19 Incredible Photos from 1919 You’ve Never Seen Before

Historical newspapers are full of amazing photographs. Unfortunately, many old newspaper photos have been long forgotten—not given a second thought since the day they were first published decades (or centuries!) ago. But thanks to the digitization of historical newspapers on sites like Newspapers.com, these photos are no longer lost to time!

To highlight a few of these remarkable historical photos, we decided to look back 100 years—to 1919. So we combed century-old newspapers on our site to find 19 incredible historical images from 1919 that you’ve probably never seen before. Some are tied to major news events—like the Boston Molasses Disaster or the first transatlantic flight—but others simply document the lives of everyday people in the year that followed World War I.

Of course, behind every photograph is a story. To learn more about any of the photos below, click on the image to view the original caption or article on our site.

Find other cool photographs in the papers on Newspapers.com! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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How Do I Find an Obituary on Newspapers.com?

Obituaries are an invaluable genealogical resource, so they are often the first thing a family historian looks for in a newspaper. But finding an ancestor’s obituary can sometimes be tricky. So we’ve created an in-depth guide to help you find obituaries in the historical newspapers in our archives.

Why are obituaries important?

First, let’s talk about why you’d want to look for an ancestor’s obituary in the first place.

Example of an obituary with a photo included [Florence Bulletin, 02.25.1915]
Example of an obituary with a photo included [Florence Bulletin, 02.25.1915]

Obituaries can tell you information that may be hard to find through other sources, though the types of information published in obituaries can vary widely. Many have basic information like the person’s name (sometimes including maiden name for married women), age, birth date and place, and death date and place. But others may also include nicknames, cause of death, spouse’s name, children’s names, names of extended family members, employment history, education, volunteer activities, religion, military service, personality, photos, and more! All this information can be especially important if your ancestor lived in a time before statewide vital recordkeeping.

Obituaries also provide clues to other types of records you should look for. For instance, if the person’s obituary mentions military service, you can begin looking for enlistment records or pension files. And if the obituary indicates the person died in a different county than where they lived (perhaps because they were at a hospital or staying with family), this information could point you to the location of their death certificate.

Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the information in obituaries may not always be accurate. The newspaper may have gotten information wrong or misspelled names, or the surviving family members may have misremembered facts. This means it is always important to find corroborating records when possible; but still, obituaries are a great jumping off point.

Will there be an obituary for my ancestor?

Before you start looking for an obituary, it’s important to understand some historical context that may affect whether you will be able to find an obituary for your ancestor.

First of all, although obituaries have been published in newspapers since the 1600s, they only became common beginning in the early to mid-1800s. So your earlier ancestors likely would not have had an obituary published in newspapers.

Example of a death notice for a man who died away from his hometown [Bridgeport Telegram, 01.24.1918]
Example of a death notice for a man who died away from his hometown [Bridgeport Telegram, 01.24.1918]

In addition, not every person had an obituary written about them. The better-known and more prominent a person was in a community, the more likely they were to get an obituary. Plus, a well-known person would be more likely to have a longer, more-detailed piece written about them after death, while the average resident may only get a few lines.

On top of all that, small-towns papers were more likely than large-city papers to publish obituaries about their residents. Populations of big cities were too large for papers to write full obituaries for every resident. Small-town papers, on the other hand, had space to write about more of the residents.

What information do I need before I start looking for an obituary?

Since the papers on Newspapers.com are all fully searchable, you need less information to find a person’s obituary than in the past, when you had to look through physical papers or microfilm. If you are willing to spend time combing through search results, all you really need is the person’s name.

However, to make your search easier and faster, the best information to know in addition to the person’s name is their date and place of death. But other information is helpful as well, such as other locations where the person lived, any nicknames or aliases they had, and names of their spouse and close family members.

How do I start?

If you’re searching for your ancestor on Newspapers.com, one of the best first steps is to make sure you understand how to use our search, including the search filters. If you want to learn more about best practices for searching on our site, watch this tutorial video.

