Photograph by Ewing Galloway
A DESERT COMES TO LIFE
With dolls playing the role of Africans on their tabletop oasis, geography students at a Floral Park, New York, elementary school consult National Geographic in 1934. They might have found models for their date palms in "Crossing the Untraversed Libyan Desert" (September 1924). Floral Park was once a kind of oasis itself—one for the eyes—for passengers on the Long Island Rail Road. Fields of flowers at the John Lewis Childs seed company would blaze past the windows as the trains roared by. Childs sold off his land by the early 1920s, and neighborhoods soon bloomed where flowers once did. This photo has never before been published in National Geographic.
Photograph by Volkmar Wentzel
The glow of an atomic bomb test at Yucca Flat, Nevada, 65 miles (105 kilometers) away, draws Las Vegas casino workers on March 17, 1953. The Geographic's Sam Matthews watched from a tarpaper-lined trench just two miles (three kilometers) from the explosion. "The atomic fire-ball rose in the sky, a giant sphere of orange and black, tongues of fire amid billowing soot," he wrote. Though this photo was probably shot for his June 1953 article "Nevada Learns to Live With the Atom," it has never before been published in the magazine.
Photograph from Bettman/Corbis
HER LITTLE SECRET
Perched on a tasseled divan, swathed in silks, her face demurely veiled, this elegant Constantinople lady just might not be a lady. Western curiosity about the Ottoman imperial harem created a demand for exotic postcards like this in the early 1900s (the Society's archives received this photo in 1911). But because Islamic tradition discouraged Turkey's Muslim women from being seen by men who weren't their husbands, photographers sometimes asked men to pose dressed as women. This photograph has never before been published in the magazine.
Photograph from Bettmann/Corbis
Even the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan seemed to stand taller when the United States steamed past before her maiden voyage to France and England in 1952. She was the largest passenger ship ever built in the U.S., and her three-day transatlantic passage broke the previous speed record held by Britain's Queen Mary. "After the loud and fantastic claims made in advance for the liner United States," complained Punch, the British magazine, "it comes as something of a disappointment to find them all true." The ship sailed for 17 years. She's now docked in a Philadelphia port, awaiting renovation. This photograph has never before been published in National Geographic.
Photograph by AP/World Wide Photos
Volunteers beat back flames caused by a careless camper near Madison, Tennessee, during the drought of 1925. Their use of branches and burlap sacks to fight the fire—especially when water was scarce—isn't so strange, according to John Ragsdale, a Nashville fire district chief. "I've used brooms too," he says. "You can just sweep that kind of fire out sometimes." And if the bristles burn? "You get yourself a new broom," he shrugs. Brush fires are less common in the region these days. Now that Madison has been absorbed into suburban Nashville, there's not much brush left. This photo has never before been published in the magazine.
A FLOWERING OF FREEDOM
The salutes were unflagging outside Philadelphia's Independence Hall in 1938, as ceremonial representatives from each of the 13 original states celebrated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Their backdrop banner, a 10-by-20-foot (3-by-6-meter) replica of one version of the 1777 flag was composed entirely of red, white, and blue flowers. It was touted at the time as the "largest floral flag ever built in America." This photograph was never before published in the magazine.
Photograph from Bettman/Corbis
Men perform the attan in a village near Farah, in southwestern Afghanistan. This traditional Pashtun folk dance, a staple entertanment at weddings is accompanied by the ever faster beating of drums. Participants—including, occasionally, women—spin for hours on end, until exhausted. This photograph, received at the Society in 1948, was never published in the magazine, but by then National Geographic had a long history of covering the country, including Maynard Owen Williams's article, "Back to Afghanistan." Invited to a tribal wedding, Williams did not photograph the "girls in bright silks and heavy coin necklaces…ranged against the sky. The camera could not catch the scene, for in Afghanistan," he wrote, "a lens, like a gentleman, sees only males."
Photograph by J.C. Allen & Son
Pigs carved from lard sing their own praises in a display at the International Livestock Show in Chicago in 1942. First published in an April 1943 story about wartime agriculture, "Farmers Keep Them Eating," the photo underlined a looming concern: slim supplies of fat. Author Frederick Simpich predicted a "fat famine," citing a call by the United States Department of Agriculture for more fat-supplying foods to fill the demands of World War II troops, lend-lease agricultural aid to allies, and Americans' own appetites. "Day and night rises the cry for more lard and pork, louder and louder," he wrote. At the time Simpich's story was published the average American ate 52 pounds (24 kilograms) of animal and vegetable fat a year. Nowadays the annual total is closer to 60 pounds (30 kilograms).
Photograph from Bettman/Corbis
HANGING IN THERE
"Throughout the whole region . . . bridges are few and primitive," wrote A. L. Shelton, author of "Life Among the People of Eastern Tibet," from the September 1921 National Geographic. This image of a precarious Mekong River crossing was first published in that issue. "With his mount securely trussed to the rope bridge," says the photo's caption, "the owner supplies his own motive power, hand over hand, as he pulls himself and beast across the chasm with the river far below." A staple of Tibetan food also presented some difficulties, according to Shelton, a medical missionary who had spent several years in the country. "There is such a quantity of yak hair in the butter that an observer would almost assume that it was a prized ingredient," he wrote.
Workers entering a South African mine traveled by a system of cables stretched from rim to pit floor. The tramway also served to bring diamonds up from below. "So thickly together were these lines set," wrote Gardner F. Williams in his 1905 book, The Diamond Mines of South Africa, "that the whole face of the vast pit seemed to be covered by a monstrous cobweb, shining in the moonlight as if every filament was a silver strand."
ANGELS IN DISGUISE
"These very alarming persons are not, as might be supposed, night riders or vigilantes surreptitiously disposing of a victim," assured this photo's caption in the Geographic's April 1910 portfolio, "Scenes in Italy." Instead the men—masked to protect their anonymity—belonged to a secret society known as the Brethren of the Misericordia. As penance for their sins, or to "fulfill some vow," members transported the sick to hospitals, buried the dead, and collected money for the poor.
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
The king of Afghanistan perused his own copy of the Geographic for photographer/writers Jean and Franc Shor in April 1949. The husband-and-wife team had arrived in Kabul to ask the permission of Mohammad Zahir Shah—a longtime Society member—to be the first Westerners to fully explore the mountainous Wakhan corridor. "He alone was giving us the chance to continue our journey," wrote Jean Shor. "I wanted to give him something in return, so I handed him our Polaroid camera. He seemed a little startled… How was I to know that kings customarily accept presents only from other kings?" The Shors' article "We Took the Highroad in Afghanistan" appeared in November 1950, but this photograph was never published in the magazine. The king, now 87, was deposed in a 1973 coup. He is currently helping plan a new government for his country.