12 Facts About Joseph Pulitzer, the Man Behind the Awards

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Pulitzer Prize has long been an object of desire for writers, photographers, cartoonists, and even some musicians. But many of them know little or nothing about Hungarian native Joseph Pulitzer, for whom the prize is named. The Pulitzer name didn’t always have so much clout—in fact, as a young immigrant, Pulitzer found himself in a series of dead-end gigs, and was even homeless at times.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prizes—first awarded June 4, 1917—here are 12 facts about the man whose name now evokes the highest distinction.


As a teenager, Joseph Pulitzer was turned down by Austrian, British, and French armies because of his poor eyesight. But the U.S. Civil War was then in full swing, and a Union army recruiter approached Pulitzer about enlisting as a substitute for a draftee. Pulitzer arrived in America in September 1864 by way of Boston Harbor, but reportedly dove into the harbor as his ship approached land in an effort to keep the enlistment bounty. He made his way to New York, where he enlisted on his own behalf, thereby keeping the enlistment bounty instead of letting it go to the agent. He briefly served in a Union cavalry unit, and was honorably discharged at the Civil War’s end.


After the war, the young and nearly penniless veteran was unable to make it in New York—where he slept on park benches—and headed for St. Louis, Missouri. Arriving by train in East St. Louis, Illinois, he was too broke to pay his way across the Mississippi River, so he shoveled coal on a ferry in exchange for free passage. Upon reaching St. Louis, he waited tables, tended to mules, and—in a clear sign of desperation—worked as a gravedigger during an 1866 cholera epidemic.


A stamp featuring Joseph Pulitzer
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

While observing a chess match between two German speakers at a St. Louis library, Pulitzer critiqued a move. Though some chess players might take offense, these two—who worked as editors at the area’s main German-language newspaper—took an interest in the sharp young Pulitzer. He soon was working with them as a reporter at the Westliche Post, where he later became a part-owner.


Many prominent newsmen have identified with a political party, but Pulitzer took it a step further, actually serving as a politician. He worked in the Missouri state legislature, and later as a Congressional representative from New York’s 9th district. He also served as a delegate for the Liberal Republican Party in 1872 and for the Democratic Party in 1880.


After eventually owning such major outlets as the New York World, and endlessly striving to expose high-level corruption, Pulitzer made rivals and enemies in high places. In order to encrypt his communications, he devised a code for speaking with his editors, attorneys, and family that consisted of some 20,000 names and terms. Examples included “Andes” (himself), “Glutinous” (Theodore Roosevelt), “Malaria” (The Republican Party), and “Geranium” (the New York Journal).


While in political office, he made enemies with a building contractor. On January 27, 1870, they argued at a hotel in Jefferson City, Missouri. After being called a liar, Pulitzer went to get his old army pistol. He then returned to the hotel and demanded an apology, but was punched instead. So he produced his pistol and shot the contractor in the leg. Though his victim survived, had the incident occurred today Pulitzer would likely face serious jail time and the destruction of his journalistic and political careers. Instead, he was only fined heavily, but managed to retain his political position, though he did lose the ensuing election.


A sepia-toned photograph of Joseph Pulitzer in profile.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Pulitzer, who was born on the 10th of April and reportedly gained control of both the Saint-Louis Evening Dispatch and the New York World on the 10th of the month, often refused to “do any important thing” until the 10th day of any given month. But when his Manhattan residence of 10 East 55th Street burned down in 1900, he moved to 11 East 73rd Street.


The publishing mogul who brought printed stories to countless millions lost his eyesight, and did so at the young age of 40. Though he maintained his newspaper enterprise with assistance, his blindness exacerbated lingering mental conditions. He became increasingly reclusive and also suffered a nervous breakdown.


A 1909 magazine profile describes Pulitzer as surrounded by a “splendid and costly” art collection “he cannot see.” Connoisseurship would run in the family, as grandson Joseph Pulitzer III, himself a publishing mogul, would acquire one of the world’s most sterling modern art collections before his death in 1993.


For such a media dynamo, he certainly valued his quiet time, especially as his somatic and psychological troubles grew more severe. He even soundproofed the bedroom of his Manhattan residence along with his yacht, and his vacation estate in Bar Harbor, Maine was dubbed the “Tower of Silence.”


Pulitzer’s younger brother Albert also immigrated to the U.S., and in 1882, he founded the New York Morning Journal, a one-cent daily paper. The brothers, both running competing Gotham publications, reportedly became bitter rivals. Albert Pulitzer would sell his paper to William Randolph Hearst (his brother’s arch-rival) and ultimately committed suicide in Vienna, Austria, in 1909. Though the brothers had been estranged, the surviving Pulitzer spent $15,000 to give him a fitting farewell and burial.


At age 64, Joseph Pulitzer died of heart failure on October 29, 1911, while on board his yacht in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Right before his death his German secretary was reading to him a narrative about the French King Louis XI, and just as she reached the part about the monarch’s death, the ailing Pulitzer said, “Leise, ganz leise, ganz leise”—“Silently, very quietly, very quietly”—an instruction to lower her voice.

Where Exactly Is Anne Boleyn's Body?

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Anne Boleyn had a pretty rough 1536. First, a pregnant Anne discovered her husband was having an affair with Jane Seymour, one of her ladies in waiting. Some believe the shock and betrayal caused Anne to suffer a miscarriage in early February—and at least one report says it was the boy Henry VIII so desperately wanted. The birth of a healthy baby boy probably would have saved Anne’s life, but since she was unable to produce a male heir to the throne, her husband decided to simply replace her. Anne found herself imprisoned in the Tower of London on May 2, accused of adultery, incest, and high treason. Her marriage was annulled on May 17, and she was relieved of her head on May 19.

To add insult to all of this injury, no one bothered to give Anne a proper burial. Though the execution itself was meticulously planned, it hadn't occurred to anyone that there was no coffin until after Anne’s head rolled. After rummaging around the grounds, someone eventually scrounged up an old arrow chest to cram the corpse into.

She and her brother were then buried in an unmarked grave in front of the altar at St. Peter’s ad Vincula, within the Tower of London, and then completely forgotten about for the next 300-plus years. It wasn’t until Tower repairs in 1876 that Anne resurfaced—maybe.

Bones were discovered under the altar during the renovations, and based on the circumstantial evidence of an arrow chest coffin, bones belonging to a slender woman between the ages of 25 and 35, and a decapitated head, it was assumed that the remains belonged to Anne. However, Henry VIII disposed of his fifth wife Katherine Howard in the exact same manner, and had her corpse thrown in with the pile of bodies accumulating under the altar. Still other women were decapitated and buried in the same place, including Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury; Lady Jane Grey; and Lady Rochford.

Despite the fact that five headless women were buried there at one point, only four bodies were uncovered. The remains of Katherine Howard had seemingly disappeared, perhaps due to the quicklime found in the graves. Regardless of the uncertainty, Queen Victoria had the bodies exhumed and placed in individual coffins. A plaque with the name of the person thought to be inside was affixed to each coffin, and each one was given a proper reburial underneath the altar.

Is it really Anne Boleyn who lies beneath, or did workers really find someone else, giving credence to the theory that Anne Boleyn’s relatives had her body secretly reburied elsewhere? Unless DNA testing is performed on the remains, we’ll probably never know.

Updated for 2019.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.