There may come a time when you are stuck listening to journalists talk about how awesome it was back in the good old days when people drank openly at their desks and editors and reporters came to blows over word choice and you could call a dame a dame and she liked it. And you will have nothing to share, by dint of being a normal person or bartender, or having come lately to journalism — or worse, by being a blogger (or even worse than that, perhaps a dame blogger).
Your only recourse is to tell stories even older than them, back before they can even remember. It might not seem possible, but I have found three stories you can pass off as your own, happening "back in my day. ..." Just don't mention that your day was back in the 1800s.
Harris was an editor way back in the day. In 1860, he went to Egypt and saved a man's life. He didn't go to Egypt for the sole purpose of saving a man's life, but I think it's been long enough that if you make it seem like he did, no one will care.
The man was so grateful that he told Harris he would give him anything he asked. And Harris asked for a mummy. The saved man explained that it would be very difficult for him to get Harris a mummy, since removing them from Egypt was punishable by death. But the saved dude was very grateful. So he smuggled a box aboard Harris's ship (though wouldn't it have been ironic if Harris saved this dude's life, only to get him killed for getting him a gift to thank him for saving his life?).
When they opened the box later, they discovered that the saved guy had actually gotten them six mummies, not just one. So they chose among the six and sent the best one to the Tennessee Historical Society. It now resides in the State Museum. As you know, Sen. Henry still serves in the state legislature, but no one knows what became of the other four mummies.
If there's one thing newspaper folks like to talk about, it's new technology. Most folks will talk about how much it sucks. But a few get really excited about the possibilities the new technology represents. They're usually set on the near-Sisyphean task of getting others to adopt and actually use the technology.
And then, once said technology is adopted, everyone acts as if it's always been in use and never a problem. This tends to turn that early adopter into something of a reprobate. Such was the case with John Payne.
In May of 1885, the Superintendent of the Associated Press walked into the offices of the Nashville American and found a typewritten story about Chicago, datelined that very day, in the trash. This was unusual because, in those days, the stuff that came off the wire (literally the telegraph wire) was hand-written down by everyone — except John Payne, who realized it was easier and quicker to just type it.
Payne was then hired away by the AP and put to work teaching others how to use the typewriter, even though they all hated it and grouched about how this crazy fad would never catch on.
We all know what happened to the typewriter, but what happened to Payne?
It turns out he moved to Cincinnati and put his telegraph skills to more nefarious uses — collecting bets on horse races. He would put a spotter at the racetrack, who would use a mirror to flash signals to a telegraph operator in a nearby building. The operator would then relay the results to bookies all over, including Nashville.
In 1893, for instance, in Williams et al. v. State, Payne's bookies who operated out of the Climax Saloon here in Nashville were brought up on charges of illegal gambling. Their defense was that the gambling was on a horse race in Kentucky and the bets were placed by telegraph in Kentucky — so that any crime, if there was one, was technically taking place in Kentucky.
The judge didn't buy their argument.
But it's enough to make one wonder what these early Twitter adopters might get up to later.
Mr. McManus & Mr. Heiss
Back in the day, Heiss was the managing editor for the Republican Banner and McManus was the foreman. Heiss and the other guys in the newsroom were getting ready to leave for the day, and McManus and his boys were finishing laying out the type for the paper.
Back then, all the individual blocks of type were brought together on a large metal sheet or flat rock, then locked into a form to create a page of type to go on the old school presses. McManus and his crew were just getting ready to close the last form, when pandemonium erupted — a fire broke out!
The reporters were called back in to report on the fire — yes, to report on the fire at the very newspaper they were standing in. They wrote their stories. The boys in the composing room placed the type as flames roared around them.
While work on the paper continued, McManus sent Heiss in search of a printing press. One was located in a nearby government building. Heiss broke in, and he and his boys set to making it run.
Meanwhile, McManus continued to put the pages together in the burning building, sending the metal forms out, one at a time, as the pages were finished, two men to a form, carrying them to the government press. But the flames grew ever closer as McManus attempted to finish the last page of the paper. He stayed at his composing stone, placing line after line of text, the heat of the flames drawing beads of sweat on his face.
And then, just as he locked the last form in place, the roof collapsed in a fiery cascade. McManus threw the form over his back — part out of necessity at the weight, part as protection from the burning embers — and escaped out through a flaming doorway onto the street.
And thus the Republican Banner was the only newspaper to appear on time with a full account of the fire.
Also, Tom Wood informs me that he first learned of Payne from Marmaduke Beckwith Morton, who mentions him in his 1930 Banner series on Nashville in the 1880s. Morton adds this bit of information to the story.
Johnny Payne was born in the fine old mansion at Edgefield Junction, then owned by his father, but now owned by Tony Sudekum. Mr. Sudekum operates a large dairy farm on this place and makes his summer home there. Johnny learned the telegraph business when as a little boy he used to hang around the telegraph office at the old Edgefield Junction, near where the suspension bridge crosses the Cumberland going to Old Hickory. It has been superseded by Amqui. Johnny Payne finally became a successful business man in Cincinnati, and died there, May 23, 1924.