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Air of Gloom: Orville Wright’s Ill-Fated Test Flight at Fort Myer, 106 Years Ago Today

On 17 September 1908, five years after the first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, Orville Wright and Thomas E. Selfridge test flew the Wright Flyer in a demonstration for the U.S. Army at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Virginia. The Army was considering contracting Wright’s aircraft to use as a military airplane, but, in order to win the contract, he needed to demonstrate the plane’s ability to carry a passenger.

Wright FlyerThe first two passenger trial flights, done earlier that week, proved successful. The third test flight, however, took a terrible turn.

The flight began without incident. As the Wright Flyer ascended to an altitude of 150 feet, it circled over Fort Myer. Three to four minutes into the flight, however, the plane’s propeller blade broke. With some 2000 spectators watching from below, Wright attempted to glide to a landing, but the plane went into a nose dive from seventy-five feet and crashed.

Wright was seriously injured, breaking several bones, but Selfridge, only twenty-six years old, suffered a fatal skull fracture. The death of the San Francisco native was the first recorded passenger death in a powered airplane crash.

In the days following the dramatic event, newspapers across the country reported with details of the crash and photos of the wreckage and its victims. From Washington DC to Los Angeles, the nation’s fascination with the relatively new phenomenon of flight and the potential danger that came with it was satiated by the stories printed in newspapers.

Photos of the victims, from the Washington Times, 18 Sept 1908

Photos of the victims, from the Washington Times, 18 Sept. 1908.

LA Herald Sept 18, 1908

Photos from the Los Angeles Herald, 18 Sept. 1908.

The headlines and articles below are from Virginia and national newspapers. They are just a fraction of what can be found on Chronicling America and Virginia Chronicle, free and searchable digital newspaper repositories–both are excellent … read more »

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Reading: Inside Motorsports

As Richmond International Raceway gears up to host late season NASCAR races, it seems a perfect opportunity to celebrate the recent donation to the Library of Virginia of a complete collection of Inside Motorsports (IMS), which began as a weekly newspaper devoted to all forms of auto racing, from NASCAR and dirt track to IndyCar and drag racing.

IMS

The last issue of IMS, February 2001.

Hell Freezes Over: The last issue of IMS, February 2001.

Thanks to its former editor, Jon Paulette, who generously donated his own collection, the Library of Virginia is the only library with a complete run of this unique title.

Inside Motorsports, published in Wytheville from 1993-2001, started as the popularity of auto racing was skyrocketing. “More, perhaps, than in another sport,” publisher Scott Sparrow wrote in the introductory issue of IMS, “fans have access to the competitors. They mingle and talk with both the obscure and the famous. Their bond is the American’s love affair with the automobile.”

Fan accessibility to the drivers and crews and this common bond between them, the love affair with the automobile, created a large and fiercely devoted fan base and IMS was there to serve. On the front page of its premier issue, dated March 31, 1993, NASCAR driver Alan Kulwicki is pictured with the caption “Kulwicki Eyes Repeat at Food City 500.” It was a sad coincidence that Kulwicki, the 1992 NASCAR champion, would die in a plane crash the very next day, April 1, on his way to the Food City 500 in Bristol, Tennessee.

Drag ReviewWhile IMS began as a weekly covering a variety of motorsports, it eventually became a monthly dedicated solely to drag racing. “As a weekly,” Paulette explained, “the pub was a solid regional paper that eventually grew into something much larger. Was it a competitor for … read more »

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George Wythe: FFDWR (Founding Father Deserving Wider Recognition)

Wythe“No man ever left behind him a character more venerated than George Wythe.  His virtue was of the purest tint; his integrity inflexible, and his justice exact; of warm patriotism, and, devoted as he was to liberty, and the natural and equal rights of man, he might truly be called the Cato of his country.”

That’s Thomas Jefferson, not only a former student but trusted friend, and the statement most often quoted in biographical accounts, long or short, of Wythe’s life.

The following observation speaks to the maintenance of the body in support of that spirit so deservedly praised and is from William Munford, one of the last students Wythe (pronounced “with”) would mentor.  It provides a better caption for the image above, 5th and Grace in downtown Richmond, as it fits the person into a space, bland though it may appear here in the historical present.

“”Old as he is, his habit is, every morning, winter and summer, to rise before the sun, go to the well in the yard, draw several buckets of water, and fill the reservoir for his shower bath, and then, drawing the cord, let the water fall over him in a glorious shower. Many a time have I heard him catching his breath and almost shouting with the shock. When he entered the breakfast room his face would be in a glow, and all his nerves were fully braced.”

