When I was researching my latest book, The Ghost: The Murder of Police Chief Greg Adams and the Hunt for His Killer, one of the first places I turned was the local library and the newspaper archives stored there.
Cranking the microfiche readers at the libraries in Butler, Pennsylvania and Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton, Massachusetts to read local newspapers, I was taken back in time. The newspapers told the story of life through advertisements, news stories and comics. On the pages were stories about weddings, deaths, gasoline shortages, crime and wars. In the ads, readers caught a glimpse of fashion, finances and food. That library research was key in bringing the past to life.
But viewing newspapers on microfiche is time-consuming and, as you crank through pages, the whirl of images is dizzying. It is tempting to zip through, glancing at headlines to find the one story you need. Doing that loses the history, the memory, the touchstone of that period. A single story does not a era make. It is all of the stories, all of the comics, all of the ads, all of the photographs, that provide the touchstone of a period.
Sometimes, though, a single headline is enough.