The Strange Case of Some Historic Newspapers; or, the Problem with Provenance
Yesterday, the Xplrr Media, LLC crew of Scott Wolter and J. Hutton Pulitzer delivered another hour-long podcast criticizing The Curse of Oak Island. They spent the time complaining about the show for many of the same sins found on Scott Wolter’s own America Unearthed, particularly stretching out investigations rather than getting to the point, over-dramatizing minor events, etc. They reiterated their claims that the show is “unwatchable” and that the production is doing damage to archaeological sites. Pulitzer returned to his favorite insult, referring again to people who live in their mother’s basements, this time to say that their personalities predispose them to liking pink Volkswagen Beetles. However, since the two men made no news except to restate the story of Zena Halpern’s allegedly ancient Templar map and say that it (and other copies of copies of alleged documents) came from a shady figure Wolter won’t name (via a military operative who served in Vietnam!), there is really nothing to discuss here. I’ll just mention that Wolter can’t remember his own America Unearthed episodes, so Pulitzer tells listeners to Google “America Unearthed plus New Ross plus Templars.” If you do that, most users will be directed to my review of America Unearthed as the top result. Oops!
In keeping with my discussion of hoaxes from yesterday, I wanted to share this very interesting bit of testimony about how easy it is for spurious documents to be mistaken for genuine, even when their origins are perfectly clear to those with modest expertise. Our example is provided by M. M. Quaife, writing in the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 1919. He is discussing the strange case of the plethora of miraculously preserved copies of an obscure rural newspaper’s issue of January 1800 on the death of George Washington, copies of which now outnumber the newspaper’s original run.
The story can’t help but recall numerous exaggerated claims we find for various documents, autographs, maps, carvings, and other unusual detritus fringe historians allege to have been passed down in obscure family holdings from historical periods.
The following are Quaife’s words, taken from his article “Some Light on Two Historical Hoaxes.” I warn the reader that, being a product of its time, it contains some casually racist language:
From M. M. Quaife, “Some Light on Two Historical Hoaxes”
The Ulster County Gazette was established in 1798 and continued publication until 1822. During this entire period its publisher was Samuel Freer and his son (the latter alone after the death of the father). The younger man died in 1840, and not until ten or fifteen years later was the first reprint of the now famous paper made. Since then reprints have been numerous; over a score have been listed by the Library of Congress, but it is probable many more have been made.
The reader will doubtless be curious to know what motives inspire the reprinting of this and other old newspapers. Fundamentally the motive in all cases is a desire for profit from the transaction, although this is frequently obscured, doubtless, by another, the practically universal interest in old things possessed of familiar historical associations. Now it is a curious fact about newspapers that practically all of the enormous number currently produced are destroyed within a short time and but few people, relatively speaking, have ever seen a newspaper of any considerable age. Thus, only a few weeks ago the news item was carried all over Wisconsin that in tearing down a house at Appleton between the walls had been found an “ancient” paper, being an issue of the Lawrence College paper for the year 1879. Evidently the incident was regarded by those who are familiar with news values as worthy of widespread heralding, even in this time of climacteric stress over the mightiest warfare the world has ever witnessed. Because of this widespread interest in relics of the past, newspaper publishers and others from time to time reproduce an issue of some early paper—frequently one of their own, or it may be one dealing with some event of universal historical interest. Such an event would be preeminently the death and funeral of Washington. Particularly in 1876, when the celebration of the national centennial aroused widespread popular interest, would anything which seemed to pertain directly to the Father of his Country command a widespread appeal. This appeal was cleverly capitalized by one publisher of a spurious reprint of the Ulster County Gazette about the Centennial Year in a circular headed “The Oldest Paper! A relic of 1799. Death of Washington! Slavery in New York, etc.” It offered, at the price of ten cents a copy, a reissue of Freer’s paper concerning the death of Washington so like the original that were Freer himself still living he would be unable to detect the counterfeit. The reprint could “only be obtained from our authorized traveling agents,” and would be placed on sale in all the cities of the country.
A tramp printer of Ethiopian persuasion turned the death of Washington to private account in slightly different fashion at Decatur, Illinois, a dozen years ago. He canvassed the retail merchants of the town for quantity orders for the paper, which he proposed to reprint, holding out the inducement that they could win favor with their customers at slight expense to themselves by enclosing with each order of merchandise sold a copy of the Ulster County Gazette containing the account of the death of President Washington. The argument of the sable salesman was successful to such an extent, I have been informed, that several thousand copies of the paper were struck off in a back-room print shop in Decatur, Illinois, one hundred and seven years after Washington’s death.
Both the paper and the printing of these modern reprints differ from the original, so that it is not difficult for an expert to detect the spurious issue. For the guidance of others who may be interested in this particular paper it will suffice to note that so far as known not a single original copy of the issue of January 4, 1800, is still in existence. A good illustration of the unreliability of family tradition and, consequently, of the care the scholar must employ in making use of information of this character is afforded by the fact that possessors of copies of the Ulster County Gazette commonly relate (and doubtless commonly believe) that their issue has been handed down in the family as a prized heirloom through a long period of time. A concrete illustration of this sort came to the writer’s attention in Chicago some years ago. A negro offered to sell for twenty dollars a copy of the paper under discussion, accompanying the proffer with a moving tale of family illness which forced him thus to sacrifice an object which had been treasured in the family for generations.
