Unseen Historical Photos Never Found In Textbooks
By Sarah Norman | September 7, 2023
You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.
There is so much of our past that hasn’t made it into our history textbooks. And there are multiple sides to the common historical events we were taught in school. While some events have been long forgotten, our understanding of our past is broadened by looking at historical events from a fresh perspective. The collection of photographs shown here offer us a unique glimpse into the past.
These words were made famous by none other than Johnny Cash. The American singer and songwriter was a master wordsmith, as is apparent in many of his hit songs, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire” and “Man in Black”. In fact, he remains one of the best-selling recording artists of all time with more than 90 million records sold worldwide. Johnny Cash may be considered a country artist, but his songs span multiple genres, from rock and rockabilly to folk, gospel and blues. In the final years of his career, he even covered songs by Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails.
2,000-year-old Roman gladiator helmet that survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii.
Archaeologists are still pulling artifacts from excavations at Pompeii, the ancient Roman city near modern-day Naples, Italy, that was completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Despite explosions and tremors, many residents of the city chose to stay. Most were killed when the volcano sent waves of toxic gas into the city, then rained down super-heated ash and rock. We don’t know if the gladiator who wore this helmet survived the natural disaster, but his metal headwear did. Even all the details on the helmet remained intact after the eruption.
108 years of asphalt and paving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That’s a lot of asphalt! This core sample from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway shows just how much resurfacing has taken place since the track was built in 1909. According to this core sample, the racetrack first began as creek gravel and limestone course back when it first opened. After that, a layer of bricks was put down, giving the track its iconic nickname. In fact, some of that brick remains in the form of a one-yard wide strip at the start/finish line when the entire surface was transitioned into asphalt in 1961. We all know that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to the Indianapolis 500, but did you know the famed racetrack isn’t really in Indianapolis? It is technically in the adjacent town of Speedway, Indiana.
A couple gets into their BMW Isetta through the front door, 1950s.
Now that’s a tiny car! During the 1950s, the BMW Isetta, an Italian microcar, became the top-selling single-cylinder car. The first mass-produced vehicle to have a fuel consumption of 3 liters per 100 km, the Isetta was called a bubble car because of its unique egg shape and bubble windows. The diminutive car had only one door…right in the front. The entire front of the car, including the dashboard and steering wheel, opened outward to allow the driver and a single passenger to enter the 4 ½ long wide by 7 ½ feet long. The heater was an option.
A hidden staircase which leads to a secret room inside a 19th Century Victorian home.
Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester of Winchester rifles, was convinced that her home, located outside San Francisco, was haunted by the spirits of all the souls killed by Winchester guns. To confuse the spirits, Sarah Winchester hired workers to continually build additions to her home, without blueprints. The home has numerous architectural anomalies, such as rooms with no doors, staircases that go nowhere, and hidden passageways, like the secret staircase shown here. To further confuse the ghosts, Winchester slept in a different room each night. Work on the house stopped when Winchester died on September 5, 1922.
Two women with an axe to grind, 1918.
Girl Power! From 1915 to 1918, during the first World War, and again during World War II, the Women’s Land Army was in effect in Britain. This civil organization paired able-bodied women with farms that needed workers because so many men were serving in the war. The women became known as the Land Girls. In this photo from 1918, two Land Girls are working to clear trees when they stopped to sharpen their ax, using a treadle powered sharpening stone. The work that women like them did was vital to keeping the agriculture industry going strong during the war.
These are piles of aluminum pots and pans that were donated by English housewives to be melted down into metal for British fighting planes, 1940.
During World War II, metal shortages threatened to derail the war effort. In a show of patriotism and community, British housewives donated their aluminum pots and pans to be melted down and made into airplanes. As this enormous pile of pots and pans shows, women in 1940 were more than generous with their contributions to the war effort. Scrap metal drives provided a source of aluminum, but they also created a sense of community on the home front and an opportunity for everyone to feel as though they were contributing to the war effort.
Alternative Cuss Words.