No one’s nerves, however, could be braced for what would follow Wythe’s daily ritual the morning of May 25, 1806, almost 15 years after Wythe’s departure from Williamsburg to Richmond to preside over the Capital’s Chancery Court. That an 81 year old revered Founding Father (participant in the Second Continental Congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, the country’s first law professor, classics scholar-a … read more »

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The Weekly Progress — The People’s Progressive Paper of Powhatan

The Library of Virginia recently came into the possession of a rare Powhatan newspaper–while it’s not an original copy, the photocopied edition of the Weekly Progress contains valuable local history of Powhatan county and towns nearby.

Weekly Progress Front PageThe big news in the 14 July 1899 issue, featured on its front page with large illustrations of those involved, was the murder of Senator William M. Flanagan  by the young lawyer William Premium offer 1Garland Pilkinton, both of Powhatan. On page four, the Progress informed its readers that it would provide a full account of the Pilkinton-Flanagan murder trial–”Be sure that you do not miss the chance to read all of it,” it reminded.

It must be noted, considering it is such a curious feature of the paper, that whomever was writing for the Weekly Progress was an ardent fan of alliteration as evidenced by all of the column headings throughout the paper–”Belona Brevities,” Tobaccoville Talk,” “Othma Occurances,” and “Home Happenings” are just a few among many other alliterated column headings–most of which offered tidbits on local residents like “Miss Lee Lewis visited her aunt, Miss Marian Carter, Sunday” and “Miss Addie has returned home after a pleasant stay in Richmond.”

As a perk for existing subscribers, the Weekly Progress had the “Progress Premium Offer” which awarded fabulous prizes to anyone who could obtain new subscriptions for the paper. Prizes ranged from a top buggy for securing 100 subscribers to a breach-loading double-barrel shotgun for 30 subscribers.

And since the Progress was published in rural Powhatan county, it wouldn’t have been complete without husbandry advice. This issue included a review of the Biggle Horse Book whose motto was, “Always speak to a horse as you would to a gentleman.” Good advice, we think.… read more »

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Read About It: New Titles and Issues Added to Virginia Chronicle!

The Virginia Newspaper Project is excited to announce that we have added new titles and new issues of existing titles to the ever growing Virginia Chronicle database/repository.

We are especially happy to note that the Project has added the finishing touches to a complete run of the Richmond Times-Dispatch from its inaugural publishing year in 1903 through 1922. We’ve also added 1852 – 1859 of a related title, the Daily Dispatch (Richmond). The Newspaper Project considers the pre-Civil War era a point of focus for adding titles and issues to Virginia Chronicle.

But there’s more. A diverse group of titles, including new additions, The Casket and Institute Jewel, provide texture and depth to the Library’s growing newspaper database and repository.

We’ve also added issues of the Richmond high school newspaper, The Monocle (John Marhsall HS), and the Peninsula Enterprise, a historically significant newspaper published on the Eastern Shore.

As for the Casket and Institute Jewel, only a few issues exist but we felt it important for researchers to have access to these unique items published at private schools located in Suffolk, Virginia.

So if you love researching newspapers, please visit Virginia Chronicle. As reported on the main page this collection contains 55,858 issues comprising 385,724 pages.

CasketDaily DispatchIJMonocleread more »

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A Muted Celebration: Independence Day, July 4th, 1902–A Quartet of Friday Fourths From the Newspaper Archive of Virginia Chronicle

The Civil War ended 37 years ago.   A Republican, Theodore Roosevelt is President.  A Democrat, Andrew Jackson Montague is Governor.   A state constitutional convention, dominated by Democrats, just disbanded taking the regressive step, as the nation advanced into the Progressive Era, of drastically narrowing the voting rights of blacks.  A Virginia small city editor, like our editors here,  in sympathy with the Democratic party, perhaps now in his late fifties or early sixties and perhaps a Confederate veteran, might be inclined to more quickly recall that lost cause for independence instead of the found of 126 years ago.  From the Lexington Gazette-right column, front page, starting above the fold:

Tuttle's poem, "The Boys in Gray," published in the 4 July 1902 edition of the Lexington Gazette.

Tuttle’s poem, “The Boys in Gray,” published in the 4 July 1902 edition of the Lexington Gazette.

This irascible appeal to the responsibilities of memory is the bluntest expression among our four papers of a lack of enthusiasm over the arrival of Independence Day.  And Lexington, it deserves mention, the home of VMI and Washington and Lee University, was also the final home of Robert E. Lee whose name was attached to the school’s title upon his death in 1870,after acting as its director since the war’s close.

