25 incredible photos with insane backstories

25 incredible photos with insane backstories

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On July 28, 1945, an American B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. After the pilot got lost in a heavy fog, killing 14 people and causing $1 million in damages. Firefighters rescued one survivor named Betty Lou Oliver and placed her in an elevator with cables damaged by the fire, resulting in her plunging 75 floors. Miraculously, she survived.
The grand opening of a popular American fast-food chain in Moscow in December 1990 drew an enormous gathering, with about 38,000 individuals lining up. This milestone highlighted a pivotal chapter in fast-food history and represented the increasing influence of Western culture in post-Soviet Russia. The massive attendance at this Moscow debut set a record for the chain, illustrating the Russian public’s keen interest and excitement towards this renowned American fast-food brand.
Operation Babylift involved the large-scale evacuation of orphaned children from Vietnam to countries like the United States, France, Austria, and West Germany during the concluding days of the Vietnam War. From April 3-26, 1975, around 3,300 children were transported out of Vietnam. On April 4, 1975, a C-5 cargo plane departed from Tan Son Nhut Airport at 4pm, carrying 250 orphans and 78 crew members. Only 12 minutes into the flight, an explosion rocked the lower rear fuselage, leading to a rapid decompression. The crew tried to circle back for an emergency landing, but the plane tragically crashed in a nearby rice field, skidding for a quarter mile and breaking into four sections. Out of the 328 on board, 175 managed to survive. Flight nurse and first lieutenant Regina Aune recalled, “I will never forget that day. It’s as fresh to me right now as it was the day it happened. We put them in little groups and we secured them to the floor of the aircraft, with cargo tie-down straps and litter straps and blankets and pillows and whatever we could to kind of secure them to the floor. I remember thinking, this plane is crashing, and I am going to live through it, and I have to figure out how to take care of everybody once we finally come to a complete stop.” True to her word, Aune waded through the mud after the crash to search for the children and other survivors. After assisting 149 children to safety, she told the rescue team, “Sir, I request to be relieved of my duties since my injuries prevent me from carrying on.” Soon after, she lost consciousness. She was later treated at a Saigon hospital, discovering she had numerous cuts, a broken foot, a fractured leg, and a spinal injury.
The 1973 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph “Burst of Joy,” taken by Sal Vedar. A former US Prisoner of War is shown being reunited with his family. Despite outward appearances, the reunion was an unhappy one for Stirm. It is depressing to read that three days before the picture was taken Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm received a letter from his wife that she wanted a divorce. His wife took 140,000 of his pay while he was a POW, took his two younger kids, house, car, 40% of his future pension, and $300 a month in child support. She had to pay back only $1500 of his money used on trips with other men. He fought and lost against her in court. He then had to live with his mom in San Francisco taking care of his older kids.
The lady circled in red was Lucy Higgs Nichols. She was born into slavery in Tennessee, but during the Civil War she managed to escape and found her way to 23rd Indiana Infantry Regiment which was encamped nearby. She stayed with the regiment and worked as a nurse throughout the war. After the war, she moved north with the regiment and settled in Indiana, where she found work with some of the veterans of the 23rd. She applied for a pension after Congress passed the Army Nurses Pension Act of 1892 which allowed Civil War nurses to draw pensions for their service. The War Department had no record of her, so her pension was denied. Fifty-five surviving veterans of the 23rd petitioned Congress for the pension they felt she had rightfully earned, and it was granted. The photograph shows Nichols and other veterans of the Indiana regiment at a reunion in 1898. She died in 1915 and is buried in a cemetery in New Albany, Indiana.
Cow shoes used by Moonshiners during Prohibition. The idea was that if police found human footprints in areas where people don’t generally go, that was a clear indicator of something unusual and worth investigating, possibly leading to the discovery of an illegal still. If the only prints around were those of an animal, such as a horse or cow, those would seem unremarkable and not worth following
The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1987. Initially, planners anticipated a gathering of around 80,000 people. However, the turnout greatly exceeded expectations, with an estimated 800,000 individuals attending the event. The burden of people walking caused the normally curved roadbed to flatten. SF resident Winston Montgomery depicted the situation by writing, “The Golden Gate Bridge, bearing all its 419,000 tons, creaked and oscillated like a frail wooden slab over a chasm.” People who were scared and feeling seasick ended up being sick on their own shoes. As per Montgomery’s account, to alleviate the pressure on the bridge, individuals started tossing bicycles and strollers off the structure.
