The internet is full of all kinds of horror stories, but most of them are just that - simple fantastical concoctions to tell friends around the campfire or in front of the fireplace on frosty winter evenings.
But there are myths and legends based on very real events. Some were published on obscure websites by unknown authors, others were well documented with solid evidence attesting to their veracity.
Such strange happenings, inexplicable events, unusual phenomena, paranormal experiences, or mysteries left unsolved, continue to incite and stir the imagination of book authors and film directors.
The mystery of the ghost ship SS Ourang Medan
The first story in our series of horror stories based on true events is the strange story of the ghost ship nicknamed the SS Ourang Medan.
The vessel sank in 1940 (according to other sources in 1947 or 1948) near the Marshall Islands (several articles give the place of the sinking in the waters off the east coast of Indonesia).
The first article referring to the ghost ship case was published on October 10, 1948, in The Albany Times (New York, United States), the article cited several reliable sources, including Elsevier's Weekly, another well-known and respected newspaper in that period.
The story was then picked up and published in May 1954 in the Proceedings of the Merchant Marine Council, the official journal of the US Coast Guard.
The article talked about a mysterious vessel called the SS Ourang Medan. The name of the vessel is fictitious. In Indonesian, Ourang means man (eng. man) and Madan is the name of the largest city on the island of Sumatra.
Thus, in a rough translation, Ourang Medan means the man from Medan (eng. Man from Medan) and makes a clear reference to one of the variants of the legend in which only one sailor from the SS Ourang Medan survived the tragic events.
The authors of the article in the Proceedings of the Merchant Marine Council talk about the Silver Star, a small fishing vessel that, about 400 nautical miles (about 740 kilometers) southeast of the Marshall Islands, encounters another, much larger vessel, which was drifting.
The captain of the Silver Star tried, repeatedly, to contact the mysterious vessel, but his attempts were not crowned with success. Concerned that something serious might be happening aboard the unknown vessel, the captain turned the small fishing boat toward the drifting vessel.
When they were less than a mile from the ship, the captain of the Silver Star received a series of S.O.S. Initially, the messages were impossible to decipher due to a loud buzzing in the background.
Then, as the fishing vessel drew closer and closer, the S.O.S. transmissions. became clearer. The captain could make out several male voices that seemed to be arguing in an unknown language.
There followed a period of oppressive silence, after which a new message was received, this time very clearly:
S.O.S! S.O.S! The captain and officers lie dead in the conference room and on deck. All crew members are dead. It's just me. God what a nightmare picture… I don't want to die. Please help!
When the fishermen of the Silver Star boarded the SS Ourang Medan, the people witnessed a chilling scene that froze their blood in their veins. The upper deck, crew cabins, conference room, lower decks, and ship's hold were all littered with dozens of corpses in various stages of decomposition.
Some bodies were contorted in horrible, grotesque, unnatural ways. Others were covered in a viscous, greasy substance that gave them the appearance of wax statues. The frozen faces of the dead sailors read terror. The bodies showed no visible signs of violence and nothing indicated an obvious cause of death.
Some articles speak of a survivor, others say nothing of such a thing, adding to the mystery of the S.O.S. call. received by Silver Star.
The captain of the fishing vessel notified the Coast Guard who dispatched several response crews and two tugboats to tow the vessel to shore. However, during the towing operation, a fire broke out on board the SS Ourang Medan. The fire spread rapidly and the ghost ship sank within minutes.
The article published in the Proceedings of the Merchant Marine Council also speaks of teams of divers who descended into the depths in an attempt to recover bodies from the sunken ship. But each team returned to the surface with the same answer: "the vessel is empty, there is no one down there."
The official version released by the authorities is that the SS Ourang Medan would have carried dangerous chemicals and one of the containers would have broken, releasing the toxins. However, the explanation is not a credible one, considering that the transport was not registered anywhere, which is mandatory, especially in the case of the transport of dangerous substances.
The wreck of the SS Ourang Medan still lies today at the bottom of the ocean, somewhere near the Marshall Islands. Most vessels avoid that area, perhaps out of superstition, or perhaps out of fear.
Those who do venture near the site of the sinking of the SS Ourang Medan, however, say that sometimes the radios on board go crazy, and behind the static, a man's voice can be heard pleading for help.
The story of the man in the iron mask
Most people are already familiar with Alexandre Dumas' novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. But few know that the story of the novel is based on one of the most controversial enigmas of French history.
Who was the prisoner nicknamed "the man in the iron mask"? Some historians believe that it would have been about the twin brother of King Louis XIV and the rightful heir to the throne of France.
Others refute the hypothesis and believe that in reality the "man in the iron mask" would have been an insignificant historical figure, possibly a valet or servant at the king's court.
The first document that mentions the existence of this enigmatic prisoner dates from 1669 and belongs to Benigne d'Auvergne de Saint-Mars, an officer of the Pignerol fortress. He, in an official report to his superiors, mentions five detainees "of interest," one of whom is described as "the man in the iron mask."
Ten years later, in 1679, Benigne d'Auvergne was promoted, offering him the post of Governor of the French islands of Saint Honorius and Saint Margaret. It is said that on all official visits that Benigne d'Auvergne made as governor, he was accompanied by a mysterious man wearing an iron mask.
For many historians, this reinforced the idea that the Pignerol prisoner was, in fact, a key figure.
Then, in 1698, King Louis XIV issues an order by which Saint-Mars becomes Governor of the Bastille. And this time, the former officer is repeatedly seen in the company of the man in the iron mask. The man is then imprisoned in the Bastille, under the watchful eye of Saint-Mars.
Four years later, in 1702, the mysterious prisoner dies. But the events that followed the man's death would raise even more questions about the identity of the man in the iron mask.
Thus, the death of the prisoner is reported with inexplicable delay and the burial takes place in great haste and a secret place. The prison doctor is not allowed to examine the lifeless body (as was the normal procedure in such situations) and the summary death certificate disappears in a supposed fire. All of the prisoner's personal belongings are either thrown away or burned.
The end of the mysterious man with the iron mask meant the beginning of a heated debate, with several hypotheses being launched. Some believed that the man in the iron mask was in reality the twin brother of King Louis XIV and therefore a threat to the throne.
Others advanced an even stranger hypothesis, stating that the mysterious masked prisoner would have been the real Louis XIV and that an impostor would have been on the throne of France.
Another version suggests that the prisoner was a servant named Eustache Dauger, imprisoned for an affair with Queen Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, and mother of King Louis XIV.
Another hypothesis was launched by Princess Elisabeth Charlotte d'Orleans who was convinced that the prisoner was not of noble birth, but rather an English lord or spy, imprisoned for a plot against the king.
Voltaire (real name François-Marie Arouet), a prominent figure of the French Enlightenment and one of the greatest philosophers and writers of all time, wrote about the mysterious prisoner in his book, Siecle de Louis XIV, highlighting that he was always moved from one dungeon to another without his face ever being seen.
Voltaire had the opportunity to learn more about the man in the iron mask during the time he was imprisoned in the Bastille. Thus, according to the great philosopher, the man with the iron mask would have been a character from high society, something proven by the special treatment he enjoyed behind bars.
The mysterious prisoner's cell was spacious, always clean and very nicely decorated. The guards treated him with respect and obeyed his demands.
The cryptologist Etienne Bazeries, in turn, came up with a theory about the identity of the man in the iron mask after deciphering, he says, a series of secret codes in the letters of Louis XIV.
In the letters, the King of France spoke of a prisoner "of great value," a brilliant commander who had made a decisive contribution to the defeat of the French army in northern Italy. According to Bazeries, Commander Vivian Labbe was imprisoned in the dungeons of Pignerol, allowed to walk freely during the day, but only with a mask over his face.
The theory put forward by Bazeries has been contradicted, however, with more evidence showing that Vivian Labbe was released from prison around 1700.
The mystery of the iron masked prisoner has lasted for more than 300 years. The story of his tragic fate continues to fascinate me today. Condemning to prison and wearing the same hideous mask day and night for more than 33 years is probably a worse punishment than death.
Curse of Timur Lenk
The myth of Timur Lenk's curse is rooted in a strange coincidence that happened during World War II (1939–1945).
On June 19, 1941, a group of Soviet archaeologists led by Mikhail M. Gerasimov, Lev V. Oshanin, and V. Zezenkova excavated an ancient tomb in the Gur-e-Amir region, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
The tomb turned out to belong to the dreaded Mongol conqueror Timur Lenk (Timur the Lame, 1336–1405). Timur Lenk was the founder of the Mongol Empire with its capital in Samarkand (today in Uzbekistan) and the powerful Timurid dynasty, which lasted until 1507.
Timur Lenk's empire was vast and stretched from the shores of the Caspian Sea to western China and from Syria to Pakistan.
Timur Lenk was known to be a heavy drinker, which led to his death in the winter of 1405 during a military campaign against the Ming dynasty.
The place where the Mongol conqueror was buried represented one of the great secrets of the former Mongol Empire. That was until 1941 when the tomb was discovered by Soviet archaeologists.
Various legends have circulated about the tomb of Timur the Lame, including the myth that the tomb was protected by an ancient curse.
When archaeologists unearthed the entrance to the tomb, it is said that the following message was inscribed above the stone slab covering the entrance: "When I rise from the dead, the world will tremble."
Also, when Gerasimov opened the sarcophagus containing the body of the dreaded Mongol conqueror, he noticed another ominous message inside: "Whoever desecrates my tomb will unleash a more terrible invader than I was."
Timur Lenk's curse turned out to be as real as it gets. Three days later, on June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the largest military invasion of all time.
The invasion of the Soviet Union involved 3.8 million soldiers, nearly 8,000 tanks and military vehicles, over 5,000 aircraft, and over 20,000 artillery pieces. During the 5 months of the invasion, more than 6 million soldiers lost their lives, the vast majority of them from the ranks of the Red Army.
