Few primetime TV shows have managed to unnerve its audience quite like American Horror Story. The show is seven seasons in and the FX horror fest keeps bringing the terror in new and twisted ways. AHS: Cult for example, drew inspiration from our collective election fears and channeled them into a hellscape of killer clowns and psychopathic cult leaders.
What makes American Horror Story so unnerving is how it draws inspiration from the evil that already exists in the world, usually resulting in the most horrifying moments being ripped straight from the history books. From snuff movies to the Black Dahlia, some of history’s darkest crimes have made their way into Ryan Murphy’s vision of American horror. Blurring the line between real and make-believe, American Horror Story keeps coming up with new ways to unsettle us.
However, it hasn’t only been smooth sailing for the FX series. Everyone has their own favorite season, cast member and storyline. Naturally, some years were better than others. There’s been as much off-screen drama as there has been in front of the camera.
At least we can all agree that Jessica Lange needs to make a return for Season 8. With the FX show renewed all the way up until Season 9, let’s cast our mind back to some of the horror secrets and real-life drama that has made AHS so intriguing.
Here are the 15 Dark Secrets You Never Knew About American Horror Story.
15. The Wineville Chicken Coop Case From Hotel Was Real
In American Horror Story: Hotel we were introduced to Ms. Evers (Mare Winningham). As the laundress of the Hotel Cortez, she is the poor soul doomed to wash bloody sheets for all eternity. In the Halloween episode titled ‘Devil’s Night,’ we learn a little more about Ms. Evers’ tragic backstory as it parallels a real and terrifying crime that took place in the 1920s.
Ms. Evers’ son was taken on Halloween night and his remains were never recovered. It is assumed that he was killed on a chicken ranch in northern California along with several other boys.
In 1929, serial killer Gordon Northcott was charged with the murder of three boys on his chicken farm in Wineville, California. Coined the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, prosecutors could only prove that these particular boys had fallen victim to the serial killer, despite finding a mass grave of bones beneath his coop.
14. Evan Peters Was In One Tree Hill With Ashley Rickards
Evan Peters is one of the only cast members to have appeared in every season of American Horror Story so far. Peters’ roles on the show have ranged from a demonic cult leader to a zombie boy, but there he is particularly well known for.
Tate Langdon is arguably Peters’ most beloved character. The emo-ghost boy and Rubber Man from Murder House who shot fifteen of his classmates is one of American Horror Story‘s most popular villains.
Before his dance with death on Murder House, Peters made a guest appearance on season six of One Tree Hill as Jack Daniels. He was the love interest of series regular Sam Walker (played by Ashley Rickards). Rickards then went on to play Chloe Stapleton in Murder House — one of the Dead Breakfast Club. Langdon ends up shooting Stapleton in the heart while she begged for her life.
13. The Hotel Cortez Was inspired by H. H. Holmes
The Countess’s cursed Hotel Cortez was actually based on a real hotel built and maintained by America’s first serial killer — H. H. Holmes. Arriving in Chicago in 1886 and cashing in on the World’s Columbian Exposition, Holmes built his sinister hotel to like a labyrinth.
Holmes employed many different architects to design the hotel, filling it with secret rooms, windowless corridors and stairs leading nowhere, so that only he knew its dark secrets.
He began killing his guests in variously gruesome ways, but mainly targeted young women. Holmes would gas them in their rooms before sending their corpses down to the basement.
Once there, he would remove their organs and bones, which he would then sell for medical purposes. Evan Peters’ eccentric hotel owner James March is quite obviously inspired by Mr. Holmes.
12. The Tale of Edward Mordrake is an unsolved medical urban legend
The strangest storyline from AHS: Freak Show was the occasional appearance of the ghostly Edward Mordrake; the two-faced gentleman who takes the souls of carnival folk who perform on Halloween. Mordrake, played by Wes Bentley, was born with another face on the back of his head which whispers evil things to him.
The Tale of Edward Mordrake draws its inspiration from an urban legend which has appeared in popular culture throughout the 20th century. According to Snopes, Mordrake was born with a second malevolent face on the back of his head that didn’t talk or eat, but used to “smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping.”
The torment of his affliction drove him to suicide at age 23. Whether he was real or not has not been determined. However, many believe Edward Mordrake was a literary creation of the 19th-century poet Charles Lotin Hildreth.
11. Briarcliff Manor was a real and horrifying place
Asylum is one of the most terrifying seasons of American Horror Story. This is due not only because of Bloody Face, Sister Jude and Dr. Arden terrorizing the patients of Briarcliff, but also for the horrifying methods of treatment used at the asylum. These practices made them traumatic places to be in the early 20th century.
Located in rural Massachusetts, Briarcliff was inspired by both the Danvers State Lunatic Asylum and Willowbrook State School. While Lana Winters, played by Sarah Paulson, kicked off her fictional career by exposing the depravity of Briarcliff, rookie journalist Geraldo Rivera did much the same in real life.
After being slipped a key by a concerned doctor, Rivera documented the squalid conditions of Willowbrook; a former home for children and adults with disabilities. Here, he witnessed a nightmare of cruelty and neglect that eventually led to the institution being shut down in 1987.
10. Emma Roberts was arrested for domestic violence against Evan Peters
The American Horror Story actors first met on the set of the 2012 movie Adult World, before starring together in the show’s third season. Not only has this couple been as off and on as a clap-activated lamp, but Roberts was arrested in 2013 after a confrontation with Evans in a Vancouver hotel.
Police were called after guests made a noise complaint. Roberts was arrested and Peters came away with a bloody nose and what appeared to be a bite mark, but he refused to press charges. A representative for both of them said that the incident was a simple misunderstanding and the couple have since reconciled.
Only time will tell if these lovebirds will end up together.
9. Jyoti Amge from Freak Show is considered a Deity in India
The smallest cast member from Freak Show met a terrible fate at the hands of her own curiosity. After being kidnapped, crushed, and stuffed into a display case, Ma Petite’s body was pickled and shipped off to be displayed at the American Morbidity Museum.
As Elsa’s right hand woman and assistant, Ma Petite was once a pet to a wealthy Maharaja. She was led around on a leash, but joined Elsa’s freak show when she was traded for three crates of Dr. Pepper.
In real life, Jyoti Amge is far more revered. At age eighteen she was named the smallest woman in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. Devout Hindus also believe her to be an incarnation of a goddess. As a result, Amge is treated with immense respect in India. Her parents have also erected a temple in her honor with a constant flame that burns day and night.
8. Two former Freak Show cast members have passed away
Sadly, it isn’t all happy endings for the cast of American Horror Story. Two members of Elsa’s troupe have sadly passed away since Season four aired in 2014. Rose Siggins, who played Legless Suzi, tragically died while in surgery to remove problematic kidney stones. Siggins had her legs amputated as a child after being born with caudal regression syndrome.
Much like her character in Freak Show, she was fully self-reliant without the use of her legs and had appeared on several other TV shows such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Extraordinary People.
Actor Ben Woolf also passed away in 2015 after suffering a head injury. Best remembered as Meep from Freak Show, he also played the terrifying Infantata from Murder House. He tragically passed away after being struck by an SUV side-mirror while crossing the street in Los Angeles.
7. The Axeman was actually real
Season three of American Horror Story had plenty of excellent discourse to dissect, but one of the classiest, and most terrible, villains of Coven was Danny Huston’s Axeman. The Jazz-loving serial killer wrote a letter vowing to spare anyone who was playing jazz music on the night of March 13, at 12.15am.
The real Axeman of New Orleans demanded the same thing, and stalked the streets of New Orleans from 1918 to 1919. He brutally murdered six people and injured twelve others, yet was never caught or identified.
There are many theories as to what drove the Axeman to be completely insane -he thought he was from Tartarus of Greek mythology- but nobody knows for certain.
Many of his victims were Italian-American so the murders were assumed to be ethnically driven, while others believed him a simple sadist with a love of jazz music.
6. The American Morbidity Museum is an actual place you can visit
The sinister American Morbidity Museum that was the final resting place of multiple characters like Ma Petite, Salty and Jimmy’s hands actually exists. The exception is that it isn’t called the American Morbidity Museum, but the Mütter Museum.