Wives wanted sign posted on log cabin. Taken at Apgar, at the foot of Lake McDonald. From left to right: Bill Daucks, Frank Geduhn (Forest Service ranger before Glacier National Park was established), Esli Apgar (in doorway of cabin), and (Harvey) Dimon Apgar. Geduhn holds a cat and a dog sits between Esli and Dimon Apgar. The Apgars were the sons of Milo Apgar who began offering cabins and other services when they realized the potential for tourism in the area. Frank Geduhn (aka cat guy) was in charge of supplies. Today Apgar campground is the largest campground in Glacier National Park. Frank and Dimon were the only ones who got married.
On April 19, 1995, in an unusual incident, McArthur Wheeler attempted a bank robbery while wearing an unconventional disguise: his face smeared with lemon juice. Wheeler believed that lemon juice, often used as invisible ink, would make him invisible to CCTV cameras. He confidently smiled at every camera he passed during the robbery.
However, Wheeler’s plan failed, and the police caught him that night. His astonishment was palpable when the police showed him the CCTV footage. Confused and incredulous, he said to the officers, “but I wore the juice.”
In 1908, Houdini stood at the edge of the Harvard Bridge—commonly referred to as the Mass. Ave. Bridge—and was shackled by a Boston patrolman. His hands were handcuffed behind his back and chained to a collar around his neck. According to a Boston Globe article chronicling the feat, a signal was tooted from a towboat, and Houdini went overboard into the chilly waters below. “There is always the possibility that I will be unable to free myself, as one never can tell what will happen to a lock,” Houdini told the newspaper. “However, I am a good swimmer, have confidence in myself, and I hope to perform this feat successfully.” The Globe estimated some 20,000 spectators gathered to see Houdini’s leap, including the mayors of Boston and Cambridge. They waited 40 seconds for the magician to resurface, which he did with the shackles in his hands.
In 1926, 19-year-old New Yorker Gertrude Ederle made history by becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel – an achievement in itself, and one made all the more impressive by the fact that she swam it faster than any of the five men who had gone before her. The previous best time for swimming the English Channel had been 16 hours and 33 minutes. Ederle reached Kingsdown, England, swimming 35 miles in 14 and a half hours. The challenges included quickly changing tides, six-foot waves, frigid temperatures and lots of jellyfish.
“The photograph of Kurt Cobain in tears has been extensively published. Tilton watched Cobain smash his guitar through an amplifier and walk offstage. He followed him backstage. The pent-up emotion ‘just had to go somewhere,’ says Tilton, and Cobain burst into tears. ‘What I really love about it is that it is a very real moment, and he allowed it. Other artists would have said, ‘Not now, lan, please!’ It is very unusual,” adds Tilton, “for anyone from a band to show such vulnerability!”
This photo shows the Statue of Liberty seen from the torch. The torch has been closed to the public since 1916 when it was damaged in an explosion caused by German spies. The event is known as the Black Tom explosion, which happened on July 30, 1916. At that time, the United States had not yet joined World War 1, but they were selling weapons to the Allied powers. Germany sent saboteurs to destroy production lines and supplies. Around 100,000 pounds (45,000 kg) of TNT were stored on a barge on the night of the explosion. Guards noticed small fires and left, fearing an explosion. At 2:08 am, the first and biggest explosion occurred. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, equivalent to 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter scale. The blast was felt in Philadelphia and shattered windows in Times Square. The explosion caused $20,000,000 in damages and claimed four lives. This incident turned public opinion against Germany and eventually led the United States to join World War 1 on April 16th, 1917.
On September 11, 2001, Andrea Haberman began her morning with a cherished routine she shared with her fiancé: the first to call the other would win their daily contest. On this day, Andrea was the winner. She called early from a desk at the Carr Future offices in the North Tower, preparing for her 9:00 a.m. meeting.
Roughly 40 minutes after their conversation, a hijacked airplane struck the tower just above her location, making escape impossible. In the following months, workers at the recovery site found some of Andrea’s belongings, including the cell phone she used for her final call. These items are now part of the exhibits at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
In 1928, an Ice Man in Houston, Texas, pictured delivering a 25 pound ice block. Selling ice was a big business during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ice was taken from ponds and rivers and transported worldwide by train or boat. It was then distributed locally by ice wagons. Frederic Tudor, the “Ice King,” started the ice trade in 1806. He began by shipping ice from New England to his rich customers in the Caribbean. As the years went by, he started shipping ice to Cuba, the southern U.S., and eventually to places as far as India, Australia, China, and South America. The ice trade was a big employer at its peak, with 90,000 workers and 25,000 horses in the U.S. alone. The demand for ice increased during World War 1, but once the war was over, the trade declined due to new refrigeration systems. By the 1930s, more households had modern fridges; by the 1950s, they were almost everywhere in the U.S. and Europe.
