Stunning Portraits Reveal The Darker Side To History
By | July 13, 2021
Portrait of Marilyn Monroe taken by Richard Avedon, considered by some to be the most honest picture of her ever taken
History can only tell one story when it's in black and white, but when it's in color it's as if the past is the present and you're living in it. The following rare photos have been colorized to tell stories that you won't find in history books and to give greater context for important moments in the past.
You may think that you know the stories behind these hard to find photos, but if you look closer you'll find a story behind the story.
From true tales of the Wild West to fascinating stories of humans going above and beyond the call of duty to take care of their fellow man, these photos that have been colorized for the first time will not only inform and entertain... they'll make you feel like you're right there in the story.
Read on and see how colorized photos don't just change history... they make it.
Marilyn Monroe was always in the spotlight. Everything she did, said, and wore was put under a microscope by the press from the moment that she became a star. That kind of scrutiny would be a nightmare for anyone, but for someone as introverted as Monroe it was a terrible burden.
In one of her final interviews Monroe explained that she (and many of her fellow actors) are incredibly shy once the camera stops rolling:
A struggle with shyness is in every actor more than anyone can imagine. There is a censor inside us that says to what degree do we let go, like a child playing. I guess people think we just go out there, and you know, that's all we do. Just do it. But it's a real struggle. I'm one of the world's most self-conscious people. I really have to struggle.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, leave the Sarajevo Guildhall on June 28, 1914. Five minutes later, they were assassinated
In 1914, Serbian nationals hatched a plot to take Ferdinand out but they had no idea of the lasting ramifications of their actions. When the Archduke and his wife were shot at point blank range as they moved with their royal procession it led Austria-Hungaray to declare war on Serbia. That decision led every country in Europe to take sides, thus beginning World War I.
The mugshot of Laura Belle Devlin, who murdered and dismembered her 75-year-old husband with a hacksaw
Once she was in police custody Devln explained that she was set off when her then-husband threw a plate at her. She took care of him with her bare hands before separating his body parts and getting rid of his remains in her oven. She was put on observation for 30 days at the Lima State Hospital before she passed away from pneumonia in 1947.
Unemployed men gather outside a Chicago soup kitchen owned by gangster Al Capone, 1931
According to the Chicago Tribune in 1931, Capone's soup kitchen served 120,000 meals a day for free. The gangster was even able to give jobs to some of the men who stood in line for three hot meals a day. Sometimes bad people can do good things.
Mugshot of Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord responsible for most of the world's cocaine supply in the 1970s and 1980s. Medellín, Colombia, 1977
Even though he was arrested in 1977, he managed to get back to his place as top dog of the underworld by the 1980s. That's when cocaine use hit its peak in America and the money truly began to roll in. He finally agreed to give himself up to the government but only after they agreed to allow him to live at his own personal prison - La Catedral.
A pair of African-American troops pose by artillery during World War II, 1944
Matthew Delmont, a history professor at Dartmouth College explained:
Without these crucial roles that Blacks soldiers were playing, the American military wouldn’t have been the same fighting force it was. That was a perspective you didn’t see much in the white press.
Mugshot of David Bowie after being arrested for marijuana possession following a performance in Rochester, New York
Bowie spent the next few hours after his arrest in the Monroe County jail before paying his bond and taking off. He made it back to Rochester three days later where he plead not guilty. The charges were dropped and he told local reporters that the Rochester police were "very courteous and very gentle... just super."
During World War I, many fire fighters wore what was referred to as "bunker pants." This heavily padded trousers were initially worn by soldiers who had to fire cannons, the pants protected their legs from shrapnel and hot shell casings. The soldiers who became firefighters after the war brought them along into their new jobs.
Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin on March 26, 1964
On the day of his death, X was speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. Shortly after he took the stage there was a commotion in the audience. The crowd separated and a man with a sawed-off shotgun fired at the speaker from point blank range.
Baseball great Lou Gehrig after finishing his 'The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth' speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4th, 1939
It didn't long for word of Gehrig's "bad break" to spread, and on July 4, 1939, Gehrig addressed a loving audicence at "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" at Yankee Stadium. He said in part:
For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans... When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I'm lucky... I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.
Flood victims line up for Red Cross relief in Kentucky, 1937
To make matters worse, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression so resources were scarce. There was no coming back from the life altering floods that destroyed more than seventy percent of Louisville, Kentucky, and the people in this photo know it. What a horrible feeling.
Al Capone after being arrested as he was trying to enter Miami, Florida. He was caught by city police who were trying to keep the notorious gangster out of the city, 1930
As if that weren't bad enough, Capone's Miami estate was raided on March 20th on information that the gangster was lodging some of his nasty friends on the premises. When police went into the home the only person they found was the estate's caretaker. However, they did find a couple of bottles of alcohol which gave the officers yet another reason to go after the gangster.
An unemployed man holds a sign voicing his frustrations during the Great Depression
Many Americans were forced to live hand to mouth in order to survive. People with families sought out whatever work they could no matter how menial it was. To the people out of work during the Depression if it paid then it was a good day's work.
After the Civil War, the American West was in large part settled by freed slaves who sought to both distance themselves from their past
The men who traveled west to find their fortunes were suited to the work of the cowboy because they'd already been doing the work on plantations. William Loren Katz, a scholar of African-American history explained:
Right after the Civil War, being a cowboy was one of the few jobs open to men of color who wanted to not serve as elevator operators or delivery boys or other similar occupations.
Suspected John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before he was shot by Jack Ruby on Nov. 24, 1963
During Ruby's trial he claimed that he was suffering from psychomotor epilepsy from the grief of witnessing Kennedy's assassination. He was sentenced to death. In `1966, the decision was overturned, but while awaiting a second trial he passed away from lung cancer in Dallas.
President Abraham Lincoln stands on the battlefield at Antietam, Maryland with General John A. McClernand on the right and Allan Pinkerton, his Secret Service chief, October 3, 1862
It's believed that Pinkerton's position as cheif of the Secret Service proved to be a mistake. Critics say that he gave too much credit to the Confederate forces and believed them to be more powerful than they actually were. This likely led General McClellan to exercise too much caution when targetting Robert E. Lee's men.
Lewis Powell, 21, in a cell onboard a U.S. Navy ship in Washington, D.C. after his arrest on April 17, 1865
After serving for the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Powell hooked up with Booth and the two conspired to take out the heads of state of the Union. Powell was supposed to stab Secretary of State Seward while he was bedridden from a carriage accident but ended up wounding eight people instead. Powell was arrested three days later when he walked into a co-conspirator's home as she was being questioned by the police. Woof.
A family of migrant workers fleeing from the drought in Oklahoma camp by the roadside in Blythe, California. 1936
It's still unclear just how many refugees from the south and midwest made their way to California, but it's estimated that nearly 400,000 workers fled west. One former migrant remembers:
Dad bought a truck to bring what we could. There were fifteen people to ride out in this truck, in addition to what we could haul...
A Nihang bodyguard serving in the ruler of Hyderabad's army in present-day India. Circa 1865
Also known for their high steel inforced turbans that were very pointy, it's believed that the hats could be used to stab someone in close quarters. The Nihang are still around today even if they don't run into battle any more. They often gather at Anandpur where they show off their skills for the public.
An overhead photograph of World War II's D-Day landings in Normandy, France. 1944
The worst of the battle occurred on Omaha Beach. Axis Forces were waiting on the cliffs overlooving the shore and they rained down machine gun fire on the U.S. and British militaries. By noon, Allied forces had taken the cliffs but 4,700 men lost their lives.
Children lick a massive block of ice in order to stay cool on a hot day. New York City. July 6, 1912
In order to actually get big blocks of ice like this companies had to carve it out of a frozen lake and transport it on cargo ships. At the time this sounded like an insane thing to do. On February 10, 1806, the Boston Gazette reported:
No joke. A vessel with a cargo of 80 tons of ice has cleared out from this port for Martinique. We hope this will not prove to be a slippery speculation.
Siberian mystic Grigori Rasputin, who gained power in Russia before the 1917 revolution due to his association with the royal family. Circa 1910s
Rasputin went from providing spiritual advice to working as a healer for the family's only son, Alexi. It's said that he was able to heal the boy's hemophilia simply through prayer, although historians believe that nothing of the sort happened. Douglas Smith, author of Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs wrote that Rasputin created a peaceful atmosphere which was all anyone wanted:
Rasputin’s assurances calmed the anxious, fretful mother and filled her with unshakeable confidence, and she, in turn, transferred this confidence to her ailing son, literally willing him back to health.
A window washer at work on the Empire State Building poses during a brief break from his duties. March 24, 1936
For those that dare hang from buildings and get windows as clean as possible it's not just about making big bucks, it's about the adventure. Tony Natoli, the owner of Tony’s Window Cleaning Service in Glendale, N.Y. told the New York Times:
First, the buildings were maybe five, seven, 10 stories. And then I remember going up to, like, 22 stories, where they had these big 10’ x 10’ windows that pivoted open. Those windows used to get my blood going.
A carnival barker tries to grab the attention of passersby at a fair in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in 1942
In the 1940s and '50s there was good money to be made working as a carnival barker. Of course, these guys had to stay on the road for most of the year, making a home out of the two lane black top. Their voices were their money-makers, so smoking and alcohol was a no-no for anyone who wanted to rake in the dough.
Aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright gliding in 1902, using a flying machine that predated the one used to complete the historic first-ever controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft in North Carolina in 1903.
Instead, the Wright Brothers costructed a glider to test their data and see if they could figure out how to control where their flying machine was going. This glider has a wingspan of 32 feet and a weight of 117 pounds. Built out of spruce, the glider eventually took to the skies between 700 and 1,000 times with some flights hitting more than 600 feet.
A boy selling newspapers in London containing reports on the Titanic disaster
In 1912, The Guardian spoke with Philip Albright Small Franklin, the man in charge of the White Star Line office and terminus affairs at International Mercantile Marine Company, and who claimed that the ship was unsinkable. He said:
I was confident to-day when I made the statement that the Titanic was unsinkable that the steamship was safe and that there would be no loss of life. The first definite news to the contrary came in the message this evening from Captain Haddock.
A crowd salutes the camera, holding up their drinks at a newly-opened bar just after the repeal of Prohibition. Location unspecified. 1933
Even though it was technically illegal to make and sell alcohol Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition says there were still plenty of loopholes for people who wanted to get their drink on. He told NPR:
The first was that it enabled the farmer to preserve his fruit, in Wayne Wheeler's phrase, which is to say, to take the crop, the fruit crop, and be able to save it over the winter, which literally meant to take the apple, turn it into hard cider and the hard cider into applejack. So that was legal in the farm districts across the country.
Martin Luther King Jr. giving his famous I have a dream speech in Washington, D.C. 1963
King's speech did more than become a piece of history that kids have to learn about in school. The speech inspired the Kennedy administration to move forward with the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sadly, President Kennedy was assassinated before he could sign either bill and his work had to be finished by Lyndon Johnson.
Inside the Table Bluff Hotel and Saloon in Humboldt County, California. 1889
When writing about the elk chair that he gifted to President Buchanan, Kinman stated:
This winter I killed considerable meat so I thought I would take it easy and set about to make this cheer with a view of sending it on to Washington for Old Buck. After I got it finished, though, the boys up in our parts thought it enough to travel on; so I thought I would try and go on with it to Washington myself, leaving my mother and four children behind, and started with nothing but my rifle and powder horn. Nobody has yet sot in this cheer, and never shall till after the President.
Men and women stand in an alley known as Bandit's Roost off Mulberry Street in Manhattan. Circa 1887-1890
B'hoys often wore tall beaver hats or bowlers with curled locks at the temples. Their outfits were incredibly garish, they wore a long frockcoat, a neckerchief, and pantaloons that were cuffed up over a pair of big boots. These weren't guys that anyone wanted to mess with.
Constructuon of this massive undertaking was incredibly safe, even for the 1930s when it was still kind of the wild west of construction. 3,400 workers took on the job, and only five of them perished during the year it took to build. It truly is one of the world's greatest marvels.
Two waiters serve two steel workers lunch on a girder high above New York City. 1930. The men were building the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
This photo is obviously a publicity stunt but it looks so cool that it's doubtful anyone cared. Aside from all the dare devil photos that were being taken at the time skyscraper construction was fairly safe. Sure, there were dangers but most men working on these buildings lived to tell the tale. Hopefully these gentlemen enjoyed the five star service of the Waldorf-Astoria even though they were hundreds of feet in the air.
New York's Central Park. 1933
Many of the people who lived in Central Park's Hooverville were large families who camped on the Great Lawn. Others did their best to make a home in the park's empty reservoir. Sadly, the people stuck in this area possessed plenty of skills but there were no jobs available to put them to work.
Initially, the NYC subway just sped through Manhattan. However, that changed in 1905 when it was expanded to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and finally in 1915, Queens. Today it stretches out across the city and has some 4.5 million riders a day.
A pair of Civil War veterans exchange stories during the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913
Tents were set up to provide a place to sleep for the tens of thousands of men who needed to stay overnight. During the day the men spoke of the old days and took part in singing songs and playing fife and drums. The entire get together was capped off by a dedication of a memorial to the fallen veterans.
A young Wyatt Earp circa 1870, when he was just 21. Earp became famous as one of the toughest lawmen of the Wild West
The same year Earp found himself in more trouble when he was accused of being a horse thief. Nothing ever came of that claim and he made his way to Illinois where he worked as bouncer in a brothel. He spent the next few years bouncing around the plains until he made his way to Tombstone, Arizona, in 1879.
Jackie Robinson, 1954 ⚾
While speaking about his first game in Major Leage Baseball, Robinson explained that he knew he was a part of a special moment:
At the beginning of the World Series of 1947, I experienced a completely new emotion, when the National Anthem was played. This time, I thought, it is being played for me, as much as for anyone else. This is organized major league baseball, and I am standing here with all the others; and everything that takes place includes me.
Albert Einstein in 1921.
Weirdly enough, Einstein didn't receive the Nobel Prize until 1922 when the Foundation deemed him worth. The Nobel Committee for Physics didn't feel that Einstein or any of the other nominees met the criteria for accepting the award. A year later he was given the award because of... reasons? It's safe to say that Einstein managed just fine without the committee.
Alfred Hitchcock directing on the set of The Birds, released in 1963
The birds were disoriented by a toxin in pieces of algae that they ingested, causing them to act like bizarre movie monsters. A similar outbreak happened in 1987 to a group of people who ingested mussels in the area. More than 100 people were hospitalized and four diners lost their lives to this bizarre case fit for one of Hitchcock's films.
In 1909, Twain said:
I came in with Halley’s Comet. It is coming again next year. The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now there are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’
One day after the comet reached its perihelion on April 20, 1910, Twain passed away.
In the 1920s, various quotas were enacted to keep too many people from any one country from immigrating to America. The Emergency Quota Act kept annual immigration from any country to three percent, and the Immigration Act of 1924 put an annual limit of 165,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere.In the 1930s, more people were leaving the country due to the Depression than were coming in.
An old German woman walks through the smoking ruins of Berlin after the city was captured by the Red Army at the close of World War II, 1945
One man who was a child during World War II describes the visceral sight of seeing the dead in the street at the end of the war:
One day a hanged man is lying in front of our house in Berlin. A German. He had tried to hide from the war in a ruined building and they hung him from the crossbar of the lamp post. When he was dead they cut him loose. He lies there for days with his mouth open and we children throw pebble stones into it.
The Golden Gate Bridge during its construction in the 1930s.
Some of the safety protocol put in place were ahead of their time. Workers wore "Bullard" hats that were modified versions of what men wore in mines as well as glare-free goggles. Even more exciting, men were given sauerkraut juice to cure their hangovers.
Soldiers playing soccer in no man’s land during The Christmas Truce, a series of unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914
This truce didn't happen everywhere along the Western Front, and in fact Allied and Axis leaders were against it happening at all. That being said, these men deserved a break. The pauses in fighting were necessary to keep the soliders from completely losing their minds.
By the 1920s Harlem was in full swing as a lively and bouyant burrough. As bad as the Depression was on the people of Harlem, by 1943 it was on the verge of a resurgance thanks to the economic boost of World War II. It was a truly wonderful place for a few years after the war until the entire city fell apart.
Laborers take their lunch break on a steel beam atop the 70-story RCA building in Rockefeller Center
Strangely, the photographer of this picture of 11 men sitting 850 feet above New York City remains a mystery. In 2012, documentary filmmaker Seán Ó Cualáin attempted to get to the bottom of the top of this shot. While he didn't conclusively name every person in the photo - or figure out who took it - he did narrow the list of people involved down to a number that at least makes sense. It seems for now that this photo will remain a mystery.
At the time there was no overarching fireman's union or a group that controlled which squadron went where. Fights between rival firefighters broke out often and in public whenever they were racing to a burning building. It's amazing that all of this fighting was in the name of saving lives.
