The newspaper industry in Chattanooga dates back the late 19th Century, but it was three individuals born in the 20th Century that shaped the current legacy of the Times Free Press, which celebