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Vanderbilt Ball of 26 March 1883: A Spectacular Affair

By Geri Walton | March 21, 2022

The Vanderbilt ball was an extravagant event held on 26 March 1883 by Alva Vanderbilt and her husband, William Kissam Vanderbilt. It was held as a housewarming at their newly built home located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-second Street in New York. Attendees noted that it was one of the most brilliant…

Elopement of Richard Brinsley Sheridan with Marcia Maria Grant

By Geri Walton | March 14, 2022

In 1835, English newspapers reported on the scandalous elopement of the future Whig politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Marcia Maria Grant, daughter of Lieutenant General John Colquohoun Grant. The elopement happened on 15 May 1835, around the same time that Madame Tussaud was busying establishing her wax museum on Baker Street in London and many…

Edwin Landseer: British Painter of Animals

By Geri Walton | March 7, 2022

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, known as Edwin Landseer, was a British artist well known for his animal portraits of horses, dogs, and stags. He was born in London to John Landseer (an engraver) and Jane Potts on 7 March 1802. It was reported that the young Landseer could draw animals from childhood and that he…

Soapy Smith and His Frontier Scams

By Geri Walton | February 28, 2022

Con artist Jefferson Randolph Smith II, aka Soapy Smith, gained notoriety with his “prize soap racket.” Under a gasoline flare he would sell bars of soap at night. However, to increase sales, he hid $5.00, $10.00, and $50.00 bills in some of the soap packages as prospective customers watched. Like other con men, the soap…

Justice John Byles: Some of His Interesting Court Cases

By Geri Walton | February 21, 2022

Justice John Byles studied law in Britain in the 1820s and 30s and became a member of the Inner Temple, a professional body that provides legal training, selection, and regulation of its members. The Inner Temple was also one of the four inns of the court and to be called to practice as a barrister…

Jailhouse Romance of August Spies and Nina Van Zandt

By Geri Walton | February 14, 2022

A jailhouse romance between the convicted August Spies and Nina Van Zandt, an attractive, well-educated 24-year-old, made front page news in the 1880s. Spies was one of the anarchists found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder after a bombing attack happened on 4 May 1886 at Chicago’s Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois. The event became…

Ether: Early Anesthesia and Its First Uses

By Geri Walton | February 7, 2022

By the late 1830s, public gatherings referred to as “ether frolics” were being held by wandering lecturers. These gatherings involved audience members inhaling diethyl ether, who then entertained audience members by demonstrating the mind-altering properties of these agents. The idea of “ether frolics” originated with Humphry Davy, who had experimented with an ether like substance…

Canada Bill: William Jones Confidence Artist

By Geri Walton | January 31, 2022

Chances are you even if you’ve heard of Wild Bill Hickok or Buffalo Bill, you haven’t heard of Canada Bill. He wasn’t famous like either of those Bills rather he was infamous because he was considered king of the confidence artists in the 1800s. Canada Bill operated in Canada and the U.S. and was described…

Catherine Wilson: British Poisoner and Serial Killer

By Geri Walton | January 24, 2022

Catherine Wilson was a nineteenth-century nurse who poisoned her victims after encouraging them to change their wills in her favor. Although she was only convicted of one murder, it was generally thought at the time that she killed at least six other victims. Moreover, the sentencing judge, Justice John Barnard Byles, alleged that her counsel…

The Largest Slave Auction in U.S. History

By Geri Walton | January 17, 2022

The story of America’s largest slave auction involves Pierce Mease who was born to Sarah Butler. Her father was Pierce Butler, an Irish-American, South Carolina rice planter, slaveholder, politician, an officer in the American Revolutionary War. He also served as a state legislator, member of Congress of the confederation, 1787 Constitutional delegate, and member of…