Beautiful Portraits Reveal An Unseen Side To History
By | July 16, 2021
Portrait of Marilyn Monroe taken by Richard Avedon, considered by some to be the most honest picture of her ever taken
History can only tell one story when it's in black and white, but when it's in color it's as if the past is the present and you're living in it. The following rare photos have been colorized to tell stories that you won't find in history books and to give greater context for important moments in the past.
You may think that you know the stories behind these hard to find photos, but if you look closer you'll find a story behind the story.
From true tales of the Wild West to fascinating stories of humans going above and beyond the call of duty to take care of their fellow man, these photos that have been colorized for the first time will not only inform and entertain... they'll make you feel like you're right there in the story.
Read on and see how colorized photos don't just change history... they make it.
Marilyn Monroe was always in the spotlight. Everything she did, said, and wore was put under a microscope by the press from the moment that she became a star. That kind of scrutiny would be a nightmare for anyone, but for someone as introverted as Monroe it was a terrible burden.
In one of her final interviews Monroe explained that she (and many of her fellow actors) are incredibly shy once the camera stops rolling:
A struggle with shyness is in every actor more than anyone can imagine. There is a censor inside us that says to what degree do we let go, like a child playing. I guess people think we just go out there, and you know, that's all we do. Just do it. But it's a real struggle. I'm one of the world's most self-conscious people. I really have to struggle.
Baseball great Lou Gehrig after finishing his 'The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth' speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4th, 1939
By 1931 Lou Gehrig was already considered to be one the greatest players of Major League Baseball. He had a streak of 2,130 consecutive games beneath his belt and was beloved by Yankees fans across the country. However, he soon grew ill and discovered that he was suffering from ALS as his playing began to deteriorate.
It didn't long for word of Gehrig's "bad break" to spread, and on July 4, 1939, Gehrig addressed a loving audicence at "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" at Yankee Stadium. He said in part:
For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans... When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I'm lucky... I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.
Kids playing in the street join hands in West Harlem, 1946
In the years directly after World War II there was prosperity in the air and joy to be had. The country had bounced back from the economic depression of the previous era and there was a feeling that everything was going to be okay. For once, children didn't have to worry about rationing or a secret attack by the Axis.
In this era the world changed quickly. The suburbs began pop up across the country, luring families away from cities in a short period of time. This left areas like Harlem to fall apart and crumble as the decades went on until New York City finally bounced back in the 1990s.
Mugshot of Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord of the 1970s and 1980s. Medellín, Colombia, 1977
Pablo Escobar was known as "the most dangerous criminal the world has ever seen," but he was also a family man, and a businessman. In the early days of his drug trade he and the rest of the Columbian market believed that cocaine would be legalized by the 1980s. Escobar was wrong about that, but the illegal nature of his product made him incredibly wealthy.
Even though he was arrested in 1977, he managed to get back to his place as top dog of the underworld by the 1980s. That's when cocaine use hit its peak in America and the money truly began to roll in. He finally agreed to give himself up to the government but only after they agreed to allow him to live at his own personal prison - La Catedral.
Aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright gliding in 1902, using a flying machine that predated the one used to complete the historic first-ever controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft in North Carolina in 1903.
The Wright Brothers had been trying to construct a flying machine for years by 1902 when they decided to experiment with the glider seen in this photo. After collecting aerodynamic data they didn't just rush out and build a plane. There was no way to be sure that the calculations they put together with small wings would translate to a larger scale.
Instead, the Wright Brothers costructed a glider to test their data and see if they could figure out how to control where their flying machine was going. This glider has a wingspan of 32 feet and a weight of 117 pounds. Built out of spruce, the glider eventually took to the skies between 700 and 1,000 times with some flights hitting more than 600 feet.
This very sci-fi looking outfit is just one in a long line of innovative protective wear worn by firefighters across the world. The first mask designed to protect firefighters from heat while providing clean air was constructed in 1825, but it wasn't until 1863 that the first self contained breathing apparatus was invented. It wasn't until the first World War that fire fighting gear really became innovative.
During World War I, many fire fighters wore what was referred to as "bunker pants." This heavily padded trousers were initially worn by soldiers who had to fire cannons, the pants protected their legs from shrapnel and hot shell casings. The soldiers who became firefighters after the war brought them along into their new jobs.
Children in line for an Easter Sunday matinee. Chicago. April 1941
Children growin gup in the 1940s didn't have all of the technological advancements of kids today. The one thing they did have was the weekend matinee. All they had to do was bring ten cents to their local movie theater and they were given the keys to the kingdom, or at least a chance to see a few movies, a newsreel, and a big bag of popcorn.
In this era theaters weren't policed all that heavily so it was easy for a kid to stick around the theater all day to see the "kiddie matinee" and the main feature. This was the Golden Age of Hollywood and that means that viewers were getting a chance to see genuine classics. It was a great way to spend a weekend.
A Nihang bodyguard serving in the ruler of Hyderabad's army in present-day India. Circa 1865
The Sikh warriors known as the Nihang or Akali ("the immortals") were known for wearing an outfit made of superelectric blue material and edged iron bracelets that offset their traditional daggers. When these fellows went into full battle mode they carried two swords. They also wore a large chakram around their necks along with an iron chain.
Also known for their high steel inforced turbans that were very pointy, it's believed that the hats could be used to stab someone in close quarters. The Nihang are still around today even if they don't run into battle any more. They often gather at Anandpur where they show off their skills for the public.
Soldiers playing soccer in no man’s land during The Christmas Truce, a series of unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914
No one wants to work on Christmas, that includes soldiers. During World War I many soldiers on both sides of the fight took part in a mutual laying down of their arms for a chance to play another in a nice game of soccer. Aside from gunfire, that's the one language that every culture speaks.
This truce didn't happen everywhere along the Western Front, and in fact Allied and Axis leaders were against it happening at all. That being said, these men deserved a break. The pauses in fighting were necessary to keep the soliders from completely losing their minds.
Albert Einstein in 1921.
Albert Einstein was a struggling genius for much of his life, he even worked in the U.S. patent office to make end's meet. In 1921 his life changed forever when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics for his services to Theoretical Physics. After discovering the law of photoelectric effect the man was a legitimate star in the world of science.
Weirdly enough, Einstein didn't receive the Nobel Prize until 1922 when the Foundation deemed him worth. The Nobel Committee for Physics didn't feel that Einstein or any of the other nominees met the criteria for accepting the award. A year later he was given the award because of... reasons? It's safe to say that Einstein managed just fine without the committee.
Two waiters serve two steel workers lunch on a girder high above New York City. 1930. The men were building the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
When skyscrapers first became a thing the American public was enamored with their construction. How are these monstrosities built? And what did the men who built them do all day aside from hang out sky high?
This photo is obviously a publicity stunt but it looks so cool that it's doubtful anyone cared. Aside from all the dare devil photos that were being taken at the time skyscraper construction was fairly safe. Sure, there were dangers but most men working on these buildings lived to tell the tale. Hopefully these gentlemen enjoyed the five star service of the Waldorf-Astoria even though they were hundreds of feet in the air.
Jackie Robinson, 1954 ⚾
Jackie Robinson changed baseball forever when he became the first African American player in Major League Baseball. This didn't just shake up sports as fans knew it, but people genuinely witnessed a shift in the world when he stepped up to bat for the first time. Whether or not people were ready, Robinson smashed color lines in America.
While speaking about his first game in Major Leage Baseball, Robinson explained that he knew he was a part of a special moment:
At the beginning of the World Series of 1947, I experienced a completely new emotion, when the National Anthem was played. This time, I thought, it is being played for me, as much as for anyone else. This is organized major league baseball, and I am standing here with all the others; and everything that takes place includes me.
Whether you call them newsies, newsboys, or news hawkers, these young men were a vital part of the media in the early years of the 20th century. Newsies were a non-violent gang of sorts who were split into various factions depending on which paper they worked for. Throughout the day the edition that they sold changed as the news mutated and modified.
There were plenty of ways to sell a paper to a person on the street in the 1900s. Some of these boys shouted, "Extra! Extra!" at folks walking by on the side walk, while other even wore a giant posterboard with the day's headlines. By the 1920s, newsies had all but faded from major city streets.
Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin on March 26, 1964
Malcolm X didn't know it at the time, but 1964 would be the final full year of his life. He was assassinated in New York City on February 21, 1965, allegedly by members of the Nation of Islam. However, it's long been speculated that at least one government agency played a part in his final day.
On the day of his death, X was speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. Shortly after he took the stage there was a commotion in the audience. The crowd separated and a man moved forward to fire at the speaker from point blank range.
Children lick a massive block of ice in order to stay cool on a hot day. New York City. July 6, 1912
In the earl part of the 20th century people couldn't just make ice. There were no refrigerators and definitely no freezers to creatre big blocks of the cold stuff for a drink on a hot summer's day. Ice was a true treat for men, women, and children.
