Podcasts for History Lovers

Looking for some history podcasts? Look no further. I’m an avid podcast listener and these are my favorites from the history category. They’re all a little different, but really enjoyable and you’ll learn a thing or two!

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Backstory
This podcast is pretty academic seeing as it’s hosted by history professors from the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, and Yale with guest hosts and interviews from other historians. They use current events to explore US history. How did we handle immigration in the past? How long has “fake news” been around? How have women influenced American politics?
Episodes to check out: National Lampoon, The Habit, and Counter Culture.

The History Chicks
The “chicks” in the title is working overtime here: the show is two women talking about women in history. They cover everyone from Catherine the Great to Lucille Ball in an approachable yet authoritative way. Basically, they do their research and I feel like I could hang out with them. The audio quality of early episodes isn’t as polished as most podcasts but it does get better and the content is so good, I can deal with the audio issues.
Episodes to check out: Julia Child (duh!), The Wizard of Oz, and Lizzie Borden.

A History of the World in 100 Objects
This podcast is a conglomeration of my favorite things: podcasts, history, and museums. In this series, Neil MacGregor, director of The British Museum, takes a look at 100 objects from the museum’s collection that shaped the world. He discusses everything from stone tools to Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ to the credit card in a delightful, insightful way. The series ran during 2010 so don’t expect new episodes. This is a BBC production so the quality is top notch!
Episodes to check out: Really, all of them. But if you really need a recommendation, I’ll say The Rosetta Stone and the Suffragette Defaced Penny.

Witness
Witness, also a BBC production, is almost exclusively 20th-century history as it features interviews with people that experienced history (the witnesses.) They cover every topic you can think of and with episodes that are around 10 minutes long, you can listen to them here and there without having to commit to a 1+ hour long podcast. There is a new episode almost every day and the archives stretch back years so there is a lot to check out!
Episodes to check out: due to the sheer number of episodes in their archives, I’m going to direct you to their collections page. Pick a topic you’re interested in and have a listen!

Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine
Dr. Syndee McElroy and her husband Justin McElroy explore medical history and all the bad, dumb ways we’ve tried to heal people over the centuries. It’s one of my favorite podcasts, period. I should make it clear that this is a comedy podcast first and a history podcast second. Still, I’ve learned so many weird, interesting things from Sawbones while laughing until I cry. Sawbones isn’t for everyone but if you like a little silliness, check it out.
Episodes to check out: The Dancing Plague, Medical Cannibalism, and all of the episodes about patent medicines.

Lore
Lore is about folklore and true, often historical, scary stories. Aaron Mahnke, the host, is stellar. If you like to be creeped out, like folklore, and/or like stories from history, Lore is for you.
Episodes to check out: Negative Consequences, The Big Chill, and Mary, Mary.

You Must Remember This
You Must Remember This is about “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” Even if you’re not super into old movies, give YMRT a listen. Karina Longworth, the host/researcher/editor, is an incredible storyteller. I’ve been listening to the current season about Jane Fonda and Jean Seberg…and I’d never heard of Jean Seberg until a few weeks ago.
Episodes to check out: All of the episodes from “Charles Manson’s Hollywood.” Seriously. It’s incredible. Also check out all of the episodes from “Dead Blondes.”

A Small Collection of Vintage Ads

I scanned these wonderful ads a few years ago from a collection of my great-great grandfather’s belongings. I apologize for the poor quality of the scans!

Chase & Sanborn was the first company to package coffee in airtight cans and the first coffee to be distributed coast to coast in the US. They also packaged their tea this way, which you can see in the ad on the right. The company sponsored the “Chase & Sanborn Hour” on NBC radio. You’ve probably heard their ads if you’ve ever listened to old time radio mysteries (you can find a lot on iTunes or other podcast apps…they’re great on long car rides!) If you want to know more about the coffee industry in the US, check out this pamphlet they published in 1882!

cats
This is my favorite of the bunch. I can’t find a lot of information about Wintersmith’s Chill Tonic but it seems to have been a treatment for malaria. I know that if I ever contract malaria, I hope my medicine has kittens on the box.

fences

This one is nearly impossible to find info on. I think it may have been a local (central Florida) company. I can’t quite decide what’s going on in the ad. In the top panel, the woman is driving…is it saying that she’s such a bad driver she’s going to run the horses into the fence? Or did she lose control of the horses? Is she trying to make a point about how strong the fence is? What is your take here?

