Tag Archives: Chronicling America

Digitizing Newspapers in Indiana: Hoosier State Chronicles

Newspapers are an essential historical resource for researchers, journalists, and genealogists by capturing the lives and events of individuals in a particular area throughout the years as well as reporting national news. However, even under the best climate and preservation circumstances, the longevity of newspapers is hindered by the relatively short lifespan of newsprint, a thinner and lower quality of paper. One solution in the past was the use of microfilm or microforms. According to Managing Microforms in the Digital Age from the American Library Association, “microfilm has been used since the 1940s for the long-term storage of newspaper content because the medium preserves file integrity, maintains the proper sequence of the data, and discourages theft.”[i] Libraries and historical organizations have used these tools for years, but even microfilm has limitations. It takes up a great deal of space, is expensive to produce, and often requires on-site access.

Over the past twenty years, institutions have shifted their focus from microfilm to digital formats. To aid this transition, the Library of Congress, with funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), executed a nationwide newspaper project from 1982 to 2011 called the United States Newspaper Program, which cataloged and collected newspapers nationwide. However, in 2005, the Library of Congress and NEH formed the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) and its digital newspaper database, Chronicling America, which offers free access to digitized historic newspapers from across the country via partnerships with statewide organizations.[ii] Indiana’s largest collection of digitized newspapers are housed within the Indiana State Library’s own database, Hoosier State Chronicles.

As a project, Hoosier State Chronicles focused on digitizing newspapers at the state and local levels- sometimes through the NDNP or institutional partners, but often by partnering with groups endeavoring to save their local papers. The efforts of these smaller organizations have been hindered by the lack of information about how to begin such a process, as well as securing the necessary resources to handle storage, digitization costs, and labor. This blog provides an introduction to the entire process of how newspapers are selected, organized, digitized, and publicly shared through Hoosier State Chronicles. To begin, let us start with the formation of Hoosier State Chronicles and its collection of digitized newspapers.

OUR HISTORY AND COLLECTION

Indiana’s largest public repository of microfilmed newspapers is managed at the Indiana State Library and contains over 3,000 titles. In 2011, the Indiana State Library, Indiana Historical Bureau, and Indiana Historical Society collaborated on the first grant for Chronicling America, which digitized over 100,000 pages of Indiana newspapers. After the initial two-year grant cycle, the Indiana State Library and Indiana Historical Bureau, (now part of the Indiana State Library,) took over future efforts to digitize Indiana papers, eventually creating the Hoosier State Chronicles website in 2015 and receiving three more NDNP grants for digitizing newspapers. This included collaborations with Indiana colleges and universities to digitize partial collections, as well as partnerships with community organizations to digitize local papers through grants.

Today, Hoosier State Chronicles has a collection of over 950,000 pages and 124,000 issues, ranging from pre-statehood (The Indiana Gazette, 1804) to contemporary newspapers (The Muncie Gazette, 2011). The Indianapolis Recorder contains the longest run in the collection with 96 years of newspapers, but because it was a weekly paper, the whole run only contains around 5,000 issues. The largest number of issues for a single newspaper belongs to the Indianapolis News, with over 12,304 issues over 38 years, though The Daily Banner from Greencastle comes in a close second with 10,649 issues spread over 68 years.

An important element of Hoosier State Chronicles is an effort to digitize newspapers across all of Indiana. Of the state’s 92 counties, Hoosier State Chronicles contains newspapers from 54. This is not to say every county in our collection offers an equal number of newspapers or pages. The largest county in our collection by both number of newspapers and pages is easily Marion County, with 25 newspapers and over 43,000 issues. And the smallest? Posey County’s New-Harmony and Nashoba Gazette, or, Free Enquirer with one solitary issue. Does this mean that the counties with lower representation in Chronicles are less important? By no means! Limitations in access to historic newspapers, financial resources, or the quality of the papers have hindered our efforts to share titles from every area in the state. However, smaller or scattered issues may come to us as a part of a community effort to preserve some part of their history digitally. If even one newspaper represents a unique region, time-period, or subject, we absolutely want it to be a part of our collection.

Our collection covers a broad range of eras in Indiana history. The oldest newspapers in our collection begin prior to statehood in 1804 with Vincennes’ Indiana Gazette, the earliest newspaper in the state, as well as its successor, the Western Sun. Two areas of strength for the collection are pre-Civil War and late 1800s newspapers, including early runs of the Indianapolis News, Indianapolis Journal, Indiana State Sentinel, Crawfordsville Daily Journal, and several in Terre Haute and Evansville. In the early 1900s, titles like the Richmond Palladium and Hammond Times provide terrific materials from eastern and northwest Indiana. Greencastle is also an area with multiple papers during these eras, particularly The Daily Banner and associated papers. The latest title in our collection is that of the Muncie Times in 2011, giving us 207 years of collections to share.

