Russian chemist Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was taking color photographs as early as 1909.
He took this self-portrait in 1915, managing to look old-timey even without sepia.
Stanford University after the earthquake of 1906.
The statue is of Louis Agassiz … who studied geology.
Excerpt from an obituary for stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, published in the San Francisco Morning Call, Dec. 28, 1879:
He was in his day one of the most dexterous and celebrated of the famous California drivers ranking with Foss, Hank Monk, and George Gordon, and it was an honor to be striven for to occupy the spare end of the driver’s seat when the fearless Charley Parkhurst held the reins of a four- or six-in-hand …
It was discovered only afterward that “One-Eyed Charlie” had been a woman, born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst in New Hampshire in 1812. Posing as a man, she had gained a reputation as one of the best stagecoach drivers on the West Coast.
More than that, her name (as Charles Darkey Parkurst) is listed in the Santa Cruz voter rolls for Oct. 17, 1868 — which means she may have been the first woman to vote in the United States.
Bulletproof vests go back to the 19th century, when a special silk vest could stop a round from a handgun.
Archduke Ferdinand was actually wearing one on June 28, 1914 — but Gavrilo Princip shot him in the neck and started World War I.
In May 1502, Portuguese explorer Miguel Corte-Real set out to find his brother Gaspar, who had disappeared somewhere near Newfoundland the previous year. Miguel also disappeared, and was assumed to have died in a storm …
… but no one has explained the inscriptions on Dighton Rock, a 40-ton boulder in the Taunton River in Massachusetts. It was customary for Portuguese explorers to inscribe their nation’s coat of arms as a land claim during the Age of Discovery, so some scholars believe that Miguel reached the New World and survived long enough to stake an early claim in Massachusetts. No other trace of him exists.
In July 1920, two railroad workers found a life jacket on the shore of the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
It bore the name LUSITANIA.
The Gilded Age certainly saw some high-stakes wagers. Twelve years before Harry Bensley settled one bet by pushing a pram around the world, Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky settled another by circling the earth on a bicycle.
Annie’s task, proposed by two wealthy Boston clubmen, was to ride around the world in 15 months, earning $5,000 en route. She saw it as a challenge to make her way in a man’s world, and in 1895 the doughty 23-year-old, who had never ridden a bicycle before, pedaled out of Boston, leaving behind a husband and three children.
She brought only a change of clothes and a pearl-handled revolver, but she steadily earned money by carrying advertising banners and ribbons through cities around the world, starting with the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company, which paid her to carry its placard on her bike and to adopt her nickname.
That spirit carried her through. On returning home, the victorious Annie wrote a series of sensational features for the New York World, beginning with her cycling adventure. “I am a journalist and ‘a new woman,’” she wrote, “if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”
The Chevalier d’Eon (1728-1810) lived the first half of his life as a man and the second as a woman. Until age 49 d’Eon served as a diplomat and soldier in Louis XV’s France, fighting in the Seven Years’ War and spying in London for the king.
But in 1771 he claimed he was physically a woman and asked to be recognized as such. The government agreed, even financing a new wardrobe, and the chevalier spent his remaining 33 years as a woman, participating in fencing tournaments and even offering to lead a division of women soldiers against the Habsburgs.
Doctors who examined him after death discovered that his body was anatomically male.
Idaho means nothing. When Congress was casting about for a name for a new western territory, an eccentric lobbyist named George M. Willing suggested “Idaho,” which he said was derived from a Shoshone Indian term meaning “the sun comes from the mountains” or “gem of the mountains.”
He later admitted that he’d made it up.
This will be an eventful century, if our science fiction writers are right. Here’s what to expect:
- 2008: Jason Voorhees is captured. (Jason X)
- 2012: Aliens begin to colonize Earth. (The X-Files)
- 2015: Time travelers Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrive from the year 1985. (Back to the Future Part II)
- 2019: Former blade runner Rick Deckard agrees to do one more job. Ben Richards is forced to compete on The Running Man.
