Rapidly changing forms of mass media sold disaster to audiences near the turn of the twentieth century. Newspapers moved away from modest typefaces and subdued layouts to Mortified but captivated, consumers read and viewed the gory, dramatic, sensational, and sometimes completely imagined details.flamboyant headlines and cross-column illustrations. On city streets, newsboys pushed the one-cent dailies to a rapidly expanding audience of immigrants and streetcar commuters. Portable cameras and the advent of plastic film in the 1890s allowed photographers and even passersby to shoot the Collinwood fire, and many of these snapshots appeared in newspapers and magazines. Enterprising publishers reproduced sometimes grisly images of corpses and ruins on a series of postcards that Clevelanders sent to friends and family around the country. Movies also spread the news of the disaster in ways unthinkable in earlier decades. In 1904, William Bullock opened The American, Cleveland’s first motion picture theater. Hearing news of the fire, he rushed to Collinwood with a camera to capture the tragedy. Bullock showed his footage to packed houses for a week, until outraged ministers and city councilmen had the police chief shut him down.
The Collinwood fire, like other disasters in the period, became a national media event, spread through changing technologies of mass communication. Mortified but captivated, consumers read and viewed the gory, dramatic, sensational, and sometimes completely imagined details. As the interior of our animated school suggests, this edifice of mass-mediated information was highly volatile. The narrative of the fire went up in flames one day only to be reborn like a phoenix the next, as senders of postcards, photographers, survivors, movie goers and reporters offered new stories.