Jeepers, Bucket Head, these are mother-approved alternative curse words! The Tim Hawkins Handbook provided a series of humorous words that could be used as replacements for the more hard-core, offensive swear words. The list is even divided into different categories, depending on the level of anger and intensity of the word choice. Swear words have always been a part of language…a socially offensive part. Vulgar and blasphemous, these words are insulting, rude and impolite. Ironically, in the English language nearly all the curse words are Germanic words, not Latin ones. The bluntness of the Germanic seems to have a cruder connotation.
American troops treat a wounded dog on Orote Peninsula, 1944
The United States Marine Corp knew that dogs, particularly Dobermans, could be great allies. The Marines kept dogs with them leading up to and during World War II, beginning in the Banana Wars in Central America. In fact, dogs accompanied the Marines when they landing in Guam. Dogs were used as guards, scouts and messengers, and also alerted the Marines to booby traps and mines. The Marines created the First and Second Dog Platoons which were nicknamed the Devil Dogs. Unfortunately, there were numerous dog casualties during the war, but the good boy shown in this photograph looks like he is in good hands with the Marine medics.
An American soldier eating his meal of chicken, mashed potatoes, bread, and pineapple atop rows of a stockpiled ammunition shells, England, May 1944.
Great Britain has long been an ally of the United States and this relationship only deepened during World War II. Great Britain was a key base of operations for American military activity during the war, therefore England saw a “friendly invasion.” Hundreds of thousands of Americans came to England to stage for future troop movements or to do work that supported the war effort. U.S. and British troops worked side by side and developed life-long friendships that continued long after the war was over. Stationed in England, this American soldier is guarding a stockpile of weapons and taking a quick break to eat his dinner.
Chartres Street, New Orleans, circa 1906.
Sadly, most of the Colonial era buildings pictured here are no longer standing along New Orleans’ Chartres Street in the French Quarter. The building on the extreme left, with the arched doorway, was the grand St. Louis Hotel which opened in 1835. The hotel had fallen into disrepair when this photo was taken in 1906 and a few years later, it succumbed to the Great Hurricane of 1915. The set of granite arches were the only part still intact and they have been incorporated into the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel which now occupies the space. While the majority of the buildings on the left side of the street are now gone, the right side of the road still boasts some of the quaint, old buildings and pedestrian walkways that recall New Orleans’ colorful past.
Dazed survivors huddle together in the street 10 minutes after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
This incredible sad image shows the immediate aftermath of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. These survivors are understandably shocked and confused, as well as grief-stricken. Approximately 30% of the city of Hiroshima...70,000 to 80,000 people…died in the bombing with at least 70,000 more people with varying degrees of injuries. Nearly 75% of the buildings in the city were damaged or destroyed. Additionally, the bombing ignited fires that burned through the ruble and gutted. The intensely bright initial blast followed by the thunderous boom was the only warning these people had of the horror that was to come.
School bus in northern Maine, 1930.
They get a lot of snow in northern Maine…sometimes it is measured in feet, not inches…and the school children still needed to get to the school house. This unique school bus was created. Build for the deep snow and cold, it features a covered and enclosed house-like building on sleds that would keep the school children warm and out of the elements as the horses pulled them to school. While the compartment didn’t offer much in the way of windows, it did have a tiny heater stove to keep the kids toasty warm during the cold and snowy winter months. No need for a snow day with this school bus on the job!
Goodbye kiss at Penn Station, NY, between a soldier and his loved one. It may have been their last kiss. No one knows. 1944.
We don’t know the backstory of this photograph except that it was taken at Penn Station in New York in 1944 and that it was a good-bye kiss. The soldier in the picture was leaving to join his unit that was being shipped out overseas, but we don’t know to where. This final kiss goodbye to his wife or girlfriend was a passionate one. We can only hope that this loving couple was able to share a welcome home kiss at the conclusion of World War II…and that their love story had a happy ending.
Gothic Victorian home, 19th century.
Also called Gothic Revival, Victorian Gothic is a style of architecture that started in the 1740s and remained popular until the early 1900s. The house shown in this photograph exhibits many of the characteristics of Victorian Gothic style, including a large front porch with columns or turned posts, castle-like towers with parapets, and pointed arches. Also indicative of this style of architecture are steep roof pitches, front-facing gables, and unique window shapes. You will see an over-abundance of crown molding and ornate accents pieces, such as finials, in a home or church designed in the Victorian Gothic style.
