chapter  1
14 Pages

The Wicked World: The National Police Gazette and Gilded-Age America

WithElliott J. Gorn

Sensational news reports of crime and corruption, warned Anthony Comstock, were destroying America's youth: "They make a pure mind almost impossible. They open the way for the grossest evils. Foul thoughts are the precursors of foul actions". In the postbellum period, George Matsell, former New York City chief of police, took over the paper and began sensationalizing the coverage of crime, but despite his efforts circulation dwindled, and as the century entered its last quarter the Gazette teetered on extinction. If violence and sports were two pillars of the Gazette world, the third was sex. Undoubtedly the most popular and influential of these salacious publications--and certainly one uppermost in Comstock's mind, one that he took to court on several occasions--was the National Police Gazette. If Comstock's Victorianism was a survival of an earlier era of entrepreneurial capitalism, Fox represented the new age of consumption. Historians ignore the National Police Gazette at their peril.