The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Oct. 27 2016 2:14 PM

A Harsh, but Efficient, Form Rejection Letter for Silent Film Screenwriters

Screenwriters sending scripts to Essanay Studios, a Chicago company that produced silent films between 1907 and 1917, received this form rejection letter in response to their submissions. Here Essanay identified several common problems with scripts; some ("Too difficult to produce") were probably more helpful to aspiring writers than others ("Not interesting").

Oct. 21 2016 11:43 AM

Washington’s 1776 Warning to the City of New York: “Get Out While You Can”

In this August 1776 proclamation, printed and distributed in New York City, George Washington asked vulnerable citizens—"Women, Children, and infirm Persons"—to leave the city ahead of the coming conflict with the British Army. The document is currently on display as part of the New-York Historical Society's exhibition on the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes known as the Battle of Long Island).

Oct. 6 2016 2:50 PM

Bits and Pieces of Old New York, in a New Digital Collection

New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission has launched a new website with images of artifacts from its archaeological collections. The site supplements a new physical respository of archaeological finds, located in Midtown. The bones, shards, and bottles in the Archaeological Repository aren't on display for the general public to see (just researchers and scholars, by appointment), so the website is a good way to view the range of artifacts that archaeologists have collected in the city over the years.

Sept. 29 2016 2:02 PM

Lyrical Paintings of Life Inside a WWII Internment Camp

Estelle Peck, a white Californian, married Arthur Ishigo, a second-generation Japanese American, in 1929. Interracial marriages were illegal in the state at the time, so the two went to Mexico to marry; Estelle's family disowned her for the act. When California's Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps in 1942, Estelle Peck Ishigo, who had been working as an art teacher, joined them voluntarily. Estelle and Arthur spent the war at Pomonoa Assembly Center, in California, and then the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, in northern Wyoming.

Sept. 16 2016 1:56 PM

Stark, Spare, Beautiful Midcentury British Safety Posters

This solemn group of posters teaching safety to British citizens comes from the archive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The images are from the Wellcome Library's website; I first saw them on the blog the Passion of Former Days.

Sept. 7 2016 1:31 PM

Salvaged Photos Capture the Rugged Life of Pennsylvania’s Late-19th-Century Lumber Camps

This series of gorgeous, detail-packed photographs, by itinerant photographer William T. Clarke, records the faces and landscapes of the lumber industry in north-central Pennsylvania during the late 19th century. In the span of a few brief decades, lumber companies rapidly processed large areas of old-growth forest, employing men—and some families—who lived in the backwoods in thriving, temporary camps and towns. A book out this month, Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers: A Visual History of Pennsylvania's Railroad Lumbering Communities, collects 131 of Clarke's images.

Sept. 2 2016 2:17 PM

The First British Newspaper in India Was a Hilarious, Irreverent Quasi-Tabloid

Started in 1780 by Irishman James Augustus Hicky, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette was the Indian subcontinent’s first newspaper. The Gazette was a weekly publication, typically running at a length of four pages, with three columns of text.

Aug. 26 2016 1:16 PM

A Nazi’s Documentary Photographs of the Forced Removal of Polish Jews, 1940

Historian Julia Werner discovered this set of photos in the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg, Germany, and they constitute one of the only visual records we have of the construction of an open-air ghetto. Taken on June 16, 1940, by German soldier Wilhelm Hansen, the 83 images (a selection of which can be seen below) track the forced movement of the Jewish population of Kutno, Poland, from their homes to the grounds of an abandoned sugar factory, where they were ordered to set up camp.

Aug. 12 2016 1:43 PM

How One 19th-Century Scientist Recorded the Diversity of Enslaved Africans in Rio

The day after Thanksgiving in 1838, a group of American scientists and sailors docked in the port of Rio de Janeiro. They were the members of the United States Exploring Expedition, and thanks to the detailed notes of one of its members, Horatio Hale, historians can unravel one of Rio’s enduring historical mysteries: the diverse origins of its African slaves.

Aug. 3 2016 1:04 PM

How Left-Handed Penmanship Contests Tried To Help Civil War Vets After Amputation

This eight-page handwritten letter by Private Franklin H. Durrah describes his service as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War, which ended with the loss of his right arm. The letter’s neat cursive—and the story it tells—is part of a collection of entries into left-handed penmanship contests for disabled veterans, recently digitized by the Library of Congress. The William Oland Bourne Papers holds nearly 300 letters, photographs, and various recollections, offering an unprecedented look at the stories of heavily wounded soldiers.