The Way it Was: Columnist recalls newspapers, paperboys, circa 1927

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by John Straka

There may no longer be a daily newspaper in our area by the time this column gets to my readers. The daily newspaper is one of the joys of life for me.
My earliest memories of a daily paper are from about 1927, when my parents operated a candy store one block west of Broadway and E. 55th Street in southeast Cleveland.
We sold candy, ice cream, tobacco products, school supplies, magazines and newspapers. Our store and Our Lady of Lourdes Church and grade school were diagonally across the intersection of Hamm and Dolloff from each other. We had plenty of children as customers. 
 The newspapers we sold were the Plain Dealer, the Press, the News and two Czech papers: The Svet and the American.
One day a customer asked if one of the boys from the school would be willing to pick up a paper after school and deliver it to her house on the way home. That request led to a group of boys picking up papers after school and delivering them to customers on the way home.
It became my job to count out the number of papers for each boy and have his bundle ready for pickup. When a customer asked for home delivery to a street where no boys were currently delivering, my Dad told me to deliver that one paper myself and that grew into my having a route of my own. I was in the newspaper business.
The paper cost 3 cents a day (18 cents a week). I think a carrier earned maybe 3 cents a week profit and if he had something like 20 customers, that would add up to $2.40 a month — and that was a lot of money for a grade-school boy. 
Saturday was collection day and all my customers paid cash and on time. When one of them said, “I’ll pay you next week” twice in a row, I walked past her house on the following Monday.
She came running after me asking “Where’s my paper?”  When I asked, “Where’s my money?” I was paid on the spot and promptly every Saturday after that. It was my first business lesson.
Another customer was an elderly man, either a bachelor or a widower, who lived on the second floor of a ramshackle house. I was instructed to leave the daily paper on the floor mat in the little hallway at the foot of the stairs. That’s where I was to pick up my pay on Saturday, under that mat.
When I did that, I found a quarter and left 7 cents change. That 7 cents stayed there until the following week when it was increased to 14 cents. Then I found a note from the man saying the extra 7 cents a week was my tip. Oh happy day!
I had a big advantage over the other newsboys because my Dad allowed me to keep all the money I collected. I didn’t have to pay for my papers. I remember how my profit was put into a savings account at the local bank.  I’ve maintained a savings account ever since. That’s a good way to teach children about money. 
I always looked forward to the Sunday comics. I remember when there was a man on the radio who would read the comics to little children who were just beginning to learn how to read.
The kids would be asked to lay the paper on the floor and follow the man as he talked about the pictures. What a great idea.
There was always a great interest in baseball scores. With no television, the best way to keep track of which teams were winning and which were losing was to read the scores in the sports section of the daily newspaper.  Those scores were also used to play a form of lottery.
My Dad and four other men each put money into a pot every week and eventually won the big prize of $1,000.  Since they always bought a block of 100 tickets numbered in sequence, they were guaranteed certain winners, such as the last two digits, the first two, one number over or under, etc. They added only enough each week to buy another 100 tickets. I remember how happy my Dad was to win his share which was $200.
There used to be paperboys selling newspapers on street corners and in or near railroad stations, hotels, streetcar stops and other places where large numbers of people were on their way to and from work each day.
Choice spots were highly contested. A really good spot would often be operated by an adult who could make a decent living selling newspapers on the street at 5 cents a copy. 
The editors of our local daily newspapers had considerable influence in political affairs. They could make or break a local election. Today much of that is done with paid TV advertising. 
The earliest newspapers did not have any pictures or drawings, just text. Voters would elect officials without knowing what the person looked like. Even as recently as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the general public elected him to the presidency without knowing he was partially paralyzed from polio.
The daily newspaper also served secondary purposes.  It was used to start a fire in the coal furnace on a cold winter morning. It was what you used to wrap garbage.  Many men carried a lunch wrapped in newspaper to work every day. Some families used it for wallpaper or to insulate water pipes to keep them from freezing.
In the end, most daily newspapers were saved, bundled and sold to the “paper-rags-man” to be recycled. 
I have many fond memories of Maggie and Jiggs along with their friends Li’l Abner, Mutt and Jeff, Skeezix and all the other comic page characters.
I miss hearing, late in the evening, someone in the street hollering “Extra! Extra! Extra!”
Editor’s note: Straka can be reached at wenceslas88plus@gmail.com.

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