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Published: Saturday, 12/18/2010

Blade archives a treasure trove of history

I'VE had many assignments in my 31 years at The Blade, but one of the most enjoyable was helping to put together a book to commemorate the 175th anniversary of this newspaper. I love local history, and there is nothing more historic in most cities than its daily newspaper.

To put together a book that represented the history of The Blade over parts of three centuries was a daunting task - until I realized that all we needed to do was to represent the history of Toledo, Ohio, the United States, and the world since 1835. Then I really started to worry.

Where would I get the material for such a book? The answer was across the street and down a flight of stairs. The history I needed was the newspaper itself, most of which is in the form of bound volumes of past editions of The Blade dating back to the mid-1800s in three storage rooms.

The volumes are stacked on shelves to the ceiling, covered in century-old brown paper with hand-written labels. Luckily a ladder was nearby.

Joe Vardon, Blade projects editor, assembled an initial list of historic events to look for. He and I then climbed to the rafters to pull the dust-covered volumes. Jordie Henry, editorial librarian, helped us unwrapped the tomes and crack them open to search for the history we were hoping to find.

It was not a hard task.

History poured out of every volume we opened. When we came upon Jan. 2, 1863, I felt as if we were holding a sacred text. There on Page 3 under the headline "THE GREAT DOCUMENT!" was the story reporting that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation the day before, on Jan. 1, 1863, with the proclamation reprinted in that day's Blade.

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, henceforth and forever free, and the Executive Government of the United States including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons …"

This was before television, radio, the Internet. There was no CNN, NPR, or BBC. The good people of Toledo woke and read the "Latest by Telegraph" in their newspaper that President Lincoln had free millions of slaves held in bondage in the Confederacy. And I was holding the actual paper that Toledoans read that day, 147 years ago.

There were many moments like that - wars beginning and wars ending, the explosion and fiery crash of the Hindenburg, Amelia Earhart lost in the Pacific, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby - when we realized that the broad sweep of history was unfolding before us in these musty old volumes of fragile newspapers. Day after day, The Blade recorded history as it happened.

But besides the transcendent events that changed the world, most of what we were reading was a record of the day-to-day life of a city.

There was the great flood of 1883 that washed away three railroad bridges and the then-Cherry Street Bridge and flooded downtown:

"The readers of The Blade in and about Toledo, who are in any wise familiar with the city can form an idea of the height of the water at its highest stage from the statement that there was a stream flowing through the Island House office 10 feet in depth, rising from the floor to the top of the windows of the first story, and those who remained within the building to look after its interests, were surrounded by a raging torrent, and cut off from terra firma save by boat."

And then there was crime news, the stranger the better to make Page 1, such as the tale of a Toledoan shot in a Cleveland night club in 1927:

"Byron E. Wagoner, 26, of 1101 Waverly avenue, maintenance man for Western Union Telegraph Co., was shot in the neck Thursday night during a brawl in a Cleveland night club.

"Wagoner objected to six youths at a nearby table slipping ice down the neck of his companion, Miss Beatrice Rathburn, 22, of Cleveland. A scuffle followed in which chairs and bottles were hurled, tables were broken and the interior of the cafe was wrecked.

"Two shots were fired and Wagoner fell. The six youths escaped but were later arrested. Fifty patrons of the club were held after a riot call had been sent for police. They were released after being questioned.

"At Mt. Sinai hospital Wagoner was found to have only suffered a slight flesh wound."

That story was at the top of the page.

But the pride I felt reviewing 175 years of the newspaper I have been a part of for three decades was tempered somewhat when I came to the 1963 March on Washington, the largest civil rights gathering in American history.

Every American schoolchild knows about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, but the day after one of the most historic speeches in American history was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, The Blade's story, written by the Associated Press, didn't include a single line from the address.

I'd like to think the editors of The Blade today would have better news judgment, but who knows. When people look back decades from now, will they shake their heads in wonder about the stories we missed, or be in awe of the quality of newspaper we put out day in and day out?

That's the value of looking back, the value of history, and so I invite you to pick up a copy of the 175th Anniversary of The Blade at your local bookstore, or order one online at toledoblade.com.

Dave Murray is managing editor of The Blade.

Contact him at:

dmurray@theblade.com



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