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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.
“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
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:
Some ads weren’t placed by individuals at all, but rather by
marriage agencies seeking spouses for their clients:
Scams, Murders, and
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:
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.
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.”
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
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:
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.
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