Friday, January 15, 2010

The Year Was 1883: Where Was Your Family?

The year was 1883 and people were on the move. In Europe, the Orient Express began running between Paris and Giurgi (Romania), with stops along the way in Strasbourg, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest. By the 1920s, its route would extend to Istanbul and an alternate route would take it to the south through Switzerland with lines to Venice. Royalty mingled with the rich and famous in its opulent cars.
The expansion of railways in the U.S. was still going strong and with the arrival of railroad schedules came the need for a standardized system of time zones. Prior to 1883, the time was determined locally by the position of the sun, and early railroads had to contend with different timekeeping at various stops along the line. It was on 18 November 1883 that Standard Railway Time went into effect, dividing the continental U.S. into the four time zones that we know today (although here in Indiana the debate raged on another 120 years).
A huge feat in transportation took place in New York with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, which connected Brooklyn with Manhattan. Work on the bridge began in 1870 and the total cost exceeded $15 million dollars, as well as twenty lives. It was viewed as a triumph in architecture and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at that time. It towered over both cities; at that time only the spire of Trinity Church in Manhattan was taller. Prior to the opening of the bridge, travel between the two cities relied on ferries and at times the East River crossing could be hazardous and even impassable. Storms, fog, and ice frequently caused interruptions in service.
While there was much ceremony with the grand opening of the bridge in May, there was still speculation and fear about the capacity of the bridge and on Memorial Day of 1883, with 20,000 people on the bridge, a woman tripped and screamed setting off a panicked stampede that killed twelve people and injured many more.
Railroads were extending westward in the U.S. and the tide of immigration to western states that had been boosted with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, continued. And as travel between the East and West became easier, stories of the “Wild West” captured the imaginations of easterners. Dime novels glamorized folk heroes. William F. Cody–better known as “Buffalo Bill”–a former Pony Express rider, Indian scout, and buffalo hunter became a showman in 1883, bringing tales of the Wild West to venues around the world. His outdoor show reenacted buffalo hunts, Indian attacks (including Custer’s Last Stand starring Lakota Indians who had fought in that battle), and a Pony Express ride. Famous Native Americans who starred in the show included Geronimo and Sitting Bull; show performers like Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok became celebrities around the world.
The newspaper business entered an era of sensationalism as Joseph Pulitzer acquired the New York World. His newspaper catered to the working class and promised to root out corruption in government. Pulitzer believed that, “There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later public opinion will sweep them away.” The sensational headlines and use of images grabbed the attention of the public and Pulitzer was able to increase the circulation of the newspaper tenfold within five years.

So where was your family? What were they doing in 1883?

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