Timur Lenk's body was reburied with all appropriate Islamic rites in November 1942, just before the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest military engagements of World War II.
The message from the underworld
This horror story is extremely strange in that no one has been able to provide any logical explanation for the series of gruesome events on September 20, 1885.
A few weeks before the events in question, a man named Thomas Kipling, from Pennsylvania, United States, found an envelope slipped under the door of the house where he was renting. The envelope was unstamped and had neither sender nor addressee, indicating that the message had been delivered directly by an unknown person.
When he opened the letter, the man froze. Thomas immediately recognized the writing of his younger brother Simon, who had died in the summer of 1872 after long suffering from a relentless illness. In the letter, he revealed to her that he was suffering from mental disorders, that he felt very weak, but that he was alive and that he would soon come to visit him.
The Victorian era (1832–1901) is known as a time of superstition and belief in supernatural creatures (evil spirits, vampires, werewolves, bloodthirsty monsters). Such a message horrified Thomas who immediately demanded the exhumation of his brother's body.
The request was accepted and Thomas, together with several lawmen, a priest, the coroner's assistant, but also several curious people, dug up the coffin in which Simon's rotting body should have been.
To the amazement of those present, the coffin turned out to be empty, even though dozens of people attended the funeral who could swear that Simon's body was in the coffin when it was lowered to the ground.
The news spread quickly and fear gripped the small community. People barricaded their doors and windows, afraid that some unclean spirit would descend upon them, bringing misfortune and death.
To appease the spirits, the law enforcement officers organized patrols during the night, several policemen were posted to guard the cemetery and the house where Thomas lived.
After a few weeks in which nothing out of the ordinary happened, the general hysteria subsided and the citizens returned to their daily routine.
On the night of September 20–21, however, several men walking home noticed a strange figure walking among the graves.
Frightened, people raised the alarm. Law enforcement was immediately mobilized and to their great astonishment, they discovered that the grave where Simon's body was supposed to be had, once again, been dug up.
In the pit, they found an old coffin, and inside it, two bodies embraced, identified as belonging to the two Kipling brothers. Both bodies were in an advanced state of decay, with the coroner concluding in the official report that the two had been dead for at least 10 years.
The mystery of images from another world
There are numerous horror stories centered around the idea of photographs that inexplicably captured so-called "shards from another world." But the incident in 1997, in a small town in the United States, is truly incredible.
Rita Swift, a single mother, decides to move with her 10-year-old son to a quieter area on the outskirts, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Luck quickly turns to the young mother who finds a beautiful house in a perfect area, which she buys at an extremely favorable price, well below the market price.
While tidying through the attic of the house, Rita discovers a roll of film on which is written: "Filmed in the yard, 1969." Using an old Bell & Howell 256 machine, the woman projects the few images from the film onto a wall.
Rita quickly recognizes the house she's just moved into, but the first shots turn out to be as mundane as possible, depicting a family dining in the courtyard. On several of the frames, he also noticed a small flaw, a faded, almost invisible shadow, most likely the result of a lens defect. But the last three frames seemed to be taken from another movie.
The camera with which the first photos had been taken, the ones in the yard of the house, was a Brownie Hawkeye 20 model, a high-performance camera, very popular in the late 60s - early 70s.
But the last three photos were different. Much darker, blurry, and reminiscent of the celluloid photographs typical of the first camera models, probably from the late 19th century.
In the first photo, Rita notices three completely naked men dancing ritualistically on the shore of a lake. In the background, somewhere on the right side of the photo, there was a shadow, a lone figure that seemed to be watching the dance of the three shamans intently.
The second photo had in the center a massive quadruped, over 2 meters tall, with long, thick fur, a creature somewhat reminiscent of a bison. The animal was surrounded by a group of Native Americans with painted faces. And in this photo, Rita makes out the mysterious shadow, hidden somewhere behind the group of natives.
The third frame featured four women seated around a fire. One of the women was missing her head and the mysterious shadow - now taking on more of a human form - was standing right next to the lifeless body. Moreover, her eyes were fixed on the camera, as if she knew that someone had just photographed her.
Rita showed the film to several specialists who confirmed that the images are not rigged. But they failed to explain the huge difference in quality between the first frames and the last three images, all of which are part of the same film.
Rita's story and the three strange photos were published in the local newspaper and sparked heated controversy. Although many theories have been floated, no one has been able to identify the lake in the first photo or the species of mammal appearing in the next frame.
But a curious thing happened. The reporter who interviewed Rita asked her permission to photograph, from the street, the house where the young mother had just moved, to use that photograph in the newspaper.
However, the picture was never published. During development, a defect was identified on the film, probably due to a problem with the camera lens, a dull shadow that seemed to embrace a good part of the house.
About the Creator
I share thoughts on photography and life, mostly lessons learned around things I’ve been dealing with the last few years, managing time, finding focus, and being happy.
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