Unusual tales of terror | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


11 unusual tales of terror from historical newspapers

The British Newspaper Archive is full of grisly stories about the unusual and the unexplained. We’ve selected some of the oddest tales, including a description of a monster with the head of a sea lion and a rumour that Germany was turning dead soldiers into explosives during the First World War.

Let us know if you’ve found a story to rival these. You can comment below or post on our Facebook page.

1) 1877: A bizarre 70-foot beast

What the giant monster might have looked like in 1877

A very strange creature was sighted in St Genevieve, Missouri in 1877. The Dundee Courier included a detailed description, stating that the monster was ‘at least 70 feet in length’, with the head of a sea lion and a tangled mane like a horse.

The ‘immense horn’ on its head was shaped like a pelican’s bill and it had a long tail that looked like a double-edged saw, with ‘a spreading fan-like fin’ at the end. According to the article, the beast made no sound apart from ‘an occasional puff, loud and sonorous, similar to that of the sea-cow’.

A report of a bizarre monster with the head of a sea lion, found in the Dundee Courier
Dundee Courier | 23 October 1877

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2) 1897: The haunted London taxi

According to this spooky story from the Shields Daily Gazette, you could hear ‘muffled moans and harsh cries’ coming from a dilapidated London cab if you were brave enough to go near it on dark nights in 1897.

A tale of a haunted London taxi cab, printed in the Shields Daily Gazette
Shields Daily Gazette | 10 June 1897

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The article goes on to explain the story behind the haunting. On a dismal night, the cabbie picked up a man who was on the run from some invisible enemies.

After frantically driving his vehicle away, urged on by his fare’s terrified screams, the cabby discovered the man had committed suicide in the back of his taxi. Within a few days, the driver was also found dead in his cab – apparently strangled ‘by the ghost of the suicide’.

3) 1895: Woman almost buried alive

A woman was almost buried alive according to the Illustrated Police News
Illustrated Police News | 25 May 1895

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The Illustrated Police News was full of reports about strange crimes and odd occurrences, including this story about the narrow escape a woman had in Limoges, France. As her coffin was being carried into the church, some mourners insisted that they heard knocking coming from it.

It was quickly opened and the woman was found ‘alive and conscious, although terribly frightened at the awful ordeal’. It seems she had mistakenly been pronounced dead while she was actually suffering a cataleptic fit.

4) 1917: FWW explosives made of dead soldiers

The Sheffield Evening Telegraph was one of many newspapers to report a shocking rumour during the First World War. In April 1917, it stated that the Germans were ‘distilling glycerine from the bodies of their dead’ to make soap and explosives.

It is thought that the report was actually anti-German propaganda, and in 1925, the British Government announced that there had never been any foundation for the story.

A rumour that Germany was turning its dead soldiers into explosives appeared in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph during WW1
Sheffield Evening Telegraph | 18 April 1917

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5) 1883: Terrified to death by a donkey

The Illustrated Police News reported that a child had been terrified to death by a donkey
Illustrated Police News | 21 July 1883

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A strange and terribly sad story was printed in the Illustrated Police News in 1883. One night, a young girl set off to visit her grandparents and heard footsteps behind her. She ran for her life and fainted with exhaustion and terror at the door of their house.

The child’s grandfather found her and noticed his donkey standing close by. The poor child had evidently been frightened by the sound of the animal following her home.

6) 1894: A gruesome Parisian nightclub

The Cabaret du Néant was a rather bizarre nineteenth-century bar, decorated with skeletons, pictures of dead bodies and coffins. According to this article from the Pall Mall Gazette, patrons could even take part in an eerie faux funeral.

After stepping into a coffin, you would be covered ‘up to the shoulders with a white cloth [as] the harmonium played solemnly’. The lights would go out and you would appear to turn into a skeleton!

The Cabaret du Néant in Paris was described in the Pall Mall Gazette
Pall Mall Gazette | 1 October 1894

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7) 1951: Fight with a giant rodent

This image of a giant rodent appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Press in 1951.
Yorkshire Evening Post | 10 September 1951

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Not to be outdone by Victorian newspapers, the Yorkshire Evening Post printed this terrifying image of a ‘giant rat-like animal with webbed feet and teeth an inch long’ in 1951.

The creature was 19 inches long with a 15-inch tail and was found in a house in Creskell Grove, Leeds. According to the article, it took a rat catcher and the RSPCA two hours to capture the rodent.

8) 1901: The woman who married a ghost

On 15 January 1901, the Sunderland Daily Echo reported that Bessie Brown of Cameron, Oklahoma had married a ghost. The writer explained that Bessie’s fiancé had died a few weeks before their wedding and, after his spirit appeared to her, she decided she would marry his ghost.

The article reported that Bessie had moved into a cottage with her husband and that ‘persons who pass the house can hear them talking and laughing just as if they were both in human form’.

The Sunderland Daily Echo reported that a woman had married a ghost in 1901
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette | 15 January 1901

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9) 1870: Death by corset

The Illustrated Police News reported that a woman had been killed by her corset in 1870.
Illustrated Police News | 25 June 1870

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Victorian fashion could be more terrifying than stories of ghosts and ghouls. This image accompanied a report in the Illustrated Police News about a young woman who was killed by a corset that had been laced too tightly.

The newspaper stated that the lady collapsed while dancing at a ball because ‘the heart’s action had been impeded [and] the excitement and exertion was, under the circumstances, too great a strain upon the system’.

10) 1886: Monster shark in Scotland

An image of a monster shark, printed by the Dundee Courier
Dundee Courier | 7 September 1886

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A giant basking shark was found 25 miles to the east of Bell Rock in 1886. The Dundee Courier reported that it was 31 feet in length and 17 feet in girth – much larger than a typical basking shark.

The ‘monster shark’ had eight rows of teeth and was exhibited in the Scouringburn before being handed over to the University College of Dundee.

11) 1869: Killed by eating her own hair

A horrifying discovery was made when a young woman died in Grayton-le-Marsh, Lincolnshire in 1869. The Liverpool Daily Post reported that her medical attendants found that her stomach and gullet were full of a mass of human hair.

The woman’s sister was questioned and stated that ‘during the last twelve years she had known the deceased to be in the habit of eating her own hair’.

The Liverpool Daily Post reported that a woman had died from eating her own hair in 1869
Liverpool Daily Post | 3 November 1869

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