Another facet of our newspaper collection is the variety of materials in the collection. Politically, the collection displays contrasting perspectives, with newspapers supporting Republicans and Democrats, Whigs and Socialists. These feature both local and national news, often sharing the statewide perspectives of several parties. In regards to ethnic and racial diversity, we still have a long way to go. As mentioned previously, The Indianapolis Recorder, an African American newspaper, is the longest run in our collection. Additionally, the Evansville Argus and Muncie Times also share African American culture in Indiana throughout the late 30s-early 40s and the 1990s-early 2010s, respectively. Another long run of ethnic and cultural newspapers is the Jewish Post, later called The Indiana Jewish Post & Opinion, with issues from 1933 until 2005. Finally, the Indiana Tribüne has the distinction of being both the only predominantly-German newspaper and the only foreign language newspaper in Hoosier State Chronicles.

While every newspaper occasionally offers controversial news, Hoosier State Chronicles contains one newspaper that is especially difficult for modern readers. The Fiery Cross, a Ku Klux Klan newspaper out of Indianapolis, was published during the early 1920s. Despite its nature as an official newspaper of a hate group, it nevertheless provides insights to the rise of the organization during the 1920s, when they gained immense political power. It also highlights both the explicit and subtle racism and cultural biases of the Klan, particularly against African American, Jewish, Catholic, and immigrant individuals and groups.

One newspaper not included in this list, but that is coming soon to Hoosier State Chronicles is the Indianapolis Times. The Times was an influential newspaper from the 1920s through the 1960s, whose exposure of the Ku Klux Klan’s influence on Indiana politics won them the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1928. They also covered other social issues like corruption in the prison system during the 1930s as well as inadequate care in the mental health-care system and corruption in state road projects in the 1950s.[iii] We are currently digitizing a large portion of the newspaper in two steps. First, 1922 through 1936 is being digitized through a NEH-funded partnership with the Library of Congress Chronicling America project, where these resources will be shared. Later issues between 1936 and the early 1950s are currently being digitized through a partnership with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a grant from the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Once completed, close to thirty years of this daily newspaper will be available on Hoosier State Chronicles.

DIGITIZING PAPERS: SELECTION

Selecting newspapers can be challenging due to several factors. When assessing where our collection needs to grow, meeting community needs is first and foremost to the process. For the past eight years, Chronicling America and the Library of Congress assisted Hoosier State Chronicles through a NEH grant to digitize nearly fifty newspapers. Yet, sometimes the desire to digitize Indiana newspapers comes from communities. We assist them through the process of securing grants, selecting vendors, and creating appropriate digital resources that can be added to Hoosier State Chronicles. [iv]

Next comes determining what newspapers are readily available for scanning and processing. Oftentimes, this comes from the collection at the Indiana State Library, with over 3,000 newspapers from the state available on microfilm. Using microfilmed reels (1st/2nd generation negative master reels or 2nd generation positive service reels) makes processing faster and the materials easier to ship. However, some newspapers have limited availability due to scarcity of service copies or the lack of original master reels. Creating new-microfilm copies can be difficult due to few companies offering the service at a manageable cost.

Though we may have microfilmed copies of newspapers in the State Library, it does not necessarily mean all are available for digitization. First and foremost, copyright restrictions limit which newspapers are candidates. Justin Clark, former Project Manager for Hoosier State Chronicles, wrote an extensive blog on the subject last year:

Have you ever wondered why the vast majority of NDNP’s content, and most digitized newspaper content, ends around 1923? It’s for a very simple reason: all works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. No copyright research is necessary for this material; it’s free and clear for you to use. However, NDNP announced in 2016 that it has expanded its date range for newspaper titles, from 1836-1922 to 1690-1963. Thus, post-1923 works are in the public domain if a copyright claim was never filed from 1923 through 1977 or if the copyright was never renewed from 1923 through 1963.

This means that more recent newspapers may be wholly or partially unavailable due to copyright concerns, including advertisements or cartoons that could fall under intellectual property laws. That is why only three newspapers appear in our collection after 1971: the Indianapolis Recorder, the Jewish Post and Opinion, and the Muncie Times. These papers are available in Hoosier State Chronicles with the permission of the newspapers’ owners.

However, even newspapers that fall outside the copyright permissions may have other restrictions. Some newspapers have been sold or given to for-profit organizations for digitization or distribution, giving them exclusive access for digital distribution as long as the copyright is in place. Local communities who digitize through for-profit companies often gain access to the files in perpetuity, but at the detriment to those outside of the community who must pay for the digital version through a subscription. The cost of subscription, as well as restrictions on use, limits the average consumer from being able to view these for research or genealogy. Oftentimes, they are marketed as subscriptions to libraries or other organizations for popular use. Hoosier State Chronicles, Chronicling America, and other organizations involved with the NDNP offer newspapers in their collections for free to the public, giving alternatives to researchers, the public, and local communities.[v]

The last two concerns are intertwined: cost and time. Digitization can be a lengthy process, often taking months or years for larger collections. We will cover more in the next section, but the hours required to create a high-quality digital copy may be beyond the resources of smaller organizations. Additionally, the various costs involved with the acquisition, shipping, scanning, processing, and completing a run of newspapers may be daunting, but finding programs and grants to help relieve the burden is often a major part of starting such a program.

DIGITIZING NEWSPAPERS: PROCESSING

Example of an original document scan and a grayscale edited copy,
which makes the text clearer and more legible. Image Credit: Jill Black, ISL

Once a newspaper is selected and deemed eligible for digitization with no restrictions, the process of assessing the collection can begin. The initial process often involves cataloging each newspaper issue to verify its condition, making sure all pages are included and duplicates are noted, sorting to make sure all images are in order, notating any errors in the original print run, and marking flaws in the microfilm. This step can take months to complete in order to provide a thorough template for individuals digitizing the information and adding metadata (the data that organizes and makes the pages and newspapers searchable), as well as keeping meticulous records to assure everything leaving can be accounted for when it returns.

There are several potential options for the digitization process, and many of these depend on the size and number of reels for the newspaper. If the number of newspapers is small enough, or in a physical medium, it may be handled by a local or state agency like the Indiana State Library, who have on-site digital scanning capabilities. However, for larger runs of newspapers, outside companies will likely be required to handle both the digitization and metadata. While there are many options for vendors, the quality requirements, size of the order, and cost may dictate which vendor to go with.

While the scale of work may vary, the system of digitizing large and small projects is very similar. The images are photographed by a high-quality digital scanner that scans the whole document, captures the fine details, and avoids capturing text bleeding through from the other side. From there, the images will be modified for readability, removing flaws and cropping out extraneous space. Files are usually saved in multiple formats for different uses: TIFF files are the highest quality and provide the archival copy, but are extremely large; JPG or JPG2 files provide usable quality copies at a lower resolution and size than TIFF files; and PDF files, which can vary in quality and size, can be downloaded by the public.

Metadata creation is distinctive from the digital scanning process, and while both systems need to work collaboratively, each could be performed by separate vendors. Metadata is the “data about your data” that gives images their descriptions, allows them to be easily sorted, and provides an order and structure to the files. If you are not familiar with metadata, think about how newspapers are numbered. Each issue of a newspaper has a volume number, an edition and a date that gives you a newspaper’s order of publication. Within each issue, page numbers also keep the newspaper in sequential order. All of these numbers are points of metadata that help us sort and organize the newspaper on a daily basis. They are also points that a computer system needs to know to organize the information when putting the files in order and allowing them to be searched and indexed. XML files act as the directory for metadata to be able to sort these files (see image on right.)

Another aspect of metadata for newspapers is making sure the text in the body of the newspaper is readable and searchable. Thankfully, one tool that makes this process easier is Optimal Character Recognition software, or OCR. OCR scans the printed pages in the images, translates them to text, and allows that text to be searched. Not only does this make the newspapers much easier to use, but it also adds a rough transcription of the pages (see image below).

Example of text transcribed using OCR on the Hoosier State Chronicles website.

Unfortunately, OCR is not perfect. The system works best when text is in standard fonts, in straight lines and columns, contains no illustrations, and is relatively the same size. As you may guess, this is rarely the case, particularly in modern or larger newspapers that contain advertisements, comics, or unusual text fonts. These can also be caused by the condition of the documents when they are scanned or the contrast of images. This occasionally results in gibberish translations or incorrect transcriptions from items the software recognizes as text (like an image). Still, like most technology, the systems improve as time goes on, and OCR is an essential part of making the information in newspapers more accessible.

This image is an example of good OCR. The majority of the text is
recognized (blue highlighted areas) and displays distinctive paragraphs. Image credit: Jill Black, ISL
The blue areas on this image is what the OCR recognizes as spots which contain “text” for the purposes of character recognition. Errors like this are common with illustrations.

Without metadata, digital newspapers are nothing more than images. Metadata orders these images to replicate the experience of reading a newspaper while adding searchable information. The process of adding metadata requires a team with keen eyes to monitor the organization and placement of files during the digitization process, specialized technology that accurately recognizes text, and maintaining the image quality of every single newspaper.

DIGITIZING NEWSPAPERS: REVIEW AND UPLOADING

The process of creating a digital copy and adding layers of metadata can take the same amount of time as the initial review of the collection. Yet, after these are completed, the individual agencies who accept these digital copies must review as much as they can to assure that the highest standards are maintained. If this is done internally, the control process may be easily assured by spot checking the creation process. However, on a larger scale where vendors are utilized, checking to make sure each batch, or group, of digitized newspapers is correct as soon as they are available means you can request corrections before they return the microfilm.

What kind of issues come up? Sometimes the scanning is not at the right quality or resolution, which necessitates a rescan. Maybe the dates, page numbers, or page orders are incorrect in the metadata and the information needs to be reorganized or edited. Occasionally, missing pages or issues that should be there need to be tracked down between the original film reels, the digitized files, and the metadata files. This is why it is important to review and revise everything in smaller groups, or batches, so the process of digitizing, adding metadata, and reviewing the completed material can take place simultaneously. Locally saved materials can be revised as you go, but larger-scale batches may require a remote digital transfer before you begin, or physically shipping off a hard drive.

Maintaining a digital collection of any kind, with thousands of individual newspapers saved in multiple formats, means investing in both external hard drives and backup drives. For example, our current digitization project with the Library of Congress contains portions of the Indianapolis Journal, The Daily Times, and the Indianapolis Times, which collectively require roughly eleven external hard drives and nearly seven terabytes of storage. To make sure everyone who needs these materials has them, we often have three copies: one on an external hard-drive that is shipped to the Library of Congress, one back-up copy on our local computer system for immediate access, and one copy maintained on our website. All three have associated costs, but it is good practice to maintain each for future use.

Hard drives with digitized newspapers for the NDNP are shipped off to the Library of Congress for approval.

Finally, after all batches undergo quality review of their images and metadata, revisions are completed, and the batches are ready, they are sent to the appropriate locations. For the newspapers that are part of the Chronicling America project, they are sent to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., where they undergo a second review to assure the files meet their specifications. Once everything is approved by all organizations, the files can finally be sent to either Chronicling America and/or Hoosier State Chronicles, where they are uploaded for public access.

CONCLUSION

Starting a new digital newspaper collection is often a large undertaking, but the established specifications, technologies, vendors, and programs throughout the United States show interested organizations that it can be done. If you are looking for how other organizations have handled this process, check out the list of organizations that have been awarded NDNP grants on the Library of Congress website: https://www.loc.gov/ndnp/awards/.  Ultimately, the goal of digitization is making documents more accessible to the public, reducing damage to original sources, thus providing more contextual resources to our understanding of history.

A special thanks to Connie Rendfeld, Chandler Lighty, Justin Clark, Leigh Anne Johnson, and Jill Black in the creation of this document.

[i] Canepi, Ryder, Sitko, and Catherine Weng. “Microforms in Libraries and Archives” from Managing Microforms in the Digital Age, American Library Association, 2013. Accessed on July 16, 2018. http://www.ala.org/alcts/resources/collect/serials/microforms01

[ii] The program currently hosts newspapers from 46 states and Puerto Rico, and Indiana has 59 newspapers on the site as of today.

[iii] For more information on the Indianapolis Times, see notes from the Indiana Historical Bureau’s marker at: https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4115.htm

[iv] One source of funding is that of Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants, which are funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Science (IMLS), of which the State of Indiana distributes funds. For more information on the availability of these grants, check out the State Library page at https://www.in.gov/library/lsta.htm, or contact Angela Fox at (317) 234-6550 or anfox@library.in.gov.

[v] The Indiana State Library and Hoosier State Chronicles have partnered with Newspapers.com in the past to digitize a large number of newspapers. In exchange for three years of exclusive access, over 1.5 million pages of Indiana newspapers are now digitized and accessible via the Indiana State Library’s Inspire website by following the links to Newspapers.com.

New Batches Available!

Hey there Chroniclers!

We have new batches available for you through Chronicling Americahttp://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.

These batches comprise 2,800 issues (totaling 28,367 pages) and brings our total page count in Chronicling America to 352,642!

Here are the papers and dates available:

Indianapolis Journal (Daily) : January 3, 1883 – December 31, 1886, May 3, 1897 – February 28, 1899

Indiana Daily Times (Daily): January 1, 1920 – June 13, 1922

As always, happy searching!

This project has been assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Politics of Publicity: Mayor “Lew” Shank and the Power of the Press

Social media today disseminates news faster than any other time in history. Our contemporary political atmosphere, dominated by the 24/7 news cycle and social media, often churns through stories faster than bills can be drafted and carefully-worded messages honed. One article from Mashable, entitled “The Future of Social Media and Politics”, examined how important social media outlets are to current grassroots campaigns and shaping political influence through direct communication with candidates. Another article, this time from The Atlantic, examines how charisma influences our perceptions of leaders and in what standing we hold them in.

These strategies, while utilizing the most up-to-date technology, are not new. The rise of John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon was as much a response to his policies as it was his appearance in the first televised debates. The charismatic and good-looking Kennedy swayed many followers away from the established politician Nixon, and helped to shift the public perception on his ability to lead the country.[1] The power of messaging and personality is certainly a powerful tool in getting many leaders elected and crafting their image once in office.

