By the 1860s A Christmas Carol, which had been published a year after his first American tour, was one of the most beloved works by Dickens. He read from it during the second tour, and the way he performed the voices of characters was a definite highlight for his audiences.
Dickens, who had considered being an actor in his youth, did not read so much as perform his writings. One newspaper article detailing his vivid reading of A Christmas Carol in New York City described the effect on the audience:
It was hard to judge whether Scrooge or his clerk or Tiny Tim were the best embodied; or whether the passages that subdued the audience to tears or convulsed them with almost uproarious laughter were the most effective. It is enough to say that to those who heard the "Carol" last night, and have had it by heart before, it will hereafter have a new meaning: being something they have seen as well as read.
This week in Newspaper Sunday we look at news coverage of Charles Dickens as he read onstage in Boston and New York City in December 1867.
Note: The links below lead to excerpts of articles at the Chronicling America archive at the Library of Congress. To view the entire page of the newspaper, click the "persistent link" on the excerpt page.
- New York Tribune, December 3, 1867: The first reading of the 1867 tour was in Boston, but it was front-page news in New York.
- Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, December 3, 1867: The front page of a Philadelphia paper described the laughter and tears of the Boston audience as Dickens read from A Christmas Carol.
- New York Tribune, December 10, 1867: Dickens read from A Christmas Carol in New York City on December 9, 1867, and the next day's newspaper lauded his ability to act out the various roles.
- Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, December 12, 1867: A West Virginia paper reprinted the New York Times review of the first reading at New York's Steinway Hall. Describing the power of Dickens's presentation, the reviewer wrote "Old Scrooge seemed present."
- New York Tribune, December 26, 1867: Dickens seemed to be on everyone's mind: The lead story of the Tribune's front page on the day after Christmas began by quoting Scrooge's nephew. The article concluded, "A pleasanter Christmas has not been spent in New York in many a year..."
Illustration: Charles Dickens, reading onstage during his second American tour/Library of Congress
A popular state senator, Webster Wagner, was killed in the wreck. What made the story especially noteworthy was that Wagner was the inventor and manufacturer of luxurious passenger cars. And he had been riding in one of his own cars.
A close reading of newspaper reports indicates that a future president, Theodore Roosevelt, was also a passenger on the train from Albany to New York City. As Roosevelt had just started his political career, and was only 23 years old, he was apparently overlooked by reporters, though he was among the assemblymen listed as passengers.
A number of politicians gave interviews to the newspapers, but no one seemed to have asked young Teddy Roosevelt for his account of the accident.
The reports from the scene which appeared in New York City newspapers were chilling. The most luxurious cars of the train were at the rear, and those cars were "telescoped" by the collision. Fires broke out, and passengers pinned in the wreckage were burned to death.
The New York Sun reported that "villagers" in the Bronx raced to the scene of the wreck. "Men and boys rolled huge balls of the damp snow and hurled it through the car windows, but cries from a dozen voices were heard within."
The newspapers gave graphic accounts of the horrific injuries suffered by some passengers. Eight people died.
There were rumors that a drunken passenger on the train full of politicians had pulled the cord of an air brake as a joke. The cartoonist Thomas Nast even published a cartoon in Harper's Weekly depicting a bottle of rum with arms and legs pulling the emergency brake.
An investigation placed the blame on railroad employees, who had not set signals to warn oncoming trains.
Here are links to newspaper accounts of the 1882 Spuyten Duyvil tragedy:
- New York Sun, January 14, 1882: Headlined "A Frightful Crash."
- New York Tribune, January 14, 1882: Headlined "Burned In a Railway Wreck."
- New York Sun, January 15, 1882: Headlined "Spuyten Duyvil's Horror."
- New York Tribune, January 15, 1882: Headlined "The Railway Disaster."
Photograph: Theodore Roosevelt as a young New York State assemblyman/courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections
19th Century Disasters:
Before that time, Thanksgiving was essentially a regional holiday, being celebrated mostly in northern states and on various days. The magazine editor, Sarah J. Hale, wrote to Lincoln stressing the importance of designating a "National Thanksgiving."
