Category Archives: American history

A Pig’s Impact

How It Forever Changed the Way We Shop

It’s so easy, you don’t even think about it. You go to your favorite supermarket, compare items on the shelves, take the ones you want, pay for them, and leave. It’s mud pie simple.

But a century ago, grocery shopping was an entirely different experience for your grandma or great-grandma. Until a pig changed everything. The concept was radically different from anything tried before and it worked so well, we’re still using it today. Here’s how it happened. Continue reading

Bare Facts on Candy Bars


This column is, admittedly, different than most. Blame progress. I don’t like “new & improved” anything; I’m a fan of “old & worse.” Which is how we wound up with today’s topic.

Something in the news recently made me wince. Butterfinger candy bars have switched to a “new & improved recipe.” That’s like waving goodbye as the Titanic sets sail; you know it’s going to end badly. Remember 1986’s New Coke debacle? Continue reading

History’s Saddest Dog


Of the many sad stories scattered throughout history, few are sadder than the tale of the Romanovs. Driven from the throne their ancestors had occupied for 300 years, they were hustled off to exile in Siberia, awakened on a muggy July night and mercilessly murdered. An entire family, and a royal legacy, passed into legend in an instant.

But one member of the household survived that slaughter. And although he didn’t witness the killings, he carried its pain to his grave.

This is the story of the ironically named Joy, history’s saddest dog. Continue reading

Vienna 1913


If you had lived in Vienna in 1913, you would have enjoyed a cultural treat. Capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was the crown jewel of central Europe. Art, music, literature, fine food and impressive architecture all flourished, happily unaware that a world war would very soon erupt and drastically change everything. But for the moment, it was a grand time to be Viennese.

Vienna also held a dubious distinction that same year, although nobody knew it. Several men lived there who would go on to profoundly shape the 20th Century. They were a trio of tyrants, two of whom became the worst the world has ever seen. And get this: they all lived in the same section of the city! Continue reading

Stagecoach Mary


The Old West seemed to breed larger than life legends. Wild Bill Hickok. Wyatt Earp. Billy the Kid. Calamity Jane. The list goes on and on.

Another name deserves inclusion. You must dig deep into history to find her story. But when you do, you’ll discover a truly remarkable tale. Let me introduce you to Stagecoach Mary.

Mary Fields began life as a slave in Tennessee sometime around 1832. As happened with so many enslaved people, details of her early life are fuzzy. In her early 30s when the Civil War ended, Mary worked her way to a new life in the north by serving as a laundress and servant on Mississippi River steamboats.

Continue reading

Flour Sack Fashion


A good many summer vacations in my childhood were spent on my grandparents’ farm in northwest Missouri. It was the 1960s and the older people still “went visiting.” Grandma took me in tow when she made her weekly rounds calling on fellow rural ladies of a certain age.

Most farmhouses had an old pedal Singer sewing machine tucked in a corner somewhere. They’d been purchased when Woodrow Wilson was president and had seen continual use ever since. As we were leaving one particular matron’s home (departures were long, drawn out affairs back then, sometimes lasting a good half an hour) Grandma and our hostess got to talking about it. The old lady gently patted the cast iron relic and proudly said, “Mama sewed our flour sack dresses on this.” Continue reading

The Minie Ball Pregnancy


Every so often, history offers a story that’s so improbable there’s no way it could be true. Yet once in the proverbial blue moon one defies the odds and turns out to have really happened.

This story isn’t one of them.

It was, in fact, a prank that people accepted as fact for a century. But the story behind the story is enjoyable and the whole bizarre incident is a hoot and a half, so here goes.

Continue reading

Win With …


What do presidential campaigns and the Christmas shopping season have in common? They both keep starting earlier and earlier.

Like it or not, the 2020 presidential campaign is underway. Political marketing types are busy devising slogans for their candidates. Which makes this a good time to look back at how slogans have evolved over the years. Long before there were car bumpers to attach stickers to, politicians were coming up with phrases designed to win votes. Some worked, some didn’t. See for yourself in this stroll down Political Memory Lane. Continue reading

The Hero Hooker


History is filled with stories of prostitutes who, despite their low social standing, did inspiring things. The Bible tells about Rahab, who harbored two Israeli spies inside Jericho. Gone With the Wind included the noble Belle Watling, whom some scholars believe was modelled on real-life Kentucky madam Belle Brezing.

And there was Annie Cook, the Hero Hooker of Memphis, Tennessee.

Never heard of her? That’s no surprise; she’s largely unknown outside the Bluff City. But her bravery touched countless hearts in her time. Continue reading