Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared June 16, 2007.
WORTHINGTON - One man had a happy thought. A second man had a guarded response. My reaction was to side with the second man, with the guarded response.
The happy thought was, “Think if they had newspapers in Christ’s time. Think how fascinating and educational it would be to page through newspapers and read what people in those times were doing day by day.”
The guarded response was, “I’m cautious when it comes to news. You don’t really learn what people do day by day. News is things that aren’t ordinary. You read about all the things that are weird and mysterious.”
I have worked with news for quite a long time. I know news is the unusual, not the usual.
I was paging through a newspaper from 80 years gone by. June 1927. If you wonder how people lived 80 years ago, how usual do you guess this is:
June night. The road between Worthington and Bigelow. Two lanes. Gravel.
Three young men, 19 to 21, are driving toward Worthington from a jaunt to Orange City, Iowa. The headlights on their car burn out. They roll through Ashton and Sibley but they have no money. They continue north, pulling off on the shoulder of the road whenever a car comes up behind them or whenever they see a car coming toward them.
A young couple with an infant son start from Worthington heading for Bigelow. The couple’s car has only one headlight burning. The young father believes one headlight is enough.
What do you guess?
The driver of the car with no headlights does not see the car with one headlight until the cars are 30 feet apart. They crash, nearly head-on. The baby is killed.
I am not sure there has been an event like this before or since.
That same month. The eve of high school graduation. A foster father and foster mother drop off their son, a senior, at Worthington High School. This couple had taken the boy into their home when he was one week old.
Actually, the boy drives the family car to the high school from his farm home with his parents as passengers. He stops at the curb on Seventh Avenue, in front of the school. The father slides behind the wheel.
This is the last time the parents see the boy. He walks to the post office and mails a note saying, “Good-bye.” The note arrives in the mail the next morning.
A nephew of the father - a foster cousin of the high school boy - is working at the Worthington ice houses. He recognizes his cousin from a distance, in the railyard.
The newspaper surmises the boy “tagged a freight” - jumped aboard a freight train - and headed west. As nearly as I can determine, the boy never was seen again by local people.
The parents told officers there had been “no discord or jangling.” They were unbelieving.
How typical is this?
Worthington’s close focus 80 years ago was not on the crash of two cars with one headlight, or on a high school boy vanishing, but rather on 11 carloads of gypsies.
After some chasing and investigating, Nobles County Sheriff Elden Rowe and Deputy Charles Deuel found the gypsy caravan - about 50 people - along the main street of Brewster. A news account says the sheriff and the deputy “herded the 11-car caravan” to Worthington. Everyone assembled on the lawn of the Nobles County courthouse.
In a short while, the sheriff of Minnehaha County, S.D., arrived on the scene, and then the sheriff of Lyon County, Iowa, and the sheriff of Rock County. Each sheriff in turn lectured the gypsy band.
It turned out the vagabonds had been moving from town to town, crowding into stores, surrounding people along sidewalks. One example: goods valued at $235 in a general store at Sherman, S.D., “disappeared.”
The four sheriffs said they expected stolen money to be returned. They began interviews, one by one, which continued until 3 the next morning. The sheriffs collected “$416 in twenties, tens and fives.” “A princely handful of halves and quarters clinked on the sheriff’s desk.” The band promised never to return. That’s how things went. Tragic. Mysterious. Weird. But finally, we learn little of how most people lived day by day.