Did you know that handwritten sheets – called avvisi – circulated among the cities and courts of Europe in early modern Europe after public mail routes became common? They were bought on the streets or by subscription, and had information and news from cities like Warsaw, Paris, and Madrid. They sometimes even had information from further afield such as Ireland or the American colonies. It is hard to understand now, by the once or twice weekly avvisi were a revolution in news, connecting Europeans more than ever before.
One newsletter, dated March 19th, 1588, describes the famous Spanish Armada which sailed against Queen Elizabeth I of England. It was described as having “140 or more sailing ships and eight months of provisions” plus “17,000 combat soldiers and 8,000 sailors.” The same avvisi also discusses the reconstruction of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, and how problems with pilings were fixed on-site rather than being replaced due to the “inconvenience” of closing the Grand Canal.
W.K. Haselden in The Daily Mirror, England, July 29, 1914
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Deep in latest news, 1953.
In 1949, a radio broadcast based on The War of the Worlds caused panic in Quito, Ecuador. Thousands of people attempted to escape the impending Martian gas raids. Many ran to churches, attempting to confess their sins to overwhelmed priests. A panicked mob set fire to the radio station’s building, killing fifteen people inside, but authorities were slow to respond and quell the violence.
Why? Well, most police and soldiers in the city had been sent to the countryside to help fight off the aliens.
Descendants’ Stories of the Clotilda Slave Ship Drew Doubts. Now Some See Validation.:
“So many people said that it didn’t really happen that way, that we made the story up,” one woman said of the boat that brought her great-great-grandfather to America.
Denham Springs News, Louisiana, February 19, 1916
Margaret Full was a well-educated native of Massachusetts in the early 1800s. Born in 1810, she joined the New York Tribune as its literary critic in her early 30s and quickly amassed a following. She became something of a celebrity in her native New England, and was popular enough that she became the first woman allowed access to the library at Harvard College! (Which says more about Harvard than about Full, unfortunately.) She argued for equal access to education for women, prison reform, and the abolition of slavery. Her views ended up in a book, “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” in 1845.
One year later, the New York Times sent Fuller to Europe as its first female correspondent, for her to cover the democratic revolution in Italy led by Giuseppe Mazzini. There, she fell in love with revolutionary Giovanni Ossoli, giving birth to their child – scandalously without marrying Ossoli. The three were en route back to America in 1850 when their ship foundered off Fire Island, New York, drowning all three. Her friend, writer Henry David Thoreau, searched the beach for Fuller’s personal effects but none were ever found.
During World War II, a Polish underground newspaper (the well-named Liberty Brigade) was the first to publish a news story exposing the Nazi death camps.
In 1956, local press coverage of random attacks by an unknown person with a razor created two weeks of widespread fear. At least twenty-one victims were reported. The media’s reporting of the victims and their suffering caused a panic to grip the city. Parents were afraid for their children to school, families were afraid for their loved ones to go to work.
Then the police announced: there was no slasher. Of the twenty-one reported injuries, “five were innocent false reports, seven were self-inflicted cuts, eight were due to cuts other than razors, and one was a complete fantasy.” This had just been a case of mass hysteria, inflamed by the press coverage. The Taipei Slasher was dead.