Some Fun Old News I Found in Newspaper Clippings


I share about 150 to 200 new stories in Now I Know each year. As you can imagine, sometimes, I have to dig a bit to find one to share. One of my go-tos is, a website that — as the name suggests — archives scanned, searchable versions of old newspapers. I don’t use it often but when I need it, it’s key. But often, you’re looking for a needle in a haystack.

Recently, a reader wrote in to tell me that in the 1960s, a neighborhood in Kansas City had a volunteer fire department, and the only people who volunteered were high schoolers. The high schoolers weren’t allowed to drive to school so, if there was a fire during school hours, a school bus driver drove the kids/firemen to the firehouse, where they got into the fire truck and went to put out the fire. I wanted to share that story but needed a source beyond the reader’s second-hand anecdote — so I went to Newspapers and tried to find the proverbial needle. I failed, but I came across something new they had on the site: some clippings categorized as “Weird News.” Here are some of my favorites.

Spaghetti Recipe Starts Argument” (1938).

I can’t believe this made it into the newspaper.

I don’t eat pork so I wouldn’t make this, but I think Miss Lean Coniglione is probably correct — this does appear to be a pretty solid spaghetti and meatballs recipe. (Larger version of the clipping here, if you need it.)

The original recipe by Miss Coniglione is responding to the secret recipe of actor Rudolph Valentino and, apparently, he used his recipe at some big parties he used to throw. The author of the above (Mrs. Gaynor Maddox, not Coniglione) also shared that story in her column, and I found a version of it. It’s… weird.

One package (8 ounces) spaghetti, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 large onions, 2 green peppers, 1 pound ground round steak, ½ pound grated Parmesan or pale American cheese, 1 ½ cups tomato soup, salt, pepper, paprika and dash of cayenne.

Plunge spaghetti into large kettle of rapidly boiling salted water. Cook until nearly tender. Drain at once.

Heat olive oil in large frying pan. Chop onions and green peppers. Fry in oil until well browned. Remove. Fry ground round steak, stirring frequently until thoroughly browned. Then return onions and peppers to pan and stir in the tomato soup. Mix well, season and simmer 15 minutes.

Use large baking dish. Rub it thoroughly with garlic, then butter evenly. Combine spaghetti and sauce and turn into baking dish. Sprinkle cheese over top. Bake in moderately slow oven 325 degrees F for 1 hour.

“Pale American cheese”? Tomato soup? Baked for an hour? Miss Coniglione is right — use her recipe instead.

Constant Use of Ouija Board Drives Seven People Insane” (1920).

One of my favorite stories that I’ve shared in these pages is about Ouija boards, and not coincidentally, Newspapers helped me research it. That story, here, is about a couple who sued another couple over something the latter had “learned” through a Ouija board. It’s a crazy story to modern ears. But apparently, Ouija boards were a very, very common pastime in the late 1910s and into the 1920s — and this story underscores that. (If you can’t read the image below, here’s a bigger version of the clipping.)

Walky Phones May Be Next” (1953).

This one is more prophetic than it is weird. Larger version of the clipping here, if you need it.

The Now I Know Week In Review

Monday: Headless Potato: The original Mr. Potato Head was missing a piece.

Tuesday: The $95,093.35 Fake Check That Became A Big Headache: I’m still surprised at how the bank reacted.

Wednesday: A Different Type of Buried Treasure: Bitcoin at the Landfill. (That would be a bad band name.)

Thursday: He Eight a Cheeseburger: I made an accidental pun in this one, calling a barrier “minor.” Heh.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

  1. The Rent Was Too High So They Threw a Party” (New York Times, 18 minutes, March 2024). The subhead: “During the Harlem Renaissance, some Black people hosted rent parties, celebrations with an undercurrent of desperation in the face of racism and discrimination.” The story has a lot of photos of old documents about these parties — it’s definitely in line with the “old newspaper clippings” theme above.
  2. The Women at the Cutting Edge of Butchery” (Longreads, 31 minutes, February 2024). I really don’t know how to summarize this other than to say that if you like this article, there’s an episode of Chopped featuring four female butchers, and it was one of the better episodes of Chopped I’ve seen.
  3. Why these New Yorkers are filling their apartments with squirrels, opossums, and pigeons” (Vox, 15 minutes, April 2024). Don’t try this at home. Even if they are.

Have a great weekend!