Early newspapers

By AGNES PFLEUGER

There is probably no clearer picture of life as it used to be than that given by early newspapers and other periodicals. Recorded firsthand in their yellowed, brittle pages is the broad spectrum of the past and the daily existence of those who lived it. Old copies of the weekly Silver Creek Gazette of 1877 and 1878 (circulation 600) portray local people and events which most likely were typical of any other small town just over 100 years old.

The four-page Gazette, narrow-columned and practically pictureless, devoted its first two pages to foreign and national news and relegated local items to the last two pages.

Locally, the village’s total lack of any firefighting equipment was being deplored and a petition circulated to acquire a fire engine. This was in the wake of a disastrous fire that, but for a change in the wind and the strenuous efforts of the “bucket brigade,” had almost destroyed the village’s business section. The need was being considered by the town fathers for a Union Free School to be built the following year. The Forestville services for the newly organized Free Methodist Church were being held in an old mill.

After torrential rains, local men and boys in Silver Creek had worked hard filling barrels with gravel to build a breakwater at the common outlet of Silver Creek and Walnut Creek.

P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth was in Dunkirk for one day. Admission was 50 cents. Featured among the attractions were 20 Russian stallions purchased for $150,000 in gold. Over on the Chautauqua Indian Reservation the Iroquois Agricultural Society held its ninth annual fair on the Thomas Orphan Asylum grounds. The four-day event included exhibits of stock and crafts, plowing contests, foot and horse races and a ball game against a team of Canadian Indians. Musical entertainment was provided by the Seneca Nation Cornet Band and admission was 25 cents.

A grand excursion to Niagara Falls was being planned by the Silver Creek Cornet Band which advised that the departure would be at 8 a.m. from the railroad depot and tickets were $1.

Advertisements were scattered liberally throughout the Gazette, mostly for patent medicines and farm equipment. Classified ads were 10 cents and featured such items as revolvers for sale by mail for “free examination” and houses for rent at $6 per month. The editor was advertising for a printer’s devil, “a boy who does not use tobacco or part his hair in the middle.”

On the national scene the Gazette reported that at a convention of the Anti-Horse Thief Association in Illinois, lynching was approved in cases where the law could not be relied on to arrest thieves.

A petition, presented to Congress by a group of African-Americans for $100 each to emigrate to Liberia, was turned down on the grounds that the climate there was unsuitable for horses, mules and donkeys and that there were no farm implements, roads or schools there.

Agnes (Pat) Pfleuger is a Dunkirk resident.