, leaving Annie alone in the house with the four children.
  • In the afternoon, Annie put the baby to sleep downstairs and sent the other children outside to play in the fields.
  • Around 3:30 p.m. one of the farmhands heard four gunshots, the first two almost a minute apart and the second two in quick succession.

    Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

    Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

  • Around 4:30 p.m., one of the children found John in the barn and told him that Annie was dead. John rushed to the house and found Annie in his bedroom killed by gunshot wounds—one under her jaw and one in her chest. The one to her chest was later determined to be the cause of death. There were also two bullet holes in the ceiling and one in the wall.
  • John called for the coroner, who found Annie’s clothing undisturbed, except for her bodice, which had been unbuttoned. A later examination would show that she had not been sexually assaulted.
  • An old family revolver was found by Annie’s side. The gun was old-fashioned and rusty but had been sitting loaded on a shelf in the bedroom for two years.

The Investigation
As the investigation into Annie’s death progressed, more questions seemed to arise than were answered, leaving no one sure whether it was a homicide or suicide.

Supporting the claim of suicide was the fact that although Annie was generally described as happy, there were also accounts of her being “sensitive” and having “gloomy periods.” Annie had reportedly been having problems with her boyfriend, and she apparently hated her work situation with her half-brother’s family. Her sister-in-law had even reportedly choked her and chased her with a broom in the past.

The Times of Philadelphia, 09.07.1897

The Times of Philadelphia, 09.07.1897

There were smaller details that seemed to point to suicide as well: Like the fact that the dogs hadn’t barked, implying no stranger had entered the home. Or that the room was in nearly perfect order, and that no blood had been tracked through the bedroom or house.

But those who believed it was murder also seemed to have ample evidence. The gun was old-fashioned and hard to cock, which made it seem unlikely that Annie could have used it to shoot herself multiple times. And after shooting herself in the jaw, would she have been able to shoot herself in the chest as well? Not to mention that if it were suicide, how were the other bullet holes in the ceiling and wall to be explained? And what about the fact that the Dormans had cleaned up Annie’s blood and burned her clothes before the evidence could be investigated?

Theories ran wild.

The Conclusion
Ultimately, an inquest was held on October 5, more than a month after Annie’s death, but the results were not very satisfying. The jury gave an open verdict, ruling simply that Annie had died of wounds “inflicted by some person or persons unknown.”

Though murder had not been ruled out, the investigation into Annie’s death never went any further, due to a lack of funds, manpower, and evidence. If there was a murderer, he or she was never found.

Perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an explanation of Annie’s death is this scenario proposed in an Philadelphia Inquirer editorial:

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

What do you think? Was it murder or suicide?

Read the newspaper accounts of Annie Dorman’s death on You can also view Annie’s memorial on Find A Grave.

And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

Social Media for the 19th Century Dummy

“There are lots of people who may be interested in you and your friends. You owe it to them to let [your] friends and their friends know of their doings.”

Sounds like the reason many people post to social media, doesn’t it? But this quote isn’t talking about social media—at least, not social media as we know it today. It actually comes from an 1899 editorial about newspaper social columns.

A Different Kind of Social Media
Long before we were posting everything about our lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and a host of other social media platforms, Americans in past centuries were sharing the same tidbits from their lives in their local newspapers. Illnesses, injuries, vacations, guests, anniversaries, birthdays, business ventures, children’s antics, surprising events . . . they all were reported in the local social column.

(From the Schuylkill Haven Call, 05.29.1903)

(From the Schuylkill Haven Call, 05.29.1903)

These columns went by a variety of names and descriptions—“local happenings,” “personal paragraphs,” “society notes,” “items of interest,” and “brevities,” just to name a few. They were a staple of American newspapers from small and mid-sized towns for nearly a century, starting around the 1880s.

These social columns were an important way residents of a town stayed connected with each other. People turned to the local paper for news about the people they knew, and the newspapers catered to that curiosity.

Wondering why the man down the street is always wearing dark glasses? A look in the paper would tell you that he’s receiving eye treatments. Or curious why your acquaintance didn’t show up to a club meeting? The newspaper might reveal that she was shopping in the city that day.

