Over the years, I've gotten quite a lot of questions, comments, and suggestions from readers. Almost two dozen, I'd say! But my favorite correspondence of all, I might as well admit, is the kind that does my work for me. And such is the email that I recently received from my good friend, Melissa Anderson Sweazy, a super-talented photographer and writer (and author of the upcoming book, Veiled Remarks: A Curious Compendium for the Nuptially Inclined).
Melissa wrote to tell me that the old Memphis Daily Appeal newspaper from the 1860s — that's right, the EIGHTEEN 60S — is now online, where you can peruse it at your leisure. It's not available in Memphis, where you might expect, but is archived (along with many, many other newspapers) at the University of Texas in Tyler, Texas.
And my oh my, it's a treasure trove of historical tidbits. Not only are there plenty of compelling stories about the Civil War, but the newspapers back then were just packed with oddities. Such as this little item, from March 26, 1861: "We learn that the 14 men and 15 women at the Home for the Homeless are all troubled with sore eyes."
Home for the Homeless?
And there's a piece on April 5, 1861, about the murder of a prostitute, and the reporter observes, "The gem that makes a woman loftier than a throne, she had lost, but she had not parted with ALL that makes a woman noble." In other words, she had lost her chastity, but even so, she was still a halfway decent person and probably didn't deserve to be stabbed to death. Maybe. At least, I THINK that's what they are saying.
On April 10, 1861, there's a really fine piece about the Mississippi at night, when the river was just jam-packed with riverboats "that frequently look like moving mountains of light and flame, so brilliantly are these river leviathans illuminated outside and in. Indeed, the spectacle presented is like a dream of enchantment ..."
And on April 24, 1861, Memphians were treated to something called the "Panopticon of the South — This splendid exhibition has arrived and will exhibit at Odd-fellows' hall to-night. It is no mere picture, but figures, common forts, houses, shipping, rolling waters, blazing shells, darting lightning, rolling thunder and rattling artillery, making up a life-like series of scenes. The passing of the Mississippi troops past the Worsham house in Memphis will prove very attractive here. Fort Moultrie, Pickens, Sumter, and other celebrated places, are exhibited with actual detail. As the scenes of the present war pass before the eyes of the spectator we are sure the liveliest enthusiasm will be awakened among fair ladies and brave men."
Melissa pointed out there are dozens of stories about men being fined for "wife whipping," which was often described in bizarre ways. One story called it (sarcastically, I hope) "a brave amusement."
Go here, then scroll down the list of newspapers to find the ones from Memphis: