It’s the day after Christmas, ho-ho-ho-hum. The presents are already open, your elbows are getting rubbed a little raw with all these relatives around, and you’re sick of holiday cookies and candy and fruitcake. It’s all too tempting to jump on the old cellphone and see what snarky things are being said on social media, or flip on the tube and see what they’re saying on TMZ.
Stop! You can do that anytime. Instead, go to the website “Chronicling America” and check out a newspaper that is 100 years old today – the Philadelphia Evening Ledger of Dec. 26, 1914. There was a lot going on, even though the day being reported on was Christmas:
- World War I, from “Peace for an Hour as Soldiers Pray on Battlefields” to “Czar Breaks German Line: Gains Ground in Poland”
- Pancho Villa was on the move: “Villistas Drive Defenders Back Near Vera Cruz”
- Really peculiar cartoons were being published;
- The sale of the New York Yankees was pending;
- Washington, D.C., experienced a small earthquake on Christmas Eve, at 10:51 p.m. ;
- A religious revival was slated, by the famous baseball-player-turned-preacher, Billy Sunday;
- The doings of every service club in Philly were noted, from the Royal Arcanum to the Artisans Order of Mutual Protection
- And, you can read episode IV of a piece of fiction: “Zudora, A Great Mystic Story by Harold MacGrath.” (Not to worry – it has a synopsis).
Old newspapers are addictive. Predating TV, radio and (of course) the internet, they were the go-to public source for entertainment. They do, in fact, serve up “history as it is being written,” but they also show you what our society was like at a brief moment in time. The ads are fascinating (“Newton Coal Answers the Burning Question!” “First Canaries Since the War Arrive on Steamer Sloterdyk from Rotterdam!”). Just looking at the differences and the similarities in what was considered news is fascinating. You can get lost in these old papers. My grandpa Phil, on my mother’s side, served in the U.S. Army infantry in WWI; he probably was in some of the battles reported in this newspaper (after the U.S. got in, of course). These are the kinds of papers he, and my grandma, and their parents would have been getting all of their news out of.
Chronicling America, which offers digitized copies of thousands of newspapers of yore, is a site backed by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to the huge trove of searchable papers it offers, the site also selects several papers 100 years old today for your perusal, daily.
Old news is good news. Check it out.