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My current research has me looking through microfilmed tabloid newspapers of the 1930s. My progress is greatly impeded by my inability to scroll past unrelated “human interest” stories, most of them tiny nightmares like something out of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts (which you should read immediately if you haven’t already). Anyway, I’ve started this blog as a place to warehouse these spectral and transient tragedies.

If you like what you read here, you will doubtless be enthralled by my book American Babel: Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age. It’s hella overpriced, but you can usually get it at a deep discount from

UPDATE: I’m away from my beloved tabloids this summer, so late postings are from broadsheet papers rather than the tabs.

UPDATE II: It occurs to me that this website is increasingly a mausoleum of dead and forgotten media memes.

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  1. please send future comments

  2. What is your research for?

    • Well, it will probably prove to be its own reward, if the payoff from my last book is any indication. Regardless, we hoe the row at hand, preferring yesterday’s bad news to today’s.

  3. Thank you! Your blog is a joy to read for this weird-history buff. Kinda like “Wisconsin Death Trip,” only funnier. It cheers me daily.

    In appreciation, I offer this proof of my own family’s sordid criminal history: my mother’s people in a murder-for-hire scandal. Apparently the bridegroom was of inferior stock, so father-in-law shipped his daughter the bride off to Europe and took matters in hand, by way of a hired Negro assassin in a Turkish Bath.


    Stacey Earley

    • Funnier than Wisconsin Death Trip? You flatter me. Glad you enjoy the site, Stacey, and congratulations on your illustrious pedigree.

  4. Wonderful!

    Found out about this through the SDMB.

    A sure cure for the idiot’s fiction called “The Good Old Days”.

    I live in the South, & every other man you meet in the street believes that things were perfect before Roosevelt was elected.

    I haven’t the nerve to ask if they mean FDR or Teddy.

  5. I love your site, too. As a librarian/archivist with a history background, I respect what terrible strain your eyeballs go through scrolling through microfilm in order to find these jewels. Please post about your next book when/if it comes out. 🙂

    • Thanks very much for your kind words. I’ve got no current book to plug, but I did just contribute to this week’s edition of This American Life, whose theme will be “Bait and Switch.” Maybe I should slip in a post promoting that.

    • George A. Thompson
    • Posted December 9, 2009 at 7:46 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Let me contribute a story about an exceedingly deft shop-lifter, able to snatch undetected a goldfish from a goldfish bowl. As well as a few other less adept thieves.
    The merchant, Grant Thorburn, was a seed-dealer and florist, well-known in New York for his eccentricities.
    My apologies for not being able to send this as a facsimile of the original.


    Despicable Theft. — A fellow wearing pantaloons and suspenders, (pity but he was suspended by the neck for two minutes.) entered our premises in broad day, and stole from the globe in the center of our flowers a living Gold Fish; and only last week a Sky Lark, having its wings cut, was taken out of a cage hanging in the gallery of our store; a fine Tulip Root, value $2 was taken from off the counter; and a valuable plant of the Cactus was torn up by the roots from a pot in the Green house and carried off. We therefore inform these thieves, (male or female,) that we have made such arrangements as will lead to their detection on the spot. — We now have a look out post in the gallery, who espied a woman (not a lady, though dressed in spider webb,) replenishing her reticule with Bulbous Roots without asking the price; I followed her as she went to the street, and told her that she had not paid for the roots. She said she had bought none. I opened her basket, counted them out, and the amount for them was $2 50. She offered to return them, or beat down the price. I told her that we never took back goods purchased in that manner, but always added extra commissions. — In short, says I, pay me five dollars or we will walk to the Police together. She preferred the former — so we parted pretty well pleased. We have a smart colored boy who is a little light fingered himself, and therefore the better qualified for detecting thieves. When any suspected characters are about, he takes his seat under the stage where he can see without being seen. A few evening since he pointed out one of these would appear ladies, from whose splendid reticule I took some stolen Geranium slips. If we detect any more of these gentry hereafter, we will post their names on every lamp iron in Broadway. ***
    National Advocate, August 7, 1828, p. 2, col. 5

    • Excellent story! I especially like the it-takes-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief angle. Gotta wonder what the pay-off was of purloining a goldfish. Just honing his craft perhaps?

  6. This website is too good. I’m supposed to be working on my PhD today and I’m reading your snippets instead. Under WTF, by the way, you have found some very early Tweets. I have Tweeted about that, with a link back. Wonderful stuff, anyway, and thanks.

    • Thanks, Rob. I hope to get back to regular updates of the site soon.

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