Beginning in 1901 and ending in the year 2000, the 20th century has seen a plethora of changes as the final century of the 2nd millennium. The world saw technological advancements in everything from transportation to medicine to everyday household items and with that, there was also a change in society from one decade to the next. While the first photograph was taken in the 1800s, it wasn’t until the 20th century that photographs came to be the norm in depicting all that happens around the world.
Photographic imagery has become the way the world has been able to highlight certain moments in time and has brought with it a vast wealth of knowledge. From showcasing whole societies to individuals, photographs are able to tell a story all in its own. Yet, not all of the stories told through images have created warm feelings about the past. In fact, there have been a number of images captured in the 20th century that have told heartbreaking stories from all around the world. They can incite disgust, loathing, trepidation, shame and fear amongst all who view them. These chilling remembrances of the past are actually a moment in time that can tell its own story. Although many of them are hard to even look at, it’s important to remember the past in order to seek out a brighter future. Check out our list of 15 of the most chilling images of the 20th century and see how a picture can truly say a thousand words.
15. Pedophile Targeted Advertisement
The world of advertising has always had a reputation for sexualizing products in an effort to try and entice consumers. From Paris Hilton seductively eating a burger for New Carl’s Jr. to Fabio selling I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, companies have always turned to sex appeal in order to sell their products. Yet, there are some advertisements that have gone too far. Love Cosmetics tried a tactic in 1975 that was truly disturbing. In an effort to show the appeal of their Baby Soft products, they used the image of a prepubescent girl and the tag line was, “Love’s Baby Soft. Because innocence is sexier than you think.” It’s difficult to say which is the most chilling element of this ad, whether it’s the fact that the little girl is young enough to still be clutching a teddy bear or that the consumer is forced to find her sexy.
14. Manson Family Murders
Charles Manson attracted a group of followers in 1967 and moved to a ranch in California. In August of 1969, Manson commanded some of his followers to go to the home of famed director, Roman Polanski. While he wasn’t there at the time, his wife and four other people were at the home. The Manson followers killed everyone at the home, including Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate. This wasn’t the only murder committed by the Manson family but it was the one that was most publicized. Prior to the arrest of the Manson family, the media pursued the idea that Roman Polanski had somehow committed those murders due to his controversial film ideas. The photos of the gruesome murder scene show the brutality of the murders and the heinousness of their crimes.
13. Dead Baby During Holocaust
During World War II, the reports of the systematic genocide of Jewish people in Europe were heartbreaking. Yet, it was the photos that surfaced that truly brought the horror to life. There were photos of women with their heads shaved and packed into cramped conditions, men that were emaciated and stripped naked and children separated from their families. There are too many photos to pick from, when in search of the most chilling photos that came from the dark period between 1941 to 1945 since the atrocities during the Holocaust are unparalleled. However, it’s this photo of a prisoner in the Warsaw ghetto holding up the body of dead baby that is truly disturbing. The belly of the baby is swollen from hunger and the rest of its body shows the incredible emaciated state at the time of its death.
12. Hitler Amongst Children
With what the world knows now about the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, it seems unfathomable that there would be anyone that would rally with him and the Nazi party. Yet, the answer isn’t just as simple as Hitler was a charismatic leader with the ability to rally people with his speeches. There was already rampant anti-Semitism after the financial issues following the First World War. Hitler was able to prey on the fears of the people and he even established a sense of pride for those in the Nazi party. This photo shows how Adolf Hitler was promoted to the people. He is seen as a man that loves children but the most chilling aspect of the photo is the young people giving the salute of “Heil Hitler.”
11. Napalm Attack In Vietnam
The photo of 9-year-old Phan Thị Kim Phúc is thought of as one of the most memorable photos from the Vietnam War. Taken shortly after a South Vietnamese napalm attack, she can be seen running down the streets naked after her clothes and flesh was burned away from the napalm. While she survived the burns, she was left physically and emotionally scarred from the ordeal. As a young woman, Phan Thị Kim Phúc traveled to London and became a huge advocate for anti-war sentiments and protests. This is yet again, another example of the atrocities of war. It shows that even children are victimized during warfare and it’s not just soldiers that are affected in a war torn country. The photo has become iconic in regards to the Vietnam War and is still thought of as one of the most chilling photos of the 20th century.
10. Richard Speck Murder Scene
On July 14, 1966, Richard Speck broke into a nurse’s dormitory near the South Chicago Community Hospital. Speck had been on a crime spree prior to the attack, which also continued afterward. He used a gun from a previous crime and forced his way into the front door, holding 23-year-old Corazon Amurao at gunpoint. Yet, Speck wasn’t satisfied with just having the nurse’s empty their purses. Instead, it became an ordeal that included even more nurses that returned to the dorm during the attack. In the commotion, Amurao hid under a bed and was overlooked by Speck. She became the sole survivor after Speck raped, beat, strangled and stabbed eight nurses. The crime scene photos were published and the world became captivated by the horrific nature of the Speck murders.
9. Lobotomy Images Of 12-Year-Old Boy
Recent stories in the news have caused people to want to take a more in-depth look at mental health and how it’s treated. With the world proclaiming that there needs to be a better way that people can seek out treatment for mental health, it shouldn’t be a surprise that previous methods of treatment weren’t exactly civilized. In fact, much of the treatment for those suffering from mental disorders was considered downright barbaric. Under the premise that mental illness was caused by a faulty connection from the frontal lobe, lobotomies were conducted on tens of thousands of individuals. The transorbital or “ice pick” lobotomy wasn’t an immediate cure by any means, and the majority of patients became severely disabled, devoid of personality, paralyzed or died. This photo was taken of Howard Dully when he was just 12-years-old when he underwent a transorbital lobotomy.
