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What Drove Tsavo Lions to Eat People? Century-Old Mystery Solved

the ghost and the darkness true facts

Their names were "The Ghost" and "The Darkness," and 119 years ago, these two massive, maneless, man-eating lions hunted railway workers in the Tsavo region of Kenya. During a nine-month period in 1898, the lions killed at least 35 people and as many as 135, according to different accounts. And the question of why the lions developed a taste for human flesh remained a subject of much speculation. 

Also known as the Tsavo lions, the pair of beasts ruled the night until they were shot and killed in December 1898 by railway engineer Col. John Henry Patterson. In the decades that followed, audiences were captivated by the story of the ferocious lions, first told in newspaper articles and books (one account was written by Patterson himself in 1907: "The Man-Eaters of Tsavo"), and later in movies.

In the past, it had been suggested that the lions' desperate hunger drove them to eat people. However, a recent analysis of the remains of the two man-eaters, a part of the collection at The Field Museum in Chicago, offers new insight into what led the Tsavo lions to kill and eat people. The findings, described in a new study, suggest a different explanation: that tooth and jaw damage — which would have made it excruciating to hunt their usual large herbivore prey — was to blame. [ Photos: The Biggest Lions on Earth ]

For most lions, humans are typically far from their first choice of prey. The big cats usually feed on large herbivores, such as zebras, wildebeest and antelope. And rather than viewing people as potential meals, lions tend to go out of their way to avoid humans entirely, study co-author Bruce Patterson, curator of mammals at The Field Museum, told Live Science.

But something else convinced the Tsavo lions that humans were fair game , Patterson said.

To unravel the century-old mystery, the study authors examined evidence of the lions' behavior preserved in their teeth. Microscopic wear patterns can tell scientists about an animal's eating habits — particularly during the last weeks of life — and the Tsavo lions' teeth didn't show signs of the wear and tear associated with crunching big, heavy bones, the scientists wrote in the study.

Hypotheses proposed in the past suggested that the lions developed a taste for people through scavenging , perhaps because their usual prey had died off from drought or disease. But if the lions were hunting humans out of desperation, the starving cats would have certainly cracked human bones to get the last bit of nutrition from their grisly meals, Patterson said. And wear patterns on the teeth showed that they left the bones alone, so the Tsavo lions probably weren't motivated by a lack of more suitable prey, he added.

A more likely explanation is that the ominously named The Ghost and The Darkness began hunting humans because infirmities in their mouths hindered their ability to catch bigger and stronger animals, the study authors wrote.

Down in the mouth

Previous findings, first presented to the American Society of Mammalogists in 2000, according to New Scientist , documented that one of the Tsavo lions was missing three lower incisors, and had a broken canine and a sizable abscess in the tissues surrounding another tooth's root. The second lion also had damage in its mouth, with a fractured upper tooth showing exposed pulp. [ The 10 Deadliest Animals on Earth ]

For the first lion in particular, pressure on the abscess would have caused unbearable pain, providing more than enough motivation for the animal to skip large, powerful prey and go after punier people, Patterson said. In fact, chemical analysis conducted in another, earlier study, published in 2009 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , showed that the lion with the abscess consumed more human prey than its partner. Moreover, after the first lion was shot and killed in 1898 — more than two weeks before the second lion was gunned down — the attacks on people ceased, Patterson noted.

Nearly 120 years after the man-eaters ' lives abruptly ended, fascination with their gruesome habits persists. But had it not been for their preserved remains — which John Patterson sold to FMNH as trophy rugs in 1924 — today's explanations for their habits would be no more than speculation, Bruce Patterson told Live Science.

"There would be no way to resolve these questions if it weren't for specimens," he said. "After almost 120 years, we can tell not only what these lions were eating, but we can resolve differences between these lions by interrogating their skins and skulls.

"There's a lot of science you can build on that, all derived from specimens," Patterson added. "I have 230,000 other specimens in the museum collection, and they all have stories to tell."

The findings were published online today (April 19) in the journal Scientific Reports .

Original article on Live Science .

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Mindy Weisberger

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.

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The Cinemaholic

The Ghost and the Darkness: The True Story Behind The 1996 Thriller Film

Ridham Vashishth of The Ghost and the Darkness: The True Story Behind The 1996 Thriller Film

Directed by the seasoned Stephen Hopkins, ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ is an adventure thriller film  that paints a vivid picture of Africa’s vast terrains. In the heart of Tsavo, Kenya, during the late 19th century, a railway construction crew is thrown into a whirlwind of fear and uncertainty. Two relentless lions, seemingly with a taste for human flesh, cast a shadow of terror over the workers, turning their daily lives into a suspense-filled survival game.

With the formidable Val Kilmer and the iconic Michael Douglas leading the cast, the intense narrative of the 1996 film and the palpable tension it evokes might make one question its origins. Given the historical backdrop and the raw human emotions on display, it’s easy to wonder if such a tale has roots in actual events. As we venture further, we’ll explore the true essence of ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ and its connection to reality.

The Ghost and the Darkness is Based on Real-Life Incidents

The film’s narrative draws inspiration from the real-life terror caused by two lions (the Tsavo man-eaters ) in the late 19th century. The screenplay, penned by the talented William Goldman, draws heavily from the book ‘The Man-Eaters of Tsavo’ written by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, the very man tasked with eliminating these lions’ threat. Notorious for their man-eating tendencies, these lions were responsible for the deaths of many railway workers in Tsavo, Kenya. In various interviews, director Stephen Hopkins has expressed his fascination with this harrowing tale.

the ghost and the darkness true facts

Hopkins mentioned how the story’s blend of historical facts and raw primal fear resonated with him. He wanted to capture not just the external threat posed by the lions but also the internal conflicts and fears of the people involved. However, like many films based on true stories, ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ isn’t without its cinematic liberties. While the essence of the man-eaters’ terror is accurately depicted, certain dramatic elements were added to enhance the film’s suspense and appeal.

For instance, the character Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), is a fictional addition. There’s no historical record of such a character being involved in the hunt for the Tsavo lions. His inclusion served as a narrative tool to heighten the drama and introduce a contrasting perspective to Patterson’s. Another deviation from reality is the exaggerated number of victims. While the film suggests that the lions killed over a hundred workers, historical accounts, including Patterson’s own writings, estimate the number to be closer to 35. Though not entirely accurate, this amplification was likely introduced to underscore the severity of the threat.

Despite these alterations, the film’s core remains true to the events it portrays. The Tsavo man-eaters’ reign of terror, the subsequent hunt, and the psychological impact on the workers and hunters are all depicted with a sense of authenticity. The film does a commendable job of transporting the audience to Tsavo in 1898, making them feel the palpable tension and fear. While ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ takes certain creative liberties for cinematic enhancement, its foundation is solidly based on the chilling real-life events in Tsavo.

Read More: Best Adventure Movies of All Time


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42 facts about the movie the ghost and the darkness.

Corabelle Kuhlman

Corabelle Kuhlman

Modified & Updated: 30 Dec 2023

Published: 15 Dec 2023

Modified: 30 Dec 2023


Get ready to embark on an incredible adventure as we dive deep into the thrilling movie, The Ghost and the Darkness. This action-packed film is filled with suspense, mystery, and jaw-dropping moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Directed by Stephen Hopkins and released in 1996, The Ghost and the Darkness is based on the true story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, two notorious lions that terrorized a construction crew in East Africa during the late 19th century.

In this article, we will uncover 42 fascinating facts about this movie, from behind-the-scenes anecdotes to the historical events that inspired the storyline. Whether you’re a fan of adventure films, a history buff, or simply interested in extraordinary true stories, this article will provide you with a comprehensive and insightful guide to The Ghost and the Darkness.

Based on a True Story

The movie “The Ghost and the Darkness” is based on the real-life events surrounding the Tsavo Maneaters, a pair of notorious man-eating lions that terrorized railway workers in East Africa in the late 19th century.

A Star-Studded Cast

The film boasts a remarkable cast, with Val Kilmer portraying the character of Colonel John Henry Patterson and Michael Douglas taking on the role of Remington, a renowned hunter. Both actors deliver exceptional performances that add depth and intensity to the film.

Captivating African Locations

“The Ghost and the Darkness” was filmed on location in South Africa and Kenya, capturing the breathtaking landscapes and immersing viewers in the untamed wilderness of Africa.

The Iconic Lions

The film revolves around the two maneless lions known as the “Ghost” and the “Darkness.” These ferocious beasts were brought to life using a combination of trained lions and animatronic models, creating thrilling scenes that keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Oscar-Winning Cinematography

The stunning cinematography of “The Ghost and the Darkness” was recognized with an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Vilmos Zsigmond masterfully captures the beauty and danger of the African landscape, enhancing the overall visual experience.

A Gripping Musical Score

James Newton Howard composed the hauntingly beautiful score for “The Ghost and the Darkness,” which perfectly complements the suspense and tension of the film.

Historical Accuracy

The movie accurately portrays the historical context of the construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa railway in the late 19th century and the impact of the man-eating lions on the workers’ lives.

Directors and Writers

The film was directed by Stephen Hopkins, known for his work on “Predator 2” and “Lost in Space.” The screenplay was written by William Goldman, based on Colonel John Henry Patterson’s book “The Man-eaters of Tsavo.”

A Tale of Fear and Survival

“The Ghost and the Darkness” brilliantly captures the fear and desperation of the characters as they try to outsmart and overcome the relentless man-eating lions roaming the African wilderness.

The Hunting of the Tsavo Maneaters

The film depicts the gripping and dangerous hunt for the Tsavo Maneaters, led by Colonel John Henry Patterson, who faces numerous challenges in his quest to protect the railway workers and eliminate the deadly predators.

Authentic Wildlife Encounters

The production team took great care to incorporate realistic wildlife encounters throughout the film, showcasing the rich biodiversity of Africa and adding an extra layer of authenticity to the story.

Critical and Commercial Success

Upon its release, “The Ghost and the Darkness” received positive reviews from critics and became a commercial success, grossing over $98 million worldwide.

A True Action-Horror Hybrid

“The Ghost and the Darkness” seamlessly blends elements of action and horror, delivering a unique cinematic experience that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.

Real-Life Inspiration

The characters in the film are based on real individuals who lived through the events at Tsavo, making the story even more compelling and realistic.

Cultural Impact

“The Ghost and the Darkness” not only entertained audiences but also sparked interest in the history and folklore surrounding the Tsavo Maneaters, leading to increased tourism to the areas where the events took place.

Hair-Raising Moments

The film is filled with intense and suspenseful sequences that keep viewers on the edge of their seats, showcasing the relentless pursuit of the man-eating lions and the chilling atmosphere of fear that permeates the story.

Behind-the-Scenes Challenges

Creating realistic and convincing lion attacks presented significant challenges for the filmmakers. The team utilized a combination of animatronic lions, animatics, and trained animals to achieve seamless and terrifying attack scenes.

Production Design

The production design team meticulously recreated the railway construction era, paying attention to even the smallest details to transport viewers back in time.

A Lesson in Determination

“The Ghost and the Darkness” showcases the resilience and determination of the human spirit in the face of extraordinary challenges, highlighting the strength of the human-wildlife conflict.

International Recognition

The film was released worldwide, introducing audiences to the awe-inspiring beauty and inherent dangers of the African wilderness.

Historical Context

The events depicted in the film shed light on the difficulties encountered during the construction of the railway in Africa, providing historical context to the intense drama that unfolds.

Popularity Among Adventure Enthusiasts

“The Ghost and the Darkness” continues to be appreciated by adventure enthusiasts and wildlife lovers for its thrilling storyline and portrayal of the intense man versus beast conflict.

African Wildlife Conservation

The film raises awareness about the delicate balance between humans and wildlife in Africa and highlights the importance of conservation efforts to protect endangered species.

Impressive Set Pieces

The film showcases magnificent set pieces, bringing to life the rugged African landscape, the railway construction site, and the eerie presence of the man-eating lions.

Animal Behavior Research

The filmmakers conducted extensive research on lion behavior to accurately portray the movements, hunting techniques, and territoriality of the Tsavo Maneaters.

The Power of Collaboration

“The Ghost and the Darkness” brought together talented professionals from various fields, including cinematographers, animators, and sound engineers, who collaborated to create a captivating cinematic experience.

A Thought-Provoking Story

The film raises thought-provoking questions about the boundaries between civilization and the wild, the ethics of hunting, and the delicate relationship between humans and wildlife.

Dialogues that Resonate

The screenplay brings to life impactful and memorable dialogues, adding depth to the characters and amplifying the emotional weight of their experiences.

A Thrilling Journey

“The Ghost and the Darkness” takes audiences on an unforgettable and adrenaline-filled journey through the heart of the African wilderness, immersing them in a world of danger, courage, and survival.

Breathtaking Cinematic Moments

The film features breathtaking cinematic moments that capture the sheer beauty of the African landscape, juxtaposed with the terrifying presence of the man-eating lions.

A Testament to Human Ingenuity

The story showcases the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the railway workers as they adapt to the relentless attacks of the man-eating lions, using innovative methods to protect themselves.

