Ancient history

Darn. Distracted by making music and shopping for a new car, I missed my own 50th anniversary! I missed two of them, actually.

Sometime in late May or early June, 1969, I skipped my graduation ceremony at the University of Connecticut, went to Hartford, applied for a job at the Hartford Courant, and started work the next day. That is amazing on so many levels.

I was reminded of that when a friend posted a note on Facebook saying that today was his “50 years today” Courant hiring anniversary. I don’t have a record of my own hire date, alas. (“If you can remember 1969, you weren’t there,” might be a good slogan.) I do remember the phone call from editor Bob Eddy, saying, “I talked to Professor Hill at UConn. You will start tomorrow at 2 p.m.; report to Mr. Reid MacCluggage on the state desk.”

But I do know the day the newspaper published a story with my name on it for the first time. I searched the Courant’s old Proquest online archive some years ago, collecting headlines and lead-sentences of my earliest stories, thinking they might amuse my students. I don’t think I ever actually used that lecture idea, but I still had a copy of the search file on my computer when I looked today.

The date of my first byline was July 2, 1969. The headline, on the local news page for the Willimantic area in Eastern Connecticut, was, “First Selectman Finds First Office Day Busy.” Obviously, no shouting of “Stop the presses!” was involved. But in retrospect, I thought it was a fine coincidence that my first day in the news office I would be writing about the chief executive of the town’s first day in office. I think he had been a barber previously.

(About 20 years later, when I started writing waterfront news for Soundings magazine, I made it a point to interview the new Harbormaster of Newport Rhode Island on my first reporting trip.)

Back in 1969, I had spent a few weeks as a copy editor on the Courant state desk before going to the Willimantic Bureau, where I wrote that story about the first selectman on assignment for interim bureau chief Bill Perez. Willimantic had the odd arrangement of being an incorporated city inside a town, in a state that had long before eliminated the county governments. So the city had a mayor, but the town had an old New England style executive board of three selectmen, headed by a first selectman.

Until July 1st, I don’t think I had ever heard of a “selectman.” So I my first interview question began, “Mr. Lariviere, let’s pretend that until today I had never heard of a first selectman…”

As a reminder of what newspapers were like in those days, the local-section page my story appeared on is listed in the archive as “page 58d.” The story was 391 words long. The first sentence was, “Windham First Selectman Eugene Lariviere is just getting settled in the first selectman’s office on the second floor of Town Hall.” Not a Pulitzer winner, and what a journalism professor might call a “soft lede,” but I remember being quite pleased that my story ran the way I wrote it, without much editing by Bill or the state desk at the other end of our teletype machine link. And I had a byline on my first day!

I stayed at the Hartford Courant for 11 years, and a couple of months ago finally started receiving retirement checks from the company that bought the company that bought the paper just before I “retired” in 1980.

Those retirement checks are helping pay for that new car I spent the month shopping for. I have always liked wrapping up a story with something I mentioned in the first paragraph.

Posted in Journalism, Newspapers, personal, The Hartford Courant

The Archive and the Library meet in online film

This note is part of an exercise in making sure I post things to the open web via my WordPress blog, not just to the closed but huge community on Facebook…

Librarian, archivist, historian, folklorist and ethnomusicologist friends… Have you seen the film linked above? The Internet Archive copy could use some comments adding more searchable keywords, but it’s a fascinating slice of history… including an old fashioned look at copyright law before it turned into the protectionist mess it is today.

An excerpt from it at YouTube sent me off looking for the original. That clip had Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee as an example of the field recording efforts of The Library of Congress. But there is much more in this 20-minute film from 1968, a guided tour of the work of the library back in the days of cardboard index cards and international mail as information sharing devices, just before the dawn of the digital age…

Original title if you just share the Archive webpage: “LIBRARY OF CONGRESS : National Archives and Records Administration : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive”

Posted in ethnomusicology, folklore, Internet Archive, Libraries, Library of Congress

Once we set the software world on fire

Things you find in the bottom of a box of old computer disks. In its heyday when I worked there, 1984-87, “MultiMate Word Processor” was not only international, it was a best seller and, you might say, almost matchless.

Its biggest selling point was that it allowed the earliest IBM PCs to take the place of much more expensive WANG office word processing systems, popular with insurance companies, law firms and other high-volume purchasers of software. It was designed for typing pools, not creative writers or computer hobbyists, so it didn’t get a lot of love from the geekier computer magazines. But for office typists, the stick-on labels for computer function keys and thorough user manual “documentation” were selling points, its fancy padded binder full of heavyweight pages, a veritable “what to do until the doctor comes” security blanket for nervous users.

My biggest contribution to the East Hartford, Conn., company was probably telling Tina, the product manager, how to get the documentation for version 3.3 into ring binders and slip cases originally measured for a previous version that didn’t have as many pages.

