Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering what Wikipedia is actually for. I mean, we know it’s not an acceptable source for academic research — so is it just meant to serve as a (mostly but not always accurate) public repository for random knowledge? Maybe. Maybe not, though. All I know is that I spend the majority of my time on it looking up creepy Wikipedia pages, because I have a lot of really weird hobbies and I need to feed the metaphorical beast somehow. (But not that weird. I might like to read and write about weird things, but I don’t usually actually do weird things. For whatever that’s worth.)
And there’s certainly no shortage of odd, unusual, and outright freaky topics covered by various Wikipedia pages; in fact, as I discovered last week, there’s actually an entire subreddit devoted to these kinds of Wiki entries. They run the gamut from mysterious disappearances to serial killers both caught and uncaught and from bizarre thought experiments to truly bizarre phenomena. What they all have in common, though? Is that they are absolutely riveting. I don’t know if it’s just me — I wonder sometimes whether everyone finds these kinds of reads as habit-forming as I do — but if you, too, are interested in strange things, then you’ll probably appreciate them all.
Here are 12 of them to get you started. I realize that perhaps titling this list “Creepy Wikipedia Pages You Had No Idea Existed” might be stretching it a little — to be fair, I did know that at least one of the ones here existed before I started my research — but odds are that they’ll be new to many people. Wikipedia is just so vast that it’s highly improbably any single person will have read the entire site.
Either way, though… these pages should keep you busy for a while.
I discovered this one when the topic of books bound in human skin came up during a meeting I was at last week.
Apparently the earliest known example we have of anthropodermic bibliopegy — the practice of binding books in human skin instead of run-of-the-mill leather made from cows or what have you — dates back to the 13th century; curiously, it’s a French Bible. However, it didn’t really become A Thing (insofar as it ever did become A Thing) until the late 16th or early 17th century.
Harvard University has quite a few books bound in human skin in its libraries. Just y’know… for the curious.
There’s insomnia, and there’s insomnia… and then there’s this. Fatal familial insomnia is a form of insomnia that is so bad, it can actually kill you. It apparently has four stages: The first, which lasts around four months, involves steadily increasing insomnia, which leads to panic attacks, paranoia, and phobias; then in the second stage, which lasts about five months, you start to hallucinate; in stage three, which is about three months in length, sufferers can’t sleep at all; and lastly, dementia sets in, with sufferers being unresponsive for around sixth months. After that… death.
Fatal familial insomnia is extremely rare — the mutated protein that causes it has apparently only be found in 40 families across the entire globe, which means it affects about 100 people — so at least there’s that. But if one parent has it, there’s a 50 percent chance that their children will have it.
3. Grey Goo
The first sentence of the article for “grey goo” reads as follows: “Grey goo (also spelled gray goo) is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves.”
I think that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the page.
Like many Wikipedia articles, this one starts with a brief paragraph at the top of the page outlining what the full article covers before launching into the nitty-gritty details. The outline for the Disappearance of Bobby Dunbar is no-nonsense, explaining the story simply: Bobby Dunbar disappeared at the age of four and was found after an eight-month search. But although Bobby Dunbar’s parents insisted the boy that was found was their son, the people with whom he had been found insisted he wasn’t. The law sided with the Dunbars, and the boy lived the rest of his life as Bobby Dunbar.
But then there’s this one single line, which exists as its own paragraph immediately following the first: “In 2004, DNA profiling established in retrospect that the boy found with Walters and returned to the Dunbars as Bobby had not been a blood relative of the Dunbar family.”
I find this so sad, and for so many reasons. First, the boy who lived as Bobby Dunbar essentially had his previous identity erased. He seems to have had a mostly fine life, and obviously we don’t know whether his original life would have been any better or worse than the one he had; however, the fact that he never even had the chance to find out strikes me as enormously sad.
And second: What actually happened to the real Bobby Dunbar?
Also known as “human mummy confection,” mellified man is what you get when you leave a dead human body in a vat of honey for a really long time. It was apparently meant to be some kind of ancient healing substance; however, although honey is, in fact, known for its anti-bacterial properties, I’m not totally sure what mellified man was supposed to do.
Either way, it still gives me the wiggins.
