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This article appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, July-August 2000.

Prentice Hall Concocts a Fake Article
and Ascribes It to The New York Times

William J. Bennetta

How dumb are middle-school science teachers?

Here is one answer: According to the writers of the Prentice Hall Science Explorer series, middle-school science teachers are dumb enough to believe that the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge commanded only four paragraphs in The New York Times. With this answer in mind, Prentice Hall's hacks have concocted a fake newspaper article, have attributed it to the Times, and have inserted it into the thirteenth book of their series, Motion, Forces, and Energy. In doing so, they have devoted an exceptional amount of inventiveness to bamboozling teachers and to producing rubbish that complies with current fads and follies. I shall describe their phony article, and then I shall explain an obvious reason why they have engaged in fakery instead of telling the truth.

The Prentice Hall Science Explorer series, comprising fifteen books, is the successor to the nineteen-book Prentice Hall Science series that Prentice Hall marketed during most of the 1990s [see note 1, below]. The Prentice Hall Science Explorer books were introduced in 1999. All fifteen of them display 2000 as their copyright date. All fifteen of them also display a lot of faddish gimmicks, including full-page items that allegedly connect science with other subjects, such as music, social studies, math, and language arts.

In the thirteenth book, Motion, Forces, and Energy, page 199 is given to a gimmick labeled "Language Arts." Headings near the top of the page say "The New York Times" and "May 25, 1883," and the page is dominated by what is purportedly the entire article in which the Times described the inauguration of the Brooklyn Bridge. The article consists of a headline plus 272 words of text:

Two Great Cities United
      The Brooklyn Bridge was successfully opened yesterday. The pleasant weather brought visitors by the thousands from all around. Spectators were packed in masses through which it was almost impossible to pass, and those who had tickets to attend the ceremonies had hard work to reach the bridge. Every available house-top and window was filled, and an adventurous party occupied a tall telegraph pole. It required the utmost efforts of the police to keep clear the necessary space.
      After the exercises at the bridge were completed the Brooklyn procession was immediately reformed and the march was taken up to Col. Roebling's residence. From the back study on the second floor of his house Col. Roebling had watched through his telescope the procession as it proceeded along from the New-York side until the Brooklyn tower was reached. Mrs. Roebling received at her husband's side and accepted her share of the honors of the bridge.
      For blocks and blocks on either side of the bridge there was scarcely a foot of room to spare. Many persons crossed and re-crossed the river on the ferry boats, and in that way watched the display. Almost every ship along the river front was converted into a grand stand.
      The final ceremonies of the opening of the great bridge began at eight o'clock, when the first rocket was sent from the center of the great structure, and ended at 9 o'clock, when a flight of 500 rockets illuminated the sky. The river-front was one blaze of light, and on the yachts and smaller vessels blue fires were burning and illuminating the dark waters around them.

That material, I emphasize, is not presented in Motion, Forces, and Energy as a paraphrasing or an adaptation of something that ran in the Times. It is falsely presented as a direct and complete quotation of a report that the Times actually printed.

The Historical Record

The Brooklyn Bridge -- which spans the East River near the southern end of Manhattan -- was conceived by the renowned engineer John Roebling, but the building of the bridge had barely been started when John Roebling died (in 1869). The task of supervising the construction of the bridge then fell to Col. Washington Roebling, one of John Roebling's sons.

In 1872, after descending to the bottom of the river in a diving bell to inspect the foundations for one of the bridge's towers, Col. Roebling experienced an episode of decompression sickness that crippled him permanently and did permanent damage to his eyes. Thenceforth he directed the construction work from a sickroom in Brooklyn. His wife, Emily, wrote down and delivered his daily instructions to his engineers and foremen, and he watched through a telescope as the instructions were carried out and the bridge took shape. Emily Roebling also acted as Col. Roebling's representative in transactions with contractors and public officials -- and as she acquired more and more importance in the management of her husband's project, some rumor-mongers said that she had supplanted Col. Roebling as chief engineer. Their rumors were false [note 2].

The bridge was completed in 1883 and was inaugurated, amid ceremonies and parades and celebrations that lasted for more than twelve hours, on 24 May.

On 25 May The New York Times described the opening of the mighty bridge in an article that comprised a main headline, 3 subsidiary headlines, and 40 paragraphs of narrative. Some of those paragraphs were prodigiously long, even by 19th-century standards, because they contained the names and the titles (at least) of scores of dignitaries who had taken part in the previous day's festivities [note 3]. Here is how the article in the Times began. I quote all of the headlines and the first 487 words of the article's text:

