The News from Delta

Burfordville NewsOne of the most challenging jobs I had in my newspaper career was a brief stint as District News Editor at The Southeast Missourian. Denny O’Neil, who had been herding the cats we would call “citizen journalists” today left town in a hurry, so I was nominated to take over the slot.

Every morning, I would slit open hand-scrawled envelopes containing “news” that these people would file. In print, they were called Correspondents. In newspaper jargon, they were called “stringers,” who were paid per published inch. Since many journalists are math-challenged, we would measure the published columns with a string, then measure the string to arrive at the number of inches, hence the name.

If we were lucky, the stringer, who might be filing the same stories to three or four papers, would type the copy. If you were even more lucky, you might get the original or one of the top carbons. I usually didn’t have that kind of luck.

Sometimes the stories would be typed in black ink. When that started getting light, they’d switch to the red part of the ribbon, Eventually you’d get something like this: a page that just peters out with a penciled note, “Sorry hope you can make this out. my typewriter ribbon just gave out.”

No, your ribbon gave out about two weeks ago. (Click on the photos to make them easier to read (except for this one. Nothing is going to help it.))

Ann Withers from Delta

1965-12-18 Chicks Delta News by Anne Withers 8One of our long-time stringers was Ann Withers from Delta. She and her husband Andy operated a service station in the tiny town best known for being a speed trap halfway between Cape Girardeau and Advance. He ran the garage and she handled the gas station side.

Her stories were heavy on the doings of Ann and Andy. Being a serious journalist, I edited her copy with a meat axe until here was nothing left but the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

One afternoon, Editor John Blue came over to give me some guidance. He said to cut people like Ann and Rip Schnurbusch in Old Appleton some slack. “Not much happens in these little towns, so they make do the best they can. Besides, their little asides are what make their columns fun to read.”

Since I now write in much the same Ann and Rip style, I can appreciate what jBlue was saying.

She loved blood and gore

1966-02-26 Deaths redacted Delta News by Anne Withers 12Ann loved to provide more detail than what most of our readers wanted to encounter over the dinner table. I can imagine her leaning over the gas pumps getting the full scoop from the local railroad gang. (I’ve removed names from this offering to protect the privacy of family members.) She also tended to run stories together, leading to a blending of a gruesome railroad accident, a gunshot suicide and the passing of a well-loved citizen all in the same paragraph.

I never figured out Ann’s penchant for inserting random extra spaces between words and punctuation marks unless she thought she was paid by the typed inch instead of the printed inch and she was going to stretch it as much as possible.

OK, THIS one was funny

Music mystery Delta News by Anne Withers 9Proving that even a blind hog can find an acorn from time to time, this account of mystery music was funny. Since the “beloved senior citizen” wasn’t named, I wondered if it might have been Husband Andy.

Saga of dead sparrows

Storm Delta News by Anne Withers 11Here’s her account of a sparrow-strangler of a storm.

The end of an era in Delta

Leaving Delta News by Anne Withers 6This story must have been written in 1966 about the time they retired.

Andy Withers died in 1979

Pigeon Delta News by Anne Withers 4Here is Andy Withers’ obit from the July 25, 1979, Missourian:

Delta–William Andrew (“Andy”) Withers, a businessman here for many years, died at 8:15 Tuesday night at Chaffee General Hospital. He was 74 years old. Mr. Withers was born May 3, 1905, near Delta, the son of Frank and Selena Lewis Withers. He had resided in the Delta community his entire life.

On Dec. 27, 1927, he married Miss Ann Cracraft at Cape Girardeau. For 38 years, he and his wife owned and operated Withers Service Station and Garage here. He was a member of the Delta First Baptist Church and the Whitewater Masonic lodge.

Surviving are his wife; brothers, John and Louis Withers, both of Florissant, James Withers, St. Louis, and Arthur Withers, Clinton, Md., and sisters, Mrs. Herbert Schlegel, Cape Girardeau, and Mrs. Glenn Chateau and Mrs. Jeff Thomas, both of St. Louis.

Service will be at 2 Friday afternoon at the funeral home in Delta, with the Rev. Ronald Shrum, pastor of the Delta First Baptist Church, officiating, assisted by the Rev. Jack Owens. Burial will be in Memorial Park at Cape Girardeau. Members of the Whitewater Masonic Lodge will serve as pallbearers.

Ann Withers died in 1988

1965-01-22 Grandparents Delta News by Anne Withers 3Here is her obit from The Missourian on Dec. 1, 1988:

Delta–Service for Ann C. Withers will be held at Ford & Sons Funeral Home in Delta at 1:30 p.m. Friday, with Rev. Kenny Martin officiating. Interment will be in Cape County Memorial Park.There will be an Eastern Star service at the funeral home at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

Withers, 77 years old, of Delta, died Wednesday, Nov. 30, 1988, at southeast Missouri Hospital. She was born March. 9, 1911 at Jackson, daughter of John W. Cracraft, and Margaret Statler Cracraft.

She married W. A. “(Andy”) Withers on Dec. 27, 1927, in Cape Girardeau. He preceded her in death July 24, 1979. Survivors include a brother, Lynn Cracraft of Carlsbad, Calif.; two stepsisters, Mrs. Carmen Golightly of Cape Girardeau, and Mrs. Ruth Miller, of Sandusky, Ohio. She was preceded in death by 6 brothers and one sister.

Withers was a member of the First Baptist Church of Delta, the Whitewater Eastern Star Chapter 174 and the VFW Auxiliary 3838 in Cape Girardeau.

