27 February 2007

Sordid Doings at Ferdinando's

New York City sure was an interesting place a century ago. Or so newspapers at the time lead you to believe.

I was biding my time waiting for a couple Potato Specials to go at Brooklyn Sicilian eatery Ferdinando's Focacceria when my eyes alighted on a framed front page from the New York World from Dec. 16, 1898. Woo! Such doings in the city! Now I know how Joseph Pulitzer made his millions. He found (or made up) the most sensational yarns in the big town and laid them out right there at eye level.

Among the headline: A boy and his dog Yip took part in a shinbone graft, an operation conducted under strictest secrecy! ("Boy and Dog Are Cut Apart"); a society lawyer named Mulhall felled in a mysterious suicide ("His Nemesis a Creditor"); and, somewhere lower down, the Pope took ill.

But my favorite read was the account of the sordid personal life of biscuit baker Brinckerhoff ("Must Stop Following Her"). The old, corpulent baker had sent detectives after his child bride of one year to see what the unhappy girl was up to. The girl found them out and filed for "complete divorce" and a judge told the man to call off the bloodhounds. Brinckerhoff appears to have been a famous titan in his day and quite humiliated by the events.

The World wears its biases on its sleeve and clearly sides with the young missus, mainly, it seems, because she is "pretty" and is a "plump, petite, roseate blonde" ( a popular type at the time, I guess). In fact, the paper didn't shy from piercing physical descriptions of people anywhere on the page.

It all got me pretty excited. The New York Post could learn a few things.

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