The Axeman of New Orleans

Morbid accounts of the work of an ax-wielding serial killer had shaken up New Orleans for months when a mysterious and worrisome letter was printed in the local newspaper. Supposedly from the killer himself, the author claimed to be a spirit, a demon, uncatchable, and threatened to return again the following Tuesday night for more murderous mayhem. The warning came with a helpful hint, however: any house or establishment enjoying the music of a jazz band on the evening mentioned would be spared the killer’s ax.

The Axeman's Letter

Was the letter from the killer himself, or was it a hoax? Many people joked about the letter; one man even offered to leave his window open for the Axeman if he would promise to leave the door undamaged. But despite any doubts, the night of March 18-19, 1919, was flooded with music. Jazz blared in the dance halls and amateur bands played at house parties, the music drifting through open windows. True to his word, the Axeman killed no one that night.

Night-Long Jazz Music Stops Murders

A few months later he struck and killed again, the last crime ever attributed to the Axeman. Just as the letter predicted, the jazz-loving murderer was never caught.

Try your own searches for mysteries like these using the search page on 

The Southern Illinoisan

Content Update

Southern Illinoisan
One of‘s newest additions is the full run of the Southern Illinoisan, a paper based in Carbondale, Illinois. Between the Southern Illinoisan and its predecessor, the Free Press,‘s collection of the two papers currently documents 80 years of southern Illinois history, from 1899 to 1980.

Carbondale, founded in 1852, was a railroad town for much of its history, until the 1940s when the presence of Southern Illinois University came to dominate the city’s economy. Located in a region of Illinois known as “Little Egypt,” Carbondale was called the “Athens of Egypt” because it was considered the intellectual center of the area. With a population of 2,000 in 1880, by 1980 Carbondale had grown to more than 26,000 people.

The Free Press (which alternated between the titles Carbondale Free Press and the Daily Free Press) was the city’s paper until the late 1940s, when it began to be consolidated with the nearby Murphysboro Daily Independent and Herrin Daily Journal under the masthead of the Southern Illinoisan.

The Free Press and, later, the Southern Illinoisan captured events both big and small for the residents of Carbondale and the surrounding towns. For instance, it reported on a major train wreck outside of town in 1909, on Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to the city in 1939, and on a massive fire at Southern Illinois University in 1969. But the paper also made sure its readers knew about the 105th birthday of a former slave, kept them updated on the “Monster of Gooseville” (which turned out to be a bear), and informed them when the local coin club got a new president.

1969 fire at Southern Illinois University
Aside from the typical obituary and engagement sections, if you had ancestors living in southern Illinois, you might find them in the “Hospital Notes,” which kept track of who was admitted to or discharged from the hospital. Or they might be in the “Police Briefs,” which let readers know if their neighbors had a run-in with the law recently. And if you know the birth or funeral date of a Carbondale-area ancestor, you can even look up what the temperature was like that day in the weather forecast that commonly appeared on the front page.

So if you’re interested in southern Illinois and the Carbondale area for genealogical or historical purposes, try taking a look through the Free Press and the Southern Illinoisan on!

Jackson’s Profane Parrot

Jackson's foul-mouthed parrot

Here’s a comical tidbit about one of our presidents past. Seventh U.S. President Andrew Jackson once purchased an African Grey parrot for his wife. When she died, Jackson himself took over care of the bird, whose name was Poll. Jackson had a bit of a temper, and dear Poll the parrot must have picked up on some rather fowl foul-mouthed language around the fiery man. When Jackson died many were invited to the funeral, Poll included—until the parrot launched on a loud and repetitive cursing binge, shocking the reverent crowd. The offensive bird was promptly removed from the house.

Check out for more strange stories like these. Try looking for a topic that interests you on the search page.

Highlights from Tournament of Roses History News, Finds and Tips

Floats from the 1967 Rose Parade
The Tournament of Roses, with its Rose Parade of beautifully decorated floral floats and subsequent Rose Bowl football game, draws hundreds of thousands of viewers in person and millions more via live broadcast every year. And for many families, it’s tradition to attend—or watch on TV—this annual New Year’s event. Did you know that on, you can find all sorts of articles and images from Tournament of Roses history?

The Tournament of Roses, which celebrated its 125th anniversary earlier this month, was first held in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day in 1890. It was organized by the Valley Hunt Club as a way to showcase the warm California weather and the gorgeous flowers it produced even in the middle of winter. That first year, members of the club decorated their carriages and buggies with flowers and organized a tournament of sports—including footraces, horse races, jousting, and more—for an audience of more than 2,000.

Scenes from the 1895 Tournament of Roses
The Tournament of Roses was an instant hit and became an annual tradition. Run by the Valley Hunt Club for the first few years, the event soon became too big for the club to handle, and the Tournament of Roses Association was set up in 1895 to run the parade and related events.

Though from the very beginning the parade centered on vehicles decorated with flowers, motorized floats weren’t included until 1901, and they didn’t become ubiquitous until 1920. The tournament aspect of the event also changed over the years. In the early days, the tournament included races of all sorts‐foot, bicycle, horse, pony, donkey, ostrich, and even one race between a camel and an elephant. Beginning in 1904, the tournament also featured chariot races, though they were eventually discontinued in 1915 because they were deemed too dangerous.

Detailed account of Rose Parade entries for 1898
Over the years, however, the tournament sports gave way to a focus on college football, which today is a key part of the Tournament of Roses. A football game was first included in 1902 and drew a crowd of 8,500. After that first game, football was discontinued in the Tournament of Roses until 1916, but since then it has been played annually in the Rose Bowl. Though traditionally held in the Rose Bowl Stadium, built in 1922, the customary “East vs. West” football game was played in Durham, North Carolina, in 1942 because of fears of a Japanese attack on the West Coast; the parade itself was canceled for the duration of the war.

Are you a fan of the Rose Parade or Rose Bowl? Find many more articles about their history on!

Payback Worth Savoring

It’s often said that revenge will get you nowhere, but it turns out that is not necessarily the case when it comes to snack food. If it hadn’t been for the frustration of a certain cook, potato chips might never have come to pass.

A Happy Accident - Potato Chips

In 1853, as the story goes, a wealthy customer came to dine at the restaurant where a man named George Crum worked as a chef. The rich patron’s meal included a side of fried, sliced potatoes, a fairly popular dish at the time. The man was dissatisfied with the thickness of the potatoes and promptly had them sent back to Crum. Crum, frustrated with the man’s complaint, proceeded to slice the potatoes paper thin and throw them in a vat of oil, thinking the man out in the restaurant would surely feel his displeasure. Instead, the wealthy diner found the taste of the crispy-thin potatoes to be incredibly delicate and raved about them. Thus, potato chips were born.

The Beginnings of Potato Chips

Raving about potato chips

Who knew revenge could be so sweet…er, savory?

Read more about this happy accident here, and feel free to enjoy’s wealth of newspaper history through searches or browsing.

Theodore Roosevelt Dies: January 6, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt Dies: January 6, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt
On January 6, 1919, around four in the morning, Theodore Roosevelt quietly died in his sleep at home in New York after a battle with chronic illness that had rapidly worsened in the final months of his life. He was 60 years old.

Roosevelt’s funeral, held two days later, on January 8th, was a small, quiet affair. A short prayer service was held in the family home. Next came the funeral, which took place at a nearby church. Only 500 people were allowed to attend, and there was no music or eulogy. The mourners then followed the casket to the cemetery, where he was interred after the firing of three volleys and the playing of taps. His wife Edith attended neither the funeral nor the burial, instead mourning at home. Two of Roosevelt’s sons, Kermit and Ted, were also absent, as they were still serving overseas in the military.

Church where T. Roosevelt's funeral was held
The nation was largely shocked by Roosevelt’s death. He had kept his illnesses quiet and displayed as charismatic and capable a public face as ever. Once the newspapers learned of his protracted illnesses prior to death, many of them attributed his declining health to grief over the death of his son Quentin, who had been killed during the war. Numerous editorials were published about his life and accomplishments, and though many acknowledged that Roosevelt had been a polarizing and controversial figure, nearly all commemorated him as a patriotic man, larger than life, who had—through skill and passion—achieved so much in so many arenas.

Though very few were allowed to attend his funeral, people honored the former president in other ways. President Wilson ordered the White House flag be flown at half-mast. Newspapers reported that stock exchanges would close and that Congress had adjourned early. The Boy Scouts planted trees in his honor, New York held a minute of silence, trains temporarily stopped running in Illinois as did streetcars in Chicago, some small businesses closed, and towns held their own memorial services.

T. Roosevelt's gravesite
Though Roosevelt had as many enemies as he did friends, he had an undeniable impact on the nation, living life so energetically that few could keep up with him. Observed vice president Thomas Marshall, “Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would’ve been a fight.”

Find many more articles about Theodore Roosevelt’s life and death on Or search for other topics that interest you.

The First Christmas Card

Have you ever wondered, as you sort through your December mail, why we bother sending our friends and family cards for the holidays? Where did this tradition come from? Who began it all?
The First Christmas Card

The idea for the first Christmas card is credited to Sir Henry Cole, who commissioned it in 1843. The card, illustrated by J. C. Horsley, was drawn in three panels: two showed the charitable work of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, while the third showed a contented family raising their glasses to the card’s recipient, bidding them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The First Christmas Card

Cole had a thousand copies made available for purchase at a shilling each, and while the image of the alcohol-wielding family proved unpopular, the idea still managed to catch on. The practice of sending Christmas cards to family and friends has only grown since then, an increasingly profitable business for their manufacturers. Over the years a larger selection of cards have become available, allowing for more holidays, personality and design.

Only twelve of Cole’s original thousand still exist, one of which holds a Guinness World Record as the most expensive greeting card sold at auction after it was bought in 2001 for over $28,000.

Want to read more contemporary articles about Sir Henry Cole and his Christmas card endeavors? Try this search, or craft one of your own with’s search function.

The Accidental Start of the NORAD Santa Tracker

NORAD tracks santa

Don’t you just hate accidentally calling the wrong number? Especially if that number happens to be the top secret phone line for the Continental Air Defense Command?

A typo in a 1955 Sears ad led to just that sort of mix up. The ad encouraged children to call a number and speak directly to Santa Claus, but instead of ringing up the North Pole, the printed number would take callers straight to the ominous red phone reserved exclusively for national crises in the Colorado Springs CONAD (now NORAD) office.

Imagine the dread U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup must have felt when that red phone rang. When he answered it was not the Pentagon who replied, but a little boy excitedly asking if he was speaking to Santa Claus.

At first Shoup reacted harshly, thinking it was some kind of prank. But when the little boy began crying, Shoup decided it was best to play along. He ho-ho-ho’d and asked the boy if he’d been good. He then spoke to the child’s mother who explained that a Sears ad had printed this phone number for anyone to call. Whoops.

Shoup begins Santa Tracker

The calls kept on coming, and Shoup, who was considered a pretty straight-laced and disciplined man, decided to humor the callers. He assigned men to take the calls and pretend to be Santa Claus. That Christmas Eve, Shoup walked into the office to find Santa’s sleigh drawn on the board they used to track airplanes in the country, a little joke. The airmen responsible worried that Shoup would be annoyed, but instead the colonel called a radio station and announced that an unidentified flying object had been spotted—Santa’s sleigh!

From then on, CONAD (and then in 1958, NORAD) continued the tradition of taking Christmas calls and tracking Santa Claus every Christmas Eve. They just made sure to use a different telephone number.

Start of Santa Tracker

Visit NORADs Santa tracker here to see where Santa goes this Christmas Eve. Check out for more articles about Christmas and other holidays.

Pickled Herring to Pickle Ornaments: Unique Holiday Traditions

Season's Grettings from

Family sets up model trains for Christmas
Whether it’s going Christmas caroling around your neighborhood or eating Chanukah latkes with sour cream and applesauce, every family has its own holiday traditions. Some are common, some are unique, but all are important to the people they belong to. If you’re interested in finding out about holiday traditions across the nation, a search on brings back tens of thousands of results, all of them providing a glimpse into how other people celebrate the holidays we hold dear.

Food, of course, is the basis of many of our holiday traditions. A 1998 article in the Ukiah Daily Journal described one family’s Christmas Eve tradition of eating raw beef sandwiches, made of “raw ground round on pumpernickel rye bread, topped with Bermuda onion.” In 1978, the San Bernardino Country Sun published an article about a Californian family who makes a traditional Swedish Christmas Eve meal, complete with three courses of dishes like limpa bread, pickled herring, cod with white sauce, and lingon berries. A 1982 story in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle shared how one family would eat a special Chanukah meal of “honey and sponge cakes, pancakes from home-grown potatoes, and lamb,” which they shared with people who couldn’t afford their own meal.

Candy houses a family tradition at Christmas
Other holiday traditions revolve around decorating the house. A 1936 issue of the Montana Butte Standard carried a story about a family who, every Christmas, set up an elaborate model train set that took up the entire room. Another family always hid a pickle ornament in the Christmas tree, reported a 2000 article in the Alexandria Times-Tribune. Whoever found the ornament got an extra present.

Then there are the traditions that revolve around activities. In the New York of days long past, visiting friends and family on New Year’s Day used to be so common that traffic would block the streets, recalled one man in a 1908 New York Times article. As told in a 1978 issue of the San Bernardino County Sun, during Chanukah it was tradition in one family for the father to light the shammash (the candle used to light the candles of the menorah), and then the children would light the others. And the Helena Independent Record reported in 1948 that in Nashville, Tennessee, it was tradition to sing Christmas carols at every house that had a candle in the window.

What are your favorite holiday traditions? If you’re looking to start a new tradition this year, try searching for ideas.

Pennsylvania Papers

Content Update

Oregon StatesmanWith over 10 million pages currently spanning more than 190 papers and 80+ cities, our Pennsylvania collection is‘s largest—and it’s still growing!

Our newest Pennsylvania titles include Danville’s Morning News, the Montrose Democrat, Uniontown’s Evening Genius, Shippennsburg’s News-Chronicle, the Warren Mail, and a variety of papers from the city of Wilkes-Barre. Plus, more than 40 of our existing titles have been updated recently. If you have ancestors from these areas, try searching for them in these new and updated titles!

Did you know that some of the oldest papers on can be found in the Pennsylvania collection? For instance, five of our Pennsylvania papers date back to the 18th century, including two that pre-date the Revolutionary War: the Pennsylvania Gazette (with issues back to 1728), Pennsylvania Packet (1771), Freeman’s Journal or North-American Intelligencer (1781), Independent Gazetteer (1782), and Die Unpartheyische York Gazette (1796).

An interesting tidbit about the previously mentioned Die Unpartheyische York Gazette is that it’s a German-language paper. Other papers in the Pennsylvania collection likewise reflect the state’s immigrant heritage, like the Middleburgh Post, which in 1888 began running a popular weekly satirical column written in the Pennsylvania German dialect. Similarly, Philadelphia’s Evening Public Ledger included an Italian-language column to draw in readers from the city’s large Italian population.

Sumpter Miner
If you’re interested in the Civil War, the Clearfield Republican is definitely worth a read. Though Pennsylvania was a Union state, the Clearfield Republican (a Copperhead Democrat paper) was vehemently anti-Lincoln, anti-war, and anti-draft, so its editorials give an unusual perspective into the time period. Since the paper published lists of Civil War draftees from Clearfield Country, this paper can also be a good place to look for your male ancestors from the area.

Another interesting paper is the Petroleum Centre Daily Record. Like its name suggests, the short-lived town of Petroleum Centre lived and breathed one industry—oil. Thus the Daily Record revolved around oil too, from its ads to its market reports to its editorials. Even its accounts of the goings-on in the lives of the inhabitants often involved the oil industry. However, because Petroleum Centre and the Daily Record were tied so closely to oil, a drop in oil prices in the early 1870s spelled the end of both the town and its paper.

So if you have Pennsylvania ancestors, or are just interested in Pennsylvania history, try searching or browsing‘s Pennsylvania collection. You never know what—or who—you might find!