Appealing to Lincoln's desire for unity during the war, she noted that a national holiday would serve as "a Great Union Festival of America."
Lincoln saw value in Hale's suggestion and issued a proclamation on October 3, 1863 which stated, in part:
"I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."
Thanksgiving in 1863 fell on November 26. The next day, the New York Sun praised the holiday, saying it was appropriate to "have given the metropolitan stamp to the hitherto comparatively provincial New England Thanksgiving festival, and thereby rendered its celebration more general and universal throughout our country."
The Sun reported that businesses and banks had been closed, and people gathered with their families and celebrated the day.
In subsequent years the holiday continued to be popular, and thanks in part to Sarah J. Hale writing to Lincoln, it became a beloved American tradition.
Illustration: Editor Sarah J. Hale, who urged Lincoln to make Thanksgiving an official holiday/courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections
As President Kennedy's funeral cortege was leaving the White House to travel down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol on November 24, 1963, 50 years ago today, a correspondent noted that officials in the Kennedy administration had been referring to 98-year-old bound volumes of the New York Tribune. Their intent, of course, was to emulate the state funeral held for Abraham Lincoln in April 1865.
And when President Kennedy's casket was placed in the rotunda of the Capitol, it was pointed out that it rested on the same catafalque that had held the remains of Lincoln. At one point the television cameras in the rotunda focused on the statue of Lincoln which had been sculpted by Vinnie Ream a few years after his death.
This week in Newspaper Sunday we will also look at some of the New York Tribune's coverage of Lincoln's funeral.
- New York Tribune, April 20, 1865: A dispatch on the front page of the New York Tribune described the procession which took Lincoln's body from the White House to the Capitol.
- New York Tribune, April 20, 1865: People paid $10 to stand in windows and view the procession on Pennsylvania Avenue.
- New York Tribune, April 20, 1865: The procession to the Capitol was led by members of the U.S.C.T., the U.S. Colored Troops.
- New York Tribune, April 21, 1865: Despite rainy weather, thousands of Washingtonians climbed the steps of the east front of the Capitol to view Lincoln lying in state in the rotunda.
- New York Tribune, April 25, 1865: Stacked headlines proclaimed the preparations New York City was making for its own observances.
Photograph: New York's City Hall during funeral observances for Abraham Lincoln/Library of Congress
Lincoln had been invited to speak at the dedication ceremony for a new cemetery that would hold thousands of Union soldiers killed during the epic Battle of Gettysburg the previous summer. In an era when presidents did not often give speeches, the occasion offered Lincoln the perfect opportunity to say something important.
Over the decades, many misconceptions have arisen about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, one of which is that Lincoln had been invited as an afterthought and that he hastily wrote his remarks on the train heading to Gettysburg.
The opposite is actually true. Lincoln's appearance on November 19, 1863, was always intended to be a crucial part of the ceremony. And it was expected that he would close the proceedings with remarks that would follow a much-longer oration by a famous orator, Edward Everett.
The speech Lincoln prepared was remarkable for its brevity. Yet according to newspaper accounts, as he delivered the text of less than 300 words he was interrupted by applause five times.
With his remarks Lincoln presented a justification of the war as "a new birth of freedom." Though the war may have started as a reaction to the armed rebellion of the slave states, it had become about emancipation.
Significantly, "four score and seven years ago" referred to the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. In Lincoln's mind, the Constitution was constantly evolving. And it was an imperfect document which had, of course, legalized slavery in its original form.
By citing the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln could make his argument about equality and freedom.
Another widespread misconception is that Lincoln's speech was poorly received by the nation. In fact, newspapers printed the text of the speech, and it does not seem to have been criticized except by Lincoln's usual political opponents.
The brief speech seemed to gain stature throughout the later decades of the 19th century. And by early in the 20th century it came to be considered a masterpiece of American oratory. It is perhaps the most quoted American speech.
- Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address
- Text of the Gettysburg Address
- Vintage News Coverage of the Gettysburg Address
Illustration: Depiction of Lincoln addressing the crowd at Gettysburg/Getty Images
In fact, looking at vintage newspapers, it appears that Lincoln's speech actually received prominent and favorable treatment. It's true that some highly partisan newspapers did criticize it, but they also would have criticized anything Lincoln said.