“Stagecoach” Mary Fields, America’s first Black female postal worker, was known for her fearless delivery of mail across hundreds of miles in the dangerous Wild West. Born a slave in the 1830s in the South, Fields found work with the help of a nun named Mother Amadeus after the Civil War. Initially, she worked in an Ohio convent, then moved to St. Peter’s Convent in Montana. Despite working among nuns, Fields was far from nun-like. She was a regular visitor to saloons, smoked cigars, got into brawls, and wasn’t shy to use her guns. After an altercation with a janitor at St. Peter’s, she was set up by Mother Amadeus with a job at the U.S. Postal Service in 1895. Fields, the first Black woman and only the second woman overall to hold a mail route in the U.S., demonstrated great resilience and courage. In her 60s, she dutifully protected her mail with a rifle and a revolver, unfazed by danger. She often traveled 300 miles a week to cover her route. In snow, she would strap on her snowshoes and carry the mail in a sack across her shoulders, ensuring it reached its destination. Her commitment to her job and strong character made her a local hero in Cascade, Montana. She was the only woman allowed to drink at the local bar who wasn’t a sex worker, ate for free at the Cascade Hotel, and the townspeople built her a new home when hers burned down. After eight years of mail delivery, she started a laundry business. Upon her death in 1914, the Cascade community held one of the largest funerals the town had ever witnessed in her honor.
The archaeological site at Lajiazhen in central China, located along the banks of the Yellow River, unveiled a poignant glimpse into the past. In this remarkable discovery, skeletons dating back 4,000 years depicted a mother’s valiant efforts to protect her child during an earthquake that shook the village to its core in 2015.
This is Tadeusz Zytkiewicz, the first recipient of a heart transplant in Poland, holding a photograph of himself with the surgeon, Zbigniew Religa. In the background, Religa’s assistant can be seen resting. The challenging operation lasted 23 hours, during which Dr. Religa vigilantly monitored his patient’s vital signs. Captured by American photographer James Stanfield, this photo was selected by National Geographic as the best picture of 1987.
This poignant photograph, taken by Claude Detloff in Vancouver during World War II, shows the moment as soldiers from the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles marched off to combat. In the image, a young boy reaches out to his father, who was among the departing soldiers. Fortunately, the boy’s father returned home safely in October 1945.
Photographer John Gaunt was at his beachfront home when his neighbor alerted him with a cry of ‘something’s happening on the beach!’. Swiftly grabbing his camera, Gaunt hurried to the shore where he encountered a couple embracing near the water. Tragically, their 19-month-old son had just wandered away and disappeared into the sea. This deeply moving photograph later earned the Pulitzer Prize.
Following World War II, Berlin was partitioned into four distinct occupation zones, each with varying living conditions. From 1949 to 1961, approximately 2.5 million individuals escaped from the Soviet-occupied East Germany. Despite the erection of barricades and barbed wire to prevent escapes, 19-year-old border guard Hans Conrad Schumann was undeterred. Encouraged by a crowd in West Berlin, the young soldier expressed his desire not to “live enclosed,” and daringly leapt over the barbed wire to find freedom in the West.
This photograph, captured by David Seymour in 1948, depicts Terezka, a young girl residing in a Warsaw facility for emotionally disturbed children. Terezka had spent her early years in a concentration camp, and the lingering effects of those traumatic experiences are evident in her expression.
Cher Ami was the name of a heroic pigeon who saved 200 soldiers in WWI. Despite being severely injured, sustaining multiple gunshot wounds, losing an eye and a leg, this resilient bird successfully delivered a crucial message from a besieged battalion.
This photograph, captured by Fred Blackwell on May 28, 1963, depicts three civil rights activists – John Salter, Joan Trumpauer, and Anne Moody – enduring harassment at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson. As they sat at the whites-only counter, an irate crowd subjected them to a barrage of ketchup, sugar, and mustard. These brave protesters were affiliated with Tougaloo College, a historically black institution that played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement in Mississippi.
On April 6, 1972, employees of the French company Joint Français initiated a strike, leading to an encounter with riot police. The moment was immortalized by photographer Jacques Gourmelen, capturing a poignant scene between two men – Guy Burmieux, a worker, and Jean-Yvon Antignac, a riot officer. In a striking twist of fate, they recognized each other as childhood friends. Burmieux, overwhelmed with emotion, confronted Antignac, imploring tearfully, ‘Go ahead and hit me while you’re at it!’ The officer, however, remained motionless, as described by Gourmelen.

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