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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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.