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.
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 themHouses, 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
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.