Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life

Shannon Quinn - January 26, 2023

Reddit is a never-ending rabbit hole of interesting photographs to look at, and stories to read. But in on one little corner of the internet lies the subReddit called Old School Cool. Here, people share vintage or antique photographs that give you a look into another time and place. The vast majority of people will share photographs of their parents or grandparents, showing off how pretty they are. And there are also lots of old photographs of celebrities looking impossibly young. But aside from that trend, there are quite a few photos that stand out where it’s clear that there is a story to tell. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So let’s dive into some of the best of Old School Cool.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Two young college students hanging out in 1910. Credit: Reddit

A College Dorm at the University of Illinois, 1910

Looking at this photograph of two male college students from the University of Illinois in 1910, so much has changed and yet a lot has stayed the same. For one, college kids still hang photographs and posters on the wall. That much has stayed the same. But so much else that we see in the picture is different, now. For one, many college dorms now have cinder block walls that have been painted over, instead of pretty floral wallpaper. Kids are also no longer expected to wear a suit and tie to class. If you look closely, you’ll see that they hung a spoon on the wall. Apparently, there are some cultures where this is considered good luck.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
In just four years, Abraham Lincoln seemingly aged a decade. Credit: Reddit

Abraham Lincoln Before And After The Civil War, 1861-1865

In this photo set, we see a side-by-side comparison of what President Abraham Lincoln looked like before and after the Civil War. After just 4 years of war, Lincoln looks at least 10 years older. The lines in his forehead and jaw look much deeper. In modern times, many of you might remember that President Barack Obama went gray during his time in office. This is a phenomenon that has been dubbed “The White House Effect”. They are under so much stress, that they age twice as fast- two years for every one year in office. Lincoln’s private secretary, John Hay, wrote that Lincoln “Aged with great rapidity. The eye grew veiled by constant mediation on momentous subjects; the air of reserve and detachment from his surroundings increased.”

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
These children are sort of scary-looking with their Christmas masks on. Credit: Reddit

Kids at a Soviet Christmas Party, 1969

Somehow, this image is both creepy and cool at the same time. Without context, you might assume that this was taken during Halloween. But it’s actually a Soviet-era Christmas party. The masks are a part of “Svyatki”, which is the period from Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve (Jan.7) to the Epiphany (Jan.19). The masks are a part of a long held Russian tradition called “kalyada” where children would wear animal masks on Christmas Eve. Much like Trick-or-treat, kids would go door to door singing Christmas carols, or reading poetry. People would give out food in exchange for the entertainment they provided. The bear and goat characters are the most popular. In the choir group, there are important roles like the person who holds an 8-pointed star, a bag of treats, and the rest of the group wears various animal characters.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
One of the most intense blizzards on record, North Dakota in 1966. Credit: Reddit

The Great North Dakota Blizzard of 1966

This was a photograph of one of the most severe blizzards on record that happened between March 2-5 of 1966. On the subReddit, the original poster has this to say about the image. “This iconic photograph was taken during that storm. It shows Department of Transportation employee, Bill Koch, standing next to the top of a set of power lines. Visibility in the open country and farm yards was reduced to zero for 11 straight hours during the storm. 74,500 head of cattle perished during the three day blizzard.” The blizzard was particularly memorable for its long duration, as well as for its very heavy snowfall totals of 20 to 30 inches in some locations and wind gusts exceeding 70 mph at times.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
A young Bernie Sanders picking up trash at his local park. Credit: Reddit

Bernie Sanders Picking up Trash at His Local Park

Many of you will know Bernie Sanders as the US Senator who ran for President in 2016 and 2020 for the Democratic party. He has always advocated for free health care, raising the minimum wage, and generally wants to help the average Joe instead of supporting the rich. Because of this, he has a huge following of people who are rooting for him. In this photograph, we see a much younger Bernie Sanders picking up trash from his local park in Burlington, Vermont, after he won the election and became mayor in 1981. It’s rare to see photographs of politicians literally getting down and dirty to help their community.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
There is a hidden portrait underneath this painting of King Charles II. Credit: Reddit

This 1681 Portrait of King Charles II of Spain

Not long ago here on History Collection, we had a post about Hidden Messages in Famous Works of Art. This is not exactly a message, but rather a painting-within-a-painting. The Museo del Prado Tweeted this image with the following caption, “This portrait of Charles II as an adult painted by Carreño de Miranda in 1681 hides another work: Carreño reused a canvas on which he had painted a portrait of the youngest king years before and in the same room, the Hall of Mirrors of the Real Alcázar in Madrid.” It’s interesting that they did this. Nowadays, people love to save pictures of you from your childhood. But in this instance, the past was completely painted over once King Charles II became an adult.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Actress Marlene Dietrich. Credit: Reddit

