Opinion: A birthday of historic proportion
Today is somebody’s birthday. No, no, no. I’m not going to tell you who is the lucky birthday boy right at the top of this column, but I’ll drop a few hints. First, he’s someone who is quite recognizable to a great many Maderans. Second, he shares a bit of history with this newspaper.
A legend begins
The newspaper, now known as The Madera Tribune, was founded in 1892 by Edgar Eugene Vincent. He called it the Madera Mercury. Birthday Boy used to deliver the nascent journal on his pony, Fido.
Then, in 1892, another paper debuted as the Madera Tribune. Birthday Boy joined the staff as a cub reporter in 1897, just in time to cover the events of the Spanish-American War the following year. When a United States ship was blown up off the coast of Cuba, Birthday Boy’s headline read: “Remember the New Hampshire!”
Birthday Boy left town, and little is known of his whereabouts for the next decade. However, there were rumors out of the northwest that a newspaper reported regularly on the fighting between the Allies and the Spartans during World War I. Many noted scholars believe that was the work of Birthday Boy.
After the war, the two papers merged to become the Madera Mercury-Tribune. In 1929, Birthday Boy returned to Madera as the “business reporter.” Because of his enthusiastic and optimistic reporting, many local farmers sold their land and bought stock in major banks. A few months later, these former farmers rented a bus, drove to New York, and jumped from the top of very high buildings. Once again, Birthday Boy disappeared from the local scene, and there is no record of him during the Great Depression.
There was another merger in the 1940s which produced the Madera News Tribune. Several years after World War II, Birthday Boy mysteriously reappeared, now as the “technology reporter” for the paper. His articles hailed the increasing accuracy and ease of hand-cranked calculators and warned against the emergence of electronic computers because “they only do zeroes and ones.”
His anti-computer articles all started with a citation from IBM Chairman and CEO Thomas J. Watson: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” He repeatedly referred to the upstart company as H-A-L, one alphabetic letter shy of its official name. Birthday Boy warned people to treat the stock as if it were some kind of menace. His depiction of the company was memorialized in the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” widely known as Stanley Kubrick’s little joke on an unsuspecting public.
The Big Apple
The price of IBM stock rose spectacularly during the post-war prosperity, and Birthday Boy fled, some say to New York. There is anecdotal evidence that Duck Choud, entertainment columnist for the New York Post, may have been his penname when the newspaper covered the appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. His account of the event, “Mop Heads Flop on First U.S. Tour,” is still studied in college journalism classes.
Besieged by irate teenagers, he was last seen running through the Holland Tunnel to — Lord have mercy — New Jersey. As one might suspect, there was no sighting of him for several years. He may have continued moving south because he next appeared in Florida, at the Kennedy Space Center in 1969, to cover the Apollo 11 mission.
Birthday Boy was writing for a small newspaper in Tuscaloosa, and covered every aspect of the historic event. He interviewed engineers and technicians. He was a constant fixture at Mission Control. He inspected the astronaut’s space suits. He covered the launch and followed the space craft through its journey, all the way to its orbit around the moon.
Finally, the time came for two of the astronauts to enter the landing module and begin their descent. Along with about 3,500 other media representatives, he held his breath until touchdown. His headline practically screamed, “The Falcon Has Landed.”
The road home
Representatives of The Dade County Sheriff’s Department escorted Birthday Boy to the Alabama border where he was met by Tuscaloosa Troopers. There is speculation that he received one of the city’s famous “tar and feather” greetings and was gently deposited in neighboring Mississippi. From there, he began an arduous trek west.
Meanwhile, our local newspaper was purchased by Pacific Sierra Publishing, and it bore its current name: The Madera Tribune. Pacific Sierra was on the verge of shutting down in 2003, but its current owner, Madera Printing and Publishing, bought it in 2004. At the time, I was a little-known columnist who had been writing for the paper for five years. I’m still a little-known columnist 16 years later. But, I’m deeply indebted to Birthday Boy for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the newspaper-reading community.
Happy birthday, publisher and editor, Mr. Charles Doud.
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Jim Glynn is a retired professor of sociology (and amateur journalism historian). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org