You're Wrong About

The Newsboys' Strike of 1899 (Part 2)

November 30, 2020
You're Wrong About
The Newsboys' Strike of 1899 (Part 2)
You're Wrong About
The Newsboys' Strike of 1899 (Part 2)
Nov 30, 2020

Sarah tells Mike about the thrilling conclusion to a children’s labor action and an overlooked Disney musical. Digressions include cronuts, carrier pigeons and Sylvester Graham’s crackers.  Both hosts agree that they love saying the word "papes."

Most of the information in this episode comes from Sarah's two new favorite books, Vincent DiGirolamo’s “Crying the News” and David Nasaw’s “Children of the City.” And here's the link to the newsboy footage we watched:

Support us:
Subscribe on Patreon
Donate on Paypal
Buy cute merch

Where else to find us:
Sarah's other show, Why Are Dads
Mike's other show, Maintenance Phase

Support the show (

Show Notes Transcript

Sarah tells Mike about the thrilling conclusion to a children’s labor action and an overlooked Disney musical. Digressions include cronuts, carrier pigeons and Sylvester Graham’s crackers.  Both hosts agree that they love saying the word "papes."

Most of the information in this episode comes from Sarah's two new favorite books, Vincent DiGirolamo’s “Crying the News” and David Nasaw’s “Children of the City.” And here's the link to the newsboy footage we watched:

Support us:
Subscribe on Patreon
Donate on Paypal
Buy cute merch

Where else to find us:
Sarah's other show, Why Are Dads
Mike's other show, Maintenance Phase

Support the show (

Sarah: You're giving me a Princess Diana; I gave you the kid from one of the Robocop movies.

Mike: Welcome to You’re Wrong About, the podcast that tips over the delivery truck of history and sees what comes out the back. 

Sarah: Oh, I love that. I'm Sarah Marshall, I'm working on a book about the Satanic Panic. 

Mike: I’m Michael Hobbes, I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post. And if you want to support the show, we are on Patreon at And you can also find cute t-shirts and other ways to support us, or you can just keep tuning in for our thrilling conclusion. 

Sarah: We are talking about Disney today. 

Mike: So, where are we? 

Sarah: I'm going to ask you that question because it is your job to learn about The Newsies. And I'm curious about what you find to be salient about what we talked about last time? 

Mike: I think the Newsies pronounce it, “What did I loin?”  Last week we met the newsboys who stand on street corners selling the newspapers. This is how the newspapers reach the mass public. And just after we met our newsboys, we learned that Pulitzer and Hearst increased the price of the papes for them to sell. And all of a sudden, they sort of came out of the Spanish American war and were like, wait a minute. Nobody's buying the papers as much because the war is over, and we just gave up 10% of our profits. And this sucks. So let's go on strike.

Sarah: Yeah. And we are talking about a real-life strike and we were also talking about a Disney film, that is very important to me and many other people, but is not apparently to the Disney Company.

One of the images that came into my head as I was researching this, because one of the words that comes up a lot in the story is ‘circulation’. Just imagine, think of New York City and the information flowing around New York City in 1899. And then think of the newsboys striking, and it's like the flow of blood around this body has been disrupted. I imagine it's like putting a tourniquet on like all four limbs. 

Mike: And instead of numbness, you have ignorance of world events. 

Sarah: Now, even though there's like more blood in this body than ever before, but I didn't know that image came into my head and it means a lot to me and trying to understand what the strike was and why it was so effective, that like these child workers accurately recognize themselves as like absolutely essential to the welfare of society.

Mike: Right. It's not like they were selling donuts on the street and everyone just had to switch to cupcakes for a week. Like this was really the lifeblood of a democracy. 

Sarah: Yeah. I just think that there is tremendous power in recognizing the essential nature of your labor. 

Mike: You need to know your with. I’m sorry, I'll stop now. I'll stop now. I'm sorry. That's the last one. I promise. 

Sarah: You can keep doing it, just don't ruin all of my poignant moments. 

Mike: You used to be charging $0.50 cents for a hundred poignant moments, and now it's $0.60 cents for a hundred poignant moments. 

Sarah: Yeah. So speaking of that pricing increase, I have a nice quote I want to review. This is from the new Irving Hall mass meeting rally that happens midway through the strike. At this point, the strike has grown very rapidly from an initial action in Long Island City, where some Newsboys toppled a distributor's card. And then turned the following day into a meeting of the Newsboys and lower Manhattan where they agreed to announce to Hearst and Pulitzer that if the price wasn't rolled back to its original price of $0.50 cents for a hundred papers instead of $0.60, then they were going to go on strike and the newspapers didn't take them seriously and so they did. And in a very short time were able to do exactly what they said they would.

So this is from Nasaw’s book, Children of the City, “For the boys and for the public who read about their strike, the highlight of the two weeks was the mass meeting held at New Irving Hall on Broome Street. Some 5,000 boys from all over the city showed up to shout their support. Early in the evening the Chairman, conscious of the effect favorable reports might have on building public support, asked the reporters present to please refrain from quoting the speakers as saying “these”, “those”, and “you’s”.  Kid Blink, a strike organizer, urged the boys to stick like glue and a moment later, like plaster. Ain't that 10 cents worth as much to us as it is to Hearst and Pulitzer who are millionaires? Well, I guess it is. If they can't spare it, how can we. I'm trying to figure out how 10 cents on a hundred papers can mean more to a millionaire than it does to Newsboys, and I can't see it.”

