Saturday, December 29, 2007

“New Year: 1919”

c. 2007 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: The arrival of a New Year dependably brings hope to those who yearn for better days through chronological renewal. Across the Earth, humanity revels in thoughts of a tomorrow still untouched by fate and circumstance. With the first breath of January, everything old is authentically new again. And yet, just before that final turn of the calendar page, a different emotion yearns to be noticed. Mixed with the promise of sunrise are memories of what has gone before…

Such thoughts were present as I spent a recent evening on eBay, the world’s online marketplace. My search for ‘Ohio newspapers’ produced an interesting result – a copy of The Geauga Republican from January 29, 1919.

I was spellbound by the entry.

Somewhere, I’d seen a photograph of the old GR office, flanked by a vintage motorcar. It appeared to have been on the Chardon Square. Yet details about the paper were few. Excitement tingled through my skin while bidding on the item. I offered three dollars and twenty-five cents, and won.

It was another episode of ‘shopping victoriously’ in cyberspace!

Days later, the parcel arrived from Graysville, Ohio. It held my acquisition wrapped in cardboard and a protective mailer. Carefully, I opened the newfound treasure with a sense of awe.

From the first block of print, a tone of grandeur was evident in the bygone county gazette:

“The Republican costs more per year than some Geauga County papers. But subscribers say it is worth the difference. Want Ads in the Republican cost little, but accomplish much. Try it and see. Phone, write or call.”

Following traditions of that era, the front page was a dutiful slab of text. No bylines were given, creating an anonymous symmetry throughout the document. There were no carefree images to tease the eye. Instead, the paper resonated with purpose.
A section existed for every district – from Thompson to Bainbridge. Each carried gentle details of rural living and social events, with a homespun flair that would later appear in local publications like The Weekly Mail:

“HUNTSBURG – F. D. Fisher is working on the foundation for his new house. Sap was running good Saturday. Gail Enders has been delivering oats at Middlefield the past week for 74c. The gymnasium girls hold a conundrum social at the Town Hall on Friday night. There is a movement on to form a cow testing association in our town. A State speaker and organizer will be here soon.”

Deeper into the page, hard news stories began to appear. The writing style would be perilous for a current editor. But nearly a century ago, it served to inform readers who were starved for knowledge of other communities:

“A movement is on foot among the newspaper men of Ohio to ask the Legislature, now in session, to amend the Ohio election laws to permit of an earlier count of the ballots following a general election. Newspaper men say that in a general election, Ohio is usually the last big State in the Union to make known its results. They say that under the present law, election board officials are not required to count their ballots on election night, and that in some rural communities the ballots are not counted until the next day, the election board officials closing shop for the day after the polls are closed. An amendment to the statutes making it mandatory upon election officials to count the results on National and State tickets first may be asked by the newspaper men.”

Reporting on national events, the ‘Temperance Question’ was analyzed in detail. (Curiously, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified shortly before this issue originally hit newsstands in Geauga.) It represented a moment of political action that resounded from coast to coast, and back to Ohio:

“The United States of America has entered upon the tremendous social experiment of national prohibition of the manufacture, sale and use of alcoholic drinks. There will be abundant time to give the experiment a fair test since the prohibition is by constitutional amendment. To all appearances, this mandate…against the use of alcohol is intended to be absolute and final… this experiment is a tremendous departure from previous tendencies of the American people.”

Advertising in the Republican carried more stylish cues than many of the regular features. Businesses like American Fork & Hoe, The Parks & Barker Company, Holman Hardware, and J. U. Wettstein’s Bakery were represented. One familiar product of the period even carried an endorsement from a local resident:

“FEEL ALL USED UP? Lots of Chardon people do. Does your back ache constantly? Do you have sharp twinges when stooping or lifting? Feel all used up – as if you could just go no further? Why not look to your kidneys? Why not use Doan’s Kidney Pills? Chardon people have done so. They tell you the result. Mrs. W. S. Johnson, East King St., Chardon says: ‘About three years ago, I was taken with kidney complaint. My back was so lame I could hardly keep up, and it ached steadily. I felt all wornout and couldn’t get any rest. I was nervous and my kidneys acted irregularly. I used four boxes of Doan’s Kidney Pills, from Cook’s Drug Store and they completely rid me of the trouble. I have been well ever since.’ Price 60 c, at all dealers.”

A literary excerpt was also included, from ‘Carolyn of the Corners’ by author Ruth Belmore Endicott. Her cheerful verbiage seemed to help lighten the paper’s otherwise serious intellectual tone:

“The Rev. Afton Driggs, though serious-minded, was a loving man. He was fond of children and he and his childless wife gave much of their attention to the Sunday school. Mrs. Driggs taught Carolyn May’s class of little girls. Mrs. Driggs did her very best, too, to get the children to stay to the preaching service, but Carolyn May had to confess that the pastor’s discourses were usually hard to understand.
‘And he is always reading about the Begats,’ she complained gently to Uncle Joe as they went home together on this particular Sunday, ‘and I can’t keep interested when he does that. I s’pose the Begats were very nice people, but I’m sure they weren’t related to us – they’ve all got such funny names.”

Finally, a bottom-of-the-page blurb described efforts in Mother Russia to impose Marxist-Leninist principles on their populace:

“Would Abolish Money – The wily bolshevik is going back to the early American Indian trader’s system – he purposes to abolish money. The laborer, under the proposed revision of obliteration of the Russian monetary system, will be paid in produce.”

Were buyers of the Republican supposed to visualize communist workers being paid with heads of lettuce, cauliflower, and carrots? I couldn’t be sure. But there was no room for further explanation. The yellowed pages were full.
My time-warp adventure had ended. I was at the final margin, eighty-nine years after the fact.

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