The First Day of Autumn

Today is the September Equinox, which brings on its heels the first official day of Autumn. What does Autumn mean to you? Perhaps it brings memories of spices and soups, golden leaves and cozy clothes. Maybe you see it less favorably: shoes muddy from rain, cold beginning to seep through your sweater, the feeling of impending snow and shorter days. People respond to the seasons in many different ways, which can be even more apparent when seen across a span of years. The articles below range from the early 1900s to our own current century, describing the first day of Autumn as it looked to the writers:

From 1911:
First Day of Autumn, 1911
From 1924:
First day of Autumn, 1924
From 1931 (a particularly heart-warming description):
Description of Fall, 1931
From 1952:
First Day of Autumn, 1952
From 1959:
First Day of Autumn, 1959
From 1968 (when mentions of the equinox really started to filter into the articles):
Autumn Equinox, 1968
From 2009:
First Signs of Fall, 2009Happy first day of Autumn to everyone! For more articles like these, try a search on

A Coffin Spurned

Here’s a random find from the Indianapolis Star, 1925. The article describes a man who was struck by lightning while riding his horse through a storm. The horse was killed and so, it seemed, was Juan Acosta Iznaga. So convincing was his unconsciousness that a coffin was nearly ready for him when he revived, much to the shock of everyone around him.

Coffin is Ready but Man RevivesSounds like he had a hard time living his fake death down.

You can find more articles like these in the pages of, either with a specific search or by browsing papers at your leisure.


The first time the now-recognizable bright white letters stood on the hills over Hollywood, they were little more than a fancy advertisement. “Hollywoodland,” the 1923 sign spelled, and in its shadows stood the new residential development of the same name.

The sign was only intended to last for a year and a half, but the 30-foot letters were soon a symbol recognized internationally thanks to the up-and-coming industry of American film. So the sign was left alone.

original sign

Since it was never meant to last forever, it didn’t take long before upkeep faltered, deterioration set in, and the sign began to look pretty sketchy. In 1949, restoration efforts were made with the stipulation that “land” be removed from the sign so it could better represent the district as a whole rather than just the development for which it was originally created.

Restoration of Hollywood Sign, 1949

But time erodes all things, and in less than 30 years the sign looked worse than ever. That’s when the stars stepped in. At nearly 28k a pop, the nine letters were restored thanks to the donations of celebrities like Gene Autry and Hugh Hefner, who each “sponsored” a letter. The replacement letters were bigger, stronger, steel and concrete structures built to last. They were unveiled in 1978 and, other than a thorough repainting in 2005, still remain as sturdy and scenic as they were on that day.

Celebrity donations to rebuild the signFind more on the history of these iconic letters in the pages of Try a search here, or browse papers here at your leisure. Be sure to check out the recently added Los Angeles Times collection for more articles from Californian history.


Des Moines Register

Content Update

Sample The Des Moines Register front page
Do you have relatives or ancestors from Iowa? Come explore the Des Moines Register on! With a Basic subscription, you can see issues from 1871 through 1922; or, with a Publisher Extra subscription, access those early years and additional issues from 1922 to July 2016.

Like many other papers, the Des Moines Register went through multiple changes in name and ownership over the years, and it was finally given its current name in 1915. A daily morning paper for much of its history, the Des Moines Register grew to become the most influential newspaper in Iowa and an important regional paper, reaching peak circulation in the 1960s. With reporters located throughout the state and (beginning in 1933) a news bureau in Washington DC, the Des Moines Register was able to cover local, state, national, and international news and even provided syndicated material to other papers through the Register and Tribune Syndicate.

For more than 100 years, from about 1899 to 2008, the Des Moines Register ran editorial cartoons on its front page. One of the cartoonists was the widely syndicated Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning twice for the Des Moines Register—in 1924 and 1943. The paper has won 16 Pulitzer Prizes in total, the first being Darling’s 1924 award and the most recent having been won in 2010.

Healthiest Looking Twins in Iowa contest, 1921

If you have ancestors from Iowa, the Des Moines Register is a great place to look for them, as the paper had strong local and statewide coverage throughout its history. You might find that one of your ancestors wrote a letter to the editor, or that another showed up in a local news item, such as this piece from 1944 about a storeowner sleeping through a robbery after his wife took their watchdog home because the dog had “begged” to go.

The Des Moines Register also ran plenty of photographs of locals—from North High School’s graduates of 1905, to Iowa’s “healthiest looking twins” in 1921, to 43 Iowan GIs stationed in Australia in 1944—so you may even find a photo of a family member. And, of course, the paper carried the typical birth, marriage, divorce, and death notices and ran columns on social news and local gossip.

Get started searching or browsing the Des Moines Register on!

The Neverending Story

If you happened to be in a Googling mood last week, you might have noticed the featured doodle was a rotation of artwork in honor of The Neverending Story. This fanciful novel by Michael Ende was published this month in 1979, but you won’t find much about it in U.S. papers until the mid-80s, when the book was translated into English and then made into a film.

The Neverending Story

The book was very popular in Germany, where it was originally published, but remained basically unknown to Americans until the release of Wolfgang Petersen’s film in 1984. The author and filmmaker disagreed on the direction of the film so much that Ende finally asked for his name to be taken from the credits, saying that Petersen did not understand the book at all. Petersen had his own thoughts on the subject:

Reactions to the film

Despite Ende’s objections, the film did very well. Like most creative endeavors it had a healthy heaping of criticism, but many critics and viewers admired the special effects and the new, imaginative world Petersen had created.

Wolfgang Petersen and the racing snail

Atreyu and Artax

Even today, despite dated special effects and a very 80s-appropriate soundtrack, The Neverending Story remains a beloved classic to many. Find more articles on the author, the film, and the film’s reception with a search on

Fiction Becomes Real

Years before Captain Kirk flipped open his communicator, police detective Dick Tracy was chatting up the chief on his wrist radio. Martin Cooper says that if his inspiration for the mobile phone came from anywhere, it came from here.

Dick Tracy Wrist Radio

Martin Cooper is the man considered to be the father of the cell phone. Though many have attributed his idea to the communicators of Star Trek, he says the idea for the mobile phone had been floating around in his mind for quite a while. People were mobile creatures and Cooper knew there was a future beyond waiting at your desk for a call, or even beyond car phones—the big new thing in phone tech. He wanted to create a handheld phone that could be carried anywhere.

In 1973, Cooper found success. The concept of communicators and wrist radios was no longer science fiction—it was reality. Cooper himself made the first cell phone call to Joel Engel at AT&T’s Bell Labs, Motorola’s rival company. Sure, it was a brick of a phone, weighing in at 2 1/2 pounds. But Cooper made the call from a sidewalk in midtown Manhattan, and that’s something to brag to your competitors about.

Martin Cooper, the father of the cell phone

Find more articles about Cooper and the first cell phone on

Great New England Hurricane: September 21, 1938

Will Rogers Dies in Plane Crash: August 15, 1935

New Jersey hurricane headlines, 1938
On the afternoon of September 21, 1938, a massive hurricane unexpectedly slammed ashore in New England in what would be one of the deadliest and costliest natural disasters in United States history.

The hurricane was first detected in the Caribbean on September 16, and soon the storm was forecasted to hit southeast Florida on the morning of the 20th. Floridians began preparing for the hurricane, but it unexpectedly turned north before it could make landfall in Florida. The storm was expected curve back out to sea, but instead it traveled due north virtually unnoticed. Unaware that the hurricane was headed straight for New England, no hurricane warnings were given outside of Florida, meaning New Englanders were caught totally by surprise, especially since they hadn’t experienced a major hurricane in over 100 years.

The hurricane was not only unusual for hitting New England, it was also unique for the speed at which it traveled, racing from North Carolina to Long Island in just 7 hours—which inspired its nickname, the “Long Island Express.” By 10 a.m. on the morning of the 21st, the sky had clouded over at Long Island, and it began to get windy. By afternoon, the wind was gusting hard and the sky had turned yellow. Even so, since there had been no hurricane warning, residents assumed it would be just a bad late-summer storm.

Map highlighting damage from 1938 hurricane

The hurricane made landfall on Long Island around 3 p.m., slamming ashore with such force that it was picked up by seismographs in Alaska. In addition to the hurricane-force winds and driving rain, a massive storm surge flooded the coast. On the mainland, the storm caused immense damage to the coasts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island in particular, though all states in the area were affected to varying degrees. The hurricane entered Canada early on the morning of the 22nd, where it finally began to peter out, though it still caused gale-force winds in Montreal.

Ultimately, more than 680 people were killed (more than half of them in Rhode Island), and 1,750 people were seriously injured. 20,000 buildings were totally destroyed and another 75,000 were damaged. The hurricane even permanently altered the coastline in some places. Aid was quickly sent to the area, and rescue and rebuilding efforts began immediately, but the damage to many local industries was severe.

Do you have any family who lived through the Great New England Hurricane? Tell us about them! Or search for more articles about the storm on

William Wilberforce—A Force Against Slavery

If you’ve seen the film Amazing Grace, then you’ve heard the name William Wilberforce. The tireless abolitionist was born on this day in 1759.

In 1780 Wilberforce’s dynamic political career began. His focus—in politics and in life—changed drastically after he converted to evangelical Christianity five years later. In 1787 he was introduced to leading abolitionists of the day such as Thomas Clarkson, and a long and laborious 20 year battle against slavery in the UK began.

The Authentic Speech of William WIlberforce, Esq.

In 1907, after years of concerted effort, delays, and opposition, the Slave Trade Act passed and the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire. But Wilberforce and other abolitionists’ work was not yet finished. They continued to work for the removal of slavery itself.

William Wilberforce

Wilberforce suffered from poor health for decades and eventually became so ill that he retired from Parliament in the mid 1820s. That’s not to say that he stopped his involvement in politics entirely. On the contrary, he continued to push toward abolition until quite literally his dying day. After a terrible bout of influenza in 1833, he heard that the bill to abolish slavery in most of the British Empire was assured to go through. He passed away three days later.

Wilberforce in the days before his death

Death of William Wilberforce

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 did indeed pass in late August of that year. Though Wilberforce had wished to be buried with some of his family at Stoke Newington, it was thought that he deserved the honor of a place in Westminster Abbey. He was buried near William Pitt.

For more articles like these on Wilberforce, check out You could also try a search on American abolition and the names associated with it, or look for any other topic of interest using the search page.

Los Angeles Times

Content Update

Sample The Los Angeles Times front page
Do you have ancestors or relatives from Southern California? Come check out the recently added Los Angeles Times on has issues of the Los Angeles Times ranging from 1881 to 2016—135 years of Southern California history! With a Basic subscription, you can see issues from 1881 through 1922; or, with a Publisher Extra subscription, access the years previously listed and additional issues from 1922 to March 2016.

The Los Angeles Times began publication on December 4, 1881, under the name the Los Angeles Daily Times. However, since it originally wasn’t published on Mondays, it wouldn’t become a true daily until February 1887, when it began putting out a Monday issue. It was renamed the Los Angeles Times in the masthead in 1886.

After some rocky first years, the Los Angeles Times became successful, though due to competition with other area papers, it wouldn’t become the leading paper of Los Angeles until the 1940s. To date, the Los Angeles Times has won 42 Pulitzer Prizes, winning the first in 1942 (for a freedom of the press campaign) and most recently in 2016 (for coverage of the San Bernardino mass shooting). It also won Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of the Watts Riots (1965) and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

Masthead for Los Angeles Times' 1920 Midwinter Number

The Los Angeles Times was originally a Republican paper, though its political leanings would shift over the years. One long running feature of the paper was the so-called Midwinter Number, published on New Year’s Day between 1885 and 1954, to promote Southern California. For a few years, 1891 to 1895, it also had a similarly themed Midsummer Number. Since 1968, the Los Angeles Times has run a daily first-page feature known as “Column One,” which highlights interesting and thought-provoking topics.

One memorable event in Los Angeles Times history was on October 1, 1910, when a union radical bombed the Los Angeles Times’ building in retaliation for the paper’s fight against unions. The bombing killed 21 employees and decimated the building. The current Los Angeles Times building was completed in 1935.

If you have Los Angeles area ancestors, you might find them mentioned in a variety of places within the Los Angeles Times, including in lists of weddings, marriages, births, divorces, deaths, or war missing or killed. They might also appear in news about Los Angeles area locals or society news, among many other columns.

Start searching or browsing the Los Angeles Times on!

The Mysterious Case of Bobby Dunbar

In the late summer days of 1912, the Dunbar family’s 4-year-old son Bobby disappeared during a trip to Swayze Lake in Louisianna. After eight months of searching, the boy was found in the company of handyman William Walters. Walters was accused of kidnapping the Dunbar boy despite his insistence that the boy was Bruce Anderson, the illegitimate son of Walters’ brother and a woman named Julia Anderson who worked for his family.

Bobby Dunbar

The Dunbars were wealthy and reasonably convinced the boy was Bobby thanks to a scar on his foot and a familiar-looking mole. Anderson was unwed, not wealthy, a field hand, and fairly certain that the boy was her son Bruce. When the two families came head to head in a trial for who the boy really belonged to, the Dunbars won easily. Bobby was sent home with his true family, while Walters was sent to jail for kidnapping him.


Walters maintained his innocence throughout his time in jail. This article is a section of one of the letters he wrote during his incarceration:

Walters' letter from jail

He was released after two years in prison and so escaped being hanged, but he never backed down on his story. Bobby Dunbar lived the rest of his life with his family, and Walters lived the rest of his life convinced that the boy was Bruce Anderson. Julia Anderson eventually got married and had seven more children, who have said that she spoke often of the son the Dunbars took from her.

Perhaps you have guessed by now that this story doesn’t wrap up so neatly. Decades later, Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, looked further into the story after noticing how deeply conflicted newspaper reports had been at the time. Some said the boy had instantly recognized his “mother,” Lessie Dunbar, and that the two had reunited in a flurry of hugs and tears, but others maintained that neither had shown immediate signs of recognition upon first sight.

Margaret Cutright

A comparison of DNA between Bobby’s son and the son of Bobby’s brother, Alonzo (unquestionably a Dunbar), led to the shocking discovery that the boy who had lived as Bobby his entire life had not been a Dunbar at all. At long last, William Walters was proven to be as innocent as he’d claimed.

Walters an innocent man

Unfortunately, this conclusion still leaves the fate of the true Bobby Dunbar unknown. It is thought that he most likely fell into the lake and died back in 1912, the summer he disappeared.

There is so much to be found on this unusual story in the pages of newspapers old and new. Try a search for more information on Bobby’s story or seek out some of your own family history on