My solution was to make two spiral-bound smaller books out of the beginners section and most advanced/technical section, and only use the three-ring binder for the main reference pages. The smallest spiral booklet fit inside the binder and the beginner/tutorial fit alongside it in the slipcases, of which we apparently had a warehouse-full.

The product manager left for another company and launched a new product… called Microsoft Word. (It, unsurprisingly, successfully made the transition from Microsoft DOS to Microsoft Windows; MultiMate, sold to Ashton-Tate, didn’t.)

With my 11 years’ experience on a newspaper and some accidental computer documentation experience while writing and rewriting a 300-page anthropology/ethnomusicology master’s thesis, I had come to MultiMate to add some technical expertise to the public relations department. They thought I would be good at talking reviewers through the program and writing how-to articles for a user’s newsletter. Within a few months, I was drafted to edit and rewrite parts of the user manual after badly timed company cutbacks removed key technical writers and others quit, just when the slipcase crisis arose.

When the company was sold, I didn’t particularly like the new management and left to finish a second Master’s thesis, which was loosely about the future of writing with computers and a new technology called hypertext, which I thought showed a lot of promise. Two years later an Englishman in Switzerland figured out how to use hypertext to interconnect documents on the Internet and call it the World Wide Web… a sign that I had to go back to grad school again.

Posted in Computers, Connecticut, History, wesleyan, writing

The mourning after

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and I didn’t have as much as a pint of Guinness or a drop of Jameson’s, or sing “The Parting Glass” at the end of a weekend music festival because (a.) it wasn’t about that kind of music and (b.) I never managed to learn the words. (I’ve never been a fan of Tullamore Dew, but I thought they did a charming job on that commercial, with its funereal humor at the end.) But, anyway, top o’ the morning-after to you…

I started writing this essay after a friend sent me a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day message last night, probably after seeing that I had posted a link to this other Irish song on Facebook… and he mentioned that he thought I looked more Scottish.

For me, the Scottish gene pool is more recent, why I’m “Robert Bruce” and put a family tartan (but a green one) as a backdrop on my web page. My father’s much beloved mother was from Glasgow, but died when I was an infant. My mother’s grandparents were all Great Famine era Irish immigrants to Western Massachusetts farms, and she and her mother identified as Irish a bit, at least on the Catholic-and-wearing-green level, although the closest they’d been to the land of our ancestors was a four-sided family monument at our Massachusetts hometown cemetery that mentioned a famine-erased village in Co. Limerick. We did eat a lot of potatoes, and occasionally corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Our downstairs neighbor was a Northampton school principal named Ryan who knew her relatives in Ireland enough to get a pot of fresh shamrocks in the mail each spring, which impressed me. So as a kid going to Catholic schools I felt more Irish than anything.

Did you know I lived in County Mayo for 10 weeks researching an anthropology master’s thesis on making “elective ethnicity” choices with symbols like music, language, food, pop-culture, clothing, religion and visits to the “Olde country”? Music and language were the main themes of the thesis. I often wish I had done a better job and expanded it into something that I could publish. But that would have meant making it much more scholarly or much more personal. Coincidentally our cook for part of the summer in the house in Co. Mayo was Miss Ryan’s niece… from my old Hometown in Massachusetts, where it turned out her father had been mayor while I was growing up. (Add Massachusetts politics to my list of Irish cliches.) More recently someone shot a video of the Co. Mayo house and its surroundings, which brings back wonderful memories.

Coincidentally, many of the other Irish music and culture students I lived with that summer had fallen away from the Catholic religion in their twenties, but maybe not as far as I had fallen, never quite finding anything to replace it in the Upanishads or I Ching or old blues records. That is part of the reason I wasn’t at a funeral for a more religious acquaintance this weekend. I don’t think The Parting Glass would mean as much to his family and friends as the Bluegrass music he played, so it seems better to be part of a musical Memorial Gathering for him later this month, along with sharing a tip of the hat I created online (Timmy Mills, R.I.P.) in the form of a YouTube playlist. It was just a coincidence that I had already paid a few hundred dollars for tuition to the unrelated musical event I was attending on the weekend of the funeral.

For some reason I think of coincidences as Irish, and I do stumble on the lot of them. That 1981 trip to Ireland was my second and it was my 11-year-itch career change after my original Hartford Courant newspaper writing job, before I fell into college radio, then writing about computers, then back into magazine and newspaper/online journalism.

Hmm. I should dust off that thesis and write something more personal for publication. Today they call it an auto-ethnography… But I have so much else I’m not writing… maybe this is as close as I will get.

Posted in Uncategorized

Breakfast out…

My favorite local place for breakfast closed a few months ago… And it’s probably my fault for only going there when I had visiting friends, and just not having that many visiting friends.

