An unidentified firefighter foregrounded before Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. The image of the New York firefighter, along with other 9/11 first responders, are forever etched in the American imagination as exemplars of American heroism.
The photos in this article, not often seen, show eerie, heartbreaking and unusual scenes from history. Many of them are the last known photos ever taken of their subjects before they passed away. They are as instructive as they are chilling.
Rare Historical Photos
In a gesture of compassion, a German soldier is seen here handing a bit of food to a Russian woman who is carrying her child. Contrast this largesse against the background of the German "Hunger Plan," which starved millions to death as an offensive tactic against the Soviet Union. The photo was taken by George Gundlach in 1941. Gundlach was the photographer for the 291st Division of the Wehrmacht. It was taken from the album "Volkhov's battle. Documents of horror 1941-1942."
You Must Remember This
This is one of the final photographs ever shot of Sharon Tate, seen here with her friend and former boyfriend Jay Sebring. The two of them, along with Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger were all killed by the Manson Family on August 8th, 1969. They were killed by the Mansons in a house on Cielo Drive in San Diego, California.
The woman pictured here is Irma Grese, an SS guard at the Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, who was infamous for her outrageously brutal treatment of prisoners. In addition to doling out savage beatings, she was a sexual sadist and alleged nymphomaniac, regularly raping prisoners and carrying out affairs with other SS officers. Including, possibly, Josef Mengele. She had aspirations to be a movie star after the war, but she was executed by hanging at age 22 for her crimes.
After the liberation of France, it was a shamefully common practice for groups of men to seize women suspected of having lain with (even by coercion) Nazi soldiers and subject them to rituals of public humiliation. The standard punishment was to shave their heads. It is still considered a shameful moment in French history. Here, an accused woman prepares to lose her hair.
Nazi General Anton Dostler being tied to a stake, to be executed by firing squad in Italy's Aversa stockade. He was the first Nazi General to be executed. He was convicted and sentenced to death after the end of the War by an American military tribunal.
This photograph is the last known picture of RMS Titanic on the surface of the ocean. It was taken during her maiden voyage at Crosshaven, Ireland, just after the vessel departed Queenstown where it had stopped before heading westwards towards New York. Three days after this photo was taken 1,514 people would be dead and the Titanic would be on the bottom of the North Atlantic after colliding with an iceberg
A group of female North Vietnamese political activists meeting in the Nam Can forest. They cover their faces in order to remain anonymous from one another, in case they are caught and interrogated. North Vietnam ultimately defeated the Americans during the Vietnam War.
Just A Car Guy
This photo, taken in Florida's Key West, shows a car cruising alongside an anti-ballistic missile array. Such scenes were common in the area, as tension between the United States and Cuba escalated to a fever pitch. The CIA made hundreds of unsuccessful assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, and JFK oversaw the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. Cuba was seen around the world as the David to America's Goliath.
The man in this photo is Lewis Sayre, an American orthopedic surgeon who invented the method of suspending and then wrapping patients with spine problems. He is seen here examining one of his patients. Sayre performed the first successful surgery to cure hip-joint ankylosis, and was also a pioneer of hospital sanitation.
This young girl is being treated for Polio with leg braces. The treatment was made famous to modern audiences by the film Forrest Gump. Thankfully, Polio was virtually eliminated in the first world when Jonas Salk invented a vaccine in the 1950s.
In this iconic photo, firefighters hoist the American flag aloft above the wreckage of the Twin Towers. The flag was lost for some time, but was finally returned to authorities in Washington state, to be displayed at the 9/11 museum.
This is the last known photo of Andrew McAuley, an Australian sea kayaker who is now presumed dead. McAuley attempted to kayak 994 miles across the Tasman Sea in February of 2007 and was never found.
McAuley perished less than 30 nautical miles from land. Photographs from the kayaker's camera, show that he was in sight of the taller peaks of the South Island of New Zealand before he went missing.
McAuley was attempting to become the first man to cross the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand back in February. He was expected to reach land on Feb. 10th, but on the 9th he sent a distress signal. The next day his kayak was found, but his body is still missing.
One of the last photos ever taken of Robin Williams before he committed suicide. He is seen here with a monkey named Crystal. People speculate that a combination of Parkinson's Disease, Lewy Body Dementia and depression drove him to kill himself.
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Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of Queen. He died of complications related to AIDS. He confirmed the day before he died that he had contracted the disease. This is his last known photo.
45 days before she embarked on the infamous flight that would render her both missing and eternally famous, Amelia Earhart posed for a photoshoot. Here, she's seen standing in front of the Model 10 Electra that would carry her to her mysterious destiny.
On September 1, 1983, this plane took off from New York and was then shot down in Soviet airspace. Thirteen bodies washed up the next week, but they were too damaged to be identified. No other bodies were found. The Russians claimed in 1991 that they had found the wreckage, but that crabs had eaten all the bodies.
The ARA San Juan, an Argentinian submarine, is seen here before its final voyage. The San Juan was last seen in the San Jorge Gulf, suffering an electrical problem and then going missing. The Argentinian government has since revealed that the missing sub exploded, killing all 44 crew members.
