The Astonishing Adventures of Houdini’s Favorite Detective

Rose Mackenberg in disguiseRose Mackenberg in disguise 12 Mar 1939, Sun The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) Newspapers.com


“Hints of Seances at White House; Witness at Capital Asserts a Spiritualist Said Coolidge Family Attended.” –Tipton Daily Tribune, 1926  

Like other newspapers across America in May 1926, Indiana’s Tipton Daily Tribune was following news out of Washington DC about a congressional subcommittee hearing. Hearings of that variety didn’t typically get national attention, but this one featured elements sure to fascinate newspaper readers.

The famous illusionist Harry Houdini had pitted himself against psychic mediums in a spectacle that would ultimately expose the personal lives of high-ranking U.S. officials—including the president of the United States.

And the “witness” mentioned in the headlines? That was 34-year-old Rose Mackenberg, dubbed “Houdini’s Mysterious Girl Detective” by the papers.

Rose Mackenberg (right) in 1925Rose Mackenberg (right) in 1925 27 Aug 1925, Thu Daily News (New York, New York) Newspapers.com


Becoming Houdini’s Detective

Mackenberg (born 1892) had been an investigator for a New York detective agency when she landed a case involving suspected fraud by a so-called psychic medium. A mutual friend connected her with Harry Houdini, who at the time was engaged in a public campaign to debunk fake spiritualists claiming to communicate with the dead.

Mackenberg joined Houdini’s team of 20 investigators in the mid-1920s and became one of his best. She went undercover to visit spiritualists suspected of fraud, gathering evidence that Houdini then exposed publicly at his performances.

By 1926, Mackenberg had investigated more than 300 mediums and been ordained a spiritualist minister 6 times.

The 1926 Subcommittee Hearing

As part of Houdini’s crusade against fraudulent mediums, two congressmen (Senator Royal S. Copeland and Representative Sol Bloom) sponsored an amendment to a Washington DC law that would essentially ban fortune telling in DC. The proposal was met with stiff resistance from the spiritualist community, who charged that it would infringe on their right to religious freedom.

27 Feb 1926, Sat The Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana) Newspapers.com


An initial hearing before a House subcommittee was held for the bill in February 1926, with three more days of testimony in May. And with a showman like Houdini at the helm, the hearing—unsurprisingly—was a spectacle.

According to Rose Mackenberg, the days were “filled with near riots, a welter of conflicting testimony, shouted objections, muttered oaths, [and] copious tears,” as Houdini and the spiritualists battled it out.

Like the entertainer he was, Houdini showed the fascinated committee how some of the mediums’ tricks were performed. And in an attention-grabbing stunt, he even offered $10,000 to any medium present who could demonstrate that their claims of other-worldly communication were true. The ruckus got so bad that one day’s hearing had to be adjourned to restore order.

Houdini (left) at the 1926 congressional hearingHoudini (left) at the 1926 congressional hearing 10 Mar 1929, Sun The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana) Newspapers.com


Mackenberg Takes the Stand

But the biggest bombshell of the hearing—at least as far as the news media was concerned—was dropped by Mackenberg herself.

Prior to the May hearings, Houdini had sent his undercover investigators, including Mackenberg, to visit suspected phony mediums in DC and gather evidence against them. During her testimony, Mackenberg alleged that two spiritualists had independently divulged that a number of their clients were U.S. senators, and she even went so far as to reveal the names of four of those senators while on the stand.

But most shocking of all, Mackenberg testified that one of the mediums, Jane Coates, had boasted that seances had been held in the White House, with President Coolidge and his family present.

19 May 1926, Wed The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) Newspapers.com


The two spiritualists vehemently refuted Mackenberg’s account, and the Coolidge administration unofficially denied the seances. But the story was rich fodder for newspapers, which published headlines like “Washington Goes In For ‘Spook Stuff’” and “Houdini Agent Says Coolidge Held Seances.”

