National Police Gazette - Official Site
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ABOUT US

         

                 ​ Once upon a time, there was a magical publication called the National Police Gazette....
A century before Howard Stern hit the airwaves, there was a man who not only recognized the appeal of quasi-lesbian imagery, but–like Stern–knew how to make it an acceptable part of popular culture. Five generations before Stephen Colbert and Sacha Baron Cohen blurred the distinction between the real and fictional news correspondent, there was a man who populated his real-news publication with fictional editors and their semi-real exploits. Before there was the celebrity gossip column, he invented it. Before there was a sports page, he created it. Before the advent of the girlie magazine, he provided it. When the sport of boxing was illegal and widely considered immoral, this man championed, promoted, and popularized it all the way into legal and public acceptance. The heads of "respectable" publications looked down on him, but then raced to imitate him when his success became undeniable. Hugely popular, even across the ocean, the publication made an appearance in James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses. At a time when the barbershop was not just a place to get your hair cut, but served as the de facto gentlemen's club for the working class, it was known as the "bible of the barbershop." Its recipe mixed the titillating and funny with the informative and serious in just the right proportion, in a way that had never been thought of previously, in a way that led directly to what we know as today's tabloid journalism, sports reporting, skin magazines, shock jocks, and quasi-news programs such as the Daily Show. The purveyors of these current forms of entertainment, as well as the professional sport of boxing, can address their gratitude to one Richard K. Fox and his publication the National Police Gazette.

Homicidal Horrors
Of Sufficient Number and Variety of
Atrocity to Enable the Craving of the
Most Exacting TO FILL TO SATIETY

A Sickening and Sanguinary Recital of the
Murderous Tendency of Mankind


The news was real, and it was shocking, but it was offered with a wink. If it was violent and gory, great; if it involved sexual infidelity, wonderful; if it included both, perfect. The details were gratuitously graphic. However, they were mixed with something Richard K. Fox and the Police Gazette may not have invented, but did manage to refine in a way never before seen in American journalism: Irony. At a time when newspapers took themselves as seriously as they took their subject matter, Fox and the Gazette set out to blow this pomposity apart. They stalked hypocrisy wherever it lay and went in for the kill, reserving special derision for religious leaders seen as failing to practice what they preached.

Before television and radio were invented, around when Jon Stewart and Howard Stern's great-great grandparents would have been walking the earth, books, magazines and newspapers were the only way to reach a mass audience. The person who mastered the print medium would be–if not king of all media–certainly king of all mass media. In pursuit of this goal Richard K. Fox set out to turn this text-heavy medium into something visually exciting. Not only did the number, size, and detail of the Police Gazette's woodcut illustrations mark a quantum leap above what was then the norm in other publications, their subject matter was calculated to arouse various areas of the–usually male–psyche. To top it off, he began printing his Gazette on pink paper, another departure–an ironic one at that–from his competitors.

And then there was boxing. When Richard Fox took control of the National Police Gazette in 1877, boxing was illegal in every jurisdiction in America. Matches were brought off by men lurking in the shadows, operating outside the law. Exact dates and locations were kept secret until the last minute, and communicated only to those "fancy" gentlemen known to be of the sporting fraternity. Participants and spectators at boxing matches risked arrest just by showing up. If newspapers caught wind of a big match, they would send a correspondent who would often write up every detail as if it were a legitimate sporting event, but then editorialize about how depraved and immoral the whole affair had been.

Richard K. Fox had no patience for such hypocrisy, and set out to cover boxing as if it were already legitimate, going so far as to promote individual fighters, act as stakeholder, and even sanction matches as representing the Police Gazette championship. Though it was a largely adversarial relationship–much of it likely hyped for public consumption–the association between John L. Sullivan and Richard K. Fox did more to raise public interest in the sport than anything else. And though his initial motivation for featuring boxing in the Gazette may have been–like so much else–in pursuit of irony, Richard Fox soon found himself the Bert Sugar of his day. The National Police Gazette became the only periodical in America that offered regular, thorough coverage unclouded by condescending opinion. If most things in the Gazette came with a wink and a nudge, its coverage of boxing–and to a lesser extent horse racing and baseball–became the only part that was serious and straight-faced. In 1892, boxing finally began breaking through into its much-sought-after legitimacy, which would rise so quickly in the public mind that president Theodore Roosevelt himself would be promoting it from the White House just after the turn of the century. Like so many other aspects of popular culture, this too had been foreseen by Richard K. Fox.


