Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Days' Doings, March 20th, 1869


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Get the full hi-res scan here.

I thought I'd take a little detour this weekend and take a look at a couple of 19th century illustrated newspapers. Today's paper is The Days' Doings, an illustrated newspaper somewhat akin to The National Police Gazette, a subject which I've blogged on back here and here. The Days' Doings does have its own flavor, though, and I very much enjoyed reading through this issue - this was one wild paper. Though he did not advertise the fact, The Days' Doings was published by Frank Leslie who had his first job in New York engraving woodcuts for P.T. Barnum's Illustrated News. Leslie took his skills and innovations in the rapid creation of wood engravings and applied them to a number of illustrated papers over the years (You may recall a WWI era issue of Leslie's Weekly I posted here, the magazine continuing on long after Leslie died in 1880). Leslie was a pioneering engraver but not much of a business man; nonetheless, he managed to circulate a great number of periodicals to the people of New York, and the giant (and often gorgeous) engravings in his publications appealed to even the unlettered, though my personal take is that a publication like The Days' Doings has a little something for everybody, even if it does apparently tend toward the sensational. In some ways, the paper reminds me of New York by Gaslight, which I haven't read since college, a fairly exploitative exploration of the seedier side of Gotham in which reader's might peek into from the safety of their reading room. But from what I've read here, Leslie's paper seems to mix in levity and at least some broad-mindedness into the exposes of urban life as well. The middle and upper classes do not go unscathed, either, as all segments of society are fair game for satire in this publication from the dawn of the Gilded Age, there is something democratic in this journalistic form, even as it engages in some very undemocratic mud-slinging. Or maybe this paper is just ugly theater, hrm. Feeding the Christians to the lions and all that...


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After watching the array of 5 televisions in front of the elliptical trainers at the gym today which go CNN, NBC, ESPN, HGTV, FOX, I indeed felt like I was leaving the Colosseum by the time I walked out of my workout, heh heh. Apparently, not too much changes in news and entertainment as the centuries stroll by, only the medium of delivery.

There's a very nice essay on the The Days' Doings here by Joshua Brown in which Brown describes the evolution of the paper which carried the more lurid engravings and subjects that Leslie's more mainstream Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper deigned not to carry. Beginning in 1867 as The Last Sensation, the paper changed names to The Days' Doings in 1868 not long before the publication of this scanned issue, eventually ejecting some of the more objectionable material and ultimately becoming New York Illustrated Times in 1876. The notorious publication was sold when Frank Leslie died in 1880, when his widow would re-organize his publications and at last make them profitable. Apparently, Leslie's feminist widow was all too eager to get rid of this paper that seemed to spend so much ink on engravings of the fairer sex and women of loose morals. The new owner would operate the paper for four more years.

But on to a closer look at some of the articles and stories in today's issue... I'll probably be posting images of more of the non-fiction material, but I'd note that a bulk of pages are stories, a fact found surprising. The fiction is a good mix of genres, and I was particularly annoyed that the one leaf missing from the paper contains the conclusion to a gothic horror story I was rather enjoying regarding a lovely but dangerous black widow type who seduces the wealthy protagonist, Arthur Lovell, in "Three Dead Men." Lovell encounters the ghosts of the widow's past lovers, and I'd love to know how the story ends. If by some slim chance someone out there could scan me the missing page or send me the page from microfiche (assuming it exists), I'd very much appreciate it and would include it in the archive here .

The issue begins with the cover story on heathenism in New York, dividing it's examination among the Chinese, the blacks, and the upper class pagan revivalists.

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It's interesting to note here that the writer saves any real scorn for the upper class whites here dabbling in paganism. The sacrificial goat cover surely turned some heads. Of the Chinese, the author notes, "It is by no means complimentary to our boasted Christian civilization, but it is nevertheless true, that although the Chinese may theoretically be Pagans, they are, so far as their lives are concerned, better than the average of the Christians - at least the Christians of the Fourth Ward. Only one murder has been known among them, and although they will not hesitate to cheat when they have the chance, they seldom figure in the police reports, even as sneak thieves or perpetrators of petty larceny. They are inveterate gamblers, but they only play among themselves and after their own peculiar fashion; so that, on the whole, if they are an insignificant, they are also an inoffensive part of our population. They peddle or work all day, as other men, and at night they return to their families or their boarding houses and devote themselves with assiduity to cards and opium." Hardly a ringing endorsement, but at least they won't murder you where you stand like those damn'd Irish. The discussion of the superstitions of blacks that follows is similar in that the author points out that this group does not figure largely in the crime problem either, "The negroes of New York are waiters, or caterers or white-washers, or plasterers, or washerwomen, or stewardesses, and are generally quiet and inoffensive. In fact, in a police point of view, they are an unexceptionable class. In comparison to their respective numbers three arrests are made of white men to one of a colored man and brother, and considered by themselves, the negroes of the metropolis are by no means the most disgraceful or dangerous element of its population." Blacks may be a superstitious lot, but the author forgives any extreme superstitions as holdovers from African religions. Even the author's description of the sacrifice of a sheep in a secret chapel on Madison Avenue depicted on the cover doesn't seem to damn the pagans as much as stand in amazement that such a thing would happen in modern New York. I'd have expected more outrage towards all three of these groups - surely in other types of publications there would be more vitriol for this lot.

If descriptions of pagan rites aren't shocking enough, the might trump that scene with the engraving that accompanies "Whipping in the North."


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50 lashes certainly seems mighty severe to me for a little lark, and the secrecy of such discipline adds to what I might imagine as sadistic glee on the part of the administrators. The naked breast in the illustration shocks, for certain, but such a story affords the opportunity for a bit of nudity that The Days' Doings would seize upon when possible. Oh my.

But all of the paper's engravings aren't out to shock in some sort of salacious manner, many of the illustrations seem to revel in the display of extraordinary events and the powers of this new graphic technology. I particularly like the depiction of the animal reaction to a frontier forest fire on the page below. I'll post the full page, as the article on the bottom half on crossing Broadway is a hoot and a reminder of the perils of simply crossing such a large street.


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Notice the lines in the animal engraving - by dividing an engraving into smaller sections and assigning each section to a different engraver the work might be completed more quickly. Some of the engravings used in The Days' Doings were reprinted from Leslie's other papers, though the more salacious or taboo engravings were unique.

One last illustration, of an alligator loosed in the theater, what a scene.


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And finally, the ads at the back. This is where you might send away for French postcards or other outrageous materials or get addresses to correspond with potential mates. It seems that much faith is required for many of these advertisements. You are expected to send off money without even knowing what you are getting in return! Amazing, but the gullibility and desperation were, are, and will be part of the human character.


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Big thanks to McCoy for his edit work on this scan! The paper was in sorry condition to say the least, and he had made it look very nice and took the time to repair the tiny font here and there where it was damaged. He's often a miracle worker in these things when it comes to making old pages presentable, so loud praise for my silent partner in so much of my scanning work.

After coaching a basketball practice, watching a soccer game, and hitting the gym already this morning, I might have rushed to finish this post a bit, but I hope you all enjoy this newspaper - I know I did. If I'm not mistaken, it's the oldest scan so far here on my blog. I plan to post another paper tomorrow, a relic from the Spanish-American War that I edited for McCoy, perhaps a turning point in American foreign policy.

EDIT: After looking through this post, I notice that much of the very small text has been rendered nearly illegible by the resizing and image compression performed automatically by my image host (perhaps because of the newspaper-sized length of the images). The text in the scan, as small as it is, is much more readable than what is appearing here. So do yourself a favor and reduce eyestrain by reading from the original width images in the scan itself...

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