Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interesting Letter From an Old Timer

Sunday Morning Observer, May 20, 1917

Who is there that does not remember Jasper S. Sprague, who for many years conducted a grocery store on Front street, at one time in a room two or three doors below Butler, later in a room on the upper canal bridge.

Mr. Sprague before going into the grocery business was a printer and was one of the best that ever "stuck type" in Marietta.  We came into possession this last week of an article he wrote some twenty years ago, just prior to his death, which is of much interest and tells of some old Marietta history that many will remember.  His predictions, in a large measure, have come true, showing the great foresight that Mr. Sprague possessed.

Mr. Sprague's article follows:

We old printers never die.  Like Elijah, the prophet, they are supposed to go up in pillars of fire.  None ever go down except the "devil" apprentice who receives his first lessons in the "lie" trough and plying the inky roller.  I am one of two survivors who, 43 years ago, worked on the old "Intelligencer," edited by Beman Gates, Esq., lately deceased.  The other lucky, living soul, who was a companion printer on the same paper, is the Rev. George R. Gear, of this city.  In those days the pittance of wages scarcely provided for the body of the entered apprentice in the "Black Art," and the Reverend Gear did well in entering a field to save the souls of men.  His life as a minister is no doubt the happy result of his early training in the old dingy printing office, where tallow dips were supreme and soap was at a premium.

This was in the days of the older and middle Marietta.  There is still another Marietta, buried, dark, deep, infathomable.  Mounds and stockades mark the resting place of the Cuthites and Titans who went out from Babylon on the first exodus - 240,000 strong - the Aztec and the Tolice - and no doubt were hunting for oil territory in these wild woods of ours.  They are mostly dead as Ramesis whom they fought in Egypt.

When I came to Marietta there were no railroads centering here.  To get a scoop on the latest news, we boys were sent to the boat landing morning and evening to await the arrival of the great "Buckeye State," "Crystal Palace" and other steamers plying the Ohio river from Wheeling to Cincinnati, veritable swift birds of passage.  The obliging clerks supplied us with papers.  These latest morsels, a week old, were displayed in big, startling head lines as the "Latest from Washington City" and Cunard line news, a month old from Europe!  There were no stereotype plates and patent insides coming in by express to supply the lack of editorial brain power - there was no express office even in the city then.

The "Intelligencer" - the Register now - went out in the weekly mail by stage coach or post box to the rural subscribers who formulated their political opinion from the oracle at the county seat.  Subscriptions were payable in ginseng, feathers, beeswax and a limited amount of cord wood as well as cash.

I remember when the first telegraph office was established in Marietta and the dismay of the opposition paper when Franklin Pierce's presidential message came over the line and was printed in the night and put out in an extra edition the next morning.  The printers wore standing collars that day.  The Whigs were ahead!

While a printer boy in Zanesville in 1852, I met Samuel Fairlamb, who was then about 85 years of age, and an inmate of the County infirmary, where he died shortly after.  He had been a printer for Ben Franklin in Philadelphia.  He gave me some of Franklin's type.  With tearful eye and trembling lips, he related his bitter experience in printing the first paper in Ohio in 1801, on what is now Front street, Marietta, Ohio, and called the "Ohio Territorial Gazette and West Virginia Herald" of which paper the Marietta Register is now the lineal descendant by purchase and succession.  He also printed a religious book similar to "Baxter's Saints Rest," edited by David Israel.  Probably the first book printed west of the mountains.

In these days of progress there is no more use for the old printers than a live Indian.  Type setting machines are fast supplanting the nimble fingered type setter.  The evolution of journalism is evolving new methods.  The newspaper of the future, possibly may be published by means of x-cathrode rays taken direct from great syndicates of brain reservoirs.  The printer must go.  The country editor must go - maybe the great dailies will succumb to electrical auroral writing in the sky when he that runs may read.  When these things all happen the good printer will be found sitting at the right hand of the Majesty above.

J. S. Sprague.

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