Marlene Dietrich, a Trailblazer in the LGBTQ Community, 1930

Marlene Dietrich was a German-American actress whose career spanned from the 1910’s all the way until the 1980’s. During her heyday, she was a famous actress in the silent film era. She was one of the first actresses to appear in drag, wearing a male Navy officer’s uniform in the 1940 movie Seven Sinners. Marlene was once quoted saying, “In Europe, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman – we make love with anyone we find attractive.” She wasn’t afraid to admit that she was bisexual, but ultimately married a man. Throughout her lifetime, she openly had affairs with women, even if they were married.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Artist Salvador Dali. Credit: Reddit, Colorized by Jecinci

Salvador Dali Standing on the Deck of the S.S. Normandy

Salvador Dali was a Spanish surrealist painter who was famous for his works of art. Most people are familiar with his most recognized piece, “The Persistence of Memory”, which features melting clocks in a strange alternative universe. In this photograph, he looks truly cool, standing on the deck of the S.S. Normandy on a winter’s day. Sort of sad, and possibly hungover and exhausted, judging from the bags under his eyes. He spent a lot of his time hyping up his own fame, and once told a friend that he would “never die”. It turns out that he was correct, because his work lived on long after his death.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
These wax mannequins melted on an especially hot day in 1929. Credit: Reddit

Wax Mannequins In a Heat Wave, 1929

I cheated with this one a little bit, because it came from the Oddly Terrifying subReddit rather than Old School Cool. But it fits the theme of this post perfectly. The photo of these mannequins actually came from a London newspaper called “The Sphere”, published on June 1, 1929. There was a caption under the photo that read, “Wilting Lilies: Two wax bathing bells in New Bridge Street register extreme depression owing to the heat-wave. Even human, as well as waxen, beauties have felt apt to wilt in the recent burst of hot weather.” Nowadays, mannequins are no longer made of wax. Possibly, this event was a valuable lesson to have mannequins that are melt-proof, so they stay intact in all kinds of weather.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
This tiny baby served as the target for his circus performer parents. Credit: Reddit

Knife Thrower and Child in the 1940s

Circus performers used their baby for target practice in their knife-throwing show. If this were to happen in the modern world, the baby would probably be taken away by Child Protective Services! Apparently, this was a common thing to see at the circus. There is an Archived video of knife throwers tossing knives at their children in the 1950’s. Most of the time, a teenager or adult woman will stand against a large piece of wood, known as the Target Girl. Some of these Target Girls became famous, and a few went on to write biographies about their interesting lives. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about the baby in the photograph above, but I truly hope he got to live a long and happy stab-free life.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
This police officer is up to his waist in water but he is still doing his job. Credit: Reddit

This Policeman Kept His Post Despite the Flood, Ontario, 1974

As first responders, police officers are forced to work in all kinds of conditions. Even during a massive flood, someone has to make sure crimes don’t get committed. This photograph was taken on the corner of Dickson St. and Ainslie St. N. in downtown Galt (now called Cambridge) in Ontario, Canada. After several weeks of rain, plus lots of melted snow in the spring caused the Grand River to flood in May of 1974. Thankfully, no one was killed. But the flood cost the city millions of dollars in damages. According to The Record, the man in the photograph is named Jack Shuttleworth. He was interviewed, and explained that he was standing there to make sure the stores did not get looted. “The whole idea was to be a deterrent so nobody would be picking this stuff off,” he said.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
A very cool picture of a band called the Stray Cats. Credit: Manfred Becker

Stray Cats playing at the Rockpalast Festival in Germany, 1983

This photo stood out to me, because these kids are rocking out so hard, their energy is infectious. You probably have never heard of the Stray Cats before. Neither did I, but they sure can rock. They are an American rockabilly band that started in 1979. One of their most famous songs was called “Stray Cat Strut”. The man in the middle is actually a fan who managed to get on stage, and he is jumping in midair while he rocks out to the song. There have been several breakups and reunions of the Stray Cats over the years, with one of their most recent performances happening in 2019.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Musician Prince running away from crazed fans. Credit: Reddit

