One of the founders of this journal told me long ago – when he feared that I, as the new owner coming from the world of daily newspapers, might put out a prosaic product – that my predecessors would always try to include something special, a gem, in every issue. We tried to continue that tradition. Our early efforts weren't always successful, but some things sparkle better after they get some age. With the benefit of years, it is easier now to find what shimmers in old Times. For fun I dug out our editions from this month 40 years ago and found a few nuggets.
It was such an unlikely publication back then – sassy, smart-looking, smart-aleck at times. We were unelected, self-appointed young journalists, celebrating our press freedom. Once when a reader thought we had strayed too close to the edge of taste and civility, she wrote, "Do your mothers know what you're doing?"
We may have thought we were braver and brasher than we were, but we were often on target. My column from Jan. 20, 1983, complained about Gov. James Thompson's budget cuts, "and the wall of silence they had run into." Neither Neil Hartigan, the attorney general, nor Jim Edgar, the secretary of state, nor Adlai Stevenson, the recently defeated candidate for governor, complained a bit. "But crisis sometimes elevates unknowns," I wrote, like Donald Miedema, Springfield superintendent of schools. "The state is putting us in a real deep box," Miedema said. "I don't know how we're going to get out. ... This puts a tremendous burden on elementary and secondary education."
On Jan. 14, 1983, I attended the eighth annual Frontiers International Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast where Rosa Parks, then 69, was the speaker. I remember her quiet presence and soft voice as she told of her 1955 Montgomery experience for the umpteenth time. She was the celebrity speaker, but it was Rev. Rudolph Shoultz, pastor of Springfield's Union Baptist Church, who made the news that day. "He had been asked to say a few short words about brotherhood, but used the time instead for some tough talk about the status of race relations in Abraham Lincoln's home town," we wrote in a preface to an edited transcript of Shoultz's remarks: "I don't want Ms. Parks leaving Springfield thinking that because she received a statue of Abe Lincoln, we who live in the city of Lincoln are really on cloud nine. I'm supposed to speak to you on brotherhood, but how can I, with honesty, when I live in Springfield where no black person can ever be elected for office outside of the county building?" He gave credit to Mayor Mike Houston, then running for his second four-year term, for appointing the first black clerk. But "we can never be police chief, we can never be fire chief, we cannot even be a battalion chief. ... How can we be brothers when our local news media...newspapers, radio... don't think that we can read enough, although we've gone to journalism school, they don't think that we are qualified enough, to sit down with a note pad and take some notes and meet the deadline?"
Cover story for that week was "Reading on the cheap," by Sandra Martin, with photos by Linda Smogor, both longtime IT contributors. It featured Springfield used book stores, including Family Book Exchange Plus, then in the Capital City Shopping Center, the Mouse Hole, at 711 N. Grand East, and Full Circle Book Exchange, at 307 W. Allen. Plus, a place called Prairie Archives, owned by John Paul, who had traded a job as curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum for Prairie Archives, going from "one museum to another," Martin wrote. "For a decade, John Paul has been keeper of print curiosities – old books, 'good' books, rare books, out of print books, Lincoln books, local history books, Civil War books..." Paul was quoted, "It's difficult to make a living. We struggle along." But he added, "Prairie Archives will be here for 50 years if we can sell enough books."
That issue featured an ad for Britt Airways, listing six daily flights to Chicago and just as many returns to Springfield, an ad for Mick and Mary's homestyle dinners in Thayer, for Herndon's clothing store at White Oaks Mall, for Mike Houston for Mayor, for Room Works contemporary home furnishings at the Yard Shopping Center, 1650 Wabash, an ad from St. John's Hospital inviting the public to an open house for Libertas, "the first hospital-based program of treatment for individuals suffering from substance abuse and chemical dependency in the Springfield area," and an ad for No Baloney, a 24-hour-a-day restaurant at 312 E. Monroe. And there was a half-page ad placed by numerous groups, inviting Springfield to "Join us to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, on Jan. 21, 1983, in the Capitol Rotunda. "Pro-choice – The People's Choice. Celebrating 10 years of Reproductive Freedom."
Around that time, an admiring reader wrote in: "Illinois Times is more than a conveniently sized birdcage liner." We trust that remains true today.
Fletcher Farrar is editor of Illinois Times.