Our Ancestors Favorite Magazine

By Eric Olson

January 30, 2014 Updated Jan 30, 2014 at 11:50 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive)--Among the treasures in the Allen County Public Library’s Rare Books Room are these…copies of Harper’s Weekly. For sixty years this American political magazine brought all the news fit to print to America’s doorstep along with fiction, essays and humor, all accompanied by magnificent illustrations…thousands of them..each hand cut from wood blocks for printing.

“It was your television news, local, national, Newsweek, Time,” says library spokesperson Cheryl Ferverda, “anything you can get now on Google, that’s what this was to the population of the United States.”

For many Americans Harper’s Weekly was the only source of news from the battlefields of the Civil War…in depth reporting along with those remarkable illustrations. The greatest authors had a home here as well; Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth Sherlock Holmes first appeared in Harpers Weekly. The magazine’s superstar, however, was cartoonist Thomas Nast, whose wickedly funny cartoons brought down corrupt politicians and literally elected Presidents. Nast took on everyone…the railroads, corrupt corporate and labor leaders… his classic image of Santa Clause, still used by advertisers today, first appeared in Harper’s as did Nast’s own symbol for the democratic and republican parties, the elephant and donkey. the Allen County Library owns an entire set of Harpers Weekly, published from 1857 to 1916…thousands of editions…each a window to another time, able to transport the reader back in history to the day to day worries, dreams and desires of a younger, more innocent country…a country learning more about itself with every precious issue of our own American story. Eric Olson reporting out in 21Country.

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