The Protective Gear 17th-Century Plague Doctors Wore Was Terrifying

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Images of those Ebola hazmat suits are everywhere, and even if you’re doing your best to heed the reassuring words of experts (because you won’t get Ebola; really, you won’t), there’s something about the protective gear that is completely terrifying. It’s like something out of a movie; specifically, it’s like something out of the scariest final scenes of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

But I recently fell down an internet rabbit hole and found that, centuries ago, the protective gear doctors wore when treating dangerously contagious patients was just as frightening, if not more so, if the Centers for Disease Control’s page on the subject is any indication. The freaky beak-mask thing worn by plague doctors makes for a strange and striking image.

The CDC explains:

Descriptions indicate that the gown was made from heavy fabric or leather and was usually waxed. The beak contained pungent substances like herbs or perfumes, thought at the time to purify the air and helpful in relieving the stench. The person also carries a pointer or rod to keep patients at a distance. 

Just in case you needed a last-minute Halloween costume idea.