Rosa Parks Day

On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus and took a seat in the “colored” section, just behind the seats reserved for white passengers. When more white passengers boarded and filled up the front section of the bus, driver James F. Blake told Parks and three other black passengers to give up their seats. Parks refused.

Rosa Parks DayRosa Parks was not the first to resist the demeaning bus segregation rules; she was not even the first woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat. But she became the face of a movement, an icon remembered to this day for standing up against injustice by remaining seated.

Her arrest prompted the Montgomery bus boycott, a protest against the segregation laws.

Bus Dispute

Bus BoycottDuring the boycott, the black community carpooled, took cabs, or—most frequently—walked, to get to their jobs and schools. The campaign to change the laws went on for over a year, with some buses sitting idle for months with no passengers. Finally, on December 20, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled bus segregation laws unconstitutional.

Of her own part in the events, Rosa Parks said this:

Tired of giving in
Rosa Parks in the front of a bus Dec 21, 1956Find more articles like these with a search on Newspapers.com.

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It’s Turkey Day—But Why Turkey?

Turkey drawingIt’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.A., and that means one thing—pumpkin pie. A nice big helping of rich, squashy pie topped with whipped cream. What’s more “Thanksgiving” than that?

Oh, and there’s turkey too.

So what’s with turkey anyway? How did the festive fowl come to be associated with holiday dining, and Thanksgiving Day in particular? Newspaper clippings from years past give varied views on the origin of this bird’s big break. The explanation that came up the most was that, hey—there were just tons of turkeys all over the place.

Turkeys were common
First thing they spotted
Turkey, Turkey, EverywhereYou couldn’t step into your backyard without nearly running into a turkey—or so the articles say. In reality, they probably weren’t as common as the stories make it seem.

Another explanation is (very briefly) offered in this 1928 ad. Turkey was just the thing for Governor Bradford:

It's what the pilgrim fathers directedWilliam Bradford was an early colonist often associated with the first Thanksgiving. His journals do mention turkeys being hunted throughout the fall of 1621, but no specific mention of Thanksgiving turkey is made by him or any other contemporary accounts.

This clipping is another brief explanation, offered by an American to a German tourist who wondered about the bird’s sudden significance on Thanksgiving Day:
Represents prosperityIt may not be the actual reason…but it rings true enough, don’t you think?

A good argument for the use of turkey as Thanksgiving’s central dish is simply that turkey wasn’t had every day; it was saved for special occasions, it took time and effort to prepare, and it was usually more pricey than your typical dinner fare.

Turkey used to be specialAnd Kim here has another great reason: turkeys are larger birds than ducks or chickens and are therefore perfect for stuffing and overindulging.
We can stuff it with stuffingYou can find Thanksgiving recipes, stories, poems and more with a search on Newspapers.com. Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Sourest Soprano

If you’ve seen the recent movie starring Meryl Streep, then you’ll know the gist on famous soprano Florence Foster Jenkins. Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster JenkinsFlorence Foster Jenkins was one of the most famous singers of her time, but not thanks to an abundance of talent—as you might have guessed from the bluntly honest article above. The clipping below sums it up nicely as well:

The differenceJenkins’ musical career began long before her singing. She was a talented pianist from a young age—legitimately—and even performed in the White House. An arm injury cut that future short, but Jenkins’ love of music only continued to grow. In her early forties she began regular singing performances, primarily at the Verdi Club, an organization she founded and hosted herself. The recitals were always fairly exclusive, invite-only affairs, and it wasn’t until she was 76 years old that she finally went public—in a big way.

Carnegie HallShe passed away only a month after her Carnegie Hall performance, leaving behind the mystery of whether or not she really knew the true basis of her fame. Her second husband, St. Clair Bayfield, supported her throughout her singing career with genuine adoration and tried to keep the criticisms away from the eyes of his dynamic wife.

St. Clair shielded Florence from criticismBut did Lady Florence know the true depth of her lack of talent? Or was she playing the audience all along?

Was Jenkins Serious?Find more about Florence Foster Jenkins and her impressive career on Newspapers.com.

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Monsieur Mangetout

When someone’s got a nickname like “Mr. Eat-all,” you can be sure he must have earned it. And Michel Lotito certainly did. Over the course of his lifetime he ate quite the interesting assortment of objects—metal objects, primarily.
Monsieur Mangetout beats own world record
Monsieur Mangetout, list of some of what he ate
Michel LotitoYes, those last two clips do say “Cessna.” Lotito consumed the small plane from 1978-1980. But he didn’t get there in one fell swoop. From his teenage years, Lotito realized he could stomach pretty much everything, in the most literal of ways. Glass, metal, rubber—anything was fair game, and Lotito claimed not to suffer any ill effects from this unusual, nearly life-long stunt diet. He passed away in 2007 from causes unrelated to his metal consumption.

Find more on Lotito and other bizarre world record holders with a search on Newspapers.com.

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In Prison and in Plane

Two strangers, one placeOn December 17, 1944, Bernard Cytryn made his way with his fellow prisoners to a Nazi-controlled synthetic oil refinery for another day of forced labor. In the distance a steady done could be heard, buzzing like the sound of bees. Cytryn recognized the sound—American planes—and dove for a tree as bombs dropped on the refinery.

On high alert in the nose-gunner’s seat of a plane far above sat Hjalmar Johansson. Anti-aircraft fire took out one of the plane’s wings and the men inside were forced to abandon ship. Johansson, who had never even practiced jumping from a plane, landed safely, only to be captured by Nazi soldiers.

Before they spoke at the same keynote, decades after the war, the two men never met. But they’d both been in the same place on that same day during one of the world’s most devastating wars.

Hjalmar Johansson and Bernard CytrynCytryn was sent to Auschwitz at age 16. He outlived the rest of his family, who were murdered at the camp. Cytryn recalls an experience when he realized he was in line for one of the gas chambers:
Cytryn avoids deathAfter a year in the death camp he was sent to work at the oil refinery, which is how he happened to be there when Johansson flew overhead. The American bombing mission did not result in Cytryn’s freedom that day, but it did give him a break while the fires were put out at the refinery, and that was more than he’d had in a long time. He was finally freed in April 1945 and eventually made his way over to the United States, where he met Johansson all those years later.

Hjalmar JohanssonWhen Johansson joined the U.S. Air Force at age 18 with hopes of becoming a pilot, he had no idea he would be taken prisoner by the men he fought against.

Johansson capturedHe and the other prisoners spent the winter huddled together for warmth. He kept a journal written on cigarette papers with a mechanical pencil he kept hidden in his collar. They were given foods like “grass soup” that barely kept them alive until Russian forces arrived in May 1945.

Malnourished, given vodka Johansson’s story is featured on History.com with a great video of him recounting his experiences as a gunner and prisoner of war.

Johansson and Cytryn were on two sides of the same experience, two incredible stories among many, many thousands. Find more articles on these and other war veterans in the pages of Newspapers.com, and thank you to all our wonderful veterans who have risked it all to serve our country.

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Remembering the Alamo

If you’ve been keeping up with the history-packed time travel drama Timeless, you’ll recognize the reason for today’s post. This week the show tackled the battle of the Alamo, an ill-fated last stand that took place in what was then called San Antonio de Béxar in February and March of 1836. Though small pieces of the true history were changed in the show (thanks to the meddlesome, time traveling antagonist), for us the history of the Alamo remains the same—a poignant piece of Texas’ past that inspired an army and led to the eventual end of a deadly revolution.
Important From TexasThe Alamo was a garrison of the Texian Army, though fewer than 100 men were stationed there by January 1836. By early February a few score reinforcements had arrived, along with Colonel James Bowie and the legendary Davy Crocket. Bowie and cavalry officer William Travis shared command of the men at the Alamo.

By February 23, 1500 Mexican Army soldiers had settled in around Béxar and the few hundred Texians at the Alamo who refused to surrender. A 13-day siege followed, during which Travis wrote the now-famous letter that was given hefty focus in Timeless. His letter and multiple others were only successful in gathering another 30 or so men; meanwhile, the Mexican army received another 1000 reinforcements which left them sitting pretty with a force of about 3100 men. The situation was dire, and Travis began to prepare his men to die nobly for their cause.

Bowie and Crockett slainOn March 6 the Mexican soldiers advanced on the Alamo. The battle was long and brutal. In the end, all Texian soldiers were killed, including those who surrendered, but they did not go down without a fight—approximately 600 Mexican soldiers were killed before the men at the Alamo fell. The events at the Alamo were not entirely in vain, however, as you’ll see in the article below:

Response to the fall of Bexar (San Antonio de Bexar)The army raised in reaction to the news eventually drove the Mexican army from Texas in late April, spurred on by the memory of their fallen comrades at the Alamo.

Find more about the events at the Alamo as reported in the papers with a search on Newspapers.com.

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The Legend of Stingy Jack

Ever wondered, as you plunge your hands into a pumpkin’s gooey innards, why we bother carving pumpkins at all?

History of the Jack-O-LanternThat helpful graphic sums up the history nicely. The practice originated in Scotland and Ireland and eventually morphed into a combination of paganism and Christianity that celebrated and welcomed ancestors who had passed on while simultaneously warding off evil spirits. The latter is the reason for the grotesque faces we carve into the pumpkins—nothing scares off the baddies like a gap-toothed pumpkin grin.

But on the other, less historical hand, a figure of legend named Stingy Jack has also been given some of the credit for the tradition of carving pumpkins.

The coin trick
The deal
The coin ruse was just the start of Jack’s mischief:
The tree trickOther versions mention that Jack also made the Devil promise to leave him alone for another 10 years. When Jack died soon after the bargain, he found himself rejected at the pearly gates for the wretched life he’d lived. So he paid a visit to hell:

Talking to the Devil…he’s been wandering the world with his gourd lantern, looking for a place to rest eternally. This is how he earned the nickname Jack of the lantern—or, more familiar to us, Jack-O’-Lantern. We carve Jack-O’-Lanterns now, just like the lantern ol’ Stingy Jack carries, and their creepy faces keep him away with the rest of the bad spirits.

Who knows—maybe if you keep an eye out this All Hallow’s Eve, you’ll see Jack’s lantern-light bobbing in the distance as he wanders ever on.

Find more history and legend like this with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Oak of the Golden Dream

One fateful day in 1842, whilst napping beneath a bent oak tree, a cattle rancher had a dream featuring a river of pure gold in which the dreamer himself floated. He awoke, dug up some onions with his knife and—gasp!—there in the dirt-clumped roots was actual, real-life gold.

Or so the legend goes. But all legends have a nugget of truth.

The dream, the gold

Gold on the rootsAs stated in the above articles, the man was Francisco Lopez, a mineralogist who had a bit more going for him in the gold-finding department than a coincidental dream and a pinch of luck. His discovery of gold was the first in the California region, and was just the tip of the gold frenzy iceberg that would come to be known as the California Gold Rush.

Gold!The dreamy oak of legend still stands today as one of California’s historic landmarks, now called “The Oak of the Golden Dream.”

Oak of the Golden DreamFind more like this with a search on Newspapers.com, or browse the site’s extensive newspaper collection and see what other stories can be stumbled upon.

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“Let Sleeping Porcupines Lay”

Let Sleeping Porcupines LayA man kicked a porcupine out of his way and got two legs full of quills. This experience isn’t so common today, contrary to what this article from 1941 implies, but it does give some solid advice in case you ever do come across a porcupine: just let ’em sleep. And a word to the wise—kicking is definitely not advised.

Search Newspapers.com for more articles and clippings like this one, or browse at your leisure for plenty of random and interesting finds.

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The Plague of Philadelphia

This week in 1793, Yellow Fever hit Philadelphia hard. Mortality rates hit their peak between October 10th and October 13th, contributing massively to the overall count of 4000+ people who died during the months that Yellow Fever ravaged the city.Number of persons carried off by the Yellow FeverPerhaps you noticed the next paragraph in the clipping above. It’s true that people of color were commonly thought to have a sort of immunity to the fever, and were thus often asked to be nurses and caregivers to the sick. The truth is there was no actual immunity—unless one had previously had yellow fever—so the black population of Philadelphia was just as susceptible.

Surrounding cities and those along trade routes did their best to quarantine the fever before it spread. Some were unsuccessful, but many managed to avoid the epidemic.

The Fever in London

Yellow Fever in New YorkDr. Benjamin Rush was an apprentice living in Philadelphia at the time and initially recognized the outbreak of the fever. He was a leading voice in treatment and prevention theories…not that his ideas were universally respected, then or now; in fact, the theories of Dr. Rush brought him a significant amount of ridicule.

Yellow Fever: Dr. Rush's DirectionsInstructions to treat the Fever

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All attempts to clean the city and eradicate the fever were not exactly successful. Mosquitos were the true culprits, and they bred in the standing water that could be found in every street and alleyway. It wasn’t until temperatures cooled throughout the end of October and beginning of November that the epidemic was finally killed off. Those who’d fled the city returned, shops opened, families and friends mourned those they’d lost in those terrible months, and time pushed on.

Find more about the Yellow Fever with a search on Newspapers.com.

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