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Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories From 'The Sun'

By Edward Page Mitchell All Rights Reserved ©

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Introduction the sun

The stories you are about to read were published during the late 19th century in a popular newspaper of New York City, called The Sun.  This daily was published from 1833 to 1950, beginning on September 3, 1833, initially as the work of a 23-year-old printer named Benjamin H. Day.  He got the idea from a co-worker, Dave Eamsey, at the printing shop of the Journal of Commerce.  Eamsey's dream was to create a daily morning newspaper called The Sun that would sell for one penny, when other newspapers were selling for 6 cents. Not only would this paper be differentiated by its lower cost, but also it would focus on the human-interest side of news, appealing to both men and women, not the stuffy politics of the other papers that appealed primarily to men.  Eamsey didn't act on his dream, but Day took to the idea and using his own small savings began publication as a morning paper with the slogan "It Shines for All".

It is likely that Day never would have started The Sun if it had not been for the cholera plague which killed more than 3500 people in New York City in 1832.  The plague added to the depression of business already caused by financial disturbances and a mismanaged banking system. The job-printing trade suffered with other industries, and Day decided that he needed a newspaper — not to reform, not to uplift, not to arouse, but to push his own printing business.

The idea of a penny paper was not new. In Philadelphia, the Cent had had a brief, inglorious existence. In Boston, the Bostonian had failed to attract enough readers. Eight months before Day's venture, the Morning Post had braved it in New York, selling first at two cents and later at one cent; but even with Horace Greeley as one of the founders, it lasted only three weeks.   Day's friends scoffed at his foolish idea and warned that it would financially ruin him. He had little in the way of money, but he did have a printing-press, hardly improved from the machine of Benjamin Franklin's day, some job-paper, and plenty of type. The little press would print two hundred impressions an hour at full speed, by man power. 

Day was proprietor, publisher, editor, chief pressman, and mailing-clerk. He was not a lazy man. He stayed up all the night before that Tuesday, September 3, 1833, setting with his own hands some advertisements that were regularly appearing in the six-cent papers, for he wanted to make a show of prosperity. He also wrote, or clipped from some out-of-town newspaper, a poem that would fill nearly a column. He re-wrote news items from the West and South — some of them not more than a month old. As for the snappy local news of the day, he bought, in the small hours of that Tuesday morning, a copy of the New York Courier and Enquirer, the liveliest of the six-cent papers, took it to his small rented press-room, copied verbatim or rewrote the police-court items, and set them up in type by himself. A boy, whose name is unknown, assisted him with typesetting. A journeyman printer, Parmlee, helped with the press.  That first edition was only 4 pages, about 8" by 11".

It was hard in those years to get out a successful daily newspaper, which needs fresh daily news. A weekly would have sufficed for the information that came in by sailing ship and stage from Europe and Washington and Boston. Electronic transmission of news from reporters to the newspaper was not available in those days.  Ben Day was the first man to surmount this almost impossible situation. He did so by the simple method of using what news was nearest at hand — the incidental happenings of New York life. In this way he solved his own problem and the people's, for they found that the local items in The Sun were just what they wanted, while the price of the paper suited them well. 

Ben Day realized what would sell papers. He got clever reporters and good writers. He wanted one reporter to do the police-court work, for he saw, from the first day of the paper, that that was the kind of stuff that his readers devoured. To them, the details of a beating administered by a local man to his wife were more relevant to their own lives than were President Jackson's assaults on the United States Bank.  The paper grew to cover reviews of New York plays, articles about the price of coal, book reviews, investigations of ghosts, editorials advocating for social change, short fictional stories, an article about the potential use of hot-air balloons in warfare, and so on.

On September 14, 1833, The Sun printed its first illustration — a two-column cut of "Herschel's Forty-Feet Telescope." This referred to the astronomer Sir William Herschel, then dead some ten years, and the telescope was on his grounds near Windsor, England.  In 1835, his son, Sir John Herschel with another telescope in a far-away land, was to play a big part in the fortunes of The Sun as the subject of what came to be known as "The Moon Hoax." This was a series of articles represented as news from the allegedly factual notes of Herschel's assistant, describing creatures, plants, and a civilization on the moon as seen from Herschel's telescope.  The public could not get enough of this fascinating story, which grew the readership of the paper tremendously.  On April 13, 1844, The Sun published another popular story, a hoax about an alleged Atlantic crossing by balloon in 3 days, written as though it were a headline news story whereas in reality it was fiction by Edgar Allan Poe.  This one is now known as "The Balloon Hoax." Two days later, a brief retraction was printed, but in those 2 days, the paper was beseiged by people wanting to buy the issues with the details of the daring balloon trip.

At the 50th anniversary of the paper in 1883, the editor of The Sun at that time, Edward Page Mitchell, summed up the reasons for the paper's success:

"No waste of words, no nonsense, plain, outspoken expressions of honest opinion, the abolishment of the conventional measures of news importance, the substitution of the absolute standard of real interest to human beings, bright and enjoyable writing, wit, philosophical good humor, intolerance of humbug, hard hitting from the shoulder on proper occasions — do we not see all these qualities now in our esteemed contemporaries on every side of us, and in every part of the land?"

From its simple, risky beginning, The Sun thus succeeded where the other penny papers had failed.

 

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1. Introduction the sun
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