Social Sharing—19th Century Style
Notices about local residents’ lives made it into the social columns in a variety of ways. Some papers gathered content on local happenings through their editors, reporters, or correspondents, but others relied on local residents to provide the information themselves.

(From the Gaffney Ledger, 03.27.1908)

(From the Gaffney Ledger, 03.27.1908)

And many people did submit the events of their daily lives. Much like today, if a person wanted their neighbors to know about an event in their life, they would post it—just in the newspaper rather than on Facebook.

“Harry, little son of John Cashman, while sitting on the fence […] watching a game of ball, fell to the ground breaking his left arm. The lad is rather unfortunate, as only a few months ago he broke his right arm.”

Sure, the language from 1902 is dated, but it’s easy to imagine the boy’s mother in 2018 posting a photo to Instagram of little Harry and his two broken arms, with a facepalm emoji in the caption.

It seems that people, no matter the era, want to know what their friends are up to—and want share what they are doing themselves. So next time you’re scrolling through your news feed, remember that your great-grandma may have likewise perused her local newspaper’s selection of “Pertinent Paragraphs Pertaining Principally to People and Pointedly Printed.”

Check out some of our favorite social column clippings in the slideshow below!

(Harrisburg Telegraph, 06.06.1888)(Harrisburg Telegraph, 06.06.1888, via Ledger, 03.27.1908, via Ledger, 03.27.1908, via Angeles Herald, 05.25.1893, via Courier, 01.21.1897, via Notes, 10.14.1892, via County Independent, 11.01.1902, via County Independent, 09.27.1902, via Standard, 08.04.1932, via

Find more examples of social columns on And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

5 Unforgettable Eruptions in Kilauea’s History

Eyes around the world are on the ongoing volcanic eruption at Kilauea in Hawaii. But this attention isn’t new. The eruptions at Kilauea have been appearing in newspapers around the world for almost 200 years.

From the awe-inspiring rivers of glowing lava, to flying molten rocks, to the tragedy of lost property and injury, much of Kilauea’s recent activity has parallels with past eruptions. Here’s a look at five of the most unforgettable throughout history.

1924 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu-Star Bulletin)

1924 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu-Star Bulletin)

1790 – Kilauea Kills Hundreds of Hawaiians
Kilauea’s violent explosive eruption in 1790 killed hundreds of Hawaiians—most famously a party of warriors, who were likely killed by hot steam and sulfuric gases. In 1919, a geologist discovered footprints preserved in the volcanic ash of the 1790 eruption, and these footprints were long attributed to the Hawaiian warriors killed by the volcano. However, more recent research suggests that many of the footprints may have instead been made by women and children of that time period.

1840 – Kilauea Lights Up the Night
The 1840 eruption lasted about a month and is the largest on record in the East Rift Zone. The effusive eruption occurred from vents along 21 miles of the rift zone and was described as “glowing with extreme brilliancy.” One newspaper reported that it was so bright that for two weeks a person could read “the finest print” at night some 30 miles away. After the 1840 eruption, Kilauea became a tourist attraction.

1924 – Kilauea Spews Tons of Rocks into the Air
Over two-and-a-half weeks in 1924, Kilauea experienced more than 50 explosive events. These explosions, caused by steam buildup, shot tons of rock from the Halema’uma’u crater into the air, with some weighing as much as 14 tons. A shower of rocks from one of the explosions crushed the leg of a visiting Chicago man. Found covered by burning ash, the man was rushed to a hospital, where he died after having his leg amputated.

1959 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu Advertiser)

1959 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu Advertiser)

1959 – Kilauea Produces Record-Breaking Lava Fountains
In November and December 1959 the Kilauea Iki crater produced some truly awe-inspiring lava fountains. The initial lava fountains were impressive enough at 50 to 100 feet, but they soon were reaching 200 feet, 650 feet, 980 feet, even 1,247 feet. But then on December 17, the lava shot an incredible 1,900 feet high—more than three times the height of the Washington Monument. It was Hawaii’s highest recorded lava fountain in the 20th century.

1990 – Kilauea Destroys 100 Homes
The current Kilauea eruption began in 1983, and in 1990 it entered its most destructive phase. In March 1990, lava began to enter the community of Kalapana. By late June, 86 homes had been destroyed, and by the end of the year, Kalapana was gone. The lava flows had destroyed 100 homes, a church, and a store. The famous Black Sand Beach at Kaimu also disappeared.

Discover more images of Kilauea throughout history in our slideshow below!

Eruptions in Kilauea's HistoryKilauea takes a life, 1924Kilauea hurls rocks like "skyrockets," 1924Kilauea erupts, 1955Kilauea 1955Lava fountain at Kilauea, 1959Kilauea lava fountain size comparison, 1959Kilauea 1960House buried in ash from Kilauea, 1960 Kilauea 1983Flow of lava from Kilauea, 1990Kilauea 1990

Find more articles and photos of Kilauea on And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using:

Poison Squad: The Men Who Ate Poison So You Don’t Have To

A group of young men volunteered to eat poison for dinner. All in the name of science.

The press dubbed them the Poison Squad, but the man in charge—Dr. Harvey Wiley—called the experiment the “hygienic table trials.” The trials, which lasted from 1902 to 1907, were part of Wiley’s crusade to prove that common chemical preservatives then in use were not fit for human consumption.

More than 100 years later, the preservatives in our food are once again a hot topic. Many food packages now declare they are preservative-free to boost sales, and an internet search for the question “Are food preservatives bad for you?” returns more than 2.5 million results.

Is there anything we can learn from Harvey Wiley and the Poison Squad?

Dr. Wiley’s Crusade
At the time of the table trials, Wiley was chief chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One of his passions was pushing for federal regulation of food “adulteration”—in other words, he wanted to stop food manufacturers from adding potentially dangerous substances to food and misleading consumers about ingredients.

In 1902, Wiley received money from Congress to study the effects of chemical food preservatives on humans. For the next five years, Wiley conducted experiments in which he fed groups of young men common food preservatives of the day—like borax, salicylic acid, copper sulfate, and formaldehyde.

Fully informed of what they were getting into, the volunteers received three square meals a day—in exchange for eating doses of the preservatives along with their meals. Throughout the experiment, their vital signs were recorded, and urine and stool samples were collected and analyzed.

Careful notes were taken about any symptoms the men developed. Borax, for instance, was found to cause headaches and stomach aches, while the formaldehyde test had to be ended early because the men got too sick.

The Public Joins the Cause
The press eventually caught wind of these experiments, and the so-called Poison Squad became a national sensation. Article after article appeared in newspapers around the country, generally praising the efforts of Dr. Wiley and his volunteers. “The food consumers of America owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Wiley’s ‘poison squad,’” read one such article in the Salt Lake Telegram in 1903. “Congress should give every one of them a gold medal.”

Ad for Ceylon and India Tea (from the New York Tribune)

Ad for Ceylon and India Tea (from the New York Tribune)

The high visibility of Dr. Wiley’s preservative experiment increased public awareness of food safety, an issue that women’s groups had long been championing. Because of this growing awareness, some food and beverage companies began advertising their products as being free of risky substances. A 1902 ad for Ceylon and India tea, for instance, boasted the product was “not mixed with adulterants or coloring matter”—a shift from just two years prior, when that product’s ad made no reference to food safety.

Although Dr. Wiley’s methods seem somewhat suspect today, his experiments paid off. His findings from the Poison Squad ultimately enabled him to work alongside other activists to push through the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act—the nation’s first real federal food regulation law.

The Debate Lives On
Today’s debate about food preservatives revolves around some of the same issues as in Dr. Wiley’s day. One side emphasizes preservatives’ role in prolonging the shelf life of food and making it cheaper and more accessible, while the other criticizes chemical preservatives for their potential dangers. It’s a complicated issue.

But if there is one thing either side can learn from Dr. Wiley’s story, it’s the power that passionate and persistent individuals have to shape the national conversation on food safety. Just without a Poison Squad this time.

Find more articles about Dr. Wiley and the Poison Squad on And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

Share using: