The Printing Behemoth Has Been Replaced

Observations about how much things in our world have changed in size can turn into wonderment if a person remembers how, over a few decades, things that used to be small are now huge, whereas many other functional items have shrunk. Compare, for example, the Wright Brothers’ flyer to today’s massive airliners or cargo airplanes. On the other hand, consider how huge computers used to be relative to ones now carried in hands or pockets.

Recently, while typing and copying an article for the Riverside On-line Log, I thought back 60 years to when I was a sophomore at Toledo University and first worked on the school’s newspaper. Now I can finish an article and click my mouse to send it to Co-editor Karen Holp. Any “sending” process used to often involve massive amounts of paper, which then needed transport. Now, we turn on desk top printers and copies appear.

The student newspaper staff at every college or university may not have been similar to what we dealt with in Toledo, but for the weekly edition there, the staff went to the huge Pariski Printing Company in the middle of each week to prepare Fridays’ issues. The printing press was a massive wonder of engineering for its time, and I watched with fascination as it worked.

However, even though the huge room with the press was well insulated and isolated from the rest of the building, one didn’t want to stand in it very long. The machine was many feet tall and wide; it assaulted the senses in every possible way. I don’t recall seeing any workers wearing noise-muffling ear protection, but maybe they had ear plugs. There wasn’t much publicity in those days about how damaging noise was to one’s hearing, so it is likely press workers suffered a good deal of hearing damage. The press was also a dirt- producing machine – black dust and other debris to offend eyes and skin.

The combined odors of ink, oil and grease penetrated nostrils and lungs. As I think back on the experience of standing there, it seemed opening one’s mouth to inhale could shoot a cholesterol reading well above 300, except the medical profession hadn’t “invented” cholesterol yet.

Scurrying around and on top of the press were maintenance workers toting toolboxes, grease guns and oil cans to prevent or fix breakdowns. The nature of the beast they served demanded hurried actions because almost all journalism is time-sensitive and was especially so in the past, considering how testy the general public could get if morning newspapers were late or missing.

No doubt the demise of the monster printing press was already under way with the development of computers soon to come. However, as late as 1976, when the Painesville Telegraph Building was on the corner of State and Latimore streets, it housed a printing press much like the one in Toledo. I have no idea how or when its massive amounts of metal were removed. Even with America’s obsession about building museums to memorialize almost everything, photos and pieces of those old presses are probably all that remain.

All forms of the printed word used to require many employees so that as the devices to print became more compact, personnel numbers also downsized, whereas technology specialists proliferated. As insignificant as a university newspaper might seem in the big picture, our Collegian staff at TU had a sizeable group involved. During my first year on the staff, I wrote a few articles of no significance whatever but enough to be encouraged to attend “printing day” mid-week whenever I could.

My first visit to Pariski Printing Company impressed me with the size of the printing process, irrespective of the press itself, which was probably an original Gutenberg design or a similar one. The work room was also large, and the TU staff was assigned a major section where flat cases held huge quantities of metal strips with raised print of all the letters, frequently used phrases, punctuation marks, etc. If I had any aspirations about being productive in this environment, they ended when I realized the metal pieces and strips had to be read backwards.

The Collegian’s editor-in-chief was a “cerebral” senior named Sheila, whose last name I have forgotten, but I was aghast at her ability to work with the type faces and comprehend them while reading in reverse almost as fast as I could read forward. Overseeing the student editors and reporters was a professor in the English Department, Dr. L., who typically popped in and out of the production room but seemed mostly to go down to the basement. By the time he emerged at the end of each session, he wasn’t walking as straight a line as he had been when arriving.

Quickly I realized that I was about as endemic in the production room as an ant would be in a beehive, so I found other things to do. Sheila occasionally gave me an article to write a headline for, but soon even that devolved to my becoming a “gofer” – picking up pizzas for the group, fetching drinks, delivering supplies. It seemed even more of a mystery about how those trays of reversed type could be fed into the press and end up as readable newspapers.