8. Mass Cremation Pit In Japan
After the massive fire bombs and the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. in Japan, the military wanted to document the damage that was done to the Japanese homeland. Joe O’Donnell was the photographer of this particular photo, after traveling for seven months in 1945 across Western Japan. O’Donnell took photos of bomb victims, people left homeless and orphaned children. This particular photo tells the story of a young boy that had brought his younger brother to a mass cremation pit in the wake of the Nagasaki bombing in 1945. In his account of the incident, O’Donnell stated, “The boy stood there straight without moving, watching the flames. He was biting his lower lip so hard that it shone with blood. The flame burned low like the sun going down. The boy turned around and walked silently away.”
7. Fire Bomb Into A Freedom Rider Bus
During the civil rights era, there were some laws that were passed but were not enforced. The United States Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional for public buses to be segregated but it was ignored, primarily in Southern states. In an effort to create change, Freedom Riders boarded buses for an interstate voyage that would challenge the segregation endured on buses, terminals and restaurants. Yet, this peaceful voyage was met with extreme conflict on May 14, 1961. Six miles southwest of Anniston, Alabama, a fire bomb was thrown into a Freedom Bus. As its occupants fled, men armed with knives, pipes, bricks and clubs began beating the bus riders. The photo of the bus engulfed in flames became burned into the brains of everyone during that fateful Mother’s Day in 1961.
6. Female Protestors Against Civil Rights Marchers
During the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was giving rise to such things as Freedom Riders and marchers hoping to incite change. This was a time when Martin Luther King Jr. was calling out for the nation to come together and to fight against the racism prevalent in American society. This particular photo was taken in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1965. It depicts two young girls and a woman holding up an anti-civil rights sign and a confederate flag. They are seen standing on the side of the road where they are challenging the civil rights marchers. It’s ironic that they would be fighting so hard against equality for African Americans since the ‘60s was also a huge transitional period for women’s rights as well. To see these women with their pocketbooks and holding a sign with such a disturbing message is absolutely chilling.
5. Ku Klux Klan Ritual
There are numerous depictions of deplorable acts from the Ku Klux Klan during the early parts of the 20th century. Some of them include lynchings, women dressed in the full KKK attire and even children with toddler-sized robes professing their devotion to the Klan. While each is more shocking than the last, this particular photo is chilling in its own right since it was taken in 1980. The photo shows a ritualistic cross burning during a Ku Klux Klan rally in Frederick, Maryland. While this may be a photo that wouldn’t surprise people in the early part of the century or even in the 1960s, it is chilling to see that even in 1980 there were huge KKK rallies even in parts of the U.S. like Maryland. What’s even more chilling is that the Klan is still alive and well today, with some politicians having to fight off their ties with this White Supremacist group.
4. Japanese Internment Camps In America
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, America became increasingly paranoid about national security, even amongst its own citizens. While many people are aware of the concentration camps of Jewish people in Europe, sometimes the internment camps for Japanese people in the United States is overlooked. Over 100,000 people were forced to relocate and put into incarceration camps after President Roosevelt’s order after Pearl Harbor. The majority of them were United States citizens and not all of them were even Japanese. When the internment camps were deemed more as racism than a national security issue, these families were able to return home. Yet, this photo shows that many of their homes were vandalized while they were gone. With the windows shattered and racist phrases slathered along the walls, this photo is chilling in that this was the scene many Asian American families had to endure after their unlawful incarceration.
3. Iran Hostage Crisis
In November of 1979, Iran was going through a tumultuous time due to the uprising of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line. In an effort to boost the Iranian Revolution, a group of Iranians took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held American diplomats and citizens alike as hostages. This became known as the Iran hostage crisis and captivated the nation for 444 days. The crisis finally came to an end in January of 1981 but the photos that emerged of the hostages remain burned into the brains of Americans. The ordeal became publicized even further when the film, Argo, was released in 2012. The film was based on the 2007 article written by Joshuah Bearman on how the CIA actually used a film basis to rescue the Americans taken hostage in Tehran.
2. Lee Harvey Oswald Posing With Gun
President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the most shocking moments of that time and it caused millions of Americans to know exactly where they were on November 22, 1963. The actual shooting was caught on the infamous Zapruder film while the President rose in his motorcade in Texas. While the circumstances surrounding the shooting have been highly critiqued, the general consensus of Lee Harvey Oswald being the shooter is widely accepted. After Oswald was arrested for the murder, people wanted to learn all they could about him and one of the photos that surfaced was with Oswald posing with a gun. This shocking reminder of the man that killed one of the most beloved president’s in the history of the United States is far more chilling than watching the Zapruder film itself.
1. JFK Is Assassinated
What we see here is the 35th President of the United States, sitting motionlessly after being shot in the head. His wife, Jackie Kennedy, is seen crawling out of the convertible in an attempt to get help for her unresponsive husband. Despite numerous theories about the killer, JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald at 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.
If you look closely, onlookers are seen scrambling to the ground. The event was similar to 9/11 in the sense people always ask “where were you when…” It was an assassination that deeply shocked a nation, one that already was on the edge following the Cuban Missile Crisis.