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Rare copies of Record found

An unexpected glimpse into the history of the South End was delivered to the South Whidbey Record last week in a plain manila envelope.

Inside were two editions of the Whidby Record from 1926, and the papers are now the oldest known copies of the Record in the newspaper’s collection.

Previously, the earliest copies of the Record, which launched publication in September 1923, date to February 1935. Earlier editions preserved by the South End newspaper were wiped out in a fire circa 1934.

The rare papers were discovered by Karen Bennett of Langley, who said she found the papers while going through her grandmother’s “old stuff.”

The two editions are four pages each, almost orange from age, fragile and tattered on the edges. Even so, the Record staff was ecstatic about the discovery.

And they should be, said Glenda Pearson, the head of the newspaper and microforms collection at the University of Washington.

Pearson served as chairwoman of the selection committee in the newspaper preservation effort in Washington during the United States Newspaper Program. The program, which ran from 1980 through 2007, was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, focused on locating and preserving historic newspaper collections.

Pearson, who helped select the titles of newspapers that were put on microfilm during the push to preserve old editions, said neither the university nor the state has copies of the Record that predate 1966.

“There aren’t any. They’re not here or at the Washington State Library,” she said.

Limited sources

Newspapers that have been preserved came largely from historical societies and the publishers themselves, Pearson noted. Many newspapers keep bound editions of newspapers, called “publisher runs” by historians.

The Record has bound editions from February 1935 through last year, though the volumes containing 1945-46 has been missing from the newspaper’s collection for nearly a decade.

It’s not uncommon for newspapers to lack a complete collection of previous editions.

“Fires are our worst enemy, as you know,” Pearson said. “That has probably destroyed more publisher runs than anything.”

Not every fire was accidental, she added, recalling a newspaper war between two publications in Monroe that finally ended when one publisher bought out his competitor. The prevailing publisher then burned the complete archive of his rival newspaper in a large bonfire, Pearson said.

The state library has copies of the Whidbey Island Record from 1966 through 1982, and copies of the Whidbey Record from 1980 through 1984.

The UW also has bits of other collections of Whidbey newspapers, such as the Whidbey Island from 1901, 1902 and 1903; the Oak Harbor News from 1951 through 1959; and editions of the Island County Farm Bureau News that date from 1911, 1912 and 1916 through 1920, and also 1920 through 1950.

A long history

The Record got its start on Sept. 22 or Sept. 23, 1923, when editor-publisher Frank Niles published the first edition from a two-story building owned by Langley founder Jacob Anthes on the corner of Second Street and Anthes Avenue.

Called the Whidby Record—- with no “e” in Whidbey, as was the custom at the time — Niles published the newspaper until selling it in 1934 to George Astel, owner of the Oak Harbor News and the Whidbey Times in Coupeville (which later combined into a single paper). The Record went through several ownership changes before it was purchased by Sound Publishing in 1989.

Newspapers are an incredible historical resource, Pearson said. But they weren’t recognized as a legitimate source for history until the 1920s, she added.

“It’s fabulous for the real history of America. For the daily lives of regular Americans, it is unparalleled,” she said.

Indeed, much of the early content of the 1926 papers shows a devotion to personal news that would be found more commonly on Facebook pages nowadays than in ink-on-paper publications. Many items detail social news such as visits made by islanders to the homes of other residents, updates on people who were sick and the activities of clubs and organizations.

The Whidby Record billed itself as “a weekly newspaper devoted to the interest and welfare of the people of Island County,” and a statement next to the nameplate noted it was “published in a rich farming district on one of nature’s play grounds — Whidby Island.”

The two editions — both four pages in size — recently discovered in Langley date to Thursday, Oct. 7, 1926 (Volume IV, Number 3) and Thursday, Oct. 21 (Volume IV, Number 5). The editor and publisher was C.M. Hanson, and the paper was published once a week, on Thursdays. Subscription rates were $1.50 a year, in advance.

Old news

In the earliest edition, the front-page news included the election of officers for the Island County Fair Association, and “those expensive primary elections” of 1924, the visit in Langley by A. Scott Bullitt, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, and the news that the typewriting room at the high school was now being used as a library.

C.M. Hanson was the editor of the paper, which also listed correspondents in Austin (G.H. Cookson), Bay View (Mrs. A.A. Terry), Greenbank (F.W. Godfrey), Maxwelton-Woodland (Mrs. M. J. Bixner), and Saratoga (W.W. Wagner).

The edition included two comics, “Mickie, the Printer’s Devil” and “Th’ Ol’ Grouch.”

Advertising was extensive. There was a professional directory for Everett businesses and a separate directory for Whidbey merchants.

The Star Mercantile Store announced it had the “complete assortment of Best Shoes,” plus harness, gloves and stockings, as well as “domestic and imported groceries.”

Phil Simon advertised his public waiting room at the Langley dock, which offered lunches and confectionary. P.H. Cookson, proprietor of the Austin Post Office, offered general merchandise, light hardware and dry goods, while the Saratoga Post Office offered groceries, hardware, soft drinks and candies. Most South End businesses had two- or three-digit phone numbers.

There was also entertainment news. The paper announced the screening of “Daring Days,” a Universal picture staring Josie Sedgwick and directed by John B. O’Brien. The movie, plus a two-reel comedy, was being shown at the Art Theatre. Admission was 15 cents and 25 cents.

The film was billed as a “new action-romance replete with bucking broncs, fast riding cowboys, hand to hand battles and the great little Western star who tamed all the hard-boiled cowpunchers.”

The “Saturday cash specials” at the Whidby Trading Co. in Langley offered boys’ wool or corduroy knee pants for 95 cents a pair, butterfly hosery for boys and girls for 20 cents, and Hipso soap chips for 27 cents.

The Oct. 21, 1926 edition included a front-page story on three Bay View boys who were sentenced for breaking into the new store next to the Langley School. The story said the trio “were on a drunk and looking for excitement” when they robbed the store.

“Shortly after breaking into the store the boys smashed their car, leaving candy and tobacco in and around the car,” the report said. The trio was sentenced to one to 14 years in the reformatory at Monroe.

The edition also announced the screening of the “photo drama” called “Bustin’ Through” starring Jack Hoxie at the Art Theatre.

The edition carried a single letter to the editor, signed by Alfred Mayor, Arthur Case, L.B. Loers and Chas. Nienhuis. The authors decried the mud-slinging in the race for county sheriff between Fred Armstrong and G.B. Kennedy. They noted that Armstrong had been elected as a “Bull Mooser,” and questioned why he was running for an office when he had 115 acres of good farmland and an investment therein that probably totaled $40,000. “Why leave such an investment for a public office paying $1,800 a year besides the kicks and groans of the public? Again I ask, why? Can one man handle the office and the farm both or will one be neglected for the other?”

“If he is elected the moonshiners and bootlegeers may all drown trying to swim off the Island but from the old records we doubt it,” the authors added.

The edition also included an ordinance that would provide for cement sidewalks on First Street in Langley.

The Record hopes other early editions will be uncovered. Anyone with old editions of the newspaper is encouraged to call the Record at 221-5300.

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