The Body in the Reservoir

Murder and Sensationalism in the South

By Michael Ayers Trotti

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5842-4
    Published: April 2008
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-9903-8
    Published: February 2010
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7892-2
    Published: February 2010

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Centered on a series of dramatic murders in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Richmond, Virginia, The Body in the Reservoir uses these gripping stories of crime to explore the evolution of sensationalism in southern culture.

In Richmond, as across the nation, the embrace of modernity was accompanied by the prodigious growth of mass culture and its accelerating interest in lurid stories of crime and bloodshed. But while others have emphasized the importance of the penny press and yellow journalism on the shifting nature of the media and cultural responses to violence, Michael Trotti reveals a more gradual and nuanced story of change. In addition, Richmond's racial makeup (one-third to one-half of the population was African American) allows Trotti to challenge assumptions about how black and white media reported the sensational; the surprising discrepancies offer insight into just how differently these two communities experienced American justice.

An engaging look at the connections between culture and violence, this book gets to the heart--or perhaps the shadowy underbelly--of the sensational as the South became modern.

About the Author

Michael Ayers Trotti is associate professor of history at Ithaca College.
For more information about Michael Ayers Trotti, visit the Author Page.


"Offers an interesting and detailed picture of Virginia journalism. . . . [Trotti] does a particularly effective job at putting the Madison case in its larger context, comparing the coverage of her murder with that found in other regions at other times."--Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

"Fascinating. . . . An engaging, rich, and imaginative work and a valuable contribution to the study of American history."--Journal of Southern History

"Helps illuminate Richmond's gendered and racialized cultural history. . . . Recommended."--Choice

"Meticulously researches the coverage given to sensational crimes by individual newspapers compared to that of other journalistic venues, thus revealing which stories and at what moments southern newspapers opted for sensationalized accounts of crime, thus revealing the evolution of sensationalism."--American Journalism

"Accessibly and often compellingly written and will appeal to academic and popular audiences. . . . Will be required reading for students of the history of southern journalism, crime, and American print culture."--American Historical Review

"Contributes original insights."--Journal of American History