The next step is to search for your ancestor’s name. It will probably be the rare case when you type in your ancestor’s name and the first search result is their obituary. So there are two ways to approach finding the obituary: start with a broad search and then narrow your results, or start with a narrow search and broaden your results.

Example of an obituary reprinted years after the person's death [The Messenger and Intelligencer, 09.09.1909]
Example of an obituary reprinted years after the person’s death [The Messenger and Intelligencer, 09.09.1909]

If you want to start broad (recommended if your ancestor had a relatively unique or uncommon name), enter your ancestor’s name into our search bar. Scroll through some of the search results to see if there are any likely hits for your ancestor. If there aren’t, try adding the year of your ancestor’s death. Again, skim the results to see if there are any hits. If there still aren’t, try adding the state where your ancestor died. Continue adding time, location, and other filters until you either find what you’re looking for or exhaust the possibilities. 

If your ancestor had a fairly common name, starting narrow and going broad is likely a better approach. From the search bar, type in your ancestor’s name, add the year of death, and the location where they died. Then, if a match doesn’t show up in your search results, gradually broaden or remove the filters to reveal more possible matches.

Keep in mind that while filters can be extremely helpful in narrowing down your search results to a manageable amount, any time you use a filter, you are excluding possible matches. Here are a few important things to remember about using filters:

  1. While an obituary may have appeared in the newspaper as early as the day of the person’s death, many obituaries may not appear for a few days or even weeks. So don’t narrow your date filters too far.
  2. Searching papers in the location where your ancestor died is a good initial strategy, but remember that their obituary may have instead appeared in the location where they spent the majority of their life, or where they had living family members.
  3. Even if you think you know which newspaper the obituary is in, it’s often worth a shot to search other newspapers in the area. And if the town is near the state line, try searching nearby newspapers in the neighboring state. You can use our Newspapers Map to see which papers are available for any geographical area.

If your search returns too many results to sort through even with filters, you can try using additional search terms such as “obituary,” “death,” “died,” “dead,” “funeral,” “memorial,” “in remembrance,” etc.

I can’t find the obituary. Any more tips?

If the tips above don’t lead you to the obituary, there are some more advanced strategies you can try.

One is to try searching for your ancestor using nicknames, alternative names, initials, and misspellings. In older newspapers, men were often referred to by initials or abbreviations, and women were often referred to by their husbands’ names (e.g., Mrs. John Smith). If you’ve found other newspaper mentions of the ancestor you are trying to find an obituary for, look at how the newspaper styled the name, and then try a search using that same spelling. Noticing patterns like this can be a big help.

Example of an obituary where the woman is referred to by her husband's name [The Scranton Truth, 05.21.1906]
Example of an obituary where the woman is referred to by her husband’s name [The Scranton Truth, 05.21.1906]

Another strategy is to search using the names of a relative or two who would likely appear in the person’s obituary, such as a spouse or child. The Newspapers.com search uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to find matches. This means that a computer has tried to identify the words on each page and produce a digital version to search. But OCR, as accurate as it is, isn’t perfect, especially if the text on the page is less clear for some reason. So if you search for an obituary using the name of a close family member, it may turn up matches that the OCR wasn’t able to identify the first time.

You can also try an advanced keyword search using wildcards and Booleans. Wildcards are especially helpful if your ancestor has a name that is commonly misspelled. And Booleans are helpful if you want to really focus your search. Refer to this blog post for more help on how to use wildcards and Booleans.

If you can’t find an obituary, you can also try searching for other types of newspaper content related to your ancestor’s death. For example, some families would print a “card of thanks” in the newspaper after the funeral to thank the community for their condolences. You can also look for legal notices such as those about the person’s estate and probate. And if the person died in an accident, murder, or other unexpected manner, there may be a newspaper article about the death rather than an obituary.

What do I do if I STILL can’t find the obituary?

It may be the case that the newspaper with your ancestor’s obituary hasn’t been added to our archives yet. This is where our Save/Notify feature comes in handy. Located to the right of the search bar on your search results page, this feature allows you to save your searches so you can repeat them more easily in the future. And, even better, we will email you to let you know when new papers are added to our site that contain matches for your saved searches. You can learn more about this feature in our help center or in this blog post.