- 2022: New York City has become overpopulated, with 40 million starving citizens. (Soylent Green)
- 2035: Mankind lives in gigantic underground cities. (Things to Come)
- 2050: Newspeak eclipses oldspeak. (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
- 2052: New York City launches a giant ball of unwanted garbage into space. Experts warn the ball might return to Earth someday, but their concerns are dismissed as “depressing.” (Futurama)
- 2053: World War III. (Star Trek)
- 2062: The Flintstones arrive via a malfunctioning time machine constructed by Elroy Jetson. (The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones)
- 2063: First contact with Vulcans.
- 2084: Dancing is outlawed. Flash, Strobe, Laser and Pyro escape Earth to live on Moon Base Alpha to dance in freedom. (Dancemania)
Oh, and in the late 21st century Superman leaves Earth. Better hurry and get that autograph.
Adolf Hitler produced more than 2,000 paintings and drawings before World War I.
He once described himself as a misunderstood artist.
If you wanted a sucky job in 1898, you couldn’t do much worse than the Tsavo River project in Kenya. The work crew was assembled to build a railway bridge, but it quickly turned into a lion smorgasbord.
Men were regularly dragged out of their tents at night and devoured. The predators evaded traps, ambushes and even thorn fences, but after 10 months engineer John Henry Patterson managed to kill these two enormous maneless lions. By that time they had killed nearly 140 men between them.
And why? Apparently the flesh of railroad workers has a particular savor. The pair had got a taste for it in raiding shallow graves; when they ran out of graves they started going after live game.
The world’s first airmail stamps were issued for the Great Barrier Pigeon-Gram Service, which carried messages from New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island to the mainland between 1898 and 1908.
It was pretty good: The fastest pigeon, aptly named Velocity, made the trip to Auckland in only 50 minutes, averaging an astounding 125 kph. That’s only 40 per cent slower than modern aircraft.
Tug-of-war was an Olympic event in the early 20th century. Gold medalists:
- 1900: Denmark
- 1904: United States
- 1906: Germany
- 1908: Great Britain
- 1912: Sweden
- 1920: Great Britain
(The 1906 “intercalated” games were held to erase the embarrassment of 1904.)
Insulting nicknames of U.S. presidents:
- John Adams: His Rotundity
- Martin Van Buren: Martin Van Ruin
- William Henry Harrison: Granny Harrison
- John Tyler: His Accidency
- James Buchanan: Old Public Functionary
- Ulysses S. Grant: Useless
- Rutherford B. Hayes: His Fraudulency
- Grover Cleveland: The Beast of Buffalo
- Woodrow Wilson: Coiner of Weasel Words
- Warren G. Harding: President Hardly
Before World War II, this photo emerged from Japan — Emperor Hirohito inspecting a fleet of giant tubas, with anti-aircraft guns in the background.
They’re actually acoustic locators, designed to listen for plane engines. Radar made the whole project obsolete.
When Fidel Castro was 12 years old, he sent the following letter to Franklin Roosevelt:
Colegio de Dolores
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba.
Nov 6, 1946
Mr. Franklin Roosvelt,
President of the United States
My good friend Roosvelt:
I don’t know very English, but I know as much as write to you. I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy because I heard in it that you will be President for a new (período)
I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much but I do not think that I am writing to the President of the United States.
If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.
My address is:
Sr. Fidel Castro
Colegio de Dolores
Santiago de Cuba
I don’t know very English but I know very much Spanish and I suppose you don’t know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.
Thanks you very much.
Good by, Your friend,
He added a postscript:
“If you want iron to make your ships I will show you to you the bigest (minas) of iron of the land. They are in Mayari, Oriente, Cuba.”
The Chinese practice of footbinding, popular since medieval times, was banned only in 1911. Young girls’ feet were wrapped in bandages to prevent them from growing longer than 4 inches. By age 3, four toes on each foot would break, often leading to infection, paralysis and atrophy. Some elderly Chinese women today still show disabilities.
On Sept. 15, 1963, at the height of the racial violence in Little Rock, a Miami schoolteacher forwarded the following essay to Dwight Eisenhower. Russell is blind.
