Extra! Extra! High School Newspapers!

In my last blog, I wrote about the interesting history that can be found in old newspapers. Today’s blog continues that theme and focuses on what I learned when I came across a 1937 issue of Fulton High School’s student newspaper. Aptly named “The Buzz,” the school’s four-page publication offers some clues about how things were for teenagers 80 years ago.

For starters, I was impressed with the number of students and faculty involved with the production of their monthly paper. Thirty-six young people created each issue of The Buzz, with leadership roles such as Editor-in-Chief (Emma Cortini), Associate Editors (Ann Mathews and James Reider), various Business and Advertising Editors and the all-important “Beat” Editors, including two for sports, four for the arts, and over a dozen roaming halls to get the news, or should I say, gossip. Two faculty members (Gladys Bonner and Earl Bateman) kept a watchful eye on the ambitious teens.

Also on The Buzz’s staff were a small army of “distributors” who sold the paper. Costing five cents (the equivalent of 85 cents today; still a bargain), the distributors had sales quotas to meet. Praise for 13 of them who outsold their target number earned them a front page acknowledgement.

Here’s more of what was considered newsworthy for Fulton High School students in 1937:

The January issue included a list of New Year’s resolutions, which the reporter noted had “some very odd ones.” Students resolved to “get to school on time, at least three times a week” or “buy only one soda a week (but accept all others given to me)” or “not to flirt with girls or boys, depending on who liked who.”

Speaking of flirting, what high school paper would be complete without a feature on current romances? The Buzz’s was called “Heart Squeezes” and the columnist (who chose to remain anonymous) cleverly turned his or her report into a poem:

“A little cupid strolled the hall,

with bow and arrow aimed,

and suddenly he heard a call,

that soon would make him famed.

He turned and saw without a doubt

the scene we’d like to tell about:

Arthur whispering in gentle tones,

to no one else but Ella Owens;

John Ciciarelli pursuing Lorraine;

Dowling and Halstead at Lover’s Lane;

Hillick and Bogwicz battling over Quinn,

‘til hard to say who we think will win.”

Sports have always been big news for Fulton high schoolers, and 1937 Buzz’s top athletic headline noted “Bonanno and Trepasso Elected Co-Captains of F.H.S. Ringmen.” I assumed the Ringmen were wrestlers, but they were actually the school’s boxing team. An upcoming match between Fulton and Oswego promised to be an exciting evening since both teams were undefeated that year.

There were other sport reports, enough to fill the newspaper’s entire back page. The girls bowling team was on a roll, featuring outstanding athletes Cora Chetney, Flora Cardinali, Nettie Dexter, Irene Emmons, Jean Trask and Laura Howard. Other girls were competing in ping-pong and paddle-tennis.

Boys on the “Basketeers” team boasted their recent game as “the most watched sporting event.” A hard-fought game, again against rival Oswego, was a nail biter at halftime with Fulton trailing by a few points. At the final buzzer, we’d lost by twenty.

School news wasn’t all sports. Another front page story covered the Boys Glee Club’s upcoming show, “Mellow Moon,” featuring the talents of Francis Quirk, John Halstead, Louis Briggs, Vincent Chalone, John Bowers and Donald Dowling. Admission for the Valentine-themed show was 15 cents for students and a quarter for parents.

The news wasn’t all rosy, as this headline proved: “Student Council Issues Warnings.” Someone had been writing on bathroom walls, the reporter noted, leaving them in “deplorable conditions.” Warnings were issued: students should shape up or “more drastic action [would be] taken.” I bet teachers today would be happy if that was the worst problem they had to deal with.

The Buzz received support from the Fulton community. Advertisers included Putnam’s Pharmacy (“Stop in for a great chocolate soda. 10 cents.”), Wilson’s Book Store (“Office supplies, Gifts, Stationery, Kodaks.”) and bowling at Recreation Park (“Special afternoon prices 15 cents per game.”).

My trip down high school memory lane got me wondering how today’s students get their news. Does G. Ray Bodley even publish a paper?  Knowing I wouldn’t find my answer in boxes of old newspapers, I used Google to find “The RaiderNet,” a weekly online publication from Fulton’s high school.

November 1, 2018’s issue of RaiderNet shared some common themes with The Buzz. The RaiderNet’s front page announced the boys’ soccer team making New York State semi-finals. The issue also covered the Lady Raiders basketball team’s preparation for the new season. RaiderNet did offer a few items you wouldn’t have seen in 1937, such as an opinion column debating the qualities of a good teacher and the school’s mountain bikers planning a trip to a Boonville outdoor education center.

I was pleased to learn that RaiderNet is still compiled by students and staff. Its current advisor, Justine Nylen, said that about 15 students contribute to each issue. Those students are usually enrolled in her Journalism class, where, as part of their studies, they write about school events for the paper. For many years, English teacher Len Senecal was the faculty advisor for The Raider. Justine was a student in Len’s Journalism class, became editor of the paper when she was a senior in high school, and then, in her ninth year of teaching, assumed the role of advisor after Len retired.