Man reads his own obituary in 1919! [The Oregon Daily Journal, 11.13.1919]
Man reads his own obituary in 1919! [The Oregon Daily Journal, 11.13.1919]

As mentioned earlier, OCR isn’t always perfect. So if you are certain there should be an obituary for your ancestor, but a keyword search on Newspapers.com isn’t bringing it up, try looking the old-fashioned way—by reading newspapers page by page.

Start by browsing in the newspaper located closest to where your ancestor died, beginning with the issue the day after their death. Then gradually expand the time period and location you are looking at. You’ll soon notice patterns that will help you look through the newspaper more quickly—such as that a newspaper published its obituaries on the same page of each issue, or that it published them on the same day each week. This method is obviously time consuming, but it may be worth it if you really want that obituary!

Happy Searching!

We hope this has been useful in helping you find your ancestor’s obituary. If you have any tips we missed that you think might help others, be sure to post them in the comments!

And get started finding your ancestors’ obituaries by searching Newspapers.com!

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80 Years of Incredible College Basketball Headlines

Because 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the best-known college basketball tournament, we’ve compiled headlines from every 10th championship game since the tournament began in 1939. How many of these games are you familiar with?

1939: Evanston, IL

Oregon Webfoots defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes, 46-33

Quick facts: First NCAA tournament; Oregon’s only national championship for men’s basketball to date

“Zippy Zone Defense Baffles Ohio” Tue, Mar 28, 1939 – 1 · The Coos Bay Times (Marshfield, Oregon) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1949: Seattle, WA

Kentucky Wildcats defeat the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 46-36

Quick facts: Kentucky’s second title in as many title games; Second year of Kentucky’s back-to-back winning streak (1948 & 1949)

“Kentucky Whips Oklahoma A. & M.” Sun, Mar 27, 1949 – 9 · The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, Kentucky) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1959: Louisville, KY

California Golden Bears defeat the West Virginia Mountaineers, 71-70

Quick facts: First title for the Golden Bears

“Bears Nip Mountaineers” Sun, Mar 22, 1959 – 33 · The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1969: Louisville, KY

UCLA Bruins defeat the Purdue Boilermakers, 92-72

Quick facts:  Part of the UCLA glory years, during which the team won 10 NCAA titles between 1964 and 1975

“Bruins Win Unprecedented 3rd Straight Title” Sun, Mar 23, 1969 – Page 51 · The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1979: Salt Lake City, UT

No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans defeat No. 1 seed Indiana State Sycamores, 75-64

Quick facts: First title game for both teams, and first title for Michigan State; Beginning of the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird rivalry; First tournament where all teams were seeded

“Magic Man Turns ISU’s Cinderella Story into Rags” Tue, Mar 27, 1979 – Page 6 · The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1989: Seattle, WA

No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines defeat No. 3 seed Seton Hall Pirates, 80-79

Quick facts: First title for Michigan; Overtime victory

“Michigan Wins First NCAA Title in OT” Tue, Apr 4, 1989 – 14 · The Herald-Palladium (Saint Joseph, Michigan) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1999: St. Petersburg, FL

No. 1 seed UConn Huskies defeat No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils, 77-74

Quick facts: First title for UConn; Big upset, as Duke had an incredibly strong team, while UConn was a 9.5-point underdog

“Duke Stumbles on Its Last Step” Tue, Mar 30, 1999 – Page 27 · Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

2009: Detroit, MI

No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels defeat No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans, 89-72

Quick facts: North Carolina had a 55-34 lead at halftime, which was the largest halftime lead in the tournament’s history as well as the most points scored in the first half

“UNC-onquerable: Tar Heels Rout Spartans” Tue, Apr 7, 2009 – 9 · Rocky Mount Telegram (Rocky Mount, North Carolina) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

Find more newspaper coverage of your favorite college basketball championships over the years by searching Newspapers.com!

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3 Amazing Female Detectives You’ve Never Heard Of

Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, Veronica Mars, Lis Salander, Jessica Fletcher, Dana Scully, Clarice Starling . . . Female detectives are relatively easy to find in fiction. There’s even a brand-new Nancy Drew movie out.