Prince being chased by some fans, 1994

A photograph like this would probably never happen again for several reasons. First of all, most famous musicians walk around with a bodyguard, especially when they are at a concert venue. In today’s world, these girls would probably be tackled to the ground for trying to run after Prince. In the photo, Prince is smiling. He seems to be enjoying the attention from the pretty girls. Nowadays, we understand the psychology of parasocial relationships. Fans can watch and learn so much about a celebrity through the Internet, but it’s a very one-sided thing. The celebrity has no idea who this person is. Most celebrities find this to be creepy, but it’s a well-known aspect of their job that they must deal with.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Children learning over the radio during the Polio outbreak. Credit: Reddit

Kids Remote Learning Over the Radio During the Polio Outbreak, 1937

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, we had to get used to long-distance learning. Modern kids were taken out of the classroom and kept at home so they could do their lessons over Zoom. But this was not the first time in history where something like that happened. Back in 1937, during the Polio Outbreak, many kids did remote learning by listening to a teacher over the radio in Chicago. After the city had recorded 109 cases of Polio in August of 1937, the city decided to ban children from going on the playground or showing up in public spaces, like a movie theater. They delayed the opening of school for three weeks, and made them do radio schooling instead. Seven different radio stations offered to help with the programming, so that different grades could have their own stations.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
A lecture at Lincoln University taught by Albert Einstein. Credit: Reddit

Albert Einstein Teaching at Lincoln, the United State’s First Historical Black University, 1946

Considered to be one of the greatest geniuses of all time, Albert Einstein spent some of his time teaching at Lincoln University. This was the first black University in the United States. During his lifetime, Einstein advocated for Civil Rights long before it became popular in the 1960’s. While at Princeton University in the 1940’s, he noticed that black students were treated the same way that Jews were treated in Germany. As a Jewish man himself, he could see that parallel of racism happening across nations. He said, “The separation of the races is not a disease of the colored people, but a disease of the white people.”

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
This young man took a selfie long before it was cool. Credit: Reddit

Young Man Taking a Selfie, Using a Piece of Wood to Activate the Shutter, 1957

A lot of vintage and antique photographs include portraits of people taken by a photographer that is standing several feet away from the subject. But “selfies” have been around long before cellphones existed. In this image taken in 1957, we see a young man squatting down with a piece of wood to hit the shutter of a camera, so that he could have a picture of himself. Many early selfies were created with the help of a mirror, which is still a popular method today for a standard outfit of the day picture. When I first saw this picture, my first thought was that it was a selfie stick…But obviously, those did not exist back then. Hey, a plank of wood still worked out pretty well as a selfie stick, anyway.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Smiling Marilyn Monroe visits injured troops in Korea. Credit: Reddit

Marilyn Monroe Visiting Injured Troops in 1954

Actress Marilyn Monroe famously took time out of her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio in 1954 to visit the troops in Korea. From 1950 to 1953, the United States was in the midst of the Korean War. But even after the war was over, there were still plenty of US troops stationed in Seoul as part of the UN occupation force. Originally, Joe and Marilyn were headed to Japan for their honeymoon. But when they ran into Major General Charles W. Christenberry on the flight, they were invited to stop by Korea to entertain the troops. While Joe DiMaggio was busy in Japan preparing for his baseball career, Marilyn went on her own to say “thank you” to the troops. In this photograph, she is talking to a man who had broken his back, and needed to heal while facing down.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
This baby has no idea what racism is, and yet it is being forced upon him by his parents. Credit: Reddit

No One is Born Racist, 1992

On Reddit, someone titled this photograph, “No One is Born a Racist”. We see a tiny baby wearing a KKK uniform that was clearly picked out by their parents. They approach a black State Trooper, curious to touch his riot shield. This photo went viral on the Internet, with few people knowing the context. Turns out this photo was taken by Todd Robertson in Gainesville, Georgia. The police officer in the picture is State Trooper Allen Campbell. He recalled that day in an interview, saying, “I didn’t even see the kid. I was just looking down to see what was bumping on my shield. And when I looked down, there was this little kid in a Klan uniform. He saw his reflection in the riot shield. He was tracing his outline.”

