Unearthed Historical Photos That Defy Explanation
By Sarah Norman | September 7, 2023
Skirt Envy! A Curious Italian Woman Inspects the Kilt of a Scottish Soldier Near the Roman Coliseum
This group of rarely-seen photographs from the past will show you snippets of life from days gone by. The strange, the funny, the heartwarming, and the tragic…these photographs offer a never-before look at humanity. From the triumph of human ingenuity to the triumph of the human spirit, these images will both enlighten and inspire you.
Clash of cultures. An Italian woman was so curious about the Scottish kilts worn by these two soldiers that she just had to get a closer look. To her credit, we will say that was very unusual to see men wearing skirts in 1944, especially outside of Scotland. In Scotland, no one bats an eye at a man in a plaid, pleated battle skirt. Traditional Scottish kilts date back as far as the 16th century. The name derives from an old Norse word, kjilt, meaning pleated. Early kilts were plain, but as dying and weaving techniques became more advanced, unique plaid patterns called tartans emerged and were used to distinguish one family, or clan, from another.
A Purrrrfect Day For a Stroll, 1931.
Cuteness overload! A darling little girl is enjoying a stroll around town with her adorable kitten. It is not often that you see a cat on a leash. Cats, by nature, are more stubborn and independent than dogs and are, therefore, harder to leash train. But if you start training them when they are young, like this child has done, cats can get used to being lead around. By the looks of it, this young lady is a responsible pet owner, taking good care of her kitty and making sure he gets plenty of exercise and fresh air.
An 1895 Gown Designed by Charles Frederick Worth, The Father of Haute Couture
This stunning brocade gown from 1895 is a surviving example of the fashion design of Charles Frederick Worth. The English-born Worth reached the pinnacle of Parisian fashion in the late 1800s. Worth began his fashion career as an apprentice for London textile merchants where he developed an understanding of fashion concepts and the qualities of specific fabrics. His designs, which he marketed under the House of Worth brand, featured the use of rich fabrics, such as brocades and satins, and a liberal use of trimmings. Worth’s attention to details and fit made him a favorite among the well-to-do of Europe. Worth is considered to be the father of “haute couture”.
Who Doesn't Love a Good Dog Pic? (1905)
A girl and her dog. This 1905 photograph of a young Swedish girl, Anna Ahlenius, posing with her beautiful dog shows exquisite details of the fashion of the time. The sailor style of dress was very popular at the start of the 1900s and we can see that Anna is wearing this type of dress. The sailor dress featured a pleated shirt that ended above the ankle. It also had wide labels and a faux undershirt of white. A bow or an anchor were added at the neck.
This Old-World-Looking Library was the Cincinnati Old Main Library that was Demolished in 1955.
Cincinnati was once home to a stunningly beautiful library. The towering shelves of books, marble floors, cast-iron catwalks, skylights, and huge windows created an old-world vibe to this building and it was beloved by all the residents. The old main library housed an impressive collection of books and other materials. Sadly, the library was demolished in 1955 after a newer, more modern library was built just a few blocks away. The site of the old main library is now a parking lot.
Check Out Apple’s Touchscreen “iPhone” Prototype From 1983!
Believe it or not, back in 1983, this was considered so modern and state-of-the-art that people swore it would never catch on. A prototype of the touch-screen phone, this version of the Apple product is a far cry from the small, sleek, powerful iPhone we all have in our pockets today. The 1983 version lacked a lot of the features that have made the iPhone a culture-changing device. For example, you couldn’t snap selfies or post to Twitter or Instagram. You couldn’t download apps to play Fortnite, order from Amazon, or submit a Yelp review. Heck, you couldn’t even text.
That's Some Camera That Was Used to Televise the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
When Germany hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, it afforded them the opportunity to showcase their newly-developed broadcasting system. Many of the events were filmed and broadcasted on television, a new media at the time. While the technology was rudimentary, two German companies, Telefunken and Fernseh, used RCA and Farnsworth equipment, like the camera shown here, to cover the Olympics, which became the first live sporting events to be covered on television. A total of 72 hours of live transmissions from the Berlin Olympics were broadcast over the airwaves. Although Hitler was determined to prove that his Aryan race was superior, the televised coverage helped to make the American athlete, Jesse Owens, an international celebrity.
Don't Look Down! Acrobats Performed Atop the Empire State Building During Its Opening Ceremony
When the Empire State Building was completed on May 1, 1931, it officially opened with much pomp and circumstance. President Herbert Hoover, in Washington D.C., pushed the ceremonial button that turned on the lights of the 102 story, 1046-foot tall structure. Then the tallest building in the world, the construction of the Empire State building was remarkably fast, completed in one year and 45 days. It was a marvel of engineering that needed to be celebrated. Street level festivities included food vendors and entertainers, as well as politicians who delivered speeches. But high atop the art deco building, a troupe of acrobats performed death-defying feats.
Just a boy and his rooster posing for the camera back in 1912.
This photograph from 1912 is a bit of an anomaly. Since photography was still in its infancy, it was relatively expensive to have professional photos taken. Most people approached having their photos taken as a formal and serious event. That’s why it is strange to see a little boy, puffing away on a coffin nail, posing for a photograph with his pet rooster.
Leola N. King was the first female traffic cop in the U.S. back in 1918.
In 1918 when this photograph was taken, there were few options for women like Leola N. King who wanted to go into law enforcement. King was technically a police officer, but she was permanently assigned to the traffic division so her duties and responsibility were limited to those of a traffic cop. It took a few more decades before female police officers were permitted to enter other areas of law enforcement and were given more authority, like the authority to make arrests. It was then that women in law enforcement were taken more seriously and given promotions.
Sweet and Sexy Marilyn Monroe as the "Queen of Cheesecake" in 1952
So delicious! In 1952, The Stars and Stripes Magazine named blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe their Queen of Cheesecake Award. The sexy starlet was on the cusp of stardom when she was named the Queen of Cheesecake. Gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper, described Monroe as the cheesecake queen turned box office smash” after Monroe was named the best young box office personality in Hollywood. Monroe relished her role as Queen of Cheesecake. This photograph of Monroe cutting a large cheesecake with a sword, was taken at a party for former Polish diplomat, Michael Gaszynski, to celebrate him becoming an American citizen.
Painting the Eiffel Tower ... Not A Job For the Faint of Heart!
One of the most recognizable structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was built between 1887 and 1889 and was originally designed to be the grand entryway into the 1889 World’s fair. Today, it is the most visited monument in the world. The Eiffel Tower is 1, 063 feet tall…roughly equivalent to an 81-story building. As part of the regular upkeep of the structure, it is periodically painted. This photo shows workers in 1932 painting the structure from dizzying heights. This is certainly no job for the faint of heart!
The Evolution of the Bat Signal
The Bat Signal is one of the iconic symbols of the DC Comics superhero, Batman. The Bat Signal, which, as this illustration shows, has gone through several revisions, is the way that the Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon alerts the Caped Crusader to trouble in the city. Batman made his debut in 1939 and was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. What makes Batman unique among superheroes is that he does not possess any super powers. He battles his enemies using his strength, intelligence, deductive reasoning powers, cutting-edge technology, and wealth.
The Quarrymen of 1957 Morphed Into The Beatles in 1960.
Before the Beatles, there was the Quarrymen. A British rock n roll band founded by John Lennon in 1956 in Liverpool, the Quarrymen took their name from their local high school, Quarry Bank High School. The band played local high school dances and parties in 1956 and 1957. Paul McCartney joined the group in 1957 and George Harrison joined a few months later, in early 1958. By the start of the 1960s, the members decided to change their name to the Beatles. They replaced Pete Best with Ringo Starr and signed a recording contract. The Beatles skyrocketed to superstardom and international acclaim.
A Resume on a Sandwich Board in the 1930s.
The Great Depression of the 1930s created unprecedented unemployment across the country. As more and more able-bodied men found themselves without a job and without and income, many took desperate measures to find employment. Government assistance programs were in their infancy and most people were too proud to seek hand-outs from the government. Instead, they did whatever odd jobs came their way while seeing permanent employment. This man is wearing a sandwich board promoting his skills and needs in hopes that someone will offer him a job.