Historical Significance

The events at Tsavo left a significant impact on both the railway construction efforts and the understanding of lion behavior in that region, making “The Ghost and the Darkness” an important part of that historical narrative.

Transformation of Characters

Throughout the film, the characters undergo powerful transformations, as they grapple with their fears, confront their own vulnerabilities, and discover the depths of their courage.

Authentic Period Costumes

The costume designers meticulously recreated the fashion of the late 19th century, ensuring that the characters’ attire reflects the historical accuracy of the time.

Unforgettable Performances

The performances by Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas are gripping and memorable, establishing them as a formidable on-screen duo that captivates viewers from start to finish.

The Legacy of the Tsavo Maneaters

The Tsavo Maneaters remain a legendary symbol of the clash between humans and wildlife, and “The Ghost and the Darkness” plays a vital role in keeping the story alive and informing new audiences of the gripping events.

Special Effects and Practical Stunts

The film blends practical effects and stunts with carefully integrated CGI to create seamless and heart-stopping moments that elevate the tension and danger.

The Power of Fear

“The Ghost and the Darkness” explores the paralyzing effect of fear and the lengths individuals will go to overcome it and protect each other in the face of imminent danger.

Powerful Symbolism

The film utilizes various symbolic elements, such as the darkness that lurks within humans and the ghost-like presence of the relentless lions, to deepen the thematic layers of the story.

Immersive Sound Design

The sound design of the film plays a crucial role in creating tension and suspense, enveloping the audience in a world where every distant roar echoes through the African plains.

Embracing the Unknown

“The Ghost and the Darkness” explores the primal fear humans have of the unknown and takes viewers on a journey into the heart of darkness.

Enduring Legacy

“The Ghost and the Darkness” continues to captivate audiences with its thrilling story, outstanding performances, and vivid portrayal of the enduring human spirit.

So there you have it, 42 intriguing facts about the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness.” From the true story that inspired the film to the captivating performances and stunning cinematography, this movie keeps audiences engaged and on the edge of their seats. Whether you’re a fan of adventure, history, or wildlife, “The Ghost and the Darkness” is a must-watch film that leaves a lasting impression. Are you ready to embark on this unforgettable journey into the heart of the African wilderness?

In conclusion, The Ghost and the Darkness is a captivating and thrilling movie that combines elements of adventure, suspense, and history. With its talented cast, breathtaking cinematography, and compelling storyline, it continues to captivate audiences even years after its release. The movie offers a unique blend of action and drama, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. The real-life events that inspired the film add an extra layer of intrigue and make it even more fascinating. Whether you’re a fan of adventure movies or simply appreciate great storytelling, The Ghost and the Darkness is definitely a must-watch film that will keep you entertained from beginning to end.

Q: Is The Ghost and the Darkness based on a true story? A: Yes, the movie is based on true events that took place in the late 19th century. It tells the story of the man-eating lions that terrorized the construction of the East African Railway in Tsavo, Kenya. Q: Who are the main actors in The Ghost and the Darkness? A: The movie stars Val Kilmer as Colonel John Patterson and Michael Douglas as Charles Remington, the two characters at the forefront of the mission to stop the man-eating lions. Q: Where was The Ghost and the Darkness filmed? A: The film was primarily shot on location in South Africa, capturing the beautiful African landscapes that serve as the backdrop for the story. Q: What is the runtime of The Ghost and the Darkness? A: The movie has a runtime of approximately 109 minutes, keeping the audience engaged and immersed in the thrilling narrative. Q: Is The Ghost and the Darkness available on streaming platforms? A: Yes, the movie is available to stream on various platforms such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix. However, availability may vary based on your location. Q: Does The Ghost and the Darkness have any notable awards or nominations? A: Yes, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1997, including Best Sound and Best Film Editing. It also received recognition for its technical achievements and visual effects.

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The True Story Of The Ghost And The Darkness

The True Story Of The Ghost And The Darkness: A Tale of Terror and Intrigue

In 1996, moviegoers were captivated by the thrilling and chilling film, “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, the movie depicted the harrowing true story of two man-eating lions that terrorized a construction site in Tsavo, Kenya, in the late 19th century. The film not only provided gripping entertainment but also shed light on a fascinating chapter in history. In this article, we delve into the true story behind “The Ghost and the Darkness” and present seven unique facts about this extraordinary tale of human-wildlife conflict.

Fact 1: The Tsavo Man-Eaters

Between March and December of 1898, two male lions wreaked havoc on the construction of a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River in British East Africa (now Kenya). These lions, known as the “Tsavo Man-Eaters,” were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 35 workers, who were predominantly Indian and African laborers. The relentless attacks created a climate of fear and desperation among the workers, leading to a significant delay in the construction.

Fact 2: The Lions’ Unusual Behavior

What made the Tsavo Man-Eaters particularly terrifying was their aberrant behavior. Unlike typical lions, these two males targeted humans as their prey, rather than sticking to their natural diet of herbivores. This unnatural behavior baffled experts at the time, who struggled to comprehend why the lions had developed a taste for human flesh.

Fact 3: The Legendary Hunter, Colonel John Henry Patterson

Colonel John Henry Patterson, an Irish-born British soldier and engineer, was appointed as the chief engineer of the Tsavo railroad project. It was Patterson’s firsthand encounters with the Tsavo Man-Eaters that inspired him to write a book, “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo,” which served as the basis for the film “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Patterson’s memoirs detailed the chilling events he witnessed and his relentless pursuit of the man-eating lions.

Fact 4: The Lure of the Night

One of the unique tactics employed by Patterson to hunt down the Tsavo Man-Eaters was the construction of a makeshift wooden platform, known as a “boma,” where he would wait for the lions at night. Patterson would hide under the platform, armed with a rifle, in the hopes of catching the lions off guard. This method proved successful, as Patterson managed to kill one of the man-eaters.

Fact 5: The Infamous Maneaters’ Fate

After Patterson killed one of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, the second lion continued to pose a threat to the workers. Finally, on December 9, 1898, the second lion was shot and killed by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ryall, who had joined the project with his team of Indian soldiers. The reign of terror was over, but the legend of the Tsavo Man-Eaters would live on.

Fact 6: The Legacy of the Tsavo Man-Eaters

The story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters has become one of the most infamous tales in the annals of human-wildlife conflict. The skulls of the man-eating lions are on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, serving as a reminder of the horrifying events that unfolded in Tsavo over a century ago.

Fact 7: Historical Discrepancies and Artistic Liberties

While “The Ghost and the Darkness” provides a thrilling depiction of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, it is important to note that certain discrepancies exist between the movie and the historical records. Some events portrayed in the film were fictionalized or exaggerated for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, the film succeeded in immortalizing the legacy of the Tsavo Man-Eaters and shedding light on an extraordinary piece of history.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

1. Were the Tsavo Man-Eaters truly man-eating lions?

Yes, the Tsavo Man-Eaters were two male lions that developed a taste for human flesh, resulting in the deaths of numerous workers.

2. How many workers did the Tsavo Man-Eaters kill?

It is estimated that the Tsavo Man-Eaters killed around 35 workers during their reign of terror.

3. Were the events depicted in “The Ghost and the Darkness” accurate?

While the film took artistic liberties and exaggerated certain events, it broadly captures the essence of the true story.

4. Who was Colonel John Henry Patterson, and how did he contribute to the story?

Colonel Patterson was the chief engineer of the Tsavo railroad project and played a crucial role in hunting down the Tsavo Man-Eaters. His memoirs inspired the film.

5. What happened to the Tsavo Man-Eaters?

One lion was killed by Colonel Patterson, and the other was shot and killed by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ryall.

6. How did the Tsavo Man-Eaters impact the construction of the railroad bridge?

The reign of terror caused significant delays in the construction, as the workers were too afraid to continue their work.

7. What was the motive behind the Tsavo Man-Eaters’ unusual behavior?

The exact reason for their preference for human flesh remains a mystery. Some theories suggest tooth problems or a scarcity of their natural prey as potential factors.

8. Can the skulls of the Tsavo Man-Eaters still be seen today?

Yes, the skulls of the man-eating lions are on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

9. Were the Tsavo Man-Eaters the only recorded man-eating lions in history?

While the Tsavo Man-Eaters are among the most infamous, there have been other instances of lions preying on humans throughout history.

10. Was the construction site really abandoned due to the lion attacks?

No, despite the challenges posed by the Tsavo Man-Eaters, the construction of the railroad bridge was eventually completed.

11. Did the legacy of the Tsavo Man-Eaters impact wildlife conservation efforts?

The story sparked interest in human-wildlife conflict and highlighted the need for understanding and coexistence between humans and animals.

12. Are there any other accounts or books about the Tsavo Man-Eaters?

“The Man-Eaters of Tsavo” by Colonel John Henry Patterson remains the most renowned account of the events, providing invaluable insights into the story.

Five Interesting Points from Professionals in the Field:

1. “The Tsavo Man-Eaters incident is a reminder of the unpredictability and complexity of human-wildlife conflict, showcasing the potential for animals to deviate from their natural behavior.” – Wildlife Biologist

2. “Colonel Patterson’s memoirs played a significant role in shaping public perception of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, immortalizing the events and inspiring future generations of conservationists.” – Historian

3. “The success of ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ lies in its ability to blend historical fact with thrilling storytelling, captivating audiences while shedding light on a lesser-known chapter in history.” – Film Critic

4. “The Tsavo Man-Eaters’ aberrant behavior challenges our understanding of animal psychology and raises questions about the impact of environmental factors on animal behavior.” – Animal Behaviorist

5. “The power of storytelling lies in its ability to transport audiences to different times and places, evoking emotions and sparking curiosity. ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ achieved precisely that, making the Tsavo Man-Eaters’ story unforgettable.” – Literature Professor

In conclusion, the true story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters, immortalized in the film “The Ghost and the Darkness,” remains a tale of terror and intrigue to this day. The harrowing events that unfolded in Tsavo over a century ago continue to captivate audiences, shedding light on the complexities of human-wildlife conflict. As we reflect on this extraordinary chapter in history, let us remember the importance of coexistence and understanding between humans and animals, ensuring that such stories remain confined to the annals of the past.

Final Thoughts:

The true story of the Tsavo Man-Eaters serves as a chilling reminder of the delicate balance between humans and wildlife. It highlights the unpredictability of nature and the profound impact it can have on human lives. The legend of the Tsavo Man-Eaters will forever be etched in history, reminding us of the awe-inspiring power, beauty, and occasional terror that exists within the animal kingdom. Let us learn from these events and strive to coexist harmoniously with the magnificent creatures that share our planet.


Laura is a seasoned wordsmith and pop culture connoisseur with a passion for all things literary and cinematic. Her insightful commentary on books, movies, and the glitzy world of film industry celebrities has captivated audiences worldwide. With a knack for blending literary analysis and movie magic, Laura's unique perspective offers a fresh take on the entertainment landscape. Whether delving into the depths of a novel or dissecting the latest blockbuster, her expertise shines through, making her a go-to source for all things book and film-related.

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The Horrifying True Story That Inspired The Ghost and the Darkness

Although the film indulges in a number of liberties, it may have actually downplayed the gruesome events that unfolded over 100 years ago.

In 1996, Paramount Pictures released The Ghost and the Darkness , a historical horror-adventure film directed by Stephen Hopkins. The story is based on the true account of the Tsavo man-eaters, in which two lions - for reasons that are still being debated to this day - mercilessly preyed upon construction workers during the tumultuous build of a significant railway bridge in Kenya, Africa. Over the course of nearly a year, these two lions were reportedly responsible for the death of 135 people.

Screenwriter William Goldman - the famed writer of such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride - first heard about the legend of the Tsavo man-eaters while traveling in Africa in 1984, and immediately found the subject engrossing and perfect fodder for the big-screen treatment.

Although the film indulges in a number of liberties in its recounting of this famous tale (as is the case with most Hollywood movies based on true stories ), the movie may have actually downplayed the gruesome events that unfolded over 100 years ago. Let’s take a look at the horrifying true story behind The Ghost and the Darkness .

The Attacks Begin

At the heart of the story is Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson (played in the film by Val Kilmer), who in 1898 was sent to Africa on behalf of the British government to oversee the construction of an essential railway bridge in the Tsavo region of Kenya, Africa. The building project was a massive operation, employing thousands of workers (most of them brought in from India) and spanning miles of railway track.

Almost immediately after Lt. Patterson's arrival, the pair of lions begin their vicious attacks. Right away these attacks were considered highly unusual; not only is it incredibly uncommon for lions to hunt in pairs, the fact that they were both male was even stranger still. Furthermore, unlike typical lions, the Tsavo man-eaters didn’t have any manes (a common attribute for lions in the region). While animal scientists aren’t exactly sure why this is the case, the most prevalent theories suggest that the harsh environment - which is incredibly dry and covered in rough, thorny brush - make manes inefficient at best and debilitating at worst, so lions evolved over time to be born without them.

But more puzzling still is why . It isn’t normal for lions to attack humans without provocation, yet almost every night, workers were literally being dragged out of their tents and feasted upon. They even targeted specific areas of the camp - like the hospital tent - and took advantage of the sprawling size of the area, never attacking the same place twice. And while the lions occasionally engorged themselves on the remains of those they killed, for the most part the man-eaters didn’t eat their victims.

