Academic journal article Journalism History

Letters to the Editor: Two Hundred Years in the Life of an American Town

Academic journal article Journalism History

Letters to the Editor: Two Hundred Years in the Life of an American Town

Article excerpt

Stropnicky, Gerard, Tom Byrn, James Goode, and Jerry Matheny, eds. Levers to the Editor: Two Hundred Years in the Life of an American Town. New York City: Touchstone, 1998. 263 pp. $14.

For a book without a main character or plot, Letters to the Editor: Two Hundred Years in the Life of an American Town, tells a good story.

As the title implies, letters from a 200-year period were used to narrate the continuing drama of one area in Pennsylvania. The letters are shocking, funny, heart wrenching, and infuriating, much like a good letters to the editor section should be today. One poignant example is a letter about an apprentice who had run away. The master offers a reward of six cents for his return. In another example, a horrifying, long poem from 1917 extols war as "God's house-cleaning."

Some aspects of human life never change. The letters home from soldiers during the Mexican, Civil, and Indian wars through the Persian Gulf War are moving because of their similarity. One series of letters recounts the adventures of Christian Rice as he travels to the Philippines to fight in 1899. The letters are so gripping that it is a shock to read the final letter, from a U.S. Army hospital ship, telling Christian's parents that he has died en route to home.

Enduring complaints address local schools and the current president, whether it is George Washington or Bill Clinton or any in between. But other topics are equally timely, such as letters in the 1990s referring to shaken baby syndrome. …

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