Highclere Castle: The Real-Life Downton Abbey

This weekend’s release of the new Downton Abbey film will bring fans back to the sweeping grounds and grand halls of England’s Highclere Castle. This stunning edifice serves as the real-life setting of the fictional Crawley home. And if walls could talk, Highclere Castle would tell a few compelling stories of its own—especially about its most well-known occupants: George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife, Almina.

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, setting of TV series Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle, setting of TV series Downton Abbey Sat, Jan 19, 2013 – 44 · The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada) · Newspapers.com

Highclere was almost entirely rebuilt in 1842-1849 on the bones of an older house, which in turn was built on the foundations of a medieval palace. The castle, on it’s 5,000 acres of beautiful park-like land, serves as the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. Here George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon was born. Perhaps his birth was accompanied by the Highclere tradition where 500 gallons of beer are brewed to remain unopened until the heir “attains his majority. (The clipping below refers to the birth of George Herbert’s son, Henry Herbert.)

500 gallons of beer to celebrate the birth of an heir at Highclere Castle

500 gallons of beer to celebrate the birth of an heir at Highclere Castle Wed, Jun 28, 1899 – 3 · The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

Almina Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon

Lord Carnarvon married Almina Wombwell—the illegitimate daughter of millionaire Alfred de Rothschild—on June 26, 1895. Her connections left her with plenty of wealth, which would play a significant role throughout her life. Downton Abbey watchers may recognize Cora Crawley—an heiress who marries into a titled family—is loosely based on Almina. And the similarities don’t end there.

At the start of World War I, just as in the show, Highclere Castle was converted into a hospital.

Lady Almina's funds turned Highclere into a hospital

Lady Almina’s funds turned Highclere into a hospital Sun, Feb 3, 2013 – 59 · The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) · Newspapers.com

But later wealth came, as it so often does, with scandal. In the mid-1920s, shortly after her husband’s death, Lady Carnarvon married a Colonel Dennistoun. Dennistoun’s ex-wife drew the wealthy Almina into a high-profile court case, demanding Dennistoun pay the alimony he owed her from their divorce. The case was splashed across papers for months, and every move Lady Carnarvon made was scrutinized (as seen by the clipping below). In the end, the jury ruled that no payment was required from the new couple.

Lady Carnarvon becomes the subject of speculation following the Dennistoun Case

Lady Carnarvon becomes the subject of speculation following the Dennistoun Case Sun, Jul 12, 1925 – 51 · The Semi-Weekly Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) · Newspapers.com

George Herbert, Earl of Carnarvon

The most sensational story in this history is that of Lord Carnarvon. He was an avid Egyptologist who–with the help of his wife—funded the expedition that would discover Tut’s Tomb. Lord Carnarvon traveled to Egypt in late 1922. He was one of the first in modern times to see it opened, and to enter within.

Five months later he was dead, the victim of a bad mosquito bite gone wrong. But with his recent visit to Tutankhamen’s tomb on everyone’s minds (and with a little help from a certain superstitious author), the idea of a mummy’s curse entered popular culture. And Lord Carnarvon was its unfortunate poster child.

What Killed Carnarvon -- Tut-Ankh-Amen's Curse?

What Killed Carnarvon — Tut-Ankh-Amen’s Curse? Fri, Apr 20, 1923 – 2 · The Preston News (Preston, Kansas) · Newspapers.com

Lord Carnarvon himself may not be directly mirrored in any of the show’s characters, but his love of Egypt is. All of the fictional Lord Grantham’s four-legged companions have Egyptian names.

The history of Highclere Castle is, of course, much longer and more complicated than anything shared here. Perhaps the Downton Abbey film will provide further glimpses into the non-fictional past of its iconic castle backdrop and the real-life people who walked its halls.

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The Surprising Evolution of Pumpkin Spice

Love it or hate it, pumpkin-spice season is here again. But do you know how this autumn flavor got its start?

Let’s head to the historical papers on Newspapers.com to see what we can learn. Click on any of the links in the post to see newspaper clippings that document the history of pumpkin spice!

An Age-Old Combination

1734 ad mentioning nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice for sale (Pennsylvania Gazette, 03.06.1734)
1734 ad mentioning nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice for sale (Pennsylvania Gazette, 03.06.1734)

“Pumpkin spice” is usually a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and/or cloves. Since some combinations of these spices date back to ancient days, for the sake of time, let’s jump forward to the 18th century United States.

