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These Photos Appear Ordinary Until You Discover Their Unexpected Backstories

Suntan vending machine model - unexpected backstories

We’ve all heard the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But some pictures have at least a thousand words of unexpected backstories. The events leading up to a snapshot in time can sometimes be just as intriguing as the picture itself, and can tell us a lot more about a moment in history. From the unexpected to the unbelievable, pictures can come with all sorts of back stories, and we’ve got them all right here. Take a look at this list of seemingly ordinary photos, and you’ll soon learn that they’re not ordinary at all.

1. Sink Or Swim

There is nothing seemingly unusual about this early 1900s shot of a woman wearing a bathing suit. But this photo, and the swimsuit she is wearing, landed this woman in hot water. At the time, this photograph promoted women’s rights. And the story behind it wasn’t exactly black-and-white.

Woman in 1900s Bathing Suit

Wikimedia Commons

Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, who was the first woman to swim across the English Channel, posed for this photograph in 1907. In it, she made a political statement about a woman’s right to wear a fitted one-piece swimsuit. It’s crazy to think this getup was scandalous considering the types of swimwear today, but Kellerman was later arrested in Boston for indecency because of this fitted suit. The photograph definitely made a splash.

2. Stunt Doubles

This anxiety-inducing photograph may remind viewers of a more recognizable picture titled “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper,” which famously shows 11 construction workers eating while suspended high above New York City. And if the two gravity-defying captures look similar, that is because they are. Still, the black-and-white shot seen here is said to reveal a surprising secret about the iconic lunch photograph.

Laying Atop Skyscraper

Bettman Collection/Corbis

This photo was purportedly taken during the same photo shoot to promote the new construction of Rockefeller Center. While “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper” looks to be a candid photo of construction workers, this rarely-seen photo is said to prove that the former actually was not candid at all, and was instead an elaborate publicity stunt.

3. Creating a Creature

It’s the photo that enforced a folklore. This famed photograph helped fuel theories about the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, a mythical creature said to live in Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. But the mysteriously grainy photograph, like the creature itself, turned out to be an elaborate myth.

Loch Ness Monster

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hunter Marmaduke Wetherell originally brought photos of hippo footprints to the Daily Mail, claiming they were the footprints of Nessie. Once those were questioned, Wetherell returned to the Loch with a toy submarine and coaxed a friend to take this legendary photograph, which was later debunked. But that didn’t stop the photo from spreading. And the rest was carefully fabricated history.

4. Subject Matters

Titled “Migrant Mother,” this famous photograph is one of the most recognized images from the Great Depression. But for decades, no one came forward to identify as the woman in the emotive photograph. Decades later, Florence Owens Thompson was named as the subject of the photo, and from there dispute only flourished.

Migrant Mother Photo Backstory

Dorthea Lange/Library of Congress

Photographer Dorthea Lange described the photo as a mother forced to sell her family’s tires in order to get food. Thompson disputed this, saying her family didn’t even have any tires to sell. Thompson grew frustrated that she had gained fame from a fabricated story deriving from a photograph she was promised would not be published, and never earned a penny for its use.

5. The Search for Mrs. Right

It was the kiss seen around the world. In 1945, photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this seemingly romantic scene in Times Square as people took the streets to celebrate the end of World War II. But the mystery surrounding this iconic photo had just begun.

Times Square Kiss

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Getty Images

For decades, no one knew the identity of woman in the legendary V-J Day in Times Square photo. In 1970, a woman named Edith Shain said it was her pictured, but she was much shorter than the woman in the photograph. Later Austrain-born dental assistant Greta Friedman came forward as the actual mystery woman captured kissing a Navy sailor. In 2005, she told an audience of her puckering partner seen in the shot: “[He] was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.” What a letdown!

6. What the Truck?

OK, so maybe this photograph isn’t so ordinary, but this snap of a truck in the branches of a tree in Wisconsin has drawn much speculation about how the blue-and-white Chevy Fleetside ended up so high off of the ground. And the backstory behind this photograph is just as interesting as the photo itself.

