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Newspaper Sunday

A Collection of Blog Items Featuring 19th Century Coverage of Historic Events

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The sunken treasure of vintage newspapers remained far from public view for many decades. But thanks to recently digitized archives, we can now see exactly what rolled off the printing presses in the 19th century.

Newspapers are the first draft of history, and reading the actual 19th century coverage of historic events will often provide fascinating details. The blog postings in this collection feature links to actual newspaper headlines and articles about significant events, as seen when the ink was still fresh on the page.

Lincoln's Funeral

New York City Hall during Lincoln's funeral
Library of Congress

The 50th anniversary news coverage of the funeral of John F. Kennedy was a reminder of how Kennedy's funeral was intended to evoke the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. A look at the coverage of Lincoln's funeral shows exactly how the public saw the pageantry surrounding the observances for a murdered president.

Related: Lincoln's Traveling Funeral

Halloween

Boys with Jack-o-Lantern
Library of Congress
Halloween was often criticized by newspapers during the 19th century, and even the New York Tribune predicted that it would fall out of fashion. Of course that didn't happen and in the 1890s some lively reporting documented how Halloween had become fashionable.

Baseball History

Member of the Cincinnati Red Stockings
Library of Congress

Newspaper accounts from the 1850s and 1860s demonstrate how the game of baseball was becoming popular. An 1855 account of a game in Hoboken, New Jersey mentioned "visitors, especially ladies, who seemed to take a great interest in the game." By the late 1860s newspapers were reporting attendance figures in the thousands.

Related: The Abner Doubleday Baseball Myth

John Brown's Raid

Lithographic portrait of John Brown
Library of Congress
The national debate over slavery grew more intense throughout the 1850s. And in October 1859 things reached an explosive point when the anti-slavery fanatic John Brown organized a raid that briefly seized a federal arsenal. The telegraph carried dispatches about the violent raid and its suppression by federal troops.

The Battle of South Mountain

Portrait of Gen. George McClellan
Library of Congress
The Civil War's Battle of South Mountain has generally been overshadowed by the Battle of Antietam, which was fought by the same armies just three days later. But in the newspapers of September 1862, the fighting in the mountain passes of western Maryland was initially reported, and celebrated, as a major turning point in the Civil War.

The Crimean War

Photo of Lord Raglan, British officer in the Crimea
Library of Congress

The war in the mid-1850s between the great European powers was watched from a distance by Americans. News of the Siege of Sevastopol traveled quickly to England via telegraph, but then took weeks to reach America. Accounts of how the combined British and French forces finally conquered a Russian fortress were major stories in American newspapers.

Related: The Crimean War

The Plot to Burn New York City

The Astor House Hotel
Library of Congress

In late 1864 the Confederate government tried to launch an audacious attack that would disrupt the presidential election and perhaps put Abraham Lincoln out of office. When that failed, the plan transformed into an elaborate arson plot, with Confederate agents fanning out across lower Manhattan in one night, intent on setting fires in public buildings.

Fear of fire was taken very seriously in New York, which had suffered from cataclysms like the Great Fire of 1835. But the rebel arsonists, due mostly to ineptitude, only succeeded in creating a chaotic night. The newspaper headlines, however, spoke of "A Night of Terror" with "Fire Balls Thrown About."

The Death of Andrew Jackson

Portrait of Andrew Jackson
Library of Congress

The death of Andrew Jackson in June 1845 marked the end of an era. The news took weeks to spread across the country, and as Americans heard of Jackson's passing they gathered to pay tribute.

Jackson had dominated American politics for two decades, and given his controversial nature, newspaper reports of his death ranged from barely muted criticism to lavish praise.

More: Life of Andrew JacksonElection of 1828

Declaring War on Mexico

Illustration of men reading news of the Mexican War
Library of Congress

When the United States used a violent border dispute to declare war on Mexico in May 1846, the newly invented telegraph carried the news. The reports in newspapers ranged from outright skepticism to patriotic calls for volunteers to join the fight.

Related: The Mexican WarPresident James Polk

President Lincoln Shot!

Presidential Box at Ford's Theatre
Photograph by Robert McNamara

Reports of the shooting of President Abraham Lincoln moved quickly across the telegraph wires and Americans woke to see shocking headlines on the morning of April 15, 1865. Some of the initial dispatches were confused, as might be expected. Yet it's remarkable to see how much accurate information appeared in print very quickly.

Related: Assassination of LincolnLincoln's Traveling Funeral

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