‘New’ century wasn’t really news on Jan. 1, 1900

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A2

They say that newspapers are the first draft of history. In 2100, Blade reporters will no doubt be looking back to today’s paper to see what life was like back before teleportation came along. (And presumably to learn the exact species of this “Y2K bug” everyone was talking about.)

Above is the front page of The Blade’s first edition of the 1900s, and a window into what concerned and consumed the Toledoans of a century ago. Herewith, a tour:

First, the basic changes: There are ads on the front page, on the left and right edges, a practice ended long ago. Today, a typical front page might have five or six stories, along with a few large pictures; the 1900 edition has no fewer than 21.

In 1900, The Blade cost only two cents (and worth every penny, no doubt). And presumably, the eyes of Toledoans were in better shape then than now, because Blade readers had to pore over tiny print to get the news.

Now take a look at the stories of the day:

* Fourth column, at top: “He designates his successor.” Predicting the next pope is always a tough assignment, no matter how many hints the current one may drop. This story doesn’t even bother revealing its source in saying that Cardinal Girolamo Maria Gotti would become pope at the death of Pope Leo XIII.

The source was probably happy to remain anonymous. When Pope Leo died in 1903, his successor was Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, who became Pope Pius X.

* Sixth column, near the bottom: “Griffin denies that he has a ripper.” Could there be a worse accusation than the claim that one has a ripper? Whatever a ripper is?

The brief story uses an old meaning of the word, a piece of legislation “designed to make drastic changes in a governmental agency for purely partisan purposes.” Rippers usually came along when a different party controlled state and local governments, and state officials wanted to punish someone they disagreed with in city hall.

The feared ripper of Rep. C.P. Griffin never seemed to materialize, but plenty of others did in the early years of the century, as state Republicans tried to punish Toledo’s independent mayors, Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones and his successor Brand Whitlock.

* Second column, at top: “Brave work of Britons.” Normally, when newspapers today have little to report on an ongoing story, they might run an article on some other topic instead.

Not so in the old days, as this story attests: “Owing to the lack of news from important points, interest in the war today centers on the comparatively unimportant skirmishing near Dordrecht.” The Boer War between the British and the Afrikaners was going on, and The Blade was going to run a story on it, no matter how “comparatively unimportant” it may have been.

* Fifth column, at top: “Without fuss or feathers.” A story about the opening a session of the General Assembly begs the question: On most days, were there lots of feathers at the Statehouse?

* Eighth column, midway down: “Dynamite and other supplies.” Now we think of Canada as just a friendly neighbor to the north, giver of hockey cross-checks and Alberta clippers. But for Irish-Americans a century ago, it was land waiting to be conquered. Then as now, the Irish were angry about Britain’s control of their home island. The Fenian movement, a precursor to today’s Irish Republican Army, sought to do something about it.

You can learn as much about Toledo circa 1900 by looking at the smaller items on the page. Could there be greater evidence that the language has changed over the last hundred years than the presence of the word “defalcation” of a headline (fifth column)?

At top left and top right is the slogan, “The Only Republican Daily In Toledo.” The Blade was staunchly Republican for its first 121 years, and didn’t endorse a Democrat for president until 1956.

At the bottom of columns four and five, you find something now exiled to the Peach section: jokes. Not particularly funny jokes, mind you – the bit in column five headlined “She Couldn’t Send Him Out” is well nigh incomprehensible – but jokes nonetheless.

With fewer colleges nationwide, the press paid much closer attention to the ones that did exist, which is why the appointment of a new professor at Yale University (eighth column, near the bottom) would be front-page news.

And, try as we might, the press has never been perfect at catching errors. Check out the very bottom of the sixth column, where a woman’s last name is spelled “VanGirder” and “Van Gorder” in the space of three lines.

Finally, notice that there’s nothing on the page to indicate that Jan. 1, 1900, was the start of a new century. Just as a new generation of party poopers are saying last night’s antics should have waited until the start of 2001, The Blade acknowledged a century ago that Jan. 1, 1901, was the first day of the new century. That day’s paper has quite a few allusions to the new era being begun.

If nothing else, Blade reporters a century from now will notice that Toledoans paid more attention to the year 2000 than they did the year 1900.