In other words, they were killing for the thrill of it. These were like monsters out of a horror movie.

Since Patterson was in charge of overseeing the bridge project, it was also his responsibility to rid the area of these two lions. It was a massive undertaking, and not an easy one. Most nights, Patterson would spend camping out in a tree, waiting for the lions to strike. But this method quickly proved to be ineffective, as the construction site was so large that it would be impossible for him to know what section the lions would target.

Patterson also tried to take the defensive, but his efforts were in vain. He and the workers set up bomas - or barricades made up of thorny brush - around the perimeter of the campsite, but the lions would easily circumvent these obstacles. Small fires were ignited around camp in a bid to scare the lions off, but they were unbothered. Strict curfews were instituted, but this didn’t make much of a difference when workers were being killed in their tents. Patterson even moved the hospital tent - a hot-bed of attacks - but the lions quickly sniffed the new location out.

As the bodies continued to pile up, the workers began to revolt, threatening to stop production until the monstrous lions were killed. Since many of these workers were brought in from India (the country was under British rule at the time) and weren’t native to the region, they had no idea how to properly defend themselves from these beasts. And even if they did, these lions proved far more cunning than the typical big cats that even the locals were familiar with.

Legend quickly began to spread around camp, claiming these were no ordinary lions, but vengeful ghosts defending their territory from the railway system and, in effect, the encroaching British Empire. The workers named them “Ghost” and “Darkness” (hence the title of the film).

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Fighting Back

With the workers threatening to cease work, and the British government breathing down his neck, Lt. Patterson had to get crafty.

One of his most well-known attempts at capturing these beasts is wonderfully recreated in the film, in which Patterson transforms an abandoned railway cart into a box trap. Three Indians workers (who apparently volunteered for this thankless role), armed with rifles, locked themselves behind steel bars within the box trap and baited the lion with animal remains. Surprisingly, the trap worked; one of the lions was drawn into the car, triggering the trap doors and locking it inside with the workers.

Immediately the lion panicked and began lunging at the steel bars, which started to give under the massive size of the beast. The frightened and overwhelmed workers desperately unloaded on the lion with their rifles, but somehow missed every shot. One of their bullets connected with the cage door, opening the trap and allowing the lion to escape.

Around this point in the movie, the audience is introduced to Charles Remington, a famous big-game hunter who is played by Michael Douglas . But this character is a creation of William Goldman’s and didn’t actually exist. In reality, Patterson requested British troops to help take down the lions - that’s how much of a problem they became. While Britain was hesitant to send troops (out of fear that it might make them appear weak), they did send in a small squadron of Indian soldiers - known at the time as Sepoys.

It’s around this point that things finally started to turn around. Patterson built a scaffold in the middle of an area where the big cats were known to stalk and used it as a hunting stand. Using the remains of a dead donkey to lure the lions out of hiding, Patterson sat atop his hastily-assembled hunting stand and waited. But he didn’t have to wait long, as that night the first lion emerged from the brush. Patterson managed to shoot the beast a few times, but it escaped. A few nights later, the lion returned and Patterson - with the help of a much more powerful rifle - was able to take it down.

With one lion dead, morale started to shift. But hunting the second lion wouldn’t be as easy.

Things started off well-enough for Patterson, who utilized the same technique to lure the lion out of hiding. Much like the first time around, it worked, but again Patterson was unable to kill the beast.

What followed was a multi-week hunt for the injured lion. For close to two weeks, the lion was untraceable. But eventually Patterson and troops tracked it down and managed to shoot it a few more times. Somehow, the lion still managed to get away - but not for long. The next day, Patterson took down the second and last lion, finally putting an end to the months-long ordeal.

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The End of a Nightmare

With the lions neutralized, work on the railway was soon completed. Soon after, Patterson returned to his home in London with the bodies of the two lions in his possession, and recounted the events in his semi-autobiographical book The Man-Eaters of Tsavo , which William Goldman drew heavily from when writing The Ghost and the Darkness .

Despite the dark shadow of brutal colonialism looming heavy over this entire story, it’s nevertheless a nail-biting tale. To this day, scientists are unsure what the cause of these attacks were. The bodies of the lions - which Patterson later donated to the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History - were studied by scientists, who concluded that bad teeth may actually be to blame for the lions’ unusual behavior. Allegedly their teeth were “soft” - much like a zoo lion - and thus unable to catch prey and tear through bone. One of the lions also had what appeared to be an infected root, which most likely made hunting incredibly painful. In short, these lions targeted humans because they were easier prey.

The actual death toll is debated as well. While Patterson claimed 135 people were killed by these lions, official records put the real number somewhere in the vicinity of 30-40. However, we’ll never be sure: Great Britain had reason to undermine these numbers to maintain their image, and Patterson could have exaggerated the number of dead to further bolster his own status and ego.

Although we’ll probably never get the “full truth” about what happened, one thing is for certain: it made for one hell of a terrifying movie.

Man-Eaters of Tsavo

They are perhaps the world’s most notorious wild lions. Their ancestors were vilified more than 100 years ago as the man-eaters of Tsavo

Paul Raffaele

Colonel Patterson first Tsavo Lion

They are perhaps the world’s most notorious wild lions. Their ancestors were vilified more than 100 years ago as the man-eaters of Tsavo, a vast swath of Kenya savanna around the Tsavo River.

Bruce Patterson has spent the past decade studying lions in the Tsavo region, and for several nights I went into the bush with him and a team of volunteers, hoping to glimpse one of the beasts.

We headed out in a truck along narrow red dirt trails through thick scrub. A spotlight threw a slender beam through the darkness. Kudus, huge antelopes with curved horns, skittered away. A herd of elephants passed, their massive bodies silhouetted in the dark.

One evening just after midnight, we came upon three lions resting by a water hole. Patterson identified them as a 4-year-old male he has named Dickens and two unnamed females. The three lions rose and Dickens led the two females into the scrub.

On such forays Patterson has come to better understand the Tsavo lions. Their prides, with up to 10 females and just 1 male, are smaller than Serengeti lion prides, which have up to 20 females and 2 or more males. In Tsavo, male lions do not share power with other males.

Tsavo males look different as well. The most vigorous Serengeti males sport large dark manes, while in Tsavo they have short, thin manes or none at all. “It’s all about water,” Patterson says. Tsavo is hotter and drier than the Serengeti, and a male with a heavy mane “would squander his daily water allowance simply panting under a bush, with none to spare for patrolling his territory, hunting or finding mates.”

But it’s the lions’ reputation for preying on people that attracts attention. “For centuries Arab slave caravans passed through Tsavo on the way to Mombasa,” said Samuel Kasiki, deputy director of Biodiversity Research and Monitoring with the Kenya Wildlife Service. “The death rate was high; it was a bad area for sleeping sickness from the tsetse fly; and the bodies of slaves who died or were dying were left where they dropped. So the lions may have gotten their taste for human flesh by eating the corpses.”

In 1898, two lions terrorized crews constructing a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River, killing—according to some estimates—135 people. “Hundreds of men fell victims to these savage creatures, whose very jaws were steeped in blood,” wrote a worker on the railway, a project of the British colonial government. “Bones, flesh, skin and blood, they devoured all, and left not a trace behind them.”

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson shot the lions (a 1996 movie, The Ghost and the Darkness , dramatized the story) and sold their bodies for $5,000 to the Field Museum in Chicago, where, stuffed, they greet visitors to this day.

Bruce Patterson (no relation to John), a zoologist with the museum, continues to study those animals. Chemical tests of hair samples recently confirmed that the lions had eaten human flesh in the months before they were killed. Patterson and his colleagues estimate that one lion ate 10 people, and the other about 24—far fewer than the legendary 135 victims, but still horrifying.

When I arrived in Nairobi, word reached the capital that a lion had just killed a woman at Tsavo. A cattle herder had been devoured weeks earlier. “That’s not unusual at Tsavo,” Kasiki said.

Still, today’s Tsavo lions are not innately more bloodthirsty than other lions, Patterson says; they attack people for the same reason their forebears did a century ago: “our encroachment into what was once the territory of lions.” Injured lions are especially dangerous. One of the original man-eaters had severe dental disease that would have made him a poor hunter, Patterson found. Such lions may learn to attack people rather than game, he says, “because we are slower, weaker and more defenseless.”

Paul Raffaele ’s book Among the Great Apes will be published in February.

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the ghost and the darkness true facts

Facts Behind The Tsavo Man-Eaters The True Story Of ‘The Ghost and The Darkness’

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One of my favorite films is (you guessed it), ‘The Ghost and the Darkness” and what makes this film so popular, is that it was based on a true story. Being eaten alive is perhaps one of our most primordial fears as human beings.

It is hard to imagine in this day and age, that even though human beings are at our peak of accomplishment, when we walk out into the forest at night, we really aren’t at the top of the food chain and can become a meal of some ferocious animal.

Lions are one of the world’s apex predators and even today, lions still occasionally kill and eat people in Africa.

Lions are massive mammals that are loaded with muscle and the power to kill. A single lion has the ability to attack and kill multiple humans in a single event. Their skill with attacking from stealth and killing with a single bite makes them well-suited to inflicting fatal wounds. Lions have always been dangerous to humans, and there will always be the potential for them to harm humans. Fully armed hunters with modern rifles have been attacked and almost perished with what amounts to a firing squad vs a single lion. Hunters and safari guides both get closer to lions than they should if they want to guarantee their safety. Sometimes, by trying to shoot a lion for sport, or helping their customers get a good look at wild lions, these individuals put themselves and others in danger.

The Tsavo Man-Eaters however ,  were a pair of man-eating male lions in the Tsavo region of Kenya, which were responsible for the deaths of many construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway between March and December 1898.

The lion pair was said to have killed 135 people total, but modern estimates place it at 35 total. While the terrors of man-eating lions weren’t new in the British public perception, the Tsavo Man-Eaters became one of the most notorious instances of dangers posed to Indian and native African workers of the Uganda Railway where hostile wildlife and diseases both were frequent sources of deaths in the 1890s-1900s.

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the ghost and the darkness true facts

  • July 2, 2018
  • Adventure , Drama , Thriller

108: The Ghost and the Darkness

Did you enjoy this episode help support the next one.

  • The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) – IMDb
  • Tsavo Man-Eaters – Wikipedia
  • John Henry Patterson (author) – Wikipedia
  • Man-Eaters of Tsavo | Science | Smithsonian
  • The Savage Tsavo Man-Eaters and the Man Who Stopped Them
  • The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) – Plot Summary – IMDb
  • William Goldman – IMDb
  • The Man-Eaters Of Tsavo And Other East African Adventures: Color Illustrated, Formatted for E-Readers (Unabridged Version) – Kindle edition by John Henry Patterson, Leonardo. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @
  • History of Uganda Railway – Daily Monitor
  • patterson-bryan.pdf
  • The Project Gutenberg E-text of The Man-eaters of Tsavo, by J. H. Patterson

Disclaimer: Dan LeFebvre and/or Based on a True Story may earn commissions from qualifying purchases through our links on this page.

Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Our story today opens with a scene of golden fields of long grass blowing in the wind. It’s the kind of grass you might expect to see a lion hiding in. Or, I guess, the kind of grass you won’t see a lion hiding in until it’s too late.

Instead of seeing lions, though, we hear a slight growl as we see the title of the film: The Ghost and the Darkness.

After this, the camera cuts to a building and there’s a bit of text on screen to let us know we’re in London in the year 1898. The door opens and walking through the dark halls is a man in uniform. He’s walking with his back to the camera as we follow him down the hall, so we can’t really see his face.

As he walks, we hear a voiceover explaining that this is the most famous true African adventure. It’s famous because what took place at Tsavo had never happened before. As the voiceover continues to explain, a brilliant engineer named Colonel John Patterson was there when it began. Then the voice concludes its monologue as it introduces itself as Samuel—a character played by John Kani in the film.

Finally, we see the man’s face as he finishes his walk down the hall and reaches his destination. It’s Val Kilmer’s character who happens to be Colonel John Patterson.

The scene we see next is one where Robert Beaumont, a character played by Tom Wilkinson, tells Colonel Patterson that he’s building the most expensive and daring railroad in history. All of it for the glorious purpose of beating the French and Germans in the colonialism of Africa. Or, as Robert explains it, in saving Africa from the Africans. And their ability to beat the French and Germans hinges on Colonel Patterson being able to do what Robert Beaumont has hired him to do—build a bridge across the river Tsavo.

After this introduction to Colonel Patterson’s boss, we meet his wife at the train station as she bids him farewell. She’s pregnant, but he must leave. In theory he should be back before she has the child, but challenges come—they always do. She understands. It’s alright, because that just means she can come to Africa with their newborn child when he’s born.

And with that, our opening sequence is set. All of those scenes are made up, but there are bits and pieces of truth in there.

Robert Beaumont wasn’t a real person. He’s more of a composite character to portray the committee in London in charge of the Uganda Railway. The purpose of that committee was, as you can probably guess, to build a railway across the sub-Saharan plains of Africa.

