The World on Sunday
Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper (1898-1911)
By Nicholson Baker and Margaret Brentano
New York: Bulfinch Press, 2005
Hard back: ISBN: 0821257757 Price: $50.00
Baker notes in his introduction that once-discarded newspapers are home to the stories and the essays of giants like John Steinbeck, Thomas Edison, William Faulkner, and H. G. Wells.
One of the sad stories of our information age is the destruction of old newspapers for the sake of saving space. The Library of Congress and the New York Public Library have sold or discarded valuable collections of newspapers, some of which were replaced with the abominable microfilm. This tragedy was presented in detail by Nicholson Baker in his 2001 book, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, and is driven home by this book, The World on Sunday, in which the reader can sample what has been deemed by some great institutions as unworthy of safekeeping. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Baker and his wife, Margaret Brentano, for saving, among many other newspapers, a partial set of Joseph Pulitzer's The World, which they acquired from the British Library at a little-publicized mail auction of its American newspaper holdings.
Fortunately, Baker and Brentano raised $150,000 by the time the auction bills were due and acquired over 6,000 bound volumes of newspapers. These were stored at a warehouse in New Hampshire until Duke University acquired the collection.
The World on Sunday presents a fascinating selection of 128 pages from various Sunday issues of The World covering the years 1898 to 1911. Compared with the selections presented in this book, today's Sunday newspapers seem boring by comparison. The period tackled by Baker and Brentano spans the apogee of The World newspaper, which became extremely popular after the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer bought it in 1883. Pulitzer came to the United States in 1864 and eventually ended up in St. Louis, where in 1868 he was offered a job at a German daily newspaper, the Westliche Post. Four years later, he became publisher of the newspaper, and, in 1878, he purchased the St. Louis Dispatch for $2,500, which he merged with John Alvarez Dillon's Evening Post, under the name Post and Dispatch. In 1879, after moving to a new location, the newspaper became the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the highest-circulation paper in the St. Louis area today. In 1883, his health in decline, Pulitzer decided to go to Europe on vacation with his wife, Kate. During a stop in New York City, Pulitzer learned that a local newspaper, The World, was for sale due to its mounting losses. Seeing the immediate improvement in her husband's health sparked by The World, Kate encouraged him to postpone the trip to Europe and to purchase the newspaper, which he did for $346,000.
One of the main objectives of The World became a crusade against corruption in government. This eventually led to a public fight with Theodore Roosevelt, a character prominently shown on several pages of Baker and Brentano's book, over the United States' purchase of the rights to build the Panama Canal. In 1908, The World published a story charging that a consortium of U.S. businessmen had purchased the rights from the French for $3.5 million and had in turn sold the rights to the U.S. government for $40 million. Roosevelt was indignant when The World accused him of having known about this deal and referred to Pulitzer and his newspaper as "creatures of the gutter so low that they envy the eminence of the dunghill." Pulitzer and his editors were indicted by the Roosevelt administration, though the Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the charges. This was the atmosphere in which The World competed against several newspapers in New York City, including the Times, the Tribune, the Sun, the Herald, and other papers. Pulitzer died in 1911, and in his will he left money for the establishment of a school of journalism at Columbia University and an annual prize for journalism, drama, literature, and music that was later expanded to cover other areas as well-a prize today known as the Pulitzer.
One of the most fascinating aspects of The World on Sunday is the color artwork by many talented but mostly forgotten artists, including Walter Hugh McDougall, Dan McCarthy, George Benjamin Luks, J. Campbell Cory, Paul West (creator of the Roly Polys), Louis Biedermann, and many others. We also see that The World featured stories by Samuel L. Clemens ("My First Lie and How I Got Out of It"), Robert Edwin Peary ("Peary's Own Story From the Frozen North"), and Nikola Tesla ("Tesla's Tidal Wave to Make War Impossible"). Baker notes in his introduction that once-discarded newspapers are home to the stories and the essays of giants like John Steinbeck, Thomas Edison, William Faulkner, and H. G. Wells. Steve Hines, a columnist for The Brentwood Journal in Tennessee and a self-proclaimed "literary prospector," has been able to find forgotten works by Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder by mining old magazines kept at various libraries. What treasures are there to be discovered in old newspapers?
Baker and Brentano have accomplished a tremendous feat, not only in saving historical newspapers but also in presenting us with this fascinating book that could rightly be a part of any American-history course. One can only hope that libraries will acknowledge their previous mistakes and realize the importance of preserving printed material, newspapers included.