But a former student of mine posted a Facebook rave review for a new breakfast place on the other side of town, which got me feeling very nostalgic for places I miss, in places I have lived over the years…

Glad to see these are still going. In keeping with my attempt to put interesting stuff out here on the open web, not just in Facebook:

I never seem to get to Floyd before noon, but if I did I would stop by the Blue Ridge Cafe… More often, I wind up having a breakfast-like slice of quiche for lunch at the Floyd Country Store.

Posted in memories, personal, Radford, wesleyan

Tabloid wizard’s first edition — on Wikipedia

This is an experiment… This afternoon I wrote a full page contribution to Wikipedia, one of the first times I have created a page there from scratch. Why? I saw an odd and misspelled reference to a 1920s newspaper editor on the Wikipedia page about the Hartford Courant, where I worked in the 1970s. Before I left I had become fascinated by that particular editor, Emile Gauvreau, who left Hartford to become editor of two of the nation’s most sensational tabloid newspapers of the Roaring Twenties.

At one point I even thought I might try to write a book about the guy.

He may have been a conscience-tortured scandalmonger, but he deserved to have his name spelled right. And after correcting the Hartford Courant wiki page, I noticed that turning his name into a link did not send it to a previously existing biography page… So I sat down and wrote one. Fatigue set in and I didn’t do as much as I could have.. The battles between him and Walter Winchell we’re amazing, with Winchell comparing him to Napoleon and calling him a cripple because he had a limp, and Gauvreau dismissing Winchell as a vaudeville hoofer who had risen above his station by destroying the English language and making an industry out of gossip. But to include those things from memory on Wikipedia would have meant dredging up some references and going through the tedium of formatting them properly for the Wikipedia reference system. I own maybe a dozen books by or about Gauvreau and the Graphic as well as a few 90 year old copies of the paper.

For Wikipedia, I pulled a history of the Hartford Courant and Gauvreau’s autobiography off my shelves and cited them as references, along with a Columbia Journalism Review article that is really little more than a extract from the autobiography.

I did not cite my own articles about the New York Evening Graphic, because I suspect Wikipedia frowns on self- citation. They consist of academic conference papers that I wrote in 1997 and 2003, and a web page I self-published, originally on a University of North Carolina server, so that I could share some of the Graphic’s controversial images with students and colleagues, while also demonstrating my skill at old school web page publishing.

Today’s contribution to the world’s knowledge is a brief Wikipedia biography of Emile Gauvreau, which, it being Wikipedia, does not carry my byline and can be immediately edited, improved, or vandalized by anyone.

That is where the “experiment” I mentioned in the first sentence comes in… I am pasting below the full text of the page as I left it after today’s editing session. There may still be a typo or two, and the things shown in italic on Wikipedia probably appear in a different font here. But the text should be just what I wrote. I hope to check back in a month or two and see whether anyone has added to it, edited it, fixed or unfixed anything I wrote.

Here it is:

Emile Gauvreau (1891-1956) was an American journalist, newspaper and magazine editor and author of novels and nonfiction books.

Born in Centerville, Connecticut, he got his start in newspapers at the New Haven Journal-Courier, before moving on in 1916 to the Hartford Courant, as reporter, legislative reporter, Sunday editor, and assistant managing editor, becoming managing editor at the age of 25.[1]

He launched the newspaper’s artgravure picture section and its Sunday magazine, and, according to the paper’s historian, John Bard McNulty, “developed a strong partiality for the banner headline.” The young editor’s style suited The Roaring Twenties more than the newspaper known as the “Old Lady of State Street,” and led to his dismissal in 1924 over a sensational series alleging that medical quacks were operating in the state with credentials from diploma mills. He was asked for his resignation, but wrote that he left with a healthy bank account thanks to his Hartford Courant stock. [2]

Having helped compensate for a lame leg with exercises from Physical Culture publisher Bernarr Macfadden, and having written confession-style stories for Macfadden’s True Story magazine, Gauvreau went to New York to inquire about more freelancing for the eccentric magazine publisher, but was surprised to be offered the opportunity to start a daily tabloid newspaper for Macfadden. It was to compete with the New York Daily News, America’s first tabloid, which was soon joined by Hearst Daily Mirror.

Macfadden had wanted to call his paper The Truth,but eventually settled for the name New York Evening Graphic, with Gauvreau as managing editor. Along with focusing on sensational crime stories, photos, and Macfadden’s health crusades, its experimental policies including first-person stories by ghostwriter assisted newsmakers, and composite photos that illustrated scenes for which the paper could not get a real photograph. In his autobiography, Gauvreau, who had drawn newspaper cartoons in his early days, took both credit and blame for the composograph, and admitted getting carried away with it, creating farcical bedroom scenes to a company’s stories about a sensational divorce case.

