The Murder Castle

Herman Mudgett is the worst man you have probably never heard of, unless you happen to be familiar with his alias, H. H. Holmes.

Holmes made an appearance on Timeless this week as the show gave us a peek into the history of the World’s Fair Hotel—or as it would later be known, the Murder Castle. No spoilers about the show here, but you can probably guess from the morbidly straightforward nickname that this story isn’t going to be pretty.
Murder CastleThe Murder Castle was originally just your usual impressive, 3-story hotel. It was built by Holmes in Chicago as lodging for visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair, scheduled to take place a handful of years after construction. But—and this is where things get weird—Holmes filled his hotel with stairs that went nowhere, soundproof and airtight bedrooms, and doors that opened onto walls, among other oddities. He was constantly firing the construction workers and hiring new ones so that no one would know the full scope of his bizarre plans. Once the hotel was built he did the same with his employees, making sure they were in constant rotation to prevent anyone learning about the alarms that tracked guests’ movements, the gas lines in the bedrooms, the sealed up brick room that was only accessible through a trapdoor in the ceiling, or what he called the “secret hanging chamber,” which needs no further explanation.

H. H. HolmesAs you might expect, Holmes used his nightmarish fun house to murder people through hanging, asphyxiation, or sometimes starvation or thirst. Unbelievably, the basement of the hotel was his own personal post-murder medical chamber complete with large furnaces, lime pits and acid baths. He sold his victim’s organs to medical professionals and disposed of the remains, and somehow managed to not get caught doing any of this, for years. The World’s Fair came and went, and still he was not discovered.

He was finally arrested in Boston for another murder that was unrelated to the hotel, and authorities followed his trail back to Chicago. They discovered the Murder Castle, with its horrific rooms and secret chutes, and found human and animal bones and bloody women’s clothes inside.
Holmes's Secrets Coming to LightHolmes was connected to nine murders and confessed to several others. He was hanged for these crimes in May 1896, but it’s possible that during his time as a con man and murderer he may have killed up to 200 people in total. We will never know for sure. Holmes was one of the first documented serial killers, before the term serial killer even existed. And he was entirely unapologetic about it, even until the end.

Holmes' words

Holmes's QuoteIf you’re interested in this bit of history, give it a closer look. The details only get more and more unbelievable. Search for Holmes or his murder hotel on for contemporary or modern accounts.


The Luckiest Day of the Month?

Happy Friday the 13th, everybody!

Today is perhaps the most unlucky of days, the bane of the superstitious. The number 13 is avidly avoided by many in the world, and when combined with a Friday? No thank you.

However, a search on regarding the unluckiness of Friday the 13th brings up a surprising trend of results: people who insist it’s quite the opposite. Here are just a few:

13 Unlucky? Opposite For Some.
Friday the 13th a perfect day for Jerry Myrup
Nothing especially unlucky about Friday the 13th

So go forth and make today whatever you’d like it to be. And good luck!

Find more on Friday the 13th history, opinions and more on



Find: Ads through the Ages

Since about the 1830s, newspapers have relied on advertising to pay for part of their operating costs. This meant that the more ads they ran, the more money they made. As a result, for a long time, newspapers were the main source people used to find out about new products and learn about sales at local business.

Listerine ad, 1957These ads make for interesting reading today, as they give us a glimpse into the products and services our ancestors and more recent family members may have used in years past. And some of those products might be surprisingly familiar, since some things we still use today have been around longer than we may have realized. For example, Coca-Cola has been around since 1886, Cream of Wheat since 1893, Arm & Hammer baking soda since 1867, Jell-o since 1897, Oreos since 1912, Cracker Jack since 1896, and Listerine since 1879.

Take a look at some of these ads from decades past found on Your ancestors may have used these ads to buy the same products you enjoy today!

Find many more ads from throughout history on, either by searching for specific products or browsing through the pages of a particular paper. You might even want to try looking at ads in newspapers from the areas where your ancestors lived to get an even better idea of what types of products they may have used!

100 Years of Resolutions

It’s that time of year again when many people sit back and reflect on goals to accomplish and habits to change. The New Year’s Eve countdown has ended, the confetti and poppers have been cleaned up, and nothing remains but to make the traditional New Year’s resolutions.