The New York Tribune, one of the country's leading newspapers, published the entire text (which was less than 300 words) on the front page of the next day's edition.
Other newspapers also published the speech. It is true, however, that the Gettysburg Address would not be considered a classic example of American oratory until decades after it was delivered.
This week in Newspaper Sunday we look at coverage of Lincoln's appearance at Gettysburg on the occasion of the dedication of the military cemetery.
Note: The links below lead to excerpts of newspaper articles at the Chronicling America archive of the Library of Congress. To view the entire page of the newspaper, click, the "persistent link" on the excerpt page.
- New York Tribune, November 20, 1863: On the day after the ceremony at Gettysburg, stacked headlines mentioned the address by the president.
- New York Tribune, November 20, 1863: The complete text of Lincoln's address appeared on the front page of the New York Tribune. It's particularly interesting as it indicates where applause interrupted the brief speech. And it notes that following the speech "three cheers were given for the president and the governors of the states."
- Washington National Republican, November 20, 1863: In a speech of less than 300 words, Lincoln was interrupted by applause five times.
- Washington National Republican, November 20, 1863: Following the ceremony, Lincoln returned to his lodgings where he greeted visitors. According to reports, "for more than an hour was the victim of a 'hands shaking' that must have tested his good nature to the utmost."
Photograph: Abraham Lincoln, November 1863, photographed by Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
The Nullification Crisis of the early 1830s was largely spearheaded by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. His belief was that the federal government, by enacting a tariff that seemed designed to penalize the South, had exceeded its authority.
That particular crisis can be viewed as something of a precursor to the secession of the slave states in response to the election of Lincoln which prompted the Civil War. But the Nullification Crisis was resolved without splitting the Union.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the crisis was that it raised the public profile of Calhoun, who went on to become a fanatical defender of slavery in America.
An even earlier example of anti-federal agitation was the Hartford Convention, an 1814 gathering of New England legislators. Having opposed the War of 1812, the New Englanders seemed intent on demanding changes to the U.S. Constitution. And there was a fear that some New England states might secede from the Union.
Stopping short of splitting the nation, the Hartford Convention proposed seven amendments to the Constitution. And when the War of 1812 ended, those were forgotten and the episode passed into history.
Though as the meetings of the Hartford Convention had been kept secret, rumors tended to spread about what had actually been discussed. And the term "Hartford Convention Federalist" was used for years as an insult, as it carried the implication that some in New England were still loyal to Britain and eager to dissolve the Union.
Illustration: John C. Calhoun/Library of Congress
As the man known as "Jubilee Jim" was dying, bedside visitors included his secretive business partner Jay Gould and the man who really ran New York City, Boss Tweed. Interspersed with any sadness felt by Gould and Tweed must have been some sense of relief, as Fisk's reckless behavior and love of publicity was beginning to be a problem.
Fisk had landed in a very public legal case which hinged on letters he had written to a girlfriend, Josie Mansfield. Fisk, who had a wife back in New England, was being blackmailed. And there was a suspicion that he had said things in the letters that might rip the lid off underhanded Wall Street deals.
In the preceding years Fisk had been involved, with his crony Gould, in the Erie Railroad War as well as an audacious plot in which they tried to corner the gold market. And a friend of Josie Mansfield putting pumping bullets into him ensured he would take plenty of secrets to the grave.
The newspapers, of course, reported and speculated. This week in Newspaper Sunday we look at coverage of Jim Fisk, robber baron, publicity hound, and early media celebrity.
Note: The links below lead to excerpts of newspaper articles at the Chronicling America archive of the Library of Congress. To view the entire page of the newspaper, you may click the "persistent link" on the excerpt page.
- New York Tribune, November 16, 1871: An account of Fisk being in a police court to answer a charge of libel kicked off a season of scandal.
- New York Sun, January 6, 1872: A provocative front-page headline asked "What Can Be In Those Important Private Letters?"
- New York Sun, January 8, 1872: "Col. Fisk Dead!" was a startling front-page headline.
- New York Tribune, January 8, 1872: The shooting of Fisk, said the New York Tribune, "excited the city on Saturday without surprising many persons."
