A peek into the past

HONOLULU — “It is good to know much, but better to make good use of what we know,” states The Pacific Commercial Advertiser on the front page of its first issue, July 2, 1856.

The University of Hawaii Library announced a new addition to the open-access archive of 19th and early 20th century English language newspapers published in Hawaii, offering a glimpse into the lives of Hawaii residents more than a century ago.

The Pacific Commercial Advertiser is the latest newspaper to be covered by the “Hawaii Digital Newspaper Project,” which has digitized more than 200,000 English-language newspaper pages.

The newspaper started in 1856 as a bilingual weekly publication with a Hawaiian section, Ka Hoku Loa O Hawaii, or The Morning Star of Hawaii, that ran for five years.

“Thank Heaven, the day at length has dawned when the Hawaiian Nation can boast a free press, untrammelled by government patronage or party pledges, unbiased by ministerial frowns or favors — a press whose aim shall be the advancement of the nation in its commercial, political and social condition,” The Pacific Commercial Advertiser wrote on its first issue.

Business cards on the front page of the newspaper’s first edition reveal a few names that are still familiar in Hawaii to this day, including Castle & Cooke, C. Brewer, M. C. Monsarrat and C. H. Lewers.

One of the gems of The Pacific Commercial Advertiser’s first front page was a section titled “Variety.” It displayed an entire column full of witty short stories such as:

• A man down East snores so loud that he has to sleep in the next street, to prevent waking himself up.

• “Beware!” said the potter to the clay, and it became ware.

• He who goes to bed in anger, has the devil for his bedfellow. A wag desires us to say that he knows a married man, who, though he goes to bed meek as a lamb, is in the same predicament.

• Astronomers say that if a cannon-ball were fired from Earth to Saturn, it would be 180 years getting there. In that case, Professor John Phoenix thinks that people of Saturn would have ample time to dodge the shot.

• Little acts of kindness, gentle words, loving smiles, they strew the path of life with flowers, they make the sun shine brighter and the green earth greener; and He who bade us with “love one another” looks with favor upon the gentle and kind-hearted, and he pronounced the meek blessed.

• Never marry a man until you have seen him eat. Let the candidate for your hand pass through the ordeal of eating soft boiled eggs. If he can do it and leave the table spread, the napkin, and his shirt unspotted — take him. Try him next with a spare-rib. If he accomplishes this feat without putting out one of his own eyes, or pitching the bones into your lap, name the wedding-day at once; he will do to tie to.

In 1882, The Pacific Commercial Advertiser became a daily, and in 1921, it merged with the Honolulu Advertiser.

From 1884, the “Local Brevities” column chronicled the comings and goings, life events, deaths and even musings of people living in Hawaii.

There are notices about locals’ health and tidings, want ads and sales, as well as names and activities of guests who had arrived in town. The notices are quite detailed — dates, places, times — and occasionally contain little jokes and bon mots. People with long-established roots in Hawaii may even discover a relative.

Visit chroniclingamerica.loc.gov to access this and other newspapers.

Visit guides.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/chroniclingamerica for a guide to Chronicling America.

Visit hdnp.hawaii.edu to access the Hawaii Digital Newspaper Project.


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