The Near-Perfect Robbery

This week in history, eleven Boston men commit one of the smoothest and most lucrative bank robberies in history.

FBI Hunts Brink Bandits

The Brinks Robbery

It took almost two years of meticulous planning for the approximately 30 minute robbery to go off without a hitch. No evidence was left behind, no one was hurt, and the group made off with over $2 million—the biggest robbery in U.S. history, at the time.

Named

Smooth criminals

The Crime

The group agreed to leave the money untouched for six years to wait out the statute of limitations on their crime. It probably would have worked if one of the robbers, “Specs” O’Keefe, hadn’t been jailed on another charge. He got antsy about his cut, the group sent a hitman to keep him quiet, and he escaped with both his life and a deal with the FBI.

O'Keefe Admits Part in Robbery

O'Keefe, witness during the trial of the Brinks Robbery in which he participated

Six of the men were arrested with less than a week to go on the statute of limitations. Two more were caught a few months later, and the other two died before the trial began. All were given life sentences except O’Keefe, who received 4 years. Only $58.000 of the 2 million was ever recovered, and the location of the rest has since become a thing of legend.

Find more on this historic robbery with a search on Newspapers.com.

Grand Canyon Declared a National Monument

Grand Canyon

On this day in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt makes the Grand Canyon an official national monument—800,000 acres of it, anyway. That sounds like a lot, and it is—it’s about two-thirds of the canyon’s massive size.

Grand Canyon declared a national monument

President Roosevelt was dedicated to environmental conservation, so much so that he was called the Father of Conservation (though he’s not the only one to earn such a title). Protecting the Grand Canyon with his declaration was just one of many steps taken during his presidency to preserve the landscapes and wildlife he’d admired all his life.

On the Grand Canyon becoming a national monument:

Have you been to the Grand Canyon? Got plans to go in the future? It certainly is a sight to see.

Find more on the Grand Canyon and Theodore Roosevelt’s focus on the environment with a search on Newspapers.com.

Traditions of Christmas

Christmas is here! And with it comes a slew of silly and strange traditions that span the globe. Here are just a few found in the pages of Newspapers.com:

1. The Krampus
Krampus

In recent decades the Krampus tradition has become a little controversial, as parents and others fear that perhaps he brings more fear than cheer during the usually happy holiday season.

2. The Tio
Caga tio: the pooping log

3. The Christmas Pickle
Pickle Ornament

This pickle ornament tradition has been referenced before in a past blog post, which includes many more interesting traditions for your perusal.

4. Zwarte Piet
Zwarte Piet (Black Peter)

Black Peter has been accused of having some racist implications, and like the Krampus (with whom he is often conflated) he is a Christmas tradition many would rather do without.

5. Mari Lwyd
Mari Lwyd

Mari Lwyd 2

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! What kind of fun (or funny) traditions do you have for the holiday season?

Find more articles on Christmas traditions with a search on Newspapers.com.

The Resignation of George Washington

On this day in 1783, with the American Revolutionary War officially at an end, George Washington resigns as commander in chief.

George Washington resigns, 1783

This clipping is the end of his speech, which you can see in full here.

Washington’s resignation put an end to the hopes of many politicians (and citizens) that he would lead the nation as their new king. His retirement from public life was also pretty short-lived; five years later, in 1788, Washington was elected as the first president of the United States.

See more on Washington and the early years of the United States with a search on Newspapers.com.

The Mother of Modern Thanksgiving

Planning to fill up on turkey, mashed potatoes and—of course!—the all-important pumpkin pie tonight? Be sure to save one of your Thanksgiving “thank yous” for Sarah Josepha Hale. Hers isn’t a familiar name, but perhaps it ought to be—it’s because of her that Thanksgiving is now a regularly celebrated holiday, and a scrumptious one to boot.

Thank her for Thanksgiving

Making Thanksgiving a consistently celebrated holiday was just one of her many accomplishments. With her influential standing as editor of the quintessential magazine guide Godey’s Ladies Book, she was able to make a lot of positive change, both in her community and across the nation. And all the while she wrote dozens of books and poems, including the classic, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” 

Sarah Hale

The many accomplishments of Sarah Josepha Hale

Lincoln is often credited (rightly) for issuing the proclamation that officially made Thanksgiving an annual federal holiday, but it was Sarah Hale’s relentless, decades-long campaign full of letters and appeals that pushed the idea from thought into reality.

