Special effects make-up artist and Instructable member, Kelly Zaks, has posted a tutorial on making this really cool, creepy-looking plague doctor’s mask. Just in time for Halloween!

I have always been fascinated by the concept of the plague doctor, an actual historical figure, bird-beaked helmet and all. Plague doctors were employed in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries to treat patients of the bubonic plague and they actually wore the terrifying-looking costume you see in engravings and paintings.

The plague doctor’s uniform was basically an early version of a hazmat suit, with a great full-length thick leather coat, a mask with glass eye openings, and a big, broad hat. The strange beak was actually functional. It was basically an early respirator/gas mask, filled with straw, herbs and spices, scented things to keep the stench of death from the good doctor’s nose. Can you imagine dying from the plague and the last thing you see is one of these terrifying figures looming over you?

Oh, and if you were “lucky” and actually got a house call from the plague doctor, you were treated to such medical marvels of the time as bloodletting and having frogs and leeches put all over you to “re-balance your humors.”

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The plague mask project doesn’t look that hard to make, especially given the seriously cool prop you get for your efforts. You’re basically dealing with sewing together five pieces of craft foam and 5 pieces of faux leather cut from templates (that Kelly provides). She has you do the extra step of taping up a paper test version of the mask to make sure that it fits your head, everything looks good, etc.

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The hardest part of the project is likely having the patience to do lots of hand stitching. Because of this stitching, weight of the mask, etc, it’s best if you use the most lightweight material you can find.

It’s fun to go through the comments on the Instructable and see the pics of the masks that others have made. One person skipped the step of adding the faux leather fabric and just made theirs from colored craft foam. And no stitching. Much easier and it still looks effective.