Life After Houdini

Ultimately, despite the theatrics, Houdini’s bill failed to garner sufficient congressional support, and the famed magician died just 5 months later.

Mackenberg, though, continued debunking fake mediums for another 30 years. She investigated cases on behalf of banks, chambers of commerce, civic groups, police, lawyers, district attorneys, insurance and trust companies, private citizens, and more.

As a widely acknowledged expert, she wrote newspaper and magazine articles exposing the trade secrets of fraudulent mediums, and even let a few journalists shadow her on the job in the 1940s. She also went on lecture tours and appeared on radio and television shows, at least through the mid-1950s.

Rose MackenbergRose Mackenberg 21 Aug 1937, Sat The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) Newspapers.com


Rose Mackenberg passed away in 1968 at age 75, having investigated more than 1,500 mediums over the course of her career.

She always maintained that she had no problem with sincere believers in spiritualism; she simply wanted to expose the people who used it to con the grief stricken and desperate. In fact, Mackenberg herself was open to the possibility of communication with spirits. But as she said in a 1953 newspaper interview, “In 30 years of searching, I’ve never found solid evidence of it.”

Read more news coverage about Rose Mackenberg and Harry Houdini on Newspapers.com™! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

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Discovery of the Rosetta Stone: July 15, 1799

On July 15, 1799, during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, a French soldier spotted a black stone covered in inscriptions outside of the Egyptian city of Rosetta. Suspecting it could be an important cultural find, he brought it to the attention of his superiors. The Rosetta Stone, as it came to be known, contained an ancient decree written in three types of scripts. One of them was Egyptian hieroglyphics. Using the Rosetta Stone and comparing the hieroglyphics to the other writings, a French linguist was able to crack the hieroglyphic code. For the first time since hieroglyphics died out in the 4th century, scholars were able to decipher a lost language and the field of Egyptology was born.

The Maryland Gazette – 12.10.1801

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led a French campaign through Egypt and Syria. His goal was to defend French trade interests and ultimately drive the British from India. He brought scholars along on the expedition to document the antiquities they discovered. While digging a foundation in Rosetta in July 1799, a young officer named Pierre-Francois-Xavier Bouchard discovered a stone covered in inscriptions. The broken stone was part of a larger tablet and contained an official message or decree about King Ptolemy (204-181 BC). The same message was written in hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek.

After Napoleon’s defeat, the Rosetta Stone fell into British hands. The Treaty of Alexandria required that all antiquities gathered during Napoleon’s campaign be turned over to the British, including the stone. It was loaded on a ship, arriving in England in February 1802. That summer, it was presented to King George III, then displayed at the British Museum. Scholars immediately began studying the inscriptions. A British physicist named Thomas Young was the first to realize that a group of hieroglyphics repeated several times on the stone wrote the sounds of the name Ptolemy.

The Morning Chronicle 8.9.1802

He continued his extensive study of the stone, as did other scholars, including French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion. Over the next two decades, the race to decipher the Rosetta Stone continued. In 1822, Champollion made the first of several breakthroughs, and in 1824, he realized that hieroglyphics combined phonetic and ideographic signs. Combined with his knowledge of the Coptic language, which is derived from ancient Egyptian, Champollion cracked the code and was able to read the hieroglyphics.

Champollion then transcribed the message on the Rosetta Stone. He is heralded as the founder of the study of Egyptology. The message on the stone was a decree celebrating the first anniversary of the coronation of King Ptolemy V. More importantly, scholars could now decipher hieroglyphics on other Egyptian antiquities.

The Rosetta Stone is still displayed in the British Museum today, where it has drawn curious crowds for nearly 220 years. To learn more about the Rosetta Stone, search Newspapers.com™ today!

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New Papers from Manatee County, Florida!

Our archives are expanding, and we’ve added new papers from Bradenton, Florida! The Bradenton Herald has nearly 1.5 million searchable pages with issues dating back to 1922.

