For today’s story, we’re going all the way back to 1878, to an edition of the San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser. The “town crier” section of the paper included such anecdotes as a group of stock brokers accidentally serenading a hospital for sick children (thinking a beautiful woman lay within), a woman coming to the paper and asking them to publish a poem (the paper refused and instead publicly shamed the poet), and the tale of the taxidermist and the exploding dog.

“A horrible tragedy has just been enacted at San Francisco,” said the paper, “and which illustrates man’s perfidy and woman’s fatal sin of curiosity.” A woman broke off an engagement with a taxidermist. “He discovered who his dread rival was and reproached the faithless sweetheart for her perfidy.” At this point, the story has used the word perfidy twice in three sentences, to describe two different people, so you’d be forgiven for quitting reading right here.

The woman’s small pet dog attacked the man, who killed it with a cane. You’ll remember that the man was a taxidermist, so he took the dead dog and stuffed it and returned it to his ex, with one warning: Don’t scorch its tail. She thought this was a weird instruction and didn’t pay close heed to it. She soon did allow the stuffed dog close to a candle flame, with did scorch its tail.

“Our innumerable intelligent readers can imagine what followed,” said the paper, showing shocking optimism about our deductive powers. Because this story actually ends with the revelation that the man had put an entire pint of nitroglycerine inside the dog, and when the tail caught fire, it lit a fuse, and the explosive blew up in the woman’s face. The man then arrived and retrieved a piece of her as a souvenir.

Why should anyone believe this entirely absurd story? Well, maybe you shouldn't. But for those of you who assume that the paper simply printed lies, they actually offered a separate section of the edition titled “lies of the day.” “It is not true that the Chinese Embassy, per City of Tokyo, have been tendered a public reception by the Workingmen’s party,” says this section. “That William Ward will counsel his English friends next time he takes them to a theater. That Mr. F— left his chamber door unlocked at the Palace last Tuesday night.” 

You may think we’ve developed complex levels of sarcasm and irony in the 21st century, but we’ve got nothing on the 1870s. 

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Top image: James Heilman, MD

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