A few months ago, in an effort to help my genealogy project along, I decided to subscribe to the newspapers.com website. And I soon decided to let the subscription lapse after the first six months; although I did find a very few items of interest, overall, the bang-for-the-buck wasn’t there.
At least, that was the plan at the time. But, then, a couple of days ago, I was tipped off to a game-changer. As in, most of the Wausau Daily Herald, going all the way back 110 years to the founding of what was then the Record-Herald (the only apparent gap being, curiously, from 1940 to 1951, covering World War II and the immediate postwar years…an era when one would have expected overall interest to be at a very high level). As soon as I saw this, I knew that my upcoming decision would be far more difficult. The Herald was and is, of course, my hometown paper. Now, like so many other papers recently, I have to honestly say that the print edition has become a shell of its former self; such is the nature of the business in this day and age. But, once upon a time not all that many years ago – before the online age, before the advent of the 24-hour news channels – the paper was the go-to source for in-depth coverage of news from local to global. And, so often, it also provided tangible mementos of the important stories, whether the importance was of a universal nature, or something more personal – a birth or wedding announcement, perhaps a feature story regarding a friend or loved one…most of us, I am sure, have clippings or pages put away somewhere to be brought out from time to time.
And so, obviously, I began to look back in time. My focus – at least initially – would be from 1956 (the year of my birth) to 1968, when I began to pay serious attention to the news on a daily basis. True, I had already begun paying attention to the news several years before ’68 – but, for whatever reason, it was only then that things began to get real, as it were. It also helped that – at least when using my smartphone – it was easier to scroll through and find the bigger stories, thanks to the fonts used in the paper’s headlines prior to 1968. Back then, the Record-Herald generally used fairly thin lettering when composing headlines. The big stories – the ones that maybe once every month or two, if even that – used a slightly larger and thicker lettering. And for the Really Big Stories, the R-H utilized a completely different headline typeface – probably twice the height of anything else it used, very bold, with serifs, which created a very jarring visual effect. Interestingly, this oversized font was used almost exclusively for Mercury and Gemini space flights, beginning with John Glenn in 1962. The only other instances I came across where this font was used were for the Cuban Missile Crisis (three days), the assassination of John Kennedy (two days), and once each for the death of Pope John XXIII and the initial raid on North Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident. In fact, some of these headlines – “Glenn Makes It”, “War Threat High”, “President Shot and Killed” and “Indict JFK Killer” were permanently burned into my memory bank even then (although seven-year-old me had no idea what the word “indict” actually meant).
And, for what it is worth, some of you may note the stand-alone use of the word “killer” used to refer to Lee Harvey Oswald, without the use of any adjective such as “accused” or “alleged”. It was a different day back then, and this was certainly apparent in the headlines. For one thing, shorthand was certainly used much more – JFK, LBJ, and (for Hubert Humphrey) HHH. Nikita Krushchev was first “Mr. K”, then simply “K”; he was also frequently referred to in the headlines by his first name (as was then-UN general secretary Dag Hammerskjold). “Russ” – short for “Russia” – was used for the Soviet Union, and West Germany was sometimes referred to by the rather interesting term “Reich”. But, then, much of what was in the headlines would be considered somewhat less than PC today – the term “old folks’ home” used for a nursing home, the use of the word “boner” referring to a blunder, and a now-unthinkable sub-headline, referring to the murder of four people: “Indian Goes Berserk In Town of Weston”. In fact, this story gave me quite a jolt, and not just for the racial references contained therein (the killer and all four victims were Native American). Not only did this murder take place two days before my parents’ wedding; it happened a very few blocks – no more than half a mile, if that – from the house that, a year or so later, would become the home where we kids all grew up, and Carter’s Grocery (our neighborhood grocer, where years later I would walk, then bike, on errands for my parents) had a tangential part in the story as well. In fact, I knew nothing of this incident until today, and if my parents knew anything of the story – very likely the case, even though they lived in Wausau at the time of the murders – they never mentioned anything of it to us.
No doubt, as I dig deeper, there will be other heretofore unknown stories as well. And if I cannot hold an original copy of the paper anymore, at the least I will be able to bookmark the page or print the story out if so inclined. But dig I must. Looks like I will be renewing that subscription after all…