OK, so I suppose this one might only be creepy to specific people; ultimately it’s just a thought experiment, and thought experiments are hypothetical enough that it’s not too difficult to divorce them from their incredibly creepy reality. But believe you me — those realities are creepy. And, I mean… the page is called “Brain in a Vat.” You do the math.
The setup of the whole thing posits that there is a brain in a vat which is given — and therefore receives — the same impulses it would have if it had been inside someone’s actual head. Does the brain know whether it’s in a vat or in a person? How does it know what it’s experiencing is really happening? Is it really happening? Is a brain in a vat that thinks its eating ice cream actually eating ice cream?
You can see how this might get really weird, really quickly. It will also make you question your entire existence. Am I even real right now, you guys?
On March 31, 1922, all five members of the Gruber family and their maid were killed with a pickaxe-like tool called a mattock by an unknown assailant on their farm near the hamlet of Kaifeck (“hinter” means “behind”; the farmstead was literally behind Kaifeck). We still don’t know who did it, and we probably never will — but although the entire crime is horrifying, there’s one detail about it that always gets me.
Many, including members of the Gruber family and a previous maid, believed their farmstead to be haunted; they heard footsteps in the attic, found footprints in the snow leading from the forest to the farm (but not the other way); and small items would appear, disappear, or be misplaced around the farm. Indeed, the maid actually left her position because she believed the farm to be haunted; her replacement had showed up for work for the first time on what ended up being the day of the murders.
What this all adds up to is this: Whoever committed the crime had apparently been living in the house for some time before carrying out the whole gruesome plan. And no one knew.
The list begins in 1856 with the Ville de Paris, a hot air balloon that went missing after launching from the Straits of Florida, north of Havana, Cuba and goes all the way to the present, with the most recent one being the Indian Air Force An-32 disappearance, which happened just this past July.
It’s a long list. A really, really long one. And that’s both enormously sad and absolutely terrifying.
No, not little gray men aliens; I mean alien as in something foreign in this case. A neurological disorder, alien hand syndrome “causes hand movement without the person being aware of what is happening or having control over the action.” I guess there’s a reason that movies like Evil Dead 2 and Idle Hands have always struck a particular chord for many of us; apparently it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Alien hand syndrome is rare, but most people aren’t wild about the idea of parts of their body performing actions against their will.
No ghost stories freak me out quite the same way Japanese ghost stories do. Kuchisake-onna is a fairly recent one, comparatively speaking — it only started making the rounds in the late ‘70s — but it has its roots in Japanese mythology; the concept of the onryō, or “vengeful spirit,” (which is another super terrific and creepy Wikipedia page worth reading) can be traced back to the eighth century.
So who exactly is Kuchisake-onna? You might know her better as “the slit-mouthed woman.” She walks around at night with a surgical mask over her face — not uncommon in a lot of East Asian countries — asking people if they think she’s pretty. No matter what you answer, though, you’re doomed: If you say no, she’ll kill you on the spot with a pair of scissors; however, if you answer yes, she’ll remove her mask and reveal a Glasgow smile, ask, “How about now?”, and then either cut you in half with the aforementioned scissors or give you a Glasgow smile to match her own.
11. Dancing Mania
Flash mobs are all well and good, but you’d better hope none of them ever turn into dancing mania. The good news is that dancing mania mostly affected people in various locations of mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries (that is, time periods that are definitely not now); however, it’s still weird and creepy and disturbing: During several notable instances, some of which went on for months, large groups of people began dancing erratically in the streets — and they couldn’t stop. A lot of them suffered heart attacks and died. And we have no idea what was going on. The best guess is that it was a “mass psychogenic illness,” but we don’t even know a heck of a lot about that, so our best guess isn’t super helpful in this case.
So, for the curious: Yes, you can get dancing fever, and yes, it’s possible to dance yourself to death. Awesome.
12. Linda Hazzard
Linda Hazzard, who lived from 1867 to 1938, might be likened to Jigsaw, of the Saw series, except that she was absolutely real. She had no medical degree, but was still licensed to practice Washington state due to a legal loophole — and the fasting “treatment” practiced by her sanitarium, known officially as Wilderness Heights but colloquially referred to as “Starvation Heights,” resulted in the deaths of 40 patients. That’s right: She basically convinced 40 people to starve themselves to death.
Ironically, she also died as a result of her own fasting “cure.”