Politics in Indiana during the first part of the 20th century was serious business. It was often dominated by political machines, the Ku Klux Klan, and larger-than-life political figures. However, two-time Republican Indianapolis mayor Samuel Lewis Shank, had no interest in either machine politics or joining the Klan. “Lew,” as he was called, did, however, like the idea of being a larger-than-life politician. Particularly during his first term as mayor, he frequently used the media as an outlet for showy political stunts and self-promotions. While he garnered a reputation as a colorful and outspoken figure, his well-covered tactics were not enough for him to go down in Indiana history as a masterful politician. Indeed, he resigned in late November 1913 with one month left of his mayoral term and was not elected to another political position for nearly a decade before one more stint as mayor.

The popularity of Lew Shank derived from the crafted image of his plainspoken nature, and the fact that he presented himself as the common man. This folksy-geniality endeared himself to the public, and the papers, for years. His career in auctioneering (which continued during both terms as mayor) and time on the stage as a vaudeville performer also provided him the skills to captivate crowds with outrageous stories. The unusual press Shank received during his years in politics, as demonstrated in Hoosier State Chronicles, certainly kept his name in the headlines, for better or worse.

The Indianapolis Journal, May 14th, 1904, p 15. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Indianapolis Journal, June 27, 1903. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Despite these somewhat unusual headlines, Shank was serious about politics. Shank’s political aspirations began at the age of eighteen. Shank attempted a campaign to become city councilor but was defeated. Undaunted, Shank mounted an ambitious campaign to not only raise his political profile, but also capture the seat of county recorder, wherein he was responsible for maintaining legal documents and records. This campaign included taking out self-promotional advertisements in local papers, partnering with companies to produce objects with his name imprinted on them, (like cigars and chewing gum), and engaging in several publicity stunts. These tactics not only won him the seat of county recorder, but also raised his popularity in local and national papers.

Example of Shank’s self-promotional use of advertisements. Indianapolis News, October 27th, 1902, p.12. Hoosier State Chronicles
Omaha Daily Bee, December 7th, 1902, p.15. Chronicling America 

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 23rd, 1902, p. 44. Newspapers.com

 

Although a long shot (even for the Republican nomination spot), Shank was able to turn his success as county recorder into a viable campaign for mayor of Indianapolis in 1909. Edging out the favored Republican nominee and then his Democratic opponent, Shank won nine of fifteen wards of Indianapolis with a total of 1,625 votes. [2] Yet he was not above resorting to dishonest tactics to win. Shank recalled to the New-York Tribune in 1912 that he gained an advantage in the mayoral election with the African-American community by stating that his political opponent removed his daughter from an integrated school. He openly admitted lying—his opponent had no daughters at all. [3]

Once arriving in office, Shank had a great deal to prove to the citizens of Indianapolis and within his own party. He relied on theatrics and courted the media. One such effort included the enforcement of saloon laws in Indianapolis, particularly laws which prevented the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Shank, of course, handled the issue with his own particular brand of showmanship. Indeed, he insisted that Indianapolis saloon keepers’ licenses were revoked until they sat through a Sunday church service, among other requirements:

The Greenfield Republican, Greenfield, Indiana. February 3rd, 1910. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Shank again entered the spotlight with his “High Cost of Living” campaign, a reaction to food pricing throughout the state. Shank, believing the mark-up of food to be excessive, went straight to the suppliers, purchased sundries, and then sold the products to the public at cost on the steps of the State Capitol building. What many could see as a cheap publicity stunt proved to be a boon to Shank’s popularity and actually led to lower prices of groceries in Indianapolis.

The Lake County Times (Hammond Times), Hammond, IN. January 27th, 1912. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

The San Francisco Call, San Francisco, CA, September 30, 1911. Chronicling America

 

The Day Book, Chicago, IL. December 23rd, 1911, Image 11. Chronicling America

 

However, his flashier tactics could not resolve the streetcar strikes in November of 1913, which ultimately led to his downfall. The Indianapolis Traction and Terminal employees began a wage and benefit strike. On November 2, the company president brought in strikebreakers, which led to open warfare. A violent clash between strikebreakers and striking workers led to injuries and two deaths. The owners of the line called in strike-breakers to get the lines running again, and requested help from the Indianapolis police department to protect the company men. Due to disagreements between Shank, the police chief, and officers, law enforcement did not provide an adequate response. This did not aid Shank’s standing for many in the city.

Collection of articles about the police situation, Indianapolis Star, November 27, 2013, p 8. Newspapers.com

 

Eventually, after threats of impeachment and another impending strike, Shank resigned his job as mayor, one month short of the end of his term. It is possible this too was a publicity stunt, as he had already signed a contract for, as the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis notes, “the vaudeville circuit with a monologue about his time as mayor.” It would be nearly nine years until Shank would be elected again to public office, and his exit was met with a generally negative response:

The Lake County Times, November 29, 1913, p 1. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Opinion piece from The Lake County Times, December 1, 1913, p 4. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

During his second stint as mayor of Indianapolis in the early 1920s, he actively opposed the Klan through such methods as banning masked parades and burning crosses. [4] Although easily defeated, he ran in the Republican primary for governor in 1923 against the Klan-backed nominee (and eventual winner), Ed Jackson, in an effort to stem the statewide power of the Klan. Despite his non-traditional career path and aspirations for higher office, Shank’s rise in politics, led by his ability to capture media attention, was an improbable example of both the powers and limits of charismatic politics.


