A look back at the Jeffersonian Democrat from 1909 showed how much newspapers have changed and yet again how similar they are to today’s newspapers.

There were no photographs on the newspaper’s pages, of course. American newspapers didn’t really start using photographs until 1919 and then in the 1920s changes in camera equipment lead to the beginning of photojournalism.

What the 1909 newspapers did have to break up the grey type were ads. We also place ads on Page 1 nowadays but for many years newsrooms and advertising departments had heated debates about placing ads on the front page of a newspaper. Editors took the stance that only news should go there and sales staff was of the opinion if that is where the advertiser wanted to place an ad then all well and good because it added revenue to the paper.

In 1909 there was an ad on Page 1 for the Rankin Hardware Co. (located “opposite the courthouse”), which noted that it was “the best place in the county to buy hardware” and that “it is not our fault if you pay the big price for it in the spring” for clover seed of which this store had bought 100 bushels and it was “offer(ing) it for less than Pittsburg prices”...

Next to the hardware store ad was one from Means Bros. “Reliable Clothiers” that offered this note – “We want to call the attention of the public to the fact that our line was never cleaner than at present, and you can buy high grade clothing at a large reduction as we are making room for new goods.” Some of the items for sale were: “Fancy Dress Ginghams and Percales for Spring, which are selling very fast, as the price is right and the pattern fine, so call early while the line is full.”

I’m not sure when the switch came for editors to suddenly be against ads on the front page. I just know when I started in the newspaper industry it was a hard and fast line that editors held. Today, we’ve reverted back to those early years with the placement of ads on Page 1, although not quite in the same way as done in 1909.

Human nature in regards to what we question doesn’t seem to have changed from generations past either. An article about President (Grover) Cleveland answering his critics could almost have taken place in today’s world, except in so far as the criticism is concerned. The 22nd President of the United States had critics taking him to task for not fighting in the Civil War.

His response was that there were three people of age to enlist at the time in his family – he and his two brothers. They decided to draw cuts (or straws) and had two long and one short piece, which his mother placed in the family Bible. She then held it while each of the brothers selected one. He drew the shortest and so was chosen to stay home to help the “helpless women” – his mother and sister while his brothers enlisted in the Union Army. Later he was drafted and borrowed $1,000 to pay for a substitute to take his place as he had his duty to his family to consider. He noted in answering his critics that it took a lot of time and much hard work to pay back that $1,000 loan.

People elected to Congress or the Presidency today may still find themselves answering similar questions if they didn’t serve their country in the Armed Services during wartime. And while that question has likely been asked down through the years the reason given of needing to remain at home to care for the family was part of that era.

The added information about paying for someone else to take your place and then talking about how long and hard you had to work to pay back the money you paid for that someone to take your place, I found somewhat amusing. I wonder what the reaction would be to such an announcement today? Of course, during the Civil War the “draft laws” allowed for such substitutions. The Confederates abandoned the practice in 1863. President Abraham Lincoln, who was exempt as President as well as being older than the draft age, hired a substitute because he wanted to encourage others who were ineligible for the draft to hire substitutes because of a shortage of men. Congress repealed the use of such fees for substitutes in 1864. Besides Cleveland, John D. Rockefeller also paid for a substitute when facing the draft.

As I continued looking through the old microfilm file of the February issue of 1909, a short item on Bluebeard caught my eye. The story told readers that Bluebeard was also known as Gilles de Laval, Lord of Reiltz, who was made Marshal of France in 1429. He was married twice by the age of 16 (the first time when he was but 13 years old). His first wife died the same year they wed and the second wife, who he married the following year, died shortly after the wedding. He married a third time at the age of 16. On the one side he fought with Joan d’Arc against the English, on the other he later was charged as a serial killer of children.

Why that story was included in the 1909 Jeffersonian Democrat who knows? It seemed the newspaper back then added a lot of various items that were not local news or even state or national news. Maybe it was just a little item that can be filed under “Did you know?”

It seems that there was many such nuggets to be found in the Brookville newspaper in 1909. Maybe it was a way of providing interesting facts or broadening the minds of the readers.

We’ve come a long way since 1909 but it is always educational, as well as fun, to take a look back to see what came before. While old ideas can be modernized and gain new life, other ideas are best left as something done way back when – like stories about Blue Beard. Rest assured, we’re not seeing any reason to revisit any stories on Blue Beard in the Jeffersonian Democrat any time soon. (Not counting today’s column, of course.)

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