It’s March 14th, so Let Them Eat Pi(e)!

Welcome one and all to March 14th, the day that has become a celebration of mathematics and dessert known as “Pi Day”:

March 14 is Pi DayMarch 14 is Pi Day Wed, Mar 14, 2007 – Page B003 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Today's the day for pi(e)Today’s the day for pi(e) Wed, Mar 14, 2012 – 23 · Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) · Larry Shaw, father of Pi DayLarry Shaw, father of Pi Day Sun, Feb 22, 2009 – 48 · Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) · Pi Day with Larry ShawPi Day with Larry Shaw Fri, Mar 12, 1993 – 2 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) ·

Happy March 14th, everyone! Find more on Pi Day with a search on

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Boy Swallows Pen Point

This quick summary of a “pen point” incident was found in a 1910 Los Angeles Herald. Wonder if he got out of taking the exam?

Boy swallows pen pointBoy swallows pen point Thu, Jun 2, 1910 – Page 2 · Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) ·

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The Amazing Story of Frances Slocum: The White Rose of Miamis

Young Frances Slocum was just 5-years-old when she was kidnapped from her home by Native Americans in 1778. She was living near modern-day Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in a valley primarily inhabited by the Shawnee and Delaware tribes.

Her father and brothers were working outside when Delaware warriors entered the family home in broad daylight and carried her away.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
July 19, 1941

Her heartbroken family searched for her relentlessly, even offering substantial rewards for her return, but she was gone. Nearly six decades passed without word of Frances. Her heartbroken parents died never knowing her fate. Meanwhile, Frances was adopted into the Delaware Tribe and raised as one of their own. She later joined the Miami Tribe after marrying She-Po-Con-Ah, who would later become a Miami chief. 

Frances Slocum

In January 1835, Col. George W. Ewing was conducting business at an Indian Trading Post in Indiana. Darkness forced him to lodge for the night at the home of Maconaquah, a white woman living among Native Americans. After dinner, Maconaquah shared an interesting story. She remembered being taken when she was young and knew her father’s name was Slocum.

Her story intrigued Col. Ewing and he became determined to reunite Maconaquah with her family. He had the story published in a newspaper, a copy of which made its way to the Slocum family. Frances’s siblings immediately set out for Indiana to determine if their sister was alive. Isaac Slocum, the younger brother of Frances, remembered a scar his sister received when they were playing as children. He wanted to see if Maconaquah shared the same scar.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
November 1, 1971

Tentatively, they reunited. They determined that Maconaquah was really Frances, their long, lost sister! They urged her to return with them, but she didn’t want to. Frances’s desire was to remain with her people. By an Act of Congress, Frances was granted a square mile of land in Miami County, Indiana, where she remained until her death on March 9, 1847.

Her family honored her by erecting a monument and sharing her story. If you would like to learn more about Frances Slocum, the White Rose of Miamis, search our archives!

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The Bell Witch

In the early 1800s, the family of one John Bell was much disturbed by an entity that would later be called the “Bell Witch.”

Bell Witch of TennesseeBell Witch of Tennessee Sat, Jul 14, 1894 – Page 13 · The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States of America) · Betsy Bell sees the Witch in the WoodsBetsy Bell sees the Witch in the Woods Sun, Jul 15, 1894 – Page 10 · Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota, United States of America) ·


The story of the Bell Witch doesn’t appear in papers until 1894, decades after the original incident. A man named Martin Van Buren Ingram published An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch. His (not especially authenticated) account of the spooky tale created the foundation for the legend that survives today.

Antics of the Bell WitchAntics of the Bell Witch Sun, Mar 21, 1948 – Page 89 · The Tennessean (Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee, United States of America) ·


Who was this ghost? Why did they call her a witch? And why did she bother the Bells? The favorite answer to all these questions would have to be Kate Batts:

Witch connected to Kate BattsWitch connected to Kate Batts Sun, Oct 26, 1986 – Page 75 · Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Hinds, Mississippi, United States of America) ·

A Famous Visitor

Whatever her origins, the Bell Witch was the hit of the county. People came from miles away to see signs of her existence and be pranked and pinched by the famous entity. The Bells were said to have even had a visit from none other than Andrew Jackson, future president of the United States.

Andrew Jackson and the Bell WitchAndrew Jackson and the Bell Witch Fri, Jun 18, 1943 – 4 · The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama, United States of America) ·

Interactions with the Bells

The witch seemed to be fond of Lucy Bell, and never bothered her. John Bell, however, found himself the target of her most upsetting behavior. Their daughter Elizabeth, nicknamed “Betsy,” was also frequently pestered by the witch, though mostly in the role of an aggressive matchmaker.

Betsy BellBetsy Bell Sun, Dec 19, 1937 – Page 42 · Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, United States of America) ·

Betsy’s beau Joshua was, for reasons which the witch never explained, disapproved of. She repeatedly told Betsy to break off their marriage plans, which Betsy eventually did. She went on to marry her old schoolteacher, Richard Powell.

But all the witch’s true hatred was reserved for John. When he was found dead, apparently poisoned, the disembodied voice of the witch proudly took credit.

Kate Kate “Bell Witch” hated John Bell Tue, Jan 24, 1989 – 10 · The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, Montgomery, Tennessee, United States of America) ·

With John’s death and Betsy’s broken engagement, the Bell Witch was satisfied. She left the family alone (more or less) after that. But even today she’s said to still be making trouble in her old Tennessean haunts.