6 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Titanic

Thanks to James Cameron and Leo DiCaprio, I’m sure there is a good portion of my generation that has maintained an interest in Titanic. And of course, the ship endures in our consciousness because humans are drawn to tragedy. Then there’s the fact that it was unsinkable but sank on its maiden voyage. As Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember put it, Titanic is “the unsinkable subject.” Despite all we know about the ship, there is still plenty of interesting information that isn’t part of the public consciousness. Take these anecdotes and impress your friends! (Or make people say, “um, ok, can we talk about something else?”)

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Titanic leaving Queenstown, Ireland. Taken by Father Francis Browne, part of the Father Browne Album. Photo via Time.

1. The Unsinkable Molly Brown

You’ve no doubt heard of Molly Brown, the brash woman who refused to go down with the ship (wonderfully played by Kathy Bates in Titanic.) Margaret Brown was very much a real woman but Molly Brown is a bit of a fabrication. She never went by Molly in her lifetime. In fact, the name didn’t come about until the 1960s with “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, a Broadway play and later a film starring Debbie Reynolds. She was outspoken, but not just in her own interests. After the tragedy, Margaret used her newfound fame to become an outspoken advocate for things she believed in: women’s rights, Titanic survivors, and education. She even helped rebuild parts of France that were especially devastated by World War I. She is much more than the “Molly Brown” character that has been created and is so prominent in Titanic lore.

molly brown

Margaret Brown and Captain HH Rostron. Photo via the Molly Brown House Museum.

2. Men that survived the disaster were chastised

The “women and children first” protocol was actually fairly new when Titanic went down. The first recorded instance of its use was in 1852 when the HMS Birkenhead sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. By 1912, it was thoroughly ingrained in Edwardian society. Initial reports of the sinking claimed that most of the survivors were women and children, with some newspapers reporting that only one man was saved from the wreck. In a strange show of masculinity, the disaster was being recognized as a victory for chivalry and Anglo male bravery. As more accurate reports of survivors came in, and survivors reached North America, it was realized that 338 men of the 1,667 on board survived. Those men were chastised, called cowards, and accused of taking spots in lifeboats from women and/or children. Newspapers ran headlines like, “Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon Safe and Sound While Women Go Down on Titanic.”  This is indicative of the time but now it’s hard to imagine anyone being chastised for surviving a disaster.

3. Until the ship completely went down, a lot of passengers didn’t believe it would actually sink

I know, this sounds crazy…but it seems to be true. Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage is full of examples of people that did not realize that people went down with the ship until the following morning and people that gave valuables to loved ones still on the ship for safekeeping. Even those that remained on the ship as it was going down thought that they would be rescued before she sank completely (the nearest ship was four hours away, longer than it took the Titanic to sink.) Many thought that the ship could be towed to New York and the next morning, as news came in that it hit an iceberg, The Evening Sun reported that all on board had been saved.

Evening_Sun

Front page of The Evening Sun on April 15, 1912. Photo via the Pratt Library.

4. A survivor starred in a silent film about the sinking

poster for saved from the titanic

Less than a month after the sinking, in May 1912, Saved from the Titanic hit nickelodeons. The 10-minute silent film was the first dramatization of the disaster and starred Dorothy Gibson, an actress and survivor of the shipwreck. She was initially hesitant to take on the project, understandably so, but ultimately co-wrote and starred in it. In the film, she wore the same clothing she wore the night of the sinking: a white silk dress and black heels. It was Dorothy’s last film (she left the movie industry to become an opera singer) and she reportedly suffered a mental breakdown after its completion. Unfortunately, no copy of the film exists today. Aside from a few production stills, everything from the film was lost in a studio fire in 1914.

5. The White House Lost One of Their Own

On board Titanic was Archibald “Archie” Butt (real name, I swear.) Archie joined the military during the Spanish-American War and after the war’s end volunteered for service in the Philippines, where he was promoted to the rank of captain. He ended up in Cuba in 1908 and later became an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. When President Taft took office the next year, he kept Archie on as an aide. He was well-respected by both presidents, often participated in Roosevelt’s famous escapades, and was considered President Taft’s closest aide.
In early 1912, Archie took a vacation in Europe with American artist Frank Millet (also killed in the disaster). To drive home how much the President trusted him and his position in the Taft administration, Taft himself arranged for Archie to meet the Pope and the King of Italy during his European “vacation.” When it came time to return to the US, Archie booked passage on the Titanic. When he arrived home, he was to return to work at the White House, helping with President Taft’s reelection campaign. Of course, Archie wouldn’t make it home. President Taft delivered tributes and eulogies at memorial services for Archie, once breaking down to the point that he could not continue. Of his aide/friend, he said, “Never did I know how much he was to me until he was gone.”

