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Apr 9 33 tweets 9 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Feeling very pleased with myself just now for managing to track down this November 1933 Liverpool Post story sourcing my favourite-ever newspaper correction. Often quoted but almost never attributed, it seems the original correction ran in a paper called the Schuzler Predicator. Image
Burne-Jones' dates are 1833-1898, so we can deduce that Rev. Wellman must have died in 1894 at the very latest. The correction he prompted has been regularly quoted by journalists ever since, but the story here is the only one I've ever seen which names the guilty publication. Image
Going back to check Horner's 1933 book itself, I found the story comes from a May 23, 1898 letter she received from Burne-Jones, which she quotes at some length. Here's the relevant section: Image
This tells us the original correction had already appeared by May 1898. Burne-Jones' wording suggests his "American paper" was already reporting it second-hand, inviting its readers to have a good old laugh at the SP's expense.
Wait a minute, though - what was the name of that paper's home town again? Burne-Jones gives it as "Schuyler" - not the Liverpool Post's misprinted "Schuzler", so that's one problem we're cleared up already.
I've found five places called Schuyler in the US, the largest two being Colfax's county seat in Nebraska and a county in New York State. The other three are too small to have ever supported their own newspaper, I think. turns up four newspapers with "Schuyler"* in their name, all based in Nebraska: the County Republican, the Herald, the Messenger, and the Sun. No sign of a "Schuyler Predicator", though.

* Pronounced "Sky-her".
Let's see if we can put a timeframe on the clipping. Portable kerosene lamps - and it's only a portable one you could hurl downstairs - weren't invented till the 1850s. That gives us a manageable span of years to work within. I went with 1850-1900.
That allowed for a more productive rootle round, where the search term "Wellman + kerosene" gave me this story from The Selma Times of November 29, 1885: Image
Here the offending newspaper's name is given as "Schuyler Vindicator" rather than "Schuyler Predicator" as Burne-Jones has it. That's the sort of memory mishap we all have from time to time, so let's adjust the search for his error and try again.
Bingo! Getting the paper's name right immediately produced 37 different instances of stories with exactly the Selma Times' wording. Papers from 13 different US states all ran it, with the heaviest concentration appearing in November & December 1885.
The earliest instance listed is from November 8, 1885's Brooklyn Daily Eagle (shown below). A few months later, it had crossed the Atlantic, where the Lancashire Chronicle carried it on January 23, 1886. Image
The identical wording of all these pars - including the headline - means every paper must have taken it from a common source. The fact that so many ran it in November & December 1885 suggests the original correction was then pretty recent.
My first thought was it might be wire copy - a story distributed by a news agency for use in all its client papers. Maybe that name "Burdette" topping the Selma Times clipping was the name of the agency involved?
That thought led me to find Wikipedia's page on Robert Jones Burdette (1844-1914), a leading newspaper columnist of his day. "He joined the staff of the Burlington Hawkeye in 1872, and his humorous paragraphs soon began to be quoted in newspapers throughout the country, ' it says Image
"In 1884, he left the Hawkeye to replace Stanley Huntley as the staff humorist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle," Wikipedia continues. That paper's 1885 clipping above appears as part of long column of short, jokey items under Burdette's name.
It's only natural Burdette would have wanted the tale of the Schuyler Vindicator's embarrassing correction to appear in his own paper first. My guess is he was the first to tell it in print & that everyone else either bought it as syndicated copy or simply stole it from the BDE.
So, what have we learned? Wellman seems to have been a Nebraska man who died around 1881, only to find himself traduced by his local newspaper, the Schuyler Vindicator. Four years later, Burdette seized on that paper's recent mortifying correction & ended up making it world news
The really remarkable thing is that the story's been in more or less constant circulation ever since - 140 years & counting. The correction's quoted with surprising accuracy every time the story's told, which is a measure of how firmly it's now embedded in journalistic folklore.
Here's just one example from a July 2022 blog post. (The Geoffrey Madan book he sources here was published in 1985.)…
Finally, can anyone explain Burne-Jones' President Garfield anecdote to me? Why a melon patch?Why a bull-dog? What's he on about?
I've not been daft enough to limit any of my searches so far to Nebraska alone. As the only state I've found with Schuyler-titled papers though, it's looked the most likely prospect. But there are two other states we should consider: New York and Kansas
This February 17, 1886 item from Britain's Staffordshire Sentinel clearly attributes the Wellman correction to "a New York paper". Or is it referring only to the paper it pinched Burdette's paragraph from? It could be either, but ... Image
... New York State does have a Schuyler county, so lets look at that possibility a bit closer. The NYC Public Library has no mention of a Schuyler Vindicator in its searchable database, but does include a paper called the Schuyler County Courier. Unfortunately ...
...its only copies of that title are all 20th century ones. I've searched these, but found no mention of anyone who could be our Reverend Wellman. My next stop was and its friends at ...
That's where I found these cemetery records for a man called James KP Wellman, who was buried in NY State in 1879. That's a bit early for the 1881 death date Burdette's piece implies, but not outrageously so. Trouble is ... Image
... the same bloke's census records show he had a wife. Our guy "died unmarried" as we know, so that eliminates KP as a candidate.

I've seen one recycling of Burdette's par which attributes it to a Kansas paper, so let's have a think about that instead.
Searching for titles with Vindicator in their name, I did find quite a lot in Kansas. Maybe there was a state-wide group if papers there, all prefacing the Vindicator title with whichever community they happened to serve? ImageImage
Set against this, there's the fact that Kansas doesn't seem to have a place called Schuyler. The politician Philip Church Schuyler (1805-1872) had strong links with the state and founded the town of Burlingame there - but that's the best I can do. Image
I found a few other James Wellmans & James P Wellman's in 19th century US records (none in Kansas), but only two who died unmarried. Unfortunately, one of these was only three years old when he met his maker, and the other just 17. You'd be hard-pressed ... ImageImage
... to qualify as a reverend by either of those ages, so I think we can rule these two out as well.

One final footnote, then I really must stop ...
Speaking to a group of US newspaper editors in April 1988, President Reagan recited the Wellman correction. His phrasing, transcribed in that week's Compilation of Presidential Documents, suggests he had no idea which paper it came from either: Image

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