I was just taking a look at the famous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" article from the New York Sun in 1897. And something about it struck me that had never struck me before.
Check out the original press clipping.
I always find it freshly inspiring.
But does something stand out to you, now that we're in the 21st century?
Here's what stands out to me, shocking as day:
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET
A distinguished paper has actually published the full name and address of a little girl! An 8-year-old girl! Right there in the paper for every creep and pedophile and murderer and rapist and kidnapper to see!!!
Never mind that anyone can find out the address of anyone, of any age, using something called the White Pages. In our day, it's WhitePages.com. I say "never mind" because people never mind the facts. It's only the hysteria that counts. How could a newspaper do such a thing?
Certainly, the New York City of 1897 was far far more dangerous than it is now. Then again, the New York City of 1897 had no television or movies, where there are roughly 8.6 million kidnapping/rape/murders every week, so it seems
more dangerous today.
Maybe, the newspaper editors didn't allow media-fueled panic to cloud their thinking. If you were to go back in time and harangue them about it, I imagine their response would be something like, "Well, you see, 115 West Ninety-fifth Street is actually there
. Any ruffian could see the building sitting there on the street, and break into it, and steal everything. Putting the address in writing doesn't really help any lawbreaker or thief, any more than refusing to put it in writing would hinder him."
Of course, that's far too reasonable a response now, and anyway, today, they'd have to be saying that in a court of law.
As recently as the 1970s, when I was a kid, our big-city newspaper did the same thing. When a citizen was mentioned in an article, that person's address was too. We thought nothing of it — because there's really not much to think of it. We do of course feel differently about privacy now, and after all there's no real value in publishing a person's address, beyond distinguishing one John Smith from another. So, I don't feel any sense of loss that this isn't now the practice. But imagining the public outcry that would happen today provides just another example of how we allow hysteria to overtake our common sense.
Anyone can find out where you live. So what? Your next-door neighbor also knows where you live, and somehow finds the self-discipline not to kidnap, rape, or murder you on a regular basis. It seems that our culture, though, sees as much need to put imaginary fears into the heart of childhood as our great-grandparents' culture did in imaginary delights.