Along the way, I often spoke to Dr. L. and liked him so well that I decided to take his Speech class the next semester. To digress briefly, it was one of the best decisions I made there. Dr. L. was about 60 and quite tall and dignified looking but certainly not “stuffy.” He was friendly and exuded respect for his students. It impressed me that he treated us like intelligent adults, in spite of how he surely realized what jerks university students could sometimes be. Most of us in his class were education majors, so he tailored his instruction for our needs and seemed optimistic that we were not society’s throwaways.

He got my attention when, after asking each of us to say a few words about our backgrounds, he then said, “The first thing we will work on in this class is adjusting the speech of those of you with Cleveland accents.” Many Cleveland-area students attended TU, and I am sure none of us ever thought of ourselves as having any kind of accent. West Virginians and Pennsylvanians have accents, not Ohioans. His reference was simple: He referred to the “flat ‘A,’ the only vowel he singled out. He said Clevelanders often gave the “a,” as in the word “after,” a nasal sound, which is unpleasant. It should be pronounced with the sound coming through the front of the mouth, not the nose, he stressed.

Possibly in today’s classroom, he might be considered sexist by singling out females who had high-pitched or “singsong” speech patterns. He never picked on individuals but made his point after our first speeches were finished. He explained that a high pitch in a female voice can be both irritating and harder to hear than a man’s voice usually is. Then, he explained how it was possible to consciously lower one’s tone until it became a habit.

An unforgivable sin the professor cited about careless speakers was the interspersing of “um,” “uh” and “you know,” which most people use as fillers while thinking of what to say next. He emphasized that a good speaker should simply pause when tempted to use fillers because pausing gives a listener time to absorb what the speaker has just said.

When each of us was in the unenviable position of speaking before the class for the first time, he told us we would each start with 50 points and then he would subtract a point for each “filler” sound made. He graded each student on a point system and lost several during each speech by saying “uh” or “you know” dropped one’s score down rapidly. Occasionally he took the opportunity to improve the speech of the newspaper staff also.

The first year on the Collegian staff was rewarding enough that I was eager to continue into my junior year, the autumn of which was marred by one of the greatest tragedies of American history, John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Many younger people today have probably heard their elders remark that they remember clearly what they were doing when they heard the news that he had been shot.

That Friday afternoon I had been with a fellow named Jim, and we were in the university students’ favorite pub, Leroy’s, just a couple miles from the campus. The postman came in and told the bartender that the president had been shot and was fighting for his life. Only minutes later, his death was announced. I had been due in my next class shortly after but never made it, and I doubt that the class was held. Considering the only means of communication at the time were TVs, land telephone lines and person to person conversations, it nonetheless appeared that a few thousand people on campus knew of the tragedy within minutes.

The scene was the only one of mass hysteria and mourning I have ever witnessed directly, and I was among those knocked nearly insensible by the tragedy. When I stood up from the chair at Leroy’s, my knees collapsed under me, and I would have fallen had Jim not held me up as we staggered to his car to get back to my dorm.

Perhaps my reaction was deepened because JFK was the first and only presidential candidate to be elected that I had ever personally seen. Mentor High School had closed the day he campaigned in our area so that students and faculty could attend the rally held at Hellriegel’s Inn. Security was minimal in those days, so many of us had been within five feet of him as he greeted people on the sidewalk.

President John F. Kennedy sits in a convertible with Ohio officials upon arrival at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, during a congressional campaign trip. Senator Frank Lausche and Governor Michael V. DiSalle sits in back seat with President Kennedy; Representative Michael J. Feighan sits in front seat. White House Secret Service agent, Bill Duncan, stands behind car at right. Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain.