11/28/2016 10:40:01 am
Wolter is as trustworthy as Drumpf, miracle he isn't in power yet.
11/28/2016 10:56:21 am
The CBS reality stalwart "Survivor" should consider filming a season on Oak Island. They can invite the collective of fringe theorists to outwit, outplay, outpodcast...
11/29/2016 01:57:24 pm
I'm sure they could work in an immunity challenge using pink VW Beetles. The big meeting room where they extinguish the torch could be in a basement, but they would have to use a light bulb because torches in basements aren't good.
11/28/2016 11:04:08 am
" They reiterated their claims that the show is “unwatchable” and that the production is doing damage to archaeological sites."
11/28/2016 02:37:05 pm
Remember, it wasn't too long ago W&P were talking about digging up "giant" remains before archaeologists and other authorities could get involved. They didn't seem to have a problem with damaging a potential archaeological site at that time.
11/28/2016 06:03:48 pm
Apparently it's all good, as long as a brush isn't used.
11/28/2016 11:05:01 am
Jason, I'm having a hard time discerning excerpts from your own content. Will you please look into formatting the text differently, perhaps darkening the background of such text or something?
11/28/2016 12:27:34 pm
Usually I put them in block quotes, but a lot of people have complained that the block quotes are hard to read when the text is long, especially on most mobile devices where they appear in very light gray. I had hoped that the heading would help break it up. If anyone has other ideas about how to format large excerpts, I'd be happy to hear them.
11/28/2016 02:32:47 pm
Would it be possible to change the color of the text? Or is that too much effort and potentially harder to read on mobile devices?
11/28/2016 02:40:32 pm
Let's give it a try and see. Does the green look dark enough?
11/28/2016 02:55:03 pm
I'm using a small HDTV as my monitor for my desktop, so the green is easily noticeable. I suggest using a darker color for mobile device users, at first. You can change the color scheme based on their input.
11/28/2016 03:09:33 pm
Since this isn't a standard block quote, I set the color manually. It should show up as dark green on mobile devices, too.
11/29/2016 01:24:11 am
I read your posts through feedly, and your normal quotes show up as italics. This time it shows up the same as the other text, but I didn't have a problem distinguishing it by context. So...whatever works, I guess?
11/30/2016 10:48:09 am
You should really be using block quote, and rely on custom CSS styling to change the look. I think just using a light gray background to the would suffice across devices - maybe something around #F1F1F1.
11/28/2016 12:58:28 pm
My family had a similar kind of "relic." For many years my grandfather claimed that he had the front page of a paper from the day Lincoln was shot. It was nicely framed and was supposedly in the family for years. His kids and grand kids would occasionally take it to school for show and tell. Years after he died my brother approached the Smithsonian, offering the paper for their collection, only to be told a story of reprinting similar to the one above.
11/30/2016 09:43:26 pm
Yes, my family has one of the Lincoln reprints too.
11/28/2016 03:12:45 pm
"Pink Volkswagen Beetle"! According to the ventriloquist Jeff Dunham it should be a powder blue Prius.
11/28/2016 08:08:42 pm
11/28/2016 06:01:08 pm
"Pulitzer returned to his favorite insult, referring again to people who live in their mother’s basements, this time to say that their personalities predispose them to liking pink Volkswagen Beetles."
11/28/2016 07:05:24 pm
What's even funnier is that Commander Cosplay complains that the archaeologist from Nova Scotia isn't dressed right.
11/28/2016 07:45:47 pm
...And mutton chops and monocle, I'm sure.
11/29/2016 02:11:21 am
Basements? Pink Beetles?
11/28/2016 07:25:53 pm
I wonder how much treasure "Treasure Force" Commander has found to date? Say what you want but Pultzer is just bad at this fringe history scam...he tries but just can't quite get it done...
11/28/2016 10:31:18 pm
In the first part of the podcast JHP said he clipped some images from someone else's HD drone YouTube video. That sounds like he's being a bad, bad boy. Has he overstepped some legal boundaries?
11/28/2016 11:36:32 pm
I can't believe I listened to the entire podcast. What a couple of bufoons. Seemed pretty obvious Wolter hadn't seen the episode he was supposed to discuss. JHP crapped all over hem for not properly inspecting the well with metal detectors, HD 360 cameras etc saying they were amateurs and that Wolter was a professional. I guess he missed the part where Wolter didn't do any of that but just pumped all the water out.
11/29/2016 06:29:24 am
Pulitzer often has trouble with his sound levels, particularly when he lets the music play too long and too loud under his voice.
11/29/2016 01:09:14 pm
I haven't read Wolters book, but since he included Halperns map in it, I assume he has bought into it hook line and sinker. Once they proclaim something as real, there is no going back for these guys. (see Roman sword and the Rune stone)
11/30/2016 12:34:38 pm
Thanks for the excellent link re: Longitude.
11/30/2016 11:29:38 pm
By "ridiculous claims" I refer to 1178 and the 13hundreds era dates referred to on the Halpern map. I have also seen other instances of very early dates using similar longitudes In the New World.
11/29/2016 04:09:46 pm
Dr Robert Price once mentioned writing a parody HP Lovecraft story about a woman who'd moved to the big city, and started experiencing odd events after she'd bought a bra that had odd symbols on from the thrift store. It turned out the symbols were in fact sigils connected with an Old One in Antarctica.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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