In 1887, Bradentown became the county seat of Manatee County. A young lawyer living in a nearby county saw a business opportunity and moved to Bradentown where he began publishing Manatee County’s first enduring paper, The Manatee River Journal. At first, only local news was printed because the town did not often receive news from the outside world.

The population of Braidentown (as it was spelled back then) numbered some 123 residents. The paper brought progress to the town, and soon the government added daily mail service delivered by boat from Tampa. In 1922, The Braidentown Herald merged with The Manatee River Journal and became The Evening Herald. We have archives from The Manatee River Journal and Bradentown Herald dating back to 1889. In 1926, the paper’s name was changed to The Bradenton Herald.

Bradenton was named after Dr. Joseph Braden, whose fortress-like house became a refuge for settlers during the Seminole Wars. In the 1880s, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in Florida, and the nearby towns of Manatee and Palmetto were put under quarantine and cordoned off. Braidentown residents were able to keep the town open, and a steamer from Mobile delivered groceries and supplies every 10 days until the crisis passed.

Baseball is a beloved pastime in America, and Florida’s beautiful weather attracted major league teams to the area for Spring Training. Bradentown adopted the slogan ‘The Friendly City’ and rolled out the red carpet for teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, who trained in the city in the early 1920s.

Like other coastal Florida cities, Bradenton has experienced the power of mother nature. In 1946, the city took a direct hit from a storm known as Hurricane Six. The hurricane caused more than $5 million in crop losses. The paper also covered Florida’s deadliest tornado outbreak in 1998. Some 260 were injured and 42 died.

Over the decades, The Bradenton Herald has chronicled the history of this Gulf Coast city. If you have ancestors that lived in Bradenton, search for them in birth announcements, wedding announcements, and obituaries. You may also find them mentioned in the society pages, if they attended a family reunion, or were sick or injured. A column called ‘Personals’ chronicled who was in town visiting and when residents left on vacation.

Start searching The Bradenton Herald at Newspapers.com™ today.

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Tales of Heroism from a Forgotten Tragedy: The General Slocum Disaster

Same-day front page about the General Slocum disasterSame-day front page about the General Slocum disaster 15 Jun 1904, Wed The Evening World (New York, New York) Newspapers.com


While the PS General Slocum isn’t well remembered today, the burning of this passenger ship in 1904 with the loss of approximately 1,000 lives was New York’s deadliest disaster prior to 9/11, and it remains one of the worst disasters on a US waterway.

So it’s no surprise that the General Slocum tragedy was major national news when it occurred, making headlines in papers from coast to coast. But along with the big headlines emphasizing the truly tragic nature of the disaster, another kind of newspaper coverage also appeared—stories of awe-inspiring heroism from that heartbreaking day. A search of the historical papers on Newspapers.com™ reveals many of them.

The Disaster

On the morning of June 15, 1904, nearly 1,400 passengers from St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church boarded the paddlewheel steamer General Slocum. The excursion vessel had been chartered to take the group—almost all of them women and children—from Manhattan to picnic grounds on Long Island. But after the steamer was underway in the East River, a fire began in the forward cabin that quickly consumed the ship.

The captain beached the burning vessel on North Brother Island, but the stern of the ship, where most of the passengers had been forced by the fire, was left in 10 to 30 feet of water. Though there were life preservers and lifeboats aboard, poor maintenance and neglect had made many of them useless. So passengers had little choice but to jump overboard without them to escape the flames—despite many not knowing how to swim.

Weighed down by their heavy clothing and struggling against a strong tide, 400 to 600 passengers drowned after the ship was beached. Though estimates vary, a government commission’s investigation into the disaster reported 955 passenger deaths—or about 70 percent.

Mary McCann’s Story of Courage

Mary McCann (1909)Mary McCann 26 Mar 1909, Fri Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) Newspapers.com


As soon as the fire became visible beyond the ship, bystanders from nearby boats and on shore rushed to aid the stricken steamer.

One rescuer story that got extensive newspaper coverage was that of teenager Mary McCann, a recent immigrant from Ireland who was recuperating from an illness at the isolation hospital on North Brother Island.

When the General Slocum came aground on the island, Mary ran to the shore and swam out time after time to pull as many children as she could to safety. Reports of the number she saved range from 6 to 20, depending on the newspaper account.

Though Mary’s story was written about in newspapers immediately following the disaster, she gained further admiration after her testimony at the coroner’s inquest a little over a week later. She appeared again in newspapers nationwide 5 years afterward, when she was awarded the Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal in 1909 for her rescue efforts.

Other Tales of Heroism

But far more stories of bravery from the General Slocum disaster appeared in newspapers besides Mary McCann’s.

The New York Times wrote about the staff at the North Brother Island hospital, who immediately rushed to aid the beached ship. They not only pulled people from the water using ladders and human chains, but also resuscitated victims and provided medical care. The New-York Tribune described a story similar to Mary’s, in which a hospital employee named Pauline Puetz swam out multiple times to pull victims ashore, even rescuing a child who had been caught in the ship’s paddlewheel.

Rescuers on nearby vessels, from rowboats to tugboats, got newspaper coverage as well for saving lives. Henry George, for instance, saved four people from the water in a rowboat that had only one oarlock and was filling with water. He then returned to rescue others from beneath the side of the ship despite the risk of being caught under the listing vessel. The crew of the tugboat John L. Wade, which arrived within minutes of the General Slocum being beached, took their vessel so near the burning ship to rescue passengers that it caught fire itself.

Henry GeorgeHenry George 16 Jan 1910, Sun The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) Newspapers.com


Papers also included accounts of the heroism that occurred on the General Slocum itself. The New York Evening World wrote about 12-year-old Louise Galing, who jumped into the water with the toddler she was babysitting and managed to keep ahold of the child until they were pulled from the water. The World also recounted that when young Ida Wousky would have fainted, 13-year-old John Tishner kicked his friend in the shins to wake her up. John then managed to find a life preserver and put it on Ida, pushing her into the water when she wouldn’t jump. He held onto her by her hair until they were rescued by a boat.

After the Catastrophe

The stories of courage from that tragic day are numerous. Brooklyn’s Standard Union reported that six months after the disaster, the US Volunteer Lifesaving Corps awarded 250 people for their bravery. And those medals were well deserved: The government commission into the tragedy concluded that bystanders were responsible for saving 200 to 350 lives, and that without their aid possibly only 70 of the approximately 1,400 people aboard would have survived.

A century after the tragedy, in 2004, the last remaining survivor, Adella Liebenow Wotherspoon, passed away at age 100. Though her death marked the end of living memory of the disaster, the stories of the passengers and heroes of that day live on in the pages of historical newspapers.

Read more news coverage of the General Slocum disaster on Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

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June 10, 1942: The Lidice Massacre

The village of Lidice was located in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (present-day Czech Republic) during WWII. In reprisal for the assassination of a Nazi official in the Spring of 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the assassination of all men in Lidice, aged 16 and older. The women and children were taken to concentration camps or gassed, and the village of Lidice was destroyed.

The Age – June 15, 1942

In 1939, the area around Lidice came under Nazi control. Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking German official, was appointed Deputy Reich Protector of the area. Heydrich was one of the principal architects of the Holocaust. He was known for brutality, murder, and efforts to destroy any Nazi resistance. On May 27, 1942, Heydrich was being driven to his headquarters at Prague Castle when his car was attacked by two Czechoslovak resistance operatives. The operatives were trained in Great Britain and operated under the approval of the Czechoslovak government. Heydrich was wounded and died less than a week later.

The Shreveport Journal – June 6, 1942

German officials declared a state of emergency and established a curfew in Prague. They began a massive search for the attackers, promising that anyone involved, and their families, would be executed. Days later, when they failed to locate any conspirators, they decided to destroy the village of Lidice in reprisal. They chose Lidice because its residents were suspected of harboring members of the local resistance.