What do you think about that? 

Mike: I actually find this, I don't want to say emotional, but I would say resonant of reaching back to really the same anger that these 16-year-olds had in 1899 is really, I mean, word for word, the same anger as we have.

Sarah: Yes. ”I’m trying to figure out how 10 cents on a hundred papers can mean more to a millionaire than it does to Newsboys, and I can't see it.”  To me it's important to just like, let the voice of Kid Blink speak today. So we're going to take a little ride by pigeon sort of like Feivel at an American Tale. We're going back in time, back to the beginning of Newsboys. I just need to talk about carrier pigeons for a second. Okay. So we're going to talk about Daniel H. Craig, who is the pigeon innovator.

Mike: And the best James Bond. 

Sarah: As a young man, Craig apprentice in a newspaper office rather than go to work as a reporter for any paper. However, he saw that there was value in news as a commodity. He could collect news from other sources and sell it to those who bought and sold stocks and bonds, and who needed to anticipate how events might affect the markets. And the late 1830s he went to Baltimore, Maryland, where he became associated with Aaron S. Ebell the founder of the Baltimore Sun. Together. They experimented with using carrier pigeons to carry the news from Washington to Baltimore. Craig later took this technique north to sell news from Europe to Boston newspapers. The Cunard Line speedy shift's soft first in Canada, before sailing to Boston. The next day, when the steamers left for Boston, Daniel Craig would be on board carrying a basket of birds. 

During the two-day trip he read all the European newspapers on board and printed the most important news on tiny pieces of tissue paper. He attached these reports to the legs of the carrier pigeons. When the Massachusetts coast came into view, he released his birds. They carried the news to Boston hours before the shift reached the city. When the birds returned home, Craig's wife, Helena - who we can picture looking like Helena Bonham Carter, why not - would distribute the news to their clients among the Boston papers and telegraph it to Wall Street brokers and New York papers, such as Gordon Bennet's Herald. The intensely competitive Bennett paid Craig a $500 bonus for every hour that he received European news ahead of the other New York newspapers. 

When the other papers complained to the Cunard Line about Craig's unfair advantage, one ship captain seizes Craig's basket of pigeons. Anticipating such trouble, Craig had hidden one of the birds in his pocket. ‘I went on the deck and flew the bird close to the captain's head’,

Craig later recalled, ‘He darted into his state room and caught his rifle. But before he got a chance to shoot the bird was a mile above him, flying straight to his home in Boston, a hundred miles away.”

Mike: Pigeons are lit. I didn't know, pigeons could go a hundred miles. 

Sarah: Pigeons are fascinating. And basically, from what I understand, they're trained to return to the same place. You know, you don't tell them to go somewhere. You just take them to any location, and they can find their way home. 

Mike: It's like a little homing beacon.

Sarah: Pigeons carrying the news is wonderful to me. And also the idea that this was such a cutthroat industry and people were so desperate to get an edge over each other. And it was so important to get information from Europe, you know, an hour or two faster than the other guy. And that people had such an appetite and such need to know as soon as possible. I guess it's the original Twitter. 

Mike: Literally. It was the “meep, meep”, Twitter of actual birds.

Sarah: I guess they go “coo coo”. It was “coo”. I think that humans are fascinating to study if you try to take the perspective of like, what about the things we do reveals what is important to us? And this is one of them.

Mike: I think somebody should write a short story about using pigeons in war and call it “Military Coo”.  So how do the Newsboys come out of this news industry with the pigeons and everything? 

Sarah: So the steam press is invented in the 1830s, and that's what makes it possible to produce newspapers on the scale that we associate with them today, like loaves of bread. Before that they have much lower circulations, they're more expensive to make, they're more expensive to buy. And the newspaper basically changes from something more like a magazine, like an issue of Vogue or something, into an object with greater freedom of movement. It's worthless monetarily, it appeals to more people. We're also seeing over time more newspapers, so you have all this choice as a consumer. According to DiGirolamo, we know the names of the first real Newsboys who were working without a wheelbarrow system. Because that's basically home delivery. They were hired in 1833 and some of their names are Bill Lovell, who is nine; Bernard Flaherty, who is 10; Henry Louis Gassert, who's 11. 

Mike: Those are young kids, dude! Nine to eleven?  

Sarah: Yes, young kids. And they respond to an ad that says, “To the unemployed, a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper. A liberal discount is allowed to those who buy and sell again.”

Mike: They probably had a very good sense of the kinds of stories that sold, too. I mean, that seems like the kind of instinct that you would hone through years of sort of looking at one of those miserable front pages that we looked at last week and saying like, “Oh, this is the one that I'm going to cry out on the street.” 

Sarah: Newspapers that they knew what they were doing would listen to what Newsies said. And there was, I forget what paper this happened to but DiGirolamo talks about the fact that there was a paper that was running poetry, and at some point one or some of the newsboys were like, “He’s gotta stop because nobody buys poetry.” And they did. 13 boys, man.

Mike: Thirteen boys, man. Yeah. 

