by Robert Lopresti
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:
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.
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
STOP THE RUNAWAY.
FIFTY DOLLAR REWARD, 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
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.
type of ad still popular today in alternative papers, is the personal,
which Sherlock Holmes lovingly referred to as the "agony column."
- 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.
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.
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,
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?