hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News September 2021


Amid the day’s news, advice for the heart

Maury Thompson


Quick-thinking newspaper editors in the 19th century came up with puns and jokes to fill any white space left on pages after the news and advertising were laid out.

It’s not clear if deadline pressures percolated Zen-like moments of inspiration or if, like a beat reporter, editors kept notebooks of quirky humorous material from which they could draw when needed.

Often marriage and love were the focus of these light-hearted late additions to the page.
In the April 29, 1887 issue of The Granville Sentinel, for example, one such item proclaimed: “Every man is said to have his price, but a good wife is a jewel the proper man can obtain by asking.”

Some were more in the spirit of jokes than aphorisms, as when the Sentinel wrote on May 11, 1888: “A conductor poked his head in the door of a car and called out the next station, ‘Sawyer,’ where upon a young man upon his wedding tour who was about to kiss his bride yelled back, ‘I don’t care if you did sir; she’s my wife.’”

On March 25, 1887, the Sentinel borrowed a tale from an abolitionist preacher who no doubt had often retold it in sermons: “When Henry Ward Beecher applied for a life insurance policy 30 years ago, he was asked the usual questions about the health of his heart. His answer reads: ‘Experienced a peculiar feeling about the heart during the days of my courtship.’”

Many were puns or tales that reflected the attitudes of the time about love and marriage. The Sentinel offered this on May 25, 1888: “The young man with a slender salary should choose for his wife a girl of small waste.”

Though they wouldn’t be considered politically correct today, some played on the old adage that although the husband is the head of the house, the wife is the neck that turns the head.
“One man power – the fond and foolish dream of a very young husband,” the Sentinel wrote on April 8, 1887.

In the same vein, the paper offered this on Dec. 27, 1889: “Husband: ‘Here is that pin money, dear, that I refused you this morning.’ Wife: ‘Thank you, I thought that your conscience would prick you.’”

The Morning Star of Glens Falls offered this tale on July 13, 1885:
“A gentleman passing along one of the pleasant streets of Saratoga saw in the beautiful and inviting grounds of a resident owner and his wife. The gentleman remarked, ‘You remind me of the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.’

“‘And you,’ remarked the husband, ‘remind me of the fellow who caused all the trouble.’ The man felt like Cain, but was un-Abel to retort, and passed on.”

The Star also offered this pun on June 27, 1883: “Young lovers who are the apples of each other’s eyes should be pared.”

On Dec. 10, 1886, the Sentinel encouraged marriage, though only to one person at a time: “’How many women marry a good sensible man?’ asks Kate Field. Only one, if the man can help it.”
The risks and rewards of romance and the trials of rejected suitors provided a wealth of material for the newspapers.

“A man who has proposed 20 times and been rejected every time has no end of relatives,” The Granville Sentinel quipped on Jan. 21, 1887. “Every one of the girls he interviewed on matrimony faithfully promised to be a sister to him.”

On Sept. 8, 1876, the Sentinel said: “The young man who wrote and asked his girl to accept a bucket of flowers became a little pale when she said she said she wooden ware it.”
And on May 24, 1889, the paper offered this pun: “When a little man is hopelessly in love, it greatly increases his sighs.”

Dating’s awkward moments also were fair game.
“A lady and gentleman accidentally touched each other’s feet under the table,” the Sentinel wrote on Dec. 14, 1883. “‘Secret telegraphy,’ said he. ‘Communion of soles,’ said she.”
Joking aside, however, local newspaper editors occasionally waxed eloquent with marriage advice for the ages.

“Married people should treat each other like lovers all their lives; then they would be happy,” The Ticonderoga Sentinel wrote on Sept. 12, 1874. “But some people -- men and women both -- when they have once got married, think they may do just as they please and it will make no difference. They make a great mistake.”


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.