The First Time News Was Fit To Print, IX

More old news from the Times archives. As always, we've found people, places and things with first mentions worth mentioning.

Hedge Fund

November 26, 1966
A Mutual Fund That Is Unusual
The Hubshman Fund, described as the first mutual fund offered to the public that will employ both hedging and leveraging principles, is scheduled to begin operating today.
* * * * *
The Hubshman Fund, with headquarters at 350 Park Avenue, is modeled after one of Wall Street's little known but profitable vehicles for private investors "“ the hedge fund.

These hedge funds are limited partnerships, as contrasted to mutual funds that are open to the public. Typical partners of hedge funds include sophisticated businessmen and families of wealth who are attracted by the principle of making money in the stock market by taking both long and short positions.

John Updike

March 2, 1958

The Magic World Of Words
updike.jpg What influences a child's sensitivity to language, to choice of words, to color, to tempo, to construction? There may be innate differences in this sphere just as there are in music and visual art. Whether for biological or cultural reasons, girls and women, generally, are more skillful "“ and certainly more prodigal "“ with words than are boys and men. Allowing for individual differences, though, what can parents do to nurture, or at least not to destroy, the young child's gift for language?

We took this question up with...John Updike, who to our mind is one of the most skillful and versatile young artists we've read. As for specifics, Mr. Updike said: "When children are picking up words with rapidity, between two and three, say, tell them the true word for something, even if it is fairly abstruse and long. A long correct word is exciting to a child. Makes them laugh; my daughter never says rhinoceros without laughing. Also around this time, puns are popular. A child sees the humor of nonsense."

Still to come: Silicon Valley, White Collar Crime, Web 2.0, Big John Studd and more.

Silicon Valley

January 16, 1975

New Markets Are Sought For Miniaturized Computers
pirates-of-silicon-valley.jpgThe United States electronic industry has developed circuitry so miniaturized that it is pushing to install many computer functions in such things as automobiles, gasoline pumps, traffic signals and supermarket cash registers. This development is expected, within a few years, to give computer technology more impact on daily life than it has today, when computer circuitry in consumer products is limited to pocket calculators, digital watches and some cameras.
* * * * *
The buildings of Intel were put up on a former citrus orchard. Santa Clara south of San Francisco Bay next to San Jose, is in the heart of what those in the electronics industry call "Silicon Valley" because so many makers of semiconductors are here.

White Collar Crime

December 28, 1939
Dr. Sutherland Says The Cost Of Duplicity In High Places Exceeds Burglary Losses
"White-collar criminality" was sharply attacked by the retiring president of the American Sociological Society, Dr. Edwin H. Sutherland of Indiana University, in an address tonight which discarded accepted conceptions and explanations of crime.

Speaking at a joint session of that society...Dr. Sutherland described present-day white collar criminals as "more suave and deceptive" than last century's "robber barons" and asserted that "in many periods more important crime news may be found on the financial pages of newspapers than on the front pages."

Energizer Bunny

October 23, 1989
Amid TV's Ad Clutter, A Rabbit Runs Wild
energizer.jpgRight from the start, the new commercial for Eveready's Energizer batteries does not look like the run-of-the-mill television ad. The star of the whimsical campaign is a bright pink toy bunny wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and blue thongs. Banging a big bass drum as it struts around the set, the mechanical rabbit suddenly runs amok and marches out of the sound studio's doors.

But unsuspecting viewers watching when the spot made its debut last week were in for an even bigger surprise. Halfway through what appears to be a coffee commercial that shows two women quietly chatting, the runaway rabbit pops up and creates havoc as it tramps across the table.

Then, just when it seems safe to go back to ignoring commercials, the Energizer bunny charges through the laboratory setting of a spot for a nasal spray. Startled viewers were left wondering when the marauding rabbit would turn up next.

Web 2.0

August 14, 2000

As Innovation Lags Behind And The Mainstream Moves In, Net Entrepreneurs Look For Ways Out
"We're burned out," Ms. Harmel said, speaking of Net entrepreneurs of a certain level of experience and fatigue. "Some of us are tired and rich. Some of us are tired and not rich. But we're all tired."

