Spencer Magnet records our history 'one week at a time'

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Spencer Magnet records our history 'one week at a time'

By John Shindlebower
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Spencer Magnet has been the journal of life in Spencer County since 1867, if not always by the same name. It has chronicled the events that touched the lives of Spencer Countians, whether they be personal triumphs or tragedies or news events that shook the whole world.

The local newspaper is a unique institution. It's a business whose goal is to turn a profit, but business is only good if readers are compelled to turn the next page. Beyond the bottom line goal of making money, a newspaper has a civic responsibility unlike most other for-profit ventures. It's obligation is to keep the community in touch and in tune with things that should be important to them.

If the newspaper is successful, it will become an integral part of the community, an invaluable resource that is anticipated each week as residents eagerly await the latest news.

This year, the Spencer Magnet begins its 140th year of publication, dating back to its beginnings in 1867 when a Confederate army veteran, William T. Burton worked up plans to print off the first edition. Burton, who was also an attorney, named the publication the Spencer Journal. When Burton died suddenly at the young age of 35, he left the paper to its printer, J.W. Crutcher.

According to the late historian, Mary Frances Brown, Crutcher wrote in an 1877 edition of his former boss the following:

"Judge Burton possessed many of the characteristics that make the southern gentleman and made him the highest and noblest type of human family. Brave and generous, careful of his honor and scornful of little things, but as quick to forgive, hospitable and grateful. He never forgot the misfortunes of the South, nor did he ever brood over the 'lost cause' for which he fought and bled. He sleeps now with so many thousands of his brethern in arms. One more is added to the 'Southern Dead.'"

Lew Brown, a newspaperman from Louisville purchased the paper about a decade before the turn of the century. At some point during the 1890s, there was some competition to the Spencer Courier.

The University of Kentucky Library in Lexington has on file one edition from 1895 of a newspaper called The Kentucky Monitor, dated June 13 and identifies Taylorsville, KY as its home. The microfilm copy indicates the lone surviving edition of this short-lived paper was in rough condition, with portions of the page ripped out, but from scanning the few pages remaining, it appears the paper was written by and for the Democratic Party. Papers were often affiliated with political parties at that time.

Sadly, there are many gaps in the history of our local paper. The UK Library has on file no issues of the Spencer Courier prior to 1912. If the paper started just two years after the Civil War ended, then that's nearly 50 years of lost history of Spencer County. So much happened in those years, the South underwent some very hard times as reconstruction ensued following the war, the industrial revolution was in full swing taking many Kentuckians to northern cities to find work, and still other Spencer Countians no doubt joined thousands of other Kentuckians as they headed for the western frontiers.

The local newspaper is more than just a display of current events, it is a chronicle of a community over the course of many years. Small community newspapers are in essence, history books written one week at a time. What a shame that so much of our county's history may never be known.

At the UK library, you can check out the microfilm of old Spencer County newspapers, starting in 1912. A recent visit allowed me to sit down and take an interesting look back at the county I've only barely gotten to know in a little over four years here.

In 1912, the Spencer Magnet front page contained a little news, and a lot of business advertising, classified advertising and interesting tidbits from the world of science and even a few humorous snippets. The first page that appeared on the screen included an ad for Royal Baking Powder, an ad promoting the visit of a traveling eye doctor to the Taylorsville Hotel and announced the sale of work horses.

It was also interesting to see that the things that made news in 1912, still make news some 100 years later. For instance, this small article highlighted a recent medical discovery that warned that cigarette smoking could be hazardous to your health -

The Deadly Cigarette

A physician had all the nicotine taken from a cigarette, and made a solution of it. Half of the quantity he injected into a healthy frog. The rest was given to another frog. The frog died almost instantly. This frog died equally quick.

"A boy who smokes twenty cigarettes a day has inhaled enough poison to kill forty frogs, "says the doctor. "Why does the poison not kill the boy? It does kill him. If not immediately, he will die sooner or later of weak heart, Bright's disease, or some other malady which scientific doctors now recognize as a natural result of nicotine poisoning."

On that same front page from February 22, 1912, was a story telling of the death in Arkansas of the man who admitted assassinating Kentucky Governor-elect William Goebel 12 years before.

Scrolling through the months, other items quickly caught my eye. There was a front page article detailing a knife-fight on Main Street in Taylorsville. I was struck by the rapid justice of the day, as well as the bluntness of the reporting. The short item was headlined "Sunday's Peace Broken, and read as follows:

"On Sunday afternoon, the public square in Taylorsville was the scene of a little trouble between Curtis Goodwin and George Rogers. They had a quarrel over some matter which did appear in proof at their trial, and Goodwin whipped out his knife and threatened to cut Rogers and, in fact, pursued him ostensibly for that purpose, but Rogers kept out of the way and thus saved himself. They were tried before Judge Baird and a jury on Monday and Goodwin was fined $30, which the jury said was to be paid in cash or hard labor. Rogers was acquitted. The trouble may be attributed to whiskey, as both boys were pretty well tanked."

