Ann Arbor Forteana

Draft of 2004.01.07 ☛ 2015.03.16

May include: localnanohistory&c.

Some years ago I started browsing the newspaper microfilms at our local library for the newspapers from 1830-1900. Regardless of the fact that Nicholas Baker is right, and they’re mainly illegible and honestly sad replicas of what must have been beautiful tactile newspapers full of character, there’s still a great deal in there that’s interesting.

In particular, I started to collect and stash away a number—a book-full, actually—of oddities and fringe materials, which I’m going to start transcribing and publishing here as time allows.

Do I believe this stuff is true? God, no. Don’t be ridiculous. And neither should you.

As Forteana, though, these articles are quite interesting. They’re anomalies, folklore, crackpot material, jokes—hard to say how best to describe them. Indeed, I think the most interesting thing about them is that they warranted publication in the newspaper of a moderately small college town in the first place. They’re pretty dense in the stacks, too; I’ve accumulated well over a hundred in a mere three hours or so of browsing the microfilm archives at our local library. I’m sure you can find similar items in your own local library (assuming they have copies of the 19th century newspapers there).

A deeper question, of course, is how real these stories are. By “real” I don’t mean whether they’re factual accounts of ghosts and other strange occurrences (I said that; weren’t you paying attention?), but rather whether the stories themselves were really stories. They always seem to be located at the end of a column on the last couple of pages of a daily or weekly paper, and you never know—did this story come in over the wire, or was it merely said to have done so? Was in concocted to fill the column?

It’s an interesting and unanswered question about journalism and entertainment, frankly.

I’d be very happy to hear about similar articles from your own local newspapers. Many public libraries can provide access to either the original newspapers (in which case you’re a very lucky person) or microfilm copies. It’s great fun to look them over and find things. If you send links or content, I’d be happy to include it here!