She and her husband owned and operated Withers Garage and Service Station in Delta 38 years, retiring in 1966. she was the Delta news correspondent for the Southeast Missourian, the Chaffee Signal, and Advance News.

[Editor’s Note: jBlue would have given the writer of this obit a royal reaming. You NEVER referred to someone in an obit by their last name, particularly if it was a woman: you used the full name or a courtesy title with the last name. It was also style to stick a “the” in front of Rev.. The writer also failed to capitalize “The” in the newspaper’s name in the last graf. There is a better than even chance the obit was written by the funeral home, but a Missourian copy editor should have caught those errors. Unless, of course, that was in the era when the paper didn’t care about such niceties.]

A prayer for the rabbits

1966-02-14 Rabbits Delta News by Anne Withers 2She may not have been the best writer in the world, but she was wired into her community.

Donkey ball game postponed

1966-03-1966 Donkey Ball Delta News by Anne WithersThe excitement of a donkey ball game had to be put on hold because the donkeys scheduled to play were killed in a fire.

Vietnam War touches Delta

1966-01-021966 Vietnam Delta News by Anne Withers 10I can picture Carl Dayton Poinsett’s mother telling the story about her soldier son in just that breathless burst. Maybe Ann was a better writer than I gave her credit for.

jBlue was right: I should have passed on more of her copy.








10 Replies to “The News from Delta”

  1. A small Jackson, Missouri paper was full of stories about local’s personal lives since the 1870s. A friend gleaned all she could find that mentioned relatives for the genealogy book we put together. It gives us a view of their lives that would otherwise be lost. We collected all of the stats we could on our relatives but it was the stories, photos and other accounts of their activities in the community that made them come back to life for a few moments.

  2. For years my Great Aunt was the Burfordville correspondent. I remember some of her news. Most of it was about Mr and Mrs so-in-so visiting Mr and Mrs so-in-so. She generally ended the news article with the line “and a good time was had by all”. Joking we still will use that line as in making a comment like I had to go to the dentist today and adding “and a good time was had by all”.
    My Aunt was a wonderful, kind person but I doubt there was as much to write about in Burfordville as there was in Delta!

  3. This is a priceless view into the past! I have some of the old, yellowed newspapers from Advance, circa 1965-1975 or so, when it was the Advance News. They were short on photos and long on copy, with many hometown reports about children’s birthday parties, listing EVERY guest! The stories were rarely signed.
    I’ve read accounts in the old Bloomfield Vindicator and was struck by how chatty the reporters were back then. They had no qualms about reporting hearsay. I guess libel laws were loose back in the 1800’s.
    It just occurred to me that I used the word “old” rather loosely here: “Old” for the Vindicator is 1800’s. “Old” for the Advance paper is 1960… That’s the way it is…

  4. Madeline, in 1973 I was around a four year old boy who was given a cat for a pet. When we asked him what was he going to name it his brow furloughed for a moment until enlightenment came across his face and with a twinkle in his eye he announced, Cronkite. And that’s the way it was… Thanks for stirring an old almost forgotten memory.

  5. I take it you are shuckin’ and jivin’ us with the newspaper slang etymology of stringer? Back in ’40’s and early 50’s when my parents and I would visit Grandma and Grandpa Lipps in Fornfelt, the news would show up in The Missourian reported by stringer Alma Krigger–math teacher at really old Central Junior High (now apartments on S. Pacific.) Would also show up in The Jimplicute, the Illmo-Fornfelt-Ancell weekly newspaper. Do you remember The Jimplicute? Wonder about etymology of that for the name of a newspaper.

    1. Nope, that’s how we measured correspondent copy, with a string. That’s the reason they were called “stringers.” It eventually grew to encompass anyone who worked on a more or less regular freelance basis.

      I’ve heard of the Jimplicute, but don’t know that I ever held one in my hands. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about the origin:

      The Jefferson Jimplecute is the newspaper of record in the city of Jefferson, Texas. It was founded in 1848 by Ward Taylor and is the fifth oldest newspaper in the state.

      The origin of the paper’s unusual name is not known, as the original publisher did not leave any clues. However, four theories have arisen as to the origin:

      1. An early editor dropped several pieces of type on the floor, and upon returning them to his composing stick, randomly spelled out the word “jimplecute”.

      2. A mythical creature developed to frighten superstitious slaves during the American Civil War.

      3. A slang term meaning “sweetheart”, “slim”, or “neat” (the word “jimp” is defined as such in some dictionaries)

      4. An acronym for the motto “Joining Industry, Manufacturing, Planting, Labor, Energy, Capital (in) Unity Together Everlastingly.” (This is considered by the paper to be the most reliable, and the motto exists in the newspaper heading.)

  6. Ken, another enlightening blog. While searching Missourian archives for ancestry articles I find a lot of shorts and social notes about family and others. Some of these are quite funny and detailed, some are well written, some sound gossipy, others verge on “yellow journalism.” I wondered why there was such a variation of writing styles (during the same time frame). It never occurred to me that the paper may have used stringers, rather than staff writers.

  7. On Sunday afternoons after visiting with my grandparents Matt and Dora Rhodes near Delta my Dad, Ned Moore would stop by to see Ann and Andy. I always liked to visit with their bulldogs. Ann always had her make-up on, a silver dollar size of red rouge on her cheeks. After we had a Grapette or a chocolate soda we would say our good-byes until the next Sunday.

  8. There is a store and station in Grsssh. MO. At one time my mother and father operated it. It has changed hands many a time. Has burned down and been replaced. I had walked there many a time with my grandfather when I was living with them. Loved getting a chocolate soda out of the water cooler.

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