Friday, November 14, 2014

Elvis to Play with Country Music Stars in 1955 Mobile

Mobile Register May 4, 1955

Not sure who this Elvis Presley fellow is, but if he hangs around with the Grand Ole Opry musicians, then he might be worth giving a listen to.

You can read a personal account of Elvis' performance here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day Salute to Press Register Staff Who Served Their Country

Paul Hannie at a machine that turned coded perforated tape into photo typeset copy.

Paul Hannie (1926-2009) handled the layout of my pages when I was an editorial page editor at The Mobile Press Register. He also was one of the many World War II and other veterans who worked at the newspaper during my time there.

During World War II, Paul served with the U.S. Navy Air Corps and was based in the south Pacific with Black Cat Squadron of PBY Catalinas. The name "Black Cat" was derived from the matte-black paint scheme and night-time bombing operations conducted by the PBY Catalinas.

For his action during the war, Paul was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is presented for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”

Advertising executive Burt Schwarz (1914-2003) was another World War II veteran. He talked to me briefly one day about his service and told me about being captured by the Germans. Burt was not Jewish, but feared that his German captors would think his last name sounded Jewish and that they would execute him. He, of course, survived the war.

We had many other veterans on the paper including more recent veterans John Sellers and Bill Sellers, who were not related.

The newspaper never did a good job of telling its own stories and it is a shame that we never told the stories of the World War II veterans among us.


Do you know of other service men and women at the newspaper? Did they ever tell you their stories?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Suburban Growth Meant Switching from Bicycles to Motorcycles to Deliver Newspapers

From the 1966 Spanish Fort Bulletin.
This photo from the History of Spanish Fort Alabama Facebook page reminded me of how newspaper youth carriers switched from using bicycles to motorcycles to deliver The Mobile Press Register.

The switch came for a couple of reasons. After World War II, Mobile's population became too spread out for carriers to cover the distances on bicycles. The papers also became heavier with many more pages.

That the Press Register allowed him to also deliver the Spanish Fort Bulletin is a surprise. Such suburban weeklies were beginning to take bites into the daily's revenues and circulation.

We don’t know much about the history of newsboys for The Mobile Press Register and I would like to see their stories told. Does anyone know Chuck Lackey?


Friday, October 10, 2014

The Good Old, Old Days and the Merely Good Old Days in the Newspaper Office


In the photograph on the left above, editor Erwin Craighead works at his desk in The Mobile Register in 1897. (Photo courtesy of the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama.)

About 90 years later, Press Register photographer Ron Colquitt snapped the photo on the right of me toiling away at my editorial page editor job on The Mobile Press.

Craighead composed his editorials by longhand, while I wrote mine on a computer. But otherwise, Craighead would have found much that was familiar about the newspaper office of the 1980s.

How much will we old timers find familiar about the digital newspaper office?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Register Fights Great War with Editorial Cartoons


This year marks the centennial of the start of World War I, which began on July 28, 1914, and lasted until Nov. 11, 1918. America entered the war in April 6, 1917.

The war pitted the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire against the Allied forces of Great Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan. The Great War, as it was known by those who fought it, resulted in the deaths of more than 9 million soldiers.

As long as the Europeans were fighting among themselves, The Mobile Register opposed the United States getting involved in the war.

After German submarines in February 1917 resumed sinking all merchant ships, including American ships, supplying the allies, the Register demanded the United States declare war. As a port, Mobile's livelihood depended on seaborne commerce.

With a U.S. declaration, the Register made the anti-German syndicated cartoons of J.H. Cassel, such as the one above, and Rollin Kirby an almost daily feature in the newspaper.

Unlike during the Spanish-American War, the Register did not prepare for independent coverage of the Great War. Such coverage had become far too expensive, so the newspaper depended on the Associated Press for reports on the war.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

English-born Journalist Covered 1889 Murder Trial Still Talked About Today




Tom McGehee, who is the museum director for the Bellingrath Gardens and Home, put me on to this story.

He is writing an article for the October edition of Mobile Bay Magazine about Nettie Chandler, who wrote the popular “Betty Letters,” for The Mobile Press Register in the 1930s. The letters from the fictitious Betty Bienville lavishly chronicled the goings on of Mobile society. Nettie’s sister Mary also worked for the newspaper.