This practice of resolving to improve oneself has been around for decades, and thanks to the existence of newspapers we have the thoughts on resolutions from people across time to look back on. Today’s blog takes a gander at discussions on the tradition from the last century.

To start things off, a look at the first ten years of the 1900s.
Argument against New Year's resolutions discussed, 1908
The 1910s saw a surge in appeals to the dignity and honor of humankind (though the jokers were still around, of course):
Advice on Resolutions, 1910

The 1920s came around with a bit more cynicism for the custom::
Resolutions Debated Again, 1926
Writer Fannie Hurst on Resolutions, 1926
On to the 1930s:
Nina Wilcox Putnam on Resolutions, 1933
By now a common thread is shown—each decade had its fair share of people who thought New Year’s resolutions were basically useless. The 1940s were no exception:

Not much changed in the 50s. Other than a few articles here and there on the silly nature of women and wives, the arguments remained the same: either resolutions were good and noble of intent, or they were unnecessary and didn’t work.
Dr. John Nurnberger has seen little evidence of the effectiveness of resolutions, 1957
Argument for the New Year resolution as opposed to any day, 1957
Let’s move on to the 60s, where indifference and optimism do battle once again.
Resolutions display good intentions, Bill Marr, 1968
Make resolutions throughout the year, says Ray Cristine. 1969
The resolution to not make resolutions makes another big comeback in the 70s.
Rona Barrett delivers harsh opinion on New Year's Resolutions, 1971
Dorothy Propp one of many to doubt the lasting power of New Year's resolutions, 1979And what did people think in the 80s?
Morris West doesn't participate, but admires those who make resolutions. 1987
Resolutions do nothing more than make you feel a little better, says Jim Jupp. 1987
Thoughts on resolutions were much the same in the 1990s, with one noticeable difference: helpful articles on keeping resolutions became a lot more frequent:
90s brings about more advice on keeping resolutions. 1991And lastly, some resolutions and thoughts on the practice from the 2000s:
Resolving Not To Fail. 2003
Doesn't really matter much when you start,As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Seems New Year’s resolutions—and their naysayers—are likely to stick around for decades to come.

Find more like these with a search or browse on And let us know in the comments—what do you think of New Year’s resolutions?





U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

January 20 is the 2017 U.S. presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. In preparation for the event, brush up on your knowledge about inaugurations for the country’s highest office:

  • FDR's second inauguration, 1937
    In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to be inaugurated on January 20. Previous presidents (including FDR for his first term) had traditionally been inaugurated on March 4, but the 20th Amendment, passed in 1933, stipulated a January 20 inauguration.

  • The Oath of Office is traditionally administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, though not required. There is also no requirement that it occur in Washington, D.C., or that the president place his hand on the Bible. The only thing prescribed by the Constitution is that the president take the Oath of Office.

  • Chief Justice John Marshall administered the Oath of Office the most number of times: 9 times to 5 men. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney administered it to the most presidents: 7 times to 7 men.

  • A total of four March inauguration dates fell on a Sunday (1821, 1849, 1877, 1917); the swearing-in ceremonies in these cases were all postponed until the next day. Three January inauguration dates have fallen on a Sunday: 1957 (Dwight D. Eisenhower), 1985 (Ronald Reagan), and 2013 (Barack Obama); these three presidents were sworn in privately on the 20th and then a public ceremony was held the next day.

  • The shortest and longest inaugural addresses were given by George Washington and William Henry Harrison, respectively. Washington’s second inaugural address was only 135 words long. William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address was 8,445 words long.

  • Due to a major snow storm, John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade was only possible because of a major mobilization of snow plows and other equipment.

  • Multiple inaugural balls are held throughout Washington, D.C. The new president and first lady make appearances at all official parties.

  • Barack Obama took the Oath of Office four times: twice each time he was elected. He took it twice in 2009 because there was some concern it wasn’t properly administered at the formal swearing-in, so he took it again the next day. He took it twice in 2013 because January 20 fell on a Sunday, so there was a small swearing-in ceremony on the 20th and then the public ceremony on the 21st.

  • 2017 will be the nation’s 58th formal presidential inauguration ceremony.

