Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On August 5, 1926, Harry Houdini successfully performed a variation the Buried Alive stunt that had nearly killed him 11 years earlier.  Houdini was locked inside a coffin and lowered below the waters of the swimming pool at the Shelton Hotel in New York City where he remained submerged for an hour and a half.  The stunt was performed in response to Rahman Bey’s claim to have channeled supernatural powers in order to survive in a sealed casket for one hour.  Having survived the stunt himself, Houdini attributed his own success to controlled breathing. Houdini performed the stunt once more in the summer of 1926 and had planned to incorporate a stage version into his 1927 performance season.  Unfortunately, Houdini died of a ruptured appendix on October 31, 1926.

Harry Houdini, 1926. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

You can find more images of Houdini and other American performers at Opening History.

Read Full Post »

On August 1, 1779, Francis Scott Key was born on his family’s plantation in Maryland.  He studied law at St. John’s College, and it was in his capacity as lawyer that he witnessed the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812.  Key had been aboard a British ship negotiating the release of American prisoners when the British initiated their attack on Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814.  He was retained on board and witnessed the bombardment from the HMS Tonnant where he remained watchful throughout the night for signs that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry.  At dawn he reported to the prisoners below deck that the flag was still there.

Painting of Francis Scott Key, oil on canvas by DeWitt Clinton Peters, 1902. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society via Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage.

Six days later, Key published a poem called “Defence of Fort McHenry” in the Patriot, which he had composed on his return to journey to Baltimore. The poem with written to correspond with the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  Once set to music and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, Key’s patriotic song gained popularity throughout the United States.  Key continued to practice law and write occasional poetry until the end of his life in 1843.  It wasn’t until 1931, however, that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the American national anthem through a Congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Printed broadside of the Defence [sic] of Fort M’Henry [sic], 1814. First printed version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the song by Francis Scott Key. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society via Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage.

You can learn more about the War of 1812 through Opening History, which includes such collections as the Paul Hamilton Papers from the University of South Carolina, the War of 1812 collection from the Maryland Historical Society, and the War of 1812 collection from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

Read Full Post »

SPAM Introduced

On July 5, 1937, the Hormel Foods canned meat product SPAM came on the market. While it remains the target of many jokes, SPAM has been enormously popular since its introduction. Because it was easy to ship, SPAM became common fare for World War II soldiers. After the war, a musical group of 60 women dubbed the “Hormel Girls” traveled the United States to perform and advertise SPAM. The meat remains enormously popular today in Hawaii and Guam, and in 1998 the SPAM packaging became part of the Smithsonian Institution collection.

The Factoria Supermarket in Bellevue, Washington, with a sign advertising SPAM in the window, ca. 1955. Image courtesy of the Eastside Heritage Center

Opening History includes items throughout its collections documenting the history and traditions of food in the United States. In particular, HEARTH (Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, and History) at Cornell University offers a large selection of home economics journals.

Read Full Post »

On this day in 1906, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri and christened Freda Josephine McDonald by her mother, Carrie McDonald.  Homeless at the age of 12, she was discovered dancing on a street corner three years later and recruited to join the St. Louis Chorus.  She is perhaps best remembered for her performances at the Folies Bergères in Paris throughout the 1920s where she danced in her iconic banana skirt and often appeared on stage with her pet cheetah, Chiquita.  Through the 1930s, she rose to fame as a singer, dancer, and actress.  In 1937 she became a French citizen, and as World War II progressed, she shifted her focus toward supporting the underground resistance movement.  After the war, she often returned to the United States where she was active in the American Civil Right Movement, speaking at the 1963 March on Washington and famously refusing to perform before segregated audiences.

Josephine Baker with the Nobel Prize winning political scientist, Ralph J. Bunche, ca. 1960. Image courtesy of the UCLA Special Collections via Calisphere, the Online Archive of California.

You can find more primary sources about activists and entertainers of the twentieth century through Opening History.

Read Full Post »

On May 24, 1976, the “Judgment of Paris” helped catapult California wine to international fame. In a blind tasting that compared a selection of California wines to French wines, a group of mostly French experts gave the California Chateau Montelena chardonnay and the Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon the highest scores. While many of the judges expressed surprise and outrage over the results, and some have questioned the contest’s scoring methods, this single event was hugely important for the California vintners who had struggled to market their wine.

While this event marked a turning point in the recognition of California wine, the state’s industry has actually existed since the 19th century. Opening History offers many collections documenting this long history, including the Anaheim Public Library Photograph Collection  and the California Historical Society Digital Archive.

A view of Stag's Leap Manor, the vineyard that produced one of the first-place winners of the Judgment of Paris.

Read Full Post »

On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany at the request of President Woodrow Wilson, thereby entering World War I and ending a long period of neutrality. While the war in Europe had started nearly three years earlier, Wilson and many Americans were committed to non-intervention. Popular opinion in the United States was split by many factors, especially ethnic affiliations that made it difficult to choose sides in a war so heavily concerned with European politics and nationalism. The German sinking of the U.S. submarine Luisitania in 1915 began to help sway public opinion against Germany and the Central Powers. The renewal of Germany’s attacks on the U.S. naval force and the publication of the Zimmerman telegram, which revealed Germany’s negotiations for an alliance with Mexico against the U.S., helped spur the declaration of war in 1917.

A poster advertising an American war relief bazaar in Nov.-Dec. 1917. Image courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Read Full Post »

Though there is no clear explanation for how Valentine’s Day came to be associated with romantic love, greeting cards, hearts, candy, and flowers, the practice of sending valentines to one’s beloved is known to have gained traction in the late eighteenth century and become widely popular in the nineteenth century.  Today some 190 million valentines are sent each year, and according to the United States Greeting Card Association, teachers receive more valentines than any other demographic group.  The boy in the photograph below appears to prefer his dog, but the GCA has not released statistics on how many valentines are sent to beloved pets.

A boy and his dog on Valentine's Day, 1958. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection, made available via the USC Digital Library.

You can find many more sweet images at Opening History — perhaps you’ll even be inspired to share one with your valentine!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »