Scott Free

Scott Peterson

One of the greatest things about the newspaper office, even in the modern era, is that you never know what might walk in the door. Sometimes it’s actually something out of the not-so-modern era.

A newspaper walked in the door the other day, accompanied by its escort, Esther Else, who loves our newspaper so much she is never shy about pointing out how short of excellent we have become. Several days ago, as she was refinishing furniture at her house, she uncovered, tucked inside a cabinet, a Watertown Daily Times that was almost 75 years old. She was nice enough to share it with us.

It was yellowed and so brittle it was literally falling apart, but it was readable — not bad, considering it was from Aug. 27, 1947. It was priced at 4 cents, which is just, oh, a trifle higher than it is today. But from what we could tell it was only four pages.

Like a lot of papers from that era, its front page was an eclectic mix of everything from the trivial to the important. Because it was from the post war years, some types of news was surprisingly similar to our nearly post-pandemic times.

The banner headline for the broadsheet stretch across eight columns: “England Adopts New Drastic Measures.” It told of harsh post-wear steps being taken in the British Isles to deal with shortages, with lots of rationing on everything from meat to travel. Sound familiar?

Of course, there was local news like Fr. Foley was appointed pastor at St. Henry’s, the Nuremberg war trails were underway and several countries had agreed to atomic monitoring.

But it’s the odd things on the front page that were most interesting:

  • My favorite was the Watertown Daily Times had a Tall Corn Contest. Farmers were invited to bring their tallest cornstalks into the newspaper office for an official measurement. The tallest stalk, from tassel top to first root spur won a one-year subscription. Second and third place earned shorter subscription durations.
  • Another article reported that the American Legion was having a a convention in New York and, police, volunteers and others were so “mindful of what happened in 1937” and fearing that attendees might walk away with things that the Empire State Building, Times Square and hotel lobbies were stripped of everything that would require” up to three men” to carry away. Undoubtedly it was not a coincidence that as far away from that story as possible on the front page was another article about a local man, A.A. Minning, a Watertown Legion member, who was on his way to the convention in New York. Presumably he was well behaved. Hey, those guys won the war! Let them have some fun.
  • Near the top of the page was a photo of a man in Houston demonstrating a device that he said was a four-hour hangover cure. Apparently that never caught on.
  • Nearby was news from United Press saying that three patents were filed today in advance of Labor Day to make lives easier. One let motorists slide a car sideways into a parking space, another raised a car “skyward” with a hydraulic lift when a button was pushed on the dashboard, and a third was a gadget to hold a fishing pole while the angler snoozed.
  • There was big news from car maker Studebaker announcing price increases from $50 to $155 due to “increased manufacturing costs.” I wonder if they had any computer chip shortages due to supply-chain shortages?
  • There was admission by scientists who had been trying to make rain that man may never be able to be successful at it.
  • On the back page was an ad from the Dodge Street Garage in Watertown for an Oldsmobile with General Motors’ “Hydra-Matic” Drive for “no shift, no clutch driving.” It depicts a series of men’s dress shoes fading off into infinity and says “400,000 left feet that never push a clutch!” Sounds like the beginning of the end for manual transmissions.
  • Another ad touted the scenery of the upper Midwest and suggested going there by car using Permalube oil available at John Verg Standard Service Station at Seventh and Main streets.
  • Women could buy “magic hip slimmer” lingerie called Flatter-U at the Budget Shop, 115 Main St.

Maybe the difference between newspapers of yesteryear and those of today is that nowadays we just take ourselves too darned seriously. This was what social media used to look like.

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