Located in Philadelphia, the Mütter Museum is a fascinating destination. Much like the fictional museum from Freak Show, it showcases a variety of medical marvels and genetic abnormalities.
However, unlike the fictional museum from Freak Show, its collection was not the result of exploitation and murder. In fact, the museum was created for medical students to humanize the disfigured patients.
Of the thousands of weird and wonderful oddities found in the Mütter Museum, it features some 1,300 wet specimens, which are jars of liquid containing body parts and other strange medical mysteries.
5. Delphine LaLaurie and Marie Laveau were historical figures
The war waged in New Orleans between Delphine LaLaurie, played by Kathy Bates, and voodoo queen Marie Laveau, played by Angela Bassett, was a great plot point during AHS: Coven.
Both these chracters really did live in Louisiana during the 18th century. Much like Bates’ grizzly interpretation, the real LaLaurie also tortured her slaves. When a fire broke out in the LaLaurie Mansion in 1834, a mob broke into the servants quarters and discovered a gruesome site.
According to reports, at least seven of LaLaurie’s slaves had been strung up and mutilated. The fire was apparently started by the house chef, who was chained to the stove and started the fire to avoid punishment.
Laveau was equally notorious. The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans was an influential and powerful Creole woman who was both feared and admired around the city for her command of voodoo.
4. James Cromwell’s son played him in a flashback scene
Nazi Doctor Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is one of Asylum‘s darkest characters and is steeped in historical references. A mad scientist with a taste for terror, it’s Arden that is responsible for Shelly’s horrendous death and the other deformed creatures running loose in the forest.
Arden is tentatively based on Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who became infamous for performing cruel experiments on Holocaust victims during World War II. Arden mysteriously vanishes in Asylum, but made an appearance two years later in Freak Show.
Born Hans Grüper, a Season 4 flashback shows the doctor coming across Elsa Mars, played by Lang, in a German brothel during the 1930s. Played by Cromwell’s real life son John, the young Arden kidnaps her and directs a gruesome snuff movie in which Elsa’s legs are removed from the kneecaps down.
3. Evan Peters had trouble putting on his Rubber Man suit
The silent and ever-present Rubber Man from Murder House was another exceptional AHS villain, but according to Evan Peters, it wasn’t that so easy to just slip into that rubber outfit.
In an interview with Vulture, Peters explained how uncomfortable it really was, particularly in the groin area. He says that “It’s all latex, so it’s very thin, almost like you’re walking around naked, and it’s chilly. You gotta lube up for it and slip it on.”
This isn’t the only uncomfortable thing Peters has done in the name of American Horror Story. He recently spoke to EW about inappropriate things he had to do in front of Billy Eichner for AHS: Cult. The actor made a note that it’s “never an easy day at work” when you have to do awkward things in front of random people.
2. Roanoke was inspired by the mystery of the Lost Colony
Roanoke was one of the hardest seasons of American Horror Story to stomach for its insane amount of brutality and gore. It also featured one of history’s most fascinating mysteries at its heart, making for an even more terrifying viewing experience.
In 1590, colony governor John White returned home to Roanoke only discover that the entire colony had vanished. The only clue as to their whereabouts was the word Croatoan carved on a wooden post. As a result, it was assumed that they had been taken by the Native American Croatoan tribe.
Others theorize that they tried to return to England, only to meet their end at sea. Unfortunately, history has yet to provide a satisfactory conclusion to one of America’s oldest mystery.
1. The Series May be Based on the Nine Circles of Hell
As an anthology series, each season of American Horror Story is a different, self-contained story, but that has not stopped fans from trying to figure out what might link them all together. With references to seasons past and present littered throughout, it’s becoming more and more obvious that each season of AHS exists within the same hellish universe — and one website made an observant connection which might just provide an answer.
Based on Dante’s famous Inferno, Red Herry noted that each season may be linked to the nine circles of hell. Ryan Murphy later shared a post on his Instagram listing each season and its respective circle with a caption that said “Interesting.”
According to the fan theory, only Lust and Violence remain for Season’s eight & nine.
Are there any dark secrets from American Horror Story that we missed?
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