Today, we’re saturated with mundane yet pleasant photos. Pictures of breakfast, babies, or super-fit athletes probably pepper your social media pages, and once you’ve scrolled past that, you see the same old memes.
But sometimes, those photos you might’ve thought were nothing special take on new meanings once the future unfolds. These 10 once-peaceful photos, for example, turn out to be far more sinister once you consider what happened after they were taken…
1. In 1992, this scruffy-looking guy was nothing but smiles. After all, he lived as a free spirit in the Alaskan wilderness — free of things like taxes, traffic, and pesky pedestrians. What’s not to smile about?
Christopher McCandless, also subject of the book and film Into the Wild, below, learned that throwing off society’s shackles to live off the land wasn’t all smiles. He died alone in nature not long after he took that photo.
2. Beachgoers in Thailand and Indonesia in 2004 enjoyed the summer day but failed to recognize the water draining away from the shore — or the boat engulfed by the waves…
Moments later, a tsunami with a total energy two times larger than every bomb dropped in World War II devastated the shores, killing a quarter million people — including, likely, those in the photo.
3. In 1980, 24 years before the South Pacific tsunami, a freelance photographer for National Geographic Robert Landsburg captured another natural phenomenon. The photos weren’t great — but Robert had a good excuse.
At 8:32 a.m., Robert captured Mount St. Helens erupting in a spray of deadly gas and magma. Knowing he’d never outrun the blast, he kept taking photos. Before he died, he protected his camera —and photos — with his body.
4. On June 28, 1914, the Archduke of Austria-Este, wearing a face-splitting smile, shook the hand of a subject. It was, of course, impossible for the Archduke to know what was about to happen to him.
Just hours after that handshake, assassins killed both Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, thrusting Allied and Central Powers into the brutal, history-changing World War I.
5. In 2003, environmentalist Timothy Treadwell perched on a plane in Katmai National Park with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. The couple planned to film a deeply personal documentary.
There, they lived among the brown bear population, hoping to show the world it was possible to coexist with the allegedly fearsome beasts. But, days after this photo was taken, brown bears mauled the couple to death.
6. In 1939, a photographer captured triumphant-looking Polish cavalrymen gathered on top of a hill. Tensions mounted in Europe, so these soldiers — likely scouts in training — were prepared for war.
But shortly after this photo was taken, Germany invaded Poland, brutally overpowering Polish soldiers with advanced tanks, planes, and weapons. The Polish, it turned out, were not prepared for war.
7. Photographer David Monderer waited months for the perfect clear morning to capture the New York City skyline. On a cloudless Tuesday morning, he finally took the shot from the Manhattan Bridge.
The day was September 11, 2001, and moments after David took the photo, terrorists crashed planes into the Twin Towers, taking the lives of over 3,000 people and changing the city’s skyline forever.
8. In the 1920s, the Lawson family made their living as tobacco farmers in North Carolina. The family was not rich by any means, but just before the Christmas of ’29, the matriarch (back row, center) paid for a costly family photo anyway.
Charles Lawson knew the family didn’t need to worry about money any longer. On Christmas Day, he carried out his long-time plan to murder all of them — and himself — with a 12-gauge shotgun.
9. In late 1911, British captain Robert Falcon Scott led four men on a groundbreaking expedition to be the first people to reach the South Pole…and they made it! But the photo they took there shows them bedraggled — not triumphant.
And with good reason! Norwegian explorers beat the men to the pole, diminishing the accomplishment. Worse, at their destination, they were exhausted and starved. They knew they didn’t have the energy to make it home alive. They were right.
10. Civil War photographer Andrew Joseph Russell shot the infamous Fredericksburg battlefield just a few years after it saw gruesome fighting. He didn’t know, however, the ice house in the bottom right corner held a secret…
See, after the battle, gravediggers grew tired of burying the dead, so they tossed the last 500 or so corpses into that ice house. The bodies were still there when Andrew took the serene photo of the battlefield.