While I can’t hold the RaiderNet in my hands, I’m glad to know there are still young people interested in covering school events for history’s sake. Someday, the grandchildren of the RaiderNet’s staff will smile as they read the hot topics of Fulton High School in the good old days of 2019.

The RaiderNet, Fulton High School’s newspaper, has a lot in common with the student-run papers from years past.

The RaiderNet, Fulton High School’s newspaper, has a lot in common with the student-run papers from years past.

Before Facebook, We Had the Valley News

Whenever I’m researching local history I read a lot of old newspapers. I’ll scan their pages, looking for articles that relate to my topic, and sometimes I get a little distracted by a news item from days gone by.  This was the case for me recently, when I was reviewing a past issue of The Valley News. Something I found in it made me think that Fulton’s newspaper used to be a lot like Facebook is today.

Why would I compare our hometown paper with an internet site that reaches six billion people worldwide? It has to do with a regular feature The Valley News used to run. They called it “Personals.”

The Personals weren’t like regular newspaper columns that cover events happening at churches, schools or sports arenas. They were short “announcements” spread throughout the paper, sometimes a dozen or more on a single page. Here’s a sample of what I found in the August 25, 1971 issue:

Mr. and Mrs. Gus Dormeyer, the Baldwin Road, and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ives, the Streeter Road, have returned home after having visited the Amish Country of Pennsylvania.

Miss Ann Luke of the County Line Road, was a counselor last week at the Methodist Church camp at Casowasco on Owasco Lake.

Mrs. Joseph Zizzi of South Sixth Street is a patient in Lee Memorial Hospital.

A few pages later, there were more Personals:

Mr. and Mrs. Luther Bryan, West Second Street, were among those who attended the recent Sealright clambake at Silver Lake.

Cherie Morgan of Phoenix visited her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William Rill of Phoenix, last week.

Mrs. Arthur Hallstead of Cayuga Street was a dinner guest, last Sunday, of Mrs. Catherine Knapp, Oneida Street.

And so on, page after page. I ended up reading every Personal (There were 85 in that one issue!), looking for names I’d recognize, curious if I might remember the events described. It turns out lots of people did the same thing back when Personals was a regular feature in The Valley News. We caught up on who was doing what—you know, kind of like why we log onto Facebook today.

But there was no Facebook all those years ago, so it wasn’t as easy as hopping on your computer to find out about people’s lives. Who came up with the Personals idea and how did The Valley News keep it going twice a week, year after year? I asked that question to some longtime Fultonians, including my friend Paul McKinney, who had this to say about our hometown paper’s unique feature:

“Personals was the brainstorm of Vince Caravan, longtime editor of The Valley News. Vince hired someone to make regular calls to people throughout the city, including my mother, Helen. The office worker would regularly ring up Mom and ask, ‘Do you have anything for Personals?’”

Paul thinks one of the reasons the regular feature in The Valley News was such a big hit was because “people loved seeing their name in the paper. For many years, it was the first thing subscribers would read when they got their latest issue.”

To find out more about Personals, I got on my computer and headed to Facebook, logging onto the page called Fulton New York Memories. There I put out a request for information about The Valley News’ Personals and received over 40 comments. Here are a few:

Rusty Okoniewski responded to my question by telling me about his Great-Aunt Caroline Bateman: “She lived in Volney Center and was a ‘paid’ reporter for The Valley News. Each week she made note of the ‘Personal’ items she learned by simply talking (on the telephone or face-to-face) with her friends and relatives. She was paid a fee (I think 10 cents) for each item.”

That pay-per-item system was confirmed by Alice Doss, who also gathered Personals stories for the paper. “I remember it well!” Alice said. “I was paid 10 cents to type up stories about visits, riding snowmobiles, birthdays, etc. It was fun to do, and I liked reading others’ ‘reports.’”

Those Personals weren’t just read in Fulton. City residents who’d moved away or were temporarily out of town didn’t want to miss an issue. Stuart Wilson mentioned that “My mother had The Valley News sent to me at college so I could keep up with local goings on. My college friends were really amazed at Personals. They’d never seen anything like it.”

In fact, if you weren’t a Valley News reader back then, you’d probably never seen anything quite like Personals…at least until Facebook came along. I have to admit, reading about someone having dinner with someone else seems a bit gossipy to me. But the more I think about it, the more I believe there’s something important beneath all those shared stories, either from 50 years ago in a newspaper or today on the internet.

In some ways, isn’t our curiosity about people really about our concern for one another? Isn’t it a way of making sure our friends are doing okay? Of course, as we’ve seen, comments on Facebook can sometimes be hurtful or too strongly opinionated (something you’d never have seen in the Personals), but if you scroll past all that, you’ll probably read something about a friend you haven’t seen in years. Wasn’t it nice remembering them?

I got nostalgic after reading those Personals, pining for days gone by. It made me wish some people on Facebook wouldn’t be so cruel or quick to judge. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be, as one of my favorite Fulton historians, Grace Lynch, always said, “the way it used to be.” The next time we share something on Facebook, let’s take a lesson from local history, when a small-town newspaper made a big difference by printing good things happening to our family and friends.

The Valley News’ “Personals” feature was once the first thing people read in their hometown newspaper.

