Untouched Treasures: Extraordinary Historic Photos That Redefine the Past
By Sarah Norman | September 7, 2023
Sonora Webster Carver, One of the World's First Horse Divers, Continued to Dive Even After An Accident Left Her Blind
It is the people of the past…the famous and the common person…that make our history so fascinating and memorable. People are what has shaped the events of our past and lead us to where we are today. The human traits of curiosity, determination, innovation, compassion, humor, strength, and bravery in the face of obstacles are what is showcased in this collection of images from days gone by.
In the early part of the twentieth century, horse diving was a popular tourist attraction along Atlantic City’s pier. In 1924, Sonora Webster Carver, one of the first female horse divers, achieved fame when she and her horse dove 40 feet from a platform into a tank of water. Crowds loved Carver and marveled at her bravery. In 1931, Carver hit the water at an odd angle and suffered a retinal detachment in her eyes. She soon became blind, but continued to dive horses for another 11 years, despite her disability.
Sad Day For Doggie and Owner in London, 1939.
The bond between human and dog is an ancient and inseparable one. People spend approximately $63 billion per year just on dogs…and that amount increases every year. We really love our dogs, and when our dog is sad, we are sad, too. This poor pooch won’t be getting a doggie biscuit today. His local bakery is all out of the puppy treats, much to the disappointment of his owner. Both dog and human look equally sad in this old pic from 1939, proof that humans and canines share a deep emotional bond.
Samurai Warriors Wore a Jinbaori Over Their Armor to Display Their Status
Samurai of high rank would wear a Jinbaori, or war coat, over their armor when going into battle. This was not done as a way of adding an extra layer of protection over their armor. Instead, it was done to prominently display their status and family name for all to see, perhaps as a form of intimidation. The Jinbaori, typically made of silk brocade, are a variation on the ceremonial jacket, called the dufuku, that was worn during important events. The jacket evolved to include a war coat and a means of displaying the warrior’s family crest, like the one in this photograph from the 1860s.
A Devoted Dad and Dapper Dresser, Fred Astaire Taught His So, Fred Jr. A Few of His Signature Moves
A devoted family man, Fred Astaire, shown here with his son, Fred Jr., who was born in 1936, was married to Phyllis Potter, a New York socialite. The couple wed after Astaire pursued Potter for more than two years, attempting to court her. The two enjoyed a happy and loving marriage that produced two children, Fred Jr., and Ava, who was born in 1942. Astaire’s beloved wife died of lung cancer when she was only 46 years old. Astaire was so distraught over losing the love of his life that tried to withdraw from filming Daddy Long Legs, but the producers talked him into continuing.
Luxury Travel in the Old West!
Believe it or not, the type of stagecoach travel shown in this photograph from the mid-1800s is an improvement over previous stagecoaches. Long before trains and automobiles, people took advantage of public transportation in the form of horse-drawn coaches that ran between established stagecoach stations or stops. At each stop, fresh horses would be swapped out for the exhausted one and the coach would continue on its way. Stagecoach travel was not like today’s Ubers…the stagecoach drivers sought to make more money by packing in more and more people, even putting passengers on the top.
Couple Goals! A Giggling Victorian Couple Got the Giggles During Their Photo Shoot
Back before everyone had a camera in their cellphone and photography was in its infancy, families rarely had their photos taken. It was costly to visit a photographer’s studio. And even when they could pay the money for a photo, the photographer would only snap a few images. That’s why blooper pics of the 1980s are so rare to come by. But they are wonderful to see. This couple is total goals! They are clearly having fun and enjoying the experience with each other.
Working on the Brooklyn Bridge Required Bravery
We might look at this photo of construction workers building the Brooklyn Bridge, taken in 1914, and assume that many workers lost their lives during the construction project, that began in 1869. In actuality, only about 20 people died related to the building of the iconic New York City bridge. Most of the worker who sustained injuries during construction were not hurt in falls…they suffered debilitating paralysis from the Bends, or decompression sickness, from building the caissons that served as the foundation for the structure deep underwater. In fact, researchers learner a lot about the Bends by studying the Brooklyn Bridge workers.
Decorative Collapsible Fans Were a Stylish Fashion Accessory of the Victorian Era
This lovely young Victorian girl from 1891 is wearing a collapsible, or folding, fan in a pendant around her neck. While it is true that these fans were popular among women of the day as a way to keep themselves cool and evaporate their perspiration, the fans were also a stylish fashion statement. The upper classes were more likely to have a collection of ornate and decorative folding fans that they carried with them to fan away the heat and foul smell…there were a lot of foul smells in the Victorian era. Just look at the dress style of the day. The long sleeves and high collars and heavy fabrics probably meant that those upper class ladies needed the fans to fan away their own body odors.
Axel Erlandson's Odd Horticultural Attraction in 1947 California Was Named "The Tree Circus"
Swedish-American farmer, Axel Erlandson, had an unusual hobby. He shaped and grafted young trees to create living sculptures. At first, he kept his hobby private, only showing his work to his wife and daughter. But when he visited some of the popular tourist traps in California in the 1930 and 1940s, he realized that visitors would pay to see his unique creations. He opened his “Tree Circus” in 1947 and invited tourists to stop and “See the World’s Strangest Trees.”
Blacksmithing Was Thriving Profession in 1913
There simply aren’t as many blacksmiths around today as there used to be. Back in 1913, when the Frank Divins Blacksmith Shop thrived in Texas, blacksmithing was a much more common profession. Blacksmiths were needed to forge necessary items out of steel or wrought iron. They created tools, farm implements, weapons, cookware, nails, gates, furniture, and railings. Blacksmith worked closely with farriers to make horseshoes, and wheelwrights to make wagon wheels. Today’s blacksmiths often take a more artistic approach, crafting sculpture, decorative items, and furniture.
No, This Isn't a Man-Made Ruins...It is the Natural Volcanic Rock Formations of The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Although this looks like a man-made structure or ruins, it is actually a natural rock formation. Called the Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland, the site includes upwards of 40,000 basalt columns that were created by fissure eruptions of an ancient volcano. Many of the columns are hexagon shaped and they appear to form elaborate stair steps. Not surprisingly, local legends abound in the area as ancient people tried to make sense of the unusual formations. Today, the entire site is a World Heritage Site and a protected tourist attraction, one of the most visited places in Ireland.
Way Before Danica Patrick There Was This Tiny Two-Year-old Racer in 1955.
You go, girl! Machines like automobiles and lawn mowers had a much simpler design back in 1955 so it was easier for the average, mechanically-inclined person to take a motor and build their own gas-powered vehicle, like this little girl’s grandfather did. We don’t know who this child is or if she aspired to become an auto racer, but we do know that she pre-dates Danica Patrick by at least thirty years. Patrick, the most successful female race car driver in history, wasn’t born until 1982.
'The Fonz' Has Nothing on This Cool Dude of the 1920s.
When it comes to cool dudes of the 1920s, it’s hard to beat this guy. Although he is probably just a random kid playing in his neighborhood, he looks super dapper in his knickerbockers and news-boy hat. The bicycle, that looks too large for him, is the perfect mode of transportation for a boy in the city, and we can see other bikes parked along this alleyway. Based on his clothing and the fact that he owns a bicycle, we can assume that this boy belongs to a more well-to-do family and is not one of the many homeless street urchins that ran unsupervised in large metropolitan areas one hundred years ago.
Don't Let the Cuteness Fool You! Quentin Roosevelt, Youngest Son of Theodore Roosevelt, and His Playmate Roswell Newcomb Pinckney Got Into Mischief Together
Quentin Roosevelt was only four-years old when his father, Theodore Roosevelt, became the President of the United States. Growing up in the White House, young Quentin was mischievous and rambunctious. He quickly made a group of friends with the sons of White House employees, including his best pal, Roswell Newcomb Pinckney, shown here in this 1902 photograph. Quentin, Roswell, and the other children formed the “White House Gang” and engaged in such mischief as carving a baseball diamond into the White House lawn, ambushing the Secret Service with snowballs, and shooting spitballs as the official presidential portraits.
Newlywed Barbara Bush in 1947.
When this photograph was taken in 1947, Barbara Bush was still a newlywed. The future First Lady met her husband, George Herbert Walker Bush, when she was just 16 years old and he was a World War II naval officer. They married when Barbara was 18 and moved to Texas where she helped her husband launch his political career. Not only was Barbara Bush married to a United States President, but she gave birth to one, too. Her son, George W. Bush, became the 43rd President of the United States.
Cat Lover, Mark Twain holding his kitten in 1907.
Did you know that famed American author, Mark Twain, was a cat person? Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, cemented his place in American literature with such classics as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”, but he had a slew of loyal feline companions by his side as he wrote. Of cats, Twain once said, “I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.” He bonded with fellow cat lovers and even said, ““When a man loves a cat, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.” Last quote, we promise…Twain once noted, “If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”
Don't Look Down! Yosemite's Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point Drops 3,000 Feet To the Valley Below
This terrifying photo was taken at Overhanging Rock in 1872, a full 18 years before Yosemite National Park officially became one of America’s national parks on October 1, 1890. The glacial rock formation, jutting out from Glacier Point, overlooks the valley that is more than 3,000 feet below. This spot was a favorite place of John Muir, the naturalist and ‘father of the national parks’. Muir spent a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and petitioned the United States government to protect Yosemite and other natural wonders of California by designating them as National Parks.
An Old School Bus in North Dakota, photo taken in 1937.
We may look at this old school bus from the 1930s and chuckle at how primitive it looks, but we are impressed that the North Dakota where this picture was taken even had transportation for their school students. Most rural places didn’t, which is why your grandparents claim they walked four miles to school every day…uphill both ways. We can’t verify your grandparents’ claim, but we do know that most students walked. North Dakota is particularly brutal in the winter time, with frequent blizzards, high winds, and temperatures below freezing, so maybe the school system took pity of the children and transported them in this rickety wagon.
Play time back in 1917.
This Ancient Roman Folding Multi-Tool From the 2nd Century AD is the Forerunner of the Swiss Army Knife.
If you look at this ancient Roman multi-tool and think “Swiss Army Knife”, you’re not alone. Just like the Swiss Army Knife, this ancient tool that dates back to the 2nd century AD, has foldaway tools, including a knife, fork, spatula, and spoon. The Swiss Army Knife wasn’t officially patented until 1891 so the Roman who created this old device was way ahead of his time. Today’s Swiss Army Knives come in many different configurations, but most have a knife, fork, spoon, corkscrew, screwdriver, and can opener. If you want to see this ancient Roman version, you can pay a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England…it is part of their collection.
This Ranks Up There as One of the Strangest Family Photos
And you thought your family pics were bad! Billiards is obviously a big part of this Russian dad’s life. So much so that he dressed his kids up like billiard balls…and himself like a billiard table…for their family portraits in 1886. We can only assume that the crown on his head means he is the King of Billiards. We also can’t help but notice that the wife/mother is absent in this photograph. Could it be that she was so weirded out by her husband’s odd concept for family photos that she left and went back to her mother’s house?
Olympic Gold Medal Swimmer Johnny Weissmuller Followed Up His Athletic Career with an Acting Career, Starring as Tarzan in 12 Films
After becoming one of the fastest swimmers of the 1920s, setting world records in the 100-meter freestyle and 440-year freestyle, and winning five Olympic gold medals at the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics, what does one do for an encore? Well, if you are Johnny Weissmuller, you go on to play one of the most challenging and memorable literary characters, Tarzan, in twelve movies. Although several actors have played Edgar Rice Burrough’s feral jungle man, Weissmuller is the person most people associate with the role. He even created Tarzan’s signature yell.
A Group of Visitors at the The Great Temple at Abu Simbel in 1886 Pose with a Carving of Ramesses II
The image carved in stone here is the face of Pharaoh Ramesses II, who was also known as Ramesses the Great. This statue, and others like it, can be seen at the Great Temple at Abu Simbel in southern Egypt. Construction on the temple began in 1264 BC and lasted for about twenty years. After time, the temple fell into disuse and the site was covered with sand. It sat undisturbed for centuries until it was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer, Jean-Louis Burckhardt, in 1813.
This Kitchen is Old News!
A mantra of the Great Depression was reduce, reuse, and recycle. As money and resources became scarce following the stock market crash of 1929, people were forced to make do with that they had and find innovated uses for things. As this photo from 1936 shows, people quickly discovered that newspaper could serve as a means of insulating rooms to keep out drafts and keep the heat inside. Papering walls with old newspapers was a way to help reduce heating costs, as well as a way to make good use of recycled newspapers.
This Sophisticated Couple Are Not Wearing Beach Appropriate Attire
This dapper couple doesn’t look like your average beach-goers of today. Instead of baggy board shorts and cheeky bikinis, this couple from the 1930s look like they should be strolling down the boulevard of a sophisticated city instead of taking a walk on the beach. The woman looks like she is trying to cool off by wearing a tank top and going barefoot, but this well-dressed dude looks stuffy, hot, and out-of-place in a suit and tie at the beach. It’s definitely not the appropriate attire for spiking a volleyball or catching some
Bartender, another round! The scene at an old saloon in Texas, 1907.
Old time saloons were quite the establishments. Like this one in Texas in 1907 shows, saloons catered to an all-male clientele. If women were in the business at all, it was because they were working as showgirls, brothel girls, or barkeeps. While most saloons were strictly bar/restaurant businesses, others were covers for brothels, opium dens, and gambling rings. It is no wonder that the town saloon came to be known as a rough place where dangerous men hung out. That reputation permeated through the industry and all saloons were viewed with disdain, although many were fine establishments that were clean, safe, and served top quality food.
Chester E. Macduffee Proudly Shows Off His 550 lb diving suit That He Patented in 1911.
You'd sink like a rock! Inventor and diver, Chester E. Macduffee, patented his metal diving suit in 1911. There was a problem during Macduffee’s time. Construction workers diving to the sea floor to build caissons for bridges were experiencing a strange sickness that we know now is decompression sickness. Attempts were made to make deep sea diving safer. Macduffee’s answer to the problem may not have been the ideal solution…heck, it didn’t even keep the water out…but it represented a step in the evolution of diving.
Queen Victoria Was Called 'The Grandmother of Europe'
When you see this photograph from 1894 of Queen Victoria with her children and grandchildren, it is easy to see why she has been called “the grandmother of Europe.” Queen Victoria, who ruled from June 20, 1837, to May 1, 1876, married her first cousin, Prince Albert, in 1840. They had nine children, all of whom married into various royal and noble families around Europe. Her 42 grandchildren followed suit, spreading the family across the continent and uniting many royal families.
Smart and Sexy Hedy Lamarr: Hollywood Icon By Day...Genius Inventor by Night
Sexy and exotic Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr was more than just a pretty face. In addition to starring as a sultry femme fatale in a number of films during the 1940s and 1950s, including Algiers, Boom Town, I Take This Woman, and Samson and Delilah, Lamarr was a genius inventor. In fact, her efforts helped to turn the tide of World War II. She created a radio guidance system for torpedoes which used an innovative technique called frequency hopping to thwart the enemy’s attempts to jam the frequency. This technology is being used today in wifi signals and Bluetooth devices.
This is One Way to Get to School!
We’d like to think that a ferry would be safer, but who else by these school children in Modena, Italy, in 1959, can claim that they zip line to school? It is impressive that these kids are willing to risk their lives just to go to school. And even more impressive that their parents allow this to take place. The cable strung across the river, from one shore to the next, doesn’t seen strong enough to support the weight of the children but none of them have even gotten so much as a toe wet.