Some photographs look so ordinary that no one would look at them twice. But sometimes, these simple and ordinary photographs are the ones that hold the most amazing backstories. These spectacular backstories have the power to make these simple photographs rare gems. There have been many such photographs across history. We bring to you 10 such simple photographs with mind-blowing backstories.
1. The little box that this smiling man is holding is the nuclear core to the Fat Man – the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.
“Fat Man” was the nuclear bomb that the United States dropped over the city of Nagasaki in Japan. The year was 1945, and it was the second of the only two nuclear bombs to be ever used in warfare.
In the picture above, the smiling man is Harold Agnew. He was an American physicist who worked as the scientific observer on the Hiroshima bombing. He is casually carrying the plutonium core of Fat Man. This small core weighed 14 pounds (6.4 kg) and had a blast capacity of 21 kt (88 TJ), which, when converted to calories, would be 2.1×1010 calories! (1, 2)
2. This pigeon delivered a message from a trapped battalion of soldiers in WW I saving nearly 200 men. The pigeon was shot multiple times and ended up losing a leg and an eye. She was named “Cher Ami” by the soldiers which translated to “Dear friend”.
Major Charles White Whittlesey and more than 194 men were stranded in a small depression by a hill on October 3, 1918. The war was on, and there was no way to get out without being noticed by the Germans. After the first day, only 194 men survived. There was no way of sending out a runner as the Germans were shooting on sight. So. the major decided to use pigeons instead.
Two of the birds carrying message were shot down. The third was the pigeon in the picture. She was dispatched with a note tied on her left leg. The note said, “We are along the road paralell to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it.”
As the pigeon tried to fly, the Germans started shooting at her, and just after a few seconds, she was shot down. But somehow she managed to fly again and covered 40 kilometers in just 25 minutes. She was able to successfully deliver the message saving the lives of 194 men. During her journey, one of her eyes was blinded and she was shot through the breast. Also, one of her legs was damaged.
The army medics tried their best to save her leg but were unable to. So, they carved out a little wooden leg for her. The army named her “Cher Ami” which is French for “dear friend.” The pigeon received the Croix de Guerre Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster for her iconic service during the war. She delivered 12 important messages in Verdun. (source)
3. This man is holding the 1987 National Geographic‘s “Picture of the Year.” It depicts the first heart transplant in Poland which took 23 hours. The man holding the picture was the patient. He outlived the doctor who performed the surgery.
The person holding the picture was Tadeusz Zitkevits, the patient in the picture he is holding. Tadeusz Zitkevits received the first heart transplant in Poland. The doctor in the picture he is holding was the one who performed the surgery. His name was Zbigniew Religa.
The surgery took him 23 hours to complete. It was so exhausting that Religa’s helper can be seen asleep on the floor towards the right side of the photo. Photographer James Stansfield captured the moment after the surgery when the doctor was sitting near the patient examining his vitals.
4. A scene from Roundhay Garden Scene believed to be the oldest surviving film in existence.
Roundhay Garden Scene is an 1888 short film capturing real life. It was recorded by Louis Le Prince, a French inventor. The picture above belongs to footage that is believed to be the oldest film in existence.
The film starred Le Prince’s son, Adolphe, his in-laws, Sarah and Joseph Whitley, and Annie Hartley, a friend of Le Prince. The film was shot at the Whitley residence at Oakwood Grange in England on 14 October 1888. The people in the footage were just leisurely walking around in the garden.
In the movie, Sarah can be seen turning around while Joseph’s coattails are flying as he is also trying to turn. The original footage was recorded on an Eastman Kodak paper-based photographic film. Louis Le Prince used a single-lens camera for the shoot. Certain surviving parts from the footage were produced by the National Science Museum in London in 1930. These were later mastered to 35mm film. According to Adolphe, Le Prince shot the footage at 12 fps (frames per second). However, according to an analysis of the footages, the frame rate was found to be 7 fps. In a 2015 documentary known as The First Film, the same speed of production was used (7 fps). (source)
5. This photo looks like that of a young girl. In reality, it is the childhood image of Franklin D. Roosevelt who would later go on to become the president of the United States of America.
Prior to the 16th-century, there used to be a ritual known as “breaching.” It was the occasion when a small boy was first dressed in breeches or trousers. But from the mid-16th century until the beginning of the 20th-century, young boys were dressed in gowns or dresses until the age of eight.
In the picture above, Franklin D. Roosevelt is seen wearing one such gown. The photo was taken in 1884 when Roosevelt was two and a half years old. Who would have guessed that this little boy would go on to become the 32nd president of the United States? (1, 2)