For the Record: 60 Years of History Preserved in Paper

Alden DuMontier

Alden DuMontier

Friday, May 5, 2023
For the Record: 60 Years of History Preserved in Paper

All photos by Alden Dumontier

Alden DuMontier interviews his grandmother, Nancy Smith, on her collection of historic newspapers. Smith began keeping newspapers in 1963. Her collection includes accounts of the 9-11 attacks, the John F. Kennedy assassination, the first moon walk, and other monumental events. Scroll to the bottom for more examples.

DuMontier: Why did you decide to save these newspapers? 

Smith: It was important and they were something that were not easily accessible. It was like, I might need this later down the road for a school project or something, or I just want to save it as a keepsake of a terrible event ... Well, they weren’t all terrible, like [there was] the moonwalk, but it was a significant event to me that I felt like I needed to save. But like I said, I couldn’t just Google it. I mean, it’s just like ... to have it in my hands for whatever reason. I needed it for in the future. Otherwise, I would have to head on down to the library and make some copies. We did not even have Xerox machines back then. So, it was about the only way to preserve it was to save it. The first paper I collected was about the JFK assassination. I remember it was in 1963 when I was 13 years old in the seventh grade. I remember every minute of it. I remember that we were sent back to our homerooms. My homeroom teacher was a coach, and he told us. Everybody just sat there silently, and then they dismissed school early. As soon as everyone got home, everyone was glued to their TVs. I remember the very moment that the famous newscaster Walter Cronkite -- I don’t know if you have heard of him -- came on to announce that the President had actually died, and he broke down and cried on screen. So, I think that’s what started it, and so then it's just like when the next thing that happened that I thought was really significant, you know, I packed it away and packed it away ... I’m not sure why I didn’t pack other things away in between that were probably as significant, but I don’t know why I didn’t think I would need those. As I think about the things I did save, there were a lot of events that I didn’t. You’re talking about my teenage years and there were some things that just hit me more than other things.

How did you decide on what to save? 

“I don’t know. I have thought about that, and I don’t know if it’s things that seem significant to me as a teenager and young adult because I did save some as I got a little bit older. I did think of several things like why I didn’t have the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination except I didn’t truly understand what he stood for until I was older and maybe that’s why. I don’t know why I have the Oklahoma bombing. The Vietnam war was big during my teenage years, but it was so long that you just couldn’t pick a certain day. The only thing was that I could come up with from the age I was at that time those were the things that kind of hit me you know those were the kind of things that really stuck with me, and I just had some feeling that that was something that I would need later.  I don’t really remember what my mindset was back then why some were more important than others I guess some were just more important to me than others. Because I don’t have anything from Desert storm even though Pops (my grandpa) was over there, you have a cousin that served in the Vietnam war but I have nothing of that and yet we worried about him I remember worrying about him. But I don’t know why except that the things I saved were important in my head and needed to be saved.” 

When did you decide to stop saving these papers? 

I guess it was 9-11 and I guess it was because of technology. Newspapers were dying and people didn’t subscribe to them anymore. There was one time in my growing up years where you had the Post Herald in the morning, you had a newspaper that came to you before breakfast and an afternoon newspaper, which was The Birmingham News, and you subscribed to them, and they were delivered to your home. But by 9-11 that was a dying thing, you know, you were down to the big Sunday papers that you would go to the grocery store and buy. After that, we had the internet to go to, then smartphones came in and that made [information] even more easily accessible. So I stopped because now I am a little older and in the 90s, the internet was invented, and things started changing a little bit ... we did not have to rely on newspapers to tell us information two or three days from now. So, I think newspapers began to go away, and I don’t think that there is a Birmingham newspaper anymore. I think in the modern era, we are just tied to technology, so that would be the reason I quit saving newspaper because really there is no need anymore.”   

Would you ever consider saving more newspapers in the future? 

No, probably not anymore. You know, you still save some things. I used to save the newspaper when Alabama won a national championship. I would save the Sunday paper because I was excited about it and finally, I threw those away a long time ago, but I saved them for a long time ... for years we saved a lot of things like that, just fun things that you didn’t want to get rid of that you thought that you just might want to look at again someday. But the historical stuff that you’ve got was the stuff that I continued to save. There would be no reason to save any of that now really because we have easy access to all of that. I sit here and watch stuff all of the time and Pops and I will ask each other a question and immediately I am picking up my phone and Googling the answer. So, you don’t need all of that to sit around in a box to go through to find out what you want to know.

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