Woodworking again: Editors' shenanigans

By Dave Wood
Posted 8/16/22

BY DAVE WOOD Editors’ shenanigans It must have been fun back in the good old days running a small-town paper when reve- nue was substantial and no ethics watchdog was looking over your shoulder to …

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Woodworking again: Editors' shenanigans


It must have been fun back in the good old days running a small-town paper when reve- nue was substantial and no ethics watchdog was looking over your shoulder to make certain everyone was given a totally fair shake. Oh, I know fairness wasn’t always at the top of oldtime editors' lists. My hometown paper where I cut my typewriter teeth was no ex – ception: earlier editors often characterizing the meetings of Democratic party hopefuls as "the Jackals from the township of Burnside were in town.”

And ofttimes editors more slyly inserted real news items that didn’t seem like they belonged. I just received a "Memories" from 1947, which reported that "Sheriu Erickson was called to the Olaf Hanson farm in rural Pigeon Falls where Hanson reported that a mysterious hole in the ground had appeared on his sidehill. Hanson took the sheriu to the site, after which Erickson dug open the loose dirt and emptied it to a depth of 7 feet. And found nothing. Erickson filled back the hole. And still the hole remains as a mystery yet to be solved.

Not much of a story, right? But if you know the territory and parties involved, I’ll betcha lots of people got a big bang out of picturing the very portly sheriu shoveling and panting, panting and shoveling.

Why? Because the sheriu was a treach – erous practical jokester. He was after both friends and enemies all the time. Even an old cleaning lady like Inga. The sheriu purloined some letterhead stationery from his wife’s desk, upon which was emblazoned the name of the local Lutheran minister and the name of his church. The sheriu, who could imitate anyone’s handwriting, wrote the following letter: "Dear Inga: It has come to my attention that you spend your hours after work ingest- ing alcoholic libations at Highway 53 saloon. This activity must cease. Sincerely,…”

After which the sheriu signed the rever –

end's name and sent it ou to Inga.

Two days later, after cleaning banker Mel – by's house, Inga burst into the pastor's study across the street in the church and shouted in her inimitable Scadinavian brogue: "Pastor! Ay'll haf yew know ay drink a beer vunce in avile, but ay yam no bewss – hound!" For all I know Olaf Hanson was Inga's cousin or friend but had to figure some way to wreak revenge and he did it with a shovel. And then editor of the Times Scott Nichols helped him do it!

Earlier Times editors, like Dan Camp waxed more eloquent than Scott. Here's a sample from the same column from back in 1897.

"William Odell pleaded guilty before Justice Scott yesterday to the charge of as –

saulting A. L. Jones, and in default of pay – ment of fine and cost amounting to $21.53, was committed to the county jail for 20 days. He remained there until night’s sable mantle was thrown over the premises—when he at last forked over the fine and hied himself to the more congenial quarters of his domicile.

Both parties hail from Eleva and their trouble occurred last Friday. The assault was com – mitted while defendant was intoxicated." In some cases Dan Camp didn't have to squander that Victorian verbal elegance, rely – ing instead on the wit of his subscribers, who reported everyday events to most small town papers, like the town wheelwright Oscar Har – low, my granduncle Will Harlow's father: "O.F. Harlow has rats on his farm. A wire trap was set on Sunday night, and the following morning 41 rats were taken from it, and Mr. Harlow says "It wasn't much of a night for rats, either.”

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

newspapers, editors, Dave Wood, column, opinion