All This Little Girl Needs is Quarter for the Pay Phone and Boost From Her Friend
This sweet little boy is giving his friend a boost so she can make a call using a pay phone. For his sake, we hope it is a quick call! It was once possible to find pay phones on nearly every street corner and all around public places. Pay phones were the only way to stay in contact with others when you are away from home up until recent years. With the widespread popularity of mobile cell phones in the last generation, the need for pay phones has greatly declined. Today, it is rare to see one.
The Titanic Had an On Board Gym, Complete with a Rowing Machine
In addition to lavish dining and opulent ballrooms and grand staterooms, the Titanic also featured an onboard gym so passengers could work out and stay fit on their trans-Atlantic crossing. Among the exercise equipment was a rowing machine that this gentleman is using. We hope that all the rowing experience helped him when the massive luxury liner struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912 and sank to the bottom of the ocean, killing 1,503 people. The ship, which sank on its maiden voyage, had only enough lifeboats for less than half of the passengers.
Traveling in Style in the 1950s.
Passengers on the Union Pacific Streamliner trains of the 1950s knew how to travel in style. Spacious, comfortable, and elegant, the passengers had room to move around. They rode to their destination while surrounded by stylish furniture and décor. Rail travel still exists in the United States, but has largely been replaced by air travel. Even first class airline passengers don’t have as much space and opulence as the fifties train passenger. Traveling coach on today’s airplanes is a crowded experience which makes us all nostalgic for the 1950’s mode of transportation.
A Female Chimney Sweep Could Fit Better into Tight Spaces
Because burning coal or wood in a fireplace was the only way to heat a home in the past, it was important to maintain the chimney to make sure it is free of build up and debris that can cause fires. The job of cleaning chimneys fell to chimney sweeps. Being a chimney sweep was a dirty and dangerous job. Chimney were tight spaces so small children, primarily orphans, and women were often used to fit into the chimney with their brushes. This woman, a female chimney sweep in Berlin in 1910, probably faced long-term exposure to soot and ash that caused severe respiratory illnesses and the daily potential for fatal falls.
Even Stonehenge Needs a Groundskeeper
Rising above the Salisbury Plains in England, the megalithic rocks of Stonehenge form a complex prehistoric monument that is visited by thousands of people each year. The site, which is listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, is owned by the Crown and maintained by the English Heritage Society. Among their responsibilities is keeping the site clean and cleared of debris so that the tourists who flock to the site have an enjoyable experience. That is why this groundskeeper in 1955 is working to keep the grass neatly trimmed.
Who Wouldn't Want to Live on this Peaceful Island?
You might not want to when you know the history of this picturesque island. This tiny, square, man-made island in Lake Steinhude, the largest lake in northwestern Germany, was a military fortress. It was built in the 18th century by ferrying large rocks on fishing boats to the site and placed under the water to form the foundation of this artificial island. In 1765, the spot was commandeered by William, Count of Schaumburg-Lippe who sought to create an impenetrable fortress in the heart of Germany. A few years later, in 1772, the Steinhuder Hecht, Germany’s first submarine, was built on the island.
A Bird's Eye View of Woodstock Festival in 1969.
Now that’s a lot of people! It was certainly more than dairy farmer, Max Yasgur imagined when he agreed to allow a three-day music festival on is 600-acre farm near White Lake, New York, in 1969. Most estimates state that there were a half a million people in attendance to watch such performers as The Grateful Dead, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin entertain the crowds. Because the festival promoters were not anticipating that many people to come to Woodstock, there was inadequate bathroom facilities, campgrounds, and safety provisions. Still, the August 15-17 event was a pivotal moment in the country’s counterculture movement.
Who Knew that the Girl on the Left in This 1915 Photo Would Have a Profound Impact on the World?
The young girl on the left is Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. At the age of 18, she entered the convent and became a Roman Catholic nun. But not just any nun. She became Mother Teresa, perhaps the most well-known Catholic nun of the modern era. She served in her native Macedonia before travelling to Ireland and then to India. It was in India where she found her calling. She founded the Missionaries of Charity and worked with more than 4,500 nuns in 133 countries on behalf of people suffering from AIDS, tuberculosis, leprosy, and extreme poverty. She opened soup kitchens, schools, hospitals, and orphanages. For her work, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was canonized after her death in 1997.
From Decorated War Hero to Actor, Audie Murphy Did it All!
Audie Murphy should be in the running for The Most Interesting Man award. At age 16, Murphy joined the Army right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, using falsified documents claiming he was older than he actually was. He enjoyed a distinguished military career and became the more decorated American combat soldier of World War II. He even received awards from other countries’ militaries, such and French and Belgian, honoring his heroism. After the war, he entered show business. In 1955 he played himself in the film, To Hell and Back, based on his own memoirs. He also appeared in westerns and on television variety shows. He earned praise for the songs that he wrote as well.
Everett Holt Shoveled a Record-Breaking 16 Tons of Coal in 1925, Winning a Contest and Inspiring a Song
Everett Holt shoveled, by hand, 16 tons of coal to win a contest back in 1925. According to Holt family lore, the incident served as the inspiration for the Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons”, which was released in July of 1947. Ford was not the author of the song, however. It was penned by Merle Travis and based on his experiences growing up in a coal mining community. It is possible that Travis was aware of the exploits of Everett Holt. It is known that two of the lines from the song were lifted from letters sent to Travis. One from written by his brother, John, and in it, he wrote “You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” Another line came from Travis’ father, who wrote in a letter to him, “I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.”
Taking an x-ray in 1942.
X-ray technology was first developed after 1895 when the German physicist Wilhelm Rontgen began studying them. In fact, he is credited with naming them x-rays, x symbolizing an unknown. Rontgen learned that the x-rays could be used to peer into the human body to detect broken bones and other abnormalities. Soon hospitals and doctors’ offices were equipped with x-ray machines to aid in diagnosing patients. This wide-eyed tot is about to get his first x-ray in this image taken in 1942.
The beautiful castle of Schloss Neushwanstein in Germany, 1925.
This beautiful, fairy tale castle is the Schloss Neushwanstein Castle in Germany. It was built on a rocky outcropping above the city of Hohenscheangua in southwest Bavaria, Germany. It has been open to the public since 1886 and attracts more than a million and a half visitors every year. Work on the construction of the castle started on September 5, 1872 with the laying of the cornerstone. By 1882, the fabulous building was completed. It was intended to be the personal retreat of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who paid for the castle out of his own pocket rather than using public funds. Upon his death in 1886, the castle has been open to the public.
The Beauty of Venice. (1935)
One of the world’s most unique and beautiful cities, Venice, Italy, was built on cluster of 118 small islands, as well as many man-made islands. As a result, the canals and waterways are the primary means of transportation through the city, resulting in a romantic and old-world experience when visiting the city. Venice is known, not only for its quaint canals, but for its spectacular architecture and art. This European city combines the classic charm of old Europe with the splendor of the sea.
17 Year Old Jackie Mitchell Applying Makeup Before Striking Out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1931.
Teenage pitcher Jackie Mitchell grew up playing baseball in her native Tennessee and learned the basics of the game from her father. When she was 16 years old, she joined the Chattanooga women’s baseball team the Engelettes and was sent to a training camp in Atlanta, Georgia. There, she prowess as a pitcher attracted the attention of promoter Joe Engel, for whom the Engelettes were named. Engel was a master at the publicity stunt and saw an opportunity with the young female pitcher. He set up an expedition game in 1931. During that game, Mitchell reportedly struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, though many claim the two veteran baseball players took a dive.
Child chess prodigy, Samuel Reshevsky, defeating several chess masters at once in France, 1920.
A Polish-born chess prodigy, Samuel Reshevsky, quickly caught the attention of chess masters around the globe. He was labeled a prodigy at age four and regularly beat experienced players by the time he was eight. In 1920, Reshevsky and his parents moved to the United States and his family earned their living from the exhibition chess games that young Samuel played. He often played simultaneous games, like the one pictured in this 1920 photograph. The lad would play multiple games at once against a panel of accomplished chess players.