A few weeks ago, Tom Hughes of Hillsboro dropped off a bundle of old newspapers for me with a note reading, “If not interested, take to the library.”
The library will have to do without.
I love looking through old newspapers, and I know many of you do, too. Among the collection Tom dropped off are old newspapers from Hillsboro, Columbus, Cincinnati and Huntington, W. Va., many from the 1940s.
A headline from The Columbus Sunday Dispatch of Nov. 7, 1943, blares, “PLANES SINK TWO JAP CRUISERS,” with a subhead reading, “Eight More Warships Hit In Big Air Smash.”
Another headline from that same edition says, “Rhodes Moves To Cut Deficit; Asks Survey,” which is about Columbus mayor-elect James A. Rhodes — future Ohio governor — asking that “all overlapping and unnecessary activities” be eliminated in the interest of consolidating government services. Truly, some things never change.
A “my-how-things-have-changed” reminder comes from The Cincinnati Times-Star of Nov. 9, 1943, wherein a mother writes to an advice columnist, worried that her young son is acting more like a girl than a boy, preferring to play with girls and with girls’ toys.
The columnist advises that the boy “who is effeminate because of an unusual glandular pattern is a heartache to any mother.” She concludes, “Take it for granted that if left alone he will outgrow his liking for female society and develop, as do most boys, into a little hoodlum who will have none of it.” The “unusual glandular pattern” condition is seldom cited today.
From our own Press Gazette of Nov. 2, 1943 is a front-page note from Hillsboro mayor Joe W. List, proclaiming Nov. 17 as “Community Scrap Metals Day,” and urging all citizens to contribute to the drive so “our Air Corps, Army, Navy and Marines may have the necessary weapons with which to do this job.”
Another war-related item from that same edition: “Many motorists in Highland County will be forced to jack up their cars because of a lack of tires. This warning was submitted to the Highland County War Price and Rationing office today by the Cincinnati District OPA tire rationing officer, when he announced that another drastic cut in tire quotas for November has just been received.” Whatever challenges we face today pale in comparison to those days.
Tom probably included one paper specifically for me, an Aug. 17, 1977 edition of The Herald-Dispatch from Huntington, W. Va., with the top front page double-deck headline shouting, “’The King’ Elvis Presley Is Dead; Ticket Purchasers To Get Refunds.”
The mention of refunds alludes to the fact that Elvis was set to be the opening act of the brand new Huntington Civic Center for two shows Sept. 21 and Sept. 22, 1977.
“Presley’s death came just as ticket sales for his civic center appearances were sold out,” notes a sidebar story. “As late as yesterday morning, city officials were trying to arrange a third Presley concert at the civic center for Sept. 20… Civic center director William B. Lillyman said he believes those dates simply should be left open because it simply is impossible to replace Presley.”
What’s immediately striking any time you start looking at old newspapers is how physically large they were. The Dispatch from the 1940s was 17-inches wide, and the Hillsboro papers, the Press Gazette and the old News Herald, were 17.5 inches. That means they had a 34 or 35-inch web, or width, when you opened them to see two pages. It must have taken the teamwork of mom, dad and junior just to hold a newspaper open.
By contrast, most papers today like The Times-Gazette are 11-inches wide, while others, including the Dispatch and Cincinnati Enquirer, have changed to the compact tabloid style.
People often come to our office to visit our media room and look through our archive of old papers. Usually, visitors are looking for a specific item from a past edition, but once they start browsing, they find that it’s addictive and they can’t stop.
We have bound copies of the Press Gazette and the News Herald spanning several decades. The oldest complete collection we have is the Hillsboro Gazette from 1916. We have complete sets of the Press Gazette from 1936-39, and the News Herald from 1947-48. Then we have various sets from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and a complete set of The Times-Gazette from 1995 to the present.
Of course, the public library has pretty much everything on microfilm in complete fashion from over the years. But there’s something magical about leafing through the actual newspapers, feeling the paper in your hand, still smelling the musty newsprint, and imagining being a part of that time, reading the news of the day.
It’s like taking a time machine and revisiting a decades-old era, rediscovering not only the news and events, but the prices of food and clothing, the cinema ads (from movie houses in Hillsboro, Greenfield, Lynchburg and other places), the clothing, hardware and grocery stores that existed in the past, and the colloquial social notes that were printed way back when (“Joe D. Williamson, longtime local hog farmer, fell and injured his shoulder Sunday. He is recuperating at home.”)
We’re adding the papers given to us by Tom Hughes to our collection. Stop in anytime and avail yourself to all these old memories. But be forewarned — whatever amount of time you think you’ll spend here, you’ll end up doubling it. At least.
Gary Abernathy is a regional content manager for Civitas Media and the editor of the Hillsboro Times-Gazette. He can be reached at 937-393-3456, or on Twitter @abernathygary.