We think that we know our history…but we’re usually wrong.
That’s because we see history from a limited perspective; we only have the written word and a few simple pictures to keep us informed.
Sometimes, a photo will completely change that perspective. These pictures tell incredible stories—even if they’re not the stories we’re used to.
1. Pyramid of German Helmets (1918)
Taken at the New York Central Railway, this photo shows citizens amassing around an unlikely monument: a pyramid made completely from German helmets. This would be considered a gaudy, potentially inhumane display today—after all, each of those 12,000 helmets represented a person’s life—but by the end of the First World War, Americans were tired of the fighting, and they’d dehumanized their enemies.
The Gothamist reports that the helmets were to be given away to large contributors to the 5th War Loan, although we can’t confirm that the government ever made good on that promise.
2. The Job Hunter (1930s)
This man’s clever protest sign may seem to resonate today, but in the 1930s, it wasn’t a joke—America was hurting, and many highly skilled people had trouble finding work. Four banking rushes (which occur when too many people attempt to withdraw money at once) made the Depression much worse, and money circulation was so slow that for two years, the United States stopped minting nickels.
Many people lived in “Hoovervilles,” makeshift communities with homes that often consisted of cardboard boxes. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal helped to end the crisis by investing heavily in infrastructure projects like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building.
3. The Soldier and the Kitten (1952)
The soldier is Marine Sergeant Frank Praytor, and the war was the Korean War. This two-week old kitten had been orphaned when a soldier shot its mother for making too much noise.
Praytor fed the cat with meat from his own ration cans, and she survived. He named her “Miss Hap” for the unfortunate circumstances of her birth; she did not return with Sergeant Praytor to the United States, but other soldiers in his company adopted her as a mascot. One of the soldiers is believed to have brought Miss Haps to the United States at the end of the war.
4. The Head of Stalin (1956)
This photo shows a key moment from the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. Occupied Hungary rose up to resist communism, and in the process, destroyed a 25-meter tall monument to Josef Stalin.
As for the rest of the statue, it was also destroyed—with the exception of the boots. Rebels placed a Hungarian flag in those boots, a symbol of their resistance.
5. Mata Hari (sometime from 1905-1917)
Mata Hari was famous as an exotic dancer, and she was also mistress to some of the world’s most powerful men. While working in Paris, she became a spy for Germany, accused of sending information about the tank—then a new and devastating weapon—back to German sources.
She’s become an archetype of the femme fatale, but modern historians believe that she was more likely a fairly naive woman who met an unfortunate end. She was executed for espionage in 1917.