The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

July 13 2015 11:41 AM

The Hopeful, Heartbreaking Ads Placed by Formerly Enslaved People in Search of Lost Family

After emancipation, many freedpeople used newspaper advertisements to try to contact their family members. The Historic New Orleans Collection has made available a digital collection of more than 300 "Lost Friends" advertisements that appeared in the city's Methodist Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper between November 1879 and December 1880. The collection is searchable by name or location, but you can also browse advertisements at random. 

Video Advertisement

July 10 2015 12:20 PM

George Washington’s 1761 Ad Seeking Four Fugitive Slaves

George Washington placed this ad, seeking four fugitives, in the Maryland Gazette, on August 20, 1761. At this point in time, Washington, who had been a slaveholder since he was eleven years of age, had just radically expanded the number of people he owned through his marriage to the widow Martha Dandridge Custis. When the two merged households in 1759, she brought 84 enslaved people with her to Mount Vernon.

July 6 2015 5:46 PM

Interactive Map Catalogs a History of Collective Violence Against Black Communities

Here's a map put together by historian Liam Hogan, with help from five co-conspirators. Hogan and his group are trying to track past instances of what they call "collective punishment"—racial violence ("mob violence, riots, and pogroms") meant to terrorize black communities. 

July 6 2015 11:20 AM

The BBC’s Hilarious 1948 Style Guidelines “On Matters of Taste”

Filmmaker Samantha Horley recently posted an image of this set of "Guidelines," which she found among her father's effects, on her Facebook page. Horley told me that her aunt worked at the BBC as a secretary in the 1960s and 1970s; she thinks the page originally came from her aunt's papers. 

July 1 2015 3:02 PM

The Atrocity Propaganda Ben Franklin Circulated to Sway Public Opinion in America’s Favor

Benjamin Franklin wrote and published this hoax "Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle" in 1782, hoping that it would end up in the hands of British newspaper editors, who might reprint articles from its pages. Through these manufactured tales of atrocities perpetrated by Native Americans at the behest of the British, Franklin looked to influence the mindset of the British public as he worked on negotiating the peace treaty that would formally end the conflict between Britain and the new United States. 

June 1 2015 11:27 AM

Can You Name These Famous Landmarks from Their Floor Plans?

Over on Brow Beat we’ve challenged you to name songs from their first second and paintings from small details. But can you identify famous landmarks just by looking at their blueprints? Give your spatial reasoning abilities a workout with our hard but fun architecture quiz.

May 29 2015 1:07 PM

Gorgeous Nature-Themed Stained-Glass Mosaics, Sold to Victorian Builders

In an 1886 catalog, the Belcher Mosaic Glass Company advertised stained-glass windows to late-19th-century homeowners and businesses. Belcher catered to Victorian tastes with these sample designs, leaning heavily on natural motifs. 

May 27 2015 2:35 PM

Advice For Late–19th-Century Rubes About To Visit Chicago

This list of advice for travelers to large cities was reprinted in a Chicago guidebook published in 1888. The list advises rural dwellers, used to life in a place less packed with people, on ways that they could avoid becoming a mark for con men or an annoyance to the more savvy city folk around them. 

May 22 2015 11:31 AM

“Caveat Emptor!”: The First Anti-Slavery Pamphlet Published in New England

Samuel Sewall, a prominent minister and magistrate, published this tract in Boston in 1700, responding to a public controversy over the status of Adam, an enslaved servant held by another magistrate, John Saffin. Saffin had promised Adam his freedom and then reneged on his pledge. Adam contested Saffin's actions in court, and the dispute went on for three years; Adam and his wife finally became free in 1703. 

May 20 2015 11:37 AM

A 16th-Century GIF Tour of the Inside of the Brain

German physician Georg Bartisch's book Ophthalmodouleia, That is the Service of the Eye, published in 1583, includes 91 wood cuts illustrating then-current principles of ophthamology. The Duke University Library's Tumblr recently featured this GIF made from one of the wood cuts, which tours the reader through the skull and brain using a series of flaps that simulate dissection.