In order to actually get big blocks of ice like this companies had to carve it out of a frozen lake and transport it on cargo ships. At the time this sounded like an insane thing to do. On February 10, 1806, the Boston Gazette reported:
No joke. A vessel with a cargo of 80 tons of ice has cleared out from this port for Martinique. We hope this will not prove to be a slippery speculation.
Mugshot of David Bowie after being arrested for marijuana possession following a performance in Rochester, New York
On March 22, 1976, David Bowie was just minding his own business with his buddies (one of them being Iggy Pop) when he had a run in with Rochester's finest. Bowie was busted with half a pound of grass and he was charged with fifth degree criminal possession - which should have landed him in prison for 15 years.
Bowie spent the next few hours after his arrest in the Monroe County jail before paying his bond and taking off. He made it back to Rochester three days later where he plead not guilty. The charges were dropped and he told local reporters that the Rochester police were "very courteous and very gentle... just super."
A crowd salutes the camera, holding up their drinks at a newly-opened bar just after the repeal of Prohibition. Location unspecified. 1933
From 1920 to 1933, the American people went dry thanks to the Eighteenth Amendment. For 13 solid years it was illegal to manufacture, transport, or sell alcohol, but that doesn't mean that everyone stopped. It was the era of the bootlegger.
Even though it was technically illegal to make and sell alcohol Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition says there were still plenty of loopholes for people who wanted to get their drink on. He told NPR:
The first was that it enabled the farmer to preserve his fruit, in Wayne Wheeler's phrase, which is to say, to take the crop, the fruit crop, and be able to save it over the winter, which literally meant to take the apple, turn it into hard cider and the hard cider into applejack. So that was legal in the farm districts across the country.
After the Civil War, the American West was in large part settled by freed slaves who sought to both distance themselves from their past
When we think of the American Southwest of the 18th and 19th centuries the one image that comes to mind is the cowboy. We rarely think about it, but during the heyday of the wild west there were thousands of African-American cowboys riding the range. These men, many of them freed slaves, traveled west to find their fortunes and escape the chains that held them down in the South.
The men who traveled west to find their fortunes were suited to the work of the cowboy because they'd already been doing the work on plantations. William Loren Katz, a scholar of African-American history explained:
Right after the Civil War, being a cowboy was one of the few jobs open to men of color who wanted to not serve as elevator operators or delivery boys or other similar occupations.
Today, the Empire State Building stands as a monument to the greatness of New York City, but in at the time of its construction in 1930 it was simply a part of a competition. At the time, the Big Apple was vying to own the title of "world's tallest building" with The Chrysler Building in Chicago. On April 11, 1931, the Empire State Building became the tallest building for the next 39 years.
Constructuon of this massive undertaking was incredibly safe, even for the 1930s when it was still kind of the wild west of construction. 3,400 workers took on the job, and only five of them perished during the year it took to build. It truly is one of the world's greatest marvels.
Lewis Powell, 21, in a cell onboard a U.S. Navy ship in Washington, D.C. after his arrest on April 17, 1865
Everyone knows John Wilkes Boooth, the assassin of President Abraham Linoln, but few know about Lewis Powell. He collaborated with Booth on Lincoln's assassination and a plot to murder the Vice President and Secretary of State William H. Seward. It was Powell's job to take care of Seward, but he failed to accomplish his goal.
After serving for the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Powell hooked up with Booth and the two conspired to take out the heads of state of the Union. Powell was supposed to stab Secretary of State Seward while he was bedridden from a carriage accident but ended up wounding eight people instead. Powell was arrested three days later when he walked into a co-conspirator's home as she was being questioned by the police. Woof.
Laborers take their lunch break on a steel beam atop the 70-story RCA building in Rockefeller Center
This shot of 11 workers perching on a beam high above Manhattan on their lunch breaks is one of the most well known photos of the 20th century. Taken on September 20, 1932, this publicity photo is genuine, there's no trickery and no Photoshop. It was simply accomplished by a group of brave men who were game for anything.
Strangely, the photographer of this picture of 11 men sitting 850 feet above New York City remains a mystery. In 2012, documentary filmmaker Seán Ó Cualáin attempted to get to the bottom of the top of this shot. While he didn't conclusively name every person in the photo - or figure out who took it - he did narrow the list of people involved down to a number that at least makes sense. It seems for now that this photo will remain a mystery.
Siberian mystic Grigori Rasputin, who gained power in Russia before the 1917 revolution due to his association with the royal family. Circa 1910s
Few men from history are as fascinating as the "Mad Monk" Rasputin. In the early 1900s he rose through the ranks of the Russian monarchy from an aimless priest of his own making to being one of the closest people to Nicholas II. By 1906 he was the closest spiritual adviser to Russia's royal family.