The Chandler sister were cousins of Florence Elizabeth Maybrick, who was accused of poisoning her much-older husband James, a wealthy Liverpool, England, cotton broker in 1889. She was born Florence Elizabeth Chandler in Mobile, Alabama, in 1862. She was the daughter of William George Chandler, a partner in the banking firm of St. John Powers and Company, and at one time mayor of Mobile.

Earlier this year in The London Mail, author Kate Colquhoun reported on the case, which became a cause célèbre that scandalized Victorian England and attracted international attention. Colquhoun also just published a book on the case titled Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic.

One of the reporters covering the Florence Maybrick trial was 19-year-old John C. “Jack” O’Connell, who would later work for newspapers in Mobile, Montgomery, New Orleans and New York.

According to his New York Times obituary, O’Connell was born in Liverpool on July 7, 1870. His father, John, had been a cotton broker when Englishman William Steenstrand’s cotton firm attempted to corner the market on cotton and raise prices. Steenstrand failed, cotton prices fell and O’Connell’s family was thrown into poverty. [The New York Times story said this happened in 1881, but the event known as the “Steenstrand failure” actually occurred in 1890.]

At age 14, O’Connell started on The Liverpool Daily Post as an editorial messenger boy and studied stenography in his spare time. He became a junior reporter on the Post and moved up to local correspondent and then to circulation agent in Crewe, a railroad center of Cheshire.

Apparently discontented with working for the newspaper, O’Connell signed on a sailing vessel as a seaman and sailed around the world. In 1893, he shipped from Liverpool on a timber ship bound for Mobile. In Mobile, he contracted malaria. The ship sailed without him and O’Connell stayed in Mobile under the care of the British consul.

He worked on the Mobile docks for two years helping to load timber and cotton ships.

Then he went to work on a New Orleans newspaper before returning to Mobile in 1896 to work as a court reporter for The Mobile Daily News.

During the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1897, he aided sufferers as a member of the Can’t-Get-Away Club. Every day he took medicine and food to the homes of people with the fever.

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, O’Connell acted as correspondent for The New York Sun and The New York Herald. He distinguished himself for his expose of unsanitary conditions in Southern Army camps during the short-lived conflict.

In 1898, he joined The Mobile Register where he moved through the posts of the telegraph editor, city editor and managing editor. In 1912, O’Connell and a group of local businessmen bought controlling interest of the 14-year-old Mobile Item, with O’Connell serving as editor.

He eventually left Mobile, perhaps in 1916 when Mobile Register owner Frederick I. Thompson bought the Item, to become the managing editor of the afternoon edition of The Montgomery Advertiser. He also edited “Alabama Farm Facts,” the Advertise’'s agricultural and livestock weekly.

O’Connell became active in Alabama politics and worked in the gubernatorial campaign of William W. Brandon, who was inaugurated in January 1923.

Two years later, O’Connell moved to New York to take a post on the telegraph desk of The New York Times, where he remained for several years. Then he joined the staff of the reserve news department, serving there until his retirement in 1944. O’Connell died April 1, 1945, at age 74.

O’Connell was another one of the colorful journalists who passed through the offices of The Mobile Press Register and whose stories make researching the newspaper’s history fun.
This building at 252 Government St. in Mobile was once the Chandler Mansion, family home of Florence Chandler. Built by the Chandlers in 1850, it was sold to the McGill brothers and opened as the McGill Institute, a Catholic school, in 1897. The building no longer exists.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

1930s Newsboys Learned Lessons that Lasted a Lifetime

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story below is adapted from one I wrote for The Mobile Press Register in 1984.

Many prominent people in Mobile learned about work by delivering newspapers during the 1930s.

The paperboys shared many things in common. The 1930s were the years of the Great Depression and the newspaper carriers were young boys looking for a little money for themselves and their families.

W.C. Helveston, who was the Mobile County administrator from 1971-1995, recalled that “It was the only money I had. My people didn’t have any” money to give him to spend.

Kenny Crow Sr., who in 1984 was retired from Crow-Kennedy Electric Co., Inc., remembered winning $50 in a citywide subscription campaign for The Mobile Times.

“Fifty dollars in those days, cap’n, was a lot of money for a kid to get a hold of,” he said. “I really did it for the money. Nobody had any.”

