Archive for Thursday, July 20, 2006

From the editor’s desk

July 20, 2006

Some stories are more fun and easier to write than others.

The story in this week's paper on the summer of 1936 was one of them. The reason may be that I've always been a history buff who never understood classmates who found the subject boring. But, it's also probably because In a strange way, it seemed as though I was relating family history in relating the ordeals of some of the shrinking number of De Soto and Eudora residents who survived that terrible summer. Perhaps that's because I heard similar stories throughout my childhood from my parents and grandfolks.

They told the same stories of placing wet sheets on windows to keep out the dust, sleeping under the stars and weariness of facing day after day of the unrelenting heat. As Kansans, those stories make up our heritage.

It's always seemed strange to me when I look back on the newspapers of the era how little actual reporting they did. Although I cited local weeklies in the story, I've looked at large Kansas dailies of the period, and the actual reporting is pretty much the same. An official or two might be quoted about the effects of the drought, but reporters don't interview people on how they were coping. In a time when agriculture was much more important to the state's economy, no one takes a drive about the countryside to talk with the farmers about their dire situation.

What was ironic in reading The Eudora News from the early summer of 1936, the editor and publisher noted a former Kansas newspaperman who was recently hired by Time Magazine. The young man had made his name covering the East Coast floods of that year for a Baltimore paper and bringing the story of the flood victims' suffering to readers. It was just the kind of reporting missing from the writer's paper later that year.

What seems to be assumed is that such reporting is unnecessary because everyone is in the same boat. That point was made by those I talked to last week for the story. In the 1930s, no one had air conditioning, few had fans and most had direct experience with the want of the Great Depression.

It may well be that the editors of 1936 knew readers didn't want to read of someone else's misery when their own was just as acute. The drought, after all, was different than a flood visited on just those living along rivers and streams.

It could also be that we that we think we are just getting by with life and don't realize we are living history every day. When truly historical significant events occur, such as the drought of 70 summers ago, they tend to sneak up on those caught in its grip.

But, hearing the tales of my family and others, I am reminded of what a treasures the bygone papers missed.

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