Data on this topic are scarce, but anecdotal evidence suggests that a changing of the guard is under way in the Internet industry, as the early proponents of the Web are stepping aside for the mainstream business people who have migrated to the new medium. Such a cultural shift was to be expected, given how the Web itself has become a mainstream phenomenon. But analysts say the executive shift could have broad implications for e-commerce.

"Call this Web 2.0," said Clay Shirky, a partner at Accelerator Group, a consulting firm that works with Web start-ups, who has worked in the Internet industry since 1993. "This has been going on slowly, and now people are realizing the landscape has changed without us having caught onto it."

Post-it Notes

August 30, 1981

Some Practical Gadgets To Keep In The Bag
post-it.jpg Post-It Notes are another member of this family. In this case, however, the adhesive is to be found in a narrow stripe along one edge of the back of pieces of note paper. The notes, available in various size sheets, come in the form of handy pads. Merely jot a note to yourself or someone else, lift the note from the pad and touch it to the wall, door, film box, photo paper box, or other surface. The note will stick to almost any surface and can be removed without doing harm to painted walls or any other delicate finishes.

Big John Studd

December 22, 1983
Fitness Offerings
studd.jpgEarlier this month President Reagan gave Parade Magazine, the Sunday newspaper supplement, an exclusive story on how he keeps fit. Included in the article over the President's byline was an exhortation to Americans to follow his example and take up, among other exercises, weight lifting.

So far, according to the White House press office, there "hasn't been a large response." But among the early respondents were several people apparently seeking indirect White House endorsement of their exercise products.

Spalding, the company that gave the nation the high-bounce pink rubber ball sometimes called the Spaldeen, has offered the President the free use of Power Rings, a weight-lifting device that retails for $109. And Big John Studd, a professional wrestler who says he is the only man to have body-slammed Andre the Great, has asked the Reagan re-election committee to give the President his own exercise contraption, which is a bicycle handlebar affixed to a wagon wheel.

Here are some of the topics featured in previous installments of this series:

"¢ Volume I: The Simpsons, Barack Obama, iPod and Microsoft
"¢ Volume II: Donald Trump, Starbucks, Global Warming and Wikipedia
"¢ Volume III: JFK, The Smurfs, the Internet
"¢ Volume IV: Larry David, Ulysses S. Grant, VCRs
"¢ Volume V: Walkman, Osama bin Laden, Pearl Jam
"¢ Volume VI: Times Square, Marijuana, Googling
"¢ Volume VII: Kobe Bryant, Apartheid, Gatorade
"¢ Volume VIII: Bob Dylan, Barbie, War on Terror

T.jpgWant complete access to The New York Times archives, which go all the way back to 1851? Become an NYT subscriber.

9 Curses for Book Thieves From the Middle Ages and Beyond

It may seem extreme to threaten the gallows for the theft of a book, but that's just one example in the long, respected tradition of book curses. Before the invention of moveable type in the West, the cost of a single book could be tremendous. As medievalist Eric Kwakkel explains, stealing a book then was more like stealing someone’s car today. Now, we have car alarms; then, they had chains, chests … and curses. And since the heyday of the book curse occurred during the Middle Ages in Europe, it was often spiced with Dante-quality torments of hell.

The earliest such curses go back to the 7th century BCE. They appear in Latin, vernacular European languages, Arabic, Greek, and more. And they continued, in some cases, into the era of print, gradually fading as books became less expensive. Here are nine that capture the flavor of this bizarre custom.


A book curse from the Arnstein Bible, circa 1172
A curse in the Arnstein Bible
British Library // Public Domain

The Arnstein Bible at the British Library, written in Germany circa 1172, has a particularly vivid torture in mind for the book thief: “If anyone steals it: may he die, may he be roasted in a frying pan, may the falling sickness [i.e. epilepsy] and fever attack him, and may he be rotated [on the breaking wheel] and hanged. Amen.”


A 15th-century French curse featured by Marc Drogin in his book Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses has a familiar "House That Jack Built"-type structure:

“Whoever steals this book
Will hang on a gallows in Paris,
And, if he isn’t hung, he’ll drown,
And, if he doesn’t drown, he’ll roast,
And, if he doesn’t roast, a worse end will befall him.”