Sarah: We talked a little bit last time about the kind of the constant verge of moral panic, feeling that a lot of the child welfare societies and advocates had toward Newsies and the 19th century. But also the idea that they had a troubling amount of agency because they like could earn profits and they could buy stuff that they wanted to. 

Mike: Right. They could get their own cronuts. 

Sarah: Yeah. Well actually, I have a quote for that. Are you ready> You just prompted me? This is great. Yeah. So this is about what kind of food are Newsboys eating in the mid to late 19 century, and how are people feeling about it. “Each city had its specialties. Newsboys in Philadelphia were notably fond of clam soup, cheesecake, and mint sticks. Some skeptics felt that cravings for dainties, not real hunger, caused Newsboys to eat rather than save their earnings.” 

Mike: Oh my God. 

Sarah: Like, fuck off you guys. 

Mike: It’s an early glimpse of all of the moralizing around food that we would all become obsessed with about a hundred years later. 

Sarah: Yeah, exactly. Well, here, I'll read you a little more. “Newspapers themselves offered dining options. The Tribune's basement was home to two eateries. The first, Butter Cake Dicks, was famous not only for its cakes and coffee, but also for its easy credit. The proprietor, Dick Marshall, had a soft heart for busted boys, but little patience for rowdies. The menu included cold pork and beans, cold ham, boiled eggs, rice pudding, and Connecticut pies, most famously pumpkin. Marshall refused on principle to stock graham crackers, which were invented by anti-masturbation campaigner Sylvester Graham, who condemned ‘exciting’ foods such as sweets, meats and coffee.”

That exciting is in quotes because the concept is that it literally excites your body. And Sylvester Graham would tell us that if we all ate bland foods that don't excite our bodies, then we can be celibate. And that's the goal, I guess. 

Mike: Isn't that the old quote about puritanism? That it's the fear that someone somewhere is having fun. 

Sarah: Yeah. I think puritanism was also about the freedom to execute people with impunity and stuff. But yeah, also that. 

We are going to do a little bit of art history now. So we're going to talk about two paintings that are featured and Crying the News, and both are mid-19th century renderings of the Newsboys. So the first one is Buffalo Newsboy, by Thomas Le Clear. 

Mike: Oh, look at this little kid. So it's a young man, he's wearing sort of a cowboy-ish hat, he's got a green jacket on and almost like ski boots. Like big, thick, heavy boots. He's sitting on a crate of some kind and he's eating an apple with his left hand. Little southpaw in front of us. And the painter is going out of his way to tell us that this is a newsboy. There's newspapers sort of on the wall behind him. There's a newspaper at his feet. It's just a boy with a lot of news, is basically what I’m seeing.

Sarah: I love that. A boy and his news. Yeah. And there's something about that that I find really resonant. And this feels like a really lovely, wholesome scene. 

Mike: Yeah. And also, he's eating an apple and not a cronut. So we've got all of our Puritan stuff about eating healthy in there, too. 

Sarah: Right. He's not eating an exciting food, so you know he's not going to be masturbating later. Okay. 

And this is a 1849 Newsboy, by Frederick R. Spencer. Look at this kid. Don't fuck with this kid, that kid ate a cronut for breakfast and he is not sorry.

Mike: So this kid looks more sort of rough and tumble than the other kid. He's looking direct to camera with a sort of like, “You looking at me?” type of vibe. He's like a stocky kid. He seems to be layering up quite well. Maybe he's in the Pacific Northwest. And again, we've got a bunch of newsprint on the wall behind him. It's a boy amidst the news. 

Sarah: This makes me think of what happens to telephone poles now. 

Mike: Yes, it's also so interesting how our relationship with paintings is filtered through our relationship with cameras. Because it looks like this kid is having a photo taken of him, sort of against his will, or he's about to yell at the photographer like, “Hey, what are you doing?” But that's impossible then because they didn't have cameras. 

Sarah: You couldn't paint a painting that fast; I’ll tell you that much. That’s a little bit of trivia from someone who's been to grad school. I feel as if these two images kind of depict the two sides of the newsboy coin that people in the adult world are kind of wrestling with throughout the 19th century. At the time that Newsboys were omnipresent, people could not stop complaining about how annoyingly loud they were and how you could not make your way through a city without hearing the deafening call of the newsboy. 

Mike: This is also before the invention of the only two things that make being in public bearable, earbuds and Sigur Ros. You couldn't drown out the din of the Newsboys in the way that you could now.

Sarah: Yeah. And then Newsboys also come to bear the associations that people have with what news media is to become. Because they basically are the messengers, and they get blamed for stuff. 

The theory I want to advance here is that any time the sort of adults, mass media, the very media being sold by Newsies, is trying to take this attitude of concern about a group in society. Then that suggests a basic fear that they are amassing too much power for two legitimate reasons. Because something that I also find fascinating about Newsboys is that they had political power kind of throughout the sanctuary proceeding the strike. Not a lot, and not in any kind of a centralized way, but like they matter, they were important to the economy that they were working in. And if they refuse to distribute a certain paper that backed a candidate during an election season, then that candidate would suffer. And if they decided to affect an election then they could.

Mike: Like Facebook, only if you were genocides. 

Sarah: So this is footage of actual Newsies taken in May 1899. 

Mike: I didn't even know they had cameras that early. Amazing. 

