What are history’s most intriguing lost items, including film footage, photographs, books, or inventions? In no particular order, many people offer their choices:
1 The “Babushka Lady”‘s photos of the JFK assassination
2 The briefcase of Beatles original recordings belonging to Mal Evans
3 The Magnificent Ambersons original footage
4 Hemingway’s lost suitcase of his original manuscripts
5 The missing minutes of the Nixon tapes
6 Lord Byron’s prose memoirs that his publisher John Murray found to be so shocking and scandalous, that Murray ripped them apart page by page and burned them in a fireplace. Neither Murray nor Byron’s literary executor Thomas Moore ever divulged what was so shocking in the memoirs.
7 Walter Benjamin’s supposed briefcase when he was trying to leave France. He carried it through the mountains but after his suicide it was never found. And no one knows what was in it …
8 The Roman flexible glass.
9 Religious texts like missing Gnostic texts
10 Aristotle on comedy.
11 Footage of Vaslav Nijinsky dancing (see here for why there’s none, but also see this short clip of him dancing).
12 Dr Who episode: The Amber Room. More on the lost episodes of Doctor Who. A bunch of other BBC shows were lost in the same manner.
13 Damascus steel
14 The entire library of Alexandria. Countless classic documents were lost forever when the Library of Alexandria burned. Just to give one example: there are 116 lost plays of Sophocles. (Only 7 of 123 survive.) Surely the Library of Alexandria had some of them, and may have had them all.
15 Wikipedia has lists of lost works, lost artwork, lost films, lost TV, and lost treasure.
16 The uncut version of the film “Greed”, considered the “Holy Grail” of film archivists.
17 The Marx Brothers’ lost silent film Humor Risk.
18 Gilbert and Sullivan’s first collaborative opera, Thespis, was never commercially published and the music is now mostly lost. The lyrics survive, as well as two or three musical numbers.
19 The two rembrandts (i think they were rembrandts) stolen from the isabella stewart gardner museum.
20 William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, the most complete contemporary account of the Pilgrims in Plymouth. It was lost for more than 100 years, then found.
21 The formula for Greek Fire< 22 Jane Austen’s letters, destroyed by her sister Cassandra.
23 Lost works of art
24 The original opening of Sunset Blvd.
25 The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Judah are mentioned repeatedly in the biblical books of Kings but are no longer extant.
26 The book The Swerve: How The World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, about a long-lost Roman text that was discovered by a 15th-century book hunter.
27 The Dead Sea Scrolls were a huge archive of biblical texts, collected the so-called Qumran Sect (discovered in a cave near what is now Qumran, (West Bank) Israel). The DSS include what are basically early drafts of the OT books that give a fascinating look at the evolution of the text of the bible. There’s a large number of extra-canonical Jewish texts, including the Book of Enoch in Aramaic.There’s a catalog of the scrolls on Wikipedia. Many of these are lost and found texts.
28 Currently touring the USA – the Hitchcock Nine, which are 9 silent films directed by the Master of Suspense that were restored by the British Film Institute. A 10th, The Mountain Eagle, was lost.
29 When the Conquistadores burned every Mayan codex they could find. Only four survive, and a couple of those are incomplete.
30 Alibrarian discovered a 300 Year Old cookbook.
31 The Voynich manuscript. There’s evidence that it is missing some of its pages. Whether these would explain things, or only add to the weirdness, it would be amazing if they were found.
32 The marriage license between Queen Victoria & John Brown, supposedly burned in the fireplace by Queen Elizabeth II’s mother.
33 The Passion of Joan of Arc, lost and then discovered. This has been discussed on /r/AskHistorians
34 The papers of Sir Richard Burton and his manuscript for the Scented Garden, which were destroyed by his wife, Isabella.
35 For a long time, the movie The Manchurian Candidate was “lost” and it was considered to be out of release because Sinatra had blocked it after Kennedy’s assassination. However, that was denied later when the film was re-released in the late ’80s. I was interested in this because we saw a “bootleg” screening of it before the re-release and apparently it had been very hard to get hold of.
36 Currently the film version of Porgy and Bess is in a similar lost limbo. There are bootleg copies out there, but outside of a showing in 2007, it’s never really seen.
37 There are many, many properly ‘lost’ movies. Not only are they not currently in release– there are no extant copies.
38 The 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.
39 THE HISTORY OF THE YORUBAS From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate
40 MS by The REV. SAMUEL JOHNSON, Pastor of Oyo. The original manuscript was lost, and the version now in print was reconstructed from the authors note by his brother.
