Tag Archives: Chronicling America
By Claire Johnson, Newspaper Project Intern
For young women at the turn of the century, Halloween presented an opportunity to glimpse into the future and see the face of their husband-to-be by completing one of several complex rituals. The Richmond Dispatch on October 31, 1897 described one such ritual, performed at or near midnight on Halloween. Wearing her hair loose down her back and barefoot, the curious young woman must light a candle, and descend down her basement stairs backwards. As she walks, she repeats a stanza from Robert Burns’ 1743 poem, “Green Grow the Rashes:” “Auld Nature swears the lovely dears, Her noblest work she classes, O: Her ‘prentice han’ she tried on man, And then she made the lasses, O!”At the bottom of the steps, after turning around twice and taking ten steps, she looks over her shoulder into a mirror. If she is going to be married, she will see the reflection of her husband in the mirror.
The same article explained the soothsaying powers of “ducking for apples.” The instructions begin in a familiar way for those of us who bobbed for apples at harvest festivals or Halloween parties as children: fill a vessel with water and add apples, then close your eyes, lean in, and try to get one. Here, 19th century ducking for apples diverges from the modern incarnation of the game. According to the superstition, those who successfully picked up an apple with their teeth three times in five minutes would dream of their future spouse that night.
“I have a horrible and heart-rending tale to relate,” read a letter from the editor of the Norfolk Herald and printed in the Sept.3, 1831 issue of the Genius of Liberty, “and lest even its worst features might be distorted by rumor and exaggeration, I have thought it proper to give you all and the worst information that has reached us through the best sources of intelligence which the nature of the case will admit.”
The “horrible and heart-rending tale” the letter described was a violent slave rebellion which had taken place about sixty miles west of Norfolk in Southampton County, Virginia. “A fanatic preacher by the name of Nat Turner (Gen. Nat Turner),” reported the Richmond Enquirer, “was at the bottom of this infernal brigandage. (Aug. 30, 1831)”
By the time the revolt was over, sixty men, women and children had been killed. But as Scot French’s book, The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory, explains, “First the white people fell. . . Then the black people fell.” The Richmond Constitutional Whig of Sept. 3, 1831 reported that many slaves were slaughtered by retaliating mobs “without trial and under circumstances of great barbarity.” The death toll among the enslaved, many of whom played no part in the revolt, was in the hundreds.
Rather than describe the events of “Nat’s War”, the Newspaper Project hopes to show how newspapers talked about Nat Turner and how they variously portrayed him in the decades following his life and death. With a myriad of descriptions over the years, from “distinguished immortal spirit” to “wild fanatical,” Turner’s legacy was appropriated by different groups to both frighten and inspire.
more dreadful than the most gruesome of tales: Newspaper Coverage of The East Orange Bathtub Mystery
In 1909, a mystery unfolded that was so shocking, it’s nearly too strange to believe today.
Shows like Dateline and Forensic Files continuously reveal the depths of human depravity and the bizarre story of Oceania (Ocey) Snead and the events leading up to her death could have easily found their way into an episode of true crime TV had the murder happened today. But Ocey Snead’s strange story happened long before television, at a time when murder mysteries were played out, in vivid detail, on the pages of newspapers.
To tell Ocey Snead’s story, we should start seven years before her death. . .
In 1902 Virginia Wardlaw arrived in Christiansburg, Virginia to run Montgomery Female College, a well-respected boarding school for young women and girls. Her aunt, Mrs. O. S. Pollock, had run the school for several years and asked Virginia, who had experience in teaching and academia, to take it over. The college offered students room and board and course study in English language, literature, ancient and modern history, natural science, mental and moral science, math, music and ancient and modern languages. “The remarkable purity and healthfulness of the atmosphere,” explained its 1880 catalog, “render the location peculiarly eligible for a seat of learning.”
Virginia Wardlaw’s sister, Mary Snead, later joined her in Christiansburg to help run the school. All went smoothly until a third sister, Caroline Martin, joined them, taking over the college’s administrative duties. Caroline acted erratically, suddenly changing the school’s curriculum, shifting students to different classes, padlocking doors for no reason and concocting a scheme to turn the institution into … read more »
This will be quick because we want you to drop what you’re doing and try out the latest newspaper resource.
When alert colleagues at the Virginia Newspaper Project find a research tool or web site that we think might be useful and cool, we want to pass it along to our faithful readers.
So check out USNewsMap.com
Brought to you by a joint effort from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, the US News Map database allows you to search words or terms and then to track how coverage traveled over time and geographically throughout the U.S. The smart folks at Georgia Tech use Chronicling America as its source database, which currently holds over 10 million pages and nearly 2,000 newspapers, not to mention hundreds of millions of words.
From John Toon’s article about the initiative, he writes, “With U.S. News Map, it is easy to trace the evolution of a term – to see where it originated and how it spread – something that linguists are deeply interested in…Historians will be able to see how news stories moved across the continent, and rose and fell over time.”