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Mardi Gras a Century Ago

It’s a bit of a read, but this article on Mardi Gras from 1894 gives a wonderful sense of the way traditions connect us through centuries. How much has changed, and how much stays the same?

Mardi Gras history and traditions, 1894Mardi Gras history and traditions, 1894 Sun, Feb 25, 1894 – Page 5 · The Times (Shreveport, Caddo, Louisiana, United States of America) ·

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The Flannan Isles Disappearance

In December 1900, something very unusual happened on one of the desolate Scottish islands that make up the Flannan Isles. All three men manning the lighthouse on the largest of the seven islands disappeared without a trace.

The Three Missing Men Behind the Locked DoorThe Three Missing Men Behind the Locked Door Sun, Feb 9, 1975 – 76 · Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa, United States of America) ·

An Empty Lighthouse

Three men manned the lighthouse at one time. In the early days of the newly built lighthouse, those three men were Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald McArthur. A fourth man, Joseph Moore, was due to relieve one of the men in late December following his two-week break.

The first signs of something amiss came on December 15th, when a passing ship reported that no guiding light came from the lighthouse. For reasons of bad weather or convenience, no one went to investigate. It wasn’t until the 26th that a ship finally arrived at the island bearing supplies and Joseph Moore, and the sad reality was discovered.

Mystery of the Atlantic - Lighthouse DisasterMystery of the Atlantic – Lighthouse Disaster Fri, Dec 28, 1900 – 5 · The Courier and Argus (Dundee, Tayside, Scotland) ·

Possible Explanations

The generally accepted explanation goes something like this: the men were trying to secure a crane or aid someone in distress when they were swept away by an unexpected, massive wave. But the unusual nature of the story, and the mysterious clues left behind (often embellished in the papers, of course), led to other increasingly dramatic theories:

Flannan Isles Disappearance theoriesFlannan Isles Disappearance theories Sun, Jul 24, 1994 – 158 · The Observer (London, Greater London, England) ·

Still a Mystery

Unfortunately, the bodies of the three men were never found. The details of what exactly happened to the lighthouse keepers on that remote and stormy isle remain a mystery.

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Love at First Sight

Here’s a little love joke to wrap up the month of all things lovey-dovey:

Love at first sight jokeLove at first sight joke Wed, Mar 7, 1923 – 3 · The Alexander City Outlook (Alexander City, Alabama, United States of America) ·

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The Real-Life Shipwreck that Inspired Moby Dick

A Whale Sinks the EssexA Whale Sinks the Essex Sun, Feb 27, 1916 – Page 65 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America) ·

Some already know this story; those who saw 2015’s In the Heart of the Sea will have even watched it play out on the big screen. But for many, the true and horrific tale of the Essex shipwreck has only been seen in fictional fragments through the novel it inspired, Moby Dick.

Moby Dick ends with a whale-induced shipwreck; the true story begins with one.

The Wreck

Whale sinks a big vesselWhale sinks a big vessel Sun, Jul 4, 1915 – Page 4 · The Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia) ·

Though “Uncle Jack” may be a fictional embellishment in the article above, the shipwreck caused by the whale’s attack was very much real. It took place on November 20, 1820, and was only the beginning of the horrors faced by the crew of the foundered Essex. Twenty men divided themselves between three boats and deliberated on what should be done next. One boat was commanded by Captain Pollard, one by first mate Owen Chase, and the third by second mate Matthew Joy.

Lost at Sea

In a decision that will read as decidedly ironic to those who know the history, the crew decided against the shorter and easier route west to the Marquesas islands for fear of encountering cannibals. Instead they opted to travel east with hopes of reaching South America, though the journey would be twice as long, with currents and winds working against them.

After surviving nearly a month on the provisions they had hastily taken from the sinking Essex, all three boats landed on what they thought was Ducie Island. It didn’t take long to realize the island’s scant resources would not support them for long. They set sail again one week later, though three men opted to stay behind and take their chances on the island. Captain Pollard also left behind a letter with hopes that it would be sent on to his family if the men were recovered.

Three men remained on Ducie's Island (Essex disaster)Three men remained on Ducie’s Island (Essex disaster) Sun, Feb 27, 1916 – Page 65 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America) ·

Dire Straits

This is where the details become especially grim.

The boat captained by Owen Chase was separated from the other two in a squall on January 11th. Two of the men on board perished in the days following; the first was slipped into the sea to rest, but the second was eaten by the starving men who remained. On February 18th Chase’s boat, containing three survivors, spotted a British vessel, the Indian.

Second boat picked up with three survivors (Essex disaster)Second boat picked up with three survivors (Essex disaster) Sat, Aug 4, 1821 – 2 · The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries and South Wales Advertiser (Bristol, Bristol, England) ·

The other two boats were separated from each other not long after. One, with three men still living, was never seen again. The second held Captain Pollard, his young cousin Owen Coffin, and two other crew members. With starvation a very real and looming threat, a difficult choice was made:

Owen Coffin killed to save the others (Essex disaster)Owen Coffin killed to save the others (Essex disaster) Sat, Sep 10, 1921 – 6 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) ·

With the sustenance provided by Coffin and a second man who died a few days later, Pollard and the remaining crewman Charles Ramsdell survived long enough to be recovered by an American whaling ship, the Dauphin, on February 23, 1821.

On April 9th the three men who stayed on Ducie Island (which turned out to be Henderson Island) were recovered, still miraculously alive. Of the twenty men who had sailed away from the wreckage of the Essex, only eight survived. Owen Chase’s account of the experience would be the inspiration for Herman Melville’s famous American novel, along with many other stories and films.

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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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