Then & Now: Local News in 1872


By Doug Marrin

Before mobile phones or any phones, TV, radio, anything electrical, or in most cases, electricity itself, what did folks do for fun before screens and speakers? How did they get their information? What did they surf to get their information? The local newspaper.

Besides display ads, old newspapers were all text in about 11 font. Local news items were covered in a paragraph or two. Editors used the same style for county, national, and foreign news, not much different than social media posts today. Below is page 2 from the August 31, 1872, Dexter Leader

A lot of information was packed into one place. The newspaper also featured stories, factual and fictional, poetry, recipes, life advice, political endorsements, and digs. Folks back then were curious about the same type of things we are today, outraged at similar things, and fascinated by a good scandal too. People from 150 years ago weren’t so much different in their world than we are in ours.

Browsing through some old newspapers, here are a few vignettes that I found amusing when put into the context of our culture today. As they say, “times change, but people don’t.” Neither does the misinformation (lol). I hope you enjoy these clips too.

From the August 24, 1872, Dexter Leader

“A thorn two-thirds of an inch in length was taken from the head of Jas. Meadow, at Carlinville, Ill., a few days since. It has been imbedded in the flesh for thirty-six years, and was petrified.”


From the August 31, 1872, Dexter Leader

“Burglary—An entrance was effected into Murdock’s and Ball & Hoyt’s store on the night of the 17th, probably by boys.”


“Manchester has grown to be so large a place that Blosser talks of getting up a directory of the ‘village.’ Better wait, Mat, until the Legislature meets, and then by the aid of a little legislation, you can get out a ‘city’ directory.

“Besides a directory, Manchester is to have a paper mill and a Driving Park Association and Fair, if all their schemes succeed.”


Two games for children here. One is to catch a bunch of flies and stick their backs to a sheet of fly paper. After getting enough flies, turn the paper over and watch it move about. When tired of this, “turn the paper over, and admire the movements of the flies’ legs. It will be a perfect fac simile of grass swayed by a zephyr.”

The second game is to stick six cockroaches to the wall with a pin and see how many chapters of the Bible the kids can commit to memory before the bugs die.


“People sometimes wonder where all the wooden toothpicks come from…”

“A little girl in Gordon county, Georgia, has for some time past been making a pet of a large black snake. The pair take their meals together and are on terms of great intimacy.”

“A young lady in Connecticut was scared into convulsions a few days since, by sitting down on a sofa on which there lay a cane carved to represent a serpent, which she mistook for a live snake.”


From September 7, 1872, Dexter Leader

“Jacob Thacher, of Peoria, Ill., died last week from hydrophobia, from being bitten by a dog eighteen years ago.”


“A Richmond man has worn the same pair of linen trowsers forty-nine summers. They have been in style seven times.”


“During a recent game of base-ball in a Missouri town, a ball was thrown by one of the players, which struck another player on the shoulder, bounded to the ground, and then struck a third party on the neck, killing him instantly.”


This article is about a “flying machine” reportedly invented by W. L. Judson (an inventor who gave us the zipper). The machine can move horizontally or vertically “at the will of the operator.” It travels at 15 mph. Most notably, Judson made a model for exhibitions, which “weighs eleven pounds, and has a carrying capacity of seven men.”

You can find newspaper archives for Dexter, Chelsea, and Saline can be found at the local libraries.

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