To read more, please go to, http://www.news.gatech.edu/2016/03/06/what-going-viral-looked-120-years-ago
That Was A Good Idea, Keeping Count. The Library Of Congress Achieves Ten Million Pages In Chronicling America-The Nation’s Newspaper Archive
And the Virginia Newspaper Project was there. At Chronicling America‘s start in 2007 as well as today in continuing to provide digitized Virginia imprint newspapers and in a recently renewed cooperative grant providing tech support to West Virginia University. Here’s the ten million page mark announcement from the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2015/15-171.html.
A newspaper enthusiast on the staff of The Atlantic Monthly was quick to post on the occasion:
There is also this from Time:
Read ‘em and cheer.… read more »
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.
In the days and weeks following the Johnstown flood, newspapers covered the story obsessively. 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 »
The February 4 Out of the Box blog, Fancy Skating, focused on John J. Christian Jr., champion “fancy skater of Virginia.” The first clues about Christian’s life came with the discovery of a broadside (to see the broadside, visit the Out of the Box blog) found in a Rockingham County chancery case. The broadside announced that Christian would give a roller skating exhibition at Mozart Hall on 5 May 1888.
Not long after the Out of the Box blog was published, alert reader Hank Trent notified the Archives of some newspaper articles he discovered in the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database which provided additional information about the obscure – now a little less obscure – John J. Christian. One article Mr. Trent found, from the 21 April 1905 issue of the Iowa State Bystander, detailed Christian’s marriage to Julia C. Wilkes of Boston, Massachusetts. “The bride wore a beautiful gown of silk voile trimmed in crepe de chiene, with hat to match,” the Bystander recounted, “She carried a very pretty bouquet of Bride’s roses.”
The article not only gives more clues to Christian’s life, but also raises some interesting questions, such as what were the circumstances that brought Christian to marry a woman from Massachusetts in Iowa, so far from their home states? Another article Mr. Trent found from the 8 March 1890 Richmond Planet revealed that Christian was from Staunton and, because he was a “Jr.,” was most likely the son of John J. Christian, Staunton confectioner and bartender.
This unfolding of information once again proves the astonishing value of using digital materials for historical research, especially when those resources are cross referenced. The discovery of the broadside, a researcher’s curiosity and the accessibility to digital resources shed the first rays of light on the, … read more »
St. Patrick’s Day News from the March 17, 1911 issue of the Times Dispatch. . .All images are from Chronicling America.
St. Patrick’s Day news from other newspapers around the state. . .
“Flew on wings of death to the hills”:Southwestern Virginia reports on the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic
The Fall of 1918 saw the end of World War I and hundreds of thousands in America dead from a influenza pandemic that was sweeping the globe killing millions worldwide.
More than 600,000 people died over the course of a year in what would be deemed the worst epidemic to hit America. According to the CDC, 20-50 million people worldwide died between 1918-1919 as a result of the flu. The virus spread quickly, taking an enormous toll on densely populated areas such as Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco.
But what about its impact on small towns?
The Big Stone Gap Post of Big Stone Gap, Virginia and the Clinch Valley News of Tazewell, Virginia published regular updates about the comings and goings of the flu. Roughly 100 miles apart in the southwestern portion of the state, both towns currently boast modest populations of around 4-5,000 residents. As the article below points out, Spanish Flu was considered a “crowd disease” but small towns in Virginia were not spared, with relative isolation making it difficult for the sick to get help.
From the Big Stone Gap Post, November 20, 1918, nine days after the end of the war:
“It is hardly likely that the general public will ever realize the extent of the suffering and anguish caused by the Spanish Influenza in some of the more remote mountain communities in Virginia where the frightful malady raged with a degree of severity which is difficult to explain.”
As the war was ending, the local and national news seemed equally dominated by reports of influenza cases. World war may have even helped spread to influenza around the globe just as the spread of the flu impacted the war effort at home and abroad.… read more »
Most of us know John Mitchell, Jr. as the tireless “fighting” editor of the Richmond Planet, a newspaper he ran for 40 plus years beginning in the mid-1880′s. But Mitchell was a complex, multi-faceted person whose varied interests included a fascination for the Stanley Steamer, an automobile of the early 20th century that ran on steam produced by a vertical fire-tube boiler.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a great article that focuses specifically on John Mitchell, Jr. and the Stanley Steamers he owned during his lifetime.
The automobile’s steam boiler mechanism was based on technologies that had existed for decades, so it’s no surprise that someone would develop a personal vehicle based on the same concepts that drove railroad locomotives and factory motors. For an informative master class on the workings of a classic Stanley Steamer, check out Jay Leno’s Garage where he shows you all the necessary steps to getting the vehicle steamed up and ready to roll: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Me8b0ed59s
To-date, thousands of pages (1889-1910) of the Richmond Planet have been made available online at Chronicling America and well over 300,000 pages of Virginia imprint newspapers which makes up the Newspaper Project and the Library’s contribution to the National Digital Newspaper Program.