Website Recommendation of the Week!

There is a lot to history. I mean, a lot. Go ahead and think about your favorite hobby. Or think about that one thing that you are absolutely obsessed with.

Got it?

I can guarantee that whatever you just thought of, there is a history to it. Nothing comes into this world from nothing, and so everything has some sort of past. With so much history to cover, there is no way I can come close to writing about even half of the amazing hidden history that surrounds us. This is why once I week I’m recommending an interesting website that helps cover the many gaps in my knowledge and expertise. All of these websites are free to access as of the time of the recommendation and all can be found over on the Resources page as well!

Website Recommendation of the Week- The Public Domain Review!

This week’s website is The Public Domain Review! This site is based out of the United Kingdom. Their focus is on art, photos, writing, film, and audio that is now in the public domain. This website has an impressive collection of now public items. Last time I looked, there were over a thousand items in their collection! Each collection of items has historical context provided. They also have essays related to the collections, a blog, and a shop! Thankfully the website is searchable by tag, and you can filter the collections by medium, theme, and epoch.

The universal public domain symbol. Not from the websire
The public domain symbol. Note that this is not from The Public Domain Review

Frankly, the collections are incredible. I love that they provide some of the context, as other websites just post the work with little explanation. If you want to use the items in the public domain, they try to also give you some idea of what usage is allowed. Not all countries have the same laws regarding the public domain, so it’s nice that they try to flag items that may not be in the public domain everywhere.

I recommend this website to anyone with an interest in older literature, art, audio, etc. The website is mostly safe for kids as well, although you may want to monitor the younger kids. Having problems with the link above? Try here:

Website Recommendation of the Week!

This week I have a pretty cool resource for people interested in the history of words. Everyone knows that language changes over time. Honestly, when was the last time anyone referred to something as “totally tubular”? But what happens to languages over the course of hundreds or thousands of years? This is one of the main focuses in the study of linguistics, and as a historian, it is endlessly fascinating.

Having a sense of how languages have changed over time is also incredibly important. A minor change of words can completely change the context of a source. If I invite you for a stay in my cottage in the forest, it paints one picture in your mind. If I ask you to come to my cabin in the woods, it paints another. Another good example is the difference between a “booty call” and a “butt dial.” In one sense, they mean the same thing! But, because we understand the context and linguistic differences, the meaning changes.

Understanding the underlying meaning of words is so incredibly important when understanding history and current events. With all that in mind, my cool website this week is The Etymology Nerd! Much like how I explore the hidden side of history, The Etymology Nerd explores the hidden history of words.

Etymology Nerd, Words Words Words
Etymology Nerd, Words Words Words

The Etymology Nerd was created by Adam Aleksic, a junior at Harvard University. According to the website, he started The Etymology nerd as a way to help study linguistics. His website just ballooned from there. He does run an active blog where he explores certain words or sets of words. There are also cool infographics, an interactive map, and some really useful videos.

Even if you have no interest in linguistics, this site is just plain fun to play around on. I spent some time messing around on the interactive map rather than writing. Although to be fair, it did give me some great ideas for some upcoming posts… stay tuned!

Looking for some more hidden history? Check out the history of the mechanical pencil!

Infographic! A Timeline of Wall Street

Wall Street tends to be a popular topic in the news. ‘Wall Street’ tends to be used as a general way to refer to the economy. People tend to forget that Wall Street is an actual road in New York City, one with a rather long and somewhat sketchy history.

Wall Street started off as, surprisingly, a street with a wall. In the early colonial days of the United States, the Dutch held “New Amsterdam”, or what is now New York City. Fearing an invasion by the English, a wall was constructed. It was 9 feet high and about 2,340 feet long. The road, if it had a name previously, was renamed “Waal Straat.”

From that humble and rather simple beginning, Wall Street has had a history full of twists and turns. A government-sponsored slave market stood on Wall Street in 1711. Just 20 years later, the first attempt at a public library was also on Wall Street.

From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, Wall Street once was home to the Capitol building for the US government, suffered a devastating fire, and withstood multiple terrorist attacks.