Truck in a Tree Photo Backstory

Truck In A Tree/Mark Madson

When Mark Madson, pictured above, bought the pickup truck in 1992, his intention was to fix it up for his 16-year-old son, Luke. Instead, they decided to turn the truck into a tree house. Today, Madson has collected over a million dollars from advertising profits off of the odd landmark. And they say money doesn’t grow on trees!

7. A Chilling Sight

Think this is just a routine photo of a trio of camels at the pyramids in Giza? We’ll pour cold water on that theory. While any mention of Egypt easily conjures mental images of such sight, there’s actually one detail upon closer inspection that makes this shot stand out. Captured on December 12, 2013, the frosty sands seen in this photo were photographed during the first snowfall in the Middle Eastern nation in 112 years!

camels in snow - pyramids

Twitter/@rolayasmine

Considering that Cairo usually only gets about an inch of rain each year, the unexpected snow literally many towns. Roads and schools were closed as Egypt dealt with the historic snowfall, and it must have put more than a few plans on ice.

8. Pride and Joy

You can fall in love with this photograph even before you know what its about. While it seems like a normal duo of women celebrating a triumph, they’re also simultaneously making history. Taken in 2011, this photograph capture celebrations after the first same-sex wedding to take place in New York City.

Same-sex couple celebrates marriage

Carolyn Cole/Getty Images

Phyllis Seigel, who was 77, and Connie Kopelov, who was 85, wed in Manhattan after 23 years into their relationship. And they were tired of waiting for their marriage certificate. The two wed on the same exact day that New York State’s same-sex marriage law went into effect. The couple got the marriage they always wanted, and we get to have this joyous photo of celebration.

9. The Bronze Age

At first glance, this might just look like a  woman about to use a gas or air pump machine. But look a little closer, and you will see that this machine isn’t anything of the sort. In fact, it’s a do-it-yourself suntan vending machine, providing a new meaning to hosing yourself down.

Suntan vending machine model

AP/Edward Kirch

The photograph, taken in 1949, features model Betty Dutter testing out the product. For only 10 cents, you could purchase 30 seconds of spray tan bliss. Star Manufacturing Company, which invented the device, had hoped that these spray tan machines would become a fixture at pools and beaches. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), they never really caught on. Our favorite part: the photo was taken at the Annual Vending Machine Convention, and we hope that still exists.

10. Leap of Faith

The image of 19-year-old border guard Hans Conrad Schumann is one of the most iconic images of Berlin just after World War II. In this photo, Schumann is seen leaping over barbed wire from Soviet East Berlin into West Berlin. He instantly became a symbol of seeking freedom to the Western world. But the backstory behind this iconic shot is just as captivating.

Leap Into Freedom

Peter Leibing/TIME Magazine

The photo didn’t just capture the attention of the world, it also may have influenced East German leader Walter Ulbricht to push for a permanent Berlin Wall. The perfectly-timed photo, taken by Peter Leibing, only had one negative, as he only had time to shoot one image. But he made it count. Because of the photo, Leibing and Schumann developed a life-long friendship.

11. It Has Everyone Buzzing

You only get this great of a photograph once in a blue moon. This out-of-this-world snap shows the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, as captured by the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. And while the photo has sparked the imaginations of many young aspiring astronauts, it has also gained attention for its behind-the-scenes circumstances.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Neil Armstrong/NASA

“When Neil took this picture of me it was very spontaneous,” Aldrin explained of his awkward pose. “He said ‘stop right there’ and I turned. You can see the motion of the strap.” But that’s not all that some see in the photo. Moon-landing-conspiracy theorists have long held that the photo seems to show a spotlight on Aldrin, which sparked since-unproven allegations of staging.

12. Burst Your Bubble

Veteran and prisoner of war Lt. Col. Robert Stirm is shown in this photograph returning to his happy family. Taken in 1973, it became a symbol of happiness and victory after the Vietnam War and received a Pulitzer Prize. The photographer, Slava “Sal” Veder, gave this vintage snapshot the title “Burst of Joy,” but its backstory is a much less joyous.

Burst of Joy

Slava “Sal” Veder/Associated Press

Stirm was returning after five years in captivity, and a lot had changed. Despite the smiles, Stirm received a letter just three days before this picture was taken from his wife, who had written to tell him that their marriage was over. By 1974, the two had divorced, but the photo withstood the test of time.