Sarah: Just barely. 

Mike: Oh, no sound though. 

Sarah: So it's a New York City street.

Sarah: There’s a horse drawn cart coming in. That's the newspaper cart.

Mike: And there's like, all these boys around it. 

Sarah: You see one has fell down.

Mike: He just biffed like Maggie Simpson. 

Sarah: That's The World. They're picking up their copies of The World. 

Mike: Wow. It's so disorganized.

Sarah: I know. It was like Fyre Fest. 

Mike: Yeah. They're like kind of pushing and shoving each other. 

Sarah: Yeah. Everyone wants to get in first. Yep. That's it. It's very funny to me to see footage of the 19th century.

Mike: Yeah, it all has that weird sped up, like Charlie Chaplin feel to it. Which of course is not how people moved back then.

Sarah: No, everyone just walked jerkily at the time. 

Mike: But like in my head, The World back then was in black and white and everybody just like walked at this weird joggy frame. 

Sarah: Right, right. Yeah. And in the fifties, everything was in really intense colors. And then in the seventies, things were grainy. So this is a song called, The Boys in the Bowery Pit. This is a song written for and about the extremely newsboy-dense audience for downtown entertainments in New York City in the late 19th century. Because Newsboys, I mean, in a way they're one of the first youth demographics and they're able to be catered to, because of how much power they have economically, relatively speaking.

There's a lot of media about Newsboys and the 19th century because Newsboys were consuming a lot of media and like to see stories about themselves. Like they read, they went to the theater. We didn't have the word teenager yet, but that's basically what they were, they're 16 or so and under, and they have money to spend. There as free as fishes, it sure beats washing dishes. Ain’t it a fine life. 

Mike: And their greatest risk to their mortality is masturbation due to cronuts. 

Sarah: Apparently. So here's the song, The Boys in the Bowery Pit, which was performed for the Newsies, and to read a claim by the Newsies, I think, because it was about them.

“I'm sitting in the Bowery it amongst the Gallus boys.” Gallus means like brazenly adventurous. “The Gallus boys are wide awake. They know what's coming now. For J.R. Scott is coming on and then there's such a row. Just at this time, a little boy climbs up upon his seat. And one behind who cannot see soon, knocks him off his feet.

A cry of “pass him round” then is echoed through the pit. And ground and lofty tumbling in no circumstance to it.”

Mike: Roses are red, Newsboys drink ale. This will soon be a musical, starring a young Christian Bale. 

Sarah: Ahhh! That was so good. Oh my God.

Mike: I think I fucked up some of the syllables. You get the idea. 

Sarah: Ok, Michelle. 

Mike: That's the cruelest thing you could possibly say to me about my rhymes. 

Sarah: No it’s not. Because you improvised poetry. It’s very hard to do. 

So this lovely poem/song brings us back to what I think of when I'm told about Newsies going to see nightly entertainment, which is the Newsies strike rally at New Irving Hall on Broome Street, which is also featured in the movie Newsies. Would you like to see it? 

Mike: God, I forgot that there was a movie based on all this stuff. I got lost in the history, Sarah, I'm sorry.

Sarah: I know. Isn't it great? I think we're selling ourselves short if we just think that it's wonderful enough that there's one movie all about newsboys. I think there should be a lot of movies about newsboys.

Mike: Yeah. It's funny. I was just thinking, man, somebody should make a movie about this. And then I remembered what we're doing here today. 

Sarah: So I'm going to show you a video called, Spot Conlon Moments x3. The description says, “sorry, it's kind of poor quality because the clips are from my phone, but there aren’t many videos of Spot Conlon moments.” So I'm giving you that authentic experience. I'm excited. I've chosen to be excited about it. So I'm going to send this to you.

Mike: I have no idea what I'm about to get into. 

Sarah: Thank you, Olivia. Thank you for uploading this video seven years ago. Spot Conlon, you might recall, was the leader of the Brooklyn contingent of the newsboys.

Mike: Yes. 

Sarah: Yeah. You haven't forgotten Spot Conlon.  

Mike: God, these fucking names. It's like Newsboys and Twitch streamers have the most strict naming conventions. This looks like shit. 

Sarah: It's going to be great. This is what the situation is, Disney. Stop hiding your light under a bushel. 

Mike: Okay, here we go. Three, two, one, go. 

*Audio plays*

“Well, we started the strike, but we can't do it alone. So we've been talking to other newsies all around the city. 

So they told, what did they tell you? 

They're waiting to see what Spot Conlon says. You're the key. That Spot Conlon is the most respected and famous newsie in all of New York, and probably everywhere else. And if Spot Conlon joins the strike, then we'll join it, and it will be unstoppable. So you gotta join us because, you gotta. 

You're right, Jack. I got brains, too, and more than just half of them. How do I know you punks won’t run the first time some goon comes at you at the corner?  How do I know you got what it takes to win?”

Mike: Poor Christian Bale. He had to do this weird accent and he didn't even get to do anything weird with his body.

Sarah: Maybe it's, I think it's good he didn't do that when he was a growing boy.

Mike: That's his dream. 

Sarah: Not since Good Fellas have a bunch of New York accents had this much chemistry with each other. 