[1] For more information about the Nixon-Kennedy debates, see Time magazine’s article, “How the Nixon-Kennedy Debate Changed the World”

[2] The Indianapolis News, Wednesday Evening edition, November 3, 1909, p. 1.

[3] “Mayor Shank Tells How a Brace of Imaginary Daughters Helped Elect Him”, The New-York Tribune, February 25, 1912, p. 19. Accessed February 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/467701598/

[4] “Samuel Lewis (Lew) Shank,” Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, edited by David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1994), 880.

The Dog Fennel Gazette: A Fresh Look at an Old Legend

Indiana’s long and rich history of newspaper publishing produced not only major papers of record but also some of the more obscure and oddly-named titles. For example, Hoosier State Chronicles, the state’s historic digital newspaper program, has digitized such titles as the New Albany Microscope and General Advertiser, the Danville Butcher-Knife, and Smithville’s iconic newspaper, Name It & Take It! Yet, one obscure title lingers in the Hoosier imagination more than any other and it likely did not even exist: Rushville’s Dog Fennel Gazette.

Name It and Take It!, June 1 1887, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The story of the Dog Fennel Gazette is much like any other tall tale. It emerged out of the wildness of Indiana’s early years as a state (1820s) and it continued to be repeated without skepticism for much of the state’s history. According to legend, printer William D. M. Wickham published the weekly newspaper in Rushville starting in either 1822 or 1823, and utilized a peculiar printing schedule. Historian Fred Cavinder noted that the paper was “published on one side of the page and sent to subscribers, who read it and returned it to the publisher so the next edition could be printed on the other side.”[1] The apocryphal journal of record received a huge boost of credibility after John Arnold included the story, as fact, in his history of Rush County. It was oft reprinted in other histories and journals, even appearing in a Pulitzer-Prize winning book on the Northwest Territory. During decades of spreading the tale, very few ever questioned it.

Greencastle Daily Banner, February 10, 1940, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Despite many years of tacit acceptance of the story, an undercurrent of scholarship emerged that challenged the well-entrenched narrative. John W. Miller, in his Indiana Newspaper Bibliography, argued “the existence of this paper is highly questionable.”[2] Historians Winifred Gregory also did not include the Gazette in her omnibus of American newspaper titles. However, the scholar who put the nail in the coffin for this myth was communications scholar Fredric Brewer in his 1993 article for the Indiana Magazine of History. In “Rushville’s Dog Fennel Gazette: Indiana’s Mythical Newspaper,” Brewer carefully examined the claims of the paper’s existence and came to a resounding conclusion: there was no Dog Fennel Gazette. As he noted, “no acknowledgement of the Dog Fennel’s founding appears in any of the extant issues of the Indiana, Kentucky, or western Ohio sheets that would have been contemporary. The simple reason the Dog Fennel earned neither a citation nor a welcome is because they newspaper never existed, probably not even as a proposal.”[3]

Dog Fennel, the plant the term comes from from. Virginia Native Plant Society.
A Google N-Gram of “Dog Fennel.” Google Books.

While the Dog Fennel Gazette is not a real newspaper, the term “dog fennel” was used throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In fact, a Google n-gram analysis of the term “dog fennel” shows peaks of use from the 1820s and ’30s, the 1840s to the 1860s, and 1880 well into the 1900s. The term is used most of the time to describe a type of “strong-scented c[h]amomile (Anthemis cotula)” that is colloquially referred to as a weed. Specifically, Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall note in their Dictionary of American Regional English that “dog fennel” is also called “chiggerweed,” “stinkweed,” and “Johnny-Appleseed’s-weed,” among others.[4] Hoosier author Booth Tarkington even used this definition in one of his novels. Yet, when one does additional research in digitized newspapers, “dog fennel” is often given another definition, one less descriptive and more judgmental. Throughout the decades of Indiana newspapers in Hoosier State Chronicles and Chronicling America, “dog fennel” is often used as a term of derision, akin to “nasty,” “backwater” or “uncivilized.” This essay shares some of these findings and indicates places of potential research for any scholar interested in expanding our understanding of this term and its relationship to the Hoosier State.

Indiana State Sentinel, March 16, 1848, Chronicling America.

One of the earliest uses of “dog fennel” in this variety shows up in the Indiana State Sentinel on March 16, 1848. In an editorial about the most-recent state legislative session, the writer decries the passage of over 600 new laws and uses a colorful analogy to demonstrate their superfluity. As the opinionated citizen writes:

“Does an old lady in some dog fennel town [emphasis added] want room for another onion bed, by having an alley adjoining her garden vacated, it is a matter of so much magnitude, that the wisdom of the Legislature must be invoked, and Legislature cannon must loaded to batter down the obstacle!”[5]

It is implied in the editorial that “dog fennel” means a town in the middle of nowhere with little or no importance to the affairs of big-city state legislators. Now, the author did not use the term in a patronizing way; in fact, it was used to differentiate the simpler lives of small town Indiana from the legislator’s “grey-bearded wisdom and rampant eloquence.” Today, we might use a regionalism like “Podunk” to describe a similar small town.