13. Well Suited

The art of mastering how to tie a tie is difficult to perfect, especially aboard a moving train. While this picture may look like a normal friendly exchange between two pals, this photo’s backstory has our faith restored in humanity and random acts of kindness – not to mention public transportation.

Woman Helps Man With Tie

Imgur/Jerrinq

Reddit user Jerrinq posted this photo and described the scene. A young man on a commuter train in San Francisco was trying desperately to knot his tie but couldn’t quite get it right. That’s when this woman, a total stranger, offered her help. The post received hundreds of thousands of views, and the young man got to go to his event dressed to the nines.

14. The Eye Of The Tigress

Greek soprano singer Maria Callas is known for her amazing opera performances, incredible voice, and for possessing a pretty volatile temper. Her anger caused her to earn the nickname “The Tigress,” and the roots of that infamous nickname lead back to this very photograph.

Maria Callas Yelling

Imgur/Lepetitnapoleon

After a performance of Madama Butterfly at Chicago’s Civic Opera in 1955, a U.S. Marshal entered Callas’ dressing room and served her with court papers for a lawsuit relating to a breach of contract. Furious, Callus followed the marshal through the Opera house yelling “I will not be sued!” The confrontation led to this photograph along with Callas’ decision to never return to Chicago, and a spot on this list.

15. Meow and Then

Out with the old and in with the new? This photograph of a childhood toy seems pretty ordinary, but the backstory behind the picture is even more heartwarming than the feeling of hugging a stuffed animal. A Reddit user posted this picture explaining that he had received the stuffed cat on the right in 1995 from his great-aunt.

Stuffed Animal

Reddit/Connguy1

He carried it around with him everywhere, and slept with it every night. Twenty years later, after his great-aunt died, he found that she had bought the exact same cat all those years ago. Look at what all those years of love can do to a toy!

16. Face the Facts

Taking your picture next to a statue while visiting a new city is nothing out of the ordinary. Plenty of tourists do it. Except this one is a little different than the rest. Can you recognize the famous face etched into this statue?

Woman Poses with Statue Of Liberty

Sunday Express

In fact, the lady in the photo was posing with none other than Lady Liberty herself. The rare image was found among a set of recently unearthed photos of tourists in Paris posing with pieces of the Statue of Liberty before its shipment to the United States. During final preparations, various pieces were placed throughout Paris’ Tracadéro gardens and became a popular tourist attraction. And the neoclassical statue has stood the test of time as an enduring attraction.

17. Lost And Found

A moment of rage or a moment of recognition? Taken in 1972, this photo captures the scene from a workers strike as demonstrators are met by French riot police. While this famous photograph seems to depict an angry confrontation, it actually has a surprising backstory of love and friendship.

Lost Friends

Jacques Gourmelen

It turns out that this photograph depicts a moment of familiarity between the protesting worker, Guy Burmieux, and the policeman, Jean-Yvon Antignac. The two had known each other from high school and were close friends. After this photo was taken, Burmieux found another job. Even with the pressures of the new gig, the two men remained close and met at a local pub every Sunday for years.

18. Out of This World

A wife hearing her husband’s voice may be one small step for most married couples, but it’s one giant leap for these two women, whose husbands were literally calling from outer space. This photograph was taken the moment Valerie Anders and Susan Borman were over the moon hearing their husbands’ voices from orbit during the Apollo 8 space mission.

Astronaut's Wives Club - Apollo 8

Lynn Pelham/Getty Images

The two were part of a group dubbed the “Astronaut Wives Club.” During the Apollo 8 mission in the 1960s, these women were expected to play the part of the perfect, patriotic wives, and were followed and photographed. In fact, over time many of the women remained closer to the other Astronaut Wives than the astronauts remained to each other.

19. Why Did the Building Cross the Road?

When we hear “moving apartment buildings,” we usually think of tenants moving from one residence to another. We rarely take the saying literally, as in physically moving an entire apartment building across a street! But that’s what happened in the Romanian city of Alba Iulia in 1987, and the backstory was all the more incredible.

Romanian Boulevard Building

Imgur/Bladek23

This huge apartment building was blocking the path for a newly-planned boulevard. So city engineers split the building in half, and moved one half across the road 180 feet away. They used railway tracks and put the entire structure on wheels. One woman is said to have put a glass of water on her balcony, and when she returned she found it hadn’t spilled a drop.

