The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That became evident to me recently as I examined, out of curiosity, some of the earliest news reports in the Caldwell County Public Library’s collection that you can find from the Lenoir, N.C., area, from the weekly Caldwell Messenger, which began publication in September 1875.
For instance, an item in the Dec. 2, 1875, edition reported on “a slight runaway” of a horse team on Main Street in downtown Lenoir:
“Cause – too many fire crackers in the rear. No damage. Moral – don’t leave your team standing without someone to look after the horses when the school boys have holiday. They will celebrate.”
We all can recall our father’s warning, if your father was like mine, about firecrackers in the rear, and while you won’t find any teams of horses downtown anymore, visit and you might find a fair share of horse’s rears, or you might at least run into me.
An item in the Nov. 18, 1875, edition commented, “It is well that our hog law has been repealed, or our town dogs would be immensely idle, nowadays. As it is, it keeps them pretty busy between meals playing with friend Johnson’s pigs on the public square.”
This was followed a week later by Mr. Johnson’s objection to that commentary:
“Friend Johnson says it isn’t his hogs that afford so much amusement for the town dogs. The hogs, he says, belong to various other parties, principal among whom are the Town Commissioners.”
I have not researched it, but the hog law must have been reinstated at some point, for hogs seldom are seen around the public square anymore. Perhaps Mr. Johnson shamed the commissioners into keeping their hogs penned and re-enacting the ban.
And then, as now, one of the chief functions of the local newspaper has been to shine a spotlight on local residents, particularly those who are active in civil affairs, such as this resident noted in the Nov. 25, 1875, edition:
“The most vigilant and persevering inhabitant of Lenoir is a certain cow we know of. She seems to regard herself as the miller of the town, from the way she takes toll of every wagon that is stopped on the square – or anywhere in smelling distance. She would have made a capital collector of tithes during the war. She has a determined energy unequaled by Grant himself.”
One thing that has changed is in the advertising. Newspapers have always been vehicles for local merchants to get their messages out to the public through advertisements, but many of the ones in those old papers would baffle young people now, selling such things as “tinware,” turbine water wheels and “dry goods.” (I have not yet seen an old ad for “wet goods,” but one presumes such things must have existed.)
But one that local pharmacist W.W. Gaither ran repeatedly in late 1875 and early 1876 is as relevant now as the day he penned it:
I cannot afford to sell any more of them without pay. All who owe me are invited to settle without further notice. No more credit.
All kinds of country produce received.