By this time, spices were available in the U.S. and were being used in cooking and baking. A 1734 Pennsylvania newspaper advertisement, for instance, shows that spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice were being imported to the U.S. And a newspaper recipe for “soft cakes” from 1825 New York confirms that spices (nutmeg and cinnamon in this case) were used in early American baking.

For the Love of Pumpkin Pie

So it’s clear that the spices in “pumpkin spice” were used together, but where does pumpkin come in?

Americans have been flavoring their pumpkin dishes with spices for a long time. In fact, the first American cookbook (“American Cookery” from 1796) includes a pumpkin recipe that uses mace, nutmeg, and ginger.

But most of all, Americans loved pumpkin pie, and spices were an important part of the flavor of the dish. A 1839 newspaper recipe, for example, calls for cinnamon and ginger in the pie filling.

“Pumpkin Pie Spice” Proliferation

But when did this traditional spice combination become known as “pumpkin spice”?

1933 ad for T&T Pumpkin Pie Spice (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10.20.1933)
1933 ad for T&T Pumpkin Pie Spice (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10.20.1933)

In 1930, a spice company called Thompson & Taylor (T&T) introduced what they called “Pumpkin Pie Spice,” which combined all the spices a home baker needed to make pumpkin pie. Now, as the ads claimed, making pumpkin pies at home was more convenient and the pies themselves would be more consistent in flavor.

The idea of selling a pre-mixed pie spice caught on, and over the next few years more and more companies introduced their own pumpkin pie spices. The mix best-known today, by McCormick, went on the market in 1934.

With an increasing number of companies selling pumpkin pie spices, newspapers were inundated with ads around Thanksgiving time. As newspapers tried to save space, the mix was sometimes referred to simply as “pumpkin spice” instead of “pumpkin pie spice,” as you can see in this ad from 1931.

With pre-mixed pie spices now readily available and convenient, it was easy for creative home cooks in the 1930s and beyond to add it to other foods, from soufflés to cookies to gingerbread. McCormick even briefly marketed a “Pumpkin Pie & Ginger Bread Spice” in the mid-1930s. 

“Pumpkin Spice” Comes into Its Own

1957 ad for pumpkin spice ice cream (News-Messenger, 11.29.1957)
1957 ad for pumpkin spice ice cream (News-Messenger, 11.29.1957)

Around this same time, “pumpkin spice” began appearing in the names of recipes published in newspapers. For instance, based on the papers currently on Newspapers.com, recipes for “Pumpkin Spice Cake” began showing up in newspapers around 1935, though we found a brief mention in an ad from 1934.

From this time on, ads and recipes for “pumpkin spice” flavored foods appeared with increasing frequency in newspapers, and it became well-established as its own flavor in the decades that followed.

But, of course, despite pumpkin spice’s long history, the current flood of pumpkin-spice products can largely be traced back to Starbucks, which first introduced its popular Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003. Spiced coffee has its own extensive history, but Starbucks’ branding of its new beverage as “pumpkin spice” kicked off a trend that seems to have taken over the autumn season. Whether you like it or not.

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What Old Newspapers Reveal about the Last of the Czars

If you were living in 1918 and saw a newspaper story about the murder of the Romanovs, would you have known who they were? How would you have felt about the news if you read it when it first broke?

Thanks to numerous books, plays, movies, and mini-series, most people today are familiar with the story of the Romanovs, the Russian royal family headed by Czar Nicholas II who were brutally executed in 1918, ending the country’s monarchy.

But that’s today. What about back then?

We headed to the historical newspapers on Newspapers.com to help us find out how people living in the United States and Canada at the time of the Romanov executions would have experienced the news of their deaths.

Would people living in the U.S. and Canada have known who the Romanovs were?

While we can’t speak for everyone living in those countries at the time, it’s pretty safe to say that if you were a newspaper reader, you would have known who the Romanovs were.

Since Russia was a world power, its monarch naturally drew the attention of newspapers. People could read about Nicholas II’s personal life, from his marriage, to the births of his children, to his visits to foreign royalty. And they likewise could read about Russian politics under his rule, from the Russo-Japanese War, to civil unrest and revolution, to World War I.

Newspaper headlines announce Nicholas II's abdication as czar (The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 03.17.1917)
Newspaper headlines announce Nicholas II’s abdication as czar (The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 03.17.1917)

There was fairly consistent newspaper coverage of the Romanovs throughout the years of Nicholas II’s reign, with the exception of a few years that had major spikes in coverage. The first was 1905, an eventful year in Russian politics headlined by a revolution attempt and Nicholas’s issuing of the October Manifesto (which promised an elected parliament).

The other two years that saw spikes in newspaper coverage of the Romanovs were 1917, when Nicholas II abdicated and was exiled, and 1918, when the family was executed. The abundance of newspaper coverage about the executions is probably self-explanatory, but the Romanovs’ lives in exile prior to their deaths seemed to fascinate newspapers almost as much.

How did Americans and Canadians back then feel about the Romanovs?

Nicholas II and Alexandra (The Pittsburgh Post, 11.26.1905
Nicholas II and Alexandra (The Pittsburgh Post, 11.26.1905)

Most people likely formed their opinions about the Romanovs based on newspaper stories—the main source of news at the time. So a look at how newspapers were portraying the Romanovs can help us understand how they would have been seen by the general public in the U.S. and Canada.

Nicholas was often portrayed by the American and Canadian press as an inept, weak ruler who was easily influenced by those around him. The more negative portrayals showed him as an arrogant, superstitious despot who cared nothing for the people he ruled, overly dependent on his wife and on incompetent advisors. The more positive portrayals, however, often wrote about him as a quiet family man who had the misfortune of being born into a role he wasn’t suited for.

As for his wife, Alexandra, the more flattering depictions portrayed her as an intelligent and spiritually-minded woman who was a loving wife and mother. The negative newspaper accounts tended to show her as a pro-German sympathizer who controlled her husband and was unhealthily obsessed with mysticism. 

As for the children—4 daughters and a son—newspapers paid the most attention to Alexei (Alexis), the long-awaited male heir. Although the royal family tried to keep Alexei’s hemophilia a secret, rumors of the boy’s poor health still made it into the American and Canadian media. This in turn led to articles predicting that Alexei’s likely early death would spell the end for the Romanov dynasty.

Did people know about Rasputin?

Newspaper interpretation of Rasputin and Czar Nicholas II (The Shreveport Times, 08.16.1914)
Rasputin and Nicholas II (The Shreveport Times, 08.16.1914)

Yes. Rasputin was a controversial, scandalous figure, and controversies and scandals have always been popular news items. News about Rasputin seemed to have taken a few years to reach the U.S. and Canada (he joined the Russian court around 1905, yet didn’t begin appearing in Western newspapers until about 1911). But once he became known in North America, he was a figure of fascination, and his mystical power over Alexandra and Nicholas was widely written about both before and after his murder in 1916. 

How much did people in 1918 know about the deaths of the Romanovs?

Not much—at least, not much accurate information. Because so much was kept secret by the Bolsheviks, news of the Romanovs’ deaths left Russia slowly, and the details that were reported were often far from what we now understand to have happened. This lack of concrete news opened the gates for a flood of rumors and unsubstantiated news.

Article incorrectly reports Romanov family is safe (The Morning Leader, 07.29.1918)
Article incorrectly reports Romanov family is safe (The Morning Leader, 07.29.1918)

Most initial reports indicated that while Nicholas had been killed, his family was still alive—which we now know was not true. Another oft-published item from around that time claimed that Alexei had died from exposure a few days after Nicholas’s murder—also incorrect. Fictitious accounts of Nicholas’s execution also circulated widely in newspapers, as did a plethora of tell-all articles of dubious veracity written by people claiming to have been connected to the royal family. To top it off, every few months articles would crop up claiming that there was a chance Nicholas was still alive.

There were so many conflicting accounts about what happened that even when a somewhat accurate account was published, there was no way for newspaper readers to be able to discern that this particular article was any more or less true than the numerous others.

The mystery of what really happened to the Romanovs lasted for decades, until the discovery of their bodies was made public in 1989. Even today, there are still things we don’t know about the Romanovs’ deaths, but one thing’s for certain: We know much, much more than people did in 1918.

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Disney’s Aladdin: History & Trivia

Today marks the release of Disney’s newest take on Aladdin, an event that never would have happened without the success of its popular animated predecessor. In honor of the beloved original cartoon, here are five fun facts to mildly entertain your friends and family on the drive (or magic carpet ride) to the theater.

Disney's Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin Wed, Nov 25, 1992 – 14 · The Daily Herald (Provo, Utah) · Newspapers.com

1. Aladdin’s character changed significantly during the writing process

Between the initial pitch and the film’s release, almost everything about Aladdin’s character completely changed. His age, his family situation, and even the choice of inspiration for his personality and looks shifted over the course of several years’ work.

Revisions included aging Aladdin up, writing his mother out of the film

Revisions included aging Aladdin up, writing his mother out of the film Wed, Nov 25, 1992 – 26 · The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

Al’s lack of charisma and “on-screen” presence was a recurring problem in early versions. Between the self-assured Jasmine and the scene-stealing Genie, Aladdin had a hard time keeping up. Forunately, he went through several rewrites to make his character a stronger contender.

Early Aladdin drawings meant to resemble Michael J. Fox

Early Aladdin drawings meant to resemble Michael J. Fox Sun, Oct 10, 1993 – 35 · The Herald-News (Passaic, New Jersey) · Newspapers.com

Aladdin and Jasmine

Aladdin and Jasmine Fri, Nov 27, 1992 – 53 · The Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) · Newspapers.com

2. Much of the story was based on the 1940 film, The Thief of Baghdad

The Arabian Nights story of Aladdin is a well-known source of inspiration for the movie we know and love today. But a fantasy film from the 40s about a scrappy young thief, a handsome king, and a (nameless) beautiful princess was also significant to the story. It even includes a deceitful adviser, Jaffar.

Aladdin heavily inspired by

Aladdin heavily inspired by “The Thief of Baghdad” Fri, Nov 27, 1992 – Page 78 · Northwest Herald (Woodstock, Illinois) · Newspapers.com

3. Artistic influences varied, from ancient art to modern caricature

It’s pretty fascinating to see what goes into a movie that, on the surface, can seem like little more than a children’s cartoon.

Inspiration for Agrabah

Inspiration for Agrabah Wed, Nov 25, 1992 – 14 · The Daily Herald (Provo, Utah) · Newspapers.com

Aladdin art influences

Aladdin art influences Sun, Nov 22, 1992 – 54 · Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.com

And here’s a bit of fun trivia about the film’s use of color:

Use of color in Disney's Aladdin

Use of color in Disney’s Aladdin Wed, Nov 25, 1992 – 14 · The Daily Herald (Provo, Utah) · Newspapers.com

Aladdin and his magic lamp

Aladdin and his magic lamp Wed, Nov 25, 1992 – 26 · The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

4. Robin Williams’ star power secured success (against his wishes)

The biggest controversy of the film’s history has to do with its most recognizable talent, Robin Williams. The role of Genie was not just perfect for Williams’ incredible versatility—it was specifically written for him.

Robin Williams Steals the Show (Aladdin)

Robin Williams Steals the Show Sun, Dec 6, 1992 – 20 · The Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) · Newspapers.com

Robin Williams is the no-so-secret weapon of

Robin Williams is the no-so-secret weapon of “Aladdin” Fri, Nov 27, 1992 – 53 · The Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) · Newspapers.com

Williams was happy to take the part; he wanted to be involved in animation and help create something great for his children. Disney agreed to his one request: that they not to use his voice to sell merchandise or prominently feature his character for marketing. You can probably guess (or remember) how that went.

Robin Williams has public falling out with Disney

Robin Williams has public falling out with Disney Sun, Apr 14, 1996 – 21 · Santa Maria Times (Santa Maria, California) · Newspapers.com

All’s well that ends well. After a direct-to-video sequel (The Return of Jafar, 1994) and a change in Disney management, a public apology was made to Williams. The original Genie was back for Aladdin and the King of Thieves, and some Genie-led educational videos to boot.

5. Aladdin broke the record for animation

Shortly after its release, Aladdin surpassed Beauty and the Beast as the highest-grossing animated film. However, it would only hold that record for about two years before being smashed by 1994’s wildly successful The Lion King.

Aladdin becomes highest grossing animated film of all time

Aladdin becomes highest grossing animated film of all time Wed, Jan 27, 1993 – 25 · The Post-Star (Glens Falls, New York) · Newspapers.com

1992 New York Times Review of Aladdin calls it a

1992 New York Times Review of Aladdin calls it a “dizzying, elastic miracle” Sun, Nov 15, 1992 – 120 · The Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) · Newspapers.com

Do you have any fond memories of Aladdin, and are you planning to see the new adaptation? Tell us about it below! Try a search on Newspapers.com to find more on the movie, its influences, and its reception.

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Game of Thrones: Back to the Beginning

As the premier of Game of Thrones’ final season looms, fans are feeling the tension of years of televised build up. The fantasy phenomenon first came to the screen in April of 2011, and it was a hit from the very start.

