2011.01.19 Plodding toward 150

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

When I looked through the old yellowed pages for this week’s Through the Decades, I noticed a column by my father that started off like this: “We made it! With this issue of the Observer, our volume number changes to 100.”

That was 40 years ago in 1971. Reading those words sent me in search of the most recent paper to see if we’ve reached 140. Just as I suspected. I recently changed the volume number from 138 to 139. We lost a year somewhere. Must have been that long year I spent in a coma.

I’m not about to go back and find out when the error was made because I’m probably the irresponsible party. We’ll just let it go at that and make the correction this week.

“We made it!” I can now say. “With this issue of the Observer, our volume number changes to 140.” It’s sort of like a leap year.

My father recounted the basic history of the rag. It was founded by Erasmus D. Allen and originally named the New Era and for a special reason. 1871 was the year the railroad came to Morenci—a time when people expected a new era for the community.

By 1875, Allen’s son Augustus became the publisher and changed the name to the State Line Observer. Some things never change.

Augustus, working with his younger brother, Vernon, changed the name to the Morenci Observer. I don’t expect my son, Ben, to come back home to run the paper—I can’t wish that on any of my children—but if he does, I’ll gladly back his decision to call it anything he wants.

But back to the history. Before moving to Morenci, Erasmus was a Detroit resident and he published the Christian Advocate for the Methodist Church. He came to Morenci to serve as a school teacher before he decided to start a newspaper.

The New Era wasn’t Morenci’s first newspaper, but it’s the one that survived. My father wrote that there’s one issue of the New Era in the Observer office.  It’s really troubling that all the papers before about 1923 were given away or disposed of or something. So much history gone forever.

The old paper makes mention of an Indian settlement and it also tells about the election of Gov. Bagby...wait a minute, I’d like to see that New Era. It was Gov. John Bagley who served in that time. The Linotype operator must have made an error. But the Linotype didn’t exist yet. Anyway, the “l” and the “e” of Bagley must have looked like a “b.”

The Allens sold the paper to Emil Ahrens who then sold it to E.T. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong sold it to Bacon and Harris and they in turn sold it to Dwight J. Robbins.

In 1929, Robbins sold the Observer to Walter J. Pinkstone. Shortly thereafter, a partnership was formed with my grandfather, F. Russell Green, who moved to Morenci to edit the paper. This lets you know that the Greens are outsiders. We’ve only been here 82 years.

My grandfather died in 1939, the partnership dissolved, and my grandmother, Minnie, became publisher. She leased the paper to Clifford Mack in 1943 and my father returned to Morenci to take over the paper in 1949, five months before my sister was born. I stumbled onto the newspaper scene in 1980 and took over from my father in 1985. 

I certainly have no intention of doing this thing every week when the Observer turns 150, but then again, I never had any intention of ever doing this thing to begin with. I was one of those Least Likely to Return Home sort of people. You just never know.

Every so often I’ll hear from someone from years ago and they’ll be surprised to learn it’s me they’ve contacted at the paper. They might recall me taking basketball game photographs when they played in 1984, and they make a comment along the lines of, “You’re still doing that?”

Yeah, I’m still doing that, and due to the circumstances of the state of newspapers and the state of the economy, I’m working with a scaled down staff and I think I’m working harder now than I did as an energetic 35-year-old.

But I’m not complaining because I remember thinking when I was a young father how it goes backwards. When your kids are young, you’re hard at work and when they’re gone, you retire.

Not me. I’m dragging a heavy plow as I plod toward the 150th.

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