Articles by Karen Abbott

Letters written by Abraham Lincoln

Letters from Mothers to President Lincoln

A sampling of motherly missives to the president

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"The Hatpin Peril" Terrorized Men Who Couldn't Handle the 20th-Century Woman

To protect themselves from unwanted advances, city women protected themselves with some sharp accessories

Herald Square circa 1907, when Ida Wood first moved into the Herald Square Hotel.

Everything Was Fake but Her Wealth

Ida Wood, who lived for decades as a recluse in a New York City hotel, would have taken her secrets to the grave—if here sister hadn't gotten there first

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The Children Who Went Up In Smoke

A tragic Christmas mystery remains unsolved more than 60 years after the disappearance of five young siblings

A likeness of Madame Restell, published in the National Police Gazette, 1847

Madame Restell: The Abortionist of Fifth Avenue

Without benefit of medical training, Madame Restell spent 40 years as a "female physician"

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Women Who Shaped History

The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism

Their seances with the departed launched a mass religious movement—and then one of them confessed that "it was common delusion"

Fox Sisters

“A Very Common Delusion”: Spiritualism and the Fox Sisters

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Ask Smithsonian 2017

What (or Who) Caused the Great Chicago Fire?

The true story behind the myth of Mrs. O'Leary and her cow

David Curtis Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, 1922

“Murder Wasn’t Very Pretty”: The Rise and Fall of D.C. Stephenson

The Grand Dragon of the Klan and prominent Indiana politician had a vicious streak that had horrifying consequences

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The 1904 Olympic Marathon May Have Been the Strangest Ever

In 1904, St. Louis hosted the Olympic Games as part of the World's Fair—and produced a spectacle that incorporated all the mischief of the midway

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The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance

Etta Shiber

“I Was Looking Forward to a Quiet Old Age”

Instead, Etta Shiber, a widow and former Manhattan housewife, helped smuggle stranded Allied soldiers out of Nazi-occupied in Paris

Rufus Choate

The Case of the Sleepwalking Killer

The evidence against Albert Tirrell was lurid and damning—until Rufus Choate, a protegé of the great Daniel Webster, agreed to come to the defense

Polly Adler and a friend

The House that Polly Adler Built

She entered the brothel business without apology and set out to become the best madam in America

A crowd of 250,000 jammed Times Square to see the start of the race.

Cultural Travel: Paris

Paris or Bust: The Great New York-to-Paris Auto Race of 1908

Even before there were roads, there were men who wanted to drive fast

Headline from the San Antonio Light, November 12, 1933

The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

The plot to kill Michael Malloy for life-insurance money seemed foolproof—until the conspirators actually tried it

Izzy Einstein (left) and Moe Smith share a toast in New York City

Prohibition’s Premier Hooch Hounds

Paul Morphy (left) and a friend

A Chess Champion’s Dominance—and Madness

As a young man, Paul Morphy vanquished eight opponents simultaneously while effectively blindfolded

The "rectal acorn"

The Civil War

Seven Obscure Facts You Didn’t Know About the Civil War

Amid the vast literature of the Civil War, it's easy to lose sight of some of the stranger facts, coincidences and quirks of character

'Blondin's rope ascension over Niagara River' by George Barker

The Daredevil of Niagara Falls

Charles Blondin understood the appeal of the morbid to the masses, and reveled when gamblers took bets on whether he would plunge to a watery death