Texas headlines of past entertained readers


By Mark Lardas, Contributor


08/26/07 - The Galveston County Daily News

Hidden Headlines of Texas: Strange Unusual, & Bizarre Newspaper Stories 1860-1910,” by Chad Lewis, Unexplained Research Publishing, 165 pages, $14.95.

“Hidden Headlines of Texas” collects clippings published in Texas newspapers from 1860 to 1910. They are supplemented by modern factoids that are intended to add context, or simply further amuse.

Chapters contain stories about bizarre deaths, odd creatures, peculiar individuals, miscellaneous oddities and strange phenomena.

None of the excerpts are long. The longest may be 2,000 words. Most run between 100 and 300 words

Written before radio and television, the stories remain remarkably similar to what you read today browsing tabloids at the supermarket checkout.

• Newspaper copy is written more tersely today than it was a century ago, but probably has the same degree of accuracy. The phrase “it was reported” appeared just as much then as it does today.

• Newspaper readers apparently have always been fascinated by freak shows. Today’s papers cover Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan. In 1880, they wrote of haunted hotels and unusual ways in which people died.

• The more bizarre the story presented the further it is likely to have occurred from the newspaper publishing it. A story about odd sea creatures in Galveston Bay will have appeared in The Dallas Morning News. That steer with 18 horns in Taylor would be reported by The Galveston Morning News.

The subjects are more rural than you would find in today’s tabloids. This was an America where most still lived on the farm, and even those in cities kept livestock. Horses were still a major form of transportation and your own cow provided safe milk.

There is also a lack of celebrities in the collection. Absent mass media, newspaper readers followed the eccentricities of their neighbors, not Hollywood or Nashville, Tenn., entertainers. Neither city then housed an entertainment industry.

“Hidden Headlines” offers a casual reader a glimpse at late 19th century Texas in bite-sized pieces. You can pick it up, read a story or two, then put it down and come back later.

Chad Lewis, who compiled this collection, is a paranormal investigator. “Hidden Headlines” is heavy on ghost stories, death and psychic phenomena.

The book’s contents also illustrate why newspaper are called history’s first drafts.

Some first drafts are excellent. Many are false starts and dead ends. You feel that the editors originally running these pieces were more interested in entertaining readers than in strict fact checking. It is part of what makes “Hidden Headlines” fun.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City.

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