Mike: Seriously. Also they've got Christian Bale like that little hankie. He looks like a golden retriever. Yeah. It has like a nice Teen Beat kind of feel. Everybody seems non-threatening. 

Sarah: It’s because they're wearing 1899 clothes.

Mike: That's true. 

Sarah: This movie is so good. 

Mike: And they keep saying “goon”.

Sarah: A scab. 

Mike: I cannot believe this is a fucking Disney movie and you’re saying the word “scabs” to me.

Sarah: The 90’s had some good stuff in there. Because seriously. Okay. So let's rewind. We've just had a journey Mike, you and I, because I showed you this video. Which is Spot Conlon moments, compiled by a Newsies fan and put on YouTube. And so what that means is that we open with the strike basically starting to get underway and the lower Manhattan Newsies venturing into Brooklyn to make a crucial alliance with Spot Conlon. And like, can you tell us what that scene feels like? Because I feel like the appeal of Newsies to me is very wrapped up in that scene individually. 

Mike: Well, it's hard to say because first of all, I couldn't hear a lot of the dialogue. Secondly, it wasn't totally clear to me what the context was. It seems like there were sort of different gangs, I guess, of Newsies. And he didn't want to join up with them because they're like different or whatever. 

Sarah: He sticks his neck out for no man. I think the feeling is just that like, if you're going to join a strike, you'd better be sure about it.

Mike: That actually makes sense because on some level, because each of the Newsboys is an independent contractor, they're kind of in competition with each other. That if somebody else on a different corner sells all of his papes, those are papes that I'm not selling. 

Sarah; I love how much you love to say ‘papes’, because I love to say ‘papes’. 

Mike: But yeah, it isn't an industry structured to breed solidarity, which means that the solidarity that they formed is even more impressive.

24:31 Sarah:  Yeah. So back to the actual Newsboys strike. So we have the initial action in Long Island City. We have the meeting downtown in City Hall Park on July 19, and the decision to strike if the price isn't rolled back to $0.50 per a hundred papers. And the quote they get back from the world is, “Go ahead and strike.” So they do. 

And this is when they decide to organize themselves the way that regular adult unions are organized. They send delegates to different neighborhoods. They do the kind of stuff that we see represented in Newsies, where they're paying attention to the politicking and setting up some kind of infrastructure for this movement, and also developing alliances with other cities. There's strikes in Massachusetts, there's strikes in New Jersey. And these boys have also had other strikes in the 1890s and before. Like this is a very strikey time. 

So in real life, the primary leader sort of figurehead apparently for the strike is not Christian Bale, it's Kid Blink, whose real name is Louis Baletti. And Kid Blink is a real character in Newsies, but he's a side guy who's just sort of mostly, you know, he's there. And a kid named Dave Simons, who I must presume our pal David from Newsies is based on. And they're both 18 years old. A lot of the other Newsies in leadership positions are in their mid-teens. The adult unions are paying attention. During the strike, the socialist labor party has a candidate for governor who says, “The capitalist class may well look to their defenses when five- and ten-year-old boys go out on strike against their infernal system.” So I feel like there's this, this feeling among adults watching this, that, you know, maybe these boys that we feared are also capable of creating the society that we've all been incapable of creating. We're not doing it. 

Mike: Good marketing. Little kids fighting back against the system. I mean, it's a good story.

Sarah: but yeah, a lot of people were on the side of the kids. And I do feel like more is possible when people are really hit over the head by the sort of moral clarity present in a struggle that is standing for other struggles that are maybe less advertisable. The fact that there's so much reporting on the newsboy strike in other newspapers at the time is also really interesting. Newsies also depicts accurately the fact that newspapers back off of this coverage after a time because the strike is starting to seem serious enough that it seems like it is threatening capital.

So on the 22nd, Hearst himself is spotted by the Newsies attempting to buy a paper in Herald Square, and basically, they chase him away. And then a bunch of Newsies also wait for Hearst in front of the Journal building. And when Hearst pulls up, they send out apparently one of the cuter Newsboys who says, “We're the strikers, Mr. Hearst. We want 100 papers for 50 cents. We get it from the other papers except The World.” And so he invites the Newsies up to come discuss it with him. And so Kid Blink, Dave, and a couple of other delegates come up and talk with him. So here's what Kid Blinks says about the meeting when he describes it to the other Newsies;

“He wanted to know what The World is going to do. I told him that we was dealing with The Journal now, and that if he cut, The World would cut quick enough. He says he had to talk it over with some other guys before he gives an answer. And I then asked him if he would arbitrate, like his paper says. He laughed and said he'd give us an answer Monday right here.

And so on Monday, The Journal and The World hire scabs and pay them $2 a day to sell newspapers. So that's their negotiation. Good job. 

Mike: That's their Empire Strike Back move. 

Sarah: It speaks to the idea that they're not taking these kids seriously. They're pretending to and hoping that's enough, and then deciding to crush them with scabs.

So following this, they have their Irving Hall rally, where they discuss what are they going to agree on that they will and won't do. Which includes Kid Blink telling everyone, “A fellow can't soak a lady.”

Mike: What does that mean? 

Sarah: Soaking means beating someone up. 

Mike: Oh yeah, don't do that. 

Sarah: And this is given after, according to one newspaper, an old lady has been selling newspapers and breaking the strike by doing so. And are harassed by Newsies that take off her blouse and skirt, and then hoist them atop the flagpole and wave them around.