20. Close, But No Cigar

This photograph of Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill became instantly iconic when it was captured in 1941 by photographer Yousuf Karsh. Taken during the early days of World War II, the photo became a symbol of British defiance. But, the backstory also seems to say a lot about Churchill’s defiance.

Winston Churchill Photo Backstory

Yousuf Karsh/Wikimedia Commons

As Karsh has recalled, he was only given two minutes to snap a photograph of Churchill between meetings, and Churchill was not in the mood for posing in front of the camera at the time. After waiting for Churchill to put out his token cigar to no avail, Karsh finally plucked the cigar out of his mouth. This angered face you see from Churchill is his immediate, stubborn reaction.

21. A Moment of Bliss

This seemingly unassuming hillside is located in the Los Carneros American Viticultural Area of Sonoma County in California. In this area, much of the land is used to produce sparkling wine. And while this might look like just any other hillside, the story behind it is anything but ordinary.

Microsoft Windows Hill

Imgur/Eatnumber1

Twenty years before this shot was taken, this hillside was photographed for the default Windows XP background called “Bliss,” which showcased a pastoral rolling hillside. The famous desktop wallpaper version was taken during an insect infestation, and the vineyard had been removed, leaving just a vibrant green hillside. The scene in its current form is almost unrecognizable. But at one time, it was part of one of the most viewed photos in the entire world.

22. The Perfect Birthday Gift

You probably will recognize the cropped version of this photograph of famed physicist Albert Einstein if you’ve been in most science classrooms. Photographer Arthur Sasse took this iconic photo in 1951 on Einstein’s 72nd birthday. Sasse captured Einstein’s goofier side, but his editors were worried about publishing the photo.

Albert Einstein Sticks Tongue Out

Arthur Sasse/AFP

It’s a good thing they did. Sasse ended up sending the shot directly to Einstein, and it quickly became his all-time-favorite photo of himself. He requested Sasse send him the now-famous cropped version and ordered nine copies, which he turned into greeting cards and sent to friends. Looks like genius behind the theory of relativity also knew the equation for an instantly-classic image.

23. Raising a Flag

For most Americans, this instantly recognizable picture is a symbol of the end of World War II. In the photograph, United States soldiers are seen raising a Star-Spangled flag on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima, Japan in 1945. But while many consider the now monumental picture to show the first flag raising and the end of war, history didn’t exactly work that way.

Iwo Jima Flag Raising

Joe Rosenthal/Associated Press

This flag was actually the second flag to be hoisted that day. Another photographer snapped a picture of the first flag raising, and photographer Joe Rosenthal then positioned himself to get the perfect shot of the second flag raising. Not to mention, the battle actually lasted for one more month after this photo was taken.

24. A Che-ance Encounter

If anyone hasn’t seen this exact photograph, then maybe you’ve seen it reprinted on various hats, t-shirts, flags, or most other paraphernalia involving revolutionary leader Che Guevara. While this memorable photograph is well known now, its backstory is not as well known.

Che Guevara Iconic Photo

Alberto Korda/Wikimedia Commons

The photographer, Alberto Korda, took the 1960 photo at a funeral in Havana, Cuba. Fidel Castro delivered a speech at the memorial that day, and Korda was focused on snapping photos of him, taking this photograph as an afterthought. It was not until after Guevara’s death that the photo began to circulate and its popularity began to grow into the most famous image of the historic figure.

25. Hollywood Hog

If you were just scrolling through pictures, you’d probably just assume that this is an ordinary photo that someone took of his friend or even a regular stranger riding down the street. But there’s more here to that backstory. Do you recognize this motorcyclist?

Keanu Reeves on Motorcycle

Reddit/Unknown_Human

This moto-man is actually actor Keanu Reeves. A user on Reddit reported that he saw the famed “Matrix” actor stopped at a traffic light and the picture received a ton of attention. And for those wondering, he is riding a 750 Norton Commando. Note to self: Always look at who you’re driving next to when stopped at a traffic light. You never know who you might see!

Sources: Le Telegramme, TIME Magazine, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Smithsonian Magazine

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