Cock Fighting as a Parlor Pastime

But Fox didn't just promote boxing. There was hardly a competitive endeavor imaginable that escaped his notice. The Police Gazette sponsored everything from bicycle endurance feats to duck-egg eating contests. Thousands of championship and commemorative Police Gazette medals, belts, and trophies were produced and awarded. With its influence already felt in so many facets of today's mass communication, Guinness World Records can also find a direct ancestor in the Gazette. Such was its interest in top achievement in a wide variety of human activities. For these, the Police Gazette served as the paper of record. Richard Fox promised readers the Gazette could settle any dispute when it came to questions of a sporting nature.

The National Police Gazette lasted for 132 years, publishing from 1845 to 1977, and produced 5,000 issues–becoming one of the five longest-running periodicals in North American history. Its heyday was the Fox years, from 1878 to 1922, with its greatest impact occurring in the first half of that remarkable run. The impact was so great that people alive at the time spoke of the influence the Gazette had on them years afterward. Franklin P. Adams, the famed newspaper columnist and Algonquin Round Table member, said "Women and Crime–that magic front-page partnership... interested and thrilled me.... Yes, I used to stare at those pictures, and so did all the boys that I knew." Thomas Edison was said to have been a regular reader. Irving Berlin wrote a song about it called "The Girl on the Police Gazette." Later, Tom Wolfe would say of the Gazette that it was the only contemporary chronicler of "a style of living that was not so much the opposite of High Victorian Gentility as its underside: namely, the world of the Sport, or the Sporting Man ... who led The Sporting Life ... the uncultivated macho dandy whose love of sport had nothing to do with the High Victorian ideal of 'athletics' and everything to do with, simply ... the eternal gamble against Fate ... who would bet on anything and was therefore willing to turn loose all the minor vices (gambling, lechery, gluttony, profanity and blood sports) that were kept leashed in the social sphere above him." In movies, cartoons, and even into the television era, when a character needed to be depicted reading a shocking magazine, it was usually the Police Gazette. And it still makes appearances today, being featured in both of the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr. Then, in 2013, Richard K. Fox was portrayed by veteran actor Gil Bellows in the Quebec blockbuster about the life of famous strongman Louis Cyr.

Not satisfied with resting on the success of his weekly, Richard Fox's publishing house branched out into books. Titles ranging from Coney Island Frolics to Mysteries of Mormonism to Lives of the Poisoners to The Bartender's Guide to The Life of John L. Sullivan flew off of his presses and into the hands of eager readers.

In 1883, flush with the huge success the Gazette was experiencing under his leadership, Richard Fox built a new headquarters on the corner of Dover and Pearl Streets in lower Manhattan, right alongside the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a grand building. Tall for its time, it rose eight stories above street level and overlooked the approach to the bridge, which also opened to the public that same year. Ornately decorated with small statues and gilded fire escapes, the building was crowned with a large clock visible to every commuter as he or she made their way back and forth to Brooklyn. It was the first impressive building commuters or travelers encountered coming across the bridge. And the big clock at the top became an iconic landmark–as iconic a landmark as Richard K. Fox had wanted his Police Gazette to be in American popular culture.

Officially 338-344 Pearl Street, the building stood at an intersection once known as Franklin Square. Today, the site has no building on it. Dover Street now runs through what would have been the half of the building facing the bridge–the street shifting after the addition of traffic ramps serving the bridge. The remaining half of the building's site is taken up by a tiny park that's now used as a dog run. But this was the place. It was there that brilliant, ambitious minds developed the illustrated news magazine, the celebrity gossip column, the newspaper sports page, the pin-up magazine, humorously ironic news coverage, and brought an entire professional sport into respectability. It left an indelible imprint on generations of American men, not to mention the characters in James Joyce's greatest novel. The building that stood there was a showpiece; it appeared in brochures promoting New York City the way the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building do today. There is a commemorative marker at the spot where the Police Gazette Building once stood. It tells us not one word about the National Police Gazette. In spite of the tremendous influence Richard K. Fox and the Police Gazette had on American popular culture, today, at the location of their most magnificent successes, there's not even a clue they had ever existed.

FURTHER READING
130 Years of Greatness: A History of Police Gazette Pioneers
"America’s First Popular Men’s Magazine" at ArtOfManliness.com
"6 Reasons the 'Police Gazette' is the Craziest Magazine Ever" at Cracked.com

"We offer a most interesting record of horrid murders, outrageous robberies, bold forgeries, astounding burglaries, hideous rapes, and vulgar seductions in various parts of the country.... The whole country swarms with hordes of English and other thieves, burglars, pickpockets, and swindlers, whose daily and nightly exploits give continual employment to our police officers, and whose course through the land, whatever direction they may take, may be traced by their depredations."
–The National Police Gazette, 1845, the year of its founding