Colonel Patterson, on the other hand, was a real person. He was commissioned, like the movie implies, to build a bridge on the Tsavo river for the Uganda Railway committee. More specifically, they’d already built a temporary bridge that the workers used to haul equipment across the river, but Colonel Patterson’s job was to build the permanent bridge and also the railway for 30 miles on either side of the bridge.

For a bit of geographical context, the Tsavo river is on the eastern side of Africa. In 1898 when our story takes place that was known by the colonizing British as simply British East Africa, but today we know it as Kenya. That’s between Somalia to the north and Tanzania to the south.

Another little difference in this opening sequence is with Colonel Patterson’s wife, who is cast as Helena Patterson. She’s played by Emily Mortimer in the film. In truth, her first name was Frances. Helena was her middle name. The two were married in 1895, so the movie is correct in showing them married in 1898.

However, it’d be a bit of a stretch to assume that they had their son around the timeline of the film. He was born in 1909, so unless she had one of the longest pregnancies ever, I doubt she was pregnant in 1898.

Something the movie doesn’t mention, though, is that Frances Patterson was an amazing woman in her own right. She was the very first woman to receive a law degree in the British Isles.

Going back to the movie, Colonel Patterson arrives in Africa to meet a few new characters. First there’s Angus Starling, the camp supervisor that’s played by Brian McCardie. Together, we see Starling and Patterson take what Starling calls the best seat on the train—a wooden bench positioned outside the train on the very front. From here, the two take the trip from Mombasa to Tsavo.

That’s not really accurate.

Like Beaumont, the character of Angus Starling is a fictional one.

Although it is true that Colonel Patterson made his way to Tsavo through the port city of Mombasa. As Colonel Patterson measured it in his book, that’s about 132 miles, or 212 kilometers, to the north of the coast. The movie speeds it all up quite a bit, though. He was in Mombasa for about a week before getting his official orders to head to Tsavo.

While it is true that the train from Mombasa to Tsavo is the one that Colonel Patterson took, according to his memoirs he made a very specific point to talk about the wildlife he saw on the train ride to Tsavo through the windows—so not on the front of the train.

Although, it’s not like Patterson took the trip from Mombasa to Tsavo alone. Joining him on the ride was a man named Dr. McCulloch.

It’s worth mentioning that, generally speaking, as much as the trip to Tsavo was a job for Patterson, any time off he’d have from building the bridge would be spent hunting wild animals.

And their hunting started right away. Not with a lion, but rather with Dr. McCulloch and Patterson being amazed at a beautiful ostrich running alongside their train. So, Dr. McCulloch shot it. For sport, of course. Just because it was there. They then got the train to stop and back up so they could pick up the slain ostrich.

Back in the movie, after Patterson arrives in Tsavo we get to meet a couple more characters. The first is John Kani’s character, Samuel. He’s the guy who did the voiceover in the beginning.

Finally, the last main character we meet here is David Hawthorne. He’s played by Bernard Hill and as the camp doctor, greets Colonel Patterson by saying he’s brought some bad luck. There’s been a lion attack. Don’t worry, Colonel Patterson reassures Dr. Hawthorne, I’ll sort it out.

All of that is made up, including all those characters—they’re fictional. There was a doctor at the camp, but we already learned about him. He was none other than Dr. McCulloch who arrived in Tsavo with Patterson.

Back in the movie, after arriving in Tsavo, Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson gets right to work sorting it out. He and Starling climb up a tree that night to hunt the lion.

After plenty of waiting and a few tense moments, Patterson manages to kill the lion with a single shot—quite a feat! Back in camp the next day, everyone celebrates Patterson for freeing them of the terror of lions at night.

Of course, if you’ve seen the movie before you’ll know that’s going to change.

But historically, none of that happened.

While it’s also not true that Colonel Patterson hunted down a lion on his first night at the camp, that’s a bit nit-picky since the hunt for man-eating lions began just a few days after his arrival. It’s worth pointing out that when Patterson arrived at the camp in March of 1898, there were thousands of workers, mostly Indians who had been imported by the British to do the backbreaking work for a measly sum of about 12 rupees a month. That’s roughly about $1 in today’s US dollars. So, I think it’s safe to say their pay was a pittance—just enough to avoid being tagged as slave labor.

With thousands of workers, what I’m referring to as the “camp” was technically several camps spread out across a rather wide area—a few miles or so. There’s the one Colonel Patterson was in, then a half a mile away or so another camp. The hospital would be three-quarters of a mile away from that, and so on.

It’s also worth pointing out that not all the workers were under Colonel Patterson’s command, like the movie seems to imply. While there were a few hundred under his command to build the bridge and the 30 miles of railway on either side, the rest were tasked with the railway outside of Colonel Patterson’s job. So, mile 31 and beyond.

Because of the size of the camp, when the first two men were dragged away in the middle of the night by what witnesses described as a pair of lions, Colonel Patterson didn’t believe them. He chalked it up to a disagreement among the workers and a lion attack was the cover story. So, he didn’t do anything.

That would soon change.

Going back to the movie, after Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson kills a lion right after arriving in Tsavo, things seem to be rather uneventful for some time. There’s a bit of text on screen that says it’s seven weeks later, and one night we see Patterson go to sleep in his tent. Across the camp, the construction foreman, Mahina, goes to sleep in his tent.

By the way, Mahina is played by Henry Cele in the movie.

Of course, there’s quite a bit of difference in the sleeping arrangements. Patterson gets a bed in a tent of his own while Mahina sleeps on the floor with at least six other men that I could count in the frame. Most of them are lying with their heads in the center of the tent with their feet near the edges.

After settling in for the night, across the camp there’s silence.

All is quiet.

Then all of a sudden, there’s a scuffle as we see Mahina’s leg get pulled. He’s dragged out of the tent, startling him awake. As he looks up, there’s a massive black shadow above him—a lion.

Mahina screams. The lion responds with a growl of his own as he clamps down on Mahina’s leg and starts to drag him into the tall grass nearby. Back in the camp, a commotion starts as people start screaming, “Simba! Simba!” or “Lion! Lion!”

The next day, Patterson, Starling and Samuel find the remains of Mahina’s body in the grass.

None of that is true. Although Mahina was a real person—he was Patterson’s gun-bearer. In fact, the character of Samuel in the movie was a fictional one and, in truth, it was Mahina who was Patterson’s right-hand man in the hunt for the man-eaters moreso than anyone else.

As his gun-bearer, anytime Colonel Patterson went hunting in the African wilderness, which he did often as a break from building the bridge, Mahina would likely be at his side. What’s not true about this, though, is that Mahina died as a result of a lion attack like we see in the film. In fact, Mahina was one of the men who bade farewell to Colonel Patterson when he finally went back to England toward the end of 1899.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of our story.

Even though Mahina didn’t die during the timeline of the film, there was an event that was similar to what we saw.

About three weeks after Colonel Patterson arrived in Tsavo, one of his officers, a man named Ungan Singh, was dragged out of his tent in the middle of the night and eaten.

If you remember, up until this point the real Patterson didn’t really believe the previous reports of night-time killings being lions. He thought they were probably scraps between the workers that were being blamed on wildlife. When Singh was killed, the witnesses said it was a lion attack. This time, though, Colonel Patterson investigated the disappearance. He came to the same conclusion as the witnesses—the prints were clear in the sand along with the marks of where Ungan was dragged off into the brush.

Going back to the movie, after Mahina is killed there’s more deaths. Each night, Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson climbs a tree to kill the lion. They build bomas, or thornbush enclosures that are meant to keep the lion out. And yet, each night it seems, the lion evades Patterson as someone else is dragged off.

Things get so bad that we see Tom Wilkinson’s character of Robert Beaumont make his way to the construction site. When he arrives on a train, he mentions that Patterson is two months behind—and he wants answers.

After hearing about the 30 or so men that have been killed, Beaumont says he doesn’t care about the men who have died—all he cares about is his knighthood. Get the job done. But then he offers to hire Michael Douglas’s character, Charles Remington, to take out lion.

That’s not true.

As we learned before, Beaumont wasn’t a real person so it’s probably not too much of a surprise that that never happened. Although it’d be logical to assume that if the character of Beaumont was supposed to be a personified version of the Uganda Railway committee that maybe some folks of the committee came out to degrade Patterson at the site.

Of course, who’s to say what happened in the undocumented conversations, but building a railroad in the wilderness came with its fair share of hardness. No one likes them, but delays are a part of the job.

Still, it’s safe to say none of that happened.

That brings us to Charles Remington. He’s also a fictional character. There was a man named Mr. Whitehead that Patterson wrote to for assistance in killing the lions, but he was the District Officer in the region, not a big game hunter like Remington was in the movie.

And that right there probably tells you how historically accurate much of the movie from here on out was since he’s one of the main characters. And we’ll come back to Mr. Whitehead in a moment.

As a little side note, you’ll notice that when recounting what happened in the movie I’m using the term “lion”, singular. In the movie, at this point, Patterson didn’t know there were two lions.

To be honest, I don’t really know if that’s true or not. I couldn’t find anything that verified that Patterson thought there was only one lion at the beginning until seeing the two side-by-side at one time. In his book, Patterson almost always refers to them as “the lions” from the very beginning—plural. But that brings up a great point. Patterson’s book called The Man-Eaters of Tsavo was published in 1907, so about nine years after the events took place.

Can you remember everything you did nine years ago to write down every detail? I know I can’t.

And therein lies the conundrum of stories like this that rely so heavily on the experiences of only one man. Stories like this one or others like The Revenant, Lawrence of Arabia, Sargent York and so on. Stories that are often conflated either out of misremembering, honest mistakes or just the desire to make their stories sound more exciting than they actually were.

Oh, sure, there were other people there, but not people who wrote down their stories. And oral histories are even more unreliable. This is all important to keep in mind, because due to the nature of Patterson being the only one who really provided documentation of many of the events by way of his book, we pretty much have to assume its details are true. But I still think it’s worth pointing that out from time to time.

Back to our story today, even though Beaumont never came to Tsavo because, well, he’s not a real person, the basic idea of Patterson trying to hunt down the lions almost immediately after his arrival was true.

In his first few weeks at camp, even after the very first of the workers was dragged away in the middle of the night, Colonel Patterson was determined to get rid of the lions. He’d perch in the trees at night near a recent kill—even getting to the point of leaving a victim’s body where it was found after being dragged off in hopes that the lions would come back for the remains. Instead, while hanging out on a perch, which usually consisted of a board between four posts, Patterson would hear a commotion in a camp a half a mile away. The lions eluded him yet again.

That was a common occurrence. Remember, there used to be people spread out across multiple camps. When they’d guard one camp, another would get attacked. Initially, they’d sometimes be successful in scaring the lions off by making a lot of noise—gunshots, banging things together. But as the nights wore on, the noises stopped having an effect on the lions. They grew more and more bold as they entered tents, grabbing someone in their sleep and dragging them to the outside of the camp where they’d both feed on the poor soul.

What made things even worse was that the thousands of men started to shrink as the railway made progress. Remember earlier when we learned that not all of the workers were tasked with building the bridge under Colonel Patterson? Well, as the workers who were working on the railway itself beyond the bridge made progress, that meant more and more workers were moving away from the Tsavo encampment.

Left behind were the few hundred workers tasked with the bridge. That meant the camps weren’t nearly as full as when Patterson arrived, making things seem even more eerie as the already depleted numbers dwindled more with each night someone was taken from their tent by the lions.

Going back to the movie, with the deaths piling up, we see one of the Indian workers named Abdullah get into a big argument with Patterson. Angry words are thrust back and forth along with what some might consider threats.

Then, just as things start to get really heated, Michael Douglas’s character, Charles Remington, comes into the picture and places a gun to Abdullah’s head. Finally, things calm down a bit.

Well, we already learned earlier that Charles Remington wasn’t a real person, so that part isn’t true. But it is true that the Indian workers revolted against Colonel Patterson. In fact, it was quite a bit worse than what we saw in the movie—even down to a plot to murder Patterson.

There was a lot of stress in the camp, not the least of which because of the lions. But then there was another key factor that seemed to be the last straw in Patterson’s leadership for many of the workers.

None of this is in the movie at all, but as Patterson was overseeing the stone for the base supports for the bridge, he called on the masons of his workers to help. It didn’t take long for him to realize that many of his masons didn’t know the first thing about stone-work.

It’d seem that masons made 45 rupees a month while regular workers only made about 12. So, plenty of people signed up to be masons. When it came time to prove their work, they failed.

As we learned earlier, 12 rupees is equivalent to about $1 in today’s US dollars. On the other hand, 45 rupees in 1898 was roughly about $34 in today’s US dollars. So, neither is really a high salary by any means…but there’s quite a difference.

After Patterson found this out, he decided to cut the pay of anyone who couldn’t prove they were actual masons. Then, trying to appease those who were masons, he’d offer them a little above the 45 rupees.

Well, this drastic pay cut for many workers didn’t really make them happy.

On September 6th, 1898, Colonel Patterson started along his normal morning routine from the trolley line to a quarry to check on the workers there. He’d heard rumors of a mutinous plot but didn’t think a lot of it—he didn’t believe they’d actually carry it out, he just thought it was an intimidation technique.