How to Stop Trouble
By Leah Russell, age 12
If I were president, I would have all the children blindfolded and send them to school. I would also send some of the colored children and have them blindfolded. I think that all of them would have a lot of fun and there wouldn’t be any fights. Probably after they got to know each other there wouldn’t be any more fights or anything like that.
Eisenhower wrote back, asking the teacher to tell Leah that “she has already grasped one of the great moral principles by which we all should live.”
Stereocard of no man’s land near Lens, France, during World War I.
Just as I was beginning to forget there were such things as trenches and shrapnel and snipers, they told me a horrible story of two Camerons who got stuck in the mud and sucked down to their shoulders. They took an hour and a half getting one out, and just as they said to the other, “All right, Jock, we’ll have you out in a minute,” he threw back his head and laughed, and in doing so got sucked right under, and is there still. They said there was no sort of possibility of getting him out; it was like a quicksand. …
They told me another story of a man in the Royal Scots who was sunk in mud up to his shoulders, and the officer offered a canteen of rum and a sovereign to the first man who could get him out. For five hours thirteen men were digging for him, but it filled up always as they dug, and when they got him out he died.
– Anonymous, Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, 1914-1915
In 1926 the League of Nations recognized a new medical body, the International Board of Hygiene. It’s a good thing they didn’t assign it any responsibilities: The “board” was really a group of drinking buddies who met in a turf bar in Tijuana during Prohibition. San Diego pathologist Rawson Pickard invented a surgeon, “Honorable J. Fortescue,” as a founder, and anyone who attended a meeting became a lifetime member.
Pickard probably imagined his joke would be exposed pretty quickly, but the other shoe never dropped. In response to his letter, the League of Nations recognized the board in a couple of weeks. Soon the nonexistent Fortescue was invited to join the American Conference on Hospital Service, and the U.S. National Research Council included him in a directory of child psychologists. Pickard began to write articles under his byline and answered journalists’ inquiries on his behalf.
The joke kept snowballing. By 1936 Fortescue was listed in Who’s Who in San Diego, including his publications, association memberships, medical studies and travels. He lived in Paris, ostensibly, but his address was given as “The International Board of Hygiene, 1908 Eutaw Place, Baltimore, Maryland.”
That’s it. For years membership of the International Board of Hygiene spread by invitation, but no one ever caught on. Pickard died in 1963, taking Fortescue with him.
Someone ought to check the rest of our luminaries. Do they all exist?
Ronald Reagan received the following letter in April 1984:
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Andy Smith. I am a seventh grade student at Irmo Middle School, in Irmo, South Carolina.
Today my mother declared my bedroom a disaster area. I would like to request federal funds to hire a crew to clean up my room. I am prepared to provide the initial funds if you will privide matching funds for this project.
I know you will be fair when you consider my request. I will be awaiting your reply.
Reagan replied, pointing out a technical problem: “The authority declaring the disaster is supposed to make the request. In this case your mother.” He recommended that Andy launch a volunteer program — and sent his congratulations.
In 1590, England sent an expedition to check on a colony of settlers on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. They found the settlement deserted: 90 men, 17 women, and nine children had disappeared without a trace. A search turned up nothing. The only clue was a single word carved into a post: CROATOAN.
There was a Croatoan Island nearby, with a tribe of that name. Had the colonists been killed or captured? No, there was no sign of a struggle. Had they assimilated peacefully? Then why had they left no clue where they’d gone? Had they moved to another base? Tried to return to England? Starved to death? To this day, no one knows.
Colorful New York gang names, 1825-1920:
- Baxter Street Dudes
- Car Barn Gang
- Corcoran’s Roosters
- Crazy Butch Gang
- Daybreak Boys
- Forty Little Thieves
- Gas House Gang
- Gopher Gang
- Hudson Dusters
- Humpty Jackson Gang
- Italian Dave Gang
- Mandelbaum Gang
- Squab Wheelman Gang
- Yakey Yakes
Slobbery Jim of the Daybreak Boys cut Patsy the Barber’s throat in a fight over 12 cents in 1853. He later rose to the rank of captain in the Confederate army.