He knocked tentatively when he brought it over. He’s knocked that way ever since she was born – more a tapping than a knocking, so afraid of waking her.
Did I still work at the newspaper? Then I might like to see what he found in a barn he’s helping clean out.
It’s an old newspaper, from 1908. The Indiana Evening Gazette sold for two cents then; there are no pictures on the front page and there are decked headlines and right under the flag is a house ad across the page: Begin the Year With a Determination to Advertise Regularly in the Gazette.
On Jan. 8, 1908, the Indiana Board of Health decided to start enforcing a borough ordinance requiring plumbers to have a permit. A man named Mike Dara was charged with murder after shooting another man. School directors traveled to Cleveland and Pittsburgh to look at modern buildings and get ideas for their own school. A factory burned.
The headlines could have been written today. A crime story, a fire, a school board, a municipality.
None of the stories have bylines. But what surprised me most was a column right on the front, above the fold, in the center of the paper: Today’s Chat About People You Know.
In it we learn that Blairsville shoe merchant James A. Henry spent the day in Indiana; Royden Taylor went to Chicago to work for the US Geological Survey. Wendell Thompson was still confined to his room after suffering grip, while C. Frank Hildebrand was housed up with laryngitis. Miss May Sweeney came visited her home on 11th Street (she worked as a stenographer in Pittsburgh).
And so it goes.
I put the paper in a plastic ziplock back for safe keeping, intending to take it to work but it lingers on my counter for weeks. I keep forgetting it. And on Tuesday the publisher holds a meeting for various staff from around the company and he gives a sort of state-of-the-union and it’s not great. Circulation is down. One man says of course it is, we read our most faithful readers’ obituaries every day. How to get the younger generations reading?
And I remember Today’s Chat About People You Know and think of Facebook. The column reads like status updates. The way you stayed in touch with people outside your daily circle of friends, coworkers and families was through the paper. Now it’s through social media and the circle has grown across geographical lines.
I don’t know if we can reclaim that place in people’s lives. I don’t know if we’re willing to do what it takes; to forget our sense of what’s Important and put the mundane, the details about lives out front and center. I don’t know if anyone would read that anymore.
They did 104 years ago.