TWO GREAT CITIES UNITED
THE BRIDGE FORMALLY OPENED
IMMENSE CROWDS ATTRACTED BY
                THE CEREMONIES
PROCESSIONS AND DECORATIONS IN BOTH
         CITIES, THE FORMAL TRANSFER OF THE
         STRUCTURE, ADDRESSES BY ABRAHAM S.
         HEWITT AND THE REV. DR. STORRS,
         AND FIRE-WORKS AND ILLUMINATIONS.
      The Brooklyn Bridge was successfully opened yesterday. A fairer day for the ceremony could not have been chosen. The sky was cloudless, and the heat from the brightly shining sun was tempered by a cool breeze. The pleasant weather brought visitors by the thousands from all around. Special trains were run from Philadelphia and Easton, Penn., and from Long Island points. Extra cars were attached to regular trains, and then there was barely standing room. It is estimated that over 50,000 people came in by the railroads alone, and swarms by the Sound boats and by the ferry-boats helped to swell the crowds in both cities.
      The opening of the bridge was decidedly Brooklyn's celebration. New-York's participation in it was meagre, save as to the crowd which thronged her streets. Some of the Exchanges and business houses down town were closed; others stopped business about noon, but as a rule the stores were open as usual, and as a rule, too, patrons were as numerous as on the other days of the year, when no Brooklyn bridges are opened. The crowd from outside, with curious New-Yorkers, combined to give to the vicinity of Madison-square, to Broadway, and to City Hall Park, the customary gala-day crowds. Thousands of people crowded each one of the places named. The windows, the balconies, and the roofs of Broadway buildings had their throngs. There was no general decoration beyond the display of the American flags. These were flown wherever there was a staff surmounting a building, and in themselves gave the City a holiday appearance. Aside from this display there were not more than a score of buildings that were decorated. Of these the most noticeable were in the vicinity of the New-York approach at the publication offices of the Sun and the Staats-Zeitung. Festoons of bunting graced a half-dozen Broadway fronts. While the crowd of strangers were gathering along the line of march Superintendent Walling was personally superintending the police arrangements up town and Inspector Murray doing a like service with the large force detailed from the various precincts down town. The arrangements were well executed, and as a result there was no delay caused by the blocking of the streets. At about 9 o'clock a gang of workmen removed the unsightly fence which has been in front of the New-York approach and an equally impassable fence of about 50 policemen took its place.
      Promptly at 11:15 A. M. the assembly was sounded at the armory of the Seventh Regiment, the escort to the President, the Governor, the Mayor and the other more or less distinguished guests. A half-hour later the regiment had been equalized by Adjt. Rand into 14 platoons of 20 files, or 40 men, each. A guard was detailed, and at 11:45, the regiment, Col. Clark commanding, left its armory and, headed by Cappa's band of 70 pieces and a drum corps of 22, started on its march. . . .

If we compare Prentice Hall's fake article with the beginning of the report that really ran in the Times, we notice that they share some elements: The fake article's lone headline is the same as the real article's main headline; the fake article's first sentence of text is identical with the real article's first sentence of text; and the fake article's second sentence is the same as the real article's fourth sentence. It is clear, then, that Prentice Hall's writers have seen the piece that the Times really printed. But instead of presenting real excerpts from the real article, they have laboriously contrived a bogus article that incorporates various scraps of Times material -- scraps which have been translocated, rearranged or rewritten.

Boosting Emily

Why have Prentice Hall's hacks done this? Because, it seems, they wanted to boost Emily Roebling, as a way of complying with the fad that calls for larding "science" textbooks with favorable images of women -- but they couldn't achieve their purpose by truthfully reproducing what the Times had reported about Emily Roebling, so they turned to fakery.

Emily Roebling appears in the second paragraph of Prentice Hall's bogus article, where we read that "Mrs. Roebling received at her husband's side and accepted her share of the honors of the bridge." In the article that really ran in the Times, however, the second paragraph (which I have quoted above, in full) contained nothing about Mrs. Roebling. Neither did the next twenty-seven paragraphs. Mrs. Roebling appeared for the first time in the article's twenty-ninth paragraph, where the Times took notice of "what Mrs. Roebling called her 'bridge party' " (a group of guests whom she had invited to cross the Bridge in carriages).

The only other mention of Mrs. Roebling came in the article's thirty-first paragraph, which was huge and which said (in part):

Along Columbia Heights the crowd, which began to gather at 1 o'clock, was immense. Meanwhile, the reception at Engineer Roebling's had been proceeding since 4 o'clock, although it had been intended not to open it until the President's arrival. However, many friends had left the bridge before the exercises had been concluded, and were desirous to congratulate Col. Roebling upon the consummation of his work. From the back study on the second floor of his house Col. Roebling had watched through his telescope the procession as it proceeded along from the New-York side until the Brooklyn tower was reached. Then he returned to his dark chamber to gain a few minutes' rest before his duties of host would be required. Mrs. Roebling also had returned from the bridge immediately after escorting her "bridge party" to their places, and was not feeling very well during the afternoon. However, she regained sufficient strength afterward to receive at her husband's side and accept her share of the honors of the bridge. The house was beautifully decorated for the occasion. . . .

Now you know where the Prentice Hall hacks got their line about Mrs. Roebling and "her share of the honors of the bridge." And you know that their line is phony: They have mangled the text that appeared in the Times by eliminating the information that Mrs. Roebling hadn't felt well during the afternoon and that she had needed to regain her strength before she could carry on. The hacks evidently decided that, to exploit Mrs. Roebling effectively, they not only had to put her near the top of the fake article but also had to make her indefatigable!

I have written at length about this matter because I want to convey an important lesson: Even when Prentice Hall writers seem to be quoting a primary source, they may be engaging in trickery. Educators should bear this point in mind -- not only when they read Prentice Hall "science" texts but also when they read Prentice Hall "history" books and other Prentice Hall productions. As for me: I won't trust any "quotation" that may appear in a Prentice Hall schoolbook.

To learn of another case in which crooked textbook-writers have fabricated an article and have attributed it to a real newspaper, see "Keeping an Eye on the Scams, Shams and Swindles" in The Textbook Letter for July-August 1999.

Notes

  1. Reviews of several of the books in the Prentice Hall Science series have appeared in The Textbook Letter. For a directory to those reviews, go to http://www.textbookleague.org/51prensci.htm on The Textbook League's Web site. [return to text]

  2. See the chapter "Emily" in The Great Bridge, by David McCullough, issued in 1972 by Simon and Schuster. [return to text]

  3. One such dignitary was the president of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, who (the Times noted) was cheered by a crowd of spectators when he arrived at City Hall in Manhattan. Another was the governor of the State of New York, Grover Cleveland, who was deprived of cheers because (said the Times) the spectators "failed to recognize his portly form as he left his carriage." [return to text]


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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