Mining our Material

My brother, Jim Baumer, gave a talk at the Lisbon Historical Society last night.  The subject of his 40 minute “chat” was John Gould’s career as a newspaper writer and editor.  Gould, the author of more than twenty books, also wrote a weekly column for the Christian Science Monitor from 1942 until his death in 2003, making him the longest running newspaper columnist in history.

If you’re not from New England, you may never have heard of John Gould.  His books are only in limited publication now and he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.  My brother’s talk touched briefly on Gould’s limited legacy, but primarily, he talked about Gould as a newspaper reporter and publisher.

The archives were jammed; there wasn’t a spare seat in the place.  My brother is a very good public speaker; he’s studied other public speakers and he’s practiced his craft over time.  I thought I knew more than the average Mainer about John Gould, but I learned quite a few new things.

I was tired from my afternoon research at the Portland Public Library’s “Special Collections.”  My goal was to review two years of microfilmed newspapers, but I got stuck in 1949 and had a hard time pulling myself out.

1949 Buick

A lot was happening in 1949.  Carl Sandburg spoke at the University of Maine’s Orono campus on February 23, a nationally syndicated food writer named Charlotte Adams sampled fried clams and broiled lobster at Boone’s Restaurant while on a national restaurant tour, and Portland Press Herald readers were devouring the murder mystery Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes.  Food prices were high and a number of food writers featured by the paper hinted that although butter gave the best flavor in baking, vegetable shortening was a lot less expensive and produced similar results.

There was a tremendous amount of “society news” in the daily paper.  It must have been like getting a stylized static Facebook feed every day dished up on your front steps.  Women went to candlelight teas, silver teas, and afternoon coffee meetings.  I found familiar family matriarchs who served as “pourers” and “servers” at these functions.

I found the daily radio listing for the 250 watt AM local radio station, WGUY.  Guy Lombardo was on every Monday through Friday at 1:00 p.m.  Maybe it was what a lady of leisure would listen to during the post-lunch power nap before pouring at the Pilgrim Daughters Society “Coffee and Cornucopias.”

(I made that last event up.)

I also met Abraham A. Schechter, the Special Collections Librarian and Archivist.  He helped me figure out the best way to navigate the microfilm reader and didn’t seem to mind that I needed him to show me how to load the film twice.

I studied and researched for almost three focused hours, getting familiar with the equipment and the layout of the material.  Mostly, I wanted to get an idea of how much material I could cover in an hour to plan out the length of time my “book” research might take.  I’ve got 24 more years to cover in the archival material.  At this rate, between working for pay and attending “teas” and “society events,” it looks like it might take a few years.

I’d better buy a Buick.

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3 Responses to Mining our Material

  1. Loosehead Prop says:

    Hmmm, 1949-1974. Another clue.

  2. Jim says:

    I’ve always loved the research that goes into developing articles and books. The initial stage is important, as you are gathering and amassing, prior to then, winnowing it down into something much more focused.

    The Portland Room is an oasis that only us research types seem to appreciate. Abraham is a treasure and always amenable to helping and offering up his own knowledge and ideas when appropriate.

    Thanks for turning out on Wednesday night for the Gould talk. It was fun and yes, well-attended!

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