New York Times Obituary Corrected 112 Years Later

My Deseret News had an AP item on page two this morning that caught my eye. The headline was “Paper Corrects 112-Year-Old Obit.” Sure enough, when Daniel Schwank wrote the paper pointing out that the 112-year-old obit for his great-uncle contained a number of errors, the New York Times proceeded to make the corrections… and then some. In fact, a lot of research went into the correction. It’s extensive, and certainly makes up for the errors of 1899. Following is a teaser from the City Room column, written by James Barron, and published in the New York Times on May 23, 2011.

This just in: Lt. M. K. Schwenk’s first name was Milton, not Melton, as his obituary said.

In 1899.

His great-nephew, Dr. Daniel A. F. Schwenk, a retired dentist from Walpole, N.H., wrote to The Times last month, pointing out what he said were several errors in the 264-word obituary published on June 29, 1899.

“It’s a tad late” to bring them up, said Dr. Schwenk, who found the obituary online.

But it is never too late to set the record straight. If journalism is indeed the first rough draft of history, there is always time to revise, polish and perfect, even if pinning down the details about Lieutenant Schwenk after so many years turned out to be less than straightforward. In fact, a reporter’s attempts at fact-checking led to some head-scratching moments about seemingly basic elements of his life, such as when he entered the United States Naval Academy — and when he graduated.

Digging into the available records also turned up mistakes in other articles about the family, like the one The Times published on Oct. 26, 1922, about a divorce case that involved Lieutenant Schwenk’s daughter, Lillian.

Read the full City Room column.

The AP Column.

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