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Corsicana's strange claim to fame

 

By  Janet Jacobs

 

08/04/07 - Corsicana Daily Sun

In keeping with my desire to investigate the peculiar, remarkable and free, I got a book from some guy in Wisconsin that features hundreds of odd Texas newspaper stories from 1860-1910 — and Corsicana is, of course, featured.

Hidden Headlines of Texas” began as Chad Lewis’ goofy hobby of collecting unusual news accounts, which he then turned into a cottage industry.

“Really, I printed them out for my own interest and amusement,” Lewis explained in a phone interview. “I did Wisconsin first. Even in Wisconsin papers I ran across stories about Texas.”

From there, he began going through on-line archives of Texas newspapers to find stuff that’s just weird. Now that he’s finished Texas, he’s working on New York.

I like to think our state is the most bizarre, but New York is odd now, never mind 100 years ago.

This book has a couple of things working for it: First, a 19th-century fascination with science, but little actual knowledge of it; and second, a style of journalism that’s one step above the “newspaper” you and your best friend wrote in sixth grade about smelly teachers and your favorite rock band.

To give you a taste of this book, in the section titled “Ghosts,” is this short entry from the Galveston Daily News, dated March 16, 1875: “Moves out. GALVESTON — The man who rented a haunted house was seen to leave it late one night last week. He was thinly clad at the time.”

Yes, there’s an entire section on ghosts. None of the articles question the existence of ghosts, they just report them. So you get an idea of the quality of investigative journalism in this book.

Corsicana actually has three mentions in this book. We’re under “Creatures” because of a giant rattlesnake, and “Peculiar People” because of a fugitive who turned himself in to the law.

The one about the fugitive is kind of sad, because the guy obviously felt wracked with guilt. Except it turned out he wasn’t wanted at all. Who knows how long that poor loser worried about that before finally surrendering?

The snake story is interesting, but I’m wondering about their ability to measure accurately. I mean, really? An 11-inch diameter snake? What was it eating, bowling balls? Did they have bowling balls back then?

We didn’t make the cut for the chapters on “Bizarre Deaths,” “Medical Anomalies,” and “UFOs.” I found the UFO ones just a bit eerie because of the descriptions of flying stuff years before the 1903 flight of the Wright brothers. Airships didn’t do loop-de-loops at night, did they?

And that’s what pulls you in. This stuff happened 100-plus years ago, but the fascination is still alive and kicking.

Sure, we have the Internet, I-Pods and Tivo, but the Daily Sun still gets reports about panthers in people’s pastures (I really need a photo, if anyone has one) and about a week ago we got several reports about a big military airplane flying low over Corsicana. (The FAA didn’t return repeated phone calls.) If there is a difference between us and the newspaper reporters of 1907, it’s that we ask for names and addresses and boring stuff like that.

However, I feel confident that in 2107 people will be making fun of us and our antiquated style of reporting. Hopefully, medical science will enable me to still be around, so I can bop them in the nose, or at least make some money off it myself.

I guess what appealed to me most about this book is that there’s still a lot of humanity in it, despite the freakiness of the topics. People haven’t changed that much. We’re still curious about each other and our world, and we’re still working through our questions by calling attention to it, and pondering it together.

Oh, yeah, Corsicana’s third entry is in the “Oddities” chapter. It’s a fairly longish article from the Dallas Morning News, dated Aug. 20, 1891, about a mysterious hole some guys dug on Collin Street that was a source of fascination all the way up in Dallas.

People standing around a big hole in the middle of downtown Corsicana and calling it news.

What’s bizarre about that?

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Janet Jacobs is a Daily Sun staff writer. Her column appears on Sundays. She may be reached by e-mail at jacobs@corsicanadailysun.com.

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