Some clouds, it’s been said, have a silver lining. But clouds can get even worse. Some of them have black linings, as shitty events get shittier. Those are the clouds we’re talking about in this article. Here, for your depressing pleasure, are some of the worst events in history and their depressing epilogues which are so dark that no one can even talk about them.6
Doomed Sailors Were Trapped Underwater For Two Weeks After Pearl Harbor
The surprise 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in an incredible amount of death and destruction. Nineteen ships were sunk or damaged, and over 2,400 people were killed. That’s a big figure, and contains any number of horrors within it. But one horror in particular deserves attention, because of how long it took to play out.
One of the ships damaged in the attacks was the U.S.S. West Virginia. And if getting hit with two bombs, seven torpedoes, and losing over a hundred of her crew didn’t ruin her day, holy shit did she have a terrible secret waiting for the crew tasked with salvaging it.
In the aftermath of the attack, the Marines standing guard over the wreckage reported hearing banging noises emanating from the ship’s hull. It was first thought that these noises were coming from cooling metal, or salvage teams, or ghosts. But as they continued, it became clear what was truly going on: There were people alive and trapped in the wreckage. Worse still, they were doomed to stay there. Cutting a hole in the hull could flood the ship or spark an explosion. There was nothing to be done for them.
National Archives and Records Administration, San FranciscoThat ghost theory was about to be tragically proven right.
It wasn’t until six months later that teams were able to raise the ship. Inside an airtight storeroom, they found the bodies of three sailors — Ronald Endicott, Clifford Olds, and Louis Costin — alongside piles of opened food rations, flashlight batteries, and a freshwater tank. According to a calendar that was found in the room, the men had survived for 16 days before suffocating.
National Archives and Records Administration, San FranciscoWe checked the math again, and shhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.
Their families were told that the men died on December 7, the day of the attack itself. It wasn’t until years later that the truth came out, and even to this day, monuments list December 7 as the day of their passing. Which might not be right, but man, it also kind of feels like there might not be a right answer here.5
The Titanic Disaster Unintentionally Caused Another Sinking
In 1912, the Titanic sank for reasons that are fairly well-known (icebergs, hubris). Subsequent inquiries into the disaster laid the majority of blame on the ship’s horrific safety procedures, most notably its lack of lifeboats. This precipitated a shakeup in passenger ship safety regulations, which sounds like a good thing. Definitely not the kind of thing which would backfire and lead to the deaths of another 800-odd people.
Ironically, those safety procedures would later backfire and lead to the deaths of another 800-odd people.
On July 24th, 1915, the Eastland, a passenger ship operating out of Chicago, set sail for Michigan City. The journey ended within seconds, when the ship rolled and pitched its 2,573 occupants into the Chicago River, killing 844 of them.
Chicago Daily NewsNot meant to be on its side.
So what the fuck happened? Well, the lifeboats happened. After the Titanic, Congress enacted regulations which required passenger ships to carry enough lifeboats to accommodate every single passenger. Which was a big problem for river boats and their shallow drafts. The Eastland was already a bit top-heavy, and these new regulations forced it to go from six lifeboats to 11. Add in 37 life rafts and 2,000+ life jackets — all of which were stored on the top deck — and you had something which was less a ship and more a massive experiment in rudimentary physics.
Max Rigot Selling CompanyWe’re shocked Hollywood hasn’t already glommed on to this tragedy for Titanic 2.
In defense of the poor bastard who originally designed the thing, the Eastland was originally meant to haul 500 people, not 2,500. Makeshift, and apparently legal, modifications made it sort of stable when underway, but it was always a little tippy when loading and unloading. The mandatory lifeboats, as well-intended as they were, became sort of the proverbial straw which made the camel fall over and kill 800 people.4
Prisoners During Hurricane Katrina Were Abandoned In A Flood (Of Shit) For Four Days
When we calculate the big list o’ good times America has had, Hurricane Katrina isn’t going to rank too highly up there. The storm and its aftermath are thought to have killed over 2,000 people, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and caused over $100 billion in damages. And those are just the fun parts that you’ve heard about. Meanwhile, there’s a chapter of the storm no one seems to like talking about, starring some poor bastards in prison.
According to human rights researchers who interviewed inmates held in a prison called Templeman III, after the floodwaters hit, the people running this prison — guards, administrators, everyone — up and left, abandoning 600+ prisoners in flooded cells without food or water. For four fucking days.
Getty, zudinWe checked the math, and it turns out that’s not good.
According to a timeline of events pieced together by these researchers, the prisoners last reported seeing guards on August 28 — the day the hurricane came ashore and the vast majority of city residents had fled or holed themselves up inside the paradise that was forming in the Superdome. By August 29, the prison was a lawless ghost town filled with chest-high floodwaters and — oh, cool — turds, thanks to a backed-up sewage system.
As is their way, the inmates took matters into their own hands, some of them managing to break out of their cells to escape the rising waters. Others, in the vain hope that someone would give a shit, hung signs out of their cells begging for help — a sight witnessed by a correctional officer at another prison. Regardless, it took until September 1 for someone to realize that, yes, they’d accidentally Home Alone‘d an entire prison, and yes, they should probably get around to rescuing them.
American Civil Liberties UnionSadly, they didn’t think to rescue them from the other guards, too.