But for all their growing prevalence on screen and in literature, women detectives are hard to find in history books. So we searched the historical papers on Newspapers.com to bring you the amazing stories of 3 real-life female detectives you’ve probably never heard of.

Maud West

Maude WestMaude West Fri, Mar 3, 1922 – Page 17 · The Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Maud West was a well-known private detective in London in the early decades of the 20th century. Reputed to be London’s only female detective, West opened her agency in 1905 and hired both male and female detectives. For the next 30 years, she investigated a host of crimes, from blackmail and theft, to cheating spouses and even German spies. She claimed to have investigated cases around the world, including in Paris, the South of France, Monte Carlo, Nairobi, and New York.

Famous as a master of disguise, West went undercover as a servant, society woman, nurse, secretary, waitress, fortune teller, and more. She excelled at disguising herself as a man and impersonated everyone from a lowly sailor to a titled Englishman. West reportedly said that she frequently took on male disguises because “A woman […] cannot stand about like a man may.”

~Notable Case~

In an article that ran in multiple newspapers in 1926, West recounted a case in which a young American woman hired West to investigate her husband. West, using various disguises, trailed him on a long journey that stretched from Paris, to Dover, to London, and then all the way to New York. In New York, she discovered that the “strange American’s eccentricity had turned to medical surgery,” and he had in fact traveled to New York to participate in an illegal human dissection.

~Read more about Maud West in the newspaper~

Isabella Goodwin

Isabella GoodwinIsabella Goodwin Mon, Mar 4, 1912 – Page 4 · Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Isabella Goodwin was New York’s first woman police detective. The widow of a policeman with four children to raise, Goodwin was hired as a police matron in 1896. Sometime around 1910, Goodwin was transferred to the detective bureau to assist in investigations, though there is newspaper evidence that she was already helping with investigations by 1902.

In the detective bureau, Goodwin primarily focused on investigating charlatans and swindlers, including fortune tellers, healers, spiritualists, mediums, and astrologers, sometimes going undercover. After proving instrumental in solving a robbery case in 1912, Goodwin was promoted to detective sergeant, first grade, and became the first woman in the New York police department to hold this position. She later also served as assistant to the Special Deputy Commissioner in charge of the Women’s Precinct.

Goodwin remarried in 1921, and in 1924 resigned from the police department after 28 years of service.

~Notable Case~

The case that made Isabella Goodwin famous occurred in 1912. A group of so-called “taxicab bandits” attacked two bank messengers in Manhattan in broad daylight and got away with $25,000 (more than $600,000 today). Goodwin went undercover as a servant in a boarding house and was able to gather the information needed for the police to arrest the men.

~Read more about Isabella Goodwin in the newspaper~

Frances Benzecry

Frances BenzecryFrances Benzecry Sat, Mar 2, 1912 – 3 · New-York Tribune (New York, New York) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Frances Benzecry was a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan. A graduate of New York Normal College, Benzecry was hired as a medical detective sometime around 1905. She investigated all manner of fake medical practitioners and healers, who were often suspected of operating without a license.

To catch them, she frequently submitted to their phony treatments and thus gained a reputation as the “most doctored woman in New York.” Benzecry reportedly had more than 75 aliases, but her best known one was “Belle Holmes,” and she was sometimes mentioned in the newspapers by that name. Since her cases occasionally overlapped with those of Isabella Goodwin, the two worked together on multiple occasions. 

~Notable case~

In 1911, Frances Benzecry (along with Isabella Goodwin) gathered evidence and testified against Willis Vernon Cole, who was arrested and tried for practicing Christian Science healing without a medical license. Benzecry visited his office pretending to have trouble with her eyes and back and paid Cole to cure her through prayer. Cole was initially found guilty, but after a series of high-profile trials, he won on appeal, setting a legal precedent for religious healing.  