Daily Mail / SWNS.com
This is Steve Irwin on September 4, 2006, just hours before his fatal encounter with a stingray. He was killed during what was meant to be the closing shot of the segment, showing the stingray swimming safely away from Irwin.
This is the wreckage of the American battleship Maine, which was destroyed, along with 260 crew members, on the night of February 15th, 1898 in Havana harbor, likely by a mine. Nobody knows exactly who caused the explosion, or why, but the event precipitated the Spanish-American War.
This is the legendary "Lost Squadron," the crews of five Grumman TBM Avengertorpedo bombers that vanished over the Bermuda Triangle on December 5, 1945. The bombers lost radio contact with the Navy and then disappeared. A Martin PBM Mariner flying boat sent to search for them also disappeared. The causes are still unknown.
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Lee Harvey Oswald was the man who assassinated JFK. He is seen here the moment before being fatally shot by a nightclub owner named Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963.
This is the last photo George Barris ever took of Marilyn Monroe. She died three weeks later.
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This is Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS, at his last ever rehearsal with the band. He died the next day. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was suicide. He was 37.
Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (center bottom), just minutes before dying in an explosion. The bomb belonged to Chechen Islamists, who detonated it during a WWII memorial victory parade on May 9, 2004.
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This is Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, playing his last concert. He died two hours after this photo was taken. Cornell committed suicided by hanging himself. His Wife blames prescription drugs for altering his state of mind and pushing him over the edge.
Actor Paul Walker is seen here getting into the car that he would fatally crash in half an hour later. The accident occurred on November 30, 2013.
This is the last known photograph taken aboard Uruguayan Flight 571, which crashed into the Andes on October 13, 1972. 28 of the 45 passengers survived the crash. Sixteen of them were rescued 72 days later. They survived through cannibalism.
David Bowie, apparently in good spirits, is seen here in the last known photograph taken of him before he died. He passed away on January 10, 2016, of cancer. He had kept his illness secret. He died two days after his 69th birthday and the release of Blackstar, his final album.
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Rosa Parks, at her last ever public appearance. Parks died on October 24, 2005, in her Detroit apartment.
The crew of the NASA shuttle orbiter mission STS-51-L, moments before the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven people aboard it. Five NASA astronauts and two payload specialists lost their lives in the tragedy.
This is the last known photo of Tupac. He was murdered very soon after this photo was taken. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery.
This is the last known photo of Robin Williams. He's posing with Abby Albers, a server at a Dairy Queen near Williams's rehab center, the Hazeldon Addiction Treatment Center.
This is the last known photo of George Harrison with the other surviving Beatles. Harrison died on November 29, 2001, seventeen days after this photo was taken.
Vicki Weaver, shown on August 21, 1992, the same day she, her fourteen-year-old son and a family dog were fatally shot by the FBI and U.S. marshals during the Ruby Ridge Siege. The siege was eventually resolved by civilian negotiators.
This photo, which may be the last of John Lennon, shows him giving an autograph to Mark David Chapman, pictured on the right. Chapman was Lennon's assassin, and killed him soon after the photo was taken.
The last known photo of Adolf Hitler, taken two days before his death. He stands outside his Berlin bunker, examining bombing damage. He's pictured with Julius Schaub, his adjutant.
The last photo ever taken of Gary Box, a firefighter and 9/11 first responder, seen here running through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel towards the disaster. Within the hour, he had lost his life.
This photo was taken inside of Japan Air Flight 123 just thirty minutes before the plane collided with a mountain. All fifteen crew members were killed, along with 505 of the 509 passengers.
Sharon Tate, actress, photographed in her backyard on August 9, 1969. That night the Manson Family would brutally murder her and four other people.
Jimi Hendrix has tea in a garden the day before his death. He died on September 18, 1970, from a massive overdose of sleeping tablets. He was 27.
The three crew members of the Apollo 1 mission board for a rehearsal test that would claim all of their lives. A cabin fire erupted, killing Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee.
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Singer Aaliyah and her entourage in the Bahamas, on their way back to their flight to the United States. This is the last known photo of them - their plane crashed, killing them all.
Various Small Fires
The last known photo of Otto von Bismarck, here seen in his deathbed. The photo was taken on July 30, 1898, the same day he died.
President McKinley, ascending some steps just minutes before being fatally shot. The photo was taken on September 14, 1901.
This Caravaggio painting, The Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence, was stolen by the Mafia in 1969. It has never resurfaced. A full-scale replica was painted in 2015 to replace it, based only on this tiny, 4x5 inch photograph from 1968.
Taringa! / Splash News
The last known photo of actor Heath Ledger. The photo was taken only a day or two before Ledger died of cardiac arrest brought on by drug abuse.
Thích Quảng Đức just moments before immolating himself in a Saigon road intersection on June 11, 1963. Đức was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in protest of South Vietnamese state persecution of Buddhists.
Kris Kremers and her friend Lisanne Froon were two Dutch students who disappeared while vacationing in Panama on April 1, 2014. Portions of their bodies, and their bones, were found months later. The cause of death has never been determined.
This is the last known photo of the now-extinct barbary lion. It was taken in 1925. Some speculate tiny populations of the barbary lion may have held out until the 1960s.