Diana West

FAIRLEE, Vt. -- One way to size up a local community is to buy its local paper. So I did, forking over $5 for a newspaper originally priced at 4 cents. The price represents quite a mark-up until you realize the issue I bought is over 100 years old, and the junk store it came from is bilking the summer tourist trade as best it can before the snow flies (which could come any time now judging by the air of mistrust that true Vermonters regard a sustained July heat wave).

This barely tattered and lightly sepia-ed edition of The United Opinion printed on Friday, Oct. 5, 1894, could be the only copy (out of the 2,000 made) to have survived unburned, uncrumpled -- even unrecycled -- through the first couple years of the 21st century. On the day this eight-page broadsheet was new, Grover Cleveland was into his second term as president, the Pullman strike had recently made labor history, Hawaii was a republic, and a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana was raising tensions between the United States and Great Britain.

However, none of that news is mentioned in The United Opinion. "KILLED HIS SISTER" runs the headline to a story datelined Worcester, Mass., one of two that dominate the front page. The other lead story pertains to a now-forgotten war between China and Japan that China would lose, exposing both the weakness of the Manchu dynasty and revealing Japan to be the rising power in East Asia -- a rise that would continue unchecked until World War II.

Of course, United Opinion readers had no crystal ball in which to see this.

Besides, they were probably more taken with the details of the Carr murder story, a real-life tenement melodrama among the mill workers.

"William Carr Expressed No Regret at His Awful Crime," the headline continues, "But One Dollar Left Him In His Mother's Will -- It Filled Him With Rage Against Other Members of the Family." Of course, when it comes to dramatics, nothing in the paper compares with the advertisements: "Can it be that Insanity is Staring Me in the Face?" Try: Dr. Greene's Nevura blood and nerve remedy.

Other front-page news consists of briefs stacked in columns -- as the Wall Street Journal does to this day -- covering fishing news, mill strikes, election returns and a challenge by Bob Fitzsimmons to "Gentleman Jim" Corbett for the heavyweight championship of the world -- a title Fitzsimmons would win from Corbett in 1897.

One local brief stands out: "A crowd of roughs in Lebanon (N.H.) attacked a party of six Dartmouth students and treated them to a dose of eggs and stones ... Finally the students opened fire, and shot a man named Marson in the arm ... More trouble is likely to follow."

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).