The Cairo Evening Bulletin, The Cairo Daily Bulletin, The Cairo Bulletin and The Daily Cairo Bulletin
Between its founding in 1837 by the Cairo City and Canal Company and its incorporation in 1858, the town was visited by Charles Dickens, who was decidedly unimpressed with its marshy surroundings, calling it a “detestable morass” (American Notes, October 19, 1842).
The Cairo Evening Bulletin was formed by John H. Oberly and Company in 1868. Though the company was “not ignorant of the fact that the history of the printing business in Cairo furnishes . . . no encouragement,” Oberly, a Democrat, was prompted to launch the Bulletin when the Cairo Daily Democrat “passed into the hands of the members of the Republican party,” thus opening the door in Cairo for “a new organ of Democratic sentiment.” Although the Cairo Daily Democrat ceased publication in November 1868, Oberly and his partners followed through with their plans, and the first issue of the Cairo Evening Bulletin appeared on December 21, 1868.
The “ignominious death” of the Cairo Daily Democrat meant, however, that the Evening Bulletin could be more inclusive in its reporting. As the primary newspaper in Southern Illinois, the Bulletin covered news, politics, and literature for the entire region. Although Oberly continued to advocate democratic principles, he also recognized and respected “the right of private opinion.” In 1868, he wrote that the newspaper’s mission was to “upbuild Cairo and all the fertile and wide-spread country which surrounds it in three of the great States of the Union . . . “
The paper went through several name changes in the years that followed, including the Cairo Daily Bulletin (1870-72), the Cairo Bulletin (1872-78), and the Daily Cairo Bulletin (1878-1???). Oberly left in early 1876 and was succeeded by Thomas Nally on May 2, 1878. That same month, yellow fever began to spread its way up the Mississippi. On August 1, the steamboat John D. Porter arrived at Cairo, where it discharged crewmen carrying the disease. By late August, newspapers were reporting yellow fever cases and deaths in New Orleans, Memphis, and other cities. In the August 22 edition of the Daily Cairo Bulletin, Nally wrote:
No case of yellow fever ever originated in Cairo and although during thirty-five years and over many cases have been put off here the disease never assumed the form of contagion. The older citizens have absolute faith in our peculiar atmospheric conditions, believing they are unfavorable to the spread of fever -- malarial or otherwise. Although a contrary impression prevails, there is no city on the continent of its size where there is less sickness from fever. … We also stand ready to prove that there are few healthier localities anywhere than the spot selected by Dickens to slander the people of a whole country.
When a number of persons were diagnosed with the disease in the nearby town of Hickman, Nally was at pains to put minds to rest: “Cairo has still little to fear. Her sanitary condition is excellent. … Our atmosphere is pure, cool and light, and the conditions for generating organic poisons are wanting. Upon this rock of common sense we build our faith and our hope of escape from the scourge.”
In contrast, Walter McKee, who took over the Cairo Evening Sun when the previous publisher hastily fled the city, cautioned that “we don't want to alarm our people, but we think it right they should know the truth, as we are determined that none shall be lulled into security, when we think there is danger.”
On September 8, 1878, a few days after hiring a printer who had departed Memphis in the wake of the fever (and who was still recovering from the disease), Nally himself became ill. He died four days later. Eventually, about one-third of the population evacuated the city. The October 8 edition of the Sun reported that “the yellow fever has finally taken a hold upon Cairo there is no longer any doubt. The evidence of the fact is so strong that it would be foolhardy to attempt a denial.” The Bulletin lost three other printers to the disease, and publication was suspended from September 12 until November 1. All told, there were 80 cases of yellow fever in Cairo in 1878, 62 of them fatalities.
The newspaper is still in publication and is currently titled the Cairo Citizen.