Monday, March 12, 2012

Fictional Newspapers of Mark Twain (And Then Some)

by Stephen J. Gertz

Objective journalism is a modern concept.  Through the end of the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth, subjective newspapers were the norm, typically assuming the attitude of the publisher, editor, or printer, roles that often met in the same person.

Samuel L. Clemens (early writing as W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab before adopting the pseudonym Mark Twain), began as a tramp printer, soon reporter for a handful of newspapers, and knew the species well. In Journalism in Tennessee, a story he wrote (as Mark Twain) while editor for the Buffalo Express, September 4, 1869, he satirically relates an apocryphal sojourn with the Morning Glory and Johnson County War-Whoop, a paper run by a Chief Editor who knew a thing or two about the realities of journalism. 

In the story, Twain reports that he wrote the following on assignment:

"The editors of the Semi-Weekly Earthquake evidently labor under a misapprehension with regard to the Dallyhack railroad…"

To which the editor responded, "Thunder and lightning! Do you suppose I am going to speak of those cattle that way? Do you suppose my subscribers are going to stand such gruel as that? Give me the pen!"

The editor's rewrite:

"The inveterate liars of the Semi-Weekly Earthquake are evidently endeavoring to palm off upon a noble and chivalrous people another of their vile and brutal falsehoods with regard to that most glorious conception of the nineteenth century, the Ballyhack railroad…"

In addition to the Morning Glory and Johnson County War-Whoop, and Semi-Weekly Earthquake, Twain, in this story, also cites the apocryphal Moral Volcano, Mud Springs Morning Howl, Higginsville Thunderbolt and Battle Cry of Freedom, and the Daily Hurrah.

There were, surely, other dubious American newspapers of the nineteenth century that proudly declared their character but Twain, alas, does not mention them. We at Booktryst are not so shy. Would that modern papers cut through the claptrap to get to the heart of their product, and conscious or unconsciously assert, in their names, the subjective reality behind the objective fantasy with nineteenth century gloss and piquant result:

The Daily Noose

The Conniption Fit and Farm News

The Pottsville Primal Scream

The Daily Fracas and Sunday Fuss

The  Clamorer

The Afternoon Lather

The Town Crier & Weekly Weeper

The Herald-Prevaricator

The Mendacity Times

The Morning Bracer

The Daily Oy

The Paroxysm & Apoplexy Ledger

The Morning Drizzle and Evening Deluge

The Sunday Moral Hazard

The Daily Mudslide

The Tuscaloosa Seer and Tea Leaf

The Newel Post & Sub-Intelligencer

The Washington Blind Observer

The Richmond Detached Retina

The Louisville Corrective Lens

The Country Crock & Crackpot

The Denver Dismal-Register

The Amityville Horror-Express

The Basal Cell Carcinoma-Standard

Journalism in Tennessee was recently reprinted in a new book I cannot say enough good things about, Typographical Tourists, which we recently reviewed.

The typographical device is courtesy of Poltroon Press, with our thanks.

Readers are invited to submit their own apocryphal newspaper names in the Comments section.


  1. An informative article that was ignored by the editors of the Mariposa Newspacket, Commercial and Financial Undertone and Plutorian Citizen and Home Advocate. Thank God for the internet (and Stephen Leacock).

  2. The Sunday Moral Hazard reports that Twain wrote many pieces (column inches) in San Francisco and Nevada City which have not survived -- until some fearless book scout finds and recognizes them in a newspaper lining an old trunk.


Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email