Below are headlines and subheads of several nineteenth-century wire stories that appeared in the local press of a small Midwestern city.

Oh, for the days when educated people referred to the mentally ill as “lunatics!” Or, better yet, when unfettered Gilded Age capitalism dismissed the need for beefed-up building codes to protect society’s most vulnerable! The latter point is enough to make the most antediluvian Tea Partier or misguided Paulian libertarian pine for the return of an imagined sepia-toned past of American greatness when our nation was unshackled by the burdens of intrusive government regulations.

Of course, all of this clown ass-ery nonsense brings to mind a quotation from American journalist Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960): “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”

January 19, 1883

 Milwaukee Morgue


Raking the Ashes for the Dead Vic-

tims of the Newhall Holocaust


The Building a Shabby Old Rat Hole

That No City Should Permit

to be Erected


Frightful Scenes in Rescuing the Burned

and Mangled Corpses, Which

Fall to Pieces

February 19, 1885


The Latest Horror


The Insane Hospital at the

Philadelphia Poor Farm

Burned to the



Twenty-Eight Miserable Lunatics Burned

to death—Frightful Account of

Their Dying Agonies


January 25, 1894

 Lunatics Roasted


Eight Fall Victims to the Merci-

less Flames


Five of the Burned Are Women


Scene of the Horror the Poor Farm of

Boon, Ia.—The House Used to Confine

the Incurable Goes Up in Flame and

Burns to Unrecognizable Masses All the

Inmates but One—A Defective Furnace

the Cause