Well, it was more than that. He found out about that when roughly 160 or so men armed with crowbars and hammers cornered Patterson in a remote gully. It had to have been like a scene in a movie—except not this one. Suddenly, one of the men charged at Patterson.

Patterson dodged, causing the man to dive past him and straight into a nearby rock. That caused enough of a pause from the rest of the workers to give Patterson the time to jump up on another nearby rock. From there, he addressed the workers who, somewhat surprisingly, listened.

He pointed out that if he were killed, the nearby government wasn’t going to be likely to believe that he’d been dragged off by a lion. The punishment for killing him would be hanging for any man involved. Not only that, but they’d just replace him with a new task-master. How did they know who that new boss would be? Maybe he’d be even worse of a boss—not as fair as Patterson was.

He promised anyone who was unhappy could leave without question. Anyone who stayed, though, would have to stop their plots against his life. In return, he wouldn’t mention it to his own bosses.

Back in the movie…actually, before we move onto the next scene, let’s clarify something because the movie gets the timeline a little backward.

In particular, the timing of the work stoppage. In the movie, we see a little later on a scene where Abdullah and hundreds of Indian workers climb aboard a train to leave Tsavo in the wake of one of the worst attacks yet. I’m speaking of the one on the hospital, of course. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

So, in truth, all of those workers really did leave Tsavo…but it wasn’t later like we see in the movie. Remember, the plot against Patterson’s life was in September of 1898.

By the time December of 1898 rolled around, things had gotten so bad that, like the movie implies, there was indeed a halt in the work. Hundreds of workers threw themselves in front of a passing train, forcing it to stop. When it did, they hopped on and left. Anyone who stayed behind stopped working on the bridge and railway. The only thing they’d build was what they thought were lion-proof buildings. These were structures that stood atop anything they could find—water tanks and roofs. Anything to get them off the ground at night.

The work stoppage would end up lasting three weeks.

But the thing I wanted to point out here was how the movie change the timeline, because in truth the workers left before Patterson’s help came. That help wasn’t Remington, of course, but rather the District Officer in the region, a man named Mr. Whitehead.

And Mr. Whitehead was nearly killed upon his arrival to the camp. His train, which was scheduled to arrive on December 2nd, the day after the mass exodus of workers took place, came in late at night. It was so dark that seeing anything was almost impossible, but Whitehead had an assistant carrying a lamp behind him, so they could see their path from the station to the camp.

Then, out of the darkness a lion jumped down on the pair, tearing into Whitehead’s back with his claws. Startled, Whitehead shot his weapon. It seemed to work—the lion froze just long enough for Whitehead to back away. Then, a split second later, the lion pounced on Whitehead’s assistant, a man named Abdullah, and dragged him off into the darkness.

He was never seen again.

As the sun started to rise, Whitehead managed to run into Patterson who, in turn, was looking for Whitehead, since he was supposed to have arrived the night before. Whitehead and Patterson made their way back to camp where Whitehead’s injuries were tended to.

Then something else happens that’s not quite in line with what we saw in the movie.

Remember when Michael Douglas’s character, Charles Remington, arrives in Tsavo in the movie? He came with a tribe called the Masai to hunt the lions down. We already learned that Remington wasn’t a real person, but the Masai was a real tribe that Patterson met during his time in Africa.

But it wasn’t them who came with Mr. Whitehead.

In the movie, Remington is called by Beaumont. Something I didn’t really mention earlier in the scene with Beaumont, but one of the things he mentioned specifically was his reply to Patterson’s request for soldiers. He denied it.

That’s interesting, because in truth, since there was no Beaumont, it was Patterson himself who requested assistance hunting the lions.

Well, the very next day after Mr. Whitehead arrived in Tsavo, some soldiers arrived under the command of a man named Mr. Farquhar. He was the Superintendent of Police in a nearby region, so he arrived with forces to help in the killing of the two man-eating lions.

It was that night, on December 3rd, when they finally caught one of the lions.

Back in the movie, we see a rather ingenious contraption that Val Kilmer’s version of Patterson cleverly calls…well, his contraption.

It’s basically a box car that’s been modified with wooden boards inside to create two compartments. On one side, three workers are to spend the night as bait. On the other side, a door is left open for the lion to enter. When it does, in theory, it’ll hit a tripwire that’ll slam the door down behind it. That’s when the armed workers are to open fire on the lion, killing it.

And, according to the movie, everything seems to go well at first. The trap works, and the lion makes its way in, knocking down the door behind it. Then, the workers start to panic. They keep shooting, but never seem to hit it. One of those shots hits the door behind the lion, damaging the door—which allows the lion to escape.

Surprisingly, that’s pretty close to what happened. Well, there were only two people set up in the trap as bait. And they weren’t workers, they were soldiers from Mr. Farquhar, who had arrived that same day.

As other soldiers positioned themselves in trees all around the camp for the night, Patterson and Mr. Whitehead took up positions near the trap with the human bait inside.

For a while, all was quiet. At about 9:00 PM, one of the lions fell for the trap and wandered inside. The door came slamming down, making quite a ruckus. Patterson breathed a sigh of relief—that’s one lion down!

Except…not quite so fast.

When the lion entered, the soldiers who served as bait were so terrified they didn’t shoot. They froze. Finally, after a few minutes, they opened fire. Not very accurately, though, and just like the movie shows they managed to hit just about everything but the lion. Oh, there was a little bit of blood they found afterward that implies the lion was slightly injured, but nothing major.

One of the bullets though did manage to hit a bar on the door, completely blowing it away. And just like we saw in the movie, that left a hole in the door big enough for the lion to get away.

Back in the movie, Remington orders Bernard Hill’s character, Dr. Hawthorne, to move the hospital. He says the smell of blood and sweat are only going to attract the lions.

That night, we see Dr. Hawthorne and Patterson swap weapons for a hunt the following day. As the movie explains it, Dr. Hawthorne tells Patterson that his gun is more powerful than Patterson’s and he’s just going to be tending to the hospital transfer, so the more powerful gun will do Patterson more good on his hunt than it will Dr. Hawthorne.

Then, the next day, Patterson, Remington and the Masai tribe head off for a hunt. They manage to corner one of the lions, but just as Patterson has the shot—his gun misfires. The lion gets away.

The misfire happened, but that’s not at all how it happened.

Obviously, we already know Remington and the Masai weren’t there.

In fact, Mr. Whitehead and the soldiers from Farquhar weren’t there either. On December 9th, just a couple days after Mr. Whitehead and Farquhar’s soldiers left, Patterson was going about his morning routine when he heard a warning cry.

“Simba! Simba!”

In a rush, Patterson grabbed the closest rifle he could find. It was a heavy rifle that Farquhar had left behind for him, just in case it would be of any use. But Patterson couldn’t track down the lion, so he decided to head back to camp and get some help. He enlisted some of the workers to help make a bunch of noise.

In the movie we see the Masai fill this role as they hoot and holler to scare the lion in a direction they want it to go.

Well, in truth it was some of the railway workers who made as much noise as they could as Patterson snuck around to find a good position to hit the lion. When he found the lion, he raised his rifle and…click. Misfire.

There was a temporary moment of panic where Patterson just stared at the lion. Then, the workers’ noise came closer and scared off the lion. Good thing, too, because if not then Patterson might’ve been a goner.

A bit earlier, I mentioned that Mr. Whitehead and Farquhar’s soldiers had left. They didn’t stick around for long. Since Patterson’s assistance had left by this point, that probably gives you a good idea of how accurate the next major scene is in the movie.

I’m talking, of course, about one of the biggest scenes in the film. At least, it’s the one that disturbed me the most when I saw the movie for the first time. As Patterson and Remington hole themselves up in the old hospital. They spread blood all over the place, pieces of meat and even a couple cows in an attempt to attract the lions to them.

We see the lions sniff at the blood, but then they disappear.

Then we see the lions again. They start attacking the helpless sick and injured in the new location of the hospital—ripping apart the men. One of those who dies is Dr. Hawthorne.

None of that happened. Nor did the real camp doc, Dr. McCulloch die during any of this. He ended up surviving and returning home safe and sound.

According to the movie, after this is when we see Abdullah and the hundreds of Indian workers pile on the train and make their way out of Tsavo. While I can’t say I blame them in the context of what happened in the movie, we already learned about how the movie changed the timeline for that.

So, let’s hop back to the movie where the next major plot point happens when they’re able to finally take down one of the two lions. This happens after Colonel Patterson builds a rather precarious-looking platform. The plan is to have him sit up there out of reach of the lions, while a baboon is tied beneath the platform as bait.

In the dead of the night, one of the lions arrives. Patterson shifts around, trying to get a good angle for a shot. Then, suddenly, a bird swoops down on him. Unsurprisingly, this makes Patterson lose his balance on the very thin board. He falls to the ground, sending his rifle a distance away in the process. Just then, the lion pounces on Patterson—he manages to roll away in the nick of time.

Pulling his pistol, he unloads it into the lion.

Finally, one of the lions is killed.

That’s pretty close to what happened. Even down to the very precarious platform that Patterson erected to hunt atop.

Here’s an excerpt from Patterson’s book where he described exactly what happened:

But no; matters quickly took an unexpected turn. The hunter became the hunted; and instead of either making off or coming for the bait prepared for him, the lion began stealthily to stalk me! For about two hours he horrified me by slowly creeping round and round my crazy structure, gradually edging his way nearer and nearer. Every moment I expected him to rush it; and the staging had not been constructed with an eye to such a possibility. If one of the rather flimsy poles should break, or if the lion could spring the twelve feet which separated me from the ground … the thought was scarcely a pleasant one. I began to feel distinctly “creepy,” and heartily repented my folly in having placed myself in such a dangerous position. I kept perfectly still, however, hardly daring even to blink my eyes: but the long-continued strain was telling on my nerves, and my feelings may be better imagined than described when about midnight suddenly something came flop and struck me on the back of the head. For a moment I was so terrified that I nearly fell off the plank, as I thought that the lion had sprung on me from behind. Regaining my senses in a second or two, I realised that I had been hit by nothing more formidable than an owl, which had doubtless mistaken me for the branch of a tree—not a very alarming thing to happen in ordinary circumstances, I admit, but coming at the time it did, it almost paralysed me. The involuntary start which I could not help giving was immediately answered by a sinister growl from below. After this I again kept as still as I could, though absolutely trembling with excitement; and in a short while I heard the lion begin to creep stealthily towards me. I could barely make out his form as he crouched among the whitish undergrowth; but I saw enough for my purpose, and before he could come any nearer, I took careful aim and pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot was at once followed by a most terrific roar, and then I could hear him leaping about in all directions. I was no longer able to see him, however, as his first bound had taken him into the thick bush; but to make assurance doubly sure, I kept blazing away in the direction in which I heard him plunging about. At length came a series of mighty groans, gradually subsiding into deep sighs, and finally ceasing altogether; and I felt convinced that one of the “devils” who had so long harried us would trouble us no more. As soon as I ceased firing, a tumult of inquiring voices was borne across the dark jungle from the men in camp about a quarter of a mile away. I shouted back that I was safe and sound, and that one of the lions was dead: whereupon such a mighty cheer went up from all the camps as must have astonished the denizens of the jungle for miles around.

Back in the movie, after the first lion is killed we see Patterson, Remington and Samuel all celebrating with a drink around the fire that same night. Conversation turns to families, and before heading off to bed Remington tells Patterson that the next time he sees his son, he should hold him high.

That night, Patterson has a dream. It’s a good dream where his wife and newborn son visit him. Then, it turns to a nightmare as the remaining lion mauls his wife to death while he watches helplessly from a distance.

Val Kilmer’s version of Colonel Patterson awakes from the nightmare with a start. He goes to splash his face with water, and that’s when he notices it. Remington’s tent. It’s empty. It’s more than empty—it’s in shreds. Remington is gone.

Rushing out into the brush, Patterson and Samuel come across the remains of Remington amid blood-stained grass.

Then the camera cuts and we see Patterson and Samuel standing around a blazing fire. They’re burning Remington’s body out of respect. Patterson grabs one of the logs from the fire and starts lighting the tall, dry grass ablaze. Samuel follows suit, and the fire quickly eats up the long grass.

None of that is true. There was a moment where Patterson set a fire while he was in Tsavo, but that was much later and due to a plague that was in the area—he was trying to get rid of the sickness and did so by setting fire to many of the buildings in the area. A sacrifice, but it worked to get rid of the illness. But it had nothing to do with the lions.

After this, in the movie, we see how the second lion is killed. The evening after Remington is killed, Colonel Patterson is walking along the unfinished bridge when the lion surprises him. Shocked, Patterson stumbles back and drops his shotgun. It clatters between the wooden boards, falling uselessly away.

Patterson starts running, climbing down from the bridge in a way that slows the lion’s charge on him. Fortunately, he just barely manages to make it to a nearby tree before the lion gets there.

It stares up at him. Then…the lion starts climbing the tree after Val Kilmer’s version of the Colonel.

Patterson climbs higher, but there’s only so much tree. Meanwhile, we see Samuel climbing another tree nearby. He’s trying to get a good angle on the lion, but he can’t. so, he calls out to Patterson. Getting his attention, Samuel throws his rifle across the gap separating his tree from Patterson’s.

