Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

July 16 2014 12:45 PM

A Physicist Eyewitness Sketches the First Atomic Test 

In this eyewitness account of the Trinity test, carried out at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, physicist Luis W. Alvarez documented the explosion from his perch between the pilot and co-pilot in a B-29 flying near the blast.

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July 15 2014 1:20 PM

Those Funny 19th-Century “Reasons for Admission” to Mental Institutions 

Ever since seeing this amazing list, which was billed as “reasons for admission” to a 19th-century mental institution in West Virginia, I've been wondering about its meaning. It seemed too funny to be true. Did 19th-century doctors really commit patients because they read novels? 

July 14 2014 12:31 PM

Reconstruction-Era Marriage Certificates of the Recently Emancipated 

Here are three marriage certificates for formerly enslaved people, out of the many in the records of the National Archives. In their tallies of children borne and notes about separations through sale and military service, such certificates tell small histories of families’ lives under slavery. 

July 11 2014 12:40 PM

The Black List: Public Shaming of the “Lewd and Scandalous” in 18th-Century London

This “Black List,” printed in London in 1706, advertised a catalog of 830 “Lewd and Scandalous Persons” who had been prosecuted in the past year for crimes like prostitution, pick-pocketing, and keeping a “disorderly house.” The key at the bottom of the page attaches a crime to an initial; some offenders have numbers next to their initials, indicating repeat offenses.

July 10 2014 1:30 PM

Photos Show How Workers Crunched Census Data in 1940

The National Archives has a great Flickr set chronicling the taking and processing of the 1940 Census. Here are a few of those images; the whole group adds more detail to the narrative that’s outlined here.

July 9 2014 10:36 AM

The Nifty, Portable Copying Technology Used by Early-19th-Century Letter-Writers 

Most early-nineteenth-century writers looking to make multiples of their correspondence relied on the copying press. But that bulkier technology could not compete for portability with the “manifold writer,” like this one from Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

July 8 2014 1:00 PM

A U.S. Intelligence Agency’s Map of German Concentration Camps, a Year Before Liberation 

This map represents the knowledge that the Research and Analysis Branch of the United States Office of Strategic Services had about German concentration camps in the early summer of 1944. Red circles denote locations of camps, and the prisoner capacity of the camp (“where known”) follows each camp’s name in parentheses.

July 7 2014 12:22 PM

A Thank-You Note From the Amistad Rebels to One of Their Lawyers, John Quincy Adams

This month marks the 175th anniversary of the Amistad rebellion. On July 1, 1839, 53 Africans, kidnapped into slavery in Sierra Leone, rose up to challenge their Cuban captors. Discovered after the ship ran ashore in Long Island, the group was held in New England for two years, while the courts decided how to handle their case.

July 3 2014 11:51 AM

Deciphering Original Pages From the Voting Record of the Constitutional Convention

William Jackson, secretary to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, recorded the convention delegates’ votes in neat columns, alongside the “questions” (or resolutions) that prompted their votes. Here’s one page; the National Archives has digitized six other pages. (While it’s not part of this record, you can seethe page that records the final vote for ratification elsewhere on the NARA site.) 

July 2 2014 11:08 AM

How "You Have the Right to Remain Silent" Became the Standard Miranda Warning 

While the cadence of the Miranda warning that begins "You have the right to remain silent..." is now so familiar that most Americans can recite it by heart, the language, penned by California officials, only rooted itself in American culture when an enterprising D.A. sold these “Miranda warning cards” to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. in the late 1960s.