For delivering about 200 papers in the Washington Square area, Helveston earned about $10 to $12 a week.

Andrew M. Wiik, who in 1984 was with the CPA firm of Wiik, Reimer, Lawrence & Dudley, had a much smaller route, making about $2 or $3 from his subscribers of the Times.

W.C. Helveston
Helveston was 13 years old when he began throwing papers from his bicycle for The Mobile Press in 1939. Later he switched to a route for The Mobile Register, which he said caused him to develop a life-long habit of reading the morning newspaper.

Helveston recalled that when the paperboys had to throw the Sunday paper they would just stay up all night Saturday. Helveston and the other carriers would take dates to see a movie and, after taking their dates home, they would go to the Electrik Maid Bake Shop, eat pastries and play pinball until it was time to get their newspapers.

Crow just got up at 3 a.m. Sunday to fold and load his papers.

The 10- to 12-page papers were small enough then, Helveston said, that the paperboy could roll the paper into a tube shape and crimp it into a half-moon before sending it sailing to the porch.

While Helveston rolled his papers into a tube shape, most others had to fold their papers into a square, recalled Maurice Castle, a newspaperboy for the Times from 1933-35. Castle, who in 1984 was the clerk of Mobile County Circuit Court, also was a former city editor of The Mobile Press.

Wiik, who began carrying papers when he was 16, said he just folded his papers in half. “I got pretty good where I could fold them in half and sail it,” he said.

During the 1930s, subscribers paid weekly, although a few did so monthly. Saturdays were devoted to collecting the 10 or 12 cents a week subscription cost.

A universal experience among paperboys, who bought their papers on credit from the newspaper, was the difficulty of collecting the money due them from subscribers.

“I had trouble at times collecting money,” said Crow, who delivered papers beginning in his sophomore year at McGill Institute. “Some people just didn’t have it.”

Crow explained that some people took the newspaper although they couldn’t afford the 10 cents a week because, while radio had passed its infancy and TV was yet to be, people depended on papers for the news.

Part of the paperboy routine for Times carriers was to solicit subscribers one or two nights a week, Castle said.

The papers offered prizes for the most subscriptions—baseball gloves and bats, bicycles and, in the case of Crow, money desperately needed in the Depression.

Robert Zietz, who in 1984 was head of the Special Collections Division of the Mobile Public Library, had a somewhat different experience from the other carriers.

Zietz began delivering The Mobile Register in Chickasaw when he was 9 years old. But rather than run his own route, Zietz delivered papers for Mrs. J.C. Davis, mother of the man who was the Chickasaw mayor in 1984. Mrs. Davis paid Zietz a weekly salary. She held the franchise on an entire district and paid others to deliver for her.

Zietz worked to get spending money like the other carriers, but instead of using a bicycle, he walked his route.

Quite different from the experiences of the paperboys who delivered papers to subscribers at their homes was that of the paperboys who sold papers on the streets.

Berkley Thompson, who in 1984 was retired from a highly successful newspaper supply business he founded, was one of the street sales paperboys.

Thompson began selling newspapers on the street at age 11 for The Mobile Register in 1931. By age 14 he became a street sales manager for The Mobile Times and later for The Mobile Press Register.

Between 1929 and 1932 the Register and the Press were separately owned and competition for sales was fierce. Street sales work was particularly rough.

At time, delivery trucks were overturned and bundles of newspapers would be set on fire, Thompson said.
On the four corners at Royal and St. Francis streets, paperboys staked out their territory and trespassing was cause for a fight, Thompson said.

Thompson said he had about 350 paperboys on the streets selling papers for the Register. Because it was during the Great Depression, many of the paperboys were not boys at all, he said, but big husky men looking to earn some money.

All of the paperboys from the 1930s thought their experiences were good for them and taught them lessons that lasted a lifetime.

“You had to be at the job,” Helveston said. “You always had to out on your route. You went out sick and in the rain.” Sometimes, Helveston said, he delivered his papers while he was sick, but then wen t home to bed and missed school.

Crow said being a paperboy taught him “how to sell.” Working for the underdog Times, which was therefore harder to sell, Crow said he learned how to confront people, how to act.

Helveston said “It taught you how to manage a business. The better job you did, the more money you made.”


Helveston died in 2013 at the age of 86.