Museums are for remembering and preserving the past, but contents of a new museum in Homer, Ga., seem to match the town’s present very well. That’s because Homer’s downtown hasn’t changed much. Except for the new courthouse, everything looks much the same as it was in the 1960s, when I was a young reporter sitting in a patrol car with Sheriff M.L. Harrison, who married the best cook in the county. Legend around town was that people tried to get thrown in jail around Thanksgiving, because Mrs. Harrison laid out a spread worth incarceration.
So Homer is a perfect place for the Georgia Weekly Newspaper Museum, a small shotgun house dedicated to how weekly newspapers were published in the era before offset printing. It’s where technology, even a Linotype machine, was kept at arm’s length for years because A.J. Hilton, owner of the Banks County Journal, preferred setting type by hand. And he did that, Mike Buffington says, until the mid-1950s.
Buffington and his brother, Scott, who run MainStreet Newspapers in the area, bought the old building and, with help from a lot of people, created a monument to an almost forgotten time.
There sits the Linotype machine that Mr. Hilton refused to use, an iron monster now unworkable because rust has deteriorated its innards. But you can almost hear the clackety-clack, clackety-clack of the machine as brass mats fall into their assigned slots, producing lead slugs and a galley of type, line after line, at the speed of a turtle.
Oh, yes, the turtle was the heavy, metal table on which a page of type and metal engravings was made up.
I don’t remember when body type was set by hand, the way Mr. Hilton did it, but I do remember Linotypes and Ludlows and turtles and chases and pigs and hellboxes, all of the things associated with hot-type and letterpress printing.
I remember as a teenage reporter being introduced to the nonexistent type lice, which is the printer’s version of a snipe hunt. I remember pages of type being pied, which happened when galleys of type were bumped or dropped or otherwise mixed up. I remember the flatbed press that roared like a lion and turned out papers like a lamb. I remember.
But please don’t infer from my sentimental meanderings that I yearn to go back to those hot-type days. Putting out a newspaper is much more sophisticated today, and that’s the way it should be. Today’s backshops are likely up front, where reporters compose their own cold type on computers and where ad compositors could wear their Sunday best to work and go home spotless.
No, some newspapers are struggling enough in these economic doldrums without taking on another era’s problems.
But it’s good that people like the Buffingtons won’t let memories of hot-type newspapers just melt away without a mention. They have preserved them well in a small shotgun house in downtown Homer, Ga., where the past feels right at home with the present.
— Hudgins, a former community newspaper editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.