History never forgets people. Over time, some people assume a prominent place in the book of history while some others remain on rather obscure pages. There are only a few people in history who shaped the dynamics of their times, gained popularity, but nothing is known about the actual person behind the story. We recognize them by their acts or faces, but we don’t know their names. How ironic it is to be famous and yet still be unknown!
Here is a list of ten most famous, yet unidentified people in the history.
1. Tank Man
The photograph of a man standing fearlessly before a troop of tanks taken during the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 has to be included in top one hundred images of all time. The photograph was taken by Jeff Widener who was sent on an assignment by Associated Press.
The Chinese troops had attacked pro-democracy demonstrators camped on the plaza, and the tanks featured in the image are those which were traversing through plaza the next day. The man refused to budge when the front tank tried to move around. He also tried climbing one of the tanks to halt them.
Widener was almost sure that the man’s death was inevitable, but for some reasons the tanks held fire. The man was not armed. He was just an ordinary man returning from shopping, but his heroic act to stand up against the wrong made him immortal.
He became an icon of pro-democracy protests. A U.K.-based newspaper, the Sunday Express, speculated that the man was a nineteen-year-old student, Wang Weilin, who was presumably put to death. However, no news agency or human rights organization has confirmed the identity of the man.
2. The Babushka Lady
The assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was a source of perpetual conspiracy theories and doubts. The “Babushka Lady” was an unknown woman present during the assassination who might have photographed the whole series of unfortunate events. She was named after the headscarf she was wearing, “babushka” meaning old woman in Russian.
According to eyewitnesses, she possessed a camera. This was also confirmed by the film records of the assassination. The strangest thing about her was that after the shooting when most of the eyewitnesses ran for cover, she kept standing as if unfazed.
3. The Hiroshima Steps Shadow
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The bomb killed 70,000 people instantly. The bomb generated unimaginable heat, so much so that many were incinerated leaving haunting shadows on the objects which surrounded them.
A person with a walking stick, who was perhaps climbing the stairs, was burnt to death in a fraction of a second, and his disengaging body casted a permanent shadow. These “nuclear shadows” tell us that a city buzzing with people doing their morning chores was destroyed in virtually an instance.
There was no way to discover the identity of this person, but he immortalized the animosity of war and frailties of human life. He, perhaps, was just an ordinary man when alive, but after his death, his shadow became an iconic symbol of nuclear tragedy.(1,2)
4. The last Jew in Vinnitsa
During the early 1940s when World War II was at its peak, Nazis planned a systematic genocide of Jews. The regions of Europe occupied by Germany were ethnically cleansed of Jews.
The iconic photograph is known as “The last Jew in Vinnitsa” pictures the execution of a Jewish man in the Ukranian town of Vinnytsia. Around 28,000 Jews were killed in Vinnitsa and its surrounding areas.
The photograph was named after the inscription behind it: “Last Jew of Vinnitsa”. The photograph evokes chills. There is a helpless man sitting on the edge of a mass human grave with no expression on his face at all and there is nothing he can do but to accept his fate. He eventually became the face of the helpless Jewish agony.(1,2)
5. Immortal Beloved
Anonymous people who are famous in history and talked about still today are not limited to only wars. The “Immortal Beloved” is the addressee of a letter handwritten by legendary composer and pianist, Beethoven. The ten-page letter was written on the 6th or 7th of July 1812.
Because the musical genius was of the most influential cultural phenomenon of his times, the recipient of letter became a subject of intrigue. Scholars could never zero in on a single person.
The story was the inspiration for a 1994 movie of the same name. From the letter, it is apparent that the two lovers have been in touch but maybe not so often. Apparently, the idea of their living together was something unobtainable. Beethoven’s lady love was a muse to several literary and research works. She exemplified a star-crossed lover of a brilliant musician who he could never have.(1,2)
6. Dancing Man
The World War II was a blotch on human history due to the number of innocent deaths. Nonetheless, it gave humanity many photographs which symbolise the human will for peace and love.
The “Dancing Man” photograph is the quintessential symbol of joy and relief at the news that World War II had ended. The photograph shows a man dancing in an elated mood on the street in Sydney, Australia. The man was also captured on motion picture film and has become a symbol of revelry after World War II’s end.
7. Exorcism of Roland Doe
Exorcism has been the favorite subject for horror movies. It is a religious exercise where demons are supposedly evicted from a person who is possessed. But a little known is the fact that many movies are inspired by real-life events.
One of these controversial rituals inspired movies like The Exorcist (1973). A fourteen-year-old boy was subjected to months-long exorcism by priests in Missouri in 1949. To protect his identity, the boy was given the pseudonym Roland Doe. According to one priest who was the last surviving eyewitness of the ritual, it was not definitive that the boy was possessed at all.
The account of the events of the ritual almost became the source of standard scenes in horror movies and books. However, it could never be concluded who the unfortunate boy was, and what he actually suffered from. He became an anonymous, perennial source of subject matter for supernatural fiction.(1,2)
8. The V-J Day Sailor
Another icon of love and peace is a photograph named as “V-J Day in Times Square” or “The Kiss”. Like the “Dancing Man”, one man and a woman were celebrating the end of World War II. The picture depicting a sailor dressed in deep blue and a nurse dressed in white uniforms kissing each other has become one of the most reproduced pictures in history. They did not know each other before.
Several men and women have come forward to claim that they were the people in the picture. But, to this date, nobody has been identified conclusively. The photographer, Eisenstaedt, was a pioneer of photojournalism, and he said that a woman named Shain might be the woman in the photo. He even sent her the book he authored.
The photograph has since been an inspiration to many sculptures like “Unconditional Surrender” which was displayed in many cities of the U.S. Although it could never be confirmed who the man and woman were in the picture, it has become the symbol of love.(1,2)
9. The Falling Man
Also included in the top one hundred influential photos ever taken by Time Magazine, it tells a tragic tale. The picture was taken by Richard Drew moments after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In the picture, a man is seen falling from a skyscraper on the ill-fated day. The photo looks haunting – a man falling from deadly heights. It was never known who the man was. Some believe that he was a maintenance employee washing the windows.
The man doesn’t appear to be struggling. Rather it seems like he accepted his fate. It was not clear that if the man chose to jump from the tower to escape from smoke, or if he was thrown out due to the explosion. The man has become an icon of the struggle of the civilized world against terrorism and the aftermath of 9/11 attacks.(1,2,3)
10. Flower Power
Wars leave horrific memories in the minds of survivors. But survivors who choose peace, inspire generations to come. “Flower Power” is a historic photograph which shows a Vietnam War protestor inserting a carnation into the barrel of the rifle held by a soldier.
The identity of the man could never be confirmed. The photographer, Bernie Boston, was recognised the world over. The picture is one of the most reproduced images of all time. It symbolises that deep within, humans crave peace and conversation.
The man inserting flower in the rifles became a symbol of the anti-war movement of the 1960s. Since then, the protestors have been using flowers, flags, and toys to drive home their point that ammunition will not bring world peace.(1,2,3)