Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

April 15 2014 12:00 PM

FDR's Forgotten Instructions for a Simple Funeral and Burial

In December, 1937, Franklin Roosevelt wrote out instructions for his funeral and burial. The four-page document, kept folded in an envelope in Roosevelt’s personal safe in his bedroom at the White House, was discovered only after his burial on April 15, 1945.

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April 14 2014 12:45 PM

The Lincoln Assassination, as Seen Through the Pages of a D.C. Police Blotter

This Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department blotter for the night of April 14, 1865 records the news of the Lincoln assassination in the bottom right-hand entry.

April 11 2014 11:45 AM

Pretty Environmental Propaganda Posters from 1980s China

The great site ChinesePosters.net offers deep thematic coverage of Chinese propaganda posters from the collections of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. The images below are from their collection of environmental posters of the 1970s and 1980s.

April 10 2014 3:00 PM

Newly Digitized Photo Archive Takes a Personal Look at Cesar Chavez and the Farmworker Movement

These photos come from the archive of the photographer Bob Fitch, held by Stanford. Ninety images from Fitch’s 1968-1974 coverage of United Farmworkers Union activism during Cesar Chavez’ presidency are now available in an online gallery through the Stanford Library.

April 9 2014 12:15 PM

Early 20th-Century Spirit Photographs Specializing in Stellar Faked Ectoplasm

While spirit photography, which claims to capture ghosts on film, dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century—William H. Mumler was tried in New York for faking photographs in 1869—the practice has had tremendous longevity. These photos, taken in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, were part of a resurgence of interest in “psychic photography” after the tremendous losses of the first World War.

April 8 2014 11:00 AM

This Spreading Tree Chart Shows the Midcentury Explosion in Uses of Petroleum

Socony-Vacuum Oil Company produced this diagram, meant as a tool to show off the diversity of products made from crude oil, in 1957. The image showcases the industry’s progress by including a comparatively miniature “Petroleum Tree of 60 Years Ago” diagram in the bottom left-hand corner. The visual reference to the familiar family tree conveys Socony-Vacuum’s pride in the oil industry’s reach.

April 7 2014 9:30 AM

Tracking a Slave Trader Through His Expense Reports

Slave trader William James Smith kept these records of his business activities from 1844 through 1854. These three pages show how he tallied some of the expenses he incurred on a trading trip in 1844. (You can see all 41 pages of the Smith ledger on the Flickr stream of Wofford College, which holds the book.)

April 4 2014 10:15 AM

A New York City Firefighting Map from 1834 Will Make You Very Thankful It's 2014

Before the establishment of the paid, professional Metropolitan Fire Department in 1865, New York City firefighting was an all-volunteer affair. This map, printed in 1834, was intended to mark locations of resources and split the city into districts, so that the many small volunteer fire companies could better handle emergencies.

April 3 2014 11:00 AM

Who Was This Kindly Looking Man Who Took Hundreds of Photobooth Selfies in the Mid-20th Century?

An unidentified man took hundreds and hundreds of these small photobooth self-portraits for several decades, beginning in the 1930s. The effect of his series is strangely modern, reminiscent of Web-based projects like Noah Kalina’s “Everyday.” More than 400 of the images stayed together as a collection, and are now on display at Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum.

April 2 2014 12:00 PM

One Sailor's Sketched Memories of a World War II Shipwreck


Artist John Kingsley Cook, a wireless officer in the British merchant navy, sailed for Malta on the ship Empire Guillemot in the summer of 1941. The island held strategic importance for the British war effort, and served as a base of operations beginning in 1940.

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