Further north in the valley, the Shenandoah Herald’s July 4 edition, it’s a challenge to locate anything associated with the holiday.  A brief discussion of rattlesnake imagery in early American flags on the front page could qualify, but only maybe.  Its editor, John H. Grabill, was a former captain in the Confederate cavalry.SH close up

At least the editor of the Farmville Herald delivers some assertion out his ambivalence.  As well as a request to put down the bottle:

Excerpt from 4 July 1902 Farmville Herald editorial.

Excerpt from 4 July 1902 Farmville Herald editorial.

W. McDonald Lee, editor of Irvington’s Virginia Citizen, devotes five full columns to an often diverting … read more »

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That’s Our Motto. . .Mottoes Revisited

Here are the answers to Tuesday’s motto quiz (you can enlarge the image by clicking on it):Brick

Saltville ProgressTax Reform AdvocateThe Advocate of MissionsPilotRichmond City PaperPage Valley CourierOnwardBroaddus EchoIndependent JournalMathews MagazineThe HelperBubble Today LiveBaptist UnionObserverThe DemocratThe Church MessengerInvestigatorOil Man's MagazineAmerican Unionread more »

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Our Motto Is. . .

Below, what looks like an elaborate ransom note is actually a list of different mottoes taken from newspapers in the Library of Virginia’s collection.

Mottoes were once a common feature of newspapers and although they still crop up from time to time, they aren’t as commonplace as they used to be. The motto is printed near, usually below, the newspaper’s title and can be a succinct description of the kind of news it aspires to report, or directed at the audience it hopes to reach. It might be a political, philosophical or ethical statement, a Bible verse, a famous quote, a Latin phrase, or even an irreverent poke at itself. Can you match the motto with its title (titles are below the mottoes)? The answers will be revealed in the next blog post:

Here are the mottoes. . . .

Brick Motto

Saltville Progress Motto

Tax Reform Advocate mottoThe Advocate of Missions mottoPilot B&W mottoRichmond City Paper mottoPage Valley Courier mottoOnward mottoBroaddus Echo mottoIndependent Journal mottoMathews Magazine mottoThe Helper mottoBubble Today Live mottoBaptist Union mottoObserver mottoThe Democrat mottoThe Church Messenger mottoInvestigator mottoOil Man's Magazine mottoAmerican Union motto

 

And here are the titles. . .

Investigator title

Broaddus Echo title

Saltville Progress titleOnward titleOil Man's Magazine titleBubble titleBrick TitleThe Church Messenger title

The Democrat titleTax Reform Advocate titlePilot titleAmerican Union titleMathews Magazine titlePage Valley Courier titleThe Advocate of Missions titleRichmond City Paper titleThe Helper titleBaptist Union titleIndependent Journal titleObserver titleread more »

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The Mythification of Abraham Lincoln

A common feature in old newspapers was the short article. The sort of thing that was likely passed around from newspaper to newspaper in order to fill their columns — often unattributed, undocumented, and possibly not even true but this is the stuff of legends. A common subject of these short articles was the humor of Abraham Lincoln. The articles were usually singular stories of an incident and Lincoln’s response to the situation. Here is a collection of such articles to entertain and enlighten you to the character and humor of our 16th President.

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“Not A Hideous Dream” 125 Years Ago — Newspaper Coverage of the Johnstown Flood

Pittsburg Dispatch June 2, 1889 On May 31, 1889 unusually heavy rainfall washed out the South Fork dam in western Pennsylvania and released twenty million tons of water from a reservoir known as Lake Conemaugh.  A monstrous flood swept through the Little Conemaugh River Valley and made its way towards Johnstown, 14 miles downstream from the dam, destroying everything in its path.

As the water rushed through the valley, it accumulated an enormous amount of debris which caught fire once it reached Johnstown. Many drowned in the flood as it swept through town while others were killed by the resulting blaze–a staggering 2,209 men, women and children died.

“With railroad tracks washed away and telegraph lines down, contact with the city was completely cut off,” explains one source, “so most early newspaper editions carried stories based on rumor, conjecture, and the accounts of a few overwrought survivors.” Reports started coming on June 1 and one example of conjecture was the estimated death toll—some reports were low while others were as high as 10,000.

Somerset Herald June 3, 1889

In the days and weeks following the Johnstown flood, newspapers covered the story PD June 9, 1889 Fourth Ward Schoolobsessively. They published details of the moments before, during and after the flood, included sketches of makeshift morgues, destroyed buildings and railroad lines and maps of the water’s course, and provided numerous personal stories of loss and survival. The devastating circumstances of the event made it a national news story with newspapers from as far as California providing reportage.

Because it had so much local and national coverage, Chronicling America is an excellent resource for newspaper accounts of the flood and its aftermath. The articles and images below are just fraction of what can be found on Chronicling America and they tell the story of the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889.

Coverage from nearby Pittsburgh, Lancaster and Somerset:

Reports … read more »

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