On June 10, 1942, German police and SS officials surrounded Lidice to block off any escape route. They rounded up 192 boys and men from Lidice and marched them to a farm on the edge of town, where they lined them up and shot them in groups.

Nazi officials separated the women and children and loaded the women onto rails cars for transport to concentration camps. Most went to Ravensbrück, where 60 died. A few of the children considered racially pure were handed over to SS families. The rest were likely killed in late June when Nazi official Adolph Eichman ordered the children to be gassed to death at Chelmno extermination camp.

In all, some 340 people from Lidice died and the town was destroyed. Nazi officials shelled the village, set it on fire, and plowed over the remains. To further erase the memory of Lidice, the name of the village was removed from all local municipal records. The massacre in Lidice angered people from around the world and garnered Allied support for the war. In the years following the war, those found complicit in the Lidice massacre were prosecuted. If you would like to learn more about the tragic story of Lidice, search Newspapers.com™ today.

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New Iconic UK News Brands Added!

We are pleased to announce that our international collection is expanding! We’ve added the Evening Standard and The Independent to our archives. With issues dating back to 1939, these new brands have chronicled a fascinating time in history.

The Evening Standard contains more than 2 million pages of history, with issues in our archive dating back to 1939. The Standard and Evening Standard have enjoyed an uninterrupted run from 1827 to the present day, except for a 26-day strike by machinery maintenance men in March and April 1955. The paper provides a unique perspective to world events, balancing coverage of international events with reports from correspondents placed all over Europe, America, and the Commonwealth. Founded in 1827, The Standard quickly developed a reputation for criticizing the government and found kinship with the common Londoner. The paper has chronicled important events fearlessly. In the days leading up to WWII, the paper’s political cartoonist, David Low, chronicled the rise of fascism with unflattering depictions of Hitler and Mussolini, which led to Germany and Italy banning the paper. The UK declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939, and that same month, The Standard reported that dozens of children fled London and sought refuge in Highclere Castle (made famous by the television series Downton Abbey). The castle became home to some 40 children during the war. They wore matching pink overalls and occupied the top floor.

The Standard also covered the Blitz, a series of massive German air attacks against London during the Battle of Britain. For 57 days, London was hit with heavy bombing that forever changed the cityscape. Some unexploded bombs were discovered long after the war ended. By the time the UK celebrated V-E Day in May 1945, nearly a half million people from the UK died during the war. The Evening Standard reported on efforts to rebuild post-war London. The paper is known as the “voice of London,” and in this archive, you will also find headlines about important world events, stories on the Royal Family, a high society gossip column called the Londoner’s Diary, fashion and women’s sections, and news relating to everyday Londoners.

The Independent was launched in 1986 with its mission to challenge and debate ahead of its time. It was a printed paper until 2016, when it changed to a fully digital news brand. Affectionately known as the Indy, its emphasis on clean, fresh design and beautiful photography helped to make it immediately distinctive. In addition to a strong aesthetic, The Independent has consistently innovated and inspired with its courageous, independent voice evident throughout its editorial – from politics, business, and climate stories to opinion on sports, social issues, and the arts.

Over its 35 years, The Independent has covered every issue of the day – from the devastating to the entertaining. On July 6, 2005, the UK was in the midst of celebrating its successful bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. This triumph turned to terror when on the following day, a series of coordinated bombings on the London Underground rocked the city. The Independent’s coverage of the terrorist attacks included many first-hand accounts of the carnage and rescue efforts.

Readers of The Independent will also find more light-hearted stories, such as when the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council invited the public to name its new arctic explorer research vessel. A former BBC radio presenter suggested the name Boaty McBoatface and the campaign quickly went viral. Despite a majority voting for Boaty McBoatface, the vessel was eventually named after broadcaster and natural scientist, Sir David Attenborough.

To explore these new titles and other papers in England, search Newspapers.com™ today!

