Fast forward to autumn, 2019. I asked Sam Watson at the Press if he would like me to continue to project after the Sesquicentennial. He was again enthusiastic in his reply.
Once again, I listed every day of the year on my legal pad. I had a longer time frame to work with, so I was able to do a bit more research that yielded more dates and consequently information. Beginning in February, I was delighted to get a secret weapon! A cousin, Steven Moore, who is a genealogist living in California, alerted me to www.newspapers.com, which is a truly invaluable resource. Having access to this website has made my research much easier and convenient.
How do I begin writing about a certain day? Unless research from one of the books that will be listed in a forthcoming Community Voices column has yielded something prior to that particular date in 1870 (or December 1869), I search on www.newspapers.com until I find the year of the first entry on that date that mentions Johnson City. I then select random years with that date and research until I find something I think will be interesting to readers. When I find something (for example, a murder) that will be front-page news for several days, I try to include the story for the following days, rather than leave readers wondering, “What happened next?”
If research produces something prior to December 1869 or the date in 1870, I go forward 100 years. Occasionally, I’ve had items from the 1700’s, so I’ve been able to include something 100 and 200 years after the initial event.
It’s interesting to note the impact inflation has had on prices over the years. Everything from the budget of the City of Johnson City to the price of groceries to the price of a new car has increased. There are several good websites I use to plug in the beginning year and price to get an approximation of the value of the money today. My favorite is www.in2013dollars.com.
I’m often asked, “How long does it take you to write a column?” I typically plan to spend at least 90 minutes for each date. Sometimes it takes a little less, and occasionally it takes a couple of hours. For every column I try to find something that will be interesting to at least most of my readers, so I aim for a variety. I don’t submit each day at a time; that would be excessively stressful for me! I submit a week at a time, beginning on Sunday, and I try to keep at least a couple of weeks ahead.
As I write, I often quote sources verbatim because it’s interesting to read the different writing styles and terminology over the decades. For example, if Amy and Bert Byrd were married, up until the 1950s and sometimes 1960s, Amy Byrd would more than likely be referred to as Mrs. Bert Byrd. Similarly, if Connie Cutshaw is married to Carl Cutshaw, Dorothy Davis is married to Daniel Davis, and Eugenia Eaton is married to Earl Eaton, the ladies would likely be referred to as Mesdames Carl Cutshaw, Daniel Davis, and Earl Eaton.
Society columns flourished in the newspapers of many, if not most, cities especially in the first six or so decades of the 20th century. Stories would have literally paragraphs detailing the type of frock ladies wore to a bridal or baby shower; often an elaborate description of the invitations and decorations was also provided in these stories.
I’ve found it interesting that most early newspapers will carry an account of who has recently visited who, who has been in the hospital, who has been injured on the job, and the like. These are some of the types of things we just don’t have the opportunity to read about in the newspapers of today.
The staff provides the pictures that are in the Today in Johnson City History column; they have access to the pictorial resources and a better way to reproduce the pictures than I do. I certainly appreciate the variety they add to the column as well as the appeal that pictures have in attracting an audience.
If you have any documents you believe would be of interest or use to me as I write Today in Johnson City History, I hope you’ll let Sam Watson know. His email is email@example.com. His telephone number is 423-722-0549.
To be continued in Sunday’s edition.
Rebecca Henderson of Johnson City is an author and community volunteer.