Out From Under …

It has been a long, long time since my last entry here.  Where have I been in the last seven months?  Thereby hangs a tale … many tales, in fact.

It all started in October of last year, when a member of the City of Middletown Common Council, David Bauer, had an idea to commemorate 2016, the 366th year since the founding of Middletown in 1650 and coincidentally a leap year with 366 days. The idea was to post a story from Middletown’s history each day, from January 1 through December 31, 2016.  David’s sister, Nancy Bauer, a retired teacher who has served on the Middlesex County Historical Society Board of Directors for many years, brought the idea to the Board.  The consensus was that it would be wonderful, but who would research and write all those stories?

Many stories came to mind immediately, including the blizzards of 1888 and 2011, the Remington-Rand strike, and the visits of Presidents and future presidents. But what about the other 300 or so days of the year?  Being between jobs I had the time, but the thought of researching and writing even brief accounts was initially quite daunting. However, the Society’s Executive Director Debby Shapiro asked a Wesleyan intern, Kimberly Singh, to work on the project, and several members expressed interest as well.  Between Debby, Kimberly, member and community submissions, and my own contributions, we just might be able to do this.

But what would my contributions be, exactly? Since Debby, Kimberly and others were working on major stories, I decided to fill in with smaller, more obscure entries.  I started by combing through photographs and archives in the Historical Society’s collections.  Any interesting photographs with a date—a Wesleyan baseball game in 1888, or City officials on an outing in 1924—I scanned and used.  Pictures of Main Street were particularly interesting, and if they could be associated with a date they went into the blog.  In the archives there were old greeting cards, flyers announcing G.A.R. conventions or political candidates, and petitions—I scanned and used these as well.

That left many, many dates with no entries. I happened to have a personal subscription to Newspapers.com—I was doing genealogical research and this database of 19th and early 20th century newspapers was very helpful.  I did a search of the terms: “Middletown Conn” “Jan 20.”  I was amazed at the number of interesting stories with a dateline of ‘Middletown, Conn., Jan. 20’—almost 700!  These were stories published in newspapers around the country—mostly small local papers. In the absence of local stories to fill their space, the editors used stories from papers they were given by travelers—including Middletown newspapers.  This was a great resource, and I started systematically searching for Middletown stories for each day of the year not yet covered, and transcribing the best stories.

But Newspapers.com did not have 19th century Middletown, Connecticut newspapers, and I wanted to include some stories that were by Middletonians.  I used microfilm of The Constitution and The Sentinel & Witness at Russell Library, Middletown’s public library, and online databases at Wesleyan’s Olin Library. I then discovered another newspaper database I could personally subscribe to—GenealogyBank.com, that had Middletown papers going back to the late 18th century. Finding and transcribing old articles was time-consuming, but interestingly there was not a date in the calendar that lacked a Middletown story. Just a few days ago I transcribed the last entry for December 31, and scheduled it to post.  Whew!

All these stories are now posted, or scheduled to post, in a blog called Middletown 366.  There is a link to the blog on the City of Middletown website, the local Arts2Go calendar, and the Historical Society’s Facebook page and Twitter account. It has been fascinating to read about the disasters, crimes, celebrations, accomplishments, innovations and happenings in one small city in Connecticut, and to discover how old newspapers can illuminate its history.

About Pat Tully

Librarian exploring effective leadership, local history and community service.
This entry was posted in Local history, Newspapers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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