Academic journal article Journalism History

Frolicking Bears, Wet Vultures, and Other Oddities: A New York City Journalist in Nineteenth-Century Florida

Academic journal article Journalism History

Frolicking Bears, Wet Vultures, and Other Oddities: A New York City Journalist in Nineteenth-Century Florida

Article excerpt

Milanich, Jerald T. Frolicking Bears, Wet Vultures, and Other Oddities: A New York City Journalist in Nineteenth-Century Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. 285 pp. $24.95

Amos Jay Cummings, the author of the twenty pieces collected in this volume, roamed the nation and the newspaper world of the late nineteenth century. His name and reputation faded with his passing until a Florida archeologist was sent a copy of a clipping of one of his stories. The topic was Turtle Mound, a monster collection of shells that takes on near mountain status in the Florida flatness, written by Cummings for the New York Weekly Sun in 1873. The mound is still south of New Smyrna Beach.

Jerald Milanich, a staff member at the Florida Museum of Natural History and author of several books on Florida's native American culture, was hooked. The author of the piece was not named, and Milanch was intrigued enough to track him down and resurrect this portion of Cummings' journalistic output.

Fifteen scrapbooks of clippings from his career surfaced in the New York Public Library. "Surfaced" is not precisely the right word because Milanich did some tortuous sleuthing before he learned of the scrapbooks and began to shape a picture of Cummings' life. His "Introduction" is an engaging essay on how he found the collection and pieced together a biographical outline.

Cummings was a journeyman journalist. A native of New York state, he was a Union veteran who was bothered by war wounds throughout his life, traveled widely, and served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. His journalistic beginnings were at a number of publications, secular and religious, as a printer, a writer, or an editor. Mustered out of the service after he was wounded, he was hired as a night editor at the New York Tribune, editing articles for re-publication in the Weekly Tribune. Later he left the Tribune to become managing editor at the New York Sun; a surviving quotation has it that he left "because they say I swear too much. …

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