Learn more about presidential inaugurations throughout U.S. history by searching!

Annie Edson Taylor

On first glance, Annie Edson Taylor seems like your typical matronly schoolteacher. But if you know her name or her history, you’ll know why that isn’t entirely true.

Over Niagara Falls AliveTaylor was, in fact, a schoolteacher. She kept this profession until her infant son died, followed soon after by her husband. Widowed and worried, she moved from job to job in an attempt to secure money for her future with very little luck. With the threat of the poor house hanging over her head she decided to make money another way—by becoming the first person to survive a trip in a barrel over Niagara Falls.

Decision to go over the FallsOctober 24, 1901, saw a calmer river than previous days. It was Taylor’s 63rd birthday. She climbed into the barrel in an “abbreviated skirt,” having instructed the men helping her to stand far off for the sake of decency, and was shortly packed in with pillows. The barrel was closed and observers watched as it bobbed its way to the crest of the Falls and then disappeared.

After the plungeUnfortunately for Taylor, the fame she received after her death-defying stunt did not bring the wealth she hoped for with it. Despite a few tours, posing for photos at booths, an attempt at a book, and a brief mention of a second attempt, she died in 1921 in much the same monetary situation that she’d been in before the stunt. Still, she will always hold the honor of being the first person to tumble down Niagara Falls.

Annie Edson TaylorFind more on Annie Edson Taylor in the pages of, or search or browse for other topics of interest to you.


The Christmas Truce

In December of 1914, thousands of soldiers across the front lines of WWI took part in quite the unexpected event. And unexpected it really was—in early December Pope Benedict XV asked all sides for an official Christmas Truce. The world held their breath, waiting for responses from the major powers.

Pope proposes truceBut the suggested truce was rejected. Not everyone agreed to the cessation of fighting, and the violence was expected to be intense.

truce failsWhich makes it all the more miraculous that on Christmas Eve many of the soldiers spontaneously created their own truces. In some regions German soldiers decorated trees and began singing Christmas songs. When the British troops responded in kind, the unofficial cease-fire began.

Christmas truce in the trenchesGreetings were shared, and soon enough men began to venture out of the safety of their trenches. In some cases there were even gifts, games, and souvenirs. Time was given to bury the dead on each side, common services were held, and most noticeable of all, guns fell silent all around.

One man's report of the Christmas TruceThe truce was not universal. In many places the fighting continued, and for some the hate was too much to overcome. But from all across the Western front came reports of moments like the one mentioned in the article above—silence, smiles, peace.

The most extraordinary Christmas Day imaginable


No such truce was seen again in WWI, despite hopes and attempts to repeat it. But those few moments of peace on Christmas Day 1914 have since gone down in legend, a historical monument to the humanity found in the madness of war.

Find more on the Christmas Truce with a search on






Letters to Santa

Happy Holidays from

Letters to Santa first began regularly appearing in newspapers around the 1880s. Every December since then, newspapers across the nation have published children’s requests for the gifts they want most.

Below are a few letters to Santa from 1916—one hundred Christmases ago. Although the items requested of Santa have changed somewhat since then (not too many kids request fruit and nuts these days), the belief that St. Nick can bring worthy petitioners anything their hearts desire, big or small, remains the same.

“Dear Santa Claus: My little friend Jeff is writing to you and I will write too. I want a cow but be sure she ain’t got no ticks on her because I can’t keep her. Also some fruit and lots and lots of nuts.” –M.C. Goowin

“Dear Santa Claus. Please bring me a Maltese kitten. I would rather have that than anything.” –Helen Slavens

“Hon. Mr. Santa Claus: As Christmas is again coming with all its glory and my heart being wild with anticipation of great pleasure, I earnestly ask you to bring me a pistol such as cowboys handle, plenty of firecrackers, roman candles, and a cracker jack bicycle, as I have lost all childhood foolishness for toys. Goodbye old friend. I wish you a merry and happy Christmas.” –Charles Scott Greaves

“Dear Santa: I want you to come Christmas. We haven’t any mother and you know what we need most. Maybe Santa will send our mamma to us Christmas. If he would, we would be tickled to death to see her. Now don’t forget to come see my papa for he wants to see you.” –Elmer Fryman

