In the 1880s, famed French actress Sarah Bernhardt posed for what is quite possibly the world’s most awkward photograph never to be taken at a high school dance. This picture is one of two notable nautical portraits Bernhardt posed for, both of which are catalogued by the Library of Congress.
Sadly, these charming shots are devoid of context. The former sees “Miss Bernhardt, full-length portrait, seated, facing slightly right, with person in deep sea diving gear standing alongside,” whereas the latter depicts Bernhardt as the “Ocean Empress.”
Both photos are fit for a cotillion on the Nautilus — until the drunk giant squid crashes the party and tries to make out with Captain Nemo. Apropos of nothing, does anybody want to read my 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea/Archie fan fiction?
And for another fine moment from the earlier days of diving, meet “The Suicide Club,” a group of kids in 1935 who made diving gear out of utter crap under adult supervision. As Modern Mechanics magazine explained straight-faced:
Under the direction of Jack Cheaney of the Los Angeles playground department, the amateur divers have equipped themselves with complete homemade outfits constructed from odds and ends. Sections of water heating tanks, fitted with windows, provide suitable helmets for the sub-surface workers. Ordinary garden hose is attached to bicycle pumps which furnish up to 20 pounds of air pressure.
Was the Suicide Club actually a sting operation to get grossly neglected teens into foster homes? This is a fair assumption.