Skip to main content

Hard Copy

March 2023
1min read

Froth & Scum
Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass Medium

by Andie Tucher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 244 pages, $34.95 . CODE: UNC-6

In the early 1830s a new style of newspaper arrived, aimed at the urban working-class reader. Scandals and horrors were suddenly, for the first time, front-page news. According to Andie Tucher’s excellent account, the penny press’s defining moment came in New York in 1836, when an infatuated drygoods clerk was accused of ax-murdering a young prostitute. The case seized the city, and each of New York’s penny editors claimed to have the captivating true account. James Gordon Bennett, the flamboyant, Scottish-born editor of the New York Herald , wrote that at the crime scene he had viewed the “perfect” body, which “surpassed in every respect the Venus de Medicis.” After the suspected murderer went free to Texas, letters were found in which he had offered to seduce a man’s wife, providing grounds for divorce, in exchange for alibi testimony in his own case.

Five years later a second ax murder caused another fierce competition, this time joined by Horace Greeley’s new Tribune . With immigrants flooding into New York City, some penny papers that had begun life as working-class sheets were pitching to the threatened middleclass and pursuing more high-toned stories; Bennett’s Herald was not among them, and it became the target of a “Moral Crusade,” more economic than high-minded in its ends, launched by competing editors. Tucher, a former Clinton campaign speechwriter, presents the colorful story of the early penny press with all the verve, intelligence, and humor it merits.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "December 1994"

Authored by: Gene Smith

Forty years changed almost everything—but not the author’s gleaming, troubling memories of Miss Clark. So he went looking for her.

An Interview with the President and the First Lady

Authored by: The Editors

Manhole Covers

Authored by: The Editors

Something Permanent

Authored by: The Editors

The Kingdom of Matthias
A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th Century America

Authored by: The Editors

Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union

Authored by: The Editors


Authored by: The Editors

Watch the Skies!
A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth

Authored by: The Editors

Code Name: The Long Sobbing
The Allies, the Axis, and the Victims: An Anthology From D-Day to V-E Day

Authored by: The Editors

Froth & Scum
Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass Medium

Featured Articles

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Rarely has the full story been told how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.