The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

September 27, 2013

Ink-stained wretches

There’s a rather large and somewhat imposing statue of an eagle with plated-copper feathers perched in the Enid News & Eagle building foyer, standing as a silent, always-watching testament to this newspaper, and newspapers like it, across this state and nation.

Oklahoma, it seems, was somewhat singular in its early journalistic bent, having large segments of the fourth estate’s ink-stained wretches springing from the shirttails of land runs, Sooners, Boomers and sometimes its famous desperadoes of yore.

The News & Eagle this past week marked a 120-year milestone in Oklahoma journalism.  

This county’s contribution to newspapers past includes The Garfield County Democrat, The Daily Enterprise, The Garfield County Press, The Enid Echo, The Enid Weekly Wave, The Tribune Democrat, The Enid Morning News, The Enid Events, The Wave-Democrat and The Enid Daily Eagle. Or, in smaller towns in Garfield County, where the Garber Sentinel flourished, or in Waukomis, with the Cherokee Republican and its 1899 successor, the Oklahoma Hornet.

This list is far from complete, as the cob-webbed annals of newspaper history in this county have a few holes in them, as newsprint has yellowed and fallen to pieces; as first-hand memories have faded and passed on.

These are most, but not all, of the newspapers that have come and gone across Garfield County in the 120 years since the greatest land run the world had ever seen — pioneering and paving the way for the newspaper you hold in your hands, view on your smartphone or tablet, or scan through on your computer screen.

Ah, technology.

But technology on the dry and dusty Oklahoma prairie a century and a score years ago was far more elemental.

Ever seen the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”? Or an episode of “Deadwood”? The ink-stained, spectacle-wearing, visored brow of the old-time newspaperman was on full display. While you and I weren’t there to see our first newspaper men and women — who chased down the news, hand-set the type, toiled at a platen press and swept out at the end of the workday — these Hollywood-style images likely were accurate.

History tells us the first newspaper in what now is Oklahoma was established fully 17 years before the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, when the American Civil War took up the lion’s share of the space on front pages of America’s early newspapers.

The Cherokee Advocate was first published in Tahlequah in 1844, long before land runs and waves of pioneers settled on Oklahoma’s red dirt — somewhat of a pioneering novelty in its day, since it was printed in both Cherokee and English.

Interesting to think that in 1844, Cherokee was the native language, and English was the second language in these parts.

The newspapers that sprang up in the old Cherokee Strip soon had the advantage of one of the newest inventions of its day — the Linotype. Developed by German-born Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884, the most marvelous invention since the printing press helped bring a then-modern leap in printing technology, that eventually ended the day when all newspaper type was created by the sweat and toil of the hand of the editor/printer.

Since I was born into the weekly newspaper business — my grandpa and dad both having been newspapermen before me — I am probably one of the few remaining who can testify to having hand-set headlines, been a letterpress journeyman Linotype operator by age 16, moved through the various rapid phases of offset typography up to creating and pulling together digital images on a computer screen for all to see.

To this day, I remember the first words from my dad’s mouth after the Oklahoma Hornet jetted into the latest in computer technology back in the early 1980s. Eyeing our first Apple Macintosh with a wary-of-technology scrutiny, my dad had only half-kiddingly asked me how I was supposed to go about oiling its gears!

Viewing an online scanned edition of the Enid Daily Eagle from April 26, 1906 — the front-page news was of hundreds of Odd Fellows gathering in town; some stores were open in stricken San Francisco following the great earthquake that struck there eight days before; there was “nothing doing” in the news on statehood for Oklahoma Territory, as statehood conferees side-stepped a proposition to become the 46th state, and a “fruitless session” was ensuing.

The Bank of Enid and First National Bank both had front-page ads that day, and there was a cordial invitation to proprietor W.T. Overton’s Model Grocery and Market, which proclaimed: “We think we can convince you that we have the very best groceries and meats to be found anywhere in Enid.”

This was journalism in the early days. From an 1893 front page composed from hand-set type, to reading today’s digital edition, time continues to march on.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enidnews.com/historicallyspeaking

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