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6 of the “Best Wartime Recipes” Shared during World War II

28 May 1943, Fri Oklahoma City Advertiser (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) Newspapers.com


In late 1941, food columnist Mary Moore invited readers of Canada’s Windsor Star to send in their favorite recipes to be featured in her new weekly “Best Wartime Recipes” column.

“Star cooks! Amateur cooks need your help. Send in those recipes that you are hoarding against your lean days—share your depression or wartime ideas with all of us.”

Because Canada faced food rationing and shortages during World War II, the recipes published in Moore’s column reflected wartime food restrictions—such as the rationing of sugar, tea, coffee, butter, and meat. Still, Moore asked that the submitted recipes be not only economical but flavorful as well, and she tested many of them herself to ensure they were.

Her wartime recipe column ran from October 1941 until May 1945, when Moore replaced it with one about dinner preparation for novice home cooks. She would continue as a food columnist until her death in 1978. Having gotten her start in the late 1920s writing for the Edmonton Journal (which ran her wartime recipe column as well), Moore’s newspaper career lasted an astonishing 50 years and ultimately saw widespread syndication in papers across Canada.

Interested in these wartime recipes? Here are 6 intriguing dishes selected from the 100+ published in Mary Moore’s column over the course of the war—all found on Newspapers.com! Click any of the recipes to see it in the original newspaper.

1. Applesauce Cake (October 1941)

Best Wartime Recipe: Applesauce CakeBest Wartime Recipe: Applesauce Cake 25 Oct 1941, Sat The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) Newspapers.com


2. Hot Red Cross (November 1941)

Best Wartime Recipe: Hot Red CrossBest Wartime Recipe: Hot Red Cross 01 Nov 1941, Sat The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) Newspapers.com


3. Bacon Substitute (February 1942)

Best Wartime Recipe: Bacon SubstituteBest Wartime Recipe: Bacon Substitute 14 Feb 1942, Sat The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) Newspapers.com


4. Jelly Roll (April 1943)

Best Wartime Recipe: Jelly RollBest Wartime Recipe: Jelly Roll 10 Apr 1943, Sat The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) Newspapers.com


5. New Idea Beef Loaf (November 1943)

Best Wartime Recipe: New Idea Beef LoafBest Wartime Recipe: New Idea Beef Loaf 27 Nov 1943, Sat The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) Newspapers.com


6. Molasses Cookies (April 1945)

Best Wartime Recipe: Molasses CookiesBest Wartime Recipe: Molasses Cookies 21 Apr 1945, Sat The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) Newspapers.com


Find more of these wartime recipes on Newspapers.com™. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

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The ABCs of Old Time Occupations

Have you come across an occupation in a census record that you’ve never heard of before? Many of our ancestors held jobs that are rare or no longer exist today. We’ve scoured our archives to learn more about those jobs and what our ancestors did to earn a living. Here are a few of the occupations we found:

AArtificial Flower Maker: This intricate job required long hours and a lot of skill. The detailed artificial flowers embellished bonnets, dresses, and hats.


BBath Attendant: In the early 20th century, school children in cities like New York and Chicago were bathed at school. Often the children came from tenements with no access to washing facilities. This 1909 article invited women to apply for the position and described the qualifications needed to become a bath attendant.

CCorset Factory Worker: Factories became common during the Industrial Revolution. In this 1910 help wanted ad, a corset factory was hiring women between the ages of 16-40 to work in the factory.


DDaguerreotypist: A daguerreotypist was an early photographer who used a now-obsolete process to create images on a silvered copper surface. In this 1846 article, a traveling daguerreotypist offered to create miniature likenesses in Joliet, Illinois.

EEsquire: Today the term esquire describes a lawyer, but that wasn’t always the case. If your 19th-century ancestor was an esquire, it meant that he held a title of office, such as a lawyer, sheriff, justice of the peace, etc.


FFellmongers: A fellmonger is a person who removes hair or wool from hides in preparation for making leather.


GGlazier: A glazier cut, installed, and removed glass in windows, display cases, and more.

