Norman Ollestad

11-year-old boy walks to safety

In the papers of 1979 is found the incredible and harrowing experience of 11-year-old Norman Ollestad. His father raised him from infancy in a life of adventure and risks, teaching him determination along the way. It was his determination that ended up saving Norman’s life one disastrous day.

Norman Ollestad

Norman and his father had taken a Cessna 172, along with a flight instructor and his father’s girlfriend, on a short flight over the San Gabriel Mountains. The plane went down at 8,000 feet, killing Norman’s father instantly and the pilot shortly after. Sandra, his father’s girlfriend, lived, though with some head injuries and a dislocated shoulder. Norman was miraculously mostly unharmed. The two huddled together under the wing of the downed plane for seven hours, waiting for help to come. Eventually Norman suggested they try to get off the mountain, fearing they might freeze to death. Sandra reluctantly agreed, and together they started the depressing trek back down the ice- and snow-covered slopes.
Norman Ollestad, plane crash survivor

The mountainside was so icy that they simply sat and slid down the slope. It tore at the skin of their hands and was hard to keep their speed and direction under control. Early into the descent Sandra slid into an ice chute and lost consciousness. Norman covered her in branches in an attempt to keep her warm before he continued down the mountain alone. Over nine hours after the plane crash he wandered into a ranch house with the upsetting news, shocking everyone with his resilience and ingenuity.

Norman Ollestad, crash survivor

Unfortunately, Sandra died before she was found. Norman was treated for a bruised and cut face and a broken wrist but emerged from the incident with an impressive determination to return to the slopes for recreational purposes.
Norman's reaction
Try this search for more on this story of Norman Ollestad, or check out the search page on to do a new search of your own.

Anna ‘Anastasia’ Anderson

Is Anna Anderson Anastasia?

Who Is the Real Anastasia?

Few things capture the imagination like an unexpected plot twist. Perhaps this is why the mystery of Anastasia Romanov was so compelling that speculations surrounded her fate for decades. When Anastasia and some of her siblings were rumored to have survived the mass execution of their family, impostors cropped up by the dozens. The most famous of these was Anna Anderson, who controversially claimed to be the youngest Romanov daughter even until her death in 1984.

Anderson tells the world she is Anastasia after being pulled from the Landwehr Canal

As mentioned in the article above, the woman who came to be known as Anna was recovered after jumping into the Landwehr Canal in Berlin, an attempted suicide. Two years later she revealed her identity: the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia.

This revelation didn’t come without scrutiny. For the remainder of her life, Anna Anderson fought to be recognized as the last remaining daughter of the murdered tsar. Though some found her claims credible, thought her appearance was consistent, and were swayed by her memory for childhood details, just as many or more refused to believe that this woman, whose behavior was often unstable, was the true Anastasia.

Not Really Anastasia

Anna Anderson's claim to Anastasia

Anna Anderson meets resistance

Anna Anderson Died Feb 12, 1984, Still Fighting for Recognition as Anastasia

Anna’s supporters provided her with very comfortable living arrangements and staunchly defended her claims. Her story spread like wildfire, a sensational tale that was only enhanced by romantic reports of this strange potential turn of fate.

The Mystery of Anastasia

The matter was turned to German courts to decide whether or not it could be proven that Anna was truly Anastasia. But there was no great evidence for either side. Years and years of deliberation passed, and finally the German courts ruled that her identity as Anastasia was neither established nor refutable. Essentially, the truth of Anna Anderson’s claims to be Anastasia was left to the personal judgement of those who encountered her.

Anderson died at age 82 with her identity still undecided. It wasn’t until much later, in 1991 and 2007, that the bodies of the true Romanov family were discovered. DNA tests concluded that Anderson was not Anastasia after all, but a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska, an assertion that had been made by Ernest Louis, the tsarina’s brother and Grand Duke of Hesse, after a private investigation in 1927. Why she pretended to be, or thought she truly was, Anastasia remains uncertain.

The history of Anderson’s years seeking recognition is a tale filled with sentimentality and intrigue, and it is thanks to this that Anderson’s story was so well-documented by the news over the last century. Read more about Anderson’s involvement hereThis search has hundreds of articles speculating more generally about the mystery of Anastasia Romanov. Or try searching for one of the other impostors, other members of the Romanov family, or an unrelated search of your own on’s search page.

Health and Beauty Tips to Skip

One thing that has changed very little throughout the years is a person’s need to look and feel the best they can. Ads have capitalized on human insecurity for as long as they’ve been around, using promises and deception–and occasionally even the truth–to get people to buy their products. Here are just a few examples of interesting or unusual newspaper ads and tips that you might not see so much these days.

Charcoal Kills Bad Breath

Advice on the use of charcoal for bad breathThe charcoal ads introduce one of the few weird remedies that actually work. Charcoal as a rudimentary breath mint? Yes, in the absence of anything better to brush away that horrific halitosis, it will do the job. You’ll just want to rinse your mouth or else show the world your grimy black grin.

Most of the old ads indicate that the charcoal was sold in the form of capsules or lozenges, which certainly makes the idea seem more palatable. But it wasn’t many years ago that sucking on a lump of charcoal was a valid option for removing that unappealing bad breath.

Arsenic Complexion Wafers

Some ideas were less lasting. These “complexion wafers” were possibly quite effective, but the added benefits of arsenic did not outweigh the negative side effects–like being poisoned, for example. Arsenic wafers were certainly not as safe as Dr. Simms would have us believe.

Why Be Skinny?

Nobody Loves a Skinny Man

The first quarter of the twentieth century saw numerous ads on gaining weight, a concept that might seem strange to many now. Pills and powders were touted with assurances of serious weight gain. They were most often directed toward women with flat, narrow physiques, implying that they would get more looks and more success with fuller figures. “Skinny” men received the same treatment in reverse; women would surely pay attention to them if they gained thirty or forty pounds! These ads have practically disappeared in favor of those promoting weight loss in the years since.

Pass me a Lucky - I pass up the sweets.

The old cigarette ads probably wouldn’t surprise anyone. Cigarettes companies posted ads with endorsements from doctors, promises of throat-soothing properties, and, like the ad above, implications that smoking would help you stay away from those tempting sweets.  That last one may be a true assertion, but cigarettes are not exactly a healthier alternative.

Cocaine for Toothache

Cocaine was a once an acceptable remedy for toothaches, usually in the form of drops to suck on. The article above tells a story of a doctor who tried a more direct method, injecting cocaine straight into his gums. The headline makes it pretty clear how well that turned out. But he did cure the toothache!

Dimple-making device

Dimples on the cheeks and chin have long been objects of envy for many people. This contraption from the 1920s provided a fairly simple solution: simply pop it on your face for a night and your cheeks would be perfectly, charmingly indented the following day. That is, until it went away a few hours later.

Eventually inventions like this were tossed out in favor of more permanent surgical solutions, some of which are still around today.


You can find thousands more of ads like these on Try the search page for specific results, or browse through the collection to see what there is to be found.

The Vatican’s own “Scarlet Pimpernel”

During the turbulent years of WWII, the Vatican housed an unusual Irish Roman Catholic priest and monseigneur with a penchant for defying and resisting the Nazis. His name was Hugh O’Flaherty, and his aid in helping released Allied POWs remain free in Nazi-occupied Italy led him to be nicknamed “The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican

During Italy’s time as an Axis country, O’Flaherty spent much of his time visiting the camps full of war prisoners from the Allied countries. He would search for those thought to be missing in action and tried to send information on their health and safety back to their families using Vatican Radio, the broadcasting service of the Vatican.

In 1943, when Italy left the Axis and joined the Allies, thousands of British POWs were released from the camps. Unfortunately, the subsequent Nazi occupation in Italy meant the freshly freed men were in danger of recapture. Many released POWs remembered O’Flaherty from his days visiting the camps and came to Rome to find him, seeking refuge and hope. Eventually O’Flaherty became a huge thorn in the side of the Nazi leaders who were trying to round up fleeing prisoners and find the men concealing them.

Hugh O'Flaherty

O’Flaherty never hesitated to help a fellow human in danger. He created a network of agents, wore disguises, set up safehouses, and helped over four thousand desperate people—mostly Allied soldiers and Jews—stay hidden in various locations throughout Rome. He escaped arrest and multiple assassination attempts. Even once the Nazis recognized his involvement as the leader of the network, they could not do anything to him while he remained inside the Vatican. So he began to openly help escapees on the very steps of the Vatican, infuriating the Nazi officials who watched.

