Readers of the Jan. 12, 1842, Portland Tribune were treated to a poem written by the editor, D.C. Colesworthy, titled “The Stairs.”

It starts like this:


‘Tis evening and the stars shine bright

Beneath the vault of heaven;

And pleasant is their modest light

To our lone pathway given.


I know this because a few years ago, a friend of a friend who was a newspaper collector thoughtfully mailed me a package with this and other 19th-century newspapers, which I thoughtfully stuck between my desk and bookshelf — and then forgot.

But when you have to move, as we at this newspaper did last month, you have to confront the things you have been able to ignore, and I reacquainted myself with this old bundle.

About the size of a modern tabloid, the Tribune was “a family paper,” according to the masthead, “devoted to literature, news etc.” It was printed at 17 Exchange St., and a subscription cost $1 a year.

I wonder what D.C. Colesworthy would make of today’s Portland Press Herald, let alone its electronic sister publication.

No doubt he would be surprised by full-color photos, reports from Mainers fighting in Afghanistan and a one-day price that would have bought nine months of newspapers in his day. He also might wonder where we put the poetry.

But he probably would recognize the election results that fill today’s pages. Then as now, they are the franchise.

And 130 years from now, whether it’s on paper, a screen or beamed through rays into their brains, people in Portland will want to wake up on the Wednesday after Election Day and see who won.

Since I have only a January edition, I don’t know how the Tribune would have handled two such hotly contested primaries as we’ve just seen.

But there are a few items in the Tribune that would at least be intriguing to a modern editor:

“At the late term of the (Supreme Judicial) Court in Waldo County, there were seven applications for divorces, five of which were granted.”

And this

“Lost overboard, from ship Monmouth on her passage from Boston to New Orleans, Patrick Wright of Addison.”

Or my personal favorite

“A lawsuit was recently brought to a termination in this city, where a small strip of land was in dispute, the real value of which, we understand, would not exceed $25, after an expense of nearly $3,000 — beside loss of time, vexation of spirit, and hard feelings, to an incalculable amount. The suit was in the hands of the law for about eight years.”

It’s hard to put a price on vexation of spirit.

Another volume in my package has an item that would be a more comfortable fit in a modern newspaper. From the June 20, 1888, New York Tribune comes this sports item:

“BOSTON – The New Yorks only succeeded in travestying the national game today; worse than that, their example affected the Bostons, and for a couple of innings their play was even ranker than that of the visitors. First the 4,000 spectators hissed, then laughed at them.”

Underneath the game story is a box score that any modern 10-year-old could use to identify the biggest “travesty-er” of the day, a Boston catcher named “Pop” Tate, who made five errors.

The unnamed reporter of that piece probably would need a few hints to identify a smart phone or a laptop, but he (and I can only assume it was a he) would immediately recognize a baseball game — 122 years later, it’s still three strikes and you’re out, and the players all wear peaked caps and knickers.

The point is that habits change, tastes change, technology changes — but some things don’t. Whether it’s at the courthouse or the ballpark or after Election Day, people want to know what happened, and it’s going to be somebody’s job to dig it up.

This primary campaign hinted that we are in a new era of campaign coverage in Maine. Candidates have more direct contact than ever with voters through the use of websites and e-mail dumps. Political bloggers, often with agendas of their own, used the new media in ways that have not been seen in the state before.

Candidate stumbles and testy exchanges, which in the past would have been heard only by a few dozen people in an American Legion Hall, were enshrined on YouTube and could be broadcast again and again.

Even a fairly innocuous answering machine message left by candidate Paul LePage on a Bill Beardsley supporter’s phone was uploaded and dissected in the days before the primary.

But with all that access and the flood of information, the polls told us that few people were fully engaged with the process. Just weeks before the vote, more self-identified likely voters were unable to name a single candidate than favored any of the 11 on the ballots.

It’s too soon to say whether any of this changed the outcome of the election, but it’s not too soon to say that it will have an effect on how campaigns are covered and how these stories are told.

What won’t change is that, just as in 1842 or 1888, with or without the poetry, people will want to know what happened.


Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]


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