I’ll admit it—I’m a research junkie. I love digging up new information that will breathe life into my historical novels. In writing my latest release, Truth Be Told, that meant delving into the world of newspaper publishing in the late 19th century. My travels over the past year took me to a number of museums featuring exhibits from early frontier newspaper offices.
I picked up some basic terminology from those visits—as well as from reference books—but for this story, I needed more. Amelia Wagner, my heroine, would be operating a weekly frontier newspaper. Many scenes would be set in the printing office, so I had to have a clear idea of what the setup would look like. And what would she be doing from one day to the next? I needed to make sure the setting and Amelia’s activities offered an accurate reflection of the times.
After scouring the internet for more information, it turned out the answer lay practically in my own back yard. A call to Sharlot Hall Museum in nearby Prescott led me to Sky Shipley, the owner-operator of one of only three type foundries left in the UnitedState, who graciously agreed to help fill in the many gaps in my knowledge.
We met at the print shop at Sharlot Hall Museum, where a Washington hand press—identical to the one Amelia uses in Truth Be Told—is on display.
Seeing the press up close and personal helped me envision some of the day-to-day operations of a weekly frontier newspaper. I could almost see the ink man using a brayer to distribute ink across the set form while the press man put a sheet of newsprint in place before cranking it forward under the platen.
Hauling on the lever, the press man would move the platen down to make an impression on the paper before rolling it back again so the sheet could be stripped out and then repeating the process all over again, one sheet at a time.
Two people working in a well-established rhythm might be able to make two impressions per minute. After printing, the sheets would be hung up to let the ink dry before being printed on the other side.
While the Washington press would have been used to print the weekly paper, jobbing presses, like the one in the photo below, produced smaller items—business card, invitations, menus, wanted posters, etc.—that provided a much-needed cash flow essential to the paper’s survival.
One especially fascinating tidbit of information was that newspapers of that era were often the target of ill will, because editors had opinions that didn’t always sit well with all sectors of the population. Editors were threatened, and their shops were sometimes attacked. In addition, editors often had wars in print with each other. When it came to name-calling, there were no holds barred, and no one cared much whether the printed accusations were true or not.
That set the stage perfectly for the premise of Truth Be Told, where Amelia’s father, the original editor of the Granite Springs Gazette, is a man committed to printing nothing but the truth. His passion for integrity would have made him something of an anomaly—and a ready target for men who were less scrupulous.
It was a thrill to find such a treasure trove of information so close at hand, and it just goes to show you never know where research may take you…sometimes you’ll find the answers you need right under your nose!
Many thanks to Karen Witemeyer for inviting me to join you today! I’ll be giving away a print copy of Truth Be Told, so be sure to leave a comment in order to be included in the drawing. I can’t wait to chat with you!