Now it is considered the backbone of the US economy. That doesn’t mean its past is forgotten, nor should it be…

Check out the infographic below!

A Timeline of Wall Street!

Infographic about Wall Street

What was the most surprising event of Wall Street History? Let us know in the comments below!

Did you know that just a few miles away in New Jersey, the first canned beer was produced? Over in Jersey City, NJ, the first canned beer was produced in 1933, not long after Prohibition ended! Check out the full history of the first canned beer here!

Love history? Check out the Secretly Historic Facebook page, where I am constantly posting about the past.

Cool Website of the Week! The Digital Antiquarian

This week we have a great website to share if you love computer entertainment and digital culture history! This is a relatively new field in history, but one that will become more and more important as time goes on. Early historical and cultural aspects of the digital age are easily lost, often by accident. While The Wayback Machine and the Internet Archive are important parts of preserving this information, cultural context is easily lost.

That’s where Jimmy Maher’s website and blog, The Digital Antiquarian, come in. He provides the cultural and historical background needed to truly understand the early digital age. And by early digital age, I don’t just mean when the internet began. Maher’s posts will often reach back into the 1800s to explain the very beginnings of the digital era. Personally, I really enjoy his attention to detail and his ability to weave a good story out of what would otherwise be dry facts. He definitely isn’t afraid to dig deep into detail. Maher’s absolute joy in his writing is apparent right in the first few sentences in any of his posts. He’s apparently going to start up a new blog soon, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Need the full link? Here it is!

I totally recommend checking out Jimmy Maher’s website, even if you don’t have a passion for the early digital age. He touches on many topics in order to explain the why and hows in each post, so there is something for everyone in each of his posts! Maher has also collected his many posts into an ebook collection for people who prefer to read the posts in chronological order and in an ebook format. He also has a collection of other historical books that he’s written. I can’t (yet!) attest to these, but considering how much I enjoy his writing I will definitely be picking up a few of his other history books as well.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy The Digital Antiquarian as much as I did!

The Last Public Execution in the US

Trigger Warning for Violence, Sexual Assault, and Death.

In 2022, the idea of public executions is rather appalling. In a time when there is a massive push to abolish the death penalty, watching a convicted criminal be killed is generally not most people’s idea of a good time. This was not always the case. In fact, the last public execution in the United States was less than a century ago and it had one of the highest attendance rates in the nation.

Rainey Bethea was the last person to have a public execution in the United States. He was hanged in the parking lot of a county garage in Owensboro, Kentucky. The courthouse, which would normally be the site of the execution, requested that the gallows be moved. It was expected that a large crowd would gather and the courthouse had just spent a large amount of money planting new bushes and flowers. To prevent the new landscaping from being damaged, the gallows were moved. At about 5:20 AM on August 14, 1936, died by hanging. He was convicted for the rape of Lischia Edwards. The massive crowd and the spectacle of the hanging led to public executions being banned in Kentucky in 1938, and Bethea the last public execution. But that’s not the whole story.

The Man.

Rainey Bethea, as pictured in the Burlington Free Press in their Aug. 01 1936 issue
Rainey Bethea was the last person publicly executed in the US. CLIPPED FROM
The Burlington Free Press
Burlington, Vermont
01 Aug 1936, Sat  •  Page 11

Little is known about Rainey Bethea’s early life. He was born in 1909 in Virginia. He would first come to the attention of law enforcement when he was arrested and fined $20 for disturbing the peace in early 1935. Just a few months later he was arrested again for attempting to steal the purses of two women. This was a federal crime, as the value of the contents was above $25. He was charged and sent to one year at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville. He only served half of his sentence, being released on parole on December 1, 1935. Again, he quickly found himself arrested. This time he was arrested for “housebreaking.” It was later changed to a drunk and disorderly charge, punishable by a $100 fine. With no way to pay the fine, he resided in the Daviess County Jail until April 18, 1936.

The Crime.

