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The Creston News Advertiser is really, really old

For my birthday this year, I was gifted a spiral-bound copy of every issue of “The Creston Daily Advertiser” published through the months of January and June in the year 1890.

More than just a novelty, I’ve found the articles to be extremely interesting. So much so that I’ve decided it worth a column to organize my thoughts on the volume. Not just for myself but hopefully for anybody else who might find local history interesting.

Most of the contents in that year of the Advertiser were delivered to the reader in two recurring, daily segments published as part of the “Evening Advertiser.” These were “Personal Points,” and the “Railroad Rumble.” Also published often enough were accounts of weddings, house parties and other social gatherings — all usually very forgettable. Poetry was published sporadically too, mostly by a man named James Williamson from Nevinville.

Personal Points is simple enough. Segments like this are still published in many small town newspapers. It mostly includes single-sentence explanations of when and where the town’s people could be found that given day. The typical entry, of which there might be somewhere between 15 and 30 printed each evening, would look something like this:

“Mrs. J. B. Sullivan went to Afton this afternoon, for a few days visit with her parents.” Or, “Thos. L. Maxwell went to Bedford this morning, where he has several cases in the Taylor county court.” Or, “Mrs. J. L. Ogg departed last night for Chicago, where she will visit friends a few weeks.”

At times, the entries might be more colorful. For example, “Rev. W. S. Hooker departed this afternoon for Shenandoah, called there by a telegram stating that Mrs. S. M. Crooks was dying. Rev. Hooker was formerly Mrs. Crooks’ pastor, and she expressed a desire to see him before she died.”

A good many of these entries are genuinely interesting. They’re almost like the Facebook feed of 120 years ago. It’s one of those things that really opens your eyes to what newspapers used to mean, and do, for communities back before the internet and telephones were invented.

And then there is the “Railroad Rumble.” This segment is composed of some similar type of entries, but entirely centered around the railroad. There are announcements of when and where the railroad officials could be found (i.e. conductors, blacksmiths, dispatchers, engineers, etc.), as well as regional and national railroad news and the comings and goings of specific engines.

Much of this segment is spent in describing the various illnesses and injuries that befell these people. I would certainly not want to work for the railroad business in that day and age. Among many explanations of which conductor or which engineer was out with the “grip” on any given day, were incidents like these:

“John A. Liggett, aged 21 years, a brakeman on the Diagonal, fell from the top of a train near Barney, in Madison county, Monday night, breaking his neck. He was taken to Avoca for burial by his father, Chas. Liggett.”

In addition to these two segments, each issue seems to be peppered with probably two or three stories of any serious interest. All of these stories would be pretty peculiar for anybody from this day and age, and they range in subject from announcements of upcoming county wolf hunts to the description of an incident in which a woman was almost poisoned to death by some arsenic somebody had dropped into her well.

In reading these old issues, I am constantly surprised and entertained by how much opinion the reporters and editors managed into their stories in those days. Nobody ever goes to the “cooler,” as the Advertiser called the lock-up, without being admonished by the editorial staff for at least a good few sentences. For example, quoted below is the final paragraph in a story about six young men who “loaded themselves with some of Creston’s bad whiskey last night, and ... succeeded in doing the town in pretty good shape.”

“Such scenes as was enacted last night,” wrote the Advertiser reporter, “by this crowd are a disgrace to the city, and these young men should be dealt with according to law, and taught a lesson which they would not soon forget. This is some of the fruits of the illegal sale of whiskey in the city, and is the work of Creston joints.”

Apparently, the newspaper in those days was less concerned about avoiding bias.

It is also interesting to learn the slang of those days. In one story, we learn of a young man who took a little to “freely” of the “fire water,” and started in to “paint the town a bright red,” in “true western style.”

But so far as I can tell, the biggest story of the months presented in the spiral-bound book I have was the very public account of the then-Mayor Patterson’s poor behavior, including such a headline as “Mayor Patterson Insists on Presiding as Chairman at His Own Trial, but Fails,” and another account in which the mayor is described to have been drunk at a city council meeting.

Several other important things in Creston seem to have happened in 1890, including the beginnings of the construction of the historic depot, and the beginnings of moving the county seat from Afton to Creston.

I found flipping through the pages of this volume to be very interesting. The makeup of a newspaper has changed quite a lot since 1890, and so has its purpose. They’re no longer quite so personal, and no longer quite so bold. Social media seems to have taken up much of the space that once belonged to them. Readers now have a choice of what type of information they can consume, and how, and the newspaper has gone from being the only choice to just one of many.


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