The Union up for next 140 years
“Traveling down the Mississippi on a steamboat in 1871, a journalist watched a yawl shoot out from the bank. If he thought that the two passengers were coming on to board or trade, he was quickly set right. “Throw me a paper,” one of them shouted. “Throw me a paper!”
So begins a chapter in Mark Wahlgren’s book, “The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics.” It reminds us that newspapers were as necessary as money following the Civil War. They were so important, in fact, that prisoners were given newspapers each day, because “to do otherwise was deemed cruel and unusual punishment,” according to the book.
The first chapter in the history of this particular newspaper begins in the days just following Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s decisive Union victory in the Shenandoah Valley. In October 1864.
President Abraham Lincoln was running for re-election and this newspaper’s founders supported that effort. That’s why newspapers were started back then. They had a specific purpose, or a particular bias, and they used their news pages to hammer their point home each and every day. Some editorial disagreements actually led to mortal combat as publishers and editors dueled in the dusty streets.
Interesting that 140 years later, some readers actually suggest that newspapers, or newspaper publishers more specifically, should not be promoting a particular political agenda on their Opinion Pages.
More on that in a moment.
According to historical accounts, M. Blumenthal and J. W. E. Townsend launched the first editions of The Union on Oct. 28, 1864. Soon afterward, Townsend was approached by a competitor and convinced to sell his interests. When Blumenthal found out about it, he ran his former partner out of town and put an end to the back-room deal, taking a good beating with a cane from his competitor in the process.
Newspaper publishers liked a good fight back then. Today they are referred to as “divisive” when merely suggesting on the opinion pages that a particular candidate is unfit for office.
More on that in a moment.
It is doubtful that The Union had much influence on the election a week or so later, when Lincoln defeated Democrat George B. McClellan with 55 percent of the popular vote. And it must have mourned Lincoln’s untimely death five months later after he was shot in the head during a performance at Ford’s Theater.
The Union survived that tragedy as it would survive subsequent wars, depressions, recessions, floods, fires and other notable events in history. Its headlines have proclaimed the Battle of Little Bighorn, the first man on the moon and the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center.
It saw $150 million in gold pulled from the shafts of the Empire and North Star mines. It was here at the end of that Gold Rush era, which saw more than $400 million of gold mined in Nevada County.
Our pages have listed the names of literally hundreds of thousands of newborns and newlyweds and graduates and soldiers. Just as they’ve been printed with the names of our dead, whose obituaries have stood in final testament to our beloved citizens.
That’s really the heart and soul of a community newspaper, you see. It’s not really about the political screeching that is all too common in these parts. Especially with the advent of the Internet and e-mail, which have reduced the level of communication to electronic missiles fired to and from laptops and desktops through something called “cyberspace.”.
We have managed to embrace that new technology, while maintaining our printing-press process that really hasn’t changed that much since the days of Johannes Gutenberg.
Next month The Union begins a new chapter in its 140-year history as we add another 5,000 square feet to our building here on Sutton Way. We thank you for being with us for what has been a wonderful journey so far. We hope you stay on board as we soar toward an even more fascinating future.
And if we come on a little strong from time to time … well … it’s what newspapers are supposed to do. It’s what they were made for.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His regular column appears on the Ideas & Opinions page each Tuesday.
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