~Read more about Frances Benzecry in the newspaper~

Newspapers are full of accounts of female detectives in history. Search Newspapers.com to find articles, photos, and more on this topic. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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3 Ways You Can Learn About Your Irish Immigrant Ancestors Using Newspapers

March is Irish-American Heritage Month, but for many Americans with Irish ancestry, tracing family lines back to Ireland can be difficult. Take a lack of Irish genealogical records and add an abundance of individuals with the same name, and you have an almost certain recipe for hitting that infamous brick wall. If traditional genealogical records haven’t turned up the answers you’re looking for, newspapers can be another avenue to explore.

Many people’s first step when using newspapers for family history is to search for the names of their ancestors. Newspapers.com is especially helpful when it comes to searching for individuals, as our search filters for date, location, and more make narrowing down your results easier than ever.

But what if your ancestor’s name doesn’t turn up in a newspaper search? Or what if you can’t be sure that the Michael Kelly you found mentioned in a newspaper is actually the Michael Kelly you’re related to? One of the wonderful things about newspapers is that they can help you learn about your ancestor’s life even if you don’t find them mentioned by name.

Here are 3 ways you can use newspapers to learn about your Irish immigrant ancestors.

Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]
Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]

1. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestor’s life back in Ireland.

Understanding what conditions were like in Ireland at the time your ancestors immigrated may help you understand why they left.

A good place to start is by looking at Irish newspapers. Newspapers.com currently has more than a dozen Irish papers, primarily from Dublin but encompassing some other counties as well. We also have papers from Northern Ireland. Publication years for our papers from both these areas range from the late 18th to the late 19th century.

So if your ancestors were living in Ireland during that time, try browsing one of these newspapers to read articles and see ads showing what life was like back then. Find out about conditions for tenant farmers, learn what the Irish were saying about the issue of home rule, and much more. You can also look through our collection of newspapers from England, as they also commonly carried news from Ireland.

One of the primary reasons immigrants left Ireland was the Potato Famine, which lasted roughly 1845 to 1849. If your ancestors were in Ireland during this devastating time, learning about this tragedy can help you understand more about what your relatives likely experienced. One way to do this is by searching for articles related to the famine on Newspapers.com. Or, for a shortcut, head to our Irish Potato Famine Topic Page, which is a free curated collection of newspaper clippings related to that topic. 

2. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestors’ lives in their destination city.

Do you know where your Irish ancestors lived after immigrating to the United States? If so, you can explore newspapers from that city or state for the time period your ancestors lived there to get a sense of what their life may have been like after their arrival. From our Newspapers Map, you can see which papers are available on the site for a certain date and location.

Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding of the city will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one.

From images, to weather reports, to police blotters, to letters to the editor—practically every part of the newspaper can help you envision what the city was like when your ancestor lived there. If you’re lucky enough to know the name of the street where your ancestors lived, search the newspaper for that street name to build a picture of what their neighborhood was like.

Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]
Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]

If you aren’t sure where in the U.S. your Irish ancestors immigrated, you can look at newspapers from common port and destination cities for Irish immigrants. These include places like Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Canada was also a popular destination, since it was cheaper to sail there, so some Irish landed in Canada before eventually moving to the United States. This means a search through the Canadian papers on Newspapers.com may provide additional insights into your Irish immigrant ancestors. 

If your Irish ancestors came through Ellis Island, as many later immigrants did, you can visit our Ellis Island Topic Page to explore newspaper clippings about this busy immigration station.

3. Newspapers can help you learn about the Irish immigrant experience.

Newspapers are also helpful for learning about the Irish immigration experience in general. Even a simple search on our site for phrases like “Irish immigrant” or “Irish immigration” returns thousands of search results that you can comb for information and experiences. For instance, if you have ancestors who came over around the turn of the 19th century, this article excerpt from 1900 New York may give you some insight into what it was like for them:

Newspapers will show you both the lows and highs of being an Irish immigrant in the United States. You’ll see articles about discrimination, poverty, and poor living conditions, but also about immigrants coming together to celebrate Irish traditions, building a community in a new country, and finding success. This kind of color will help bring your ancestors’ experiences to life.

Explore Further

We’ve been focusing on immigrants to the United States in this post. But if your Irish ancestors immigrated to England, Canada, or Australia instead, you can use these same methods to learn about their life in those locations. Just use our newspaper collections from those countries!