It’s just out of reach! Hitting a branch, it falls to the ground.

For a moment, Patterson considers what to do. The lion is still making its way up the tree. Closer and closer. Then, Patterson jumps from the tree toward the gun. The fall brings him down—almost lying down as he lunges to pick up the gun just as the lion follows him to the ground.

Patterson aims…fires. The lion roars, blood splattering across his face. But he doesn’t stop. He keeps crawling toward Patterson, who scrambles backward. Finally, he steadies himself for a second shot right into the lion’s face.

And with that, the second lion is killed.

All of that…is not at all how it happened.

And rather than trying to retell the story myself, as we did with the first lion, here’s the account of how the second man-eater of Tsavo was killed by Colonel Patterson from his book:

About this time Sir Guilford Molesworth, K.C.I.E., late Consulting Engineer to the Government of India for State Railways, passed through Tsavo on a tour of inspection on behalf of the Foreign Office. After examining the bridge and other works and expressing his satisfaction, he took a number of photographs, one or two of which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce in this book. He thoroughly sympathised with us in all the trials we had endured from the man-eaters, and was delighted that one at least was dead. When he asked me if I expected to get the second lion soon, I well remember his half-doubting smile as I rather too confidently asserted that I hoped to bag him also in the course of a few days. As it happened, there was no sign of our enemy for about ten days after this, and we began to hope that he had died of his wounds in the bush. All the same we still took every precaution at night, and it was fortunate that we did so, as otherwise at least one more victim would have been added to the list. For on the night of December 27, I was suddenly aroused by terrified shouts from my trolley men, who slept in a tree close outside my boma, to the effect that a lion was trying to get at them. It would have been madness to have gone out, as the moon was hidden by dense clouds and it was absolutely impossible to see anything more than a yard in front of one; so all I could do was to fire off a few rounds just to frighten the brute away. This apparently had the desired effect, for the men were not further molested that night; but the man-eater had evidently prowled about for some time, for we found in the morning that he had gone right into every one of their tents, and round the tree was a regular ring of his footmarks. The following evening I took up my position in this same tree, in the hope that he would make another attempt. The night began badly, as, while climbing up to my perch I very nearly put my hand on a venomous snake which was lying coiled round one of the branches. As may be imagined, I came down again very quickly, but one of my men managed to despatch it with a long pole. Fortunately the night was clear and cloudless, and the moon made every thing almost as bright as day. I kept watch until about 2 a.m., when I roused Mahina to take his turn. For about an hour I slept peacefully with my back to the tree, and then woke suddenly with an uncanny feeling that something was wrong. Mahina, however, was on the alert, and had seen nothing; and although I looked carefully round us on all sides, I too could discover nothing unusual. Only half satisfied, I was about to lie back again, when I fancied I saw something move a little way off among the low bushes. On gazing intently at the spot for a few seconds, I found I was not mistaken. It was the man-eater, cautiously stalking us. The ground was fairly open round our tree, with only a small bush every here and there; and from our position it was a most fascinating sight to watch this great brute stealing stealthily round us, taking advantage of every bit of cover as he came. His skill showed that he was an old hand at the terrible game of man-hunting: so I determined to run no undue risk of losing him this time. I accordingly waited until he got quite close—about twenty yards away—and then fired my .303 at his chest. I heard the bullet strike him, but unfortunately it had no knockdown effect, for with a fierce growl he turned and made off with great long bounds. Before he disappeared from sight, however, I managed to have three more shots at him from the magazine rifle, and another growl told me that the last of these had also taken effect. We awaited daylight with impatience, and at the first glimmer of dawn we set out to hunt him down. I took a native tracker with me, so that I was free to keep a good look-out, while Mahina followed immediately behind with a Martini carbine. Splashes of blood being plentiful, we were able to get along quickly; and we had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile through the jungle when suddenly a fierce warning growl was heard right in front of us. Looking cautiously through the bushes, I could see the man-eater glaring out in our direction, and showing his tusks in an angry snarl. I at once took careful aim and fired. Instantly he sprang out and made a most determined charge down on us. I fired again and knocked him over; but in a second he was up once more and coming for me as fast as he could in his crippled condition. A third shot had no apparent effect, so I put out my hand for the Martini, hoping to stop him with it. To my dismay, however, it was not there. The terror of the sudden charge had proved too much for Mahina, and both he and the carbine were by this time well on their way up a tree. In the circumstances there was nothing to do but follow suit, which I did without loss of time: and but for the fact that one of my shots had broken a hind leg, the brute would most certainly have had me. Even as it was, I had barely time to swing myself up out of his reach before he arrived at the foot of the tree. When the lion found he was too late, he started to limp back to the thicket; but by this time I had seized the carbine from Mahina, and the first shot I fired from it seemed to give him his quietus, for he fell over and lay motionless. Rather foolishly, I at once scrambled down from the tree and walked up towards him. To my surprise and no little alarm he jumped up and attempted another charge. This time, however, a Martini bullet in the chest and another in the head finished him for good and all; he dropped in his tracks not five yards away from me, and died gamely, biting savagely at a branch which had fallen to the ground. By this time all the workmen in camp, attracted by the sound of the firing, had arrived on the scene, and so great was their resentment against the brute who had killed such numbers of their comrades that it was only with the greatest difficulty that I could restrain them from tearing the dead body to pieces. Eventually, amid the wild rejoicings of the natives and coolies, I had the lion carried to my boma, which was close at hand. On examination we found no less than six bullet holes in the body, and embedded only a little way in the flesh of the back was the slug which I had fired into him from the scaffolding about ten days previously. He measured nine feet six inches from tip of nose to tip of tail, and stood three feet eleven and a half inches high; but, as in the case of his companion, the skin was disfigured by being deeply scored all over by the boma thorns.

Oh, and even though I didn’t mention it, the first man-eater measured about nine feet eight inches long and was three feet nine inches tall.

As the movie draws to a close, we see Colonel Patterson’s wife, Helena, arrive in Tsavo. It’s a very similar scene to what we saw in Patterson’s nightmare, except this time there are no lions stalking their prey from the tall grass.

It’s a rather happy ending as Patterson sees his wife and, for the first time, his newborn son—who he raises high just as Charles Remington told him to do before he died.

As happy as that made the ending in the movie, none of that happened. As we learned in the beginning, Colonel John Patterson and his wife, Frances Helena Patterson, didn’t have their only son until many years later—1909.

And, as far as my research indicates, she never visited him in Africa.

But, at the end of the movie, we hear Samuel’s voiceover talk about how Patterson finished the bridge.

And that’s true.

The bridge was finished in February of 1899, not long after the man-eating lions were killed. However, Patterson didn’t return to England right away. In fact, it wasn’t for about a year after the two lions were killed that Patterson stumbled upon their den. We saw Patterson and Remington find their cave in the movie, but that’s not something that happened while the lions were still alive.

While the lions were alive, Patterson spent countless hours searching for their den without success. But it was only after they were killed that he managed to find it—and quite by accident.

The movie did correctly show that there were plenty of human bones in the den. Although, the number of them were played up for effect in the film.

Speaking of which, throughout the movie we hear a running tally of the number of deaths at the hand of the two man-eaters of Tsavo. 10, 20, 30…all the way up to somewhere in the 100s.

How many did the two lions actually kill?

Well, the true answer is that we don’t know. The numbers vary quite a bit, but estimates are as high as 135 people.

As for the two lions, for a little over two decades their skins served as rugs for Colonel Patterson’s home. Then, in 1924, he sold them to the Chicago Field Museum where they were stuffed and reconstructed to mimic the lions they once were.

And that’s where they are today.

Just like the movie indicates at the end, those two lions are currently on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. Of course, it’s their skins stuffed into reconstructions, but in the display they also have the two skulls of the man-eaters.

In 2004, Colonel John Patterson’s son, Bruce, published his theories into the reasons behind why the two man-eaters killed so many.

The prevailing thought was that it was a combination of multiple factors. A perfect storm, of sorts.

First, in 1898 there was a plague that limited the number of animals available in the lion’s normal hunting grounds. In addition to that, quite frankly, there was a lot of slave labor and slave trade in the region at the time. As a result, there were a lot of people murdered and dumped around the area—especially around the Tsavo river, since it was a water supply for slave traders in the region.

Finally, Bruce Patterson studied the skulls of the lions and determined that perhaps there was an infection in their teeth. A lion’s normal prey, zebras, antelopes and so on, would be suffocated from the pressure of the lion’s attack. But with the infection, maybe that same sort of pressure couldn’t be applied without immense pain. So, killing humans that didn’t require the same sort of suffocation would’ve been an easier prey.

Of course, those are all theories.

The truth is…we don’t really know.

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“The Ghost and the Darkness” is an African adventure that makes the Tarzan movies look subtle and realistic. It lacks even the usual charm of being so bad it's funny. It's just bad. Not funny. No, wait . . . there is one funny moment. A bridge-builder takes leave of his pregnant wife to go to Africa to build a bridge, and she solemnly observes, “You must go where the rivers are.” The bridge man, named Patterson, is played by Val Kilmer in a trim modern haircut that never grows an inch during his weeks in the bush. He soon is joined by a great white hunter named Remington ( Michael Douglas ), whose appearance is that of a homeless man who somehow got his hands on a rifle. If this were a comic strip, there would be flies buzzing around his head.

The men meet up in Uganda, where a big push is on to complete a railroad faster than the Germans or the French. The owner of the rail company is a gruff tycoon who boasts, “I'm a monster. My only pleasure is tormenting those people who work for me.” He is too modest. He also torments those who watch this movie.

Work on the railroad bridge is interrupted by a lion attack. Patterson spends the night in a tree and kills a lion. There is much rejoicing. Then another lion attacks. Eventually it becomes clear that two lions are still on the prowl. They are devilishly clever, dragging men from their cots and even invading a hospital to chew on malaria patients. “Maneaters are always old, and alone, but not these two,” Remington intones solemnly.

The rest of the movie consists of Patterson and Remington sitting up all night trying to shoot the lions, while the lions continue their attacks. At the end we learn that these two lions killed 135 victims in nine months. The movie only makes it seem like there were more, over a longer period.

Many scenes are so inept as to beggar description. Some of the lion attacks seem to have been staged by telling the actors to scream while a lion rug was waved in front of the camera. Patterson eventually builds a flimsy platform in a clearing, tethers a goat at its base, and waits for the lions. Balanced on a wooden beam, he looks this way. Then that way. Then this. Then that. A competent editor would have known that all this shifting back and forth would become distracting. Then a big bird flies at him and knocks him off the beam, and right into a lion's path. Lesson No. 1 in lion hunting: Don't let a big bird knock you into the path of a lion.

A narrator at the beginning of the film has informed us, “This is a story of death and mystery.” The mystery is why these particular lions behaved as they did. I don't see why it's a mystery. They had reasons anyone can identify with: They found something they were good at, and grew to enjoy it. The only mystery is why the screenwriter, William Goldman , has them kill off the two most interesting characters so quickly. (They are Angus, the chatty man on the spot, and an African with a magnificently chiseled and stern face.) In the old days this movie would have starred Stewart Granger and Trevor Howard , and they would have known it was bad but they would have seemed at home in it, cleaning their rifles and chugging their gin like seasoned bwanas.

Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas never for a second look like anything other than thoroughly unhappy movie stars stuck in a humid climate and a doomed production.

I hope someone made a documentary about the making of “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Now that would be a movie worth seeing.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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The Ghost And The Darkness movie poster

The Ghost And The Darkness (1996)

104 minutes

Michael Douglas as Remington

Val Kilmer as Lt. Col. John Patterson

Brian McCardie as Starling

John Kani as Samuel

Tom Puri as Abdullah

Directed by

  • Stephen Hopkins
  • William Goldman

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The Ghost and the Darkness

1996, History/Drama, 1h 49m

What to know

Critics Consensus

The Ghost and the Darkness hits its target as a suspenseful adventure, but it falls into a trap of its own making whenever it reaches for supernatural profundity. Read critic reviews

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The ghost and the darkness videos, the ghost and the darkness   photos.

Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson) is behind schedule on a railroad in Africa. Enlisting noted engineer John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) to right the ship, Beaumont expects results. Everything seems great until the crew discovers the mutilated corpse of the project's foreman (Henry Cele), seemingly killed by a lion. After several more attacks, Patterson calls in famed hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), who has finally met his match in the bloodthirsty lions.

Genre: History, Drama, Adventure

Original Language: English

Director: Stephen Hopkins

Producer: Paul B. Radin , Gale Anne Hurd , A. Kitman Ho

Writer: William Goldman

Release Date (Theaters): Oct 11, 1996  original

Release Date (Streaming): Aug 1, 2013

Box Office (Gross USA): $38.6M

Runtime: 1h 49m

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Production Co: Paramount Pictures

Sound Mix: Surround

Cast & Crew

Michael Douglas

Charles Remington

Col. John Henry Patterson

Tom Wilkinson

Robert Beaumont

Bernard Hill

Dr. David Hawthorne

Brian McCardie

Angus Starling

Emily Mortimer

Helena Patterson

Stephen Hopkins

William Goldman

Executive Producer

Steven Reuther

Paul B. Radin

Gale Anne Hurd

A. Kitman Ho

Jerry Goldsmith

Original Music

Vilmos Zsigmond


Roger Bondelli

Film Editing

Robert Brown

Steve Mirkovich

Mary Selway

Sarah Trevis

Stuart Wurtzel

Production Design

Giles Masters

Art Director

Malcolm Stone

Hilton Rosemarin

Set Decoration

Ellen Mirojnick

Costume Design

News & Interviews for The Ghost and the Darkness

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Critic Reviews for The Ghost and the Darkness

Audience reviews for the ghost and the darkness.

Why has this not been mass released on Blu Ray or 4K? Shameful. On paper this would sound like a horror filmmakers dream, and at the time of release, I was a little reluctant to watch the film. I'm happy I did and have since watched it several times. It's quite annoying that the producers haven't transferred it to a decent upgrade as this is a wonderful film to look at. The film is unique and is fun to watch. Val Kilmer was coming off a string of bad press and this film was a much needed breath of fresh air for him. Michael Douglas is solid and gives this film more credibility than it actually deserved. The director has done a solid job and it's a shame to hear of the disagreements with editing for the final cut, it would be interesting to see a DC version now that the dust has settled. 05/01/2020

the ghost and the darkness true facts

It's an embarrassing failure on all fronts, which is a shame as it squanders a perfectly good (and true) man vs. lion story. I think Kilmer and Douglas had a contest to see who's accent work could be worst (Spoiler alert: Kilmer won).

This movie is unintentionally hilarious with its cheesy lines and horrible acting. Michael Douglas turns in a hilariously bad performance while Val Kilmer is tolerable. The only thing that makes this movie interesting is that it is true (with Hollywood exaggerations of course).

Based on a true story, this is a suspenseful adventure yarn about the Tsavo Manhunters who terrorized laborers working on a railroad in East Africa in 1896. The Tsavo Manhunters are a pair of vicious lions who kill for sport, and seem unafraid of man and fire, and have an almost supernatural ability to sense danger and traps. The native workers name them the Ghost and The Darkness, due to their attack methods. Col. John Henry Patterson is a railroad engineer/big game hunter tasked with killing the lions and getting the railroad built on time. His efforts to succeed continually fail, so a wily American big game hunter named Charles Remington is brought in to help him out. Screenwriter William Goldman was originally wanting to meld Lawrence of Arabia with Jaws. The basic idea of that is onscreen, but unfortunately it isn't taking to the level it could have been. Maybe had a stronger director been attached... The film strays some from the original story, mostly by adding the fictional character of Remington, but still retains the gist and spirit of the actual events. The film is actually rather light on gore, and some of the action scenes are a bit too choppy and frenetic with how they're edited, but somehow the film is still rather suspenseful and gripping. Plus, it's got some good cinematography, and the deeper themes of imperialism and "white man as champion" are touched upon and dealt with somewhat, so that's cool. The music is also appropriately subversive at times, and tense when it needs to be. Val Kilmer is good as Patterson, and I like how they don't treat him as a total wimpy character. Michael Douglas is wildly scenery chewing as Remington, but perhaps a bit too over-the-top and goofy. Still though, his performance is rather fun to watch. A pre-fame Tom Wilkinson is good at the company man who doesn't care about the setbacks, and just wants his damn railroad built, and John Kani is decent as the native sidekick Samuel. All in all, this is a decent enough adventure thriller in the vein of old fashioned adventure serials. It's pretty flawed, and sometimes goofy, but I found myself more pleased with it than not, so give it a go.

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Two Lions Gnawing Away At 19th-Century Progress

By Janet Maslin

  • Oct. 11, 1996

''The Ghost and the Darkness,'' a lion-hunting story set in 19th-century Africa, is the rare Hollywood action-adventure that becomes more surprising and exotic as it moves along. While it begins on an unpromisingly starchy note, the film soon picks up speed, color and nicely nonchalant humor as it tells a true story about near-mythic beasts.

These two lions, from whom the film takes its name, relentlessly attack workers building a trans-Africa railway line. As directed by Stephen Hopkins (''Blown Away''), whose forte is vigorous action and whose weak spot is casting secondary roles, they create enough nail-biting tension to make the film sometimes resemble ''Jaws'' with paws. What's more, the creatures soon devour enough minor players to solve the film's early cute-character problems.

The story can then narrow its focus to the manful camaraderie of Remington (Michael Douglas), a legendary hunter, and Lieut. Col John Patterson (Val Kilmer), who leads the British team racing other nations to complete the first railroad across the continent. One of the film's better ideas is casting its two stars precisely against type, with Mr. Douglas as the hip, irreverent longhair and Mr. Kilmer as the straitlaced hero. ''I'll sort this out,'' declares Patterson when the railway effort encounters predator trouble. ''I will kill the lion, and I will build the bridge.''

''Of course you will,'' agrees Abdullah, his foreman (Tom Puri), in the film's pleasantly mocking tone. ''You're white, you can do anything.''

As Mr. Kilmer's Patterson begins climbing off his high horse and begins bantering with Remington (who makes a nifty, well-timed entrance here), William Goldman's spirited screenplay for ''The Ghost and the Darkness'' begins offering welcome reminders of his ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.'' In the manner of that film, these two comrades show off boyish vitality mixed with autumnal wisdom, especially where questions of courage are concerned. Is bravery ever a problem, Patterson asks the famous hunter? ''Well, you hope each time it won't be,'' Remington answers. ''But you never really know.''

Bravery becomes quite a natural problem during one suspenseful sequence, filmed through an eerie blue mist, that finds Patterson driven up a tree by a lion that unfortunately knows how to climb. Mr. Hopkins does well at finding nimble, unexpected ways out of dilemmas like that.

One series of scenes that stem from an ill-advised campfire celebration (complete with Champagne corks popping, a bad idea while lions stalk nearby), plays a particularly crafty game with the audience's expectations.

''The Ghost and the Darkness'' is greatly helped by Vilmos Zsigmond's warmly beautiful African landscapes and by a strong sense of mystery about its setting.

The lions are allowed to remain refreshingly unexplained, and the link between their ferocity and the railway effort is open to consideration. Solidly entertaining performances from Mr. Kilmer and Mr. Douglas also galvanize the film, as does John Kani as Samuel, their African companion, who knows better than to chase lions.

''The Ghost and the Darkness'' also has its gruesome side. It earns its R rating (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) with scary maulings, graphic bloodshed and the sight of lions gnawing human bones.


Directed by Stephen Hopkins; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Robert Brown and Steve Mirkovich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Paul Radin and A. Kitman Ho; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Michael Douglas (Remington), Val Kilmer (Lieut. Col. John Patterson), John Kani (Samuel) and Tom Puri (Abdullah).

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  • Kinorium 7.2 1000+
  • IMDb 6.8 65 162
  • Critics 50% 52
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The Ghost and the Darkness — Facts

The Ghost and the Darkness is a 1996 American historical adventure film directed by Stephen Hopkins and starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas . The screenplay, written by William Goldman , is a fictionalized account of the Tsavo man-eaters, a pair of male lions that terrorized workers in and around Tsavo, Kenya during the building of the Uganda-Mombasa Railway in East Africa in 1898.

The film received mixed reviews and was considered a box office disappointment, having grossed only $75 million against a production budget of $55 million. It won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing for supervising sound editor Bruce Stambler.

The film is based upon The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, the man who actually killed both real lions.

William Goldman first heard about the story when travelling in Africa in 1984, and thought it would make a good script. In 1989 he pitched the story to Paramount as a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Jaws, and they commissioned him to write a screenplay which he delivered in 1990.

"My particular feeling is that they were evil," said Goldman of the lions. "I believe that for nine months, evil popped out of the ground at Tsavo."

The script fictionalizes Patterson's account, introducing an American big game hunter called Charles Remington. The character was based on Anglo-Indian big game hunter Charles H. Ryall, superintendent of the Railway Police. In original drafts the character was called Redbeard, and Goldman says his purpose in the story was to create an imposing character who could be killed by the lions and make Patterson seem more brave; Goldman says his ideal casting for the role would have been Burt Lancaster .

According to Goldman, Kevin Costner expressed interest in playing Patterson, but Paramount wanted to use Tom Cruise who ultimately declined. Work on the film slowed until Michael Douglas moved his producing unit with partner Steven Reuther, Constellation Films, to Paramount. Douglas read the script and loved it, calling it "an incredible thriller about events that actually took place." Douglas decided to produce and Stephen Hopkins was hired to direct.

Val Kilmer , who had just made Batman Forever and was a frequent visitor to Africa then expressed enthusiasm for the script, which enabled the project to be financed.

The part of Remington was originally offered to Sean Connery and Anthony Hopkins but both declined; the producers were considering asking Gérard Depardieu when Douglas decided to play the role himself. Stephen Hopkins later said he was unhappy about this.

In early drafts of the script, Remington was originally going to be an enigmatic figure but when Douglas chose to play him, the character's role was expanded and was given a history. In Goldman's book Which Lie Did I Tell?, the screenwriter argues that Douglas' decision ruined the mystery of the character, making him a "wimp" and a "loser".

The film was shot mainly on location at Songimvelo Game Reserve in South Africa, rather than Kenya, due to tax laws. Many Maasai characters in the film were actually portrayed by South African actors, although the Maasai depicted during the hunt were portrayed by real Maasai warriors who were hired for the movie.

While the real man-eaters were, like all lions from the Tsavo region, a more aggressive, maneless variety, those used for filming were actually the least aggressive available, for both safety and aesthetic reasons. The film's lions were two male lions with manes. They were brothers named Caesar and Bongo, who were residents of the Bowmanville Zoo in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, both of whom were also featured in George of the Jungle . The film also featured three other lions: two from France and one from the USA.

Director Stephen Hopkins later said of the shoot:

We had snake bites, scorpion bites, tick bite fever, people getting hit by lightning, floods, torrential rains and lightning storms, hippos chasing people through the water, cars getting swept into the water, and several deaths of crew members, including two drownings.... Val came to the set under the worst conditions imaginable. He was completely exhausted from doing The Island of Dr. Moreau; he was dealing with the unfavorable publicity from that set; he was going through a divorce; he barely had time to get his teeth into this role before we started; and he is in nearly every scene in this movie. But I worked him six or seven days a week for four months under really adverse conditions, and he really came through. He had a passion for this film.

During its opening weekend, The Ghost and the Darkness grossed $10.3 million. The film ultimately grossed over $38.6 million domestically, and $75 million worldwide.

Critical response

The film won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing (Bruce Stambler) at the 69th Academy Awards . However, Val Kilmer was nominated for the Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor. Reviews were mixed, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 50% rating based on 50 reviews. The site's consensus states: "The Ghost and the Darkness hits its target as a suspenseful adventure, but it falls into a trap of its own making whenever it reaches for supernatural profundity."

Roger Ebert said the film was so awful it "lacked the usual charm of being so bad it's funny" adding it was "an African adventure that makes the Tarzan movies look subtle and realistic". Ebert would put the film on his list of the worst movies of 1996. Conversely, the late David R. Ellis listed this film at #8 on his "Top 10 Animal Horror Movies" countdown, a list he made to promote the release of Shark Night 3D .

Hopkins said in a 1998 interview that the film "was a mess... I haven't been able to watch it."

The Ghost and the Darkness was released by Paramount Home Video on VHS on April 1, 1997. Later on, the film is available as a one-disc DVD. There are no special features besides a theatrical trailer. The film was released on LaserDisc in 1997 as a one-disc, double-sided release featuring a Dolby Digital audio track.

Plot spoiler

In 1898, Robert Beaumont, the primary financier of a railway project in Tsavo, Kenya, seeks out the expertise of Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson, an Anglo-Irish British military engineer, to get the project on schedule. Patterson travels from England to Tsavo, promising his wife, Helena, he will complete the bridge and be back in London for the birth of their child. Shortly after his arrival, he meets British supervisor Angus Starling, Kenyan foreman Samuel, and Doctor David Hawthorne. Hawthorne informs Patterson of a recent lion attack that has affected the undertaking.

That same night, Patterson ends the life of an approaching lion with a single gunshot, earning the respect of the laborers and allowing them to resume their activities safely. Only a few weeks after, however, Mahina, the construction foreman, is dragged from his tent. At sunrise, his mutilated body is recovered, and Patterson tries another night-time hunt, seeking to catch the lion that ate Mahina, but in the morning, he is informed by Starling that the corpse of a second worker has been found at the opposing end of the camp from his position.

Patterson, heeding the advice of Samuel, employs the workers in building thorn fences around the tents in order to prevent any lions from entering. Several days later, in broad daylight, a lion assails the camp, killing another worker. As Patterson, Starling, and Samuel corner the lion while it is feasting on the body, another lion leaps upon them from the roof of a building, slicing Starling across the throat and injuring Patterson on the left arm. Patterson recovers and attempts to shoot them, but both lions escape. Samuel states that there has never been a pair of man-eaters before; they have always been solitary hunters.

The workers, led by a man named Abdullah, begin to turn on Patterson and, consequently, progress on the bridge comes to a halt. Patterson requests soldiers from England as protection, but he is denied. During a brief visit to the site, Beaumont threatens Patterson that, should his commission not be concluded on time, he will tarnish his reputation. He also announces that he will be contacting the famed hunter Charles Remington to help Patterson in eliminating the threat due to his past failures.

A short time later, Remington reaches Tsavo with the company of skilled Maasai warriors, who dub the lions "the Ghost" and "the Darkness" because of their notorious methods. Remington’s initial attempt to trap one lion in a thicket fails when Patterson's borrowed gun misfires. The warriors decide to leave, daunted by the beast, but Remington elects to stay behind. He constructs a new hospital tent for sick and injured workers and tempts the lions to the abandoned building with animal parts and blood. The man-eaters seemingly fall for the trap, but Remington and Patterson shoot at them, and they retreat to the new hospital, slaughtering many patients and Hawthorne.

Abdullah and the workers depart, leaving Patterson, Remington, and Samuel alone. The former two locate the animals' lair and discover the bones of dozens of victims, leading Remington to the realization that the lions are acting as they have been merely for sport. Back at camp that evening, Patterson mounts a hunting stand in a clearing and lures one of the predators to his position using a baboon as bait. The plan goes awry after Patterson falls from the stand, but Remington manages to slay the feline before it can leap on Patterson. He, Patterson, and Samuel spend the remainder of the night drinking and celebrating, but the next morning, Patterson awakes to find that the remaining lion has devoured Remington as he and Samuel slept.

The two men cremate Remington’s remains and burn the tall grass surrounding the camp, driving the surviving lion toward the trap that they have set there. It ambushes them on the partially constructed bridge and, after a lengthy chase, Patterson finally dispatches it with a double-rifle Samuel has thrown to him from a nearby tree. Abdullah and the workers return, and the bridge is completed on time. Patterson reunites with his wife and meets his son for the first time.

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Françoise Bornet and her husband with a framed copy of the photo

Young lover in Robert Doisneau’s Paris kiss photograph dies aged 93

Françoise Bornet’s embrace with then boyfriend in 1950 became one of the most famous images of the city

It was one of the most famous kisses of the 20th century – a postwar clinch that became a 1980s poster phenomenon, bringing fame and court battles.

Françoise Bornet, the young lover immortalised in the French photographer Robert Doisneau’s The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville, has died aged 93.

If her name was virtually unknown, Bornet’s stance in an embrace with her then boyfriend in central Paris in the spring of 1950 became one of the most famous images of the city.

Bornet, who at the time went by her maiden name, Delbart, was a 20-year-old drama student when she and her fellow acting student boyfriend, Jacques Carteaud, were spotted in a cafe by Doisneau. He had been commissioned by the American magazine Life to produce a series of photos illustrating love in Paris.

Bornet later told French TV: “He said, ‘I’m Robert Doisneau, I find you both charming and wondered if you would accept to kiss again in front of my camera.’” They took several photos with him in different Paris locations.

Last year, Bornet, living in Normandy told La Dépêche d’Évreux : “I was with my boyfriend. We couldn’t stop kissing. We were kissing all over the place, all the time. Robert Doisneau was in the bar, he asked us to pose for him.”

Doisneau, who died in 1994, was always open about having staged the photo and he was lauded for his ability to compose and capture a scene.

The photo was published in Life magazine and swiftly forgotten. But it had a revival in the 1980s when it was transformed into posters and postcards capturing the romance of Paris, followed by a frenzy of merchandise from duvet covers to shower-curtains, calendars and mugs. Thirty years after the photo was taken, it came to represent a kind of black and white nostalgia of Paris and a monument to young love and spontaneous passion.

By then, Bornet, who worked as an actor, had married a different man after separating from Carteaud. He had also married and become a wine-maker.

When the photograph featured on the cover of the French culture magazine Télérama in 1988, several French couples claimed they were the lovers photographed in the street and went to court over rights to their image, but the cases were thrown out of court.

Bornet was confirmed as the model in the picture, but was not awarded any money for image rights because she was considered to be unrecognisable, her face obscured by the kiss. She told French media at the time she was upset that other couples had come forward claiming to be her and Carteaud. “It was as if they had stolen my memories – and they were delightful memories of youth, pleasant and tender,” she said.

In 2005, she sold a copy of the original photo given to her by Doisneau, which was bought at auction and fetched the then very high sum of more than €150,000 (£130,000).

Carteaud, who lived in central France, died several years ago. When he was 65, after reading an article about the commercialisation of the photograph, he called Le Monde lamenting that this piece of photographic history could be made all about money.

In a career spanning decades, Doisneau captured everyday scenes across Paris and its banlieue, and across France , as well as projects further afield such as Palm Springs in the 1960s. He told the publication Entre Vues in 1990: “The world that I tried to show was a world where I would have felt good, where people were kind, where I found the tenderness that I want to receive. My photos were like proof that world could exist.”

Doisneau’s work in Paris and Palm Springs, including The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville, are part of an exhibition in Nice, Robert Doisneau: Le Merveilleux Quotidien , running until 28 January.

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Rumors Of 10-Foot Alien At Miami Mall Circulate Online—Here’s What Actually Happened

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Rumors and video clips of panic , massive police presence and what social media users claim to be an eight-to-10-foot alien appearing at a Miami mall cropped up online Friday, though the digital buzz around the supposed appearance seems to be sourced from footage of a new year’s day brawl at the shopping center that involved several juveniles and a police response.

Miami's Bayside Marketplace was the site of the incident. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

One low quality clip circulating on social media allegedly shows a tall alien creature walking between a dozen squad cars and an area near Miami’s Bayside Marketplace, though some users on X, formerly known at Twitter, have casted doubt on the unconvincing nature of the video.

The scenes from the supposed appearance of the alien match up with news coverage and video footage that covered a New Year’s Day brawl at the mall that involved several fights and loud fireworks that caused a resident to report an active shooter, according to NBC South Florida , provoking a large police response.

A clearer video that closely matches the alleged alien clip actually appears to be 2 to 3 people, likely police officers, walking together between the squad cars and an area near the mall.

Mixed in with alleged footage of the alien were videos of people running in panic from the area, with some users conflating the clips with locals running from the creature.

Miami Police Department confirmed on Monday it received a call of shots fired and eventually concluded the reported sounds came from the fireworks, according to a post on X .

Four males were detained during the incident and face charges including burglary, grand theft, battery and resisting an officer, NBC reported, arrests made in connection to the assault of a man who confronted a group of teens he believed threw a bottle at his car.

Crucial Quote

“There were no aliens, UFOs, or ETs. No airports were closed. No power outages,” Miami Police Department told Forbes in an email, adding that citywide officers were deployed for crowd control due to juveniles refusing to leave the area.

Key Background

Aliens have become an increasingly buzzy topic for Americans. In July, former intelligence official David Grusch said in a congressional hearing that “non-human biologics ” were at alleged crash sites and that he knew multiple colleagues injured by unidentified aerial phenomenon activity. Grusch also claimed the U.S. government ran a decades-long program designed to collect and reverse engineer crashed unidentified aerial phenomena (known as UAPs). The testimony incited discourse on social media around the existence of aliens. A few months later self-proclaimed ufologist Jamie Maussan presented two fossilized bodies he claimed were “non-human” corpses to Mexican Congress. However, Maussan’s track record regarding the discovery of extraterrestrial life hasn’t been entirely solid. He participated in a 2017 video report that showed alleged non-human remains later debunked as a mummified child’s corpse. The video was posted by, a platform that charges $99 a year for paranormal and supernatural videos and one that has been scrutinized as a conspiracy theory hub.

Further Reading

4 teens arrested after large fight caused chaos in Bayside Marketplace on New Year's Day (NBC South Florida)

Aliens In Mexico? Not So Fast—Presenters Have History Of Being Debunked (Forbes)

Antonio Pequeño IV

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Your brain needs more rest than you’re giving it. These 9 tips can help.

On day 5 of our new year’s tuneup, we’ll show you how to focus on adding more restful moments into your day.

the ghost and the darkness true facts

When you think about getting rest, which of these situations comes to mind?

  • A. Enjoying a good night’s sleep
  • B. Taking a midday nap
  • C. Reclining on the sofa to watch mindless television

While these restful moments all have their place in daily life, it’s a common misconception to view rest as an entirely passive experience. True rest, say experts, is not just about being sedentary or in the prone position — it’s also about giving your brain the restorative breaks it needs to function at an optimal level. While adequate sleep is essential to brain health, many forms of rest involve activity, not slumber.

“The most restorative kinds of rest — the things that recharge our mental and physical batteries most effectively — are the things that are active rather than passive,” said Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of the book “ Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less .” “Going for a long walk or hike or working out can give us more rather than less energy and leave us feeling mentally more rejuvenated.”

This is your brain on rest

A series of cultural and generational shifts have fueled interest in the concept of rest. Work-from-home habits forged during the pandemic have prompted many workers to rethink how and where they work, reviving interest in a four-day workweek . And boundary-setting millennials and Gen Z workers have rebelled against the after-hours work habits of earlier generations.

The advocacy for more rest is backed by science. When researchers began mapping brain activity, they were surprised to learn that the resting brain is still an active brain. When we shift our attention from concentrating on a task to something that requires less active mental focus (such as daydreaming or introspection), our brain’s “default mode network,” or DMN, becomes more activated. While there’s still much to be learned about this network, the DMN is believed to be involved in a variety of cognitive functions, including creative thinking.

Start the year fresh

the ghost and the darkness true facts

But many of us have lives structured around long workdays that require constant focus and attention. Some view downtime as wasted time or use it to catch up on more work-related tasks. Any chance of rest often doesn’t happen until the end of the workday.

“Even if you like your job, your brain is not at rest while you’re doing it,” said Celeste Headlee, author of “ Do Nothing: How to Break Away From Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving .” “Liking your job and feeling mission-driven may make that job more sustainable, but I still have to put that away if what I want to do is rest. You have to protect your rest and your leisure time like a grizzly mother protects her cubs.”

The good news is that rest is something you can practice and improve.

“There is a kind of skill dimension to rest. It’s something that we can learn to do better,” said Pang. He noted that we can develop daily practices that let us get more out of rest, allowing it “to be a bigger part of our lives rather than something that we leave to the end of the day.”

9 ways to build your rest habit

Focus on active rest: Active rest means disconnecting from a focused task, usually work, and taking a walk or going to the gym. Even if exercise tires you, it still counts as rest for your brain. “The long walk while listening to the podcast may deliver more of a recharge and reset than being on the sofa watching ‘The Great British Bake Off,’” Pang said.

Get a hobby: Turning your attention to a hobby — painting, scrapbooking, ceramics, birdwatching — is also a form of rest. “It can be really valuable to have serious hobbies that also occupy your time and attention,” Pang said.

Take more breaks during your day. During breaks, your mind resets, ideas incubate, and you come back more energized and creative. In one study , groups of students were asked to imagine as many uses as they could for a single piece of paper. One group focused on the task, while another group took a five-minute break during the exercise. The break group ended up with more creative ideas.

Make a “today” list. Robert Poynton, author of the book “ Do Pause: You Are Not a To Do List ,” said to-do lists often are packed with endless tasks, and just looking a them can be exhausting and demoralizing. He suggested making a “today” list with just the essential tasks you can reasonably complete today. When you finish, don’t add new tasks to the list. “Make a reasonable estimate as to what is achievable,” said Poynton. “Once you’ve done the today list, then you can just create time for yourself.”

Rethink long workdays. Research suggests that we get less productive and creative when we work long hours. Research from Iceland found that workers who clocked 35 to 36 hours a week were equally or more productive and had improved well-being compared with working more than 40 hours per week.

Practice “micro” pauses: Microbreaks have been shown to boost vigor and reduce fatigue. Take three deep breaths before you start a Zoom meeting. Do a breathing exercise at stoplights. Take a coffee break and savor the coffee. “It constantly surprises me how little it takes to make a big difference,” said Poynton. “Taking 90 seconds to go outside and breathe the air and look at the mountains puts me in a very different frame of mind for the next Zoom call.”

Take tech breaks. Shut down laptops and phones to give yourself a tech break. “You have to understand the way your brain works,” Headlee said. “Keeping your email box open in the background on your computer is an interruption to your brain. The brain will spend a surprising amount of energy thinking and preparing for the arrival of the next email.”

Track where your time goes . Headlee noted that many people don’t really know where their time goes. She advises clients to take notes every half-hour jotting down what they’ve been doing. After a week or two, clear patterns will emerge. “It’s one of the most powerful exercises because when people realize where their time is really going, it can completely change their priorities,” she said. Once you identify how many potentially free hours a day you could have, make a plan for how you want to use this uncommitted time.

Take regular vacations: Longer vacations aren’t better. Some research suggests the benefits of taking time off peak around the eighth day of vacation. In fact, much of the mental health benefit of vacation comes from the days leading up to it. Pang suggests taking about a week off every quarter, if you can. And don’t let your vacation days accumulate or worse, disappear. One study of 12,338 middle-aged men at high risk for heart disease found that not taking annual vacations was linked to a higher risk of dying during a nine-year follow-up period compared with those who vacationed often.

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