The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

April 20 2015 1:01 PM

Lists of Types of Mania and Melancholy, Compiled for Early–19th-Century Doctors 

These lists of types of mania and melancholy appear in the 1817 handbook The Philadelphia Medical Dictionary (available on the Internet Archive, via the U.S. National Library of Medicine). 

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April 17 2015 10:00 AM

A Midcentury Map of American Wildflowers

This 1955 map of "The Wild Flowers of Spring," a collaboration between a botanist and an abstract expressionist painter, locates early-blooming American wildflowers geographically. The flowers are numbered and lettered, with common names appearing around the perimeter of the map. 

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. 

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The Best Places Online to Browse Historical Documents From the Lincoln Assassination 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