These tips are also useful even if you’ve already found vital records for the ancestor you’re looking for. Names and dates are essential to genealogy, but the journey doesn’t stop there. Newspapers can help you find the stories that will really flesh out your understanding of what your ancestor’s life may have been like.  

Do you have any tips for finding Irish ancestors? Share them with us in the comments! Or start looking for your Irish immigrant ancestors on Newspapers.com.

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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) · Newspapers.com


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) · Newspapers.com


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) · Newspapers.com


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) · Newspapers.com


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) · Newspapers.com


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) · Newspapers.com


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

Learn more about George Washington’s birthday by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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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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Battle on Bric-A-Brac: America’s Changing Views on Clutter

If you’ve been tuning in to the new Netflix series Tidying up with Marie Kondo or read Kondo’s bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’re familiar with her war on clutter. As part of her KonMari Method, she famously encourages people to keep only possessions that “spark joy.”

But Kondo’s decluttering philosophy wouldn’t have been popular in the U.S. in the mid- to late 19th century. In fact, the opposite philosophy seemed to reign—the more objects on display in your home the better, particularly if you were wealthy or aspiring to be so.

The Rise of Bric-A-Brac

If you could peek into the home of a wealthy Victorian-era American family, it would probably look cluttered to our modern eyes. Bare rooms were equated with poor taste, low morals, and poverty, while displaying expensive objects was a sign of style, culture, and status. Vases, figurines, decorative boxes, fans, teacups, miniature paintings, curios, and much more filled nearly any flat surface, from mantles to tables to sideboards.

An 1891 showroom for home furnishings, demonstrating the popular Victorian "cluttered" look (The Times—Philadelphia, 10.03.1891)

An 1891 showroom for home furnishings, demonstrating the popular Victorian “cluttered” look (The Times—Philadelphia, 10.03.1891)

The Second Industrial Revolution (roughly 1870–1914) was creating an abundance of “nouveau riche” in America, people recently made wealthy by railroads, steel, and other new industries. Eager to imitate the aristocracy of Great Britain and Europe—and to showcase their new wealth and worldliness—they filled their homes with costly objets d’art. These decorative objects eventually came to be known as “bric-a-brac.”

  • Go here to read an 1887 newspaper article about bric-a-brac selling for insanely high prices

Though items sold as bric-a-brac supposedly had historical ties, antique origin, or exotic provenance, realistically it was a term for expensive items with no practical use—which is probably why an 1875 New York Times article defined bric-a-brac as “elegant rubbish.” Still, bric-a-brac was in such high demand that an industry sprung up to procure and sell it. Newspapers carried stories of people spending incredible sums of money to expand their collections, and ads for bric-a-brac sellers abounded in the papers.

Bric-a-Brac’s Decline

This “bric-a-brac mania,” as it was sometimes called, had its acme in the 1870s and 1880s. But as is the case with many expensive things, a knock-off market of cheaper, inauthentic bric-a-brac came into being. This affordable, mass-produced bric-a-brac allowed people of the middle and even working classes to embrace the trend and buy bric-a-brac for their own homes.

  • Go here to read about the knock-off market for bric-a-brac in an 1885 newspaper

The wide availability of inexpensive bric-a-brac meant it no longer implied social status and wealth, however, and its popularity among the upper class began to wane. Around the same time, attitudes about ostentatious displays of wealth began changing, and interior design preferences shifted toward simpler and more utilitarian styles. On top of that, late 19th-century America was hit by a series of economic panics—perhaps putting more nails in bric-a-brac’s coffin. Gradually, the term “bric-a-brac” began to take on the connotation that it has today—nearly synonymous with “knick-knack” rather than “objet d’art.”

The rejection of the bric-a-brac trend can be clearly seen in newspapers from the late 1880s through the early 20th century.

One Pennsylvania newspaper wrote in 1895:

And this 1906 article even provided questions to help the reader cut down on bric-a-brac:

20th-Century Clutter

The end of the 19th-century bric-a-brac craze wasn’t the end of indoor clutter, obviously. In fact, there seems to have been somewhat of a resurgence of bric-a-brac in the 1920s, though the onset of the Great Depression likely had a dampening effect.

  • Go here to read a 1926 article about bric-a-brac’s 1920s comeback

But America’s post-war economic boom in the late 1940s through the early 1970s gave people more discretionary income than ever before. Perhaps as a result of this new post-war buying power, home decor trends in the late 1950s swung back toward a “controlled clutter” look. And articles promoting “clutter rooms” (rooms devoted to odds and ends) ran in the papers in the 1960s. So is it any surprise that decluttering articles became increasingly ubiquitous in newspapers in the decades after the economic boom?

The Pendulum

America’s views on the use of clutter in home decoration seem to be a pendulum, swinging back and forth between embracing a cluttered look and its rejection. Right now, our society appears to be firmly rejecting it, as typified by the incredible popularity of Marie Kondo and her method. (Related examples of this desire for simplification are found in the “tiny home” movement and the backlash against the “fast fashion” industry.)

But as history has shown us, who knows when the pendulum will swing back the other way? So you might not need to throw out grandma’s antique tea set just yet.

Learn more about bric-a-brac by searching Newspapers.com. Or if you’re interested in reading some vintage decluttering articles, start with these:

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People Used to Believe Aliens Built Canals on Mars. Here’s Why You Should Care.

“Scientists now declare that the many lines and spots on Mars represent verdure along a most wonderful canal system, which the inhabitants of the planet have constructed for purposes of irrigation.”

No, it’s not the latest finding from NASA’s InSight Mars lander, which successfully touched down on the red planet last month. Instead, the quote comes from a 1907 article in the Los Angeles Times.

While the idea of a Martian-made canal system on Mars seems laughable today, around the turn of the 19th century there was a group of astronomers and scientists who took the idea seriously. In fact, they believed they had proof.

  • Read the full 1907 Los Angeles Times article about Martian-made canals here.

Why Did Astronomers Think Mars Had Canals?

The popularization of the idea of canals on Mars began with the observations of a 19th-century Italian astronomer named Giovanni Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli believed he saw a system of straight lines on the surface of Mars, which he called “canali” in 1877. Although the Italian word can be translated to mean “channels”—which is closer to what Schiaparelli intended—the word got translated in to English as “canals.”

Map of the Mars canals [The Review, 10.27.1898]

Map of the Mars canals (The Review, 10.27.1898)

A wealthy American astronomer named Percival Lowell then performed his own observations of Mars and saw the same type of lines that Schiaparelli saw. But Lowell went one step further than his Italian counterpart. Lowell concluded that if there were “canals” on Mars, they must have been constructed, which in turn meant there must be intelligent beings on the planet who built them.

In the 1890s, Lowell funded the building of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, as a base for his intensive observations of Mars. He would remain convinced of the existence of artificially constructed canals on Mars for the rest of his life, even speaking about it a month before his death in 1916.

  • Read a Los Angeles Times account of one of Lowell’s last lectures about Mars here.

Did Everyone Buy This Theory?

While Lowell was far from the only astronomer to devote his time to the canals of Mars, not all astronomers agreed with his conclusions. A look through newspapers of the era shows a wide range of other theories.

Of the astronomers and scientists who believed there were canals on Mars, some were like Lowell and concluded the canals were made by intelligent beings. Others believed the so-called canals were actually fissures in the surface, perhaps caused by earthquakes or by collisions with Mars’ natural satellites.

Schiaparelli and Lowell (The Hartford Daily Courant, 08.24.1924)

Schiaparelli and Lowell (The Hartford Daily Courant, 08.24.1924)

Then there were those who didn’t believe there were canals at all. Some of these astronomers theorized that the lines were vegetation growing on the planet. Still others believed that the lines were merely an optical illusion. (This is optical illusion explanation is how the Mars canal phenomenon is most commonly explained today.)

  • Read a 1902 article from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle about the Mars canal optical illusion here.

