Monday, March 26, 2012

History everywhere you look

First Free Press, Apr. 4, 1887.
The Free Press will soon be celebrating it's 125th anniversary of providing news and information to southern Minnesota. I know, that sounds like a gimmick, but it's real, and once that number sinks in a bit its significance will hit.

That's a long time. That time frame spans two centuries. It spans every United States president from Grover Cleveland to Barack Obama. It spans more history than I can imagine.

The Free Press itself is steeped in Mankato's history. Its staff has covered literally every major event in Mankato for the last 125 years, not to mention major state and national events. Looking through old copies of the Free Press is like going back in time, literally. The yellowed pages of old copies of the paper hold a trove of details about Mankato's past, on every page from A1 to Classifieds.

The seminal publication actually was the Independent which began in 1857. Six years later, it was bought by Charles Slocum and named the Mankato Union. Then in 1880 the Union and its rival Mankato paper, the Record, merged and became the Mankato Weekly Free Press. It ran as a weekly until Apr. 4, 1887 when editor L.P. Hunt published the first daily issue. Hunt's name still adorns a stone in Jackson Park that marks where the original building that housed the Free Press once stood.

While the current Free Press building hasn't been here as long as the paper it still contains much of the history of the Free Press, and of the newspaper publishing industry in general. I started a personal project a couple of years ago to photographically explore some of that history.

Truth be told, it started on a slow Saturday afternoon when I set out to photograph some of the worn and heavily used items in the building. I work nearly every Saturday, and the Free Press building is fairly quiet on the weekends. During some time between assignments I started exploring some of the nooks and crannies of the building, taking a few pictures along the way. Newspaper employees are generally pack rats: You never know when you might need something. Many of the items I found and photographed not only show some of the Free Press' history but show how hard it can be to publish a daily newspaper for 125 years.

L.P. Hunt said it well in a note to readers in that first daily issue. "The labor incident to getting out the initial number of a daily paper is vastly more trying than people not familiar with newspaper work and worry are aware of or can be devised of."

I've had some fun doing this, and I'm still having fun. I look forward to having some more time this spring to do some more exploring. I've found areas of the building that hold some fantastic history largely unseen even by most employees of the Free Press. I think these pictures not only show history, but the incessant march of time. I think they illustrate how much the newspaper business has changed over the years, changed but remained the same in some ways (hopefully not resulting in its demise!).

Until then, I'll post a few pictures every couple of days from what I've shot so far. I hope you enjoy them.

Free Press staff from 1935.

Newspapers at the end of the press run.

Typewriter keys.

No comments: