Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archive for 'Myth or History'

Inspired by the Archives! Top Ten Tips for Writers

This post was written by Laura Brandt and originally appeared on the Facebook page of the Foundation for the National Archives.

Flexing your literary muscles this month but facing writers’ block? Don’t forget that the National Archives has a wealth of information to enhance your tale, whether you are writing a historical novel or are looking for inspiration for interesting characters or plot twists.

How about a tale of war, heroic birds, and desperate soldiers? During World War I, the U.S. Seventy-seventh Infantry Division attacked the Germans near Charlevaux, France. Only one unit penetrated enemy lines: Maj. Charles W. Whittlesay’s First Battalion of the 308th Infantry Regiment. The battalion was quickly surrounded by Germans—and then came under friendly fire from its own artillery. Whittlesay used his last carrier pigeon to send this three-sentence plea.

Pigeon Message from Capt. Whittlesey to the Commanding Officer of the 308th Infantry, 10/04/1918 (ARC Identifier: 595541); File Unit: Field Messages - 32.16; , Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), 1848-1928; Record Group 120.

Or, what would it be like to be a White House photographer? White House Photographer Cecil Stoughton took this iconic photo of Lyndon B. Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony after John. F. Kennedy was assassinated–but maybe your White House photographer is with President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, or is covering the President in 2024? Take … [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking Wednesday: National Waffle Day

Want a waffle with that earthshake?

All Virginia earthquake jokes aside, today is a momentous day indeed. On this day in 1869, Dutch American Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York, received a U.S. patent for the first waffle iron. Described as simply a “device to bake waffles,” the waffle iron was heated over a coal stove, and batter was poured on the griddle. Then the cover was shut, and after a few minutes, the iron was flipped over to cook the other side of the waffle. Breakfast would never quite be the same.

By the 1930s, the honeycombed griddle was a standard appliance in American kitchens, thanks to General Electric’s invention of the electric waffle iron. Responding to the demand, the Dorsa brothers created an easy waffle mix in the mid-1930s that would eventually become the frozen waffle brand Eggo. Belgian waffles—thick, fluffy waffles dressed with strawberries and whipped cream—were an immediate hit with Americans when Maurice Vermersch debuted his wife’s waffle recipe at the 1964 World’s Fair in Chicago. Today, waffles are a ubiquitous item that can be found in the frozen foods section of grocery stores and on breakfast menus everywhere.

But waffles of all sorts have been around far longer than 1964 or 1930—or even 1869.

Food history suggests that the earliest form of the waffle occurred thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. … [ Read all ]

Headhunters and diplomats in the Truman Library

Drawing of men parachuting from planes, John Paton Davies Papers, Truman Library

Today’s guest post is from Samuel Rushay, senior archivist at the Truman Presidential Library and Museum, who is featured in our newest “Inside the Vaults” video about the adventure of John Paton Davies.

“…I stood in the open door of that miserable [C-46, Curtis] Commando and decided—`Well, if nobody else is going to jump, I’ll jump.  Somebody had to break the ice.’  So I wheeled out and dove.” John Paton Davies (Excerpt from letter to Flossie [September 22, 1943], John Paton Davies Papers, Truman Presidential Library and Museum).

The date was August 2, 1943.

Twenty-one men, including John Paton Davies, second secretary of the American embassy in Chungking, China, and journalist Eric Sevareid of CBS, were aboard a C-46 transport plane.  Their mission was to carry supplies from India to China in support of Chiang Kai-shek’s forces fighting the Japanese during World War II. They were flying over the “hump,” as mountainous Burma was known, when engine trouble developed, a not uncommon problem for the newly developed C-46.

In The American Journey of Eric Sevareid by Raymond Schroth, when it became clear the plane was going to crash, Davies maintained a calm demeanor and remarked, “Just kids, kids running this thing” (he was 35 years old), and jumped. He was the first person to leave the … [ Read all ]

The Taxman Cometh: U.S. v. Alphonse Capone

Al Capone's Guilty Verdict, 10/17/1931 - 10/17/1931 (Record Group 21, National Archives at Chicago; ARC 628966)

Al Capone—the quintessential American gangster—headed the nation’s most notorious organized crime syndicate for more than a decade during Prohibition.

Through smuggling, bootlegging, and a variety of other criminal operations, his “Chicago Outfit” was able to dominate America’s illegal liquor trade throughout the 1920s. But did you know that Al Capone was never convicted of violating the National Prohibition Act?

In 1931, Capone was indicted for income tax evasion for 1925-1929. Despite his immense wealth, he had never paid taxes or purchased any assets in his own name.

So when the Internal Revenue Service’s Special Intelligence Unit uncovered cash receipts from a gambling operation linked to Capone, the evidence served as the foundation for a Federal case. The prosecution charged that he owed over $200,000 in unpaid taxes stemming from gambling profits.

Unable to strike a plea bargain with prosecutors, Capone attempted to bribe jury members. The presiding judge, however, responded by quietly changing the jury panel prior to the trial.

On October 18, 1931, Capone was found guilty on five counts of tax evasion. A month later he was sentenced to 11 years in Federal prison, fined $50,000, charged $7,692 for court costs, and ordered to pay his back taxes plus interest.

Following seven and a half years in … [ Read all ]

A record of valor

Pages 2 and 3 from a letter from Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts to the Secretary of War detailing Carney's actions, 11/09/1863 (ARC 594893) To read the document, click on this image for a larger version.

If you have watched the movie Glory, you saw a recreation of the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, by the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. But a real-life hero from that battle was Sgt. William Harvey Carney, who was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900—37 years after the assault on Fort Wagner.

The Medal of Honor is the United States Government’s most prestigious decoration. Established through a Joint Resolution of Congress in July of 1862, the award is bestowed upon “a person, who, while a member of the armed services, distinguishes themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their life above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”

Carney’s actions were detailed in the above letter by Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts to Secretary of War Stanton, calling Carney a “brave man,” detailing his determination to keep the flag upright during the attack, and recommending a 30-day furlough so that he could visit his family in New Bedford, MA.

On July 18, 1863,  Sergeant Carney led the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry to the rampart amid a barrage of gunfire and … [ Read all ]