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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn E. Cook

The Joys of Old-time Newspapers

When I’m researching for a new novel, some of the best places to get information are newspapers from the targeted era, especially the ones from small towns. I come across articles on every possible topic, from politics to home-doctoring to local gossip to tragedies. I don’t think there’s a better way to get the flavor of a particular period than to read words written by and about the people of that time. So much grabs my attention that the research ends up filling a thick binder, 98 percent of which won’t make an appearance in my upcoming story. Even so, it informs the story’s atmosphere and that is key.

Rather than have these unused articles languish in a closed binder, here are a few of my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Local news from the Gallup, New Mexico paper, 1907—

D. H. Chisholm, of Flagstaff, was here Monday to attend the New Year’s dance.

Born – To Conductor and Mrs. Frank Thomas on Sunday, a daughter.

All the passenger trains were on time Saturday. Now what do you think of that?

Mrs. A. Gray, of Albuquerque, has been spending the holidays with her sisters,

Mrs. F. W. Nelson and Mrs. W.P. Geary.

During the storm last Thursday night, the big barn of J.W. Barnes was blown down and badly wrecked. It was piled up against the house, which was also damaged. The same storm did considerable damage to the residence of Walter Sullivan.

(People sure liked to know exactly what was going on with their neighbors back then, even to who was visiting who and for how long. And why did so many men go by their initials?)

News from an Iowa paper, 1907—

The worst wreck of the season occurred on Thursday evening, two miles west of town. Ten cars loaded with wheat and bullion were derailed. No definite cause has been given for the accident but judging from the number of wrecks near here within the past year, we would naturally conclude that the track is in serious need of repairs.

(The reporter must have been very knowledgeable to figure that out.)

And from a Colorado paper — 1907

Class of ’07 to Graduate This Evening

All of Aspen should join hands tonight in a grand welcome to the class of ’07 as they appear at the Wheeler opera house to be graduated. President Elias Cohn of the School Board will introduce the class, after which they will render a program rich in song, oration, and debate. Do not let a little rain keep you at home – some fine or rainy day you may have a son or daughter in a graduating class – then it will take more than a shower to keep you at home.

(I guess a little admonishing didn’t hurt in the cause of filling that opera house.)

The Avalanche, October 23, 1908 Lubbock, Texas

WANTED — Success Magazine requires the services of a man in Lubbock to look after expiring subscriptions and to secure new business by means of special methods unusually effective; position permanent, prefer one with experience, but would consider any applicant with good natural qualifications; salary $1.50 per day with commission option. Address with references. R. C. Peacock, Room 102, Success Magazine Bldg., New York.

($1.50 per day comes to $7.50 for a 5-day work week and a whopping $30 per month. Not too bad for 1908.)

LOST — 1 Brindle Motley faced 2 year old heifer, branded RDX on side, marked crop each ear underneath. A.R. Dillard, Lubbock, Texas.

(I don't understand the terminology about the heifer's ear. Must have been rancher's lingo. That heifer must have been essential to Mr. Dillard’s herd. I hope he found her.)

Girl Fell Thirty Feet

Miss Mary O’Connor, 17 years old, an errand girl in the dressmaking department of the George Innes Dry Goods Company, fell through a skylight to the ground floor of the building, a distance of 37 feet, lighting on her head and shoulders and, strange to say, escaped serious injury.

(That girl was surely blessed.)

The Iola Register, February 9, 1900 Iola, Kansas

Was Badly Scalded

About 3 o’clock Monday afternoon Laura Fender, an eighteen year old girl who works at the Endicott boardinghouse on East Street, was badly burned by scalding water. She had scrubbed the back porch and while it was still wet and slippery started to carry a boiler full of water from the kitchen stove out the back porch and fell, the water spilling over her and scalding her chest, arms, and back. An agonized shriek informed the inmates of the house and they rushed to investigate. Drs. Fulton and Christy were summoned and they applied the proper remedies. This morning she is reported as resting easy and her life will be saved. Miss Fender is the eldest of a family of children who recently lost their mother. She lives in Bricktown.

(It seems a lot of jobs back then could be dangerous, especially if you were just a lowly errand or cleaning girl. We’ve come a long way since then, thank goodness.)

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