Thursday, October 24, 2013

All the.News That's Fit to Print--and Then Some


One of my favorite research tools is old newspapers.  I used to make myself sick going through microfiche at the library, but thanks to the Internet many 18th and 19th century newspapers are now available on line.

Reading some of these newspapers is like reading the National Enquirer.   

During the 1800s there were no shortages of ghosts, UFOS, monsters or things that go bump in the night.  Weird animals?  You name it.  Giant reptiles, huge birds and an eighteen horn cow made headlines and that wasn't all;  A Texas man outgrew his coffin and another man was hypnotized by the telegraph.  

Free Ghost Clipart

Sightings frightened residents and created “adject fear” in livestock 



You’ve heard of Roswell and the alien that supposedly crashed there, but did you know that something similar happened in Aurora, TX in 1887? According to “Hidden Headlines of Texas” compiled by Chad Lewis “something out of this world” crashed and demolished a windmill in Aurora. “Mr. T.J. Weems, a U.S. Army Signal Service Officer and an authority on astronomy, gives his opinion that the pilot was a native of Mars.

 Buzzing lights, airships, immense meteors and strange moving lights were witnessed by firemen, undertakers, miners and a twelve year old who “didn’t believe in ghosts, whose parents never scared him with spook stories, and who is one of the best behaved scholars in fourth grade.”

Ghosts were reported even by those proclaiming not to believe in them

Houses, mines, theaters and even certain roads were haunted.  According to an article in a Tombstone Epitaph dated 1907, a Texas mining man purchased a haunted mine and soon realized his mistake when “spirits” chased away his workers.

Wild men ran rampant through the old west, though none of the real wild men reported in newspapers were quite as handsome as the “wild man” hero in one of my books (Yep, inspiration abounds in those old newspapers). Posses were formed to chase down various wild men but apparently few were ever caught. 

One wild man in Galveston created “consternation” among its citizens by “lapping up milk like a dog” and “eating fried chicken raw.”  Not everyone was disturbed by his behavior.  The Galveston Daily News defended the wild man in an editorial: “Well, do not be heard on the poor, frenzied creature; he is probably some eminent Republican who ran away to keep from being nominated for the vice presidency.”

“Lunacy” and “sudden insanity” seemed to plague 19th century citizens  

Jokes, religious excitement, storms and disgrace were among the reasons given for a sudden crazed or deranged state.  You’ve heard of postal workers running berserk, right?  It turns out that telegraph operators sometimes went postal, too.  One such telegrapher in El Paso, Texas proclaimed he was God and threatened to “demolish” a co-worker.   Another crazed telegraph operator ran amuck and terrorized an entire county.  It’s not clear if he was ever captured.

Things got so bad according to a preface in Wisconsin Death Trap by Michael Lesy that “Many historians have become convinced there was a major crisis in American life during the 1890s.”

Bizarre behavior blamed on

 Industrial Revolution 

Electricity, telephone and automobile came right on the heel of the train and telegraph.  Not only did these inventions change the way people lived but how they thought.  Electricity was even blamed for the suffragette movement that swept the country.   

It kind of makes you wonder what they’ll say about those of us living in the electronic revolution, doesn’t it?  Personally, I haven’t seen any Martians, but I was once hypnotized by my iPhone.  

So what do you think? Are things better or worse now then they were back then?  

Or about the same?

"Exquisitely Intriguing"-Starred review from Publishers Weekly

She's a Pinkerton detective; he's got more aliases than can be found on Boot Hill.  Neither has a clue about love . . . . 

Order book from favorite bookstore or click here  To order online

Enter to win a Kindle Fire

If you don't have a Facebook page:





  1. Loved this post! I'd say most people are hypnotized by facebook. You get on there and hours pass and you have no idea lol. If all it takes is technology to go crazy, we are well on our way. Thanks for this great post!
    tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net

    1. Hi Sally, you're right; technology can certainly eat up the time. Watching the news on TV makes me think that we're more than just on our way. At least back in the olden days when we did something wrong we were smart enough not to photograph it.

  2. This was a fun post, Margaret. I lean toward thinking the crazies was probably a result of diet more than the industrial revolution. That comment about the man eating raw "fried chicken" had me scratching my head. How is it raw if it's been fried? Your new book sounds like a wonderful story.

    1. Vickie, now that's an interesting thought. I always thought people had a healthier diet before processed foods, but maybe not.

      I laughed about the raw fried chicken, too. Had Jay Leno been around back then, he would have had a field day with that one.

  3. Margaret, what an entertaining post! I wonder how much the newspapers of yesterday were written for sensationalism and entertainment instead of fact, like newspapers today (tongue-in-cheek).

  4. Marilyn, interesting question. Then as now, newspapers would do anything to sell papers. Let's face it, people would rather be entertained than informed.