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Tom Chaney: Hard Pressed: Typos and Weather

Of Writers and their Books, Hard Pressed: Typos and Weather is a review of The New Farmer's Almanac with comments on errors in newspapers. This review first appeared 27 November 2005
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Tom Chaney: Ghost Writers in the Sky

By Tom Chaney

Hard Pressed: Typos and Weather

Harry Hansbrough, storied founder of The Hart County Herald, predecessor of this hyphenated weekly, The Hart County News-Herald, had a standard response to those who found errors in the Herald. "Oh, we just put those in to see if anybody is reading the paper."

Over the years some real bloopers have found their way into print. One of my favorites had to do with a large headline on the front page after the annual Horse Cave fair around mid-century which featured a fine horse show. Banner type proclaimed
"Hore Show Great Success!"
We all knew that a letter had been omitted, the argument raged over just what letter. Robert Whittaker, producer of the show for the Chamber of Commerce, heard of that headline from as far afield as California.

A mistake is one thing, but a deliberate insertion of an error to see who is reading -- especially when Mother Nature is involved -- is yet another.

In the last Sunday edition of the News-Herald, the weather forecast for Saturday, November 26, predicted a high temperature of 99 degrees with a low of 82 -- as unlikely as snow in July.

Yes, we are reading the paper, Ms Wilson, but we are leery.

The New Farmer's Almanac is almost as old as the Republic, being first issued whilst George Washington was yet alive.

In the waning days of 1815 the 1816 almanac was being set up in type in Boston. The editor had left the premises to celebrate with some 'Oh, Be Joyful' in a nearby tavern, thankful to have one more issue behind him.

A couple of hours into his cups, the editor was startled to see his printer enter the tavern in frantic search of his boss. Too content with the world to risk standing, he eyed the printer to see what he wanted.

"Mr. Editor," he said, "You have no weather forecast for the fourth of July."

Free of all worldly care, he replied with editorial profundity, "It will snow on July the fourth."

And so the prediction entered into type.

And it came to pass that snow did arrive on July 4, 1816, in the precincts of Boston. And The New Farmer's Almanac edged into profitability on the strength of that forecast.

Now there have been some skeptical, pseudoscientific folks about who would search far afield from that Boston tavern for the cause of "The Year with No Summer," as 1816 is often called.

They would tell us that since 1812 the weather had been noticeably chillier than in previous years. They would point out that a series of volcanic eruptions in the Pacific, especially that of the volcano Tamboro in Indonesia; that "the volcano's heavy ash, column of dust, and sulfurous gases rose into the stratosphere, and swift winds spread them around the globe. The hazy shroud caused the sun to appear dull and reddish over the next few years," causing drastic drops in temperatures across North America and Europe and snow on July 4, 1816, in New England.

However, I suspect staunch Yankee farmers knew nothing of any Tamboro or even Indonesia. They looked closer to home -- at the bar in that Boston tavern, and at the editor well into his cups.

The entire year was unusually cold. Crops failed. Hay was scarce. Corn which sold for from $.75 to $1.12 per bushel in May brought from $3.00 to as much as $5.00 by the end of the year. Prices for livestock plummeted as farmers sold off the cattle they could not feed.

But the fortune of The New Farmer's Almanac was secure. Evidently the editor knew what he was talking about. Did not his prediction come to pass?

The almanac is still with us. It even survived a crisis during World War II when German spies were arrested near the east coast -- each in possession of a copy of The New Farmer's Almanac.

Yes, Ms Wilson, we read the paper.

We are not opposed to little traps about "Hore Shows" and "smoke bellowing" from the kitchen of a local restaurant as a primitive fire alarm.

But be careful of dabbling with the weather. 'Taint nice to mess with Mother Nature. Your forecast may come true. Then where will the blame fall? Let the messenger bearing bad news beware.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-11-25 04:41:24
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