Of course, there was also the Kennedy mystique early-on that eventually was called “Camelot.” It is unlikely that the country ever had experienced such a charismatic speaker and magnetic personality who seemed to embody the essence of the American ideal. Because space flight was rapidly taking over news coverage, Kennedy was able to electrify an audience’s imagination about the newest frontier. He also seemed the embodiment of everything admirable in America because of his stylish wife and adorable children. He captured a nation’s admiration and optimism in ways that no president has been able to since, and it is a further insult to his memory that definitive proof of what happened that November day has not been forthcoming.

When Franklin Roosevelt died, one newscaster described the mourning of the country as “It was as if God had died.” After all, people in their late 20s could not much remember another president. The mind-set of the country at Kennedy’s death seemed to mirror that of FDR’s and was made worse because of it being an assassination.

Many people who were alive on that fateful November day have expressed how Kennedy’s violent death was the beginning of America’s disillusionment and negativity about the country’s strength and direction. It certainly didn’t help that Lyndon Johnson became the next president because he was nothing like Kennedy, and he was heavily criticized for almost everything he did in his one term in office.

I agree that over those almost 60 years, we have disintegrated from a pinnacle of optimism to a downhill slide into nihilism. Remembering things like Woodstock as a minor event and the length of the Vietnam War as a major one, ever since ’63 much of our history has been mired in ugliness. Numerous public voices after Vietnam expressed how we would never allow ourselves to get bogged down in such a long conflict – but we have just seen one go even longer.

A person born during World War II or shortly after would have the disheartening experience of feeling the damage a long war can do to people’s psyches. I believe almost anyone in the teaching field during the ‘60s and early ‘70s felt the pain of the Vietnam era. Casualties from it included those who had been graduates with me in high school, then my peers both in colleges/universities and the working world, and finally my previous students from Mentor and Riverside high schools. When reading obituaries of two of my favorite young men from the MHS Class of ’67, it demoralized me to the core to think of what that war had done.

Now, going back to Kennedy’s death, it is unlikely that an explosion of television coverage and print journalism will ever equal the coverage of his death. My roommates and I did not have a TV in our five-person apartment on campus, but I remember peering for a few moments into the first- floor lounge where the TV remained on. The white horses were pulling the casket, but I could not watch the coverage and retreated upstairs. (To this day, I refuse to watch the entire program that covers JFK’s assassination. Almost six decades later, it would still be too painful for me to endure).

The phone in the apartment rang shortly after I got there that day. It was a member of the Collegian’s staff saying that Dr. L. and the editors had decided to do a memorial edition about Kennedy to be published the following Friday. The staff was to start work the next day at Pariski’s. Even before hanging up the phone, I had decided I was not up to participating.

Page of a Draft of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech
Please credit, “Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Staff Files of Dean F. Markham. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston” Public Domain

Then followed one of the oddest events imaginable when, as the product probably of a distraught staff working under duress and grief, it turned out a newspaper with a huge blunder. It had been decided that the headline at the top of Page 1 would be Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” – – except that whoever typeset it got it reversed so it read, “Ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you.”

The pages went to press. Many were printed before some sharp-eyed person noticed the error and halted the printing part way through. The reversed headline was corrected, and the tribute made the deadline as planned for the following Friday. So much for the way typesetting used to read backwards.

By the mid ‘80s, when I was advisor to the RHS Log, printing involved the staff submitting typed copy and regular photos to Hartco Company, which specialized in school newspapers. We sent the materials by (gasp!) the U.S. Postal Service. Hartco sent everything to us with gummed backing and cut and paste (literally) began. Then we sent the pages to Hartco to print the final copies, and I have no idea how they were reproduced. (I will also admit that “cut and paste” on a computer is something I have never mastered).

Now, our computer mice do their jobs, our computers kick in, and copies roll out with nothing more than click-clicks. Really large quantities of printed material are doubtless more complicated to produce, but surely the huge buildings and machinery of past printing companies are long gone. Printing is only one of the human endeavors that would now be almost unrecognizable to those who were pioneers in their fields. Still, wouldn’t it be fun if Gutenberg could see a modern printing process, and someone could take his picture and show it to him in a split second?

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