I’ve told many people over the years that newspapers are recorders of history in the making. What happens in Zebulon, Wendell or Knightdale this week may be big news today, but it will be history in 2066.
People will stumble across a newspaper from 2016 and marvel at how antiquated we were back in the day. We will laugh at hairstyles and people’s fashion sense. But we will also be able to read about the beginnings of the Wendell Falls neighborhood or we will be able to learn that the old police station in Garner used to be over on Seventh Avenue.
In that sense, newspapers are incredibly valuable, not only as recorders of current-day news and events, but as archives of our history. The room beside my workspace at my office in Zebulon is what we affectionately call the morgue. One wall is filled from top to bottom with shelves that contain old newspapers, some of them dating back to the late 1930s.
I don’t have nearly as much time as I would like to thumb through those old back issues, but I have come across interesting finds, from stories about Rotary and the Woman’s Club’s role in creating a library in Zebulon to an old photograph of my father when he opened the grain elevator in Zebulon on Vance Street.
Technology has allowed us to move past the big bulky books that fill the morgue and we now store electronic copies of back issues electronically. Though it’s not quite as fun as thumbing through crinkly yellowed newspaper pages, it is a simple way to read the news of the day that was.
The News Research Department at our big sister paper, The News & Observer, has a remarkable electronic archive and Teresa Leonard, the news research director at the N&O pulls from those archives on a regular basis for her Past Times column. You can find her columns at http://bit.ly/1TobsAT. Over the years, she’s written about everything from the Lost Colony to the UNC Speaker’s Ban.
Every once in a while some of those old stories turn up in today’s news. The same thing happened in Zebulon not too long ago when a group of Shepard School alumni suceeded in winning approval from the Wake County school board to name the auditorium at Zebulon Middle after the school’s original namesake James Shepard.
Leonard says looking through the old newspapers is a great way to learn the history of our community. “For people who live in those communities now, the names in those stories might be on buildings or roads and streets,” Leonard said. Indeed, she’s right. Most Zebulon residents know where Worth Hinton Road is, but they may not know he was a former Zebulon mayor and chamber of commerce president.
Reading through the archives, Leonard said, “gives you a sense of what made the place what it is now.”
A few years ago, I visited the Newseum in Washington D.C. On one wall was a quote from former Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham. “Journalism,” he said. “is the first rough draft of history.”
Those drafts of history remain handy through those old newspapers and for the student of history or the person who wants to know more about this place they call home, they can be a windfall of fascinating information.