The idea of canals on Mars didn’t fade away with Lowell’s death. Well into the 1930s—and even the 1960s to some extent—there were still people who argued for the existence of the canals. It wasn’t until the Mariner 4 space probe sent back the first photos of Mars’ canal-free surface in 1965 that the canal idea truly began to die. (Subsequent missions to Mars would reveal that there are indeed channels and valleys on Mars, but these would not have been visible to the early astronomers.)

Why Should We Care?

The story of the Mars canals is more than just an interesting bit of historical trivia. Its legacy has had a very real effect in areas like pop culture. Author H.G. Wells, for instance, wrote his incredibly influential Martian-invasion novel The War of the Worlds during the height of the Mars canal craze.

The imaginary Mars canals may have even influenced modern space exploration. After all, the people who ran Mariner 4 and other early missions to Mars grew up in the Mars canal era, with all its debate about Mars’ topography and potential to host life. Is it any surprise that people who came of age in this era sent out the first spacecraft that documented the planet’s surface?

Photos of Mars sent back by Mariner 4 (Casper Star-Tribune, 07.20.1965)

Photos of Mars sent back by Mariner 4 (Casper Star-Tribune, 07.20.1965)

The influence of the Mars canals also stretched beyond the red planet into other parts of the solar system. Remember how Percival Lowell built the Lowell Observatory in his quest to study the “canals” on Mars? In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto at that same observatory.

  • Read an Arizona Republic article about the discovery of Pluto at Lowell Observatory here.

The story of the canals on Mars is also particularly relevant now, right as NASA’s InSight lander begins gathering new types of data from the planet. It prompts the question: Will InSight make a discovery about Mars that will turn our current understanding of the planet on its head? And if it does, will we look any different to people in the future than those Mars canal astronomers look to us?

Perhaps this advice by a respected astronomer and Mars-canal critic in 1904 still holds true today:

Quote by E. Walter Maunder (The Pittsburg Press, 07.15.1904)

Quote by E. Walter Maunder (The Pittsburg Press, 07.15.1904)

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Cowabunga! 8 of the Biggest Bovines to Udderly Amoose You

Have you been as fascinated as the rest of the internet with Knickers, the giant steer in Australia? Then do we have a blog post for you! We’ve gathered photos of some of the biggest bovines we could find in the newspapers from the last 100 years. How do these cows, steers, and bulls measure up to Knickers, who stands nearly 6 feet 4 inches and weighs more than 3,000 pounds? Read on to find out! We won’t “steer” you wrong!

If we start from the shortest of the bunch (which is still amazingly tall), first is Big Jim, who was once owned by Will Rogers. In this photo from 1936, the steer was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 3,100 pounds.

Next is this giant Holstein bull from Kentucky in 1960. The newspaper didn’t report how tall he was, but he weighed in at a whopping 3,126 pounds and was the largest at the Kentucky State Fair!

From 1925, we have a Shorthorn-Hereford from Nebraska. The newspaper was unclear about whether it was a steer or a bull, but either way it stood 5 feet 7 inches high and weighed 3,200 pounds.

From 1930 comes this photo of a cow named Texas Pride. Though nearly 6 feet high at the shoulders, its horns added another foot and a half. The offspring of a Jersey cow and a Brahma bull, Texas Pride weighed in at 1 ton. [Read more about Texas Pride here.]

In 1933, you could’ve earned $500 if you managed to find a cow bigger than Lone Star, from Texas. Another Jersey-Brahma mix, this cow was 6 feet and 1 inch high and weighed 2,800 pounds. The distance from its nose to the tip of its tail was 15 feet! [Read more about Lone Star here.]

Then we have this giant steer from Kentucky, apparently also named Big Jim like the first steer on our list. This Big Jim stood 6 feet 2 inches and weighed 4,026 pounds.

Last up, we have two bovines that tie in height with Knickers. First is this Brahma-Shorthorn steer from 1973 named Satan. Though tying with Knickers in height, this steer outweighed him, weighing in at 2 tons.

The other 6 foot 4 inch bovine we found is Blosom, a cow from Illinois. In 2014, Blosom made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for her height. [Read more about Blosom here.]

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