I’ve long been fascinated by old newspapers.
In my office I keep some old newspapers in frames. Most of them feature stories that I worked on; some historic.
I take some solace in the final edition of the “Chicago Daily News” from March 4, 1978. My grandfather, a pressman, printed it. The top headline says, “So long, Chicago.” There’s a column with the headline “A truly great newspaper: Why couldn’t it make it?” Some guy named Mike Royko wrote it.
When people tell me newspapers are dying, that last edition of Chicago’s great “writer’s newspaper” reminds me that, well, newspapers have been dying forever. The trick is finding one that’s still alive and making sure it stays that way.
Turbulent times: Recently, one of my coworkers, Ed Lutz, brought me some old editions of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle from 1967. The stories and ads on its yellowed pages give a good idea of what it was like to live here almost 50 years ago.
News was unsettling. It was three months before the Tet Offensive, but already the Vietnam War dominated headlines.
“Casualty toll in war passes 100,000 mark” says the lead story on the front page, noting more than 1,920 U.S. soldiers were casualties in the past week, with 141 killed. A tiny separate item notes that one of the dead was from Chicago and another from St. Charles.
Another story noted, “Red China backing Vietnam War,” while a third, “Form suicide squad in Vietnam,” is about radical Buddhists planning self-immolation.
The other major theme is labor unrest. The FBI was investigating an eight-state strike by steel haulers, who were being blamed for shootings and other violence on highways.
Locally, DeKalb Mayor Joseph Ebbesen was trying to mediate a dispute between General Electric and the striking members of IUE Local 1081, who had been picketing for almost seven weeks. But General Electric management rebuffed Ebbesen’s request for a meeting between the two sides.
“We are endeavoring to make perfectly clear to both union officials and employees that the company has long since done everything it can, no matter how long the strike should last,” a GE executive wrote back.
Sounds like those GE guys have been saying basically the same thing for decades.
A lot of other things have changed dramatically since ’67.
It was only weeks after the end of the “Summer of Love,” but there are no hippies in any of the community news photos – although some do appear in the “Berry’s World” single-panel cartoon below the crossword puzzle, a joke about a “flower person” who developed hay fever.
In the local photos, everyone is dressed quite properly. The men wear jackets and ties, the women, dresses. The DeKalb High School sophomores measuring the braking distance of a vehicle are wearing collared shirts and sweaters – but none are identified by name.
Members of the DeKalb County Mental Health Board being honored at a reception, including President Dr. Eleanor Anglin, Vice President Dr. Si Clifton and Secretary Sister Mary Ruth all are formally attired – Ruth is wearing a traditional nun’s habit. County board members Dean Miller, Edwin Clemmins, Ben Gordon and Charles Nelson were in on the crowded photo op, too.
Women’s identities: People who mock the feminist movement probably either don’t know or have forgotten how much things have changed for women in almost 50 years.
The paper’s ads are filled with pictures of women – then, as now, women made most of the household buying decisions – but in the news stories, most of the women are identified by their husband’s name.
In a front-page photo just to the right of the story about the Vietnamese suicide squad, Warren Scott is shown pointing at something at a meeting of DeKalb area Cub Scout leaders. There are six den mothers standing around a table filled with craft items. There’s “Mrs. William Herleman” and “Mrs. Glen Karr.” There’s also Harriet Homan, Shirley Hamilton and Helen Overton.
Scott’s wife is in the photo, too, although she’s referred to simply as Mrs. Scott. We’d already been told her husband’s name, after all.
The local news items are filled with this social convention. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Andes were dinner guests at the Ralph Chambers home in Shabbona.
Mrs. Emerson Metcalf was the neighborhood “chairman” of the Wynonwy Neighborhood of Girl Scouts.
Mrs. Richard Yeast and Ralph Coultrip were DeKalb Duplicate Bridge Club winners.
Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Morgan were parents of a son, Donald Wayne, born (it says here) Sept. 18, 1867. They might have had to re-run that one.
In a story about a woman named Sybil Weaver who was hurt in a car accident, she’s referred to as “the Weaver woman” on second reference – there was no “Weaver man” in the story.
So there’s the context behind the bumper-sticker slogan that “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
In the Daily Chronicle of the 1960s, most women were known simply as someone’s wife.
Bygone businesses: The ads are interesting, too, filled with ads for businesses long gone with prices that seem quaint.
In 1967, there was daily passenger rail service to and from Chicago on the Chicago and North Western Railroad.
You could see “Barefoot in the Park” starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda at the Egyptian Theater. The DeKalb Theater was showing “The Dirty Dozen,” and Frank Sinatra was starring in “The Naked Runner” at the State Theater in Sycamore.
Tickets cost $1.25, 50 cents for children.
The Woolco Department Store was hawking everything from children’s shoes to plants to $97, 16-inch TVs. At Montgomery Ward it was “time to go hunting” and they had all your firearms needs.
The Dog ’N’ Suds on Lincoln Highway was touting their new hours – they were open until 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Henry’s had coupons for a 49-cent half-gallon of ice cream and cartons of smokes for $2.85 – although they noted that one was for “adults only.” Carlson Foods was open until 8:30 p.m. Fridays, and they had pork chops for 65 cents a pound.
Some of the businesses are still here, too – Brad Manning Ford was running a demo-car clearance sale, and was still offering a 50,000-mile guarantee. The Kishwaukee Country Club’s Friday night “smorgasbord” cost $1.50 and had fish, shrimp and scallops.
Still the same: Today’s Daily Chronicle looks radically different, but it has the same mission as our predecessors: tell the community’s story. Like our brethren of decades ago, we’re still writing all this stuff down because it’s important both for now and for the future.
DeKalb County’s history is still being written here, one day at a time. I’m pleased to have the privilege of helping to write these chapters.
Maybe someone else will find them interesting decades from now.
• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.