13 December 2012

I Never Saw A Strange Red Cow

Late last year I was interviewed by a researcher for a Canadian radio show about advertizing called Under The Influence.  This was for an episode about classified ads,  although you won't find my name in the credits.  Fame slips through my fingers once again. 
But what fascinated me in this broadcast was the reference to a book called Strange Red Cow by Sara Bader.  Bader explains in her introduction that she had been looking through eighteenth century newspapers for reactions to the Declaration of Independence when her eye was caught by the following classified ad:

CAME to my plantation, in Springfield, township, Philadelphia county, near Flour-town, the 26th of March 1776, A STRANGE RED COW.  The owner may have her again, on proving his property, and paying charges.  - Philip Miller, May 1, 1776. Pennsylvania Gazette.

(I should say that the ad actually said townfhip, but in the interest of your time and sanity I have changed all the extraneous Fs in this piece to Ss.)

So this is a book about old classified ads, and it is endlessly fascinating, especially to a writer.  Each of these ads in an unfinished short story, a beginning with no middle or end.

$15 REWARD - LOST, ON THE HUDSON RIVER Railroad, in the quarter to 5 o'clock train from New York, a set of teeth on a gold plate.  They were dropped out of the window on the right hand side of the way, supposed between the Tarrytown and Sing Sing stations, or at a short distance this side of Tarrytown...  -April 4, 1855, New York Herald.

$50 REWARD - STOLEN, ON WEDNESDAY (17th) evening, between 9 and 10 o'clock, a curiously deformed Hen, without a beak, and head shaped somewhat like a monkey; highly valued as a curiosity. -May 19, 1865, New York Herald. 

ELOPED from the subscriber, living near Nashville, on the 25th at Hune last, a Mulatto Man Slave, about thirty years old, six feet and an inch high, stout made and active, talks sensible, stoops in his walk, and has a remarkable large foot, broad across the root of the toes -- will pass for a free man, as I am informed he has obtained by some means, certificates as such...  ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred. -ANDREW JACKSON, Near Nashville, State of Tennessee

Yes, it was THAT Andrew Jackson

Information Wanted
Of PATRICK FITZGERALD, a native of Ownscoil, county Kerry, who came to America about three years ago, leaving his wife and one child in Ireland.  He was seem in Boston 3 weeks ago.  Any information respecting his hereabouts at present will be thankfully received by his wife, Bridget, who has lately arrived in Boston in search of him....  July 14, 1849, Boston Pilot.

MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE - LEFT his lodgings a short time since, a young man of rather prepossessing appearance, dark eyes and florid complexion, hair dark brown and inclined to curl. When last seen he was dressed in a broadcloth coat, peppered breeches, and silk hat.  Any information concerning him, left either at the Granite hotel, Lester place, or at this office, will be thankfully received.
P.S. A very curious kind of written poem has been found in his room in his own handwriting.  I should be obliged if some of our best critics would call and examine this queer poem.

One type of ad still popular today in alternative papers, is the personal, which Sherlock Holmes lovingly referred to as the "agony column."

J.A.R. - SARCASM AND INDIFFERENCE HAVE driven me from you.  I sail in next steamer for Europe.  Shall I purchase tickets for two, or do you prefer to remain to wound some other loving heart?  Answer quick, or all is lost.  EMELIE.  1865.

ROSE -IT IS USELESS - YOU ARE TOO LOVELY TO be trifled with.  I am married.  BENEDICT.

A YOUNG LADY, COUNTRY BRED, BUT EASILY tamed and civilized, would like to correspond with a city gentleman, with a view to matrimony.  It is necessary for him to be wealthy, and not less than forty years of age, as she would "rather be an old man's darling than a young man's slave."  The advertiser is 21, and presumes her manners and apparance will recommend her to tastes not over fastidious... 1861.

NIBLO'S, MONDAY EVENING -- OCCUPIED Adjoining seats in parquet; repeated pressure of arm and foot and hands met when seperating.  If agreeable, address Bruno... 1867.

And then there is that old favorite, the want ad.

At the Bennington Cotton Factory,
SEVERAL FAMILIES     that can furnish a number of children each.  To such constant employ will be given, and wages paid according to the ability of the children....1821, Vermont Gazette.

WANTED, A YOUNG HEALTHY WET NURSE.  One who has had the smallpox will be most agreeable... 1765, Georgia Gazette.

One mandolin, with all its strings, dulcet tone for basket of vegetables.  - December 1835.

Now, that last one is tragic.  But don't you wish you could read all those stories? Or write them?


  1. I wondered about stories of the era when I wandered amongst the old graveyards in New EnglandРwith the same ƒpellingƒ. The thin slate gravestones documented entire families wiped out, disease, crime, and terrible accidents of a people striving in a new land.

  2. Tremendously evocative. I wanted to comment on all of them, if not write the stories. Tarrytown, a name found in traditional ballads ("in Tarrytown where I did dwell/There lived a youth, I knew him well..."). Sing Sing, site of a famous prison. Andrew Jackson the slaveowner, seldom discussed (though Thomas Jefferson gets a lot of bad press for not freeing his mistress or his own children): 300 lashes would probably have killed the escaped slave. And it's not just Sherlock Holmes--I believe "agony column" is a common Britishism, along with "agony aunt," where we would probably say "Dear Abby."

  3. Terrific and almost as good as Leigh's bulletins from Florida. Doubtless the heat gives the Sun Shine state the edge.

  4. Twelve presidents owned slaves at some point in their lives; Jackson was the only one who made his living as a slave TRADER for part of his life, an occupation other many slaveowners treated with disdain.

    Jefferson freed Sally Hemings' children in his will (and no other slaves). Sally was freed by Jefferson's (white) daughter after his death. Some think TJ didn't want to mention her in the will because people were already accusing him of sleeping with her, so he arranged for his daughter to do the deed. But that's just speculation.

  5. Certainly thought-provoking, Rob. If it weren't for the "florid complexion" mentioned in "Mysterious Disappearance" one might speculate that it was E.A.Poe who walked out of that room and vanished. I would love to read the "queer poem". Annabelle Lee, perhaps?

  6. Rob, this blog has intrigued me since I first saw the title on the blog list. It is just as interesting (and entertaining) as I thought it would be.
    David, I think you've got a great idea and story potential about Poe and the Mysterious Disappearance. The brown curly hair, dark eyes, and strange poem all fit. The florid complexion could certainly result from some medicinals he may have been using at the time.

  7. I, too, agree with David. And, I have to add that staying in a hotel to tie one on, could easily result in a florid complexion.

    Thanks for such a fantastic spectrum of possibilities, Rob!


  8. . . . though, actually, it's those teeth dropped from a speeding train window that really have my head spinning.

  9. Fran and Dix, you are both quite right, either of those activities could result in a flushed face. For my part, however, whenever I've tied one on it has inevitably resulted in a "whiter shade of pale". Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

  10. I'm rolling, here. Not only is that a great line, but it's David D. evoking yesterday's great post by David E.G.!

    You might say it's a multi-layered-PUN-ish-ment!!


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