Tim Van Schmidt
Never mind those blips on the computer screen. Let’s talk about paper– ink and paper; as in newspapers, to be exact.
The bottom of my family trunk is lined with old newspapers. But they aren’t just packing material. They were saved by various relatives, so I save them too.
There are the Boston newspapers my grandfather bought on the street the day World War I ended in 1918.
My mother-in-law collected newspapers too, like one from 1945 bearing the news that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died.
My mother also saved papers. Her contribution to the pile is a Honolulu publication celebrating the day Hawaii was granted statehood in 1959. She and my mother-in-law both bought the papers when President John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963.
I have carried on this tradition, but maybe on steroids. I saved daily papers all the way through the Gulf War in 1990-91 and the 2000 election controversy. I also saved a wide variety of newspapers after 9-11.
Looking at this collection, it’s now all history. No, that doesn’t mean it’s done. It means that newspapers tell the stories of the times as they happened. It’s history; not strained through time, but in the present tense, vital and immediate.
The history you can get from newspapers doesn’t have to be about the really big things. Articles tell of a variety of events, while columns reveal attitudes. Even advertising becomes a reflection of the times.
In April 1945, the nation was mourning FDR, a full two-page photo depicting his burial. But a Pennsylvania Central Airlines plane also crashed in West Virginia, killing twenty people. At the movies, Bob Hope was starring in “The Princess and the Pirate”, but I would have gone to see “God is My Co-pilot” because the show also included a live set by Cab Calloway.
In 1959, Hawaiian statehood was certainly the big news, but Waikiki was also getting set to celebrate its Cherry Blossom Festival, including a queen contest and Noh dance dramas. A popular chef, Me P.Y. Chong, “the master of Chinese cooking and pidgin English”, was memorialized. And an interesting little article revealed that the Boeing Airplane Company was studying “the possibility of placing an observatory on the moon” — a full ten years before men actually landed there.
In 1963, huge, somber black-and-white photos covered Kennedy’s funeral — including the striking shot of little John Kennedy saluting. But in other news, Cuba sentenced a Canadian man to 30 years in prison for smuggling explosives. For only $9.99, you could buy a three-foot-tall robot that “works, fights, talks, and even launches rockets”. And Barbra Streisand, then in rehearsals for her starring role in the musical “Funny Girl,” is identified as a “Gifted Kook That Sings.”
All the little blips on my computer screen can tell the same stories. But to me, having the feel of paper in the hands makes the news all the more real — these are true artifacts.
And perhaps paper just has more staying power — two recent Sci-Fi novels I have recently read have posited the same idea that electronic information may not survive the ravages of time, but paper and ink just might.
You are holding history in your hands right now — NOCO history, that is. That’s right. North Forty News is a part of this long tradition of printing today’s news, which naturally becomes tomorrow’s history. I have a number of these papers in my collection too.
Check out “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt” on YouTube.