June 8, 2010

Celebrating 175 years: The story of 'Lucky' Baldwin

I discovered a wonderful feature on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's website this morning. The paper has a searchable digital archive of its editions dating back to 1884, and it's entirely free.

I used the search engine to find the earliest story possible from Racine. That honor goes to the colorful, scandalous life story of "Lucky" Baldwin, a Racine bar tender turned millionaire. Baldwin moved west from Racine, struck it rich in the gold rush, lost it all, and then made it all back and then some in the stock market. Along the way he was married four times and shot by a girlfriend.

Here's a more thorough account of Baldwin, and an excerpt: 
Before leaving for his tiger hunting he had given his broker instructions to sell his shares of the Hale & Norcross Mine when it reached the price he had paid for it - eight hundred dollars a foot. On his return to San Francisco he learned that the mine had hit another bonanza and its value had climbed to twelve thousand dollars a foot. Thinking that at least he had made recouped his investment, he went to his broker's office and learned that the stock had not been sold. He had locked it in his safe before leaving for India and the broker could not get to it to sell at eight hundred dollars as Baldwin had instructed. The "error" had made him a multi-millionaire overnight. Although there are many other incidents of good fortune in Baldwin's life, this incident is thought to have been how he first got the nickname "Lucky."
And this account suggests Baldwin's coast still haunts land he owned in California. Baldwin (pictured right) lives on to this day as the namesake of a pub in Balwin Hills, Calif.

Search the archives yourself here. I'd love to see the Racine Public Library, the JT or some other historically minded entity put together a similar project for Racine's historic newspapers. Many can be scanned right from microfiche, which the newspaper and Racine Heritage Museum own. Technology allows for papers to be scanned, converted into searchable text and placed online in a user-friendly way.

Google helped the J-S and other newspapers create historical archives, splitting revenue from ads that run alongside the archives. Grants also may be available to help with digitalization costs.

Placing Racine's old newspapers in one searchable archive would be a remarkable aid to anyone curious about the city's history.