“My dear Santa Claus, I wasn’t going to ask you for a doll this year but Charles killed my favorite child the other day—just threw her down and broke her head all to pieces. I cried about it till mother said ask you for another one. I want a big one, Santa Claus, and pretty too. Then I want a stove that I can sure enough cook on and a set of doll furniture for my dining room and a tea set. This is all for my dolls. I want a tricycle and a rocking chair for myself, and a fur set and some gloves and a rain coat. And I want some fruit and nuts and a few little firecrackers that shoot easy.” –Elizabeth Heitman

On, you can read countless letters to Santa from across the decades. You might even find one from a relative! Get started reading more letters to Santa!

Philadelphia Daily News

Content Update

Sample Philadelphia Daily News front page

If you or your family lived in Philadelphia, take a walk down memory lane by searching or browsing the Philadelphia Daily News.

The Philadelphia Daily News was founded in 1925 with the money of William Scott Vare, a candidate in the 1926 U.S. Senate race. When it became evident that none of the existing Philadelphia papers would endorse him, Vare started his own.

From its beginning, the Daily News was an urban-focused, picture-based paper, covering hot news items like celebrities, crime, politics, and sports. Although known for its passionate, gritty reporting and its memorable, sometimes controversial front pages, the tabloid-sized Daily News also boasts three Pulitzer Prizes (1985, 1992, and 2010), among other awards.

In 1957, the Daily News was bought by the publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the two remained sister papers for years, despite several changes in ownership, until, within the last decade, the Daily News became an edition of the Inquirer. In 2011, the Daily News introduced a Sunday issue.

1964 Philadelphia race riot
Explore the last 50 years of Philadelphia history in the Daily News, from the big headlines (like the 1964 race riot, 1980 slaying of mob boss Angelo Bruno, and 2015 visit to the city by Pope Francis) to the smaller news items (like when two babysitters led three kids to safety during a 1970 fire, or when someone was reported to be hanging out of a 25th-floor window in 1965).

And since the Daily News includes plenty of photos, you never know who you might find a photo of, whether it’s the five children of the Crooch family in 1965, three generations of women who volunteered at a local hospital in 1970, or your own family members.

With a Publisher Extra subscription you can access’s collection of the Daily News, which currently includes issues from 1960 to 2016. Get started searching or browsing the Philadelphia Daily News here.

The Mystery Mansion of Los Feliz

Los Feliz Murder-SuicideOn the night of December 7th, 1959, Dr. Harold Perelson murdered his wife. He moved to the next room to do the same to his 18-year-old daughter, Judye, when another of his children walked onto the scene to see what was going on. Judy used the distraction to escape to a neighbor, and by the time police arrived on the scene Perelson was also dead, apparently having poisoned himself. Judye was injured but alive. The two younger siblings were shocked but otherwise unscathed. Harold Perelson and his wife Lillian were gone.
Dr. Harold Perelson murders wife, beats daughterIt’s a strange and grim story, and to this day no one is fully certain of why the doctor did it. A note found in Judye’s car suggests family financial troubles may have been the cause. What we do know is that the rest of the family left the house, a mansion in Los Feliz, and it was sold the following year to a couple from Lincoln Heights, Emily and Julian Enriquez.

To add to the strangeness of the whole scenario, the house then laid in near abandonment—for over 50 years. The Enriquez family may have rented the house for a few months but on the whole it lay empty except for a few cats (cared for by the Enriquez’s son) and the belongings of the Perelson family, still sitting where they’d been left on that horrible night.

Los Feliz MansionAccounts from visitors and trespassers have said that a Christmas tree and still-wrapped presents could still be seen through the grimy windows (though that may have been from renters, as the Perelsons were reportedly Jewish). An 50s-era TV set still sat against one wall, and other original belongings huddled beneath layers of dust throughout the home. More than one person who knows the tale is convinced the place is haunted.

If that’s true, though, it’s for the new owner to figure out. Just this year the house was finally cleared out of its dusty contents and sold again, though whether it’s in good enough condition to be salvaged remains to be seen. The residents of the neighborhood will have to watch out for what happens with the mysterious Los Feliz mansion.

Find more on this story from contemporary and modern articles with a search on