These weren’t criminal kingpins, by the way. The vast majority of inmates in this particular facility were being held for offenses like disorderly conduct or public drunkenness — many hadn’t been convicted or even charged yet. The main inmates were being held in similar prisons Templeman I and Templeman II, both of which were evacuated almost immediately, though they didn’t exactly have a great time of things, either.3
Fallout From The Civil Rights Movement Led To Countless Black Men Being Diagnosed With “Schizophrenia”
The Civil Rights Movement won great things for the nation’s minorities, but these victories came at a tremendous cost for the people who won them. For years, black communities suffered through protests, riots, and, let’s say, “vigorous” police enforcement. And there’s an even sadder case of discrimination from this time which almost no one knows about; one which put a lot of black men into mental hospitals.
FiachraByrne / Wiki CommonsThat sensation of sinking horror is totally normal. That’s the way we should all be feeling.
Prior to the 1960s, schizophrenia was thought to be something which only middle-class women suffered, like the vapors or plodding missionary-position sex. Its symptoms, as understood at the time, matched what we’d now call depression, and it was typically chalked up to pressures related to housework and motherhood. But that all changed in 1968, with the publication of new psychiatric guidelines which reclassified schizophrenia as a disease which manifested via outbursts of ultra-violent aggression. Before, schizophrenia was treated with compassion and pity. Now, it required containment.
Guess how that turned out.
ArtByAllyson / iStockNo, don’t guess. It will make you feel bad.
OK, we’ll tell you. In the years that followed, schizophrenia diagnoses in “angry black men” skyrocketed. Moreover, a specific type of schizophrenia was suddenly discovered: paranoid schizophrenia, sufferers of which were typified as having “delusional anti-whiteness.” Which sounds laughable; considering the lynching and segregation and bombings and arson and goddamned medical experimentation, it’d be delusional for a black man not to be anti-white.
The psychiatrists who changed these guidelines probably weren’t being explicitly racist. But in the words of the psychiatry professor who identified the sudden trend, this change “reflected the social tensions of 1960s America.” Far from being a cold, clinical decision, the new diagnosis procedures were heavily intertwined with the cultural values of the day, or at least the cultural values of white doctors, leading them to create what was essentially a modern version of “drapetomania” — the old “illness” concocted to explain why slaves so often fled their masters.
McNeil Laboratories“Haldol: It’s About Oppression.”2
Mass Shooting Survivors Become Targets Of Conspiracy Theorists
A few years ago, Carli Richards had a bad day, as would most of us if someone tried to kill us with a shotgun. As you probably guessed from our use of the word “tried,” she survived when James Holmes began shooting people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. Twelve others weren’t so lucky. Unfortunately, the universe had a few more things in store for her, and her life soon began to unravel in a variety of ways.
WikiImages / pixabay“COME BACK HERE, I’M NOT DONE WITH YOU.”
First, the awful, if relatively predictable, misery. In the aftermath of the shooting, Carli was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. During a shift delivering pizzas, she opened a bottle of water and smelled tear gas, which triggered an episode and caused her to start vomiting. So that gig didn’t last long. Soon enough, she couldn’t afford to pay her insurance and car payments, all while dealing with the pain caused by some asshole’s shotgun pellets that were still in her body, which she eventually sold to stay atop of her bills.
Carli RichardsThey didn’t just wreck her day, but several hundred more days beyond that.
And then we get to an even weird misery. Almost every mass shooting now brings out conspiracy theorists who believe that it was faked, typically by Obama as an excuse to confiscate everyone’s guns. The same thing happened with Aurora, and these “Holmies” would soon use social media to harass Carli, calling her a liar and publicity whore and government stooge, and probably some less printable things as well. Also, for some reason, Megadeth is involved.
Disney-ABC Domestic TelevisionWell done, Universe.
The Challenger Astronauts Probably Survived The Initial Explosion
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger suffered a catastrophic failure when hot pressurized gas ruptured one of the main fuel tanks, triggering the shuttle’s disintegration. It’s commonly thought that the crew perished immediately. Unfortunately, there’s evidence to suggest otherwise.
Contrary to popular belief, the explosion didn’t tear apart the shuttle — it disintegrated, but it did eject the crew compartment relatively intact. And although it almost certainly depressurized during this, everyone was in a spacesuit equipped with a PEAP, or Personal Egress Air Pack. When salvage teams located these PEAPs (they found four out of a possible seven), they observed that three had been activated. And not by hitting the water — they were manually activated. Indeed, upon examining the PEAP belonging to Captain Michael Smith, NASA found that a significant portion of the air had been used. Which means that some of the crew were probably alive when they hit the ocean.
NASAIf you can call the terrifying realization that you’re about to die horribly “being alive.”
After this was discovered, there was a considerable effort by NASA to cover up these findings. This was partially born from a desire to spare the crew’s families the trauma of realizing that their loved ones didn’t die instantly, but NASA may have also wanted to avoid embarrassment by not advertising how ill-prepared they were for a scenario like this. A shuttle disintegrating during launch is bad, there’s no doubting that. But if the crew compartment survived that intact, a soft landing or otherwise slowed descent might have saved everyone’s lives. If it was something that NASA had anticipated.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationSomewhat ironically, we’ve circled back to hubris, and also a lack of lifeboats.
Though that was hardly the biggest fuckup this time around, considering that NASA had ignored warnings that their shuttle was about to blow up from the guys who made the damned thing. It’s really only a matter of time before someone reveals that NASA also ignored warnings that the shuttle’s launchpad was located directly on top of an orphanage.
When Adam isn’t redefining comedy as “heartbreaking sadness,” he tweets on Twitter. He also has an email address where you can contact him with comments / complaints / cute soul-redeeming animal pictures.