Unfortunately, Rainey wasn’t able to keep from crime for long. On June 7th, 1936, he entered the home of Lischia Edwards in the early morning hours. He entered the house from Lischia’s bedroom window and woke her in the process. He quickly choked and raped her until she was unconscious. She was 70 years old. Bethea ransacked her room, taking her valuables and jewelry. As he was doing so, he took off his own black celluloid prison ring and forgot to put it back on as he left. Lischia’s family weren’t able to rouse her in the morning and a neighbor helped them enter her room, where they found her dead. Muddy footprints were all over the room.

The Investigation.

The investigation of Lischia Edward’s murder was rather short, culminating in Bethea’s arrest on June 10th, just three days after Edwards was killed. Police found Bethea’s ring in her room and were able to identify it as Bethea’s with the help of several witnesses who had seen him wearing the ring.

Bethea's ring, pictured in the Messenger-Inquirer on 10 Jun 1936.
Bethea’s Ring
Owensboro, Kentucky
10 Jun 1936, Wed  •  Page 9

A day after she was killed, the family reported that jewelry was missing from her room. A relatively new technology had taken root in police investigations- fingerprinting. In 1911,  Illinois State Supreme Court upheld that fingerprints were a valid and reliable means of identification, and in 1924 the FBI opened the ID Division. This division would receive and file fingerprinting cards from across the nation. Criminals would be fingerprinted when they were arrested and a copy of the cards sent to the FBI. As Bethea had been previously arrested, police were able to pull a copy of his fingerprint record and compare it to fingerprints found on objects from Lischia Edwards’ bedroom. The fingerprints were a match.

A picture of a fingerprint
User: The Photographersehh/info, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Combined with Bethea’s ring, they now had solid evidence that Rainey Bethea had been involved in her death. A warrant for his arrest was issued on June 10th. Rainey was arrested as he tried to board a barge to leave Owensboro. He confessed to Patrolman Raleigh Bristow, Deputy Sheriff L.I. Dishman, and Deputy Sheriff Albert Reisz while being moved to Louisville. Bethea signed a confession at 6:30 PM that night. In his confession, he admitted that he did not know if she had been alive or dead when he had raped her. News of the attack and subsequent arrest spread across the nation quickly, with newspapers from California to Maine reporting the attack and many including information from Bethea’s confession.

The Trials.

The next day, June 11th, Bethea recants his confession, saying that he was drunk when he confessed to the officers and signed the confession. At his arraignment, Judge George Wilson set his trial date for June 22nd, after the grand jury had deliberated for one hour and forty minutes. June 12th, presumably after Bethea had sobered up, he told W. E Crady, a guard at the jail, where he had stashed the things he had stolen. Bethea hadn’t taken them far- only across the street. Investigators found Lischia’s rings, a dress, necklaces, and earrings in the loft of the barn across from her home. The fervor over the crime and the trial began and on June 19th, Owensboro County officials requested help from the National Guard.

A clipping of The Evansville Journal
19 Jun 1936,
The Evansville Journal
Evansville, Indiana
19 Jun 1936, Fri  •  Page 5

A special grand jury had been convened for the trial. Over 111 jurors were summoned, with 21 appointed to the grand jury and 27 to the petite jury. Judge Wilson ordered that all people be searched for firearms before entering the courtroom. Guards lined the halls of the courthouse and the outside. Meanwhile, ten special police officers were present in the courtroom itself to preserve order. Four attorneys were appointed to defend Bethea. William Wilson, WW. Kirtley, William Weils and Carroll Byron. Several hundred people attended the trial, with many of them waiting outside the courtroom. Bethea pleaded guilty, and the grand jury indicted him on the rape charge. This change was pursued over the murder charge, as the conviction for rape was execution. The petite jury had only deliberated for four and a half minutes before delivering the sentence. He was to be hung on July 31st.

The Appeal

An appeal was filed with the court of appeals on July 28 by Stephen A. Burnley. Appeals for these types of cases were not technically allowed, but the court could hear the appeal at its discretion. Judge Elmwood Hamilton issued a temporary writ of habeas corpus and set a new trial date of August 5th. Witnesses were summoned, including his previous defense council. Bethea testified that he never pleaded guilty, that his lawyers would not let him take the stand, and that his requests to his attorney were often denied. He also claimed that he did not know the contents of the confession that he had signed. Ultimately, his bid for appeal failed. His execution warrant was signed on August 6. His execution date was set for August 14, 1936, at sunrise.

The Execution

Rainey Bethea’s execution was mired in scandal, which led it to being the last public execution. Typically it is the duty of the Sheriff to execute punishments as laid down by the court- including arranging and performing executions. Unfortunately, the sheriff for Daviess County had died in April. His wife, Florence Shoemaker Thompson, had taken over his role thanks to “widows succession.” At first, she fully intended to perform the execution herself.

The Morning News
07 Jul 1936
The Morning News
Wilmington, Delaware
07 Jul 1936, Tue  •  Page 2

In 1936, this was a scandal, and many objected that a woman should not have to perform such a duty. Ultimately her hand was not the one to pull the lever and end Bethea’s life. Arthur Hash, a former police officer, offered to be the one to pull the lever, and Thomspon accepted. On the day of the execution, a large crowd had gathered. While the state had expected about 10,000 witnesses, nearly double had decided to attend, despite the early hour. Hash had arrived drunk, and after Bethea had been walked onto the gallows, hood placed over his head, and noose arranged around his neck, was unable to pull the lever. Professional hangman Phil Hanna shouted at Hash, who did nothing. A deputy finally leaned on the lever, springing the trapdoor. Bethea’s neck broke on the initial drop.

The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati, Ohio 15 Aug 1936,
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati, Ohio
15 Aug 1936, Sat  •  Page 8

During the execution, vendors roamed the crowd of spectators, selling hot dogs, popcorn, and soda pop. Some spectators climbed on nearby roofs, cars, and anything possible to get a good view of the hanging. For sixteen minutes Bethea hung until the doctors declared him dead and he was cut down. Then the crowd, who had been waiting since the night before in some cases, drunk on Kentucky whiskey, charged the gallows. They tore at Bethea’s hood, his clothes. They tore what they could from his body as souvenirs of their time at the hanging. In the crowd, people were robbed, and some lost their lives on the way to the hanging. Just three hours after he was killed, Rainey Bethea was buried in a pauper’s grave, against his sister’s wishes to bury him with family. The last public execution in the US was complete.

The Last Public Execution

Reactions to the execution varied. Some praised that another violent criminal was killed. Others took a very dim view of the circus that the execution turned into. One woman in Kentucky, writing anonymously, wrote that she was “ashamed to be a Kentuckian.” One writer in New York decried the spectacle:

The Daily Messenger
Canandaigua, New York 29 Aug 1936, Sat
The Daily Messenger
Canandaigua, New York
29 Aug 1936, Sat  •  Page 4

People from the country over began criticizing the execution, quickly becoming a complete media circus as more and more people wrote in about their displeasure. From the involvement of Florance Thompson as sheriff to the unruly crowd, the execution was examined and found to be lacking. The next two scheduled executions, in 1937, were ordered to be done privately. Finally, in 1938, the Kentucky State Assembly passed a repeal for the requirement for rapists to be hung. Rainey Bethea was the last public execution in the United States.

Want to Read More?

Check out the newspaper clippings I’ve assembled while researching!

History of Fingerprinting

History of Yesterday also did a great article on Bethea’s execution!

Like This Post?

Let me know in the comments below! If you could like and share as well, that would be awesome! Thank you for reading!

Cool Website of the Week!

There are some pretty cool websites relating to history out there on the web. Some aim to educate, others aim to preserve. For this week, starting March 6, our cool website recommendation of the week is:

The Museum of Endangered Sounds!

Sound isn’t something we tend to think of as historical. But someone born today will never know the jarring noise of dialup internet, a rotary phone, or the iconic Nokia ringtone. This site aims to preserve these sounds for future generations. It’s a fairly cool site to play on, and you can have several of the recordings playing at once for that truly late 80’s early 90’s ambiance. If only they included a recording of someone shouting to get off the internet because they were on the phone…..