Mike: That’s horrible, someone explain labor rights to her. 

Sarah: And at the Irving Hall event where he says, “Ain't that 10 cents worth as much to us as it is to Hearst and Pulitzer who are millionaires?” Kid Blink wins best speech, and he gets one of those flower horse shoes that they have at the racetrack, I guess. 

Mike: What? So it's like a Miss America situation. People are getting awards.

Sarah: At least Kid Blink is. Yeah. 

Mike: Funniest, best hair, most romantic. 

Sarah: The homecoming strike rally. Yeah. And in Newsies this scene as a real turning point because the sort of dramatic action for Christian Bale's character is that he escaped from the house of refuge. Which is a real place where “juvenile delinquents” were sent in New York City at the time and were basically you were given hard labor to do. Because selling newspapers is bad, and doing hard labor is good for children. 

Mike: Yes. Then as now.

Sarah; Yeah. But in real life the rally is this lovely occasion where obviously it's going on and there's a lot of controversy. And it's hard to decide the soaking women issue, perhaps for some I imagine, but in the movie, this is where the police come and do a big raid and arrest everybody and put the vice on the Newsboys and take Jack Kelly back to the house of refuge. 

Mike: But does this happen in real life? Are they raided in real life? 

Sarah: It does not happen in real life. And the fact about the Newsboys strike that I think the movie Newsies had the hardest time digesting, is that Hearst and Pulitzer attempted to and appeared to have been successful in their attempt to buy out Kid Blink and David Simons.

Mike: Oh, wait…so they paid off the strike organizers? 

Sarah: Yeah. So in real life, the rally goes great. There's 5,000 Newsboys there. The strike is apparently growing stronger. And Hearst and Pulitzer pay $300 and $600 to Kid Blink and David Simons to get them to call a truce and call them, get a ‘do over’, stop the strike.

And so on July 26, they go to talk to the other Newsies about it. And Kid Blink, according to the news sported a new suit of clothes complete with straw hat and russet shoes and unwisely flashed a roll of bills. The strike committee put the pair on trial for high treason and low bribery. Kid Blink eloquently maintained their innocence. Both escaped conviction but were removed from office. A mob of Newsboys chase Blink through the streets that night. He escaped only by getting himself arrested. 

Mike: Wow. That's a very sad ending to the story. 

Sarah: This is not the end yet. Don't worry. 

Mike: Okay. That's a very sad Act Three twist to the story. 

Sarah: And in the movie we got the scenario where like he’s Jack Kelly, he's escaped the house of refuge, the stakes are really high. His dream is to get to Santa Fe, which is also a theme in the life of real Newsboys, that they can reasonably save up a relatively small amount of money and head west for a job in farming or buy land eventually and set themselves up as farmers. Which a fair number of Newsboys did over time. So the dream of going west is very real. 

And so he allows himself to be bought off for like one second, and then he turns back around, and they do the banner together and they print the newsletter that's going to turn everything around. And everything's great and he doesn't get case down the street.

Mike: Right. That's the Disney version of this, where he flirts with temptation, but ultimately doesn't give in. 

Sarah: It is, yeah. And let me actually, I have a thing to say about Newsies and money. So in 1875, Louisa May Alcott went to see the Newsboys lodging house in New York City, and she wrote a letter to her nephews about it.

Mike: Wow. 

Sarah: Can you tell from the way I'm saying this, this is the most exciting piece of literature I could imagine coming across in my entire life? Louisa May Alcott, Newsboys.

Mike: All you need is a serial killer in there and you're set. 

Sarah: This tells us a little bit about the indoor cats of the Newsboys. The indoor/outdoor Newsboys were living at the time, because a lot of Newsboys didn't stay in the lodging houses. I mean really the majority did not, but it was an institution that was available for the latter half of the 19th century.

I'll start us with her noticing, “One little chap, only six. He was trotting around as busy as a bee, locking up his small shoes and ragged jacket as if they were great treasures. I asked about little Pete and the man told us his brother, only nine, supported him and took care of him entirely. And wouldn't let Pete be sent away to any home because he wished to have his family with him. How would it seem to be all alone in a big city with no mama to cuddle, you know, to grandpa's houses, to take you in not a penny, but what you earned and Donnie to take care of. Could you do it? Nine-year-old Patsy, does it capitally. Buys Pete’s clothes, pays for his bed and supper, and puts pennies in the savings bank. The savings bank was a great table, all full of slits, each one leading to a little place below and numbered outside, so each boy knew his own. One boy was putting in some pennies as we looked, and I asked how much he had saved this month. ‘$14. Ma'am’, says the 13-year-old, proudly slipping in the last cent. A prize of $3 is offered to the lad who saves the most in a month, and they also offer interest.” 

So yeah, I think that is very interesting that like there is within this culture where the perennial fear is that they're buying sweets, and exciting themselves with exciting foods, and they're smoking cigars, and they're seeing shows. But there's also this apparently pretty strong culture of saving that's actually encouraged by the institutions that they're a part of.

Mike: So if that kid was saving $14 bucks a month, then Kid Blink’s $300 bucks a month, it’s like a shitload of money.

Sarah: $14 bucks a month for 12 months, so like two years, basically. 

Mike: Yeah. So no wonder they took it.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean they're kids. When are they ever going to see a $600? This actually reminds me of an area that I'd also wanted to touch on. Which is the eternal question for me and others in the fandom, were there girl Newsies? And the answer that Vincent DiGirolamo has in Crying the News is, “Yes. But everyone was scared of them and terrorized them all the time.”

Mike: Wait, what? Why?

Sarah: Okay. So here's a quote from Grover Cleveland, of all people. “No pretext should be permitted to excuse allowing young girls to be on the streets at improper hours, since the result must necessarily be their destruction.”

Mike: Oh, is it like a moral turpitude thing? 

Sarah: Yes. 

Mike: Like they're going to get tempted by drugs and candy sweets.

Sarah: I mean basically the idea that people keep bringing up in this way that doesn't completely make sense is like, if a girl is a Newsie, then it's like, that's a gateway drug to sex work, basically.

Another quote, this is from a New York Police Captain, “Girls who begin with selling newspapers usually end with selling themselves.”

Mike: Oh God. Yeah. I mean, I guess like you said, it's independence. They can do what they want with their time and with their physical selves, and they can be in whatever part of the city they want to be in. And yeah. That's a slippery slope to a sex work, I suppose. 

Sarah: Newspapers, donuts, vice. Basically we all know that. I guess we need to associate newspapers with immorality again. I think that's another thing that would really help.

Mike: The people who host the show already do, Sarah. We’re there.

Sarah: Yeah, I guess I think the idea is that if you empower a girl to sell anything, then she is going to become scarily powerful. 

So the day after Kid blink and David are found not guilty of treason, but booted from the union, The World and Journal offer to make a compromise and sell at $0.55 cents per hundred. And in these ways, [inaudible] says no. But they're starting to lose steam. And it's hard to say how significant the loss of their leader’s spokes boys was, but when the papers come back again two days later, July 29t and say we're going to stay at the current price, but you can return your unsold papers to us and we're going to refund you for them. Okay. 

Mike: That's great. Because that completely changes the risk calculus. 

Sarah: It does. Yeah. I think it is a victory, and the strike ends on August 1st. 

Mike: So ultimately it was roughly two weeks. 

Sarah: Yeah, a little less than two weeks. It's like uncommon. 

Mike: It's like a Baker's fortnight. I don't know what that means. 

Sarah: And after that, the Newsboys union goes on, but it becomes something with adult leadership, and it is basically no longer in the Newsboys hands and the way that it was. And actually this kind of connects to my feelings of ambivalence about the ending of Newsies. In the movie, as you and I both observed, all of these boys are having tons of chemistry with each other. And it's the kind of thing that if you like to ship couples as a teenager watching media, there's a lot of material there. 

Mike: Yeah, this is a ship factory. Ships coming off, the conveyor belt.

Sarah: Was this movie made on the Great Lakes? Because it's a ship factory. And of course my ship, because I'm not that creative, is Jack and David. And at the end of the movie they resolve this plot line where Jack kind of joins David's family the first day that David works as a Newsie and comes in and meets David's parents and his sisters Sarah. And Jack and Sarah have “chemistry”, but they don't, because she's the only girl in the movie. And it's a movie that is obsessed with the joyful chemistry of boys having a strike. 

And so at the end of the movie, the strike ends. They don't do the $0.60 cents and return paper thing. And then the papers decided that they would agree to the initial demand, and then the strike ended, and it was wonderful. And then Jack kisses Sarah. The End. And Spot Conlon rode off in Teddy Roosevelt's carriage. And Teddy Roosevelt is in it, by the way. There's a plot point where like they called Teddy Roosevelt and he's like, “This is terrible. We can't let children suffer this way”. Which Crying The News points out is probably inaccurate because Teddy Roosevelt advocated shooting strikers. 

Mike: So that's the Inglorious Basterds killing Hitler. They just put in a wish in the middle of the movie. It’s fine. 

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. That's the most brazen inaccuracy. But yeah, and I think that ending is sort of weirdly bittersweet in the way that the actual ending of the strike is. Where it's like there was this moment when the strike was going on where anything was possible. And like maybe kid workers will rise together in solidarity and form their own kid workers union, like the IWW, but the kid workers of the world. And it won't be led by adults. And like what can happen when children are empowered to represent themselves? And what if the Newsboys have such power over these newspaper tycoons in such a shocking way that these tycoons failed to see coming at all. Like what if, what if that kind of power can be on earth in other fields? Never mind, it's over. Kiss a girl. 

Mike: I mean, it's like, I mean, I guess this happens a lot with these things that sort of reality comes bursting in like the Kool-Aid man. Ultimately, it's like, oh, the reality of it is just it's going to be a lot easier if we do this other thing, just less cool.

Sarah: Yeah. I feel like this is sort of a growing up story, too. Because like the dream that you have as a child is that you make your demand and then the newspaper company is like, “Yes, I will meet your demand. We've had a struggle for about an hour and a half. I don't think I'm going to win this one. You can have the exact thing you asked for.” And in real life, you know, it's a really good outcome for you to ask for something and not get that specific thing but get something else that functionally gives you more security. And maybe it doesn't mean that you've won in the way that you might've hoped to win. And you reached a compromise, and you can move forward with your life.

Where we get stuck sometimes is feeling like if you don't get exactly what you would have initially hoped for at your most idealistic, then it's just not worth it. Which I feel like is this kind of like nineties liberalism sense of residedness that we talked about growing up with and around in the previous episode of like, “Unions don't work, kids. Kid Blink got bought out. Give it up, party's over.” And it's like, I don't think that something being spectacularly effective for a brief period, and then kind of crashing and burning, means that all effective things crash and burn. It means that it takes practice to move a movement forward. And that children representing themselves and anyone who represents the actual people whose conditions they're speaking about, seem to do well and seem to generate solidarity. At least in this instance. There’s nothing like solidarity. And like the fact that it is difficult and fleeting to cultivate doesn't mean that it's not worth it because, “Every pape you tear out of a scab’s hands is worth something.”

Mike: There's also the sort of overall context of the country in that there were a lot of desperately poor children who were willing to replace these laborers. I mean, this is one of the reasons why it's so difficult to get independent unions going in sweat shops. Because oftentimes they're an extremely poor countries where there really are a lot of desperate people who will work for low, shitty wages. Because that's the only option that's available. 

Sarah: Yeah. And also that they had this unusual situation where they were able to generate the kind of income that allowed them to strike, that they weren't all living hand to mouth. A lot of them were, but some of them weren't. And that freedom within an industry to perhaps get a little bit ahead, to get a little bit of a savings, even if you're living in a lodging house and considering yourself lucky to get a bath for free, you can still save up a little bit. Like if you are treated with a little bit of decency as a worker and are given some rights, then it makes it easier to demand more rights. Because like, if you have the energy to organize, then like, you will.

Mike: Right. It's like how if one person learns a song and then another person learns it, and then they learn the choreography. And pretty soon everyone is dancing together. 

Sarah: And then Mike watches Newsies all the way through if he wants to. Not if it’s too awkward though. It's fine. 

Mike: That's what this was all leading up to, obviously. 

Sarah: Yeah. Maybe we can, you know, some dreams are out of bounds, but my dream of more people watching Newsies is possible. 

I have one last journey to take you on. 

Mike: Oooh, take me. 

Sarah: Okay. So if this isn't too awkward for you, then nothing in Newsies will be. But we are going to watch Christian Bale's big song in this movie, which he I think worked so hard to sing and to dance to. And this show is about applauding people who do their best. So we're going to watch, Santa Fe

Mike: All right. Three, two, one, go. 

*video plays*

“So that's what they call a family, mother daughter, father, son. I guess that everything you heard about is true.”

Mike: This is very Disney. 

Sarah: Yeah, it's the “I want” song. 

Mike: Yeah. He's laying out his feelings. 

Sarah: It's also unfortunate that I think behind the scenes, they were like, “Christian, we have to get you looking as greasy as we can at all times. We want you sweating. We want you greasy. 

Mike: He's real wet. 

“When I dream, on my own, I'm alone, but I ain't lonely. For a dreamer night’s the only time of day.”

Sarah: He has the expression of a kid at sleepaway camp who wasn't told it was going to be for eight weeks. 

Mike: Yeah. He probably smells like Welsh cliffs, all the salt coming out of him.

Sarah: They’re trying to get him to smell like cigarettes, but he just smells like a Welsh Merman. 

“It's a feeling time can never take way. All I needs a few more dollars, and I'm outta here to stay. Dreams come true. Yes, they do.”

Sarah: Oh God. I cannot believe they did this to him. Like adults all got in a room to edit this and felt okay going home to their families at the end of the day. 

Mike: I cannot believe he didn't know he was going to have to do this only. 

Sarah: If only he had a union to protect him. He does great though, right? Like this is hard.

Mike: He seems like a guy that puts his all into everything. 

Sarah: Oh yeah. I mean, you can tell right. Because he's always gaining or losing 80 pounds. 

Mike: Yeah. People don't fight for the integrity of a Terminator Salvation, unless they take it really serious. Now he's on a fucking horse? 

Sarah: Yeah. He stole that horse. Cause Newsies are ruffians, you know, they'll steal your horse just so they can sing a song on it. 

Mike: The only time you ever see empty New York is in movies.

Sarah: Yeah, when New York is in Burbank. 

Mike: Yeah. That was great. So far, my main takeaway from this movie is the absolute nightmare scenario of getting a job and then being told that you still have to do the job, but you also have to sing.  

Sarah: So in conclusion, do your best and be proud of it. We love you, Christian Bale. And maybe the thing about Newsies is that it's such a weird movie because it's trying to represent what should be an entire genre of media but isn't yet. 

Mike: Newsboy media?

Sarah: Yes. Newsboy media. There's a whole world out there for us to explore, through all kinds of properties. But yeah, I mean, I guess I feel like dark and a light way to look at this, right. And to me, the dark way is like, oh my God, like we've gone backwards. And like this kind of worker solidarity seems harder to cultivate in American now than it did then, even though we're living in tomorrow land. Like, ugh. 

But on the other hand, you give some teenage boys a place to sleep for $0.06 cents a night, a hot bath, and a piggy bank, and they threaten to overturn capitalism. So I don't know what would happen if he gave them two baths?

Mike: And some cronuts.