A Stark Start

Below are some nostalgic clippings from the months following the season 1 debut.

Game of Thrones review following the TV debut, 2011

Game of Thrones review following the TV debut, 2011 Mon, Apr 25, 2011 – 32 · Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.com

Game of Thrones rave review, 2011

Game of Thrones rave review, 2011 Fri, Apr 15, 2011 – G24 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Arya learning to fight, photo from 2011 review of the Game of Thrones TV debut

Arya learning to fight, photo from 2011 review of the Game of Thrones TV debut Fri, Apr 15, 2011 – G24 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Review of Game of Thrones series debut, 2011

Review of Game of Thrones series debut, 2011 Sat, Apr 16, 2011 – D4 · Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.com

Peter Dinklage, season 1 of Game of Thrones, 2011

Peter Dinklage, season 1 of Game of Thrones, 2011 Sat, Jun 18, 2011 – G4 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Eight years later, the clipping below is starting to feel like a game of bingo that’s still ongoing.

Who's who in 'Game of Thrones'? April 2011

Who’s who in ‘Game of Thrones’? April 2011 Wed, Apr 13, 2011 – Page 33 · Philadelphia Daily News (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

One Book Began it All

Of course, the show wouldn’t exist without G.R.R. Martin’s books. The sprawling (as-yet unfinished) series first began nearly 23 years ago with A Game of Thrones, released in 1996. And the story was just as popular in print as it has now become on screen.

A Game of Thrones - 1996 review of series debut

A Game of Thrones – 1996 review of series debut Sun, Nov 24, 1996 – 58 · Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · Newspapers.com

Are you tuning in this weekend, or do you prefer the books? Find more on the decades-long journey of this popular story with a search on 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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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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Mary Poppins Popping Up in Papers

Winds in the east, mist coming in, like somethin’ is brewin’, about to begin. Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, but I feel what’s to happen all happened before. -Bert in “Mary Poppins,” 1964

Mary Poppins is blowing in on an east wind this week in the form of a new film, Mary Poppins Returns. But her tricks and triumphs earned her a place in the land of imagination long before her appearance on the big screen.

Literary Appearance

It all happened once upon a time in 1934. The name “Mary Poppins” popped up in ads and reviews for a new children’s book by the same name written by P. L. Travers. The book’s whimsy and magic didn’t just captivate children, though, as evidenced by the glowing reports.

“Mary Poppins” affecting adults who are “mere children at heart” Sat, Dec 15, 1934 – 15 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

“Let Mary Poppins cure you of your humpy-dumps.” Sun, Dec 16, 1934 – 52 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Poppins Flies into Film

Thirty years after the first book was released, she made her grand appearance on the big screen. A concerned P. L. Travers avoided movie deals for years, worried what might become of her story in the wrong hands. But with the help of Walt Disney, Travers relented. It seems she regretted it later, but viewers did not—the movie was an instant success. (Reluctant fans of all things sweet and charming will enjoy this review, which satirically bemoans the presence of plot, talent, and cuteness in the film.)

The 1964 movie was also Julie Andrews’ screen debut, taken on despite her own nervousness about performing before a camera instead of an audience. She needn’t have worried, of course—her charming performance won her an Oscar for Best Actress in 1965.

Mary Poppins is EnchantingMary Poppins is Enchanting Fri, Sep 25, 1964 – 111 · Daily News (New York, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

The High-Flying NannyThe High-Flying Nanny Sun, Sep 6, 1964 – 103 · Daily News (New York, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Snippets of Success

The success of the movie prompted merchandise, fashion, a musical, more books and a return to “fun shows.” Travers even wrote a story-cookbook, full of recipes that she says Mary Poppins herself would have used.

Mary Poppins Pops into StyleMary Poppins Pops into Style Sun, Nov 1, 1964 – 61 · The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Mary Poppins musical revives Mary Poppins musical revives “fun shows” Sun, Apr 4, 1965 – Page 58 · Green Bay Press-Gazette (Green Bay, Brown, Wisconsin, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Both in words and on screen, Mary Poppins has become a beloved and unforgettable character. This latest film promises to be yet another magical success for her to tuck away into her endless carpetbag.

If you have any Mary Poppins experiences or stories, please feel free to share them in the comments! And for more articles on everyone’s favorite mysteriously magical nanny, try a search on Newspapers.com.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 

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