Cherchez la Femme

Hale also published recipes, spreading the Thanksgiving spirit through one of the most compelling of subjects: food. It is because of her recipes that traditional Thanksgiving dishes like turkey, potatoes, and pumpkin pie are holiday staples today.

Hale's influence

Happy Thanksgiving!

Find more on Sarah Hale and Thanksgiving history with a search on Newspapers.com.

The Ice Aircraft Carrier That Almost Was

Once upon a time, in the midst of World War II, an innovative scientist named Geoffrey Pyke had an idea. It was born out of difficulties arising from what was called the “mid-Atlantic gap,” a wide stretch of ocean traveled by vulnerable UK-bound ships who were too far from the shore for the short range aircraft to protect. They needed an aircraft carrier made from something that was large, could float, and wouldn’t use up the valuable supply of metal.

Something like…ice?

Gigantic Ice Aircraft Carrier

It wasn’t just any ice, however. Pyke found that if you added wood pulp to your ordinary frozen water, it created a stronger, less melty version of the ice we all know and love. It was dubbed pykrete—a clever mix of Pyke’s name and “concrete”—and then this happened:
Ice that didn't melt
And then this happened:
The Habakkuk
Pykrete

But alas, the Habakkuk itself never happened. The idea wasn’t a bad one—it probably would have worked. But in the months it took to build a smaller scale prototype–which held up very well to testing, it should be said—the need for a mid-Atlantic gap ice aircraft melted away and the project was abandoned.

Find more on this intriguing bit of history with a search on Newspapers.com.

The Knitting Spies of War

When it comes to subterfuge, success can often be found by hiding in plain sight. Take, for example, the lady spies who, over the years, communicated secret information through their knitting. They turned knitting patterns into codes, overheard conversations as their needles clicked, dropped stitches intentionally to conceal messages in scarves and hats. It was clever and perfectly concealed by the stereotype that women’s hobbies—especially those of older women—were silly and harmless.

In Molly “Old Mom” Rinker’s case, she found she was able to hide quite comfortably in the role of “old woman knitting” while she spied on British forces during the Revolutionary War.

Old Mom Rinker uses knitting to her advantage

Enough daring ladies took advantage of this method, especially during WWI, that by the time WWII came around, specific precautions were taken to keep knitted codes from slipping through unnoticed (among other things):

Knitting Spies

Find more clippings on these topics and more with a search on Newspapers.com.

Happy Monday!

The weekend is over and the workweek is back at it again. Not a big fan of Mondays? You’re not alone. Here’s a little 1995 article from the Wausau Daily Herald all about the Monday blues and surviving the workweek:

Monday Morning Blues

“Just kind of hope for the best. Don’t expect too much.” – Jim Beem.

Happy Monday!

Find more like this with a search on Newspapers.com.

The Strange Death of Harry Houdini

On October 24, 1926, the famed magician Harry Houdini finished a show, walked off the stage, and collapsed.

Collapses after Stunt, Temperature at 104 Degrees

Details of Houdini's Collapse

The above-mentioned “delay in applying for medical attention” was a span of several days. The exact reasons for his unexpected death haven’t been confirmed, exactly, but it is pretty likely a result of being punched in the stomach after a lecture on October 22nd. Houdini was chatting with some students in his dressing room when one student decided to test his claim that he could withstand any blow to the stomach.

Damage to the Appendix Happened Days Earlier

The student’s blow came without warning, and Houdini, with no time to prepare, found himself with a ruptured appendix as a result. But it was his insistence that the show must go on, as they say, that did him in. He survived for a week after the operation for his appendicitis, but eventually died that Halloween at the age of 52.

But before he died, he is said to have made a promise with his wife. If there was a way to contact her from the Beyond, he would find it. And thus, the annual Halloween Houdini seances began.

Houdini's Post-Death Plan

Annual Houdini Seance

Seances not successful

After ten years of attempting to receive a message from her husband, Bess Houdini finally gave up the effort. She died in 1943. She is pictured below next to a small collection of her husbands things a few days before the October 1936 seance, the final attempt she would make.

Bess Houdini and her husband's

Find more on Houdini’s life, death, and attempts to reach him beyond the grave with a search on Newspapers.com.