Work uncovers memories of earlier LEADER days

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Remodeling work on the front of the DAILY LEADER building lastweek uncovered a name from our past – The LEADER-ADVERTISER. Aphoto of the work and the uncovered sign generated some inquiriesfrom readers asking for an explanation.

In a sort of genealogical tree of the newspaper’s history, letme try to recount the history on one of Mississippi’s oldestnewspapers.

The LEADER’s roots started on Feb. 22, 1883 – when the firstedition of the Brookhaven Leader rolled off the presses. Whilenumerous other newspapers were published in the early days ofBrookhaven, only two – the LEADER-TIMES and the LINCOLN COUNTYADVERTISER -survived to the early 1960s before the two newspapersmerged in 1962 to form the LEADER-ADVERTISER.

Five years later the twice-weekly newspaper changed to a dailynewspaper and the name changed to The DAILY LEADER.

Started in 1883 by a courageous young editor named B.T. Hobbs,the Leader stayed in the Hobbs family for 56 years before it waspurchased by the Becker family. It was sold to the Brady family in1942 and then to the Jacobs family in 1958 where it remains today -one of only a few hundred independently owned daily newspapers leftin the country.

Looking at the old name painted on the front of the buildingbrought back memories of a time gone by when publishing a newspaperwas much different than it is today.

It took me back to a time when young boys on their bicyclesrolled their papers and delivered them after school. At the age of12, we learned how to manage a business and how handle revenue andexpenses. With my newspaper route profits, I bought my first car atage 15, much to my parents’ surprise.

While our production process today is relatively clean, backthen is was a different story.

In the back of our building was a huge cast iron pot filled withboiling molten lead – a dreadfully hot room because of the furnacesneeded to keep the lead ready for casting into printing plates.Despite the dust and dirt, it was a room that always had the smellof cornbread and butter beans because the press crew used the heatof the lead pot to cook lunch all morning long.

In an area now used as our mailroom, an old press chugged awayspitting out newspapers. Next to the press were the Linotypemachines where operators produced slugs of lead type.

A wooden box in the corner was appropriately called the “HellBox,” for that was where the slugs were thrown when a typo wasfound. Usually some expletive was uttered as the small chunk oflead was tossed through the air into the box.

The clatter of typewriters filled the air as reporters hurriedlyclanked out their stories on old manual typewriters. As the pressesfinished rolling, everyone stopped to get the papers ready for themail or newspaper carriers.

It was tough, back-breaking work.

Looking at that old sign reminded me of some folks who kept thepresses rolling during those years and a close eye on me: BobbyFerrell, Flo Mitchell, Sis Brennan, Mary Ann Brennan, Ann Britt andEloise Conn. There was Percy and Jean Wilson and my gosh, oleWillie Shepard, Jerry White and even a fellow named “Muscles” – adedicated group of folks who were determined that each issue hitthe streets on time.

Sitting underneath the awning at the front of our building is anold bench that dates back to the days of the LEADER-TIMES andprobably even earlier. If one looks closely from an angle you canstill see the faint letters of an old slogan: “Relax Friend ofMine, Read the Leader-Times.”

As the roofers finished their work and covered up the old sign,I could not help but think that while things have changed so much,they really have not changed that much.

The LEADER is still is printed on newsprint by a truly dedicatedstaff; it is still delivered to your home by truly dedicatednewspaper carriers – although in this Internet age, it is alsoavailable via the Web; and as it has been since that first editionin 1883, we are still truly dedicated to serving thiscommunity.

Thanks for allowing us to continue to do so.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602,or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.