The First Canned Beer

Beer. One of humanity’s most popular drinks, although falling in popularity in recent years. A whopping 6.3 billion gallons of beer are consumed each year… just by Americans. It’s actually credited with helping save humanity and helping us advance as a species. So it’s really no surprise that many people reach for an ice-cold can of beer at the end of the day.

Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

People don’t tend to think about the can their beer is stored in, if indeed it is in a can, and not a bottle. The first beer can was developed in Jersey City, NJ at a company called the “American Can Company”, for the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company. In 1935, the first 2,000 cans were delivered in Richmond Virginia. These early cans are not quite as familiar as the cans being used today. The pull-tab wasn’t yet invented, and the cans were not the light aluminum of today’s cans. The pull-tab wouldn’t be invented until 1959 by Ermal Fraze. The first beer cans were either opened with a chisel and hammer, churchkey, or a can opener, whichever was closest at hand.

Canning was originally invented in 1809 by Nicolas Appert in France as a way to store food for long periods of time without it going bad. By 1812 the first American canning factory had opened in New York City. While canning worked well for food, canning beer without losing the taste, carbonation, or color was difficult. The beer can also had to be able to withstand a much higher internal pressure. Food cans tend to have an internal pressure of around 35 pounds per square inch. Beer cans need to be able to handle pressures of 80 pounds per square inch- considerably higher than the standard cans for food.

Despite these challenges, canning beer was a lucrative idea. Cans were easier to store, easier to ship, and faster to fill. The American Can Company thickened the walls and seams of the cans and lined them with Vinylite. This plastic lining kept the metal from contacting the beer and contaminating the taste. Other canners, such as Continental and National Can Company, would later use enamel or enamel and wax.

Finally, in 1935, the first cans were filled and ready. The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2000 cans to Richmond Virginia to test the response of consumers. And they loved it! 91% of those who tried it approved, leading Krueger to approve larger runs of the canned beer. Other brewers and canners quickly followed suit.

Some brewers were unable or unwilling to change their bottling lines to suit cans over glass bottles, so the “cone top” can quickly became popular as well.

CC BY-SA 3.0,

The beer can would continue to evolve. In 1962, the easy open pull tab was added to the design of most beer cans. This allowed for the cans to be opened without having to use any tools, similar to the cans we use today. These weren’t fixed to the cans and were easily removed until 1975 when the fixed version we use today entered the canning world.

Today, the sale of beer cans has outpaced the sale of bottled beer. Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below! Like what I do and want to leave a tip? Click on the coffee cup on the left!

Want to know more? Check out these links!

Steel Canvas “A Brief History of the Beer Can

History- “First Canned Beer Goes on Sale”

Decades- “A Visual History of the Beer Can”

The Neanderthal Flute

Every parent dreads the day that their child comes home with a recorder. No, not the one that sits in your pocket and waits for someone to say “Okay Google.” I mean the little recorder/ children’s flute. The one that looks something like this:

A children’s recorder

They’re a good choice for a first instrument. Easy to learn, simple to use for small fingers. Children never seem to learn to play as quickly as parents seem to run out of patience for the squeaky high-pitched noises their child will somehow convince the recorder to make.

What parents may not know is that this recorder is probably the oldest instrument. The Neanderthal flute, a simple flute with four holes, is estimated to be about 60,000 years old. Scientists found it in the Divje Babe cave in Slovenia. Neanderthals made the flute from the bone of a cave bear. The flute is 20,000 years older than any previously found instruments. It’s also the only known instrument made by Neanderthals. Stone tools were used to make it and were found near the flute along with other cave bear bones. Ivan Turk discovered the flute and tools in 1995.

The next known musical instruments appear to be flutes found in Germany near the Danube river. Estimates put these flutes around 42,000 to 43,000 years old. They were made from mammoth ivory and bird bones. These two flutes are the oldest known instruments made by Homo Sapiens.

The Neanderthal Flute is kept on display at the National Museum of Slovenia.

So next time your child brings home a recorder and decides to serenade the family at Christmas dinner with what might have been “Silent Night”, just remember that they’re following in some of humanity’s oldest footsteps. We just can’t believe it took thousands of years to develop earplugs.