Homecoming prisoner, Vienna, Austria, 1946.
Returning home following World War II, this former prisoner of war was not the man he used to be. The war forever changed the men who fought in it, both physically and emotionally. This man will live with the loss of his leg for the rest of his life. The prosthetic leg he carried in his backpack will help him to lead a more normalized life, though he will still have many limitations. Many advancements were made in artificial limbs in the years following WWII, spurred on by disabled veterans who were dissatisfied with the stagnant improvements in the prosthetics industry.
Library in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is home to Latin America’s largest library, the National Library of Brazil. This massive and beautiful library, the 7th largest library in the world, has helped to promote and improve the library system in this South American nation. The National Library of Brazil offered the first library science classes in Latin America and the staff has been instrumental in the creation of several modern library services such as the development of online databases. Among the library’s most treasured artifacts is a collection of more than 20,000 photographs by Teresa Cristina Maria from the 19th century.
Linda McCartney, Paul McCartney, and David Gilmour await a performance by The Rolling Stones, Knebworth Fair, 1976.
An annual outdoor music festival in Knebworth, England, has hosts some rock legends in its time, including Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pink Floyd. In fact, the first rock festival held there featured performances by The Doobie Brothers and the Allman Brother Band. That was in 1974 when the grounds opened. Just a few years later, in 1976, The Rolling Stones performed. In this photograph, we see Linda McCartney, Paul McCartney, and David Gilmour all anxiously awaiting the moment when the Rolling Stones took the stage. We hope they weren’t disappointed…Lynyrd Skynyrd was widely reported to have out-rocked the Stones that day.
The curled fingers - part of a statue that may have stood over 40 feet tall at the Temple of Hercules, in Amman, Jordan, around A.D. 160.
Wow! This fragment of a statue was unearthed at the Temple of Hercules in Amman, Jordan, and dates back to around 160 AD. Dubbed the Hand of Hercules, this fragment, along with an elbow, are the only pieced yet discovered of what must have been a massive marble statue. Based on the size of the fingers, the statue may have towered as high as forty feet. During the first century BC, Jordan was part of the Roman rule and Amman, one of the Ten Cities of Decapolis, was filled with statues and monuments. Fun fact: the ancient Greek name for Amman was Philadelphia.
Oxford bags trousers, ca. 1920s.
Long before the bell-bottoms of the 1970s, there were the Oxford bags. Popular among British men during the 1920s, the Oxford bags were ordinary pants with ridiculously-wide legs. Apparently, the jazzy men of the Roaring Twenties didn’t want the flappers, in their fringe dresses, to be the only ones making bold fashion statements. So they began wearing lightweight trousers with enormous leg circumferences. To give you some perspective, the leg opening of the standard Levi’s 501 jeans…which we consider a boot cut…is about 16-inches. Some of the Oxford bag pants boasted leg openings of 44 inches!
Listening to the birds, 1892.
What a cute collection of adorable little ragamuffins! Long before iPads, Minecraft, and FortNite, children had to find their own ways to occupy themselves. 1892 was a simpler time. Most children spent way more time outdoors than today’s youngsters. Climbing trees, playing in the creek, picking berries…all were common pastimes. This group of children are spending the afternoon listening to the birds. How relaxing!
Lucille Ball and Vitameatavegamin, 1952.
Lucy Was Drunk! In one of the best-remembered episodes of the hit 1950s TV show, “I Love Lucy,” Lucy, played by the hilarious comedienne Lucille Ball, cons her way into a job as a spokesgirl for a commercial for a health tonic called "Vitameatavegamin". Desperate to make it big in showbiz, Lucy approached the role with gusto, gulping down the tonic with each take. What she doesn’t know is that the tonic contains a large percentage of alcohol! In just a few takes, Lucy is schnockered! In her A true slap-stick genius, Ball performed the scene perfectly, to the delight of television audiences.
Samurai helmet (kabuko) shaped like an octopus. 1700s, Japan.