A book curse excerpted from the 13th-century Historia scholastica
A book curse from the Historia scholastica
Yale Beinecke Library // Public Domain

In The Medieval Book, Barbara A. Shailor records a curse from Northeastern France found in the 12th-century Historia scholastica: “Peter, of all the monks the least significant, gave this book to the most blessed martyr, Saint Quentin. If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Drogin also records this 13th-century curse from a manuscript at the Vatican Library, as notes. It escalates rapidly.

"The finished book before you lies;
This humble scribe don’t criticize.
Whoever takes away this book
May he never on Christ look.
Whoever to steal this volume durst
May he be killed as one accursed.
Whoever to steal this volume tries
Out with his eyes, out with his eyes!"


A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
Beinecke Library // Public Domain

An 11th-century book curse from a church in Italy, spotted by Kwakkel, offers potential thieves the chance to make good: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act.”


This book curse was written in a combination of Latin and German, as Drogin records:

"To steal this book, if you should try,
It’s by the throat you’ll hang high.
And ravens then will gather ’bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you’re screaming 'oh, oh, oh!'
Remember, you deserved this woe."


This 18th-century curse from a manuscript found in Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, is written in Arabic: “Property of the monastery of the Syrians in honorable Jerusalem. Anyone who steals or removes [it] from its place of donation will be cursed from the mouth of God! God (may he be exalted) will be angry with him! Amen.”


A book curse in a 17th century manuscript cookbook
A book curse in a 17th century cookbook

A 17th-century manuscript cookbook now at the New York Academy of Medicine contains this inscription: "Jean Gembel her book I wish she may be drouned yt steals it from her."


An ownership inscription on a 1632 book printed in London, via the Rochester Institute of Technology, contains a familiar motif:

“Steal not this Book my honest friend
For fear the gallows be yr end
For when you die the Lord will say
Where is the book you stole away.”


One of the most elaborate book curses found on the internet runs as follows: "For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change to a Serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain, crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution. Let Book-worms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment let the Flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”

Alas, this curse—still often bandied about as real—was in fact part of a 1909 hoax by the librarian and mystery writer Edmund Pearson, who published it in his "rediscovered" Old Librarian's Almanack. The Almanack was supposed to be the creation of a notably curmudgeonly 18th-century librarian; in fact, it was a product of Pearson's fevered imagination.

Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
John W. Jones: The Runaway Slave Who Buried Nearly 3000 Confederate Soldiers
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

John W. Jones was as close to a sinless man as you could find—with the exception of the time he lied to his mother.

It was a late June evening in 1844 and the 26-year-old enslaved man, who lived on a plantation near Leesburg, Virginia, told his mother that he was leaving to attend a party. His real plans were much riskier. Jones slipped outside, grabbed a pistol, and rendezvoused with four other enslaved men. With starlight as their guide, they crept through the Virginia woods. Their destination: North.

The men hiked approximately 20 miles every day, dodging slave catchers in Maryland and crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into the free state of Pennsylvania. Following a major route along the Underground Railroad, they needled through Harrisburg and Williamsport and traced a path along what is now State Route 14. When the exhausted men snuck into a barn near the New York border to sleep, Jones kept guard as the others rested: He sat down, laid a shotgun on his lap, and kept his eyes peeled.

“He was serious about getting his freedom,” says Talima Aaron, President of the John W. Jones Museum Board of Trustees. “He understood the danger, and he constantly took responsibility for others. You’ll notice that was a thread for him—responsibility for others.”

Jones never had to use the gun. When the barn’s owner, Nathaniel Smith, discovered the five men on his property, he invited them into his home. His wife Sarah served the group hot biscuits and butter and cared for them until their strength returned. It was the first time many of them had ever been inside a white person’s home. According to an 1885 profile in The Elmira Telegram, the gesture brought the men to tears.

On July 5, 1844, Jones crossed a toll bridge into Elmira, New York, with less than $2 in his pocket. Unlike most runaways bound for Canada, Jones decided to stay in Elmira. It’s here that Jones would become one of the country's most successful Underground Railroad conductors, one of the richest black men in the state of New York, and the last earthly link for nearly 3000 dead Confederate soldiers.


Living in the north did not mean Jones had it easy. He could not vote. He still shared sidewalks with former slave-owners. When he asked to receive an education at the local schools, he was denied.

But Jones had a knack for cracking ceilings. After earning the admiration of a local judge, he was allowed to study at an all-women’s seminary, exchanging janitorial work for reading and writing lessons. He joined a church with abolitionist leanings and become its sexton, maintaining its cemetery. Then he became the sexton of a second cemetery, and then a third. The community quickly grew to respect his work ethic and, eventually, Jones had earned enough money to buy a small house—a house that he transformed into a vital hub for the Underground Railroad.

At the time, the Underground Railroad—an informal network of trails, hiding places, and guides that helped slaves escape northward—was under intense scrutiny. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act had created financial incentives to report runaways living in free states. “Slave catchers from the south could come up to a place like Elmira and claim that a person of color was a runaway slave, and they could haul them back into slavery—even if that person had been born free,” says Bruce Whitmarsh, Director of the Chemung County Historical Society. There were steep penalties for aiding a person’s escape.

Jones didn’t care. Not only did he join the Underground Railroad, he was openly vocal about it, loudly pledging his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in a message that was published in abolitionist newspapers across the region: “Resolved, that we, the colored citizens of Elmira, do hereby form ourselves into a society for the purpose of protecting ourselves against those persons, (slave-catchers) prowling through different parts of this and other States.” Jones committed to resisting the law, even at the risk that “everyone of us be assassinated.”

The Underground Railroad in Elmira was unique: Since the town included the only train stop between Philadelphia and Ontario, it actually involved locomotives. Jones communicated regularly with William Still, the chief "conductor" of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, and built a cozy network of abolitionists who worked on trains passing through town. He provided runaways with housing, food, and even part-time jobs. “Runaways usually came in groups of four, six, or 10,” Aaron says. “But he had up to 30 at once in his little house.” Jones arranged hiding space for all of the escapees on the 4 a.m. “Freedom Baggage Car” to Canada, as it was unofficially known.

Over the course of nine years, Jones aided the escape of around 800 runaway slaves. Not one was captured.

During the last years of the Civil War, the same railroad tracks that had delivered hundreds of runaways to freedom began to carry thousands of captive Confederate soldiers to Elmira’s new prisoner of war camp. Once again, Jones would be there.


Of the 620,000 Civil War deaths, approximately 10 percent occurred at prison camps. The most notorious P.O.W. camp—in Andersonville, Georgia—saw 13,000 Union troops, or approximately 29 percent of the prison population, perish. After the war, Andersonville's commander was tried for war crimes. The camp is now a National Historic Site.

Meanwhile, the prison camp in Elmira has been largely forgotten. Today, the riverside site is little more than an unremarkable patch of dandelion-speckled grass; a small, easy-to-miss monument is the only marker. It belies the fact that while Elmira's camp was noticeably smaller than Andersonville's—only one-quarter its size—it was just as deadly: If you were a prisoner at “Hellmira,” there was a one-in-four chance you would die.

Elmira Prison Camp
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

Elmira was never supposed to have a prison camp; it was a training depot for Union soldiers. But when the Confederacy began refusing to exchange African-American soldiers—who it considered captive slaves, not prisoners of war—the Union stopped participating in prisoner exchanges. “Both sides started scrambling for places to expand, and that’s how Elmira got caught up in the web,” says Terri Olszowy, a Board Member for the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp.

The rollout was ill-planned, Olszowy explains. When it opened in July 1864, the camp had no hospital or medical staff. The first prisoners were already in rough shape and deteriorated quickly. Latrines were placed uphill from a small body of water called Foster’s Pond, which quickly became a cesspool. A shelter shortage meant that hundreds of soldiers were still living in tents by Christmas. During spring, the Chemung River flooded the grounds. Rats crawled everywhere. When authorities released a dog to catch them, the prisoners ate the dog.

The camp grew overcrowded. Designed to hold only 5000 prisoners, it saw approximately 7000 to 10,000 men confined there at its peak. Across the street, an observation tower allowed locals the opportunity to gawk at these prisoners through a pair of binoculars. It cost 10 cents.

It must have been a depressing sight, a scene of men stricken with dysentery, scurvy, typhoid, pneumonia, and smallpox. Many prisoners attempted to escape. One group successfully dug a 66-foot tunnel with spoons and knives. One man fled by hiding in a barrel of swill. Another hid inside a coffin, leaping out as he was being hauled to Woodlawn Cemetery.

It’s said that 2973 Confederate prisoners left the Elmira prison camp in coffins for real. The job to bury them belonged to the town’s sexton: John W. Jones.


The P.O.W. cemetery in Elmira is unique. The dead at many prison camps were buried in mass graves; Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery, for example, contains a plot filled with the remains of prisoners detained at Camp Douglas that is believed to be largest mass grave in the western hemisphere. All 2973 of the dead at Elmira, however, received an individual, marked grave in a special section of Woodlawn cemetery. Only seven are unknown. Jones's effort to give each soldier an individual grave, as well as his meticulous record-keeping, were a big part of why the federal government designated the P.O.W. portion of Woodlawn a "National Cemetery" in 1877—a status awarded to veterans' cemeteries deemed to be of national importance, and which has only been awarded to 135 cemeteries nationwide.

Jones treated each dead soldier with superhuman levels of grace. Overseeing a crew of 12, he managed the burial of about six soldiers every day, treating each body as if that person had been a member of his own church. He kept detailed records of each soldier’s identity by creating improvised dog tags: Around each person's neck or under their arm, Jones tucked a jar containing a paper detailing their name, rank, and regiment. That same information was neatly scrawled on each coffin. When the dirt settled, Jones marked each plot with a wooden headstone.

“No one told him how to do that job, he did it in the way that he thought was right—even though the people he buried were fighting a war to keep people like him enslaved,” Aaron says. “He even knew one of the young men who had died, and he reached back to the South and told the parents so they knew where their child was buried. That speaks to his compassion.”

According to Clayton W. Holmes’s 1912 book Elmira Prison Camp, “History does not record anything to challenge the assertion that at no prison, North or South, were the dead so reverently cared for, or a more perfect record kept.” In fact, when representatives of the Daughters of the Confederacy came to Elmira at the turn of the century to consider repatriating the remains, Jones’s handiwork convinced them to touch not a blade of grass. Instead, a monument in the cemetery commemorates the “honorable way in which they were laid to rest by a caring man.”

Aaron sees a second moral in the story. “People always talk about the tension between him being an escaped slave and burying with respect and dignity these Confederate soldiers fighting to keep people like him as slaves,” she says. “But to me there’s a subtext: Here is a grown man who escaped slavery, and the first thing he wanted to do when he reached freedom was get an education. Because of that, he was able to keep these meticulous records that later led to this national designation: It became a historical moment because this man, who was denied an education, got one.”

John W. Jones
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

It also made a mark on Jones’s bank account. Jones earned $2.50 for each soldier he buried. It wasn’t much, but by the time he had finished burying nearly 3000 Confederate dead, he had become one of the 10 richest African-Americans in the state of New York. With that money, he bought a handsome farm of at least 12 acres.

It was a bittersweet purchase. Not only is it believed that parts of his home were built from wooden scraps of the disassembled Elmira prison camp, Jones had purchased the home when New York state law stipulated that black men must own $250 worth of property in order to vote. His home—today listed on the National Register of Historic Places [PDF]—earned Jones that right to vote.

For the remainder of his life, Jones continued working as a sexton and church usher. In 1900, he died and was buried in one of the cemeteries that had become his life’s work.

Incidentally, his death also marked the end of a local mystery: For nearly two decades, fresh flowers kept appearing on the freshly manicured grave of a woman named Sarah Smith. Nobody knew why the flowers appeared there or where they originated—until the decorations stopped appearing immediately after Jones’s death. Residents later realized that the grave belonged to the same Sarah Smith who, 56 years earlier, had invited John W. Jones and his friends into her home for butter, biscuits, and a good night’s rest.


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