Rasputin went from providing spiritual advice to working as a healer for the family's only son, Alexi. It's said that he was able to heal the boy's hemophilia simply through prayer, although historians believe that nothing of the sort happened. Douglas Smith, author of Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs wrote that Rasputin created a peaceful atmosphere which was all anyone wanted:
Rasputin’s assurances calmed the anxious, fretful mother and filled her with unshakeable confidence, and she, in turn, transferred this confidence to her ailing son, literally willing him back to health.
A carnival barker tries to grab the attention of passersby at a fair in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in 1942
Step right up, step right up, the life of a carnival barker isn't easy. In just a few sentences you've got to get the attention of an audience hypnotized by the lights and sounds of the carnival and then get them to spend their hard earned cash on what you're selling. And you've got to do it all night long.
In the 1940s and '50s there was good money to be made working as a carnival barker. Of course, these guys had to stay on the road for most of the year, making a home out of the two lane black top. Their voices were their money-makers, so smoking and alcohol was a no-no for anyone who wanted to rake in the dough.
A window washer at work on the Empire State Building poses during a brief break from his duties. March 24, 1936
As high rises were growing up and cities were becoming mile high through muscle power, the window washer was king. At the time there were no automated washers, and anyone with an office that looked out across vast cityscape such as the Big Apple wants their view to exist unobstructed. And to those people the windowwasher is king.
For those that dare hang from buildings and get windows as clean as possible it's not just about making big bucks, it's about the adventure. Tony Natoli, the owner of Tony’s Window Cleaning Service in Glendale, N.Y. told the New York Times:
First, the buildings were maybe five, seven, 10 stories. And then I remember going up to, like, 22 stories, where they had these big 10’ x 10’ windows that pivoted open. Those windows used to get my blood going.
A young Wyatt Earp circa 1870, when he was just 21. Earp became famous as one of the toughest lawmen of the Wild West
Wyatt Earp is known as the most aggressive lawman in the west, and his first job in law enforcement came when he was just 21 years old. He took on the role of town constable of Larmar, Missouri, in 1870 and the position only lasted for one year. It's not because he was over being in law enforcement, but because he allegedly misused public funds.
The same year Earp found himself in more trouble when he was accused of being a horse thief. Nothing ever came of that claim and he made his way to Illinois where he worked as bouncer in a brothel. He spent the next few years bouncing around the plains until he made his way to Tombstone, Arizona, in 1879.
Suspected John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before he was shot by Jack Ruby on Nov. 24, 1963
Two days after Lee Harvey Oswald took the life of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, he met his end in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters. Ironically, Oswald was being moved to a more secure jail when he was approached by club owner Jack Ruby. Rube pulled out a .38 revolver and pulled the trigger one time, that was all he needed.
During Ruby's trial he claimed that he was suffering from psychomotor epilepsy from the grief of witnessing Kennedy's assassination. He was found guilty. In `1966, the decision was overturned, but while awaiting a second trial he passed away from lung cancer in Dallas.
President Abraham Lincoln stands on the battlefield at Antietam, Maryland with General John A. McClernand on the right and Allan Pinkerton, his Secret Service chief, October 3, 1862
President Lincoln made the 70-mile trip to Antietam a few weeks after the brutal battle took place. When he arrived at the battlefield he made personal visits to wounded members of the Union and the Confederacy. During his visit he was followed by photographer Alexander Gardner who captured the President's meeting with General McClearnand.
It's believed that Pinkerton's position as cheif of the Secret Service proved to be a mistake. Critics say that he gave too much credit to the Confederate forces and believed them to be more powerful than they actually were. This likely led General McClellan to exercise too much caution when targetting Robert E. Lee's men.
An overhead photograph of World War II's D-Day landings in Normandy, France. 1944
Set to begin on June 5, 1944, the invasion of the beaches of Normandy were pushed back one day because of bad weather over the English channel. Allied soldiers were understandably nervous about pushing the invasion back even 24 hours, but at midnight on June 6 the invasion began. Bridges exploded, railway lines were severed, and any quick way for enemy reinforcements to arrive was shut down.
The worst of the battle occurred on Omaha Beach. Axis Forces were waiting on the cliffs overlooving the shore and they rained down machine gun fire on the U.S. and British militaries. By noon, Allied forces had taken the cliffs but 4,700 men lost their lives.
A boy selling newspapers in London containing reports on the Titanic disaster
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic during its maiden voyage from England to New York City. The ship was carrying more than 2,000 passengers and crew. After striking an iceberg the ship slowly submerged into the water as its inhabitants did everything they could to escape.
In 1912, The Guardian spoke with Philip Albright Small Franklin, the man in charge of the White Star Line office and terminus affairs at International Mercantile Marine Company, and who claimed that the ship was unsinkable. He said:
I was confident to-day when I made the statement that the Titanic was unsinkable that the steamship was safe and that there would be no loss of life. The first definite news to the contrary came in the message this evening from Captain Haddock.
Martin Luther King Jr. giving his famous I have a dream speech in Washington, D.C. 1963
When Martin luther King Jr. stepped up to the podium on the National Mall in Washington D.C. on August 23, 1963, the audience of 250,000 people didn't know that they were a part of history. The people behind the March on Washington Jobs and Freedom thought that about 100,000 people showed up, but they suddenly had the population of a city on their hands. It was the largest demonstration that the United Staes had ever seen.
King's speech did more than become a piece of history that kids have to learn about in school. The speech inspired the Kennedy administration to move forward with the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sadly, President Kennedy was assassinated before he could sign either bill and his work had to be finished by Lyndon Johnson.
An unemployed man holds a sign voicing his frustrations during the Great Depression
Over 10 weeks in 1929 the stock market took a 50 percent nose dive and they didn't stop falling until the 1930s. Things were so catastrophic that by 1932 that one in every four Americans were out of work. Things continued to trend downward and hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes.
Many Americans were forced to live hand to mouth in order to survive. People with families sought out whatever work they could no matter how menial it was. To the people out of work during the Depression if it paid then it was a good day's work.
Inside the Table Bluff Hotel and Saloon in Humboldt County, California. 1889
The interior of the Table Bluff Hotel is a hunter's dream. It's likely that most, if not all, of the animal-themed tables and chairs were built by Seth Kinman, a furniture maker from Humboldt County with an affinity for dressing in furs year round. Kinman made chairs elkhorns and grizzly bear skins, and he gifted them to six U.S. presidents.
When writing about the elk chair that he gifted to President Buchanan, Kinman stated:
This winter I killed considerable meat so I thought I would take it easy and set about to make this cheer with a view of sending it on to Washington for Old Buck. After I got it finished, though, the boys up in our parts thought it enough to travel on; so I thought I would try and go on with it to Washington myself, leaving my mother and four children behind, and started with nothing but my rifle and powder horn. Nobody has yet sot in this cheer, and never shall till after the President.
Men and women stand in an alley known as Bandit's Roost off Mulberry Street in Manhattan. Circa 1887-1890
Taken by Jacob Riis, this photo shows just how dangerous New York City used to be in the 19th century. At the time, Manhattan was filled with ruffians known as "b'hoys" and "g'hals," both words come from the Irish pronounciation of boy and they mean "spirited young person." So spirited were these young people that they were often looking for an action they could find.
B'hoys often wore tall beaver hats or bowlers with curled locks at the temples. Their outfits were incredibly garish, they wore a long frockcoat, a neckerchief, and pantaloons that were cuffed up over a pair of big boots. These weren't guys that anyone wanted to mess with.
A family of migrant workers fleeing from the drought in Oklahoma camp by the roadside in Blythe, California. 1936
As money became tight during the Great Depression many families traveled west to find a better life for their families. "Okies" traveled to California from Oklahoma where they took jobs on farms, ranches, and pretty much anywhere they could find work. Growers took advantage of this glut of labor by hiring workers at a scant rate.
It's still unclear just how many refugees from the south and midwest made their way to California, but it's estimated that nearly 400,000 workers fled west. One former migrant remembers:
Dad bought a truck to bring what we could. There were fifteen people to ride out in this truck, in addition to what we could haul...
New York's Central Park. 1933
Today, Central Park is one of the most gorgeous places to visit in New York City, but in the 1930s it was a hub of homelessness because of the Great Depression. "Hooverville," a shanty town that went up during the Great Depression was named after President Herbert Hoover. He was widely blamed for this economic disparity.
Many of the people who lived in Central Park's Hooverville were large families who camped on the Great Lawn. Others did their best to make a home in the park's empty reservoir. Sadly, the people stuck in this area possessed plenty of skills but there were no jobs available to put them to work.