Indiana State Sentinel, July 10, 1851, Chronicling America.

Clearer indications of this meaning come from two issues of the Sentinel during the 1850s. The first concerns the minister Eli P. Farmer, a Whig candidate for Congress who was essentially called a liar by the Decatur Local Press. The Sentinel, not particularly a fan of Farmer and definitely not a Whig paper, found this accusation beyond the pale and called out the Local Press in an editorial. “What has Eli P. Farmer done to set the whole Whig press yelping at him? And what does the editor of this little dog fennel Gazette know about Eli P. Farmer?,” the Sentinel noted.[6] The term “dog fennel gazette” is directly used in this editorial to connote the Local Press’s unprofessionalism and sensational nature. A year later, the Sentinel published another editorial calling newspapers like the Winchester Patriot “dog fennel papers.”[7] Both references indicate that the term was used among newspaper publishers and editorialists much like the terms “rag” or “yellow papers,” indicating the cheap paper and even cheaper reporting. It does not seem like much of a stretch to go from people calling newspapers “dog fennel gazettes” and people actually thinking one existed.

Plymouth Tribune, September 26, 1907, Chronicling America.

This trend of referring to newspapers as “dog fennel” continued well into the twentieth century. In another editorial from the September 26, 1907 Plymouth Tribune, they called Plymouth Daily Independent publisher C. W. Metsker “unholy” and “a reprobate” and the paper he ran a “dog fennel sheet.”[8] This was in reference to Metsker’s support of a local interurban company subsidy that would raise local taxes. Plymouth’s local government eventually killed the subsidy proposal, likely with some help from the Tribune’s continued campaign against Metsker. Between the previous two examples and this one, using “dog fennel” as a pejorative against newspapers appears to have had staying power among newspaper editorialists.

Plymouth Weekly Democrat, April 20, 1865, Chronicling America.

Referring to towns, municipalities, and districts as “dog fennel” continued in newspapers as well. The April 20, 1865 issue of the Plymouth Weekly Democrat republished an editorial from the Buffalo Banner that called the city of Bluffton a “gilt-edged, dog fennel municipality.”[9] In 1882, a short blurb in the Indianapolis News reaffirmed that the capital city was not a “dog fennel town,” so long as the local authorities enforced the Sunday liquor law.[10] Finally, in a 1916 article in the aforementioned News, two officers were reassigned to patrol what were called “undesirable districts,” or “in the police vernacular, the ‘dog fennel.’”[11] In each instance, the use of “dog fennel” was with a negative connotation, namely that these towns or districts were uncivilized or even potentially dangerous. Also notice the timeframe for the three articles: there is a consistent use of the vernacular of “dog fennel” for over 60 years.

Evansville Daily Journal, October 4, 1864, Chronicling America.

Three more instances of referring to people as “dog fennel” are also worth note. The Evansville Daily Journal published a piece in 1864 calling a group of anti-Union protesters a “dog fennel militia.”[12] In a moment of unintentional, existential reverie, the Crawfordsville Weekly Journal ran a solitary question in their editorial section: “Are you a dog fennel man?”[13] Colonel Robert Ingersoll, noted Republican Party insider and public speaker, referred to the 1888 Democratic presidential ticket of Grover Cleveland and Allen G. Thurman as “dog fennel candidates,” meaning that they did not fight on behalf of the union or had sympathies with the copperheads during the Civil War.[14] This meaning is exactly the same as the “dog fennel militia” comment from the Evansville Daily Journal. According to the Greencastle Times, this particular usage of “dog fennel” emerged from another newspaper man, James K. Magie of the Canon, Illinois Register. Magie used it to denounce the Knights of the Golden Circle, an organization of the rebellion that would dig for gold on the outskirts of towns near dog fennel plants. Ingersoll then broadened its definition to apply to anyone who was ambivalent about the cause of the Union or held sympathies with the Confederacy. As with the other usages described throughout this survey, the definition of “dog fennel” varies but its intent to criticize or condemn is consistent.

Greencastle Times, July 19, 1888, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Evaluating each of these newspaper articles from Chronicling America and Hoosier State Chronicles provides researchers with a new avenue with which to analyze the term “dog fennel” and its usage throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Not only a term signifying a weed, “dog fennel” became synonymous with a wide array of negative connotations and was used exactly for that purpose. Within this climate, it is conceivable that an idea like “dog fennel gazette” turned it into a supposedly real newspaper, in this case the mythical Dog Fennel Gazette of Rushville. The first step for future researchers on this topic is using Hoosier State Chronicles (hoosierstatechronicles.org) and Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov) to find examples of this usage in other Indiana newspapers as well newspapers from across the country. Finding more instances of this usage in newspapers, as well as letters, books, magazine, and other primary sources, would expand our understanding of midwestern vernacular and its relationship to social, political, and economic life for much of the previous two centuries.

[1] Fred Cavinder, Indiana Book of Records, Firsts, and Fascinating Facts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 129.

[2] John W. Miller, Indiana Newspaper Bibliography (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1982), 392.

[3] Fredric Brewer, “Rushville’s Dog Fennel Gazette: Indiana’s Mythical Newspaper,” Indiana Magazine of History Indiana Magazine of History (March 1, 1993), accessed July 26, 2018, IU Scholar Works.

[4] Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall, Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume II: D-H (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), 109-110.

[5] “The Last Session,” Indiana State Sentinel, March 16, 1848, 2, accessed February 27, 2018, Chronicling America.

[6] “Eli P. Farmer, Indiana State Sentinel, July 10, 1851, 1, accessed February 19, 2018, Chronicling America.

[7] “Where they get their Cue,” Indiana State Sentinel, September 9, 1852, 1, April 2, 2018, Chronicling America.

[8] “Against the People Again,” Plymouth Democrat, September 26, 1907, 4, accessed February 19, 2018, Chronicling America.

[9] Plymouth Weekly Democrat, April 20, 1865, 1, accessed February 27, 2018, Chronicling America.

[10] Indianapolis News, July 7, 1882, 4, accessed July 27, 2018, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[11] Indianapolis News, September 2, 1916, 1, accessed April 2, 2018, Hoosier State Chronicles

[12] Evansville Daily Journal, October 4, 1864, 2, accessed February 27, 2018, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[13] Crawfordsville Weekly Journal, January 18, 1872, 2, accessed February 27, 2018, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[14] Greencastle Times, July 19, 1888, 6, accessed February 27, 2018, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Saying “Happy Holidays” | Is it such a recent thing?

There’s one tradition that often gets misunderstood during this time of year, especially among us Americans: it’s using the phrase, “Happy Holidays.” Some folks think that using this term, instead of saying “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” or any other specific holiday, diminishes the importance of this time of year. They think the term is too recent, modern, and without a tradition of its own. However, when one does a little digging, you’ll soon find out that the phrase has a long and treasured history here in the United States and even in the Hoosier State.

Learn more Indiana History from the Indiana Historical Bureau: http://www.in.gov/history/

Search historic newspaper pages at Hoosier State Chronicles: www.hoosierstatechronicles.org

Visit our Blog: https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/

Visit Chronicling America to read more first drafts of history: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

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Continue reading Saying “Happy Holidays” | Is it such a recent thing?

New Batch Available!

Hey there Chroniclers!

We have a new batch available for you through Chronicling Americahttp://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.

This batch comprises 632 issues (totaling 6,346 pages) and brings our total page count in Chronicling America to 315,480!

Here are the papers and dates available:

Richmond Palladium (Weekly) : January 12, 1839 – December 29, 1843

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram (Daily): January 1, 1912 – Mar 30, 1912, July 1, 1912 – September 30, 1912, October 1, 1913 – December 31, 1913, May 8, 1916, April 21, 1922-December 30, 1922

As always, happy searching!

This project has been assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

New Batch Available!

Hey there Chroniclers!

We have a new batch available for you through Chronicling Americahttp://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.

This batch comprises 875 issues (totaling 9,934 pages) and brings our total page count in Chronicling America to 309,134!

Here are the papers and dates available:

Jasper Weekly Courier: August 18, 1876 – December 22, 1876

Indiana State Sentinel (Weekly): October 09, 1878 – Dec 24, 1879

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram (Daily): January 01, 1911 – December 30, 1911, November 22, 1915 – January 31, 1916, October 11, 1918 – December 31, 1919

As always, happy searching!

This project has been assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

New Batch Available!

Greetings chroniclers!

We have another new batch available for you at Chronicling America.

This batch contains issues from:

This batch adds 1166 issues (8,878 pages), growing Indiana’s total number of pages in Chronicling America to 288,102!

Have fun with all these new pages, and as always, happy searching!

This project has been assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

New Batch Available!

Hey there Chroniclers!

We’ve got another batch of newspapers available for you through Chronicling America!

This batch covers the Richmond Palladium (Daily) from January 01, 1920 to April 20, 1922. Our total page count is now 279, 042 pages!

Check out this new batch at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.

This program has been assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. To learn more, visit https://www.neh.gov/grants.

New Batch Available!

Greetings chroniclers!

Another newspaper batch from Hoosier State Chronicles has been added to the Library of Congress’s national newspaper repository, Chronicling America. Our total page count is now 258,563!

Check them all out here: http://bit.ly/2mF4b7r.

Furthermore, Chronicling America’s total page count is now 11,687,970.

As always, happy searching!

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