Editor's note: This is the fifth in a six-day series of stories on the 100-year history of the Mail Tribune, which first published on Nov. 1, 1909.
Putting out a newspaper is serious business, and the news can sometimes be depressing. But there are lighter moments that help compensate. Longtime news staffers at the Mail Tribune remember their share.
Like the time an obituary for a prominent Medford resident announced that a certain funeral home would be "in charge of refreshments."
Another lighter moment involved a request from the New York Times. One of their photo editors asked if the Mail Tribune could supply a photo of the Rogue River Rooster Crow to go with a story they had planned.
The paper agreed, and one of the staff members working the night shift after the Rooster Crow got the picture ready to transmit and called the San Francisco bureau of United Press International, which was supposed to relay the picture to New York. He explained who he was and what the photo was about. Silence greeted him. Finally, a puzzled voice responded: "The Rogue River WHAT?"
Then there was the time the Mail Tribune ran a story about a local nudist park's plans for a Halloween costume party. Late night TV talk show host Johnny Carson picked up on it and made the news part of his "Tonight Show" monologue. He'd paint a stripe down his back, said Carson, and go as "the open road."
Political activities have produced some lighter moments as well. In the mid-1960s, a reporter covered a Democratic platform committee meeting at which proposed planks were being read aloud. Someone handed a sheet to a committee member who had just arrived and wasn't familiar with its contents. With great seriousness, he proclaimed, "We Democrats believe that the sales tax is not a pancreas."
Reader reactions to articles can provide some humorous memories. In the 1960s, the Mail Tribune news staff put together a story predicting a bright economic future for businesses in the downtown area. After it appeared, a leading business owner remarked to one of the reporters: "That sure was a great story. I didn't believe a word of it, but it was a great story."
Headline writing is quite an art form. Sometimes the perfect headline pops right into your brain. Other times you struggle. Sometimes the head winds up with a meaning you did not intend.
On one occasion a copy editor was handling a story about the Phoenix School Board's plans for a meeting to go over future building construction needs. Most headlines need to contain short punchy words in order to fit. So he tried to say something like: "Phoenix school needs to be discussed." That wouldn't fit in the allotted space, so his final headline read: "Phoenix school needs to be aired."
On another occasion, a classified ad appeared in the newspaper, under pets for sale, headlined "Big Ole Puppies." The next day, a correction had been made. The ad read "Beagle Puppies."
It doesn't happen every year, but often the Rogue Valley experiences a "false spring" in early February, with temperatures creeping up near or past 70 for a few days. One year when that happened, much of Florida experienced a cold snap. A few days later someone sent the Mail Tribune a front page from a Florida newspaper. Its headline read: "The final indignity: Medford, Ore., basks in 73 degrees."
Sometimes, humorous incidents are reported by Mail Tribune readers. One told of the time he was in an Ashland restaurant when some extra food samples started to arrive at his table — a dish here, a dish there, items he had not ordered. He didn't say anything at first, but finally decided he'd better, lest he be charged for food he had not requested. "You are Cleve Twitchell, aren't you?" the food server asked.
The man did look a little like the author of the newspaper's dining column, but he had to admit that he was not. The extra food stopped coming.
Now retired, Cleve Twitchell was a member of the Mail Tribune news staff from 1961 to 2002. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.