By Lisa Whaley
I lost myself in stacks of old newspapers last week.
And, I’ve got to say, it was a glorious experience.
Like stepping back in time, each turn of a yellowed page took me to an earlier Erwin and Unicoi County, providing me with a snapshot not only of the communities decades ago, but also its people and what they considered important.
Of course, this isn’t the first time old issues of The Erwin Record have captured my attention. This newspaper’s Heritage Page has often afforded me the chance to pull out the books from 50, 40, 30, 20 and 10 years ago and peruse its passages.
This time, however, there was no higher purpose than to simply dig, discover and savor.
The first edition of The Erwin Record was actually published in 1928, and framed pages of that earlier era adorn the walls of our offices in downtown Erwin.
Our books, however, only go back to the 1950s — and that’s where I began my journey during that recent Friday afternoon.
Headlines were similar to many we could see today with some period-appropriate differences: “Three-Room Addition Planned for Hospital” and “Mothers March on Polio.”
“President Calls for Balanced Budget” seemed especially familiar. And “Unicoi County High School to A-1 Rating” showed clearly that pride in our local schools is a long-termed — and well-earned — phenomenon.
Some were very specific to our town and county, such as “Erwin Record Is Sold to Missouri Newsman” and “New Robert Ledford Funeral Home and Chapel to Hold Open House” all from 1956.
But I think, as I went from Jan. 26 to Dec. 27 of that year, the thing that stood out the most to me was an ongoing theme. People mattered. It’s not that “harder” news — committee decisions, voting precincts opening, new businesses — didn’t play a part in 1950s news. It’s that the day-to-day events, celebrations and challenges of its people mattered more.
A typical front page in 1956 often featured — top left and above the fold — the announcement of a couple’s 50th anniversary, as was the case for Mr. & Mrs. J.M. Walker. A young man’s recent advancement to Eagle Scout, 14-year-old Erwin Spainhour and 14-year-old Louis Gentry, was also considered important enough to rate a front page spot.
A death in the community — and announcement of service — was deemed important enough to the readers to go front and center.
Each of these old papers gave such a perfect picture of what was happening that week in old Erwin — not the big state or national news, but the little, important pieces of what was going on with its individual citizens.
And it reminded me that this is something The Erwin Record must never lose. We must continue to cover the “big” stories, because that is important to the community as a whole. But we must never lose sight of the men, women and children who make up this community.
Their stories are what continue to matter.