Saying something is “old news” usually represents a dismissive snark, but old news can actually be new and interesting.
That is what I was thinking as I read a fragile, yellowed, eight-page broadsheet from the Montpelier Evening Argus of Friday, April 4, 1930. That’s almost 93 years ago, doing the quick math, and by broadsheet I mean seven columns across a page 17 inches wide, about five more than today’s narrow honey-I-shrunk-the-paper Times Argus.
It arrived unexpectedly a few months ago rolled up in a long cardboard paper tube, the kind you ship posters in, from Montana. It was sent by an old friend from reporting days in the 1970s, Chuck Butler, now living in Helena, Montana. He was the Montpelier bureau chief for United Press International, worked for Gov. Richard Snelling as his Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs and spokesperson, and was then with Vermont Blue Cross/Blue Shield for many years.
Butler collects old news artifacts, and sent me the paper because he thought I’d find it interesting, which I did. Old newspapers are like a window on the long-gone world, offering a glimpse into history, culture, work life, and societal trends, not to mention the cost of living, politics, and odd humorous and arcane tidbits that reflect how much life has changed in the capital.
We’re not just talking story topics and headlines, but the content, language, and especially the advertisements that reveal the sweep of changes transpiring over the course of nearly a century: Shell gas “appearing here, everywhere, overnight.” “Old Gold, fastest growing cigarette in history.”
Aside from containing a couple of longer stories, the front page is a jumbled mishmash of local, national, and international news briefs, all from Associated Press. There are no bylines anywhere in the paper, no opinion page, and no listing of staff members or the editor, which is strange.
From the front-page one-paragraph briefs, we learn that a cod-fishing schooner “Stilleto of Gloucester, Mass.,” ran aground in New Jersey. Headlines blare “Gangster in Morgue” in Los Angeles; “Thirteen Killed” in coal mine explosion in Brussels, Belgium; and, under the headline “Menu May Be Popular,” that Rudy Vallee liked “Corned beef and cabbage [sic] and lemon meringue pie” “at a dinned [sic] given him by Gilda Gray.”
Stop the Presses!
The lead stories? An auto crash in North Bennington that killed a young woman, and two road contracts — “the highest submitted in Vermont” — for paving in Newbury, Barnet, and Ryegate ($519,262.) Also, “Poison traces were found by chemists” (a Florida murder case) and “Three taken into custody for kidnapping” in NYC. Seems that stories on crime, murder, accidents, and pocketbook issues were just as popular then as they are today.
Inside, there’s news of train schedules; actress Mae West; a court defense by attorney (and later governor) Deane Davis; a granite strike in Hardwick; and a City Hall conference with Mayor R.C. Bowers to discuss . . . installing traffic signals. As for “Activities Beneath The Golden Dome,” a report notes 100,000 lake trout eggs from Ontario arrived for use in lakes in Northern Vermont.
Much of the inside is given to social “news” from patrons of the paper.
Today, we have Facebook and Front Porch Forum, but back then it was the Argus in hot type. Some folks climbed Mount Hunger and found two feet of snow on top in April; the Worcester Community Methodist Church canceled Sunday service because of measles; Mrs. R.H. Ward was hospitalized in Boston and “is reported to be about the same” (what the same is we are left to guess). In Roxbury, two men were “quite badly injured” as they tried to crank the engine of a tractor. Meanwhile, a “Woman’s Club Notes” about a choral event says that, “Any who would like to sing, please call Miss Lillie, 468.”
Three-digit numbers. Yup, that was a long time ago.
A multitude of ads offer prime insights into the age (a lot cheaper) and businesses (many more smaller shops and trades people). A “Grand Union” on Main Street offers pork chops, 29¢ lb., turnips 5lbs., 25¢. There’s a “Puritan Clothing Store” near where Charlie O’s is now, and Montpelier Electric at 4 Langdon (“If your house is not Electrified, why not consider wiring”). Economy Cash Market at the corner of Elm and School streets pitches ”White House Coffee” (39¢ lb.) There are ads for coal, movies (“The Lone Star Ranger”), “Nash 400” cars, linoleum, banks, and insurance (“CRASH!! Something to worry about”).
My favorite ad, though, was from Morse’s “Ready-to-Wear store” on State Street. It touted “Easter Underwear Now Ready.”
Did not know that was a thing!
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