All the News That’s Fit to Print–and Then Some

 

Love and Laughter in the Old West

 

Margaret Brownley

 

 

 

 

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 old 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 and other strange phenomena.  Weird animals?  You name it.  Giant reptiles, huge birds and an eighteen horn cow made headlines.  It wasn’t just oversized animals that made news: One man supposedly outgrew his coffin. 

 

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 the fourth grade.”

 

Meteor sightings frightened residents and created “adject fear” in livestock. An air ship spotted over Dallas, Texas in 1896 was proclaimed by preachers to be the “Second coming of Christ.”

 

Cowboys and Martians

 

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.”

 

Ghosts were reported throughout the west, 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” in my June release A Vision of Lucy (Yep, inspiration abounds in those old newspapers). Posses were formed to chase down scantily-clad wild men but apparently few were ever caught. 

 

Blame it on the Republicans

 

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 half-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.   One husband had his wife committed for reading a dime novel.

 

You’ve heard of postal workers running amok, 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 terrorized an entire county.  It’s not clear if he was ever captured.  Then there was the man who claimed to be hypnotized by telegram.

 

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.”

 

 Must be Those Electric Curlers

 

Some people blamed the bizarre behavior reported in newspaper in the latter half of the nineteenth century on the Industrial Revolution.  Electricity, telephone and automobile came right on the heels of the train and telegraph.  Not only did these inventions change the way people lived but how they thought.  Electricity was even blamed for “messing with women’s heads.”  Some were more than eager to blame Edison for the suffragette movement that swept the country.   

 

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

 

www.margaretbrownley.com

 

A Vision of Lucy (A Rocky Creek Romance)

Margaret Brownley
Margaret has published more than 46 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and two-time Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set--where else?--in the Old West! She has written for a day time soap and is currently working on a new series. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don't ask her to diagram a sentence.
Updated: May 20, 2011 — 6:07 am

34 Comments

  1. Blame it on the republicans. I snorted my oj. It’s so tempting from our dry history lessons to believe folks back then were so staid and proper. It’s nice to know they were just as kooky as we are. 🙂

    There’s some great story ideas in just your post, Margaret! I may have to explore the wealth of fun in old newspapers. Thanks!

  2. Just when we think OUR world is going crazy!! LOL! I loved your post Margaret. I am a paranormal researcher myself, and it is nice to know that spirits were making themselves known back in the 1800’s too. I would love to know which site you go to when you read these old newspapers…I think it would be a hoot to read about this myself! 🙂

  3. Hi Lizzie,
    One thing I’ve learned from all my research is this; Human nature is pretty consistent. i venture to guess that kooky people existed even in the stone age.

    Thank you for stopping by.

  4. Hi Tammy,
    Oh, wow! A paranormal researcher. I had a really scary experience as a child involving ghosts. I didn’t even know what a ghost was at the time but I sure did know afterwards.

    You’ll find a lot of great stuff in the two books I mentioned. For online research I use the Library of Congress site: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/pages/

    Another favorite is the New York Times archives.

  5. Great post, Margaret. I love using old newspapers for research, but I usually get so involved in reading all the fascinating stories I forget what I’m researching.

    Your section of lunacy reminded me of a diary a fellow student found when I was in college. She discovered the diary of a young woman institutionalized because she wouldn’t marry the man her father chose for her and she wanted a job in journalism. So, she kept a diary to keep from going insane.

  6. Good morning, Margaret, and thanks for a delightful start to the day. One has to wonder about “themes” that have been repeated for over a hundred years. Many of those alien, monster, ghost stories have been around for hundreds of years and haven’t changed much. One would think there has to be some sort of truth behind them. What that truth is, is another matter. We have had our own experiences with ghosts in this family. I’ll have to check out these newspaper sites. Old books, newspapers, and magazines are favorites. They give you such a feel for the time in which they were written.
    Have a great day.

  7. Hi Kirsten,

    That woman wasn’t alone. People–mostly women–would be institionalized for the most ridiculous things. Some were committed for what seemed suspiciously like PMS. It’s a good thing I didn’t live in the 1800s.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi Patricia,
    Since there was even a UFO mentioned in the Bible, these “themes” go back thousands of years. What struck me as strange is that many of the newspaper accounts of strange moving lights in the 1800s were similar in description to current reports.

    I hate to admit to believing in ghosts but seeing is believing.

    Have a great weekend!

  9. You always have the most clever insight into happenings! This made me laugh.

  10. LOLOL!! What a great post! “eating fried chicken raw” made me howl… raw, if it was fried? hmmm. And tomorrow the world’s gonna end. RIIIIIIIIGHT. Must be that electricity messing with the preacher’s head. ;-D

    LOVE THE COVER! I’ll be getting this one.

  11. What a great post! I love seaching for this type of fascinating ephemera. New York Times archives is one of my favorite sites.

  12. I actually find this comforting, Margaret. I keep thinking things are as bad today as they’re ever been, but maybe not. 🙂 Great post..

  13. Hi Cheryl, glad I could make you laugh.

    Have a great weekend!

  14. Meg, I laughed at the ‘fried chicken raw,” too.
    The world coming to an end was a common occurance in the past, but I wasn’t able to find any newspaper accounts of it actually happening.

    Have a great weekend.

  15. Mary, it IS comforting in an odd sort of way. Though one thing has improved through the ages: women aren’t institionalized for reading our books.

  16. Hi Carla, another fan of the NY Times archives!

    Thank you for stopping by and have a great weekend!

  17. Loved this post! So much fun information. I’ll have to tap into some of these headline resources.

  18. Margaret,
    What a great post! I loved this! Old newspapers are just fascinating, aren’t they? Wouldn’t it be great if our days were twice as long and we could really have time to spend researching everything the way we want to? I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing!
    Cheryl P.

  19. Hi Winnie, yep, those old newspapers sure do make for fun reading.

    Take care!

  20. Cheryl,
    I know what you mean. If I didn’t limit myself I would spend all my time researching.

    Thank you for popping in!

  21. That’s why I love research. I’m going to have to check up on our county newspaper archives. (We don’t have a daily—–try weekly or tri weekly).
    Great post. Love the guy who outgrew his coffin????? With the end of the world coming tomorrow, I don’t know if I’ll have time to do all this.

  22. Margaret, I love reading old newspapers. They had some funny ideas about what was news. But then they do today also. Who wants to read about all the mess in Hollywood? I sure don’t. Those actors and actresses are a strange breed. Thanks for sharing this. It’s hilarious.

  23. Great post! I enjoy reading articles in old newspapers you just never know what you will come across in them.

  24. Mary,

    If the world is coming to an end tomorrow maybe I should cancel this afternoon’s dental appointment.
    Why spend my last day doing something I don’t want to do?

  25. Hi Linda,

    Can you imagine people reading that stuff a hundred years from now? On the other hand, our scandals might seem tame in 2111.

  26. Hi Becky, thanks for stopping by.

    Have a great weekend–Judgment Day and all!

  27. Thanks for giving me some pretty big grins today, Margaret. I took a ‘History of Journalism’ class in college & some of your headlines brought back memories of the readings for that class. Worst headline ever: ‘Jerked to Jesus’ at the top of a story about a hanging.

  28. Margaret, Your blog certainly brightened my day! I have had a very long upsetting day but reading about the past made me smile. I’ll have to do some research myself and read more to make me laugh.

  29. Ann, what a headline! That’s one for the books. Thank you for sharing.

  30. Connie, sorry about your day, but I’m glad I could make you laugh. I hope you have something more to smile about this weekend.

  31. Margaret, I love reading the old newspapers to learn info on the time of a story I’m writing and to get a feel for the area and people where I’ve set the story.

    Some of the wording and hijinks that went on is hilarious. Some I’ve read were better than a soap opera.

    Great post!

  32. What a fun post, Margaret! Too funny. I even liked going through the ancient newspapers I found in my mom’s hoard of old pictures. Nothing sensational, just day to day of way back when’s. oxoxox

  33. Paty, I agree–some of these old newspaper ARE better than a soap opera.

    Take care

  34. Tanya, thanks. Just think we don’t have to hoard newspapers or magazines any more. Everything is on line!

    Hugs back!

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