On Friday, I found myself surrounded by volumes of bound Daily Alaska Empire newspapers from 1929. The old editions of the Empire were tattered, at best. Some were held together by fragile strands of aging duct tape, others were only a shadow of their former selves as newsprint fell from the spine and pages snapped like twigs when I tried to turn them.
It’s hard to say how long it had been since someone had flipped through the volume before me — years certainly, possibly decades, maybe even half a century.
I envisioned bearded old timers, pipe tucked in the corner of their mouth, reading the headlines after a long day on the docks. I pictured miners coated in a day’s worth of grime thumbing through to page seven, where the “Douglas News” column appeared. Of course, the women too, turning the broad sheets, reading, skimming the advertisements from B.M. Behrends Co., Inc., for example, for deals on silk hose, camisoles, vests and knickers, or “handkerchiefs” in “Fabrics That Wash Well.”
Despite the years that had passed since their printing, many of the raggedy bits of news still rang true.
On page three or four, editors ran a regular feature called “20 Years Ago;” it contained vignettes of happenings from around the community of twenty years prior. On this day, the paper reported that twenty years earlier a “Mrs. L.R. Hogins, former bookkeeper at the Juneau Lumber Mills, had accepted a position in George Brothers grocery store. She had been a member of the clerical staff in the Senate during the Legislature.” There was also the note about a “Lee H. Wakefield, head of Wakefield Fisheries, and veteran Alaska herring and salmon packer, was enroute to Seattle for the winter. He reported a 36,000-case pack that season.” And also “Miss Rosella Monagle and Miss Zenia Paul had announced that they would be contestants for the Harvest Queen to be crowned at the Southeast Alaska Fair.”
As I perused the faded pages, it became clear that the news of small towns has not changed all that much over the last 100 years. Those in the business of small-town news always seem to tell similar stories. I’ve found we still care about individuals like Mrs. L.R. Hogins and the young ladies who qualified for today’s Miss Alaska pageant. We still care about when a particular ship (today, it’s a State ferry or cruise ship) is sailing and when the cloudy weather is expected to turn sunny. Yes, the papers of yesteryear report on many of the same topics as their digitalized cousins of today.
At the time, I was looking for historically significant front pages, interesting photographs or news items as we prepare for the Juneau Empire's 100 birthday in November. But, I have to admit I was distracted by the little, and arguably insignificant, headlines.
For me, it's as much about how the news has stayed the same, as it is about how things have changed.
I’ve learned much thus far about not only the reporters that came before me, but also about my own family — how they came to Juneau, why and how they lived once they made a home here.
Those stories are forthcoming.