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President Taft with Archie Butt. Photo via Library of Congress.

6. A survivor wrote a children’s book that was published in 1994

Yes, this book took nearly a century to publish. The author, Daisy Spedden, survived the shipwreck with her husband, Frederic, and young son, Douglas. Douglas had a small, stuffed polar bear that had been on board the Titanic with them (it also survived the wreck). In 1913, as a Christmas gift for her son, Daisy wrote a story about their trip to Europe and voyage on Titanic with the polar bear as the narrator. Sadly, Douglas died in 1915, Frederic died in 1947, and Daisy died in 1950. A relative of the Speddens, Leighton Coleman III, found the manuscript in a Louis Vuitton trunk her grandfather had stored in a barn. She contacted the Titanic Historical Society, which got in contact with Hugh Brewster, a Canadian author working on a book on Titanic. An illustrator created drawings true to Daisy’s own drawings and the book was published by Little, Brown, and Co in 1994.


Sources
Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers and Their World by Hugh Brewster
100 Years Later: A Snapshot of Life on the Titanic from Time
Major Archibald Butt from Biography.com
Meet Molly Brown from the Molly Brown House Museum
Sinking of the Titanic: Primary Sources from the Enoch Pratt Free Library
Polar, The Titanic Bear

My Must-Read True Crime Books

Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

5 must-read true crime books (1)

Like a lot of people, I’m into true crime. I listen to the podcasts, I watch Forensic Files marathons, and I read a lot. So here are five must-read true crime books with a historic twist. In no particular order…

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
This is the best-selling true crime book of all time and probably my very favorite book. Bugliosi was the prosecutor in the Tate/LaBianca murder trials and the deputy DA in Los Angeles. Because of his position and involvement with the case, he goes deep into the murders, the investigation, and the trial.

The Family by Ed Sanders
After you finish Helter Skelter, order a copy of The Family. It covers the late-60s, southern California scene more than Helter Skelter. Sanders’ voice is more in line with the counterculture than Bugliosi’s was, making it a totally different read. There is a lot of unsubstantiated stuff in The Family (which Sanders is forthright about) but there is a lot to chew on in regards to the Family itself. It’s a really fascinating look into late 60s southern California and Manson’s circle.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt
This book doesn’t necessarily cover a historic case but it is historic as far as true crime books go. Along with In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter, many consider this the grandfather of true crime books. It takes place in Savannah, GA, a town rich in history. Berendt lived in Savannah and got to know some of the residents, most of which are such characters you’ll forget what you’re reading is true. The true crime aspect comes in when Danny Hansford is killed in May of 1981. His killer, socialite and antiques dealer (my dream life, to be honest) Jim Williams, claimed self-defense. But was it really? Or did he plan the murder?

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
Ok, if you’re into true crime or history, I’m sure you’ve read this book. If you haven’t read it, get on it. The hype is real. The Devil in the White City is about H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who lured victims into his murder castle at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Larson takes you into the planning and construction of the fair itself as well as Holmes’ murderous escapades. Holmes is a fascinating character on his own but Larson’s writing and the weaving of narratives makes this book incredible.

Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O. J. Simpson Got Away with Murder by Vincent Bugliosi
I think it’s fair to say that OJ Simpson is having a moment, which, I admit, is one of the reasons I bought this book a few months ago. It was written Vincent Bugliosi, one-time deputy DA in Los Angeles, attorney, and prosecutor in the Manson case. In other words, a man that knew the law and how to take a case to trial. Outrage was written shortly after the trial concluded and his voice is very blunt and very passionate, as many were at the time (and still are). He lays out five reasons why Simpson was found not guilty and the factors that led to that verdict. It’s more complex than it seems but somehow much simpler than it’s been made out to be.

Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty by Anthony Galvin
I came across this book on Book Bub (not an affiliate link, just a service I really love!) and snagged the ebook for something like $1.99. I had my reservations (the cover art left a lot to be desired but don’t judge a book by its cover and all that). I ended up loving it! It discusses the rise and fall of the use of the electric chair, other methods of execution, and the debate/controversy surrounding capital punishment.

Are you interested in true crime? What’s your favorite true crime book?