41 Records of the Cheng Ho expeditions.
42 Much of our modern ephemera such as personal correspondence, due to changing data formats (growing less important) and now multivalent communications across different technologies and social media.
44 What the initiates experienced during The Eleusinian Mysteries is basically completely unknown.
45 The Day the Clown Cried only Jerry Lewis knows where this film is hidden; and don’t ask him about it.
46 Paleontologists throughout the world ache to recover the lost bones of Peking Man. Two crates of skulls were to be sent to the U.S. for safekeeping from the Chinese site where they were unearthed, but which was threatened by war with Japan. They never arrived. Theories abound. Treasure hunters and swindlers have all gotten into the act, but the data that modern analysis could gather from these bones eludes us still. Here is a Times article
47 A fire at the US Patent Office in 1836 destroyed the government’s copies of patents issued between the founding of the office in July 1790 and the time of the fire. “There are estimated to be 9,957, of which only 2,845 have been restored,” according to the linked article.
48 The 1890 U.S. Census records were almost all destroyed by a fire.
49 The copy of the book involved in this man’s extremely mysterious death.
50 The lost puck from the Blackhawks Stanley Cup win.
51 Out of the Flames is a book about a book called De Chrisitianismi Restituto which was thought lost for centuries–its author was burned at the stake with what was thought to be the last copy. It’s primarily a religious text but contains the earliest accurate European description of the circulatory system
52 Harry Bennett, Henry Ford’s right-hand man/hired goon, burned all his company records upon his firing by Henry II. I’m sure a lot of tales of shady business were lost in that fire.
53 The original “video” tapes of Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. Not actually video in the sense that we know it. The stuff we have been watching for the past umpteen years is a kinescope taken from a TV set.
54 The rest of Capa’s D-Day pictures! On D-Day, Robert Capa took photos during the beach assault. The tech who developed the film rushed the job, and 100 of the 108 (or 106?) images were spoiled. The remaining images are still so powerful and moving that they are referred to in one article (which includes his editor’s account of the loss, new to me), as The Magnificent Eleven.
55 Fermat’s Last Theorem. We have a proof, but it is almost certainly not what Fermat had come up with.
56 Edward Hopper’s Corn Belt City to the Wikipedia ‘Lost Artworks’ page mentioned upthread.
57 Amelia Earhart’s Plane?
58 The missing Imperial Regalia of Japan, parts of which are thought to have been lost on a ship that was sunk sailing away from Japan during a sea battle in 1185.
59 Silphium was a medicinal plant of economic and cultural importance in classical antiquity, but no one knows what plant it was, whether it is extinct, or what medicinal properties precisely it may have had. Speaking of plants — Soma.
60 The Ark, the Grail, the woodsman’s heart, and whatever else Indiana Jones hunted for. Atlantis too!
61 Easter Island http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rongorongo script
62 George W. Bush’s DD214
63 The Archimedes Palimpsest. In 1229, Byzantine scribes wrote a prayer book. It was common practice to re-use old parchment books, scrape off the old writing and write over it. In this case, the book the scribes chose “contained at least seven treatises by Archimedes.
These treatises are The Equilibrium of Planes, Spiral Lines, The Measurement of the Circle, Sphere and Cylinder, On Floating Bodies, The Method of Mechanical Theorems, and the Stomachion. Of these treatises, the last three are of the greatest significance to our understanding of Archimedes. While the other treatises had survived through other manuscripts, there is no other surviving copy of On Floating Bodies in Greek – the language in which Archimedes wrote, and there is no version in any language of The Method of Mechanical Theorems and of the Stomachion.
“Curiously enough, this book was lost again after it was studied and photographed in the early 20th century. It re-emerged at an auction in the 1990s, unfortunately having sustained mold and physical damage in the intervening years.It’s stunning though to think that “the Archimedes Palimpsest is a unique source for the diagrams that Archimedes himself drew in the sand, in Syracuse, in the third century BC.”
64 The great bell of Dhammazedi Cast in 1484, weighing 297 tonnes. It was lost in 1608 but the interesting thing about bells, well, anything of this size, is that they tend to stick around, and tend to attract quite a bit of attention. So although many bells were melted down over the years by various baddies, the GBoD is still around. Of sorts.It was loaded onto a raft to be taken to a foundry and melted down for cannons, but the raft sank off Monkey point in Burma. The top of the bell was still visible at low tide up until 150 years ago but it’s now thought to be some 7m under silt.
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