Cato, King of Cats

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

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

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How Did Early Americans Celebrate Presidents’ Day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bay Leaves on Your Pillow, and Other Love Spells

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

1. Scatter Something

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

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

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

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

2. Flower Power

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

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

3. Spookier Spells

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

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

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

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

4. Pillow Leaves

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

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

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

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

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How Not to Fool the Police

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

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

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

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The Dreams That Uncovered a Murder

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

William and Maria

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

Dreams of the Barn

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

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

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

William’s Trial and Conviction

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

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

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

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

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An Amazing Rescue From Slavery

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

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

Green Mountain Freeman, October 14, 1847

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

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

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

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

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

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Fun With English

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

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

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Make Money as a “Walker”

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

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

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

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Unsolved Mysteries: George Hodel and the “Black Dahlia”

In January of 1947, the mutilated body of a woman, drained of blood and severed at the waist, was found in an empty lot in Los Angeles, California. Though the victim known as the “Black Dahlia” was eventually identified as 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, her killer was never brought to justice. The Black Dahlia case has since become one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in America.

Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 4 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 4 Years Sun, Jan 14, 1951 – Page 32 · The Times (Shreveport, Caddo, Louisiana, United States of America) · Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 13 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 13 Years Fri, Jan 15, 1960 – 22 · The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States of America) · Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 22 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 22 Years Sun, May 4, 1969 – Page 17 · Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach, Los Angeles, California) ·

George Hodel, Murder Suspect

The case was notable for the brutal details of the murder, and for the resulting decades-long investigation that yielded hundreds of suspects but no firm answers. The disturbing history of the LA doctor often linked with this case, George Hodel, makes him a grimly compelling suspect. His is a name well-associated with the case thanks mostly to his son, ex-detective Steve Hodel.

Steve Hodel, Son of George Hodel, Accuses Father of Black Dahlia MurderSteve Hodel, Son of George Hodel, Accuses Father of Black Dahlia Murder Sun, May 11, 2003 – 21 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) ·

Hodel’s Suspicious History

George Hodel may have been a successful doctor, but he was not a good man. In 1945, he came under suspicion as the potential murderer of his secretary Ruth Spaulding, though her death was listed as an accidental overdose. He became a prime suspect in the 1947 Black Dahlia case when Short’s injuries revealed the murderer probably had surgical expertise. In 1949, two years after the Dahlia murder, Hodel’s daughter, Tamar Hodel, accused her father of incest. He was tried and acquitted of those charges, but the whole situation strengthened the case against him as a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder.

There were a few other peculiarities that seem to point at Hodel’s guilt. His black 1936 Packard resembled descriptions of a black car seen near the empty lot the same day Short’s body was found. He had a delivery of cement bags sent to his house for remodeling the day Short disappeared, and similar bags were found near her body. And only three years after Short’s death, Hodel conveniently left the country to live in the Philippines, where he would remain until 1990.

Steve Hodel’s Investigation

After George died in 1999, Steve Hodel followed the trail of evidence that he felt proved his father’s guilt. Among his discoveries were photos that looked like Elizabeth Short, though it was never confirmed they were actually her. Perhaps most suspect of all, transcripts were found in old police files from surveillance conducted on George Hodel’s home in 1950:

Transcripts found of electronic surveillance of George Hodel's homeTranscripts found of electronic surveillance of George Hodel’s home Tue, May 13, 2003 – Page 1-10 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) ·

The tapes also indicate that George had deals with the police. Steve theorizes that his father evaded arrest and prosecution through his high-status connections and bribery.

Tamar Hodel Quote on George Hodel's guiltTamar Hodel Quote on George Hodel’s guilt Sun, May 11, 2003 – 15 · The Record (Hackensack, Bergen, New Jersey, United States of America) ·

As with all unsolved cases, there’s so much more to this story. There are more theorized connections between Hodel and Short, other suspects who might be responsible, and of course, a whole slew of facts and links lost to time that we will simply never know. For now, George Hodel is still only a suspect, and the Black Dahlia case remains unsolved.

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Clever Cons: Princess Caraboo

In early 1817, a mystery woman showed up in the town of Almondsbury in Gloucester, England. She seemed disoriented, and when she spoke her words were incomprehensible babble. The only thing anyone could discern was that she called herself “Caraboo.”

Spoiler alert:

Princess Caraboo IllustrationPrincess Caraboo Illustration Sat, Jul 10, 1926 – 25 · The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) ·

The Hoax

The young lady was taken in by a Mr. and Mrs. Worrall, who tried to make sense of her. Several days after her arrival, a man named Manuel Eynesso (conveniently) appeared and said he could understand Princess Caraboo’s strange language. Her remarkable story, which he “translated,” was a sensational one, complete with pirates, death, and daring escape.

Caraboo's story, as translated by Manuel EynessoCaraboo’s story, as translated by Manuel Eynesso Sat, Jul 10, 1926 – 25 · The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) ·

The Reveal

The story certainly caught eyes; the princess Caraboo’s story gained her national attention and she became a favorite with local dignitaries. She enjoyed her fame for several months, but the very celebrity that gave her such a comfortable life proved to be her undoing. A woman named Mrs. Neale recognized “Princess Caraboo” as none other than her old serving maid, Mary Willcocks (sometimes called Mary Baker in contemporary reports). A (likely embellished) account of the shocking reveal is recounted in this 1924 article:

Mrs. Neale reveals Caraboo's true identityMrs. Neale reveals Caraboo’s true identity Sat, May 17, 1924 – Page 4 · The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) ·

Caraboo's true history as reported by the Exeter Flying PostCaraboo’s true history as reported by the Exeter Flying Post Thu, Jun 19, 1817 – 4 · The Exeter Flying Post or, Trewman’s Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, Devon, England) ·

And so the jig was up. Caraboo’s inscrutable language had been an invention, cobbled together nonsense mixed with real words she’d learned on the road before her arrival in Almondsbury. Her convincingly foreign behaviors had been picked up here and there from sailors and travelers. The man who had “translated” her story had been in on the ruse all along.

The papers had a hey-day repeating the truth of the matter and having a laugh at the gullible Gloucester town. One article, with a bit more sympathy, even joked that Mary Willcocks’ beauty may have had something to do with it:

A jab at the susceptibility of Dr. Wilkinson to the pretty Princess CarabooA jab at the susceptibility of Dr. Wilkinson to the pretty Princess Caraboo Sat, Jun 21, 1817 – 4 · The Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet, and General Advertiser (Truro, Cornwall, England) ·

Life After “Caraboo”

A surprisingly soft-hearted Mrs. Worrall funded her travel to America, where Mary Willcocks seems to have used her fame to garner further attention with some small success. She also supposedly met and became a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte, but that story has never been confirmed.

Mary eventually returned to Europe and married Richard Baker, with whom she had a daughter. She also took up a career selling leeches to a hospital—a job that some found ironic:

Princess Caraboo after the hoaxPrincess Caraboo after the hoax Thu, Jun 21, 1866 – Page 4 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, Kings, New York) ·

All in all, the one-time sensation “Princess Caraboo” seems to have settled down to live out the rest of her fairly normal life—under her real name, this time.

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