He also took some of the credit for discovering and promoting Graphic staff members Walter Winchell, Ed Sullivan and others. Both Winchell and Gauvreau left the Graphic for Hearst’s Daily Mirror, continuing a longtime editor-columnist feud into the 1930s. [3]

Gauvreau’s 1935 book about a trip to Russia, What So Proudly We Hailed, got him fired by Hearst, but he continued to write, and later edited a pictorial magazine, Click, for Moses Annenberg of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

His books, starting with two quasi-autobiographical novels about “tabloidia”, include Hot News (1931), The Scandalmonger (1932), What So Proudly We Hailed (1935), Dumbells and Carrot Strips (with Mary Macfadden, 1935), My Last Million Readers (1941), Billy Mitchell: founder of our Air Force and Prophet Without Honor (1942), and The Wild Blue Yonder: Sons of the Prophet Carry On ( with Lester Cohen, 1945).

Gauvreau was profiled by Michael Shapiro for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2011, under the title The Paper Chase For tabloid king Emile Gauvreau, it took a lifetime to slow down.


  1. ^ John Bard McNulty, Older than the nation, The Life and Times of the Hartford Courant… Oldest newspaper of continuous publication in America. 1964 Pequot Press
  2. ^ Emile Gauvreau, My Last Million Readers, Dutton 1941
  3. ^ Emile Gauvreau, My Last Million Readers, Dutton 1941
  4. Michael Shapiro, Columbia Journalism Review, 2011,The Paper Chase For tabloid king Emile Gauvreau, it took a lifetime to slow down|

note: some of the font and formatting messiness is because this entire blog post was composed on an Android smartphone, and so was the Wikipedia entry. I may come back to this page to add a sensational Evening Graphic image or return to the Wikipedia page to add a picture of gauvreau.

Posted in Uncategorized

Finishing off January…

A friend in Florida phoned to chat while she was circling a hiking track in bright sunlight this morning… and I made the mistake of saying that it was just raining here and not below freezing…

Within an hour the sky became full of some of the largest snowflakes I’ve ever seen. They are still melting when they hit the asphalt, but I had a worrisome feeling that wouldn’t go on for long.

However, the temperature were still below freezing this afternoon and the official forecast says that even though it may get down to the single digits tomorrow, things will warm up again at the end of the week.

… and within 2 hours of taking those snowy pictures, I could actually see Blue Sky again… but with a cold wind blowing more clouds out of the northwest…

And in another hour that patch of blue was overhead, and very little evidence of that late morning snow, but it looks like it might be snowing again in the mountains… Where that wind is coming from.

Posted in Uncategorized

A 2019 start and 2020 vision

A New River sunset saunter …

… to start the New Year…

Okay, so the getting up early and out of the house resolution still needs some work… kind of a gray beginning to the year, but starting at Dudley’s Landing and walking the length of Radford’s Bisset Park and back gave me a chance to say Happy New Year to a dozen people I didn’t know, plus one squirrel and one cardinal.

The photos show some winter wear and tear, but the big hollow tree is still standing, and city workers have plowed the floodmud off the paved path and taped one place where the river erosion has given us a new mini cliff.

I thought the round-trip was 3 miles but it’s a quarter mile short of that according to the Endomondo walking app in my phone… even with the pauses to take pictures, not a bad distance and time to start the year with.

I also stayed on the paved paths, and on the street light illuminated roadway heading back, in hopes of not spending the rest of January digging mud out of the Vibram soles. It’s a new year. Be good to your souls, however you spell them.

And, by posting this here, I’m fulfilling a resolution about spending less time in the Walled Garden called Facebook, although I do have so many friends there that I let them see these pictures and thoughts too. Gradually, I’ll try to do more here and less there and point people in this open web Direction.

Posted in Uncategorized


I didn’t really get around to being thankful for much of anything on Thanksgiving, except for being thankful I stayed off the highways on such a high traffic day and weekend. I did get out and take a hike along the New River in the local city park, and that was later in the day than I had planned, but I got there in time to take pictures of the sunset that my friends on Facebook seem to like a lot.

And I’m certainly thankful that I can make people smile with a push of the button on a smartphone.

Come to think of it, looking back at the pictures in my phone reminds me that I am also thankful that the big hollow tree along Radford City’s Bisset Park hiking trail is still there after the serious flood we had a few weeks ago.

And I am thankful that I have eight fully functional fingers and a December 5th appointment with a hand surgeon to find out what it will take to put the other two back in action instead of just hanging there like so much dead wood.

Posted in Uncategorized

Municipal dysfunction… Repairs in the works

My mobile phone sure does not like the city website. The new mayor says a new website is in the works… and meanwhile he uses Facebook for announcements, pictures, and even live videos.

There must be a better way.

Posted in 2018, civics, communication, photography, public affairs, Radford