The Bridgeport Herald
In 1901, the Bridgeport Herald was a weekly newspaper published by F.R.
Swift and managed by Richard Howell. It’s focus was provincial; the paper rarely
mentioned any goings-on outside of Connecticut. "Flying" and the ambitions of
Gustave Whitehead was a local story.
Howell had organized the editorial material in the Herald along more or less traditional lines for its time and place. The front page was reserved for timely, important stories – “hard news.” Page 2 was sports; page 3 posted a local gossip column called "Much Ado About Nothing;" and page 4 carried editorials. Page 5 was reserved for features or “soft news.” Occasionally, the soft news gave way to reports on the activities of the state legislature in a column called "Under the Golden Dome." Remaining pages were divided into localities (New Haven, Hartford, etc.) and often there was a single page of "Foreign News." Editions stretched from 16 to 24 pages and stories on the first few pages were sometimes continued in the back of the paper.
Howell choose to publish "Flying" on page 5 as a feature article. Features in the Herald covered an incredible range of editorial subjects in 1901 and 1902, the years Whitehead was most active. These include the Elk's Lodge parade, a Christmas ghost, a blind woman who wrote hymns, a nearby nature preserve, and the English Setter Club of America, to name a very few. These are human interest stories and although they were interesting, they hadn’t enough importance or timeliness to rate valuable editorial real estate on the front page.
Page 5 in the Herald was also home to occasional features about the paranormal, unexplained, bizarre, and fanciful. In the summer of 1901, readers learned of “The Dog Man of Windham,” an elusive creature who shared some characteristics with Bigfoot, “The Great White Shark of the Lexington Wreck,” which protected the mysterious treasure aboard a sunken ship,” and “The Woodbury Kleptomania,” a disturbed woman who stole rare plants and chickens.
To compliment occasional whimsical reporting, Howell had a whimsical staff artist and editorial cartoonist, Andrew "Dad" Barber. The playful story about the Elk's parade, for instance, featured drawings of dancing Elks which are typical of Barber's work. "The Woodbury Kleptomania" was bordered with fowl which may also be his doing. In both cases, the graphics were clearly used to tip the reader that the story was tongue-in-cheek, at least in part. "Flying" received a similar grahic treatment, also thought to be Barber's. The header showed several witches on broomsticks flying past a tiny sliver of a moon – there had been a new moon on the evening of August 14, 1901. Were Howell and Barber hinting to the reader that this was all in good fun? It's difficult to imagine another explanation.
When you stand back and consider "Flying" as a editorial product whose placement and treatment in the Bridgeport Herald followed a publishing plan devised by its managing editor, you can draw several conclusions:
1. This was soft news of no pressing importance.
2. At least part of the story was intended to be playful or tongue-in-cheek.
3. Given the types of stories published on page 5 of the Herald, it's possible that it was not based on fact or a real event.
The Bridgeport Herald