A pair of African-American troops pose by artillery during World War II, 1944
Some of the most important soldiers in World War II were the African American men who went overseas to fight in an extremely segregated Allied Forces. In 1944, the 761 Tank Batallion worked to liberate 30 Nazi occupied areas, fighting for more than 180 days straight. They weren't the only soldiers who were helping save the world from the Axis.
Matthew Delmont, a history professor at Dartmouth College explained:
Without these crucial roles that Blacks soldiers were playing, the American military wouldn’t have been the same fighting force it was. That was a perspective you didn’t see much in the white press.
When the New York City subway first took off on October 27, 1904, it was an innovative update to the city's transit system. Riders were so bewildered by this new way of travel that they waited in lines by the hundreds to pay a nickel to ride beneath Manhattan. It wasn't just a way to get from one place to another, it was something to look forward to.
Initially, the NYC subway just sped through Manhattan. However, that changed in 1905 when it was expanded to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and finally in 1915, Queens. Today it stretches out across the city and has some 4.5 million riders a day.
A pair of Civil War veterans exchange stories during the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913
Fifty years after the Battle of Gettysburg every veteran who was honorably discharged was invited to a reunion on the great battlefield. More than 50,000 veterans of the Union and Confederate Armies arrived to discuss the battle and squash old beefs. Many of these men were well into their 70s.
Tents were set up to provide a place to sleep for the tens of thousands of men who needed to stay overnight. During the day the men spoke of the old days and took part in singing songs and playing fife and drums. The entire get together was capped off by a dedication of a memorial to the fallen veterans.
Unemployed men gather outside a Chicago soup kitchen owned by gangster Al Capone, 1931
It's an understatement to say that during the Great Depression people were hungry. In Chicago, one person who wanted to take care of those who were suffering was none other than the gangster Al Capone. He founded a soup kitchen in the Second City as a way to clean up his image and it kind of worked.
According to the Chicago Tribune in 1931, Capone's soup kitchen served 120,000 meals a day for free. The gangster was even able to give jobs to some of the men who stood in line for three hot meals a day. Sometimes bad people can do good things.
Al Capone after being arrested as he was trying to enter Miami, Florida. He was caught by city police who were trying to keep the notorious gangster out of the city, 1930
After Al Capone was released from a Pennsylvania jail on March 17, 1930, he made his way down to South Florida for some rest and relaxation. That didn't last long. Two days later the governor of Florida released a statement banning Capone from Florida, which led to orders for state police to bring Capone to the state's border and wish him goodbye.
As if that weren't bad enough, Capone's Miami estate was raided on March 20th on information that the gangster was lodging some of his nasty friends on the premises. When police went into the home the only person they found was the estate's caretaker. However, they did find a couple of bottles of alcohol which gave the officers yet another reason to go after the gangster.
Alfred Hitchcock directing on the set of The Birds, released in 1963
The Birds horrified audiences when it was released in 1963. People wondered if something like that could really happen - but it already had. Two years before the film was released, flocks of confused burds slammed their bodies into homes up and down the Monterey Bay area.
The birds were disoriented by a toxin in pieces of algae that they ingested, causing them to act like bizarre movie monsters. A similar outbreak happened in 1987 to a group of people who ingested mussels in the area. More than 100 people were hospitalized and four diners lost their lives to this bizarre case fit for one of Hitchcock's films.
Mark Twain, or Samuel Clemens if you prefer, was in constant conversation with the starrs. Be was born on November 30, 1835, two weeks after Halley's Comet streaked across the skies. Twain always felt that he was connected to the comet and felt that the next time it swung by our way he would go with it.
In 1909, Twain said:
I came in with Halley’s Comet. It is coming again next year. The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now there are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’
One day after the comet reached its perihelion on April 20, 1910, Twain passed away.
In 1892, Ellis Island opened its proverbial doors to welcome immigrants from across the world. Located smack dab in the middle of the Hudson River, between New York and New Jersey, millions of people passed through this area. Ellis Island's peak years of operation were between 1900 and 1914, but that doesn't mean people stopped traveling through its hallowed welcome center.
In the 1920s, various quotas were enacted to keep too many people from any one country from immigrating to America. The Emergency Quota Act kept annual immigration from any country to three percent, and the Immigration Act of 1924 put an annual limit of 165,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere.In the 1930s, more people were leaving the country due to the Depression than were coming in.
An old German woman walks through the smoking ruins of Berlin after the city was captured by the Red Army at the close of World War II, 1945
By the end of World War II Germany was in ruins. The Red Army had made their way to the heart of enemy territory and did everything they could to destroy the cities and countryside. Young and old Germans alike had to deal with the fallout of their government's decisions, and destruction became a normal part of life.
