For 145 years, tomorrow's history today

You might not believe it if you were to eavesdrop on curses emanating from morning coffee cabals or follow graffiti scrawled on toilet walls (or the modern-day equivalent, social networks). But we at the newspaper are, indeed, human. And occasionally we make mistakes.

Today, as we enter our 145th year of service to Marion County, we’d like to correct one of those errors:

Two and a half years ago, we erred when we reported in the 100 Years Ago section of the Memories column that a marriage license had been issued the week of Feb. 2, 1911, to Willis M. Harpster of Florence and Nannie R. Bollen of Cedar Point.

Truth is, the error didn’t happen 2½ years ago. Our Memories columnist doesn’t make mistakes copying from our archives. Even if she did, we wouldn’t want to risk losing out on home-cooked meals next time we’re in town by pointing it out.

As it turns out, we — or, rather, our predecessors — made the mistake back in 1911. Our modern Memories column accurately reported what was erroneously reported back then, including the mangling of the bride-to-be’s name, which should have been listed as Nancy R. Ballew.

That, at least, is what we learned after researching an email we received last week from reader Dale Harpster of Chandler, Ariz., who told us Willis and Nancy (who did, in fact, go by the name Nannie) were his grandparents.

We’re not certain how Dale came upon this 2½-year-old republication of a 102½-year-old item, though we suspect Googling played a part in it. Regardless, it did serve as a reminder, as we prepare to begin Volume 145 of the Ol’ Thing, how important an obligation we and 144 years of predecessors have had to accurate document today’s happenings not just for today’s readers but for tomorrow’s, too.

About the same time as Dale was composing his email, I was driving to work at my “real” job 600 miles away at the University of Illinois, blissfully listening — for reasons unknown — to a satellite radio rerun of NPR’s Click and Clack “Car Talk” program from Nov. 23, 1996.

Complaining about a 1987 pickup truck that wouldn’t start was woman by the name of Cynthia, who gave her hometown as Marion, Kan., which she described as a small town of 1,900 people.

When she told the hosts, as I recall, that she had daughters who were married or in college and a husband who was overseas working as an oil driller until Christmas, I became obsessed with finding whether she really was “Cynthia from Marion,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” or “Susan from Peoria,” picking a random name and random town to hide her true identity.

To my rescue, albeit unfortunately not with a CARE package of hamburger soup for supper, was our same intrepid Memories columnist, who immediately knew who it was and, within a day, managed to track her down and verify that she was, indeed, Cynthia Blount of Marion. That means the “dad” she mentioned during her call as having braved nausea to replace a starter motor in a discount store parking lot probably was Jack Swain.

It would be a great ending to report that Click and Clack’s advice spared the truck, but Cynthia reported that their advice had been less than helpful. (It was radio, after all — not something reliable like a newspaper.)

Whatever the case, it all happened about the time my students were learning to walk and while our modern-day competition in the publishing business in Marion County was just a gleam in the eyes of disgruntled former employees of another paper that we now own and who at the time were trying to get us to go in business with them. (We obviously declined and have never regretted doing so.)

While fellow faculty members here at Illinois continue to bemoan the loss of importance of metropolitan newspapers, it’s nice to know that after 144 years, our weekly is still alive, occasionally kicking, and reaching probably more readers than we ever have.

If that means we sometimes have to apologize for 102½-year-old errors, so be it. It means that more than a century later, readers still care what we report, and that’s enough to keep any journalist — or his successors — going for another 145 years.

— Eric Meyer

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