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by Jeff Wilkin

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Features reporter Jeff Wilkin on pop culture
 

Old News

By Jeff Wilkin
Monday, April 22, 2013
| 1 comment

We received a telephone call from Fred Sauer of Glenville last week. Fred was spring cleaning, and wondered if the old Gazette was interested in a box of old newspapers.

The offer eventually reached my desk — which is in the heart of the newspaper’s history center. I said “Yes” without thinking twice. I even offered to pick up the papers myself.

These offers are rare, but whenever we get one, we do not delay. These old newspapers are often just days from curbside appointments with oblivion. People in the print business are glad to page through relics from the past.

Fred dropped them off Monday morning, and there’s only one copy of the Schenectady Gazette in the stack of yellowed, brittle treasures. The New York Herald is represented, so is the Albany Times Union and New York’s Daily News. Fred’s father was German, and that explains why he kept the May 7, 1937 editions of the Daily News and Times Union. The ill-fated German airship Hindenburg had exploded over Lakehurst, N.J. the night before, and the loss of humanity was big news all over the world.

Mr. Sauer kept only a couple of sections of the Hindenburg TU; he kept the entire Daily News, and it’s nice to page through this 76-page paper that will be 76 years old next month. Others news stories included a 36-year-old doctor — exiled from Nazi Germany — who had been unable to establish a practice in New York. She had leapt to her death from a New York City women’s hotel. In another story, movie star Clark Cable received press play for revealing he had given his estranged wife, Rhea, $145,000 in cash. Clark was hoping to settle things before a divorce suit went to court in May. Just two of the 8 million stories in the naked city.

The Daily News was just jammed with advertisements. Macy’s, Gimbels, Oxydol laundry soap, Tydol gasoline, Jack Frost sugar and Calvert whiskey shelled out money for messages. Those were the days — before direct mail, computer pop-up ads and television became options for stores and manufacturers. Among deals of the day for smart shoppers were a 1937 Bosch radio, a flood model for $33 — way off the manufacturer’s list price of $69.50 — at Davega department stores. Sach’s had Universal refrigerators on sale for $99.50, reduced from $159.50.

There were no comics pages. Funnies such as “Gasoline Alley,” “Smilin’ Jack,” “Smitty” and “Harold Teen” were in the lineup, but they were scattered on different back pages. People who know comics history know “Gasoline Alley’s” characters were allowed to age naturally. Old Skeezix Wallet, who was courting Nina Clock in the 1937 Daily News strip, is still “alive” today.

In sports, the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees, 12-6. Boxer Buddy Baer — brother of better known fighter Max Baer — beat Jim Wilde in London. Too bad about the Yankees — I’m glad to read about any of their losses, even ones in the last century.

Part of the New York Mirror from Oct. 23, 1962 was also in the Sauer box. “JFK Orders Blockade of Cuba” was the headline, and the reason the paper was saved as a souvenir. It was the Mirror’s final edition of the day — and people who were wondering about a nuclear showdown between the U.S. and Russia might have wondered if the paper was the Mirror’s final edition of all time.

A couple of issues of the New York Press from 1912 have also survived. In the Oct. 15 issue, former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt — running for another term on the Progressive ticket — had been shot by socialist John Schrank in Milwaukee. In the other paper, from Oct. 31, a recovered Roosevelt is in New York for a speech at Madison Square Garden. Teddy gets a rousing welcome — 42 minutes of cheers — before he has a chance to greet his fans.

The Press played the story big, and the reason was on the right “ear” on the front page. “The only Progressive morning paper in New York City” read the type. Yeah, they were taking sides: “New York’s Tribute to Roosevelt Greatest Known For any Candidate in the History of the Nation” read the banner headline, typically long and wordy for the early 1900s.

Copies of the Press are rare birds. The paper was first printed in 1887 and came out every day until July 2, 1916 — when it merged with the New York Herald.

The oldest paper in the collection is a section from the New York Mail and Express dated Friday, Aug. 10, 1888. It’s extremely fragile — something you’d expect in a 125-year-old newspaper — and hard to read. I don’t know how anyone read the small type sizes that came with the times. A graphic ax murder was on the front page. So was a piece about politician James Blaine returning to New York after a trip to Scotland; supporters had wanted him to campaign for the Republican nomination for president. Blaine had refused to run.

“I hated to just throw them out,” Sauer said of the newspapers, adding his mother first kept the papers in her home. The papers moved when Mrs. Sauer moved to an apartment. Frank has had the box for the past 10 years.

For me, it’s a chance to touch the past, and give other people a chance to touch another era. When Boy Scouts and other groups tour the newspaper, I generally give them a little pep talk about newspapers and discuss interesting features I’ve written. We often haul out old papers and folks can pick them up and page through them. When we had visitors from Russia filing through the news room earlier this month, a couple of guys saw the “Man Steps on the Moon” Schenectady Gazette from July 21, 1969. I posed for pictures holding the newspaper and hanging out with these media fans.

People throw out all kinds of things. Spring seems to trigger a de-clutter gene in our bodies, so many garages, attics and basements will be swept and cleared in the coming weeks. If anyone finds Grandma’s old newspapers in that old trunk or crate that’s been sitting around forever, don’t toss them. Call curators at your local historical society to see if they’re interested.

If they’re not interested, call me. I’ll be glad to give them new homes — they’re not making newspapers from 1912 and 1937 anymore.

 
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May 26, 2013
7:33 a.m.

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adkeditor says...

Fascinating column, Jeff. However, you forgot to mention that the Yankees won the World Series in 1937.

- Phil Brown

 

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