The New York Times: Halley’s Comet 1910


            An interesting way to see how Halley’s Comet affected the general public is to go back to the 1909, 1910 and 1911 editions of The New York Times.  The earliest serious report was printed on August 25, 1909, approximately eight months prior to perihelion (April 20, 1910).  The column headline read: “Worldwide observatories scan skies for first sighting of Halley’s Comet.”  On September 13 we read: “Comet reportedly sighted at Heidelberg.”  Five separate stories appeared throughout September, 1909.  On four dates in October and four again in November, sightings by observatories were noted, with a full article and illustration in the Sunday edition on December 5.  On 11 dates in January, 1910, the newspaper reported sightings throughout the world and published comet-inspired editorials on January 25 and 29.  Fear began to mount during February, 1910, with three reports about poison cyanogen fallout, and an editorial on this subject on February 11.


          An April 9 report stated: “Halley’s Comet seen by several observatories; not yet visible to naked eye.  The comet reached perihelion on April 20 (a Wednesday) and the story was headlined: “Observatories report comet closer; is visible to naked eye in Curacao.”  On April 23 this item appeared: “Women and foreigners attribute darkness over Chicago to comet; some become hysterical.”  On the same day, a letter to the editor calls attention to the parallel between Mark Twain’s life span and the appearances of Halley’s Comet (Twain died on April 21, the day after perihelion).  On April 24 an item noted that the appearance of the comet increased the demand for telescopes in New York City.  The latter days of April saw increasing reports.  Every issue during May except the 2nd and 4th carried a story on Halley’s Comet.  It was reported on May 1 that the demand for telescopes to view the comet almost exhausted the supply in New York City.  In a speech reported in the May 5th edition, Prof. H. Jacoby said that the Earth was in no danger of collision with the comet.  It was at this time that the New York Times designated a special reporter for the ongoing story.  Miss M. Proctor was to deliver many stories and articles over the next several weeks during the height of the New York viewing of the comet.


          On May 9 we read that “Bermuda observers report comet acting strangely following King Edward’s death.”  Beginning with the Saturday edition of May 14 and continuing on through the Sunday edition of May 22, the comet was given top billing in the Times.  This was the period when the comet was at the height of its brilliance and activity and the coverage clearly reflected this.  Here are some of the headlines during this week:










     After the Sunday edition on May 22, 1910, the articles and stories became fewer and shorter.  On May 24 it was reported that President W. H. Taft viewed the comet at the U.S. Naval Observatory.  On May 29 we read that Pope Pius X says the comet does not seem to justify the commotion it has caused.  The M. Proctor reports continue through the end of May and she authors a feature article in the Sunday edition of July 3, 1910 entitled, “What Recent Visit of Halley’s Comet Showed,” replete with a sketch and several photos.


     As one read the headlines and the articles in The New York Times, or any newspaper in the country, for that matter, a feeling of excitement builds, especially during May, 1910.  It will be interesting to see how the media will cover the 1985-86 return of Halley’s Comet, for now we have radio and television.  If the next return of Halley’s Comet generates the same enthusiasm, we can expect the bulk of the material to be produced from November, 1985 through April, 1986.

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