Cato, King of Cats

From saving his owner’s life to waving goodbye on his deathbed, this “King of All the Cats” had quite the reputation. Cato must have been special to have earned this unofficial obituary:

Cato, King of CatsCato, King of Cats Wed, Jul 12, 1876 – 1 · The Crescent (Beaufort, South Carolina, United States of America) ·

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How Did Early Americans Celebrate Presidents’ Day?

Presidents’ Day isn’t a holiday that many Americans today associate with major celebrations. Though some parts of the country hold parades or other festivities, people are probably more likely to associate it with a day off school or big sales.

But this wasn’t always the case. What we now commonly call Presidents’ Day was, until fairly recently, a holiday to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. And it turns out that in America’s early days, it was one of the nation’s biggest national holidays!

Curious how Americans of centuries past observed Washington’s birthday? Historical newspapers have got you covered!

This article, for instance, describes a celebration of Washington’s birthday in 1784, when he was still alive.

“Early Honors to Washington” Sun, Feb 23, 1896 – Page 13 · The Times (Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) ·

Things apparently got pretty loud at celebrations of Washington’s birthday during President James Monroe’s administration (1817–1825):

“Great George’s Day; How Washington’s Birthday Was Celebrated of Old” Wed, Feb 22, 1888 – 7 · Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York, United States of America) ·

Boston’s first official public celebration of Washington’s birthday was reportedly in 1856. Luckily, the February weather cooperated because there was a lot planned for that day:

“Washington’s Birthday in Boston” Wed, Feb 21, 1900 – 5 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) ·

However, this 1888 newspaper article documented what appeared to be a diminishing enthusiasm for celebrating our first president’s birthday in the late 19th century:

“Great George’s Day; How Washington’s Birthday Was Celebrated of Old” Wed, Feb 22, 1888 – 7 · Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York, United States of America) ·

Though the popularity of public celebrations for Washington’s birthday was declining, people still hosted private parties. These party ideas come from 1905, and colonial-themed accessories, cherries, and miniature hatchets were the order of the day:

“For Washington’s Birthday” Sun, Feb 19, 1905 – Page 36 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania) ·

But perhaps one of the most persistent—and delicious—traditions associated with George Washington’s birthday is cherry pie, stemming from the legend of him chopping down a cherry tree as a youth: 

“Cherry Pie Is Good Reminder for Washington’s Birthday” Thu, Feb 23, 1950 – 11 · Republican and Herald (Pottsville, Pennsylvania, United States of America) ·

And cherry pie is a tradition that a lot of us can probably get behind. Happy birthday, George Washington! And Happy Presidents’ Day!

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Bay Leaves on Your Pillow, and Other Love Spells

Happy Valentines Day! This day has its share of nay-sayers, and not without reason. Though some have more commercial concerns in mind, most find that lacking a significant other can really put a damper on a holiday centered around love. Such concerns are sprinkled throughout the papers, and with them come some rather unusual solutions. Some might call them superstitions, others call them spells. But all are said to be effective in leading you to love.

1. Scatter Something

The first method to snatching up a sweetheart involves hemp seed and, ideally, a church.

Valentine's Eve Hemp ScatteringValentine’s Eve Hemp Scattering Sun, Nov 25, 1900 – Page 21 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, United States of America) · Sowing and Harrowing Hemp SeedSowing and Harrowing Hemp Seed Sat, Oct 29, 1892 – 20 · The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London, Greater London, England) ·

Lacking in hemp and/or churches? No problem. Just substitute hemp for barley and the church for an apple tree. You could even go for it on a different holiday, if you like:

Scatter Barley for your future husbandScatter Barley for your future husband Tue, Oct 20, 1896 – 3 · St. Albans Daily Messenger (Saint Albans, Vermont, United States of America) ·

2. Flower Power

It comes as no surprise that flowers can play a big role in matters of the heart. They have long been associated with Valentine’s Day, often gifted as a token of love. This is about love too…but it comes at it in a slightly different way.

Rose Leaves will name your loveRose Leaves will name your love Wed, Apr 23, 1884 – 7 · Gibson City Courier (Gibson City, Illinois, United States of America) · Simple flower love spellSimple flower love spell Tue, Oct 20, 1896 – 3 · St. Albans Daily Messenger (Saint Albans, Vermont, United States of America) ·

3. Spookier Spells

The following method works in much the same way that many mirror tricks do—mostly with a lot of staring. But while often such things are associated with visions of spooky ghosts, this one shows you the face of your future love.

The looking glass, comb, and apple love spellThe looking glass, comb, and apple love spell Sat, Oct 29, 1892 – 20 · The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London, Greater London, England) ·

If you’re really not into the sweeter stuff, there’s always Miss Hill’s somewhat morbid choice of spell. How she got hold of the man’s socks we may never know.

Socks in a new-made graveSocks in a new-made grave Fri, Jun 13, 1884 – Page 2 · The Shippensburg Chronicle (Shippensburg, Cumberland, Pennsylvania) ·

4. Pillow Leaves

Finally, we end with the well-established and once-loved practice of pinning bay leaves to your pillow. A night’s rest with this set up would guarantee dreams of your sweetheart.

Valentine's Bay Leaves traditionValentine’s Bay Leaves tradition Sun, Feb 10, 1957 – 11 · News-Journal (Mansfield, Richland, Ohio, United States of America) ·

Some pin the leaves at each corner of the pillow, with one directly in the middle, but Jody Berkey, below, has a more decorative approach.

Five bay leaves on your pillowFive bay leaves on your pillow Sun, Feb 10, 1957 – 11 · News-Journal (Mansfield, Richland, Ohio, United States of America) ·

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How Not to Fool the Police

Have you ever waited for a street car with thirteen moving boxes and a suitcase? Neither did this guy, but he certainly tried to make police think otherwise.

Robber's story: he was Robber’s story: he was “waiting for a street car” Fri, Feb 4, 1949 – Page 2 · Portland Press Herald (Portland, Cumberland, Maine) ·

Could his name be any more perfect? Imagine police opening Mr. Jewel Case’s boxes only to find…jewels!

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The Dreams That Uncovered a Murder

In May 1827, Maria Marten left home to elope to Ipswich with a man named William Corder. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, the elopement was not quite the scene of love and companionship that Maria expected. Her sorry fate was so famous it has since earned its own name: The Red Barn Murder. Perhaps oddest of all was that the whole thing was uncovered because of a dream.

William and Maria

Maria and William’s decision to marry seems to have come of necessity. They had an illegitimate child together, and though the child died William still seemed committed to the marriage. Their town of Polstead, England, had a building landmark known as the Red Barn where William and Maria planned to meet for their elopement. At William’s suggestion she left her house dressed in men’s clothes to evade prosecution for her illegitimate child, and was last seen on the way to the Red Barn to meet her love.

Dreams of the Barn

Her family didn’t see or hear from her for months. William offered a slew of excuses when asked about her lack of letters or visits home. Over the nearly year-long absence of Maria, concerns became suspicions, and suspicions became dreams:

Discovered Maria's death after a dreamDiscovered Maria’s death after a dream Sat, Jan 25, 1862 – 6 · The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries and South Wales Advertiser (Bristol, Bristol, England) ·

Against all odds, the dreams were not just the nighttime illusions of a worried mind. They’d led straight to Maria’s body and had brought a murder to light.

William’s Trial and Conviction

All signs pointed to William as the primary suspect, of course. He’d met her at the Red Barn, and there she’d stayed.

William Corder's arrest, claimed he did not know Maria MartenWilliam Corder’s arrest, claimed he did not know Maria Marten Sat, Aug 16, 1828 – 4 · Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England) ·

Despite his insistence that he was not the murderer, and that Maria had in fact died by her own hand, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Many papers printed the detailed description of his execution and the confession of guilt that came with it. As a gruesome footnote to the whole terrible situation, William’s body was afterward cut open and put on public display before being transferred to a hospital for dissection.

As strange as it may seem, the dreams of Maria’s step-mother brought justice to her murderer, and resolution to her loved ones. Were they the result of logical conclusions coming together in the woman’s sleep? Or were they proof of something a bit more mystical?

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An Amazing Rescue From Slavery

During the mid-19th century, the abolitionist movement gained strength in the Northern United States. Free states prohibited slavery, but many of those living in slave states were forced to suffer backbreaking work and constant forms of degradation. In 1847, one heroic mother, a freed slave, received a letter from the master of her two daughters. She had given birth to the girls while still a slave, making her daughters slaves according to the law. In the letter, the master threatened to sell the girls and send them to Louisiana unless she could raise $400 to buy their freedom. She had no way to get the money but was determined to save her daughters. This is her story, told from clippings from the Green-Mountain Freeman in October 1847.

After finding a few men who were sympathetic to her story, and able to help transport and hide the girls after their rescue, the mother devised a rescue plan. She immediately set out on foot, walking about 35 miles to the home where her girls were kept. Arriving at night, she waited in the woods until the following morning. Not wanting to raise suspicion, she went to the house as she always did when she visited her children. “I stayed there on Saturday and Sunday, til Monday evening; cooked and washed for them, and then bid my children goodbye, as if I should never see them again; for I told ‘master’ that I could not raise the money.”

Green Mountain Freeman, October 14, 1847

After leaving the house, the mother again hid in the woods until 11:00 pm. As she quietly approached the house, two dogs began to bark furiously. “I stopped a moment, and hid behind the fence, and saw ‘master’ get up and open the window, and look out. Not seeing anything, he shut down the window. I waited till I thought he was asleep, and then went forward. I hurried quick into the cellar kitchen, where my children slept.”

She waited until she heard the master snoring, then quietly woke the children and told them not to speak a word. “I got on their clothes as soon as I could, and fearing that if I went out by the door the dogs would bark again, I determined to go out by the back window. I found it fastened. I got up on the window sill to take out the nail, and as I was pulling at it, I prayed, ‘O Lord, defend me and my dear children this night; I commit myself and them to thee.’ At length I got out the nail, and opened the window, and lifted my children out; and then got out myself. The two dogs were there, but they only stood and looked at us, and never even growled.”

The three of them ran through the garden, over three different fences and palings, and walked four miles to a waiting carriage, reaching it about 1:00 am. Boarding the carriage, they drove as fast as they could towards the city, but had no intention of going to the city, “For I knew that ‘master’ would be there as soon as he could, after he waked up and found the children gone,” said the mother.

Instead, the three were secreted in a series of safe houses and transported first to Pennsylvania and then to Boston. Once in Boston, the mother was able to obtain work and her daughters enrolled in school and learned to read and sew.

Would you like to read other amazing and heroic stories about rescues from slavery? Search our archives for more amazing accounts, and check out our Underground Railroad topic page on  To see a beautiful short film on the Underground Railroad, check out Railroad Ties here.

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This Is How Newspapers Helped Us Find Love—And Deception—Before Online Dating

 “A good magician and magnetic healer wishes to meet a little blond song and dance or elocution lady, from 20 to 30 years; if suited will make you a kind husband and nice home in the West; give height and weight in first letter.”

If this profile popped up today on a dating website, would it be a hit or a miss for you? What if you were a single woman living in Minnesota in 1903, which is when and where this ad was published? Would your perspective be different?

Lonely Hearts’ Long History

Before the days of online dating and swiping right or left on dating apps, placing marriage ads in newspapers was one option for lonely Americans seeking companionship. Today, these ads are often called lonely hearts ads, but they used to be known as personal or matrimonial ads.

From the 1600s—when the first known lonely hearts ad appeared in a newspaper—through the 20th century, ads seeking marriage (and other types of relationships) flourished in the papers. The ads were as varied as the people who placed them:

(The Atlanta Constitution, 10.23.1898)
(The Atlanta Constitution, 10.23.1898)
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 04.16.1899)
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 04.16.1899)
(The Minneapolis Tribune, 01.31.1904)
(The Minneapolis Tribune, 01.31.1904)

Some ads weren’t placed by individuals at all, but rather by marriage agencies seeking spouses for their clients:

(The Anaconda Standard, 07.17.1904)
(The Anaconda Standard, 07.17.1904)

Scams, Murders, and Marriage Ads

However, seeking a spouse through the newspaper was inevitably a risky venture. In addition to running lonely hearts ads, newspapers also ran stories of people who were conned—and even murdered—because of marriage ads in newspapers. These headlines give the general idea:

READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the San Francisco Examiner, 11.29.1906
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the San Francisco Examiner, 11.29.1906
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Nashville Tennessean, 01.23.1938
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Nashville Tennessean, 01.23.1938
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Austin Statesman, 05.08.1908
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Austin Statesman, 05.08.1908

Backlash and Criticism

Perhaps due to the number of people swindled though lonely hearts ads, newspaper columns criticizing the ads likewise abounded. The Chicago Tribune even went so far in 1884 as to fill more than 5 columns with “The Interesting Results of the Experiment of a Venturesome Reporter” who placed a fake marriage ad in the paper and then analyzed the responses of 36 women who replied to it.

That same article observed:

(Chicago Tribune, 12.28.1884)
(Chicago Tribune, 12.28.1884)

Presumably not all marriage ads ended in disappointment or disaster, though success stories are few and far between in the newspapers. But a woman in 1909 seemed happy enough with the results. According to an article in the Lincoln Daily Star, the woman traveled from Michigan to Nebraska in response to a matrimonial ad, and upon her arrival the potential husband “received her with open arms.”

Modern Lonely Hearts

Though not as popular today, lonely hearts ads are not entirely a thing of the past. Print publications (and websites) featuring these types of ads still exist, although the advent of online dating has made them less common.

Perhaps one takeaway from reading the lonely hearts ads of decades and centuries past is that we really aren’t all that different from our ancestors. Then as now, people sought relationships for companionship, stability, and comfort—among a host of other motivations, good or bad.

And whether it’s swiping right or answering a newspaper ad, either method is an easier route to marriage than this guy’s approach:

READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Daily News (New York), 07.06.1931
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Daily News (New York), 07.06.1931

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Fun With English

Those who appreciate the complexities (and absurdities) of the English language will enjoy this little article from 1879. Ever heard the word “Ghoughphtheightteau?”

“Fun-etics: Ghoughphtheightteau” Sat, Feb 8, 1879 – 1 · The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, Maryland, United States of America) ·

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Greensboro Sit-In Protests Begin: February 1, 1960

On February 1, 1960, four young African-American men entered the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. They sat down at the segregated lunch counter and refused to leave after being denied service.

Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, Ezell Blair Jr. (later Jibreel Khazan), and Franklin McCain, all students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his doctrine of using non-violent protests as a way to achieve social and political progress.

After purchasing a few small items at Woolworth’s, the young men proceeded to the lunch counter with receipt in hand. Instead of heading to the standing snack bar where they were normally relegated, they sat at the lunch counter designated “whites only.”

After taking a seat, the young men politely waited for service. Someone called the police, but segregation at the lunch counter was a social custom and not a law. The men were paying customers and couldn’t be arrested.

The next day the Greensboro Four returned to Woolworth’s again. This time accompanied by additional African-American students. In subsequent days the numbers of protestors increased. By the fifth day, some 1,000 protestors joined in. The sit-in protests made nationwide headlines. Similar protests spread across the country, occurring in nine states and 54 cities.

The bold actions of the Greensboro Four took courage. It had been six years since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling had passed, eliminating separate but equal – but little had changed. Their protest led to a student-led civil rights movement. As the movement spread, so did the need to organize.

In April, under the direction of Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a meeting for sit-in protestors. King told attendees that protests were a civil right and not a social privilege, and he urged protesters to refrain from violence. Sadly, the civil rights movement was marred by violence.  Felton Turner, 27, was abducted by four masked white men, strung up by his heels and beaten with a chain. His attackers carved letters into his chest with a penknife before he was able to escape. He was one of many who endured attacks.

Six months after the sit-ins started, protestors achieved a measure of success when on July 25th, the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter opened to all diners – black or white.

In 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the original protest, the building that once housed the Greensboro Woolworth’s reopened as the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Part of the original lunch counter where the Greensboro Four sat down in February 1960 is now housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

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Make Money as a “Walker”

Can you imagine making money by simply walking down the street in the newest fashions? Some ladies in 1869 did just that, according to this snippet from the Baton Rouge Tri-Weekly Gazette and Comet:

“Walker” Ladies can get five dollars a day Thu, Jun 10, 1869 – 2 · Baton Rouge Tri-Weekly Gazette and Comet (Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States of America) ·

Sounds like a pretty good gig—assuming hopeful ladies were able to meet the qualifications, of course. The five dollar pay, however, might not make the cut today.

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