It's no secret that tabloid newspapers love an unbelievably crass headline. In the US, the reigning champion is probably the New York Post, which delights in stories like "HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR". Over in the UK, the iguana-brained maniacs at the Sun used to churn out bullshit stories about local celebrities like the notorious "FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER!" Those headlines are clearly terrible, but they do have a sense of humor to them. You could see why people would be intrigued. But there's one newspaper that has become notorious for producing easily the worst headlines of all time, to the point that simply reading one is the medical equivalent of being hit by a small train. We're talking of course about Lucifer's most perfect child: the Trentonian.
Trenton, New Jersey itself is a perfectly ordinary city. It was founded around a shoddily built gristmill in 1679 and the earliest historical records mostly just complain about how boring it was. Its main moment in the spotlight came in 1776, when some Hessian soldiers camped in the town and instantly became so overwhelmed with malaise that they neglected to build any fortifications or post any scouts, allowing George Washington to easily ambush them. The city was subsequently rewarded, or possibly punished, by being made capital of New Jersey, and it's limped along on a bribe-based economy ever since.
Now, we're not going to whitewash it. Trenton has always had its problems. The mayor's office is permanently moored in international waters and the city's many dumpsters are home to a surprising number of severed limbs. There isn't a single week when a state senator doesn't burst out of a strip-club toilet screaming "the Feds are on their way, I gotta spend $300,000 in 20 minutes!" But that's no worse than any other town in Jersey. It certainly didn't deserve what was coming.
True darkness arrived in 1989, when a guy called Sandy Schwartz was appointed to turn around a flagging local newspaper called The Trentonian. Their new editor rolled into town with thunder booming behind him, "Smokestack Lightnin'" on the radio, and a red right hand shoved firmly down Satan's pants. Shortly afterward, a serial killer left a woman's severed head on a local golf course. It was clearly a story that required a great degree of sensitivity. The Trentonian's front page ran the story under "HEAD HAD AIDS!"
The story went on to claim that the victim "may have avenged her own death if the murderer was splashed by her blood," which represents an incredible misunderstanding of both AIDS and vengeance. Even at the height of the late '80s AIDS panic, the story was considered so incredibly crass that it earned nationwide press attention. But most people assumed it was merely an unfortunate misstep from a cheeky tabloid. Little did they realize that the Trentonian was now dedicated to recreating the effects of the Necronomicon, entirely in headline form.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, bear in mind that in 2002 a devastating fire ripped through Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. The Trentonian went with the headline "ROASTED NUTS!"
The sudden change baffled the good people of Trenton, who had never aspired to anything worse than selling a governor's aide cocaine in exchange for a contract to supply slightly used fire extinguishers to local elementary schools. But nobody could look away and newspaper sales significantly increased, in the same way that your local news channel would probably increase views if they replaced their weather report with close-up footage of Eric Trump's botched bikini wax. The Trentonian took the slight sales jump as a signal to double down, running headlines like "BRIDGE JUMPER CRIES: I WANT A NEW FACE!" and "MOM TURNS TRICKS AS TOTS BURN!"
By the time the Trentonian managed to turn a perfectly normal story about the development of Viagra into "SEX PILL FRENZY IN JERSEY!" the locals were under the kind of sustained psychic assault unseen since somebody accidentally gave Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters a bad Yelp review. It simply was not possible to walk past these headlines on a newsstand every day without falling to your knees and screaming for God to send another flood to wash such evil from the Earth. But the Trentonian staffers, every one of whom was now dressed like a Cenobite from Hellraiser, completely refused to relent.
In fact, there was a certain art to the Trentonian's awful headlines. For starters, their writers were apparently under strict instructions to slightly botch every single joke they attempted, like the time a bland story about a Hooters zoning dispute ran as "TEMPEST IN A D-CUP," which is punning on a version of the actual expression just wrong enough to annoy people. But the thing the Trentonian found really hilarious was when a crime was committed by someone slightly older than normal. The entire newsroom was apparently convulsing in hysterics at perfect headlines like "COPS NAB DRUG DEALER -- HE'S 81!", "GRANNY ON LAM!" and "RAPE SUSPECT NABBED -- HE'S 84!"
By 1997, Trenton lay in ruins. Not physically -- it was, like, all still there -- but emotionally, the town was basically Children Of Men. But that was the year things really took a turn for the worse. That was the year 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult took part in a mass suicide ritual in the belief their spirits would be rescued by a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet. The story attracted widespread coverage, much of it insensitive. But nobody could top the Trentonian, which inscrutably decided that the real story was that the cult members were all a bunch of "internet geeks." Naturally, they went with the headline "INTERNUTS!" then followed up with "NET IS BALM FOR BOZOS!"
This was all fueled by an editorial belief that only "perverts" used the Internet, which was already hilariously out of touch in 1997. (They might as well have branded the cotton gin a "kink gizmo for basement sickos.") But the Trentonian took their anti-tech crusade seriously and were about a day away from burning down AOL headquarters when they discovered that one of the dead cult members was the brother of Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols. Obviously, they dropped everything to ensure their follow-up story on the horrible tragedy was accompanied by a sexy picture of Nichols as Lt. Uhura under the headline "BEAM ME UP SCOTTY!"
Imagine trying to live under these conditions, spending every morning huddled in the basement, listening for the crash of the heavily armed newspaper delivery van breaking through the street barricades. Frankly, it's a testament to the mental strength of the townsfolk that they didn't end up burning anyone in a wicker man to appease the angry spirits. Particularly after baseball star Roger Clemens was accused of injecting anabolic steroids, which the Trentonian slapped on the front page as "HE TOOK IT IN THE BUTT!"
The most comprehensive history of the Trentonian is an autobiography called Tabloid From Hell, by former editor Michael Raffaele, which is a fascinating chronicle of a man doing very evil things without ever fully seeming to realize it. For example, when a local teacher was fired for having sex with a student, the Trentonian's publisher instantly zeroed in on the worst possible angle, declaring "Aren't these teachers vulnerable to these hot little girls in skimpy outfits? We gotta do a story about how these sex kittens in the classroom prey on these lonely old men." Naturally, the editors felt that they should spice up this story about poor, vulnerable rapists with some hot pictures. This is how a Trentonian photographer wound up hiding outside of local high schools, trying to take sexy photos of none-the-wiser students.
That plan ultimately didn't work out, although not because of any ethical concerns. Instead, the editors decided that the long-range photos of random high schoolers just weren't hot enough (the photographer was also complaining that he felt like a "sex fiend"). Fortunately, at that point the entire office was sexually harassing a particular female reporter, who was ordered to dress up like a Catholic schoolgirl and pose for a photo. The story duly ran as "SEX KITTENS IN THE CLASSROOM!" featuring writing so uncomfortably horny that reading it technically counts as chemical castration.
According to the sweat-coated maniacs at the paper: "To a 16-year-old boy, the sight of a short skirt, a tight shirt, and the big young eyes of a 16-year-old girl stirs feelings that are new and hard to resist. Sneaking peeks at bare legs, flirting in gym shorts and stealing kisses and touches in the back of the school can become a way of life...And when that boy grows up and is charged with teaching the young himself, those feelings -- no longer as new -- are still firmly in place. That's why all too many men and girls put in close contact find each other irresistible and break one of the strongest of society's taboos -- student-teacher sex." Just picture being a student reading that story and realizing that the entire editorial staff of your town's biggest paper is probably hiding in the bushes spying on your gym class.
The Trentonian has calmed down a little bit from its '90s heyday, in the same way that Cthulhu has calmed down a little bit since the Devonian era. But whatever terrible curse the people of Trenton drew on themselves clearly still holds strong. For example, when it was revealed that New Jersey governor Chris Christie was a Dallas Cowboys fan, the Trentonian's reporters spent several hours dancing around a mysterious black obelisk then published this crime against humanity:
In a weird way, the Trentonian's demonic commitment to soul-crushing headlines is almost comforting. Millions of years from now, long after our oceans boil and all that remains is rock and ash, things that almost look like cockroaches will feed on the last traces of our civilization. And it's nice to know that when that day comes, there'll be a little corner of Earth where the once-roaches emerge from their burrows to stare in mounting horror at tiny, perfectly delivered newspapers blaring out "COCKROACH JOCK IN ROACH COCK SHOCK!"