- New York Tribune, January 9, 1872: "Closing Scenes In a Strange Career" was a headline in the New York Tribune.
Illustration: Wall Street operator Jim Fisk/Library of Congress
With a number of successful papers in the city selling for six cents, Day's plan seemed crazy. And it was not without obstacles.
Stores didn't want to handle his newspaper, The Sun, so Day improvised. The boys he hired to hawk the paper would be the first American newsboys.
To everyone's surprise, The Sun was a success. It inspired a journalist with far more experience, James Gordon Bennett, to start another penny paper, The Herald. And within a few years other cheaply available newspapers popped up, including the New York Tribune and the New York Times.
Day sold The Sun after a few years. But when he died more than 50 years after its founding, he was recognized as one of the most influential men in American journalism. On December 23, 1889, two days after his death, an article in The Sun said:
The curious thing about Ben Day's enterprise is that although its success was to revolutionize the methods of American journalism, he had not the faintest conception of the importance of the idea which he had struck. He had no theories and no mission. His only purpose was to build up a business in posters and handbills.
"For a long time," said Mr. Day, a few years before his death, "the principal object of the newspaper was to advertise my job office. It did help me in that way. When I got the printing of the American Museum to do I thought myself so lucky that I rather neglected the newspaper."
Note: The links below lead to excerpts of newspaper articles at the Chronicling America archive of the Library of Congress. To view the entire page of the newspaper, click the "persistent link" on the excerpt page.
- New York Sun, December 22, 1889: The newspaper founded by Benjamin Day carried a brief obituary notice on the front page.
- New York Tribune, December 22, 1889: A competitor to The Sun, the New York Tribune, published an obituary which called Day "one of the best known old-time newspaper men in this city."
- New York Sun, December 23, 1889: The Sun published an extensive story about its founding and the role Day had played in American journalism.
Illustration: Newspaper reader, mid-19th century/Library of Congress
In an article published on November 1, 1850, the Tribune remarked on how out of fashion Halloween had become:
Last night, the closing night of the month, was an anniversary which is now almost entirely disregarded in these parts -- the old festival of Hallowe'en, or All Hallow's Eve, still duly reverenced in England and Scotland, as well as in some portions of our own country. Its celebration here, however, has regenerated into the practice of all sorts of mischief; the only spirits abroad are imps of fun and deviltry.
The New York Tribune concluded that the holiday might only be remembered for it being mentioned in the writings of the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Here, in the City, our Police are on hand to prevent such tricks as are wont to be committed -- the exchange of sign-boards, for instance, or the dismemberment of carriages and even the barricading of thoroughfares. In the country it is no unusual thing for the early traveler on the following morning to be stopped by a post-and-rail fence running directly across the road, while his eyes are diverted by the appearance of a buggy "brought up" in the boughs of a tree, or an embarrassed heifer lowing from the top of a neighboring barn.
The sober sense of our community, however, is making way against these relics of ancestral customs, and the Eve, with all its more innocent rites of maids that practice mysterious spells to get sight of their future husband's faces, will soon pass out of our memory except such as lives forever in the hale, warm and homely fireside pictures of Burns.
Of course, Halloween would not be forgotten. By the end of the 19th century celebrations of it had become common, and the jack-o'-lantern had become the enduring symbol of the holiday.
This week in Newspaper Sunday we look at some vintage newspaper coverage showing how Halloween was actually fashionable by the 1890s.
- New York Sun, October 23, 1894: To prepare for a society Halloween party in Brooklyn, the best pumpkins were selected from a farm near Coney Island.
- St. Paul Globe, October 31, 1896: A Minnesota school was planning an "old-fashioned" Halloween. "The room will be hung with white sheets and jack-o'-lanterns placed over the gas jets."
- Washington Evening Star, November 2, 1898: A Washington society column mentioned jack-o'-lanterns made from pumpkins used at a party which "threw a weird light into nooks and cozy corners."
- New York Sun, November 6, 1898: The "college girls" at Wellesley held a "ghost dance lighted by jack-o'-lanterns."
Illustration: Children setting up a jack-o'-lantern/Getty Images