As I’ve spent time with the Albany Evening Journal researching Ulysses S. Grant’s last days, I’ve gotten a feel for the paper’s rhythms and routines. Granted, the time I’ve spent with the paper has focused on a very narrow window: from Grant’s arrival on Mt. McGregor on June 16, 1885, through the departure of his funeral train from the mountain on August 4, 1885. But reading any daily papers makes it feel like an old friend, and the same has been true for the Evening Journal, even though the issues were 132 years old.
Page one of the paper focused on national news—and Grant’s last days were indeed national news. The paper referred to Grant as “the Nation’s Patient.” Page four, meanwhile, contained the major local news. Grant’s presence on the mountain was as much the major local story and it was the major national story. Local coverage of Grant’s presence on the mountain dominated the coverage, but once the entourage settled into its routine on Mt. McGregor, news about Grant was punctuated by such stories as the start of the season at the nearby Saratoga racetrack, the investigation into a fatal fire, and the convocation of leading state scholars in Albany.
Ads appeared on page two and crowded page three. Also on page two: the daily almanac, including the weather report.
In its news section on pages one and two, the Evening Journal reprinted a lot of reports from other papers. Then, when those reports exhausted themselves, the paper switched to smaller blurbs that it grouped under the heading “Bric-a-Brac.” This sometimes began on page two, sometimes on page three. Examples include such tidbits of trivia as
- “A dude has been defined in an Atlanta court as ‘a fellow who is mashed on himself.’”
- “The slimy, uncrushable girl in the white mill is the favorite this year, according to the St. Louis Republican.”
- “A new story by Bret Harte, entitled ‘Maruja,’ is begun in this week’s number of Harper’s Weekly. It is illustrated by R. Caton Woodville.”
These examples come from June 15, 1885—a day when the paper was otherwise filled with news about Grant’s pending arrival. The day’s Bric-a-Brac also included a poem called “Summer.”
Several of the Grant memorial poems I’ve shared appeared in the paper’s Bric-a-Brac, such as today’s example, an original poem written for the Evening Journal that appeared on page two of the August 5, 1885, edition. Because of its title, I find this one particularly ironic for a newspaper, which is typically in the business of reporting the news, not predicting it.
by J. Oliver Smith
‘Tis decreed by fate, the prophet said,
That thrice this land must lament her dead;
Thrice we must mourn her kingly crown,
Seized from her brow and in dust laid down,
Ere brother with brother will clasp the hand,
O’er the gulf of passion at God’s command.
Lincoln, Garfield and Grant shall be
The chosen heroes, the honored three,
Our nation’s saviours from shame and sin,
Ere the gates of glory they pass within!