The girl in the Rocket 88
One of the fun things I get to do at work each week is pick out a history photo for the editorial page.
When we first opened the newspaper back up for business in April, some old filing cabinets from what used to be The Courier-Gazette's "morgue" were moved into our new office space on the fourth floor of the Breakwater Marketplace in Rockland.
In a way, these old, banged up cabinets look out of place in our nice, new office space. I can stand at these cabinets and if I turn my head to the right, I can look out the windows at the Rockland Breakwater (which was no more than a line of white breakers during this week's storm).
The first week we were here, longtime Courier newspaper man David Grima paid us a visit (he now works for the Maine Department of Labor, but I try not to hold that against him. Once a newspaper man, always a newspaper man). Downright giddy was the mood as we got the paper back on its feet and it was contagious, infecting Grima. He started going through the cabinets and dropped a bunch of old black-and-white photos on my desk, which were among the first to run on the editorial page in our most recent incarnation of The Courier-Gazette.
If you think about this newspaper, which has been around for 166 years, obviously all of the photos we have taken in all of those years could not be contained in a few filing cabinets. At the old old building on the waterfront, the one that now houses the police station, we used to have a whole room, stacked high with dusty bound books of newspapers dating back more than a century. This in newspaper jargon was called the "morgue." Down the hall was Rosie's darkroom and she was the gatekeeper for countless old photos and negatives.
Since I started in 1998 with the paper, we have been bought and sold several times, moved buildings twice and at various stages some of the history and photos have been lost. The bound books and microfilm have gone to the Rockland library and the historical society.
However, I still have some of the old black-and-white pictures taken by legendary editor/publisher Sid Cullen. Better yet, David Dailey in our design department has been going through the old negatives and scanning them into the computer. As a result, some of the recent photos we've been running are pictures that haven't seen the light of day in a good many years.
Each week I pick one of these pictures. I often have little information to go with them. Just a scribbled date that Dave tells me and maybe a vague label. This week we have a photo that only told us it was construction of the cement plant in Thomaston from 1924. Employees examine the photos, argue about which street they show and where such-and-such used to be. I dig through "Shore Village Story" and a few other local history books I have in my office. I always get distracted at some point as I'm searching for information on the picture, lost in some other historical story.
During the past 14 years, I've learned a lot about my adopted home of Rockland this way. Sometimes I've done historical research stories for the paper. For a while I wrote the "Looking Astern" column and read old newspapers from the 19th century, from the teens and '20s, '30s and '50s, '70s and '80s. I've seen how the paper has evolved over time, and the important role it plays in the community.
The great thing about these historical photos is that people respond to them. I get letters, emails and phone calls. "That's me in the picture!" or "My grandfather worked for that company!" or "I remember those days so well!"
This week I got to talk to Joni Strong. She's 75 years old and lives in Las Cruces, N.M.
She's the same Joan Strong of Owls Head that we featured in the historical photo in the Oct. 11 edition. She's the girl in the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, riding down Rockland's Main Street in the 1954 Seafoods Festival parade.
Apparently a friend of hers in Maine saw the picture in the paper and contacted her about it.
Joni was about 17 when she took that ride in the car. She was sponsored by Forty Fathoms Fisheries in the Sea Goddess pageant and was a runner-up. The Navy man in the picture was her escort during the festival that year.
She has a number of local connections. Her father, Bill Strong of Owls Head, worked at The Courier-Gazette for a time in the printing press portion of the operation. She attended Thomaston Grammar School, but later moved to Waterville where she graduated high school.
Her brother, Richard Strong, still lives in Rockport.
Joni had a career as a flight attendant with American Airlines and lived for a time in San Diego. She said that was during the glory days of air travel in the '50s and '60s, and she was glad to work for the airlines at that time.
She's also proud of her work as part of the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol with the San Diego Police Department.
It sounded like she's had a fun and exciting career and life, and I'm glad I got to talk to her as a result of this old photo we ran.
We hope these pictures bring fond memories to others in the community. They all serve as reminders not only of where we've been, but the importance of marking every day's little milestones in our community.
That's what we're here to do, and I'm proud to be a part of it.
Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.