Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Aug. 29 2014 12:30 PM

The Testimony of a Laborer Forced Into Peonage in Early 20th-Century Alabama

In this 1903 affidavit, Pat Hill, a laborer from Roanoke, Alabama, described the chain of events that led to his virtual enslavement at the hands of local plantation owner John W. Pace. The plainly written description, sealed with Hill’s “X” signature, shows how local businessmen, law enforcement, and judiciary conspired to enmesh Hill. A series of happenings that began with Hill’s arrest for leaving one job ended with his 10-month imprisonment on the Pace plantation, where he was whipped and locked up at night.

Blacks in the South were often coerced into labor throughout the first half of the 20th century, in a system called “peonage.” Pat Hill was unlucky enough to experience both common modes of entry to the peonage system: First, he was held in a job to pay off an unfairly assessed debt to an employer; then, he was arrested, convicted by a corrupt judge, and forced to work as a convict.

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Aug. 29 2014 10:18 AM

Gorgeous, Creepy Pages From a Late 19th-Century Art Nouveau Occult Calendar

These calendar pages come from the rare book Calendrier Magique, which was printed in France in 1895 in a small run of 777 copies. The book blends Art Nouveau imagery with references to occult ceremonies, horoscopes, and tarot.

Aug. 28 2014 11:11 AM

The Patchwork Maps That Helped Prospectors Track Mining Claims in the American West

These maps were part of a Pocket Mining Atlas, compiled by Edwin Bolitho for the Engineering and Mining Journal and printed in 1880 in New York. The atlas was available to prospectors (or any other interested parties) for the price of a dollar. (The remaining maps from Bolitho’s atlas can be seen on the David Rumsey Map Collection website.) 

Aug. 25 2014 8:00 AM

Photos of 1920s Philadelphians, Hanging Out on Their Stoops

Photographer John Frank Keith wandered Philadelphia in the 1920s, capturing scenes of people in front of their houses. The photographs tightly frame groups of people—drinking, playing, babysitting, hanging out—against backdrops of South Philadelphia brick and concrete. The Library Company of Philadelphia offers a great set of Keith images on its Flickr page, as well as a digital exhibition of his work.

Aug. 15 2014 10:22 AM

The Disastrous Cordon Sanitaire Used on Honolulu's Chinatown in 1900 

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that officials in West Africa plan to erect a cordon sanitairearound areas affected by the Ebola virus. The drastic tactic—a strict quarantine encircling an infected area, allowing no residents to exit—hasn’t been used since the end of World War I.  

Aug. 14 2014 12:30 PM

A Photo Tour of the Flooded Mississippi, 1927

Images of the intense flooding around the United States this week brought to mind this Mississippi Department of Archives and History Flickr set, which collects flood images taken by photographers for the Illinois Central Railroad Company during the Mississippi River floods of 1927.

Aug. 13 2014 2:00 PM

Who Counted as a "Fascist" in Postwar Italy? How the Allies Decided

In June 1944, American soldiers of the 5th Army entered Rome. This memo from the headquarters of the Allied Control Commission, which was intended to help define which Italians should be considered “fascists,” went out at the end of that mont

Aug. 13 2014 11:07 AM

The Ethereal Embossed Pages of a 19th-Century Atlas for the Blind

In the 1830s, Samuel Gridley Howe, an educator of the blind and visually impaired, developed an embossed alphabet known as Boston Line Type. This atlas, printed in 1837, made use of this type to present geographical information for students at the New England Institution for Education of the Blind (later known as the Perkins School for the Blind).

Aug. 8 2014 11:45 AM

Photos of “Soldiers’ Inventories” Showcase 1,000 Years of Fighting Gear

U.K. photographer Thom Atkinson spent nine months working on this project, titled “Soldiers’ Inventories.” In it, he assembled 13 groups of artifacts: the weapons, clothing, and personal effects that British soldiers would have carried while fighting in conflicts from the Battle of Hastings (1066) to the present day.

Aug. 7 2014 2:34 PM

Gorgeous 1914 Relief Maps of Six National Parks

These U.S. Geological Survey relief maps, published circa 1914 by the Department of the Interior, offer “panoramic views” of several of the young national parks. Yosemite (est. 1890); Mt. Rainier National Park (1899); Crater Lake National Park (1902); Mesa Verde National Park (1906); Glacier National Park (1910); and Rocky Mountain National Park (1915) appear in craggy glory, in shaded relief maps illustrating the natural and human-made attractions of the parks.

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