hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News August 2020


From readers, care and food for local journalists

Maury Thompson


How long does it take to make a newspaper editor smile?

In one local case in the 19th century, the process took 14 years.
In 1869, Harriet Wing of Glens Falls, the wife of Halsey Rogers Wing, received a packet of catalpa seeds in a letter from Kentucky.

Perhaps, at the time, Harriet was still grieving the death of two sons in the Civil War.
She planted the seeds on the grounds of their home on Warren Street, which stood about where The Hyde Collection art museum is now.

The trees, which typically begin blossoming when they’re about 3 years old, would have been saplings when Halsey -- who was a direct descendant of Abraham Wing, the founder of Glens Falls and Queensbury -- died in 1870.

Grief didn’t stunt the growth of the trees, which continued to flourish over the years, blossoming in late summer, and in the 14th year after their planting, Harriet delivered some of the flowers to the local newspaper.

“The Star acknowledges the gift of a bunch of fragrant catalpa from Mrs. Halsey R. Wing, in whose premises there are nineteen trees of this species, all in flower,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on July 13, 1883.

In the late 19th century, long before modern ethics rules began to discourage newsroom employees from accepting gifts, local newspaper editors frequently received presents from readers – often in the form of floral bouquets, garden produce and desserts.

“Delicious strawberries picked in the garden of Emmet Freeman, six miles north of the village, occupy a place on the editorial table,” The Morning Star reported on June 25, 1883.

“The strawberry and ice cream festival at Friends Church last evening was liberally patronized,” The Morning Star reported five days later, on June 30. “The Star publishers and employees, who were kindly remembered, … also partook of a bountiful supply of strawberries and cake furnished for their midnight break.”

Later that summer, the newsroom benefitted from another gift of fruit.
“The first ripe pear of the season was brought to The Star office Saturday by Herman Goodman, Park Street, who has a tree on his premises loaded with the luscious fruit,” The Morning Star reported on Aug 6. “The small boy will please take notice.”

Sometimes readers shared the pick of the catch.
“Will Wright and George Gilbert returned from Indian Lake last evening with 200 pounds of fine pickerel caught in two days’ fishing,” The Morning Star reported on Aug. 20, 1883. “Three large and handsome trophies of their piscatorial skill were presented to The Star, in acknowledgement of which we make our profound bow.”

The editors in Glens Falls weren’t the only ones to receive gifts to brighten the seemingly endless day of 19th century newspapermen.

“Pencil in hand at the racing course, taking the time of a trotting horse, jotting down each stroke and catch, made in a famous baseball match. … These are a few of many things at which the tireless pencil swings,” reads an excerpt of the poem “The Newspaper Man,” published May 16, 1874, on the front page of the Ticonderoga Sentinel.

A tireless swinger of the pencil received a boost in spirit when he returned to the office at the end of one day’s reporting.

“Tuesday evening, we found an elegant bouquet of wild flowers attached to our office door. Whoever sent them has our most hearty thanks,” the Sentinel reported on an inside page. “We always liked May flowers, and these are doubly welcome, coming as they do so soon after the snow banks, and from an unknown hand.”

Gifts such as these softened the reality that the newspaper business, far from a cash cow, was a bleak venture in the 19th century.

“The denizens of this county seem to consider an Editor a sort of nondescript animal, with senses like other beings, but not of sufficient acuteness to need stimulus to keep them in play. In other words, that they need nothing to eat!” The Glen’s Falls Republican complained in an editorial on Feb. 9, 1858. “So poor have we got by continued fasting that our figure has long since ceased to cast even an apology for a shadow! — Our feet are shoeless, our head hatless, our back coatless, and our pedal extremities almost pantoonless! We lived on saw-dust pudding until the cold weather shut up the saw mills and now we are compelled to forego even that luxury.”

The editor sounded a bit more optimistic near the end of winter.
“For he who takes the papers, and pays his bills when due, can live in peace with God and man and with the printer too,” the Republican editorialized on March 30, 1858.

Newspaper editors often received gifts of turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas, yet could find contentment even when seemingly forgotten.

“Christmas was indeed a merry one here and abouts. … We are seldom blessed with such a fine Winter’s day, and none need be told that it was improved right heartily,” the Republican reported on Dec. 29, 1863. “Even the poor printers, although they were forced to dine on codfish, as usual, partook of their noonday meal with a keener relish, thankful to kind providence that they faced no worse.”


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.