Article Share! Traces of 13,000-Year-Old Beer Found in Israel | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

This one is very cool. Beer is one of humanity’s oldest creations, with evidence of beer production going as far back as 13,000 years ago. For context, the Ancient Sumerian civilization is estimated to have started roughly 6000 years ago. Beer in the ancient times was pretty different from what we have today. The Natufian beer named in the article above, was more of a thin porridge, as was the early beer discovered in China and Egypt. The alcohol content was much lower, and beer probably played an important role in rituals, not just daily life.

A History of Carousels, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Carousels are often a family favorite at parks, carnivals, and amusement parks. They’re fantastically decorated, have options for riders of all ages, and play inviting music. There are various animals to be ridden or carriages to ride in. Everyone from the youngest in the family to the oldest can enjoy a turn around the carousel. The carousel is probably the oldest amusement ride!

There is evidence that the idea of a gently spinning ride goes back to the 6th century in the Byzantine Empire. Specifically Istanbul. Riders would be placed in small baskets attached to a central pole. The pole would be spun and the riders would twirl around the pole. Not bad at all for 500AD!

The merry-go-round as we think of it today actually has its roots in war. Well, training for war, in any case. Have you ever noticed that most carousels have horses as the main animal? There’s a good reason for this. Knights used to have games that involved riding in a circle on their horses to better prepare them for war! In the 12th century, knights from both Asia and Europe would have jousting competitions. The goal, at first, was to knock off their opponent’s hat. Turkish and Arabian warriors would toss fragile glass balls filled with perfume. If someone missed a toss, they would be covered in the perfume and all would know that they had missed a throw. These games were designed to improve their abilities on horseback and make them more effective in war. These games were called “carosella” in Spanish.

Peter Trimming / Jousting at Hever Castle, Kent (9),Kent(9)

Starting in the 17th century, knights had to spear their lance through a small ring. To practice this, knights had a contraption with “legless horses.” It gave them the chance to practice when the field, or their horse, were unavailable. It was not only the knights that could use these. Children and commoners were also able to practice riding on top of the “legless horses.” A children’s version of the training carousel was also made in the 17th century. It wasn’t a huge leap from there to go from a training device to entertainment.

Carousels for Entertainment

The first carousels designed for entertainment were lightweight and portable. They traveled to various fairs and gatherings. At this point, merry-go-rounds were mostly wooden platforms with swing-like seats hung from chains, although the mounted horses were added soon after. Mules were enough to move the platform, although some were hand-powered instead. The first merry-go-round in the US was in Salem and was installed in 1799. It was known as the “wooden horse circus ride.” What a mouthful! European and American carousels began to differ. Those in the US were more ornately decorated and larger than their European counterparts. Horses were no longer the only animals depicted but were joined by unicorns, tigers, elephants and other animals.

19th Century Carousels

Carousels began to really take off in the 19th century. Pole mounted mounts were put into place. These replaced the original chain-mounted animals. John Merlin was the first to play music while the carousel was moving. In 1803 his London carousel was immensely popular. Amazingly, carousels were animal or man-powered until 1861. Thomas Bradshaw was the first to create a carousel powered by steam. His carousel was patented in 1863 and made operating them much easier.

In 1870 Federick Savage began designing new carousels that changed out the animals for other seats. Some had boats, others bicycles. His designs were popular and could be found around the world. He also invented a new mechanism to move the horses. Previously the animals sat on springs that would make the animals move as the rider shifted. Savage designed the mechanism at the top of the pole that made the animals shift up and down as the carousel moved.

20th Century

Unfortunately, the 20th century was not kind to carousels. During the Great Depression, many carousels were destroyed, abandoned, or left to fall into disrepair. Of an estimated 4,000 carousels, less than 200 survived. People simply did not have the money to keep them going.

Carousels did not disappear entirely but struggled back to life. Today merry-go-rounds are made of plastic and fiberglass but are no less beautiful than the original wooden merry-go-rounds. Most are now powered by an electric motor and the music played by speaker rather than pipe organ. The absolute wonder and joy of the those who ride them hasn’t changed a bit.

Want to read more?

Check out these sources!