The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

April 15 2015 11:00 AM

A Book of Eyewitness Testimony Taken Right After the Lincoln Assassination

This unusual book of testimony from the Lincoln assassination is known as the Tanner Manuscript, and was assembled by Corporal James Tanner, a Civil War veteran and a clerk in the War Department. It holds the original shorthand notes Tanner took while hearing witnesses speak on the night of the assassination, as well as the longhand transcriptions he made later that morning. 

Video Advertisement

April 13 2015 12:44 PM

The Best Places Online to Browse Historical Documents From the Lincoln Assassination 

This week is the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the Internet is glutted with commemorations. Because nothing beats looking at primary sources to get a sense of how a historical event unfolded, here are my recommendations of document-heavy websites to browse. 

April 10 2015 11:13 AM

The Complex Series of Symbols Early Motorists Used for Wayfinding 

This tour book, published by the Automobile Club of America in 1910, offered detailed directions for motorists looking to navigate the New York and New England areas. The book used a copyrighted language of symbols to indicate directionality, terrain, and local laws of the road. Its sections are marked with black edging, so that a navigator could thumb through easily on the go. 

April 8 2015 11:54 AM

What Was On a 1920s Membership Application for the KKK?

This application to join the Ku Klux Klan, printed by the Ku Klux Press, was mailed to people whose friends had identified them as good prospects for membership. The application starts with fairly anodyne questions about occupation and residence, moving on to ask whether the applicant believed in white supremacy and "the principles of a PURE Americanism." 

April 6 2015 12:41 PM

The Original Draft of Grant’s Surrender Terms at Appomattox

This week marks the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  After the fall of Petersburg, Virginia, on April 2, 1865, and Richmond on April 3, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia tried to move west to merge with Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, but was blocked by Grant’s forces. Realizing the full strength in numbers of the Union troops his army faced, Lee began negotiating peace terms on April 7. (Here’s a link to the correspondence between Lee and Grant between April 7 and April 9, when they met in person to formalize Lee's surrender.)

April 3 2015 12:55 PM

Punched Timecards of the Insanely Workaholic Thomas A. Edison

The famously productive Thomas A. Edison was 65 in the late summer and fall of 1912, when he punched these timecards in his West Orange, New Jersey laboratory. The cards are viewable in the online collections of The Henry Ford. 


April 1 2015 10:16 AM

A Chart of New Guinea in 1901, When the Island Was Halfway Between Unmapped and Mapped

This map of New Guinea, from a 1901 atlas, shows the extent to which, even in the first years of the 20th century, the interior of the island remained completely unknown to foreign surveyors. 

March 30 2015 11:52 AM

Handprints of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR, Analyzed by a Palm Reader in 1938

In a 1938 book, How to Know People by Their Hands, palmist Josef Ranald included these three handprints of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, analyzing each. His analyses offer an unexpected window into popular perspectives on these leaders' personalities, before the outbreak of World War II. 

March 27 2015 8:27 AM

Photos of Bohemian Partiers in New York’s Greenwich Village, 1910-1920

In a series of photographs taken between 1910 and 1920, Jessie Tarbox Beals documented the parties and get-togethers of bohemian Greenwich Village. Beals also took posed portraits of denizens of the Village, some of which she sold as postcards to curiosity-seekers interested in seeing how the famously "liberated" men and women of the Village conducted their lives. These group shots of gatherings are the most casual of her Village images. 

March 25 2015 12:36 PM

How to Captivate an Audience Using Gestures, From a 19th-Century Oratorical Primer

These Postures and Attitudes were meant for nineteenth-century students to use when practicing speech-giving. Presented as illustrations in Charles W. Sanders' Sanders' School Speaker: A Comprehensive Course of Instruction in the Principles of Oratory; With Numerous Exercises for Practice in Declamation, the figures advised students how to use their bodies to heighten the effect of their delivery.