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
A woman leaving her bombed house to get married in 1940. Credit: Reddit

Bride leaving her recently bombed home to get married, London, Nov 4 1940

During World War II, citizens of London were bombed by the Germans during “The Blitz” that lasted from 1940 to 1941. During this time, the Ministry of Defense created propaganda posters that read, “Keep Calm and Carry On”. As in- People should continue to live their lives as normal, and not to let the fear of the bombs ruin their lives. While researching photos of this list, I came across several photographs of British people keeping calm. There was a woman drinking tea on top of a pile of rubble. Several gentlemen wearing suits as they browsed through a bombed library, and a couple saying their marriage vows in what was left of a bombed church. This photograph ultimately made its way to the list, with the happy bride leaving her bombed house on her wedding day.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
It used to be considered a good idea to let your kids take naps outside in the cold. Credit: Reddit

​​Soviet Children in Sleeping Bags on the Way to Their Dorm Room, 1930

This headline seems like it should be a joke. But it’s just a very true story of how in Soviet Russia, they believed that it was good for children’s health to have them take naps outside in the freezing cold. There are numerous photos of kids laying on cots out in the snow wearing these little sleeping bags to make sure they don’t get frostbite. Russian studies proved that fresh air was good for children, so they made sure to let kids play outside as much as possible, as well as take their naps outdoors. It was also believed that the fresh air could prevent the spread of epidemics, so classrooms were aired out twice a day too, even in the winter months. In this photograph, you can see kids walking back to their classroom in their full-body sleeping bags.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
This young woman was crowned Miss American Vampire. Credit: Reddit

The Winner of Miss American Vampire, 1970

We have all heard of Miss America. But what about Miss American Vampire? The text on the image says, “Christina Domenecki, part-time model from Belleview, NJ, has been selected for the first regional winner in MGM’s nationwide search for Miss American Vampire to reign in The House of Dark Shadows film based on the daytime serial.” So basically, this contest only ran for one year, in 1970, because it was a marketing stunt to promote the movie. After winning the contest, she was able to earn a cameo on the Dark Shadows TV series. This win is often contested, saying that actress Sacheen Littlefeather actually won Miss American Vampire when the finals took place in Los Angeles. Obviously, Christina Domenecki was on the east coast when she was crowned in New York, and she was the one who ended up on TV.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Two recently divorced women enjoying their time on a Divorce Ranch in Nevada. Credit: Reddit

Two “Dudes” on a Divorce Ranch in Nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada is a well known wedding destination for couples who are eager to elope. But the state is also a popular place for ending a marriage too. Many people aren’t aware of the existence of “Divorce Ranches“. For years, many states banned divorce. Even in progressive states like New York, the only way to get a divorce was to prove adultery, and that wasn’t changed until the 1960’s. But Nevada was very lenient when it came to granting a divorce, and you needed just 6 weeks to be considered a resident. So married couples would go to a “Divorce Ranch” on vacation and come back single people. These ranches were like resorts where you could live like ranch hands, but also enjoy time by a lake or poolside. Everyone was called a “dude”, and wore outfits that made them ready to work on the ranch.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
A woman in Paris who loves to grow cannabis with her cat. Credit: Reddit

A Woman and Her Cat in Their Cannabis Garden, Paris 1915

Our next photo has become rather famous, because I’ve seen it circulating around the Internet a number of times in the past. All we really know about the woman in the photograph is that she lived in Paris in 1915, and that she enjoyed relaxing with her cat in her cannabis garden. The photo is so engaging, that a group of writers over at Messy Nessy Chic used it as a writing prompt for fictional stories. France banned cannabis in 1953, and it is now illegal to grow in their country. But at the time this photo was taken, what this woman was doing was perfectly legal.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
A group of young girls protesting the ban on wearing pants to school. Credit: Reddit

Protesting the High School Dress Code that Banned Slacks for Girls, Brooklyn 1942

This photograph was originally published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in March of 1942. These girls were students at Abraham Lincoln High School on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. This all started because one student, Beverly Bernstein, was suspended from school when she showed up wearing slacks, and it was considered “inappropriate” for girls. The girls responded with a protest by having every single girl show up to school wearing pants. Remember, that this was during World War II. So the girls got together to sign a petition, saying that this was a safety issue, since pants make it easier to run away during an air raid. It also helped the war effort by preventing the need to wear silk stockings. Most of the boys signed the petition, too. The next day, the principal said that girls could wear pants to school.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
College tuition used to be affordable for the average person. Credit: Reddit

The Total Cost For a Semester of College Back in 1970

This photo from The Way We Were subReddit is both fascinating and infuriating, especially if you’re one of the millions of people who are shackled with student loan debt. The original poster scanned a receipt from his father’s tuition bill back in 1970. He took 3 courses, which is the average amount per semester of college. Those three classes were just $36. After modern-day inflation, that’s still only $250 today. With prices like that, your average college kid could pay for his own tuition out-of-pocket by having a part-time job outside of school. It’s easy to see how college was once possible to accomplish and be debt-free. Now, in 2022, the average federal student loan debt was $37,358. Today, that $250 may not even be enough for one semester of textbooks, let alone tuition and fees.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
This photo of Stephen King comes from Life Magazine in 1982. Credit: Reddit

Stephen King With His $12,000 “Wang” Word Processor, 1982

Known as the “King of Horror”, Stephen King is one of the wealthiest authors in the world with a net worth of $500 million. From 1973 to 1981, Wang Laboratories was a company that produced computers, fax machines, and word processors. The brand was very short-lived, and ultimately couldn’t keep up with the likes of Apple. At $12,000, you had to be as successful as Stephen King to afford a Wang Word Processor to begin with! This image was published in a 1982 issue of Life Magazine. At the time, many people were still using typewriters, because computers were too expensive for the average person. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when personal computers would become more affordable, and programs like Microsoft Word made word processing machines obsolete.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
A tiny house on wheels. Credit: Reddit

The Original Motorhome, 1926

In the 2010’s, there was a huge “Tiny House” movement that spread throughout the world as people began to downsize their homes after the Great Recession of 2008. At the same time, there was an uptick of people getting into “van life”, which is the process of converting a van into a tiny home on wheels. But this photo from 1926 proves that people had this idea long before the current tiny house movement. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information on the photo. I would love to see the inside of this mobile home. But we are left with the exterior, showing a cute little house built around a car.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
This Greyhound bus station came with state-of-the-art coin operated TV’s. Credit: Reddit

Ashtrays and Coin-Operated Televisions in the LA Greyhound Bus Terminal, 1969

It’s funny how something that once seemed like modern luxury is now old-fashioned and dated in so many ways. As a kid in the 1990’s, I would have loved to see these coin-operated TV’s at a bus station. When you’re waiting for your bus to arrive, there is not much you could do back then besides read a book, newspaper, or magazine. But nowadays, almost everyone owns a smartphone or an iPad, so you can watch media for free on your personal devices. Smoking indoors didn’t become illegal in all enclosed spaces until 2011. So it’s still a fairly new law, but it makes these indoor ashtrays obsolete.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Famous photograph from 1899, taken by Félix Thiollier. Credit: Reddit, Félix Thiollier

Lady and Her Horse on a Snowy Day, 1899

This photo by Félix Thiollier is absolutely beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that a lot of people like to hang it on the wall in their home. It captures movement so perfectly. And with the snow surrounding the woman and the horse, it almost feels like a magical place to be. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about this photo available online. I wish we knew the story behind this stunning picture, but it may actually be a good picture to use for writing prompts, if you’re the creative type.

Rare and Remarkable Historical Photos That Bring History to Life
Two of the girls in the picture weren’t lucky enough to get a Cabbage Patch Kid. Credit: Reddit

The Cabbage Patch Craze, 1983-84

On Reddit, the title of this photo says, “Only some of us were lucky enough to get a Cabbage Patch Kid during the craze in 1983/84.” In 1983, Cabbage Patch dolls were so scarce, that it caused literal riots to break out in stores as parents frantically tried to buy them. During Christmas time, some parents even drove hundreds of miles to get their hands on one. At the time, Cabbage Patch dolls cost $21, which is closer to $62 after inflation. To make matters worse, people would resell the dolls for $50, which is more like $147 today. As time went on, the cost of the doll increased. After a quick check online, I saw that they go for around $40 to $60 each, depending on the style.

How did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Old School Cool. Reddit

Barack Obama not the only president to go grey in the White House. Matt Kwong. CBC. 2016.

When The Flood Came. Jeff Hicks. The Record. 2020.

Remote learning isn’t new: Radio instruction in the 1937 polio epidemic. The Conversation. 2020

Einstein: Advocate for Civil Rights. The Urban News. 2022.

These 16 historical selfies show vanity is timeless. Phil Edwards. Vox. 2015.

When Marilyn Monroe Interrupted Her Honeymoon to go to Korea. Leisl Bradner. History Net. 2019.

Georgia trooper in 1992 image with toddler dressed in KKK garb recalls that day. Lee Shearer. The Florida Times Union. 2013.

The story behind ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. University of London.

Students Protesting the High School Dress Code That Banned Slacks for Girls in Brooklyn, New York City, 1942. Vintage Daily News. 2019.

Welcome to Splitsville: How Reno Became the Divorce Capital of the World. Vanita Salisbury. Thrillest. 2022.

And the winner of Miss American Vampire is …The CollinSport Historical Society. 2015.

Why did kids sleep in the freezing cold in Soviet kindergartens? Georgy Manaev. Russia Beyond. 2019.

The strange story of the Cabbage Patch Kid Riots of 1983. ABC NY. 2022.