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Column: Take trip back a century in newspaper time machine


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The future fast becomes the past. This is no more apparent than at the beginning of a new year, when we hang a fresh calendar and wonder how the old one ran out so quickly.

We can’t look ahead to see what the new year will bring, but it is easy to look back. Old newspapers help us do that.

A century ago, many Johnson County folks were reading The Franklin Democrat. Thanks to microfilm at the Indiana State Library, we can read the local paper and get a glimpse of our community back through the tunnel of time.

The Franklin Democrat welcomed 1913 with a front-page cartoon showing a child blowing bubbles. “Blowing the Bubbles of Fate,” declared the headline, with a caption in the form of a poem: “At the mystic threshold of life’s climb, the New Year sits sedate, a-blowing through the pipes of time, the bubbles of our fate.”

A lead story bemoaned the decline of the custom of “keeping open house” on New Year’s Day. A longtime resident had presented the reporter with a stack of old calling cards that symbolized the past practice of friends visiting friends in each other’s homes on the first day of the new year.

Also on page one were the names of new Johnson County officials taking office in 1913. Harry Bridges would be the new county treasurer, having served as deputy treasurer under T.J. Forsythe. Sheriff Harry Vandivier was starting his second term. Going into his third term as coroner was Dr. D. W. Sheek, and J. B. Duckworth started his third term as county surveyor.

The Indiana legislature was ready to begin another session. The draperies in the House and Senate had been thoroughly cleaned, carpets were renovated, new linoleum was placed in the lobbies, and each seat and desk was cleaned. A new clock would adorn the wall above the presiding member in each chamber “for the biennial turning back on the last night of the session, if such action should, as usual, be necessary.”

Outgoing Gov. Thomas Marshall was getting ready to move to Washington, where he would take the oath as vice president under the newly elected Woodrow Wilson. Samuel Ralston would be moving into the governor’s office.

On the local front, Franklin Township Trustee Gilbert Henderson announced that he could be found in his office in Franklin on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. On other days, he could be found at home one-half mile north of Hopewell Church. He could be reached by telephone at number 819.

The poultry show at North Vernon had seen good attendance by Johnson County residents. Chester Devore won several prizes with his white leghorns, Z.C. Dragoo captured first and second prizes on his barred Plymouth Rocks, and Russell Shirley won first with his black Langshan pullet.

There was tragedy in the news that day. A farmer had been fatally injured when his wagon was struck by an interurban car. The two

horses hitched to the wagon also were killed.

The term “juvenile delinquency” had not yet been coined, but the newspaper carried a story about a 17-year-old boy who had been “taken from an orphans home and treated kindly and given a good home.” It seems that his new mother sent him to town to buy groceries. Before leaving, he took $10 from her purse and loaded a “fine turkey” into the buggy. He later received a check for $1.80 for the turkey, cashed the check at I.N. Lagrange’s store and then left town. At last report he had not been found.

The Wallace Store advertised their January cloak and suit sale. Fur muffs were available from $2 to $12.50. Ten-dollar coats were going for $4, and men’s suits started at $5. The Moore Furniture Store offered golden oak china closets priced from $12.50 to $30, and a brass bed could be had for $22.

The M.J. Voris Department Store at 26 E. Jefferson St., celebrating its 20th year in business, wished everyone a happy and prosperous new year.

City National Bank proudly listed its capital, surplus and earnings at the grand total of $145,000, and an ad for Franklin National Bank offered certificates of deposit paying 3 percent.

And that’s how it was in Franklin as residents hung up fresh calendars 100 years ago. Speaking as someone who just renewed a CD at .025 percent, I can say that I have even more appreciation now for the “good old days.”

Board of contributors columnist James H. Johnson is a retired teacher who lives in Greenwood.

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