Newspaper archives tell our stories
It turns out my dad’s story was true. He really did watch his childhood friend die after a homemade firework exploded and sent shrapnel into his abdomen.
Growing up, my friends and I always assumed my dad was exaggerating the story in order to scare us when we started “experimenting” with fireworks during our teenage years. The tale that he told us so many times seemed a little too “on the nose,” like we were listening to an after school special.
This past weekend, though, I saw the story in black-and-white, on the front page of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Jan. 15, 1959: “Boy, 12, killed by homemade rocket blast.” Though not very long, the article described in painful detail how my dad’s buddy lost his life while using a nail and hammer to pack down nine match heads into a sawed-off carbon dioxide cartridge loaded with a mix of sulphur and black gunpowder. Just as my dad described, he was there to see it happen and went to get help from a neighbor. He’s even quoted telling the police his friend’s last words: “God, don’t let me die.” Wow.
When I emailed the news clipping to my dad, I told him how it “really does make you stop and think about all the times we did stupid stuff and lived to talk about it.” My friends and I liked our bottle rockets and M-80s, but thankfully we never tried to make our own.
This 1959 article came to me courtesy of a website I discovered last week while researching a story. The site, simply called newspapers.com, allows you to search the archives of over 16,000 different daily newspapers, some of which go back as far as 1690! It’s a digitized treasure trove of information and history that can lead you down so many interesting paths.
Want to know what your grandfather was doing in 1930? Well, in my case, Grandpa O’Brien was acting in a high school production of “Bashful Mr. Bobbs,” a three-act “comedy farce,” according to The Daily Plainsman of Huron, S.D. My other grandfather, Elmond Ekblad, was apparently pretty involved in 4-H, as he was part of a delegation of “purple ribbon” members from Minnesota that attended a national 4-H congress in Chicago in 1939, according to the Sioux City Journal in Iowa.
Modern computer technology and “old-fashioned” newspapers often seem like oil and water; they don’t mix very well. But, as my experiences of the last week have proven, newspapers are still just as relevant, if not more so, in the socalled Information Age. My free sevenday trial ends tomorrow, so I’m trying to do as many searches as I can. It’s amazing what you can find in some dusty old
OUT FOR A WALK