This Kabuki, a type of ancient Japanese helmet, appears unusual, with a gilded octopus on top of it. But in the 16th and 17th centuries, this style of headgear for Japanese warriors was all the rage. Other Kabuki of the time features crab pincers, deer antlers, bird wings, and other nature motifs, such as tree branches, beehives, fish, and dragonflies. The elaborate war helmets were reserved for the high-ranking military leaders and helped them stand out from the other soldiers. You may look at these crazy helmets and think that they would be a hindrance during battle, but in fact, they were designed to be lightweight and balanced so they wouldn’t be cumbersome.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims, 1968.
Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral is a medieval Catholic church that many people believe is the best example of French Gothic architecture still standing today. As this photograph from 1968 shows, the structure is in a nearly perpetual state of repairs and restoration. During the French Revolution, the building was vandalized and much of its religious images were destroyed. An extensive restoration project was launched in 1845 and lasted 25 years. Yet another plan to repair and restore the cathedral took place in the 1990s. In between all of these projects, smaller repairs were made to the building…some involving exterior scaffolding, as shown here.
Only 16 years old, William T. Biedler fought as part of the Virginia Cavalry Regiment as a Sergeant in the Civil War. He wasn't the only boy, and he certainly wasn't the youngest.
Today, you have to be 18 years old to join the military, but during the Civil War, many children participated in the fighting. Some tagged along with their fathers or older brothers and some were accepted into the military despite their tender ages. Still, others lied about their age so that they could fight for their country or for causes that were important to them. No matter their age, these young boys were expected to be able to handle a gun and follow orders, just at the adult soldiers did. Unfortunately, some of these young soldiers experienced a tragic fate. Still, others were imprisoned as war prisoners or terribly maimed in battle.
US Soldier trying to escape the horrors of war even for just a moment, World War II
Fighting in World War II was grueling, dangerous, and stressful work, but this group of soldiers found a way to temporarily escape the horrors of war by enjoying the talents of one of their fellow soldiers. We aren’t sure what tune this soldier is playing on his piano. Perhaps it was one of the popular songs of the day, like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Shoo Shoo Baby,” or “I’m Making Believe.” No matter what the song, his fellow servicemen seem to really be enjoying the music and the break for war.
This is 1 of 4 intact human nervous systems in existence. It was dissected by 2 medical students in 1925, taking them a total of 1500 hours to remove from a human body.
Our nerves and nerve endings are so tiny and delicate that it is difficult to extract the intact nervous system from a cadaver, but that is exactly what two medical students did in 1925. The painstaking work took them about 1,500 hours to complete. They have preserved their specimen under glass so that other medical students could use it for educational purposes. This specimen is one of only four completely intact human nervous system specimens in existence today.
Roman slave collar with inscription I have fled, hold me when you bring me back to my master Zoninus you receive a solidus (gold coin). -- 4th century AD
Roman slaves were sometimes forced to wear these collars, which were welded around their necks, as a way to identify them as the property of their owner. Even if they escaped, they still couldn’t remove the iron collar. The idea of slavery in ancient Rome was a complex one. While slaves were not considered to be people under the law, they could be legally tortured, sexually assaulted, and executed. Over time, however, slaves gained more and more rights, despite being owned by another person. They could own property, get an education, and earn their own money. Many even bought their own freedom.
Under 15th century Turkish law and culture, a woman has the freedom to divorce her husband if he does not provide her with enough coffee. That's how important coffee was to them.
The ancient Turks didn’t mess around when it came to their coffee! If the husband didn’t give his wife enough coffee, she had the right to divorce him! And we aren’t talking about Starbucks, either. Turkish coffee is strong. The coffee beans are ground into a fine powder which remains in the coffee when it is served. Sugar is added to sweeten the coffee. The result is a robust flavor in a thick, hot liquid. Turkish coffee is served in small, dainty coffee cups called kahye finjani. The Turks have been preparing their coffee this way for hundreds of years.
Watching mom and dad dance, 1950s.
This loving couple is modeling a healthy, romantic relationship to their two young children in this photograph taken in the 1950s. The 1950s was a decade of distinct gender roles. The husband was the provider and the wife stayed home with the children. Despite these divides, this picture shows us that marital relationships were still fun, spontaneous, and full of romance. I wish we knew what song they were dancing to. Maybe it was the 1954 hit by the Penguins, “Earth Angel” or perhaps it was Sam Cooke’s 1957 tune, “You Send Me.”