When the Amendment was ratified, President Franklin D. Roosevelt released a statement to the press saying:
I trust in the good sense of the American people that they will not bring upon themselves the curse of excessive use of intoxicating liquors, to the detriment of health, morals and social integrity.
Children in line for an Easter Sunday matinee. Chicago. April 1941
In this era theaters weren't policed all that heavily so it was easy for a kid to stick around the theater all day to see the "kiddie matinee" and the main feature. This was the Golden Age of Hollywood and that means that viewers were getting a chance to see genuine classics. It was a great way to spend a weekend.
There were plenty of ways to sell a paper to a person on the street in the 1900s. Some of these boys shouted, "Extra! Extra!" at folks walking by on the side walk, while other even wore a giant posterboard with the day's headlines. By the 1920s, newsies had all but faded from major city streets.
Kids playing in the street join hands in West Harlem, 1946
In this era the world changed quickly. The suburbs began pop up across the country, luring families away from cities in a short period of time. This left areas like Harlem to fall apart and crumble as the decades went on until New York City finally bounced back in the 1990s.
Legendary scientists Charles Darwin, best known as the father of evolution
In his correspondences, Darwin wrote about how he came to the conclusion that there was a selective nature to the animal kingdom:
It seemed to me probable that allied species were descended from a common parent. But for some years I could not conceive how each form became so excellently adapted to its habits of life. I then began systematically to study domestic productions, & after a time saw clearly that man’s selective power was the most important agent.
Market in New York City, 1900
As New York City grew in leaps and bounds so did its markets. In the 19th century the city went from having six neighborhood markets to eleven in order to accomodate the growing population. These markets weren't just a place to go and score everything needed for a meal in the evening, but they were also a gathering place for friends and family.
Poet Walt Whitman in 1868
In his piece A Sun-bathed Nakedness, Whitman wrote:
Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me ... Nature was naked, and I was also ... Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.
Renowned scientist Marie Curie in her laboratory in France
Many scientists and researchers would be worried about what could happen while separating radioactive residues, Curie knew that she had to do it for the sake of science. While speaking about the scientific push to change and learn new things, Curie said:
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
Hooverville in Central Park at the height of the Great Depression, 1933
There was nowhere for the people of Central Park to go, but many of them were arrested for vagrancy although the charges were often dropped. The people did their best to keep the area clean, and out of work bricklayers even constructed a building with a genuine roof made of tile. Central Park's Hooverville was washed away in April 1933, when the reservoir was once again filled.
The Brooklyn end of the Manhattan Bridge while still under construction, 1908
When the bridge was finished in 1909, a group of 100 "leading citizens of Brooklyn" walked across the bridge to signal its completion. However, it was officially opened on December 31, 1909. Unfortunately it caught fire on the Brooklyn side after opening and had to be shut down for repairs.
The young son of a farmer walks amid the dust in Cimarron County, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, April 1936
By 1934, nearly 34 million acres of farm land was completely ruined the never ending dust storm. Another 125 million acres was losing its topsoil faster than people could calculate. It wasn't until 1939 that there was any calculable rain fall in the Dust Bowl region, but many farmers didn't recover until from this economic blight until the 1950s.
Visitors attend a fair in Klamath Falls, Oregon. 1942
During World War II there was little to look forward to other than news from the front and another day at work. When a fair or carnival rolled into town it was respite from the drudgery of every day life. Young people especially looked forward to seeing a carnival come into town.
Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody with several of his Pawnee and Sioux performers in Staten Island, New York in 1886
What follows is an actual account of a Buffalo Bill's show on Staten Island in 1886:
About 4 o'clock on Thursday morning the place was invaded by a band of wild Indians accompanied by the great cow-boys. Great alarm and excitement was manifested by the inhabitants until, after a thorough investigation it was ascertained that no cause for such alarm existed, as the savages were part of the great 'Wild West' exhibition and who quietly were landing from the steamer Kill Van Kull, who without taking a single scalp or giving the dreaded war-whoop, betook themselves to the prepared quarters within the Amusement Grounds. Our reporter met one lady who said that she would not now dare to go out of doors after dark, and that she would procure extra bolts and locks for her house, for fear these 'wild injuns' would tomahawk her. Her fears were quieted, however, and the storekeeper lost the sale of a lot of hardware.