One man who was a child during World War II describes the visceral feelings of being a child in Germany at the end of World War II:
To this day, many remember the air raid shelters, the bombing raids, the fear of the adults around them... the bombed houses and playing in the rubble... Clear or hazy, many have images of flight, and of the ‘Russians’; they still feel the hunger and taste the chocolate given to them by American soldiers.
The Golden Gate Bridge during its construction in the 1930s.
When construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began in 1933, there was no way that the people of San Francisco could know that they were creating something spectacular. During construction there was a rigid safety code that made sure that the men working in high winds and extreme heights were kept safe. San Francisco didn't want any problems with their bridge.
Some of the safety protocol put in place were ahead of their time. Workers wore "Bullard" hats that were modified versions of what men wore in mines as well as glare-free goggles. Even more exciting, men were given sauerkraut juice to cure their hangovers.
In the first half of the 20th century African Americans moved to Harlem as a way to begin anew. The city was intended to be a place where wealthy white people of New York City moved rather than Manhattan. However, when that didn't happen the landlords of Harlem began renting to African American tenants creating one of the first neighborhoods that catered to people of color.
By the 1920s Harlem was in full swing as a lively and bouyant burrough. As bad as the Depression was on the people of Harlem, by 1943 it was on the verge of a resurgance thanks to the economic boost of World War II. It was a truly wonderful place for a few years after the war until the entire city fell apart.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, leave the Sarajevo Guildhall on June 28, 1914. Five minutes later, they were assassinated
When Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie traveled to Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, they had no idea that it would be their last trip ever. Ferdinand was in Sarajevo to check in on the imperial armed forces in Bosnia which had been annexed by Austira-Hungary. It was this annexatoion that made Serbians furious.
In 1914, Serbian nationals hatched a plot to take Ferdinand out but they had no idea of the lasting ramifications of their actions. When the Archduke and his wife were snuffed out at point blank range as they moved with their royal procession it led Austria-Hungaray to declare war on Serbia. That decision led every country in Europe to take sides, thus beginning World War I.
The earliest firefighters in New York City weren't just focused on putting out flames and getting cats out of trees. They wee jacks of all trades who took care of law inforcement and even told the time for people who needed it. But they were also in fierce rivalries with other firemen.
At the time there was no overarching fireman's union or a group that controlled which squadron went where. Fights between rival firefighters broke out often and in public whenever they were racing to a burning building. It's amazing that all of this fighting was in the name of saving lives.
On the afternoon of December 5, 1933, a long lasting national nightmare came to an end - Prohibition was repealed wiht the 21st Amendment. Years before the amendment came to pass it was obvious to lawmakers, law enforcers, and regular people that it was impossible to keep Americans from buying, selling, and consuming alcohol. On top of it all the country was in the middle of the Great Depression and all sales of alcohol were going straight to bootleggers.
When the Amendment was ratified, President Franklin D. Roosevelt released a statement to the press saying:
I trust in the good sense of the American people that they will not bring upon themselves the curse of excessive use of intoxicating liquors, to the detriment of health, morals and social integrity.
Flood victims line up for Red Cross relief in Kentucky, 1937
The irony of lining up in front of a sign showing off the "World's highest standard in living" could not have been lost on the African American people waiting for flood relief from the Red Cross. Taken in 1937 by Margaret Bourke-White, this photo shows the ennui of people who've lost everything in a moment. It's a horrible feeling to know that there's nothing that anyone can do.
To make matters worse, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression so resources were scarce. There was no coming back from the life altering floods that destroyed more than seventy percent of Louisville, Kentucky, and the people in this photo know it. What a horrible feeling.
Legendary scientists Charles Darwin, best known as the father of evolution
Charles Darwin is the father of evolution, but he was also an incredibly well versed naturalist, biologist, and geologist. When he proposed that every species of life on the planet was descended from a common anscestor people were skeptical. Today, his theory is one of the core tenents of life sciences.
In his correspondences, Darwin wrote about how he came to the conclusion that there was a selective nature to the animal kingdom:
It seemed to me probable that allied species were descended from a common parent. But for some years I could not conceive how each form became so excellently adapted to its habits of life. I then began systematically to study domestic productions, & after a time saw clearly that man’s selective power was the most important agent.
Market in New York City, 1900
The marketplace was a necessary thing throughout history. Even into the 20th century people were still heading out to open air areas like Catharine Market in lower Manhattan to purchase fresh meat and vegetables. At the time there were between 2,000 and 5,000 shoppers a day.
As New York City grew in leaps and bounds so did its markets. In the 19th century the city went from having six neighborhood markets to eleven in order to accomodate the growing population. These markets weren't just a place to go and score everything needed for a meal in the evening, but they were also a gathering place for friends and family.
Poet Walt Whitman in 1868
Walt Whitman was a man of many talents, and while he's mostly known for his poetry he also loved to just kick back and relax. Whitman was obsessed with leading an idle life, believing that man was made to be one with nature. He was one of the first people to actually be a proponent of sunbathing.
In his piece A Sun-bathed Nakedness, Whitman wrote:
Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me ... Nature was naked, and I was also ... Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.
Renowned scientist Marie Curie in her laboratory in France
Without the work of Marie Curie the world of science would be far less advanced than it is today. She and her husband worked diligently to analyze and research polonium and radium. Not only did they isolate these particles, but they created a method for separating them from their radioactive residues.
Many scientists and researchers would be worried about what could happen while separating radioactive residues, Curie knew that she had to do it for the sake of science. While speaking about the scientific push to change and learn new things, Curie said:
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
Hooverville in Central Park at the height of the Great Depression, 1933
When the stock market crashed in 1929 it devastated the entire country. In New York City, a Hooverville or unhoused encampent sprung up in Central Park after the reservoir was drained. This proved to be fortuitious for families who lost their homes in the crash.
There was nowhere for the people of Central Park to go, but many of them were arrested for vagrancy although the charges were often dropped. The people did their best to keep the area clean, and out of work bricklayers even constructed a building with a genuine roof made of tile. Central Park's Hooverville was washed away in April 1933, when the reservoir was once again filled.
The Brooklyn end of the Manhattan Bridge while still under construction, 1908
Intially named "Bridge No. 3" and believed to be "meaningless" by the New York Times, the Manhattan Bridge has become an iconic landmark to everyone in the Big Apple. Construction began on the bridge in 1901, but because of bureacracy and in-fighting it took a solid eight years to finish. By the time this photo was taken the bridge had only had its first temporary wire laid.
When the bridge was finished in 1909, a group of 100 "leading citizens of Brooklyn" walked across the bridge to signal its completion. However, it was officially opened on December 31, 1909. Unfortunately it caught fire on the Brooklyn side after opening and had to be shut down for repairs.
The young son of a farmer walks amid the dust in Cimarron County, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, April 1936
As if things weren't bad enough in America in the 1930s, high winds and nightmare-level dust swept across the middle of the country. States ranging from Texas to Nebraska were covered in a blanket of dust that destroyed crops and choked farmers who already suffering from an economic decline. Many families were forced to leave their homes in search of something better.
By 1934, nearly 34 million acres of farm land was completely ruined the never ending dust storm. Another 125 million acres was losing its topsoil faster than people could calculate. It wasn't until 1939 that there was any calculable rain fall in the Dust Bowl region, but many farmers didn't recover until from this economic blight until the 1950s.
Visitors attend a fair in Klamath Falls, Oregon. 1942
In the 1940s the excitement of a traveling carnival was palpable. For many people in rural areas a traveling fair was a once a year attraction that brought people out from across the region to take part in rides and play fairway games. It was the perfect place for a young person to experience something other than their normal life.
During World War II there was little to look forward to other than news from the front and another day at work. When a fair or carnival rolled into town it was respite from the drudgery of every day life. Young people especially looked forward to seeing a carnival come into town.
Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody with several of his Pawnee and Sioux performers in Staten Island, New York in 1886
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show wasn't just an odd attraction full Native Americans and a stories of the wild west, it was an international sensation. Between 1886, Cody and his crew performed for nearly two million people during their stay in New York City. Everyone in the Big Apple wanted to know just how cowboys ruled the west.
What follows is an actual account of a Buffalo Bill's show on Staten Island in 1886:
About 4 o'clock on Thursday morning the place was invaded by a band of wild Indians accompanied by the great cow-boys. Great alarm and excitement was manifested by the inhabitants until, after a thorough investigation it was ascertained that no cause for such alarm existed, as the savages were part of the great 'Wild West' exhibition and who quietly were landing from the steamer Kill Van Kull, who without taking a single scalp or giving the dreaded war-whoop, betook themselves to the prepared quarters within the Amusement Grounds. Our reporter met one lady who said that she would not now dare to go out of doors after dark, and that she would procure extra bolts and locks for her house, for fear these 'wild injuns' would tomahawk her. Her fears were quieted, however, and the storekeeper lost the sale of a lot of hardware.