Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Sept. 5 2014 1:13 PM

A Late 19th-Century Day-by-Day Commemorative Map of the Mormon Journey West

This pictorial map, printed in 1899, commemorates the 1846-47 route of émigrés from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as they made their way from Illinois to Utah. The map’s particulars are drawn from the journals of LDS elder Orson Pratt, who was with Brigham Young and the smaller detachment of 147 pioneers who first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847.

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Sept. 3 2014 11:44 AM

A Kiowa Photographer's Beautiful, Decades-Long Record of His Community and Family

Horace Poolaw, of the Kiowa tribe, took thousands of photos of his multitribal community around Anadarko, Oklahoma, between the 1920s and 1950s. A selection of his images appears in a new volume,For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw, which accompanies the National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition of the same name. (A few more Poolaw photos can be seen on the NMAI’s website.) 

While many non-Indian photographers of the American West in the 19th and early 20th centuries made images of Native Americans with a variety of goals in mind (commercial exploitation; anthropological preservation; artistic production), Native photographers also stepped behind the camera to document their own communities. Among them, Poolaw left behind an exceptionally complete archive, which represents 20th-century Native life in Oklahoma as a fluid mix of traditional and modern cultures.

Sept. 2 2014 9:31 AM

School-Sanctioned Mid-18th-Century Hazing Rituals at Harvard

This list, from the 1856 book A Collection of College Words and Customs by B.H. Hall, reports the customs governing what we would now call “hazing” at Harvard University in 1741. Hall includes three similar versions of this list in his book under the entry “Freshman Servitude.” (I wrote about another list from Hall’s book—a mid-18th-c summary of fineable student offenses—earlier this year on the Vault.)

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.

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