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When the walls talk, they tell stories of our history

A glance at the front page of the Sunday morning paper is enough to put a smile on the face of the Grim Reaper.

"24 Men Killed In Kentucky Explosion," shrieks one headline, referring to a coal mine disaster that also injured 25 miners in Clay, Ky.

Or consider the sad story about the family in Bellingham, Wash., whose car was hit by a train, fatally injuring the father and a daughter, age 2. The mother wasn't expected to live; the 6-year-old daughter was badly injured.

Then there is the lockjaw germ found in plaster sold in Boise, Idaho, not to mention the shooting death of a ringleader of an anti-war uprising in Oklahoma.

Holy moly. And that was just the domestic news.

Things weren't much better across the pond, what with troops killing each other in France, a Holland-American line ship striking a mine and the British premier warning of dire times ahead.

Obviously, this isn't today's Mail Tribune but the Aug. 5, 1917, edition of the Medford Sun. It was the Sunday morning sister paper to the then-afternoon Mail Tribune.

Brown and brittle, the old paper was among those found in the historic Wesley Howard house on Ross Lane in Medford while it was under demolition last month. Howard, who died at 87, never married. In his will, he left the 68-acre parcel his grandparents bought in the early 1900s for a future sports park.

While it was sad to see the 1890-circa house razed, much of the usable wood was salvaged. The Southern Oregon chapter of the National Railway Historical Society plans to use the wood to rebuild old trains and the historic Woodville depot.

It was in the walls of the old house that the newspapers were found. They were being used for insulation.

As a journalistic wag observed, it's a case of the walls talking.

While the front page was full of doom and gloom, the inside pages offered more interesting insights on the life and times of our forefathers and foremothers.

Although the two papers were owned by the same company, a Medford Sun editorial chastises the Mail Tribune for an earlier editorial attacking Sen. Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin for his outspoken opposition to World War I. The MT urged that LaFollette be imprisoned or interned for what it claimed were treasonable activities.

Not so fast, the Sun cautioned.

"We are fighting, are we not, to make the world safe for democracy? ... One of the cardinal privileges of democracy is the right of free speech," the Sunday morning paper rightly noted.

But many of the articles indicated there was plenty of support for the war back home in the Rogue Valley.

"The ladies of the Red Cross were very busy Friday afternoon making bandages for the soldier boys," read an entry in the Society column.

Consider another article regarding local doughboys.

"Letters received in Medford yesterday from the boys in Company 7 gave the information that 30 out of 60 of the Ashland company have been discharged for physical disabilities," it reported.

In another article, Glenn Eddings wrote home to his folks in Gold Hill to report on his Army training with the 13th Aero Squadron in Ohio.

"There are 59 Oregon boys in the camp, and they are all rapidly mastering the art of aerial navigation with the hope of soon being assigned to active service in France," he observed.

The local "boys" would get their chance when the American Expeditionary Forces began fighting in France that fall.

Meanwhile, over at the Page Theatre, Mary Pickford was starring in "The Pride of the Clan" as a "little Scotch darling of a lass." The Page Theatre Orchestra under the leadership of Harry Howell would accompany the flick. Admission was 15 cents for adults, 5 cents for children.

Another advertisement offered "Tree Tea" from Ceylon for what was apparently an exorbitant 60 cents a pound. "War has caused an advance of from 300 to 600 percent in one item alone — freight. This is why all tea prices are higher," explained a note in the ad.

But a man could buy a new summer suit for $6.89 at Daniels for Duds, boasted an ad for the Medford clothing store. A nightshirt could be had for 98 cents.

And there was the news article about the new 1918 model Buick having just arrived at the Power Auto Co. on Front Street in Medford.

"It is a battleship grey, seven passenger up-to-date car and is truly a very swell looker," the article read.

The cost for the touring car? A truly swell $1,645.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.