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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.

Solomon Northup

Illustration of Solomon Northup being beaten by slave dealers.
courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections

Before the story of Solomon Northup was told in the Oscar-winning film "12 Years a Slave," it was reported in newspapers. Soon after Northup's release from slavery, accounts of his ordeal appeared in the press. And a look at newspaper coverage of his struggle to achieve justice in the court system shows that he was ultimately thwarted by the Dred Scott decision.

Related: The True History of "12 Years a Slave"

Nellie Bly, Around the World

Portrait of reporter Nellie Bly
Getty Images

The crusading journalist Nellie Bly became famous in the 1880s for undercover reporting. In late 1889 she topped herself by committing to an epic stunt, a trip around the world. Her trip, inspired by the novel Around the World in Eighty Days, kept readers of her newspaper back in New York eagerly watching her progress as she circled the globe.

Related: Biography of Nellie Bly

Dickens and Scrooge in America

Charles Dickens while reading
Library of Congress

When Charles Dickens made his second trip to America in late 1867, massive crowds packed theaters to hear him read. One some nights he gave his American fans a special treat, a rendition of passages from A Christmas Carol. Always a frustrated actor, Dickens would essentially perform the various parts, and his turn as Scrooge came in for particular mention in the newspaper reviews.

Related: Biography of Charles DickensDickens and A Christmas Carol

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

The Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln in November 1863
Library of Congress

Stories often circulate that Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was either not covered by newspapers or received very unfavorable coverage. The actual newspapers from the following days show quite the opposite: the speech was reported widely in major newspapers and Lincoln's contribution to the program was viewed favorably.

Related: Lincoln's Purpose at Gettysburg

The Shooting of Jim Fisk

Portrait of Jim Fisk
Library of Congress

In 1871 newspaper readers were riveted by the latest scandal involving Jim Fisk, a wealthy and flamboyant Wall Street crook. His involvement with a young actress ended badly when he was ambushed and fatally shot in a lower Manhattan hotel lobby. As the New York Tribune put it, the shooting of Fisk "excited the city..."

Related: Biography of Jim Fisk

Founder of the Penny Press

19th century man reading newspaper
Library of Congress

Benjamin Day, a printer in Manhattan, disrupted by news business profoundly in the 1830s by publishing a newspaper that sold for a penny. At a time when most newspapers sold for six cents, his idea seemed crazy, but his innovation would become a milestone in journalism history. When Benjamin Day died decades later, newspapers looked back on his contribution to the news business.

Related: Biography of Benjamin Day

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.

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