The Valley News’ “Personals” feature was once the first thing people read in their hometown newspaper.

A Merry Musical Christmas

If you’re a regular reader of this column you know I enjoy writing about history. But there’s a second topic I have a big interest in: music; specifically, the singers and songs that were popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, when I was growing up. So, on the rare occasions when those two topics meet, I’m in a kind of writer’s heaven. That’s the case with today’s column, in which we travel back to a time when some special songs made my childhood merry.

Christmas in the 1960s was an enchanted time. Like other middle class families in a small town, the holiday promised a welcome change to my family’s routines. Our living room was rearranged to welcome a freshly-cut tree, the picture window sparkled with snow sprayed from a can, and our AM radio was always on, awaiting Christmas songs. (This was before stations played holiday music 24/7 from Halloween ‘til the new year.) I’d keep an ear out, and if the deejay announced a Christmas classic, I’d turn up the volume.

Among my earliest yuletide favorites is “White Christmas.” From time to time, my older relatives discussed their memories of our country’s involvement in World War II, and at Christmastime, when Bing Crosby crooned this song, their conversations paused. Only later in life did I understand why. Though Irving Berlin composed his nostalgic tune in 1928 (written while he was grieving the death of his three-week-old son), it wasn’t until 1941, as our country entered the global battle, that the song gained popularity. Our soldiers fighting overseas said that, each December, dreaming of a white Christmas was really about dreaming of home.

Winters in Upstate New York pretty much guaranteed us a white Christmas, but snow-packed roads meant there weren’t a lot of trips in the family car. As the holiday neared, though, Dad would pile us kids in and we’d head out for Christmas shopping. If we were lucky, we’d find a parking space in the busiest section of downtown Fulton and when we opened car doors, holiday music welcomed us. One song I surely heard was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which was playing almost nonstop outside Montgomery Ward. Here’s why:

Rudolph’s fanciful story of flight came to life in 1939, after our country had endured a decade of the Great Depression. The joys of Christmas were in short supply and Montgomery Ward wanted to change that. One of Ward’s ad men created the Rudolph character as an illustrated poem, and it was featured in that year’s catalog, better known as the Children’s Wish Book. Many baby boomers remember spending hours flipping through its pages, making their list for Santa.

Rudolph was an immediate hit and a children’s book followed. By 1947, songwriter Johnny Marks set the legend of Rudolph to music, and Bing Crosby, already strongly associated with the holiday, was offered the song. After he turned it down, Gene Autry, America’s Singing Cowboy, recorded “Rudolph” and its popularity soared as high as a team of flying reindeer.

There was more magic from Rudolph, as well as from Johnny Marks’ songwriting abilities. Once Montgomery Ward had struck gold with its magical reindeer, television wanted in on the fun, so, in 1964, an animated Rudolph TV special aired. Marks wrote a bouncy tune called “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and Burl Ives’ folksy version played like a sleigh ride down a snowy hill, delivering us right into the arms of Christmas joy.

Johnny Marks made one more contribution to holiday melodies with a song that older kids at school were crazy about. There were lots of “groovy” dances in the 1960s, and when the holidays drew near, teens were “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Brenda Lee was only thirteen when her perky voice made our radios pop, and highschoolers everywhere—including my hometown of Fulton—were shimmying and shaking to it.

Another youngster caught America’s attention at Christmas. Though the same age as Brenda Lee when his song became a hit, young Jimmy Boyd was singing about something entirely different when he informed the world “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” When the song was released in 1953, the idea of a married woman having an affair with Santa was a little too risqué, even if Saint Nick was really Jimmy’s good old Dad in disguise. Radio stations banned the song for years, but luckily, by the time I came along, all had been forgiven and “I Saw Mommy” was nothing more than an innocent holiday novelty.

Throughout my childhood, TV offered a new Christmas special every December and we kids wanted to watch them all. “Frosty the Snowman” was first recorded by Gene Autry, but it was Jimmy Durante’s razzmatazz version in the TV special that had us singing along. Frosty also gave moms something to hold over our heads when we couldn’t contain our Christmas excitement: “Be good or there’ll be no Frosty on TV tonight!”

I paid special attention to Mom’s warning when I learned that, in 1965, Charlie Brown was going to have his own Christmas special. I was ten that year, young enough to still believe in animated stories that brought holidays to life, but old enough to appreciate the sentiments of a gentle yuletide song.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” had both.

Comic strip illustrator Charles Schulz and the creators of his TV special wisely added a Christmas soundtrack to the show.  They hired composer Vince Guaraldi to provide piano-driven jazzy numbers, which kept the story moving. Then Guaraldi paused with a song that captured the wonder of the holidays. “Christmas Time is Here,” was sung by the angelic choir of Charlie and his gang as they skated across a pond, caught snowflakes on their tongues and discovered the true meaning of Christmas. Today, when I get too busy to remember the joy of the holidays, I only need to hear the opening piano notes of that song and everything I love about Christmas music comes rushing back.

Holiday shows liked “A Charlie Brown Christmas” have provided memorable yuletide songs for over fifty years.

Holiday shows liked “A Charlie Brown Christmas” have provided memorable yuletide songs for over fifty years.