News of 1870: A Founding Father dies, Jenny Lind squeaks, and the Earthquakes of Evil

Lee Witten, Union Station’s chief archivist, was really excited when I came in this morning because he’d found yet another of those many treasures we didn’t know we had.

Screen shot 2015-07-02 at 12.05.55 PMThis one is solid gold, too. A copy of the Jan. 19, 1870 “Ogden Junction,” one of the many weekly/daily newspapers that have come and gone in Weber County.

This particular edition was save by someone, folded up and tucked away, because it is a pretty inclusive time capsule of the railroad business in Ogden. A lot was going on, and that doesn’t even count the fun stuff that they larded out the paper with.

Much of the paper is taken up with an obituary of Chauncey West, one of the leaders of the LDS Church who, with Ezra Taft Benson and Loren Farr, was tasked with building right of way for the Transcontinental Railroad in Utah. We have a display on the trio in the Utah State Railroad Museum that tells how West got stuck doing the actual work of organizing the labor because he was the youngest of the three.

Chauncey West.

Chauncey West.

Mormon farmers signed on to build the railroad right of way because, before the railroad, Utah was pretty much cut off from the rest of the country. Money was scarce, and by that I mean there was little gold and silver coin circulating, which were what counted for money back then.

Sadly for him, the railroads didn’t pay, part of the massive scandal around the whole enterprise in which the bankers and businessmen took all the money, subcontracted with themselves to do the work, then let the subcontracting businesses go broke. 

In trying to get paid, West about went nuts, paid the workers with his own money, then traveled to California to try to get paid back. He failed, and on Jan. 9, 1870, the stress killed him.

The Quorum of the Twelve and many dignitaries from Utah came to the funeral, coverage of which takes up about half the entire news hole of that day’s paper.

Interestingly, the paper also carries an ad for the Utah Central Railroad, which is the railroad started by Brigham Young. He eventually negotiated payment for the work West’s efforts had achieved in the form of rolling stock, rails and other railroad equipment to build up the Utah Central.

Utah Central Railroad is open for business!

Utah Central Railroad is open for business!

The fun part of the paper is the little news tidbits that the editors used to fill out empty space. Newspapers then were pretty much written by the editor, who had enough to do finding ads, selling subscriptions and sweeping out the place at night. So the news of other papers was a key part of the day’s production.

For example, here’s a little back-and-forth between the Elko, Nev., newspaper and a couple of California papers over whether earthquakes were a sign of sin and evil in those communities.

Another article goes through the various mindless fears that famous people had. Did you know Peter the Great, emperor of Russia, would never cross a bridge?

Do earthquakes mean you are evil? These towns can't decide

Do earthquakes mean you are evil? These towns can’t decide

And those tiny spaces at the end of columns, where the longer stories didn’t quite reach, got filled in with paragraphs of stuff kept handy for the purpose.

Hence readers learned that “Jenny Lind (a famous singer) is said to have lost all but a few notes of her once magnificent voice,” and “A little girl seeing a litter of kittens for the first time expressed her opinion that ‘somebody had shaken pussy all to pieces.'”