HHokey-Pokey Man: The Hokey-Pokey man was a vendor with a pushcart that sold cheap, low-quality ice cream in the late 1800s through early 1900s. The Hokey-Pokey man was popular with children in tenement neighborhoods. In this 1910 article, a San Francisco Hokey-Pokey man found out he would likely inherit a fortune.

IIce Cutter: Before refrigeration was invented, ice cutters went to lakes and rivers during the winter and cut out blocks of ice for use in the summer. Workers transported ice to ice houses where it was kept cold with straw or sawdust. It would stay frozen for many months.

JJapanner: Japanned leather was a process to coat leather with a Japanese varnish and then dry it on a stove, producing a smooth, shiny surface like patent leather.


KKnocker-Upper: A knocker-upper was the equivalent of a human alarm clock. They roamed the streets with a tall wand used to tap on windows to awaken workers in the morning.


LLeech Collector: Leech collectors, often women, gathered leeches for medicinal use. Doctors believed that bloodletting could cure disease, so leeches were placed on patients to suck infected blood out. The practice was especially popular in Europe. 


MMillwright: A millwright was responsible for designing, installing, maintaining, and repairing mill machinery. This 1902 article reported on a labor dispute when millwrights demanded an eight-hour workday, but employers wanted ten.


NNeedle-Pointer: A needle pointer was a person who filed the points of needles. According to this 1822 article, breathing in steel dust caused health problems for needle-pointers, forcing most to end their careers by the age of 35.

OOrdinary Keeper: An Ordinary Keeper was an innkeeper. The terms “ordinary” and “tavern” used to be used interchangeably. Early records from Maine cautioned Ordinary Keepers about serving too much liquor.


PPinsetter: Bowling became popular in the 20th century and before automated pinsetters were invented, workers handset the bowling pins each time they were knocked down. This 1943 article describes how a pinsetter might set 132 games a night and be paid 9 cents a game.


QQuarrier: A quarrier was a quarry worker.


RRag Man: A rag man walked the streets with a cart, collecting old rags and other discarded items. He then brought them to a junk shop where they were resold. This 1894 article describes the job of a rag men and gives a detailed description of a junk shop.


SSaddler: A saddler was in charge of making, repairing, and selling saddles. This 1872 article describes what a saddler’s shop might have looked like.


TTeamster: A teamster drove a team of oxen, horses, or mules, pulling a wagon. A man who drove a team of oxen was called a bullwhacker. Teamsters transported cargo and supplies. This 1875 article described the duties of a teamster.


UUptwister: An uptwister was a textile industry worker that was in charge of winding yarn onto a revolving spindle.


VVitner: A vitner is a wine merchant. This 1859 article talks about the South Carolina grape industry and the oldest vitner in the South.


WWhitesmith: A whitesmith works with metals like tin, copper, and brass.



XXylographer: A xylographer is a person who makes engravings on wood, especially for printing.


YYeoman: A yeoman was a farmer that owned his land.


ZZincographer: A zincographer worked in the printing industry etching images on zinc plates. The line drawings used in newspapers before photography (like this 1893 example), were created by zincographers.


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The Arkansas Pearl Rush

In the 1850s, a New Jersey shoemaker found a large pearl inside a mussel pulled from a New Jersey river. The valuable pearl was sold to Tiffany & Co. for $1500. The find inspired others to scour freshwater rivers and lakes, hoping to find more gems. The hunt for pearls moved south, and in the early 1880s, more pearls were discovered in Arkansas. The discovery set off the Arkansas pearl rush which produced more than $2.5 million in pearls annually before the mussel population began to dwindle around 1905.

A group of Arkansas pearl hunters examine a pearl in 1905

It was the discovery of a large pearl in 1897 that fueled the Arkansas pearl rush. Dr. J. Hamilton Meyers found a large, valuable pink pearl in a mussel shell from the Black River. News of the discovery spread, and people flocked to the lakes and rivers, hoping to make a similar find. Makeshift settlements popped up along the rivers as men, women, and children joined the search. Newspapers compared the frenzy to the Klondike Gold Rush. The mussels were abundant, and pearl hunters gathered them by hand in shallow waters. Those lucky enough to find a pearl inside discovered gems in many colors, including white, pink, blue, purple, and black. The pearls were prized by jewelers and some even became part of a royal gem collection.

