|Curiosity Corner: A Story of News|
|June 17, 2015 Gretchen Deter|
One day in January 1918, Kim Westervelt opened the door to the newspaper office letting in a bitter blast of cold, icy air. He stomped his snowy boots on the mat by the front door and quickly closed it. He shivered a little as he shook off his coat, hung it on the coat rack, brushed the snow off his hat, and flipped it over to his wet overcoat.
The sign on the front door read Scottsbluff Republican – Editor and Proprietor: E.T. Westervelt*. Kim wondered if his father was in the office. He didn’t see E.T. at his roll-top desk, cluttered with newspapers and mounds of other papers stashed in every possible cubby hole. As he looked through the door to the back room, he saw his younger brother, Mendel, sitting at the linotype.
Kim walked into the linotype room to check in with his brother. He looked down at his own scribbled notebook, paused for a moment, and then said to Mendel, “Is there nothing in the news but stories about this awful ‘Great War’?” Mendel was deep in thought and did not respond immediately. He had been at the linotype all day. His hands were stiff, his knees ached from sitting so still for so long and his entire body hurt. As he glanced up, he thought pensively as how to respond to his brother’s question. He thought of all of the news that he had put to print in the past month.
Mendel thought about the war stories: He remembered the story about the government asking farmers to “Save the Hens to Win the War” implying this would create more meat for Democracies’ soldiers and sailors. Then there was the story about how to deal with the Germans who wanted to come to the United States. The government forced them to be fingerprinted and photographed and to carry a special German ID. There were also dozens of rules about savings bond quotas, military enlistments, and soldier insurance. Mendel thought of the advertisements businesses and service groups purchased, hoping to play off the town’s sense of patriotism. At Griesen’s Cafeteria, they wanted their patrons to waste less by eating at Griesen’s: “We all must conserve food for the soldiers” said the ad. Also, one must save wood by making artificial wood out of leaves. Then the bowling alley advertisement stated that “... if you bowl, you are certainly a true American.” Among of the most guilt inducing ads was one by the Girls Knitting Club that made everyone feel bad if they didn’t buy a ticket to the Red Cross Dance. Then there was the ad selling Smileage books. For only $5.00, anyone could buy a Smileage book which would then be sent to a soldier. It would surely make him smile.
Mendel looked at his brother and thought for a moment. He knew his brother was well aware of these war stories and ads because he was the reporter and writer for The Republican. Mendel glanced up and tried to think of how to respond to Kim’s question about the news. Finally he spoke quietly but with a bit of subtle humor.
“Oh yes,” said Mendel. “There are some interesting news events in our paper. The WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) had a speaker who talked of patriotism and prohibition as being synonymous. Dr. Mitchell firmly stated that if the women of the world fail, the whole world will fail.” Mendel and Kim both chuckled and Mendel continued... “I just typed an interesting story about the world’s first submarine. This submarine was invented by God and the first passenger was Jonah. God thought Jonah needed a quiet place to reflect on his sins.” This brought a bigger chuckle from the brothers. Mendel couldn’t resist telling of the big peanut butter scandal. One of the fathers of the town bought a ten pound pail of peanut butter and when the peanut butter pail was nearly empty, they found metal shavings at the bottom of the pail. Now, that was front page news in 1918.
Kim rolled his eyes and wondered what kind of news was really newsworthy. He thought to himself that news was just news and his job was to report it. It was up to his dad (E.T.) to decide what news was important enough to be published in The Republican.
He looked back to Mendel who had turned to his linotype, rubbing his crippled hands and getting ready to start on the next news story. Kim shoved his notepad in his pocket and put on his coat and hat. Leaving a blast of frigid January air in the office, he stepped outside, shutting the door behind him.
* James H. Westervelt homesteaded south of Gering in 1890. He was a friend of Martin Gering and was very active in the Gering community. Prior to the family moving to Gering, his son, Eugene Theodore, worked in the newspaper business. Two other sons, James and Claude also became prominent businessmen in Scottsbluff and Gering. Claude was a blacksmith and served as Sheriff for a time. James owned and operated the Gering Mercantile. Eugene (E.T.), having much newspaper experience, decided to open up the first newspaper in Scottsbluff. In March of 1917 the Scottsbluff Republican published its first edition. Eugene’s sons, Lawrence, Mendel, and Kim all worked for the paper, a vital part of the community for over 40 years.
Writer's note: Thanks to Ted Westervelt for offering access to the original 1918 Republican newspapers and sharing background information of the Westervelt family. Ted is the grandson of E.T. Westervelt and has been very meticulous in preserving the history of the Westervelt family and the newspaper.