Almost Yesterday: The Burning of the Comic Books!

Mar 16, 2021

It seems like Almost Yesterday that hundreds of comic books and magazines, judged as indecent and unfit for children, were ceremonially burned in Cape Girardeau.  The date was February 24, 1949, and the location was St. Mary’s High School on the corner of Sprigg and William Streets.

This large burning was one of many that emerged across the nation in 1948-49, seeking to eliminate the perceived dangers of the “new” graphic comic books.  In the Depression years of the 1930’s, comic books gained widespread popularity, and began to attract criticism for the vivid use of violence.

But, World War II brought even greater use of graphic violence, and by the end of the war more than 60 million comic books per month were being sold in the United States.

In 1948 critics of this new and popular form of entertainment found an articulate voice in Dr. Fredric Wertham, a German-born medical doctor, who blamed comic books for the troubling new behavior in youngsters.

In 1948 Dr. Wertham published a widely read interview in Collier’s Magazine entitled, “Horror in the Nursery.” By the end of 1948 large comic book burnings occurred in such places as Spencer, West Virginia, and Binghamton, New York, -and the movement spread to Cape Girardeau.

Here the comic book gathering was led by Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups, and parents.  Hundreds of comic books were collected, brought to St. Mary’s School and placed in large boxes in the hallways.

On the afternoon of February 24, 1949, the comic books went up in smoke as several hundred students in Cape Girardeau pledged to never again purchase or read objectionable magazines or comic books.