St. Louis Dispatch 1905

Single pearls could command a premium price if they met the specifications a jeweler required to form a matched string of pearls or earrings. One Arkansas pearl buyer recalled selling a single pearl to a French jeweler for $1,500. It was the final pearl needed to complete a necklace. The finished string of pearls had a value of $200,000!

The pearl rush also gave birth to a robust shell button industry. In the late 1890s, thousands of mussel shells were shipped by rail from Arkansas to Iowa, where button factories turned them into beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons. By 1900, button factories were operating in Arkansas, popping up along northeastern Arkansas rivers. Factory workers gathered mussel shells and placed them in hot water to open them. They removed the meat, graded the shells, and then cut them into button blanks. By the end of WWII, plastic buttons put most shell button factories out of business.

Daily Arkansas Gazette 1897

Overharvesting led to a dwindling mussel population in Arkansas, and by 1905, pearls were much harder to find. Shells were no longer available in shallow waters and pearl hunters relied on boats and special tools like long-handled tongs called pearling rakes to search in deeper waters. About the same time, cultured pearls were also making their way into U.S. markets. A Japanese man, Mikimoto Kokichi, had patented a new process of injecting a grain of sand or ground mussel shell into an oyster, forcing the oyster to form a pearl. Cultured pearl jewelry became popular and much more accessible.

Does someone in your family have a piece of jewelry that contains Arkansas pearls? If you would like to learn more about the Arkansas pearl rush, search Newspapers.com™ today!

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New Papers from California and Kentucky!

We are pleased to announce that we’ve added new papers from California and Kentucky to our archives. If you have ancestors from these states or an interest in the history of these areas, you’ll want to explore these new additions!

The Fresno Bee 7.3.1937 – The Search for Amelia Earhart

Fresno Bee: Founded in 1922, the Fresno Bee is a daily newspaper serving Fresno, California, and surrounding counties in the San Joaquin Valley. The Fresno Bee archive includes the Daily Morning Republican, the Fresno Morning Republican, and the Fresno Weekly Republican, with issues dating back to 1876. In Spanish, Fresno means ash tree, and the city was named in honor of the abundance of ash trees growing in the area. Fresno was a large agricultural area, and in 1876, the city installed the first irrigation system for farmers. Fresno is also a gateway to Yosemite, which was named a National Park in 1890. In 1893, the Fresno Weekly Republican reported that Galen Clark, a pioneer who first settled in Yosemite in the 1850s, ventured outside the park for the first time in 40 years. The Fresno Bee chronicled the growth of Fresno as the population increased and new industries arrived. In 1922, this ad touted a home for sale on a “paved” street! If you have ancestors from Fresno, search for them in birth announcements, wedding announcements, divorce notices, and obituaries.

Lexington Herald-Leader 3.25.1937 – F4 Tornado Destruction

The Lexington Herald-Leader: Located in Bluegrass Country, Lexington, Kentucky, is known for its beautiful horse farms and thoroughbred racetracks. The city also comes with a rich history and the Lexington Herald-Leader has chronicled it dating back to 1888. Our archives also include The Lexington Leader (1896-1982), and The Weekly Leader (1888-1901). The equine industry has played an important part in Lexington’s history. The state quarter and the state license plate both sport a horse, and Lexington claims the title “horse capital of the world.” The childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln is located in Lexington, and in 1969, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on a proposal by citizens to preserve the home. In 1977, the home opened as a museum and visitors can still tour the property today. If you have ancestors from Lexington, search this archive for stories about early settlers. You may also find them mentioned in society news, like this 1888 gossip column.

Start searching the Fresno Bee and the Lexington Herald-Leader on Newspapers.com™ today!

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