There are a few things I put into almost every book of mine and the telegraph is one. It was the “email” of the 19th and early 20th centuries. People needed a fast way to send a message, and in the early 1800s, Samuel Morse gave them the telegraph—a machine that sent a series of dots and dashes over a wire.
In April 1856, Western Union began operating and reached peak popularity in the 1920s and 1930s when it was cheaper to send a telegram than call long distance.
They charged by the word and the cost of a 10-word telegram in 1870 was around $1.00, depending on the distance.
It was customary to use the word STOP in place of a period. I found one reason for this being that it was cheaper than a period but I’m not so sure. I couldn’t find the cost of a period listed anywhere. Another source mentioned that it was to clarify the message and since they were sent in a series of dots and dashes, distinguishing periods would’ve been difficult. I believe this.
In any event, messages weren’t that cheap, so people used the fewest words possible.
In my Men of Legend series, Stoker Legend installed his own telegraph on the huge ranch so he could get messages quickly since headquarters was a good thirty miles from the nearest town.
And in my latest book, The Mail Order Bride’s Secret, Tait Trinity used the telegraph to send for Melanie Dunbar, the mail order bride he’d been writing.
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Accuracy to a newspaper is what virtue is to a lady;
but a newspaper can always print a retraction.
–Adlai E. Stevenson
My March release, How the West was Wed, follows the story of two rivaling newspaper editors. JOSIE LOCKWOOD is the successful editor of the town’s only newspaper until the very charming, very handsome BRANDON WADE moves to town to start his own newspaper. At first Josie welcomes the competition, but she soon learns that readers prefer Wade’s bold hyperbole to her more serious type of journalism.
I especially enjoyed writing about a Victorian newspaper woman. Women editors date back to colonial times, and some edited publications in the east during the first half of the nineteenth century. Still, in those early days, the newspaper business was primarily a male occupation.
This changed somewhat during the westward movement. The late eighteen-hundreds saw some 300 females editing 250 publications in eleven western states. California led the way with 129 known female editors. No doubt there were more, but some female publishers sought credibility by listing a husband’s name on a masthead.
Newspaperwomen covered everything from national and local news to household hints.
Newspapers at the time also carried what today might be called fake news. Along with their morning cup of Arbuckle’s, Victorian readers were regaled with stories of mysterious creatures, flying objects, ghosts, extraterrestrials and other strange phenomena.
It’s not hard to see why the news business would attract female interest. Having control over editorial content afforded women the opportunity to lead a crusade, promote religious and educational activities, and bring a community together. Women still didn’t have the vote, of course, but some female publishers had strong political views which they were all too glad to share with readers.
Editorial disputes like the one between Brandon and Josie were common in the Old West, but not all had such a happy ending. Sometimes things went too far. In some instances, the feud ended in gunfire.
Most feuds, however, were carried out with a war-of-words. Rival editors prided themselves on the quality and quantity of their insults. Typesetting was a tedious job. It took less time and effort to call someone an idiot or numbskull in print than to find a gentler approach.
If editors weren’t fighting each other, they were fighting readers. Any editor printing an inflammatory story could expect to be accosted at the local saloon or challenged to a duel. Things got so bad that an editor of a Kansas newspaper wrote: “What this community needs just now is a society for the prevention of cruelty to writing men, otherwise editors.”
After one man was acquitted of killing the editor of the Leavenworth Times, the Marion County Record wrote, “That’s just the way with some juries—they think it no more harm to shoot an editor than a jack-rabbit.”
Fortunately, today’s disgruntled readers are more likely to drop a subscription than drop an editor, but one thing hasn’t changed; For more than a 150 years, the death of newspapers has been predicted. It was once thought that the telegraph would do the ghastly deed. Today, the Internet is taking the blame. Whether it fully succeeds is anyone’s guess.
So, what do you think? Are newspapers still relevant?
Heart on the Line is finally available for purchase. The third story in the Ladies of Harper’s Station features our shy yet she-carried-a-derringer-in-her-handbag heroine Grace Mallory who has been using Harper’s Station as a refuge to hide from the man who killed her father.
Now when it came time to find the perfect hero for Grace, inspiration came from a source close to home.
The romance genre in general is dominated by alpha-male heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good alpha, but this time around, I wanted to switch things up a bit and remind readers that sweet, caring guys can be swoon-worthy too. Maybe it ties in to the fact that my own hero in real life is a glasses-wearing, bike-riding, computer nerd. His passionate love for me and our family, his devotion to God, his kind demeanor, and his dry sense of humor make him my ideal man. So when I started crafting Amos Bledsoe, Grace’s “online” suitor (on the telegraph line), I followed the same pattern. As a telegraph operator, Amos is a 19th century technology nerd. He prefers bicycles to horses. He wears spectacles. He’s smart, kind, funny, and sacrifices himself for those he loves without regret. A true hero in every sense of the word.
Here’s a excerpt that shows them courting over the wire before they ever meet in person:
It was him. Mr. A. She’d recognize his quick touch at the key anywhere. So crisp and precise. A metronome couldn’t create spaces any more rhythmic. She’d long admired his deft hand at the key. Setting her tea on the table, Grace slid into her office chair, a giddy tickle in her stomach despite her best efforts to maintain a sense of detachment.
Yes, Station Dn. I’m here.
Excellent! I worried I had waited too long to call. Dinner at my sister’s took longer than expected.
I hope you didn’t rush away on my account, Grace tapped.
I was eager to escape. Believe me.
What dastardly plague did they set upon you? Grace grinned to herself as she tapped out the words. Mr. A always seemed to have a humorous story to tell about his family, his life so wonderfully normal that whenever she listened to him, she managed to forget all about danger and unseen foes. For a few blessed minutes, she was simply a girl talking to a young man, no worries in sight.
I dare not tell you, for fear of spreading the contagion. It seems to strike the women around me with alarming regularity.
Intrigued, Grace leaned forward. Surely the distance between us will serve as adequate protection.
My mother and sister have both been afflicted for some time, I’m sorry to say, but tonight their symptoms worsened.
That sounds dire, indeed. Did you call a physician?
No point. There is only one cure to their ailment. And apparently I am the one who must distribute the healing dose.
Then you should do so at once, Grace replied, grinning as she reached for her tea. Mr. A never failed to entertain.
I would, of course, he said, but I find the key ingredient in the required elixir to be frustratingly elusive.
Can you not simply visit a druggist?
I’m afraid not. You see, the item I must find in order to cure this plague of interference is . . . a wife.
The tea Grace had just sipped spewed from her mouth to splatter over the table in front of her. Coughs spasmed in her throat.
A strange fluttery sensation danced through her belly. So, he wasn’t married. Why did that particular piece of knowledge please her so well? Her hand trembled as she reached for the key. She had to make some kind of response to that. But what exactly should she say?
I’m sure they only have your best interests at heart.
They do. But a twenty-eight year-old man doesn’t really want his personal life dictated by his female relations.
Twenty-eight. A man in his prime. A man who was suddenly sharing more personal details with her than he ever had before.
Grace dabbed at the spilled tea with a handkerchief fetched from her skirt pocket, her mind spinning. Was he fishing for details in return? She wanted to reciprocate. It was what a friend would do. Yet she couldn’t afford to say too much.
I can’t claim as many years of experience dealing with meddling relations as you can, but a couple friends of mine have recently decided that marriage is not without its advantages. Thankfully, they have as yet avoided seeing me as a matchmaking prospect.
Grace yanked her hand from the telegraph key and made a fist, her heart pumping in a wild rhythm. Details cloaked in vagueness. Would he understand what she’d just revealed? The wire remained silent for an eternally long moment.
Count your blessings, he finally sent, his usually metronome-like precision stuttering slightly. Perhaps we could meet sometime to commiserate. I would—
Clear the line, a brash staccato tapping interrupted. I need to break in. This is an emergency.
Grace nearly jumped from her chair at the pounding intrusion. It exploded across the wire like cannon fire in a still forest.
Proceed, came the answer from Mr. A. Immediate. Meticulous. All hint of personal vulnerability gone.
Grace replied in kind, though she feared her touch on the key had yet to reassert its professional tone.
Hs. Dv station has a message to relay. Are you on the wire?
A message from the Denver station? Grace shivered even as she lurched forward to answer. Yes. This is Hs station. G on the wire. Go ahead.
Message relayed from R as follows: He knows where you are. Coming for you. Sorry.
Everything in Grace stilled. Numbness spread from her mind to her limbs and finally to her heart. Her day of reckoning had arrived. Chaucer Haversham had found her.
What characteristics does your ideal man embody?
Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of Heart on the Line along with a set of these fabulous, handmade, heart-shaped, crocheted dishcloths/trivets. Multipurpose, washable, colorful, and a wonderful romantic reminder to follow your heart.
I’ll draw two winners from those who leave comments.
With all the online dating sites these days, it might seem that cyber romance is the wave of the future. But as King Solomon so wisely said, there is nothing new under the sun.
Back in 1879, a female telegraph operator from Boston by the name of Ella Cheever Thayer published a romance novel entitled Wired Love. I ran across this wonderful little book while doing some research into telegraph operators. Apparently many operators were women and could often be identified as such by the delicacy of their “sounding” on the wires. The hero in Miss Thayer’s novel, Clem Stanwood, knows right away that the operator at the “B m” station is female.
Nattie Rogers is intrigued by the mysterious “C” at the “X n” station and seeks out converations that soon turn flirtatious. These two telegraph operators fall in love over the wire without ever laying eyes on one another. I haven’t read the entire novel, but the few chapters I did read were full of delightful humor and banter.
There is one scene about halfway through that was priceless. A case of mistaken identity had scared Nattie off, but Mr. Stanwood arranges a visit to her boarding house and while sitting amongst others in the parlor, he begins tapping out code with his pencil against a marble table top. Nattie recognizes her call name and, taking up a pair of scissors, drums out her own answer. They carry on an entire conversation this way with no one else in the parlor suspecting their action were anything more than idle tapping. Until, that is, Mr. Stanwood reveals himself to be the real “C”.
Nattie jumps to her feet and exclaims aloud, “What do you mean? It cannot be possible!”
Don’t you love it? Hysterical!
Of course everyone else in the room thinks she’s lost her mind except the hero who crosses the room to take her hand. Ahhh…
Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes was a best selling book for over 10 years. And why not? The story is timeless. Remember You’ve Got Mail, which was adapted to e-mail from The Shop Around the Corner where Jimmy Stewart did his courting through letters? Very similar premise. And there are so many parrallels to dating in today’s “wired” world. Can you trust that she looks like her description? Is he a gentleman or a stalker? How about the awkwardness of the first face-to-face meet? And with all the abbreviations used on the telegraph lines, it reminded me of the text speak our kids use today. It is really rather eerie how easily Ella Thayer’s story translates to our contemporary society 130 years after it was written.
Wired Love is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from Amazon or you can read it on Google Books. Those who love research will find a treasure trove of details concerning how a telegraph was run. Those who love to travel back in time will enjoy delving into authentic 19th century life. And those who love a clean love story with a healthy dose of chuckles along the way will find a great read. You might want to give it a try.