Monday, August 20, 2012

A note on sources and method

There are a variety of online sources for Burgess newspaper stories, some of them free. Google News Archives is the most comprehensive source, though the quality of indexing and scanning varies quite a bit from paper to paper. The digital newspaper collection at Chronicling America is another free source for issues before 1923 (the public domain era).

I have also maintained an account at Newspaper Archive, a service that despite its spammy appearance, is actually quite useful and worth the subscription fee. While it is too slow and clunky for much extended browsing, its reproductions tend to be of higher quality than Google News Archives and its search functions seem to be improving. Most of my "Little Stories for Bedtime" reading was done via the Proquest Boston Daily Globe collection (free to anyone with a Minuteman or Noble library card). To get access to some the earliest stories I had to pay for a short subscription to the Kansas City Star and Omaha World-Herald archives via Newsbank.

 As I've noted previously, the history of Burgess newspaper bedtime stories needs to be split into two main eras. The "Little Stories for Bedtime" era runs from February 5, 1912 to February 7, 1920. These stories were syndicated by Associated Newspapers. The "Burgess Bedtime Story" era runs from February 17, 1920 to January 16, 1960. These stories were syndicated by The New York Tribune (later the Herald Tribune). When Burgess changed syndicates some papers (e.g., Milwaukee Journal) followed him to the new syndicate. Others (e.g., Spokane Daily Chronicle) repeated the "Little Stories for Bedtime" series. As far as I can tell, Associated Newspapers offered up "Little Stories for Bedtime" reruns in five cycles, beginning in 1920, 1927, 1934, 1940, and 1945. If you do a search for "Thornton Burgess" after Feb 1920 you may get "Little Stories for Bedtime" repeats or new "Burgess Bedtime Stories." Headers may not help, as some papers maintained the "Little Stories for Bedtime" title into the Tribune syndication era, and others used "Burgess Bedtime Stories" despite being Associated Newspaper reruns. One of the things I will try to do in coming weeks is make clear which is which, and which sources can be relied upon for which series.

The flagship for "Little Stories for Bedtime" was the New York Globe (and Commercial Advertiser), a paper long gone with no online trace.  I'm not even certain the New York Public Library has complete holdings from the Burgess era. This created a significant gap in my reading of the very earliest Burgess stories. My main source, the Boston Daily Globe, did not start running the story daily until February 1913, a full year into the feature's run. Using Associated Newspaper reruns and cross-referencing them against a very handy chart provided by Wayne Wright in his Burgess book bibliography filled in most of the year, and access to the Kansas City Star archive has made me fairly secure in my knowledge of Burgess stories after mid March 1912. And most of February 1912 is available via the Omaha Star-Herald. At the moment, I still am missing a hand-full of stories from the first three months.

As part of the process of writing this up, I am compiling a comprehensive database of ALL 15,000 Burgess bedtime stories listed with dates and titles. Burgess syndicated these stories with specific titles and intended dates of publication. Unfortunately newspapers did not always publish the stories as intended, especially during the first year. When my list is done I plan to return to Boston University and check it against the stories/story clippings in the TWB archive and hopefully will have something authoritative that I can share. For now, especially for 1912 and 1913, things will remain a little tentative.

Individual editors had a great deal of latitude when it came to editing Burgess stories for length, running or omitting the included illustration, and using the intended title as a headline or inventing a new one. Burgess wrote the stories as serials, meaning that one-third to one-half of the 750 words in the average story might simply recap the action up to that point. This benefited both readers who might miss the occasional story and editors looking for copy (or even whole stories) that might be eliminated. In fact, when the Boston Globe picked the feature back up in the 1940s, it saved space by completely eliminating the recap portion and never running the Harrison Cady illustration. In short, readers' experiences of Burgess bedtime stories were highly dependent on editorial choices made at specific newspapers. I've tried to find the most complete and accurate versions but this may not be what many readers of Burgess actually experienced.

Finally, one of the things that surprised me when trying to put together online sources was the amount of churn as papers dropped the feature and others picked it up. Aside from the flagship papers there were only a few loyalists. Few papers ran the feature for as long as ten years in a row. This makes me exceedingly grateful for two particularly loyal papers in the Google News Archive: The Lewiston (ME) Daily Sun (April 1921-October 1961) and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix (January 1929-October 1965). [Burgess reruns were available deep into the 1960s.]

Next: Story #00001 Billy Mink loses a race

1 comment:

  1. Just a very minor point. Associated Newspapers could not have offered the stories in 1934, 1940, and 1945 because they went out of business in 1930. Their Burgess syndication rights went to the much larger North American Newspaper Alliance. That syndicate went into decline in the 1950s and went out of business in 1980. Poetic justice in both cases, I'd say. :-)