Headlines of events that never happened offer a fascinating focus in the world of newspaper collecting. Unlike radio or television broadcasts where errors can be corrected in minutes, and without any “physical evidence” of the mistake, once ink is on the paper it cannot be retracted.
Certainly the most notable and desirable would be the famous Chicago Tribune mistake of November 3, 1948 which proclaimed in its early edition: “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” with issues in nice condition now extending well beyond the $1000 mark. Even in a later edition they continued the error but softening the headline by proclaiming: “G.O.P. WINS WHITE HOUSE!“, which I believe to be more rare than the more famous earlier edition.
One error newspaper which recently surfaced from our inventory comes with an interesting story, growing from the hysteria created by the surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor by Japan, which helped to usher in the U.S. involvement in World War II.
The Los Angeles Examiner “War Extra” of Feb. 25, 1942 proclaimed in large letters across its front page: “AIR BATTLE RAGES OVER LOS ANGELES“. Puzzled by the headline, as I wasn’t aware of any WWII battles reaching the shores of the United States, I did a bit of investigating.
The short answer is there was no air battle over Los Angeles. Just some hysteria run amuck. During the night of February 24/25, 1942, unidentified objects caused a succession of alerts in southern California. On the 24th, a warning issued by naval intelligence indicated that an attack could be expected within the next ten hours. Probably much of the confusion came from the fact that anti-aircraft shell bursts, caught by the searchlights, were themselves mistaken for enemy planes. In any case, the next three hours produced some of the most imaginative reporting of the war: “swarms” of planes (or, sometimes, balloons) of all possible sizes, numbering from one to several hundred, traveling at altitudes which ranged from a few thousand feet to more than 20,000 and flying at speeds which were said to have varied from “very slow” to over 200 miles per hour, were observed to parade across the skies. These mysterious forces dropped no bombs and, despite the fact that 1,440 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition were directed against them, suffered no losses. There were reports that four enemy planes had been shot down, and one was supposed to have landed in flames at a Hollywood intersection. Residents in a forty mile arc along the coast watched from hills or rooftops as the play of guns and searchlights provided the first real drama of the war for citizens of the mainland. The dawn, which ended the shooting and the fantasy, also proved that the only damage which resulted to the city was such as had been caused by the excitement (there was at least one death from heart failure), by traffic accidents in the blacked-out streets, or by shell fragments from the artillery barrage. Go here to read the full text of this fascinating “battle” as provided by the “Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco”.
Do you have any interesting error headlines in your collection? Feel free to share with others.
*Note: This post was originally posted on 11/11/2008.
Premature reports which have proven to be untrue are all too common in newspapers of all eras. The famous “Dewey Defeats Truman“ headline of the “Chicago Tribune” of 1948 is perhaps the most well known. Here is one which I’ve not seen before as reported in the “Prescott Journal Miner” of Arizona, April 3, 1932. It was just over a month later that the Lindbergh baby was found dead. Please share other false reports with the collectible community.