Then there was this story that made headlines worldwide, but one I wasn't expecting to see on the pages of the Spencer County newspaper nearly 100 years ago. This time it was in one of the back pages, in fact, it was a whole page on the inside of the Spencer Courier that was dedicated to the 1912 tragic sinking of the Titanic. There were stories, photos of the Captain and ship, along with a map detailing the route of the ill-fated cruise. I was reading history written in present tense.

After spending over an hour just in 1912, I knew I'd have to find a way to speed up my exploration. So I decided to take a look at issues of the Magnet by decade. Starting in 1925, I took a close look at issues from that year, followed by 1935 and then 1945. Our office has bound copies of the Magnet dating from 1953 to present, so I could peruse them at my convenience back home.

In 1925, the paper's name had been changed to the Spencer Magnet, because new owner and publisher Katie Beauchamp believed the paper drew the people of Spencer County together. The paper's front page was dedicated to community news from areas like Waterford, Normandy and other small communities. These articles were little more than society columns that updated readers on who visited whom, relatives that were visiting from out of town, church events, and a list of the community's sick and ailing. Again, there was advertising on the front and the inside pages were filled with ads and copy as well.

I was just in my second decade, but a look through the local paper through the years gave insight to how the nation was evolving as well. In 1912, an advertisement for buggies, wagons, carriages and buckboards was published. By 1925, Ford was advertising a coupe for the low price of $520. In a 1935 edition of the Magnet, I found an advertisement for much larger and much nicer Chevrolets at Veech Motor Company in Taylorsville. The price for a brand new standard model was $465, or you could upgrade to the Master De Luxe for a mere $560.

A glance at the various issues also highlighted the change in fashions over the year. In the roaring 20s, elaborate hats for women were all the rage. By the 30s, colorful, printed dresses were marketed to the masses, and in the 40s, designer handbags were coordinated with ladies' outfits.

But any student of American or even world history would find the Spencer Magnet an interesting read simply because of how global events shaped the everyday occurrences in this community.

In the 30s, the Great Depression had a grip on the nation, and Spencer County was not immune. There were many stories about the WPA and other federal social programs that were established in the wake of the financial crisis. Political shifts could also be seen. In 1935, a regular opinion column called "The Liberal View", written by Chas. J. Turck, ran on the front page almost every week.

In 1945, the world was winding down from nearly a decade of world war. A casual reader of the Magnet could not escape that war, as ads promoting war bonds, national and world news stories updating readers as to the progress of the war and locally written updates on local soldiers and sailors were standard fare. Of course, from time to time, the war really hit home when the Magnet had to report the death of a local man, as was the case on January 11, 1945, when a top story told of the combat death of Sergeant Carl W. Cox of Spencer County. He was killed the previous month in Belgium and was survived by his parents and his wife.

Following World War II and the sale of the paper to Claude and Dolly Brock, a few gradual changes began to take place. There was more local reporting and local news that made the front page. More local photographs began appearing and eventually there was a shift away from covering national and global news. Before the advent of the radio and television, readers relied almost solely on their local newspaper for all their news, but now that residents could turn on the evening news or catch up with global events on the radio, the local newspaper was able to devote itself almost exclusively to local information.

The Brocks operated the Magnet for over 40 years, and provided a consistent source of news and information for Spencer Countians. There were other national and world crisis that effected us at home, and those were duly noted in the Magnet, and flipping through the pages is essentially a walk through time to see that the changes taking place across America, reflected the same changes taking place here.

In 1990, the Spencer Magnet was sold to Landmark Community Newspapers and even more emphasis was placed on in-depth reporting of local news. At about the same time, Spencer County began its rapid growth, and the paper needed to grow along with it.

In the past few years, we have tried to serve our readers with accurate and concise coverage of the local events that effect them. Our goal is the same as those journalism pioneers that started this venture seven score ago - and that is to be an invaluable resource to community members who want to stay abreast of what's happening in the county.

No doubt, much of the news here in Spencer County will mirror trends and changes taking place across the land, and maybe now more than ever, world and national events will impact life in our small town.

I hope that in a hundred years, some future editor of the Spencer Magnet may be able to turn back the yellowed pages of today's paper and be as fascinated and intrigued as I was browsing through the newspapers of decades ago.

I know our job is to write news. But the fact will never escape us that we're also writing history - one week at a time. is the website of

©2007 The Spencer Magnet

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