As you approach the entrance to the Newseum in Washington D.C., you walk by a long row of glass cases. Each of them contains the current front page of a newspaper from every state in the Union and several countries. It’s actually quite fun to go from case to case and see what is making the front page around the country.
But the real fun is inside the Newseum where they have almost an entire floor dedicated to front pages of newspapers, the oldest of which dates back to the 1500′s! Some of the type is so impossibly small I wonder how anyone could read it without a magnifying glass, but we managed to make out snippets of stories; kings being beheaded and wars for the throne seemed to dominate the front pages in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Then there was this:
South Carolina seceded. They had their war.
Most front pages of old were filled with type, as I mentioned before, in a font size that would challenge even the sharpest vision. But then Maya pulled out a drawer and said, “Hey, Jack the Ripper!”. No type needed here. The visual said it all:
Possibly my favorite front page of them all (and the one with the largest headline) was this one:
The Neosho Times, after announcing in gigantic type that Jesse James had been assassinated, devoted the rest of the front page to an ad for McElhany & Bros Dry Goods Store, where a great sale was underway that included Dress Goods, Clothing & Hats, Carpets & Notions & Trimmings. No longer did you need to “send abroad” for those items you might need. McElhany & Bros had it all!
I guess they put the details of Jesse James death somewhere inside the paper.
A close runner up to the Neosho Times is this Extra Edition from the Boston American:
Yes, the Great War is On, AND the Naps beat the Red Sox 4-3. The news of the Sox’ loss, which apparently ended a winning streak, along with the accompanying game stats and complete baseball box scores meant the Great War had to fight (ha! no pun intended) for front page copy space. Oh yes, and Mme. Caillaux was acquitted. Man, busy news day! (I didn’t know who Mme Caillaux was either, but it’s a great story. )
Also, I had never heard Serbia referred to as “Servia” before, but upon looking it up, turns out that it is the historical English term taken from the Greek language and can be used interchangeably with Serbia.
After spending almost an hour in the Newseum reading the headlines of the past 400+ years, I came away hoping that newspapers in traditional paper form stick around. I’m no purist. I own an e-reader and read news stories on line all the time. But I also love my Times subscription that delivers a pile of print news to my door every day.
There was just something about looking at all those front pages – of being only a glass panes’ width away from a tangible piece of history, that a digital file can never match.