Your correspondent has been doing a lot of research on historic crime cases for a paying client I’ll tell you about later, and in the process I’ve found some new resources for fascinating old true crime stories. I’ve assembled some new blogrolls I’m going to finish up soon as well.
Here's the best of the lot. The United States Library of Congress has posted full images of some very rare and very old American true crime broadsides online. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re gonna love these things.
A broadside is a small sheet of newspaper on which is printed a single, usually very brief, article. For many years, especially in the 1700s and 1800s, they were a common way that true crime cases were reported to the general public. It’s easy to find broadsides from Britain, but American broadsides are more rare.
The new online collection is called “An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera.” It includes crime broadsides that I’ve read about but have never seen. I’m sure the broadsides selected for this internet exhibit were the most requested ones.
Here is a report of what I found in the vein of murder. For the Lizzie Borden folks, this broadside is a special treat : The Murder at Fall River, by Alexander B. Beard -- the author was obsessed with the Lizzie Borden case, and soon after the trial was finished, he published this broadside, which contains a one-page poem about the Borden murders. And a huge illustration of the author, of course.
Here is the first stanza of his ditty:
The crimes we read of every day
Cause many hearts to shiver;
But few surpass in magnitude
The murder at Fall River.
And that gives you a big dose of the man’s talent. (I noticed that the undated broadside was incorrectly labeled by a dingbat librarian as being written in 1800. (The murders were in 1892).)
And another Borden-related broadside: Execution. The life, trial, and behaviour of that unfortunate young woman, Mary Johnson, 22 years of age, who was executed at Gloucester on Saturday last, 1831 for the murder of her master and mistress, John and Anna Robinson This is the astonishing story of a servant girl who was executed for a crime she apparently did not commit and who almost survived her hanging. Read the broadside and decide for yourself. It is often referred to in any in-depth analysis of Massachusetts history of the death penalty i.e. during Lizzie Borden’s case, because the innocent Mary Johnson was the last woman found guilty of murder in Massachusetts before Lizzie went on trial more than sixty years later.
Here are some other classic American crimes in broadside form. Enjoy!
Lines in commemoration of the death of Sarah M. Cornell. Sung by Mrs. John Thomas. On the death of Sarah Marian Cornell, supposed to have been murdered by the Rev. Ephraim K. Avery. In December last at Tiverton, Rhode Island. The body was found suspended by a rope, fastened to a hay-stack. Philadelphia. W. Johnson, Printer No. 28 Mead street. .
God's judgment upon murder. The solemn and affecting occurence which is this day to take place, viz: the execution of Samuel Tulley & John Dalton for the horrid crimes of piracy & murder, has drawn from the pen of one who feels for the eternal interests of the immortal souls of mankind, the following serious reflections. Boston Printed by N. Coverly. Dec. 10 1812.