The success of O'Flaherty's network

One man in particular, Colonel Herbert Kappler, chief of the SS and Gestapo in Rome, discovered what O’Flaherty was up to and set himself to the task of arresting, killing, or otherwise stopping the Irish priest. He had a white line painted outside the Vatican and made it clear that if O’Flaherty crossed that line, he would be arrested (and probably tortured and killed). Nevertheless, O’Flaherty did manage to covertly cross that line many times and then make it back home unharmed. No matter what Kappler did, O’Flaherty and his network managed to outwit him. When the Allies swept through Rome in 1944, O’Flaherty’s network was still intact and all its beneficiaries safe. O’Flaherty then demanded that any German prisoners be treated properly by the Allied soldiers.

One of these prisoners was Herbert Kappler. After the war O’Flaherty often visited Kappler in prison, his only visitor. In a surprising twist, Kappler eventually converted to Catholicism in 1959–and was baptized by none other than O’Flaherty himself.

Read more about O’Flaherty using this search on, or more about Kappler (particularly his post-war years) here. There are many more stories from WWII that can be found in history’s newspapers. Try your own search here.

Bummer and Lazarus

Bummer & Lazarus

During the days when dogs outnumbered people in Los Angeles, fellow Californian city San Francisco became the playground for two homeless pups. Bummer and Lazarus were their names, and they escaped the too-frequent dog poisonings and bullets that killed so many of their canine companions by becoming San Francisco’s furry celebrities. The dogs’ excellent ratting skills and their comical friendship gained them city-wide notoriety and led them to be featured in newspaper stories for decades.

Bummer heals LazarusBummer was a fluffy black dog, probably a Newfoundland or a Newfoundland mix. He was an impressive rat-killer and his usefulness in that area earned him a spot just outside of Frederick Martin’s saloon . As the story goes, Bummer rescued a smaller dog from a dog fight, nursing him back to health from a terrible leg injury. Witnesses to this dog-bonding did not expect the smaller dog to live, but Bummer was a loyal nurse. He brought his new companion food, encouraged him to eat, and slept next to him to keep him warm at night. The new dog was dubbed “Lazarus” after his miraculous recovery from the injury, and the city’s residents and reporters loved Bummer for his generosity. Lazarus, too, grew attached to Bummer and was a constant figure at his side.

Newspapermen and journalists hovered around the saloon, watching the dogs and creating dramatic stories about their lives and motivations. Bummer was purported to be the gentlemen between the two, a loyal and thoughtful friend. Lazarus, on the other hand, was seen as the fickle companion who only stayed around when it was convenient. The newspapers were strewn with personality-filled reports of the dogs’ adventures.

Bummer and Lazarus, faithful friendsMany of the stories implied a connection between the dogs and Joshua Norton, an eccentric man who also lived in San Francisco. He claimed to be Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, and the trio’s activities were well-documented in cartoons and articles from the 19th century. But the two dogs were never the pets of “Emperor Norton,” as he was known. In fact the Emperor was very offended by the cartoons, which he saw as a blow to his dignity. Emperors don’t traipse about with lowly dogs, you see. In reality, Emperor Norton and the two dogs were connected only in people’s imaginations.

Bummer dies after being kickedIn October 1863, Lazarus died. While some papers chalked it up to old age, others claim he was poisoned. Either way, Bummer apparently became very downcast without his buddy and wandered aimlessly for two more years until he was kicked by a drunk. The effects of this kick were what finished him off, and in November 1865 he joined Lazarus “in dogland.” The man who had drunkenly and fatally kicked Bummer was arrested and fined, a mark of the people’s love for the dog.

To read more on Bummer and Lazarus, take a look at this search. You can find a lot more on the interesting Emperor Norton here. And be sure to check out all of the papers available on for more stories like these.

Berners Street Hoax

Berners Street Hoax
The great thing about newspapers is that while they recount many notable and significant events throughout history, they also never lack in stories of the comical or bizarre variety. The Berners Street Hoax is an excellent example of the latter type of news and is fortunately mentioned time and time again, occasionally with great detail, in the articles of years past.

In 1810, playboy and practical joker Theodore Hook made a bet with his friend that he could make any house in London the most spoken of address within one week. The bet was taken up, and Hook began his mischievous plan. He targeted 54 Berners Street, a previously unremarkable, ordinary place with nothing to distinguish it from surrounding homes. But as you can see from the many newspaper articles that reported on the event, Hook’s tactics were successful in making this address a talking point, even years later.

The prank was accomplished with a deluge of letters, which Hook sent to craftsmen and dignitaries in the name of the owner of 54 Berners Street, Mrs. Tottenham. On November 27 the deliveries began to arrive, starting in the very early morning and continuing nonstop until evening. Cake bakers, shoemakers, lawyers, vicars, grocers, and the Lord Mayor of the City of London were only some of those that responded to “Mrs. Tottenham’s” inquiries.

Poor Mrs. Tottenham.

Details of the Hoax

The streets were packed with confused tradesmen and onlookers, and all the while Hook and his friend sat in the house across the street, watching the events unfold. After the comical kerfuffle, Hook made himself scarce and was never caught, although several suspected who the perpetrator was. And just as he’d planned, the confusion and bustle that occurred on the normally peaceful Berners Street became the talk of the town.

Aftermath of the Hoax

For more on the Berners Street Hoax, this search in has many results about the story. The search page and browse page are also great resources for finding other weird history or learning about your own ancestry.

Exercise Tiger

Exercise Tiger a prelude to Normandy

June 6, 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the well-known start of the Normandy invasion and one of the major contributions to the eventual Allied victory in WWII. But this event, codenamed Operation Neptune, was preempted by another operation which acted as a practice run for that fateful day on the beaches of France—Exercise Tiger.

In preparation for one of the biggest amphibious military operations of all time, landing exercises happened with fair frequency in the months leading up to June 6, 1944. The plan for the actual invasion was to hit five sections along D-day dry run a 50-mile stretch of Normandy’s shores; these were called Sword, Juno, Omaha, Gold, and Utah beaches. All aspects of the forthcoming invasion were practiced, from the wait as the boats sailed across the channel, to the heart-pumping sound of live fire from enemy forces. And of course, all of these elements were also trained for in Exercise Tiger, the name of the dry-run for those storming Utah beach specifically.

A training ground was established in England’s Devon county, where Slapton beach is found. The Slapton and Utah beaches were extremely similar in terrain—fairly narrow strips of gravel backed by grassy bluffs. Slapton and the surrounding area was evacuated to ensure civilian safety during training and practices, which began months in advance of the D-Day invasion, all leading up to Exercise Tiger in April 1944.

On April 26 the first assault troops began the journey that simulated crossing the channel, rounding the south of England in their tank landing ships (LSTs) and gliding into Lyme Bay.Exercise Tiger account The bay training area was patrolled by Royal Navy destroyers, Motor Torpedo Boats and Motor Gun Boats. The first wave landed successfully, though apparently some miscommunications led to friendly-fire casualties and radio communications issues. This also contributed to the fact that the second wave, approaching in the early hours of April 28, did not fare as well as the first. The convoy was attacked by nine German E-boats who had slipped past the protective ring of ships.  Some of the bombarded LSTs sunk within minutes, unfortunately for the men on board. By the time the E-boats stopped their attacks and the last troops had made it to shore over five days later, more than 700 men had perished—many from drowning—in the costliest training exercise involving U.S. troops during WWII.

Details of the Exercise Tiger attack

While Exercise Tiger was not an obvious success, perhaps it did offer some help as intended—making the men accustomed to conditions and quick thinking under fire. The appalling outcome did little to encourage hopes for success, but it turned out that, on Utah Beach at least, the D-Day invasion went much more smoothly than the exercise. There were still terrible casualties, but they were significantly lower than on that April day of training.

For more on this little-known event, look at this search of “Exercise Tiger” on You can also use this search for more about D-day and the events surrounding it. Or try the search or browse pages to find articles of past events about your family, friends, or interests.

“Take a Look, it’s in a Book!”

'Reading Rainbow' Returns

If you’ve been on the internet in the last forty-eight hours you may have heard of LeVar Burton’s recent and insanely successful campaign to bring the old TV favorite Reading Rainbow back to life. This time it will return as a free online service for schools rather than the television show so many saw and loved. Newspapers, of course, document the Reading Rainbow brings TV and books togetherprogress of recent news as well as more historical stories, and in the pages of we see the journey of this beloved children’s show from start to close.

Reading Rainbow premiered in the summer of 1983 as a charming educational program that encouraged children to explore the magical world of literature. LeVar Burton had already gained some fame with his portrayal of Kunta Kinte on the drama series Roots when he jumped into the Reading Rainbow project as host and executive producer. The program featured
book readings by Burton and other celebrities over a backdrop of whimsical animation and historical scenery that tied in with the settings of the books. Burton brought diverse topics to the screen for his young audience, and children joined him on the show with reviews of books similar to the one featured in each episode to encourage further reading.

The show went on to air for an impressive twenty-six years, longer than any children’s show PBS had run before. It also won a slew of awards, including twenty-six Emmy Awards, and Burton himself was granted a dozen Emmy Awards as a host and a producer. But as with so many things, funding grew tight, and in 2003 Burton himself made a plea for contributions to keep the show running. It seems to have worked, but not for much longer. The summer of 2009 saw the last televised season of Reading Rainbow. 

For more articles about Reading Rainbow, check out this search. You can also look for other more recent news stories by narrowing down the year range—just click the “see advanced” or “add more info” menu on the right of the search bar and enter in your dates of choice. For a general search of the articles on, try the search page or browse through our collection.

Memorial Day Poppies

Take Time to Remember

On May 5th, 1868, Major General John Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic at the time, proclaimed that May 30th would be set aside to honor the fallen soldiers of the devastating Civil War. It was called Decoration Day as a reminder to leave flowers and other remembrances at the graves of these lost comrades.

Decoration Day

It took a little over 30 years for this day to be celebrated on a more national level, and even then the Southern states refused to share the same date of remembrance for their own fallen soldiers. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the last Monday of May was selected as the day to officially observe Memorial Day, with nearly every state honoring and remembering fallen soldiers from multiple conflicts together.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “Flanders Fields,” a woman named Moina Michael came up with the idea to recognize the day, and the soldiers’ sacrifices, by donning a red poppy.

Poem that inspired memorial poppies

Miss Moina Michael

She was so moved by the words of the poem that she even wrote her own verses in response, highlighting the symbolic nature of the vibrant flower.

Moina Michael, response to Flanders Fields

The practice of wearing and decorating graves with the red poppy was picked up by other countries as it gained popularity. The poppy is also associated with Veteran’s Day, perhaps even more so now than with Memorial Day. But all uses are meant to show respect and honor for those lives lost in the several terrible wars since the nineteenth century.

Memorial Day Poppy

Memorial Day Poppies

Soon after Moina first came up with the idea for memorial poppies, benevolent groups began to sell paper versions for the benefit of the families left behind after their loved ones’ deaths. These crepe paper flowers were made by disabled veterans and other volunteers and were sold in massive numbers, with the proceeds going directly to the widows and orphans of the dead.

Poppy sale posters

Poppy makers

For her thoughtfulness and initiative in starting the tradition of wearing memorial poppies in remembrance of those who died in war, Moina Michael was put on her own commemorative stamp in 1948. A poppy-red background surrounded her portrait, and an illustration of poppies with the description “Founder of Memorial Poppy” across them decorated the left of the stamp.

Commemorative Stamp

For more on Moina Michael, try this search on There are also many articles on the site that talk more generally about Memorial Days past, which can be found with this search. Otherwise, try your own search for interesting historical news stories on’s search page.

Women’s Army Corps

WAAC approved

May 15 was an exciting day for the women who yearned to aid their husbands, sons, fathers and friends during the war-torn years of World War II. It was on this day in 1942 that the bill to create a women’s military corps was passed into law and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was established.

Thousands of women enlisted after hearing the news, and within two months the corps was granted full status in the military. Its name was changed the Women’s Army Corps, with full military benefits granted to its members. Though the group was specifically used in noncombat roles, women in the WAC participated in every war theater across the globe as technicians, air-traffic controllers, electricians, clerks, radio operators, and in numerous other positions.

WACs making good with army

Opinions on the WAC were varied. Mostly, the public was none too happy about the development, as they believed that women did not belong in the war. The WAC was even advertised as a way to free the men for combat to help allay public outrage about allowing women in the military. Many in the army, too, felt threatened by the presence of these women who were taking over their roles. Others disagreed, however, finding the WAC to be vitally helpful. And there was no denying that the women of the WAC were well-disciplined, organized, and extremely useful.

WAC vital to army

In the end, over 150,000 women served in this branch during the years before they were integrated with the rest of the military. During that time period, women served in their own corps in the other military branches as well.

For more on the early years of the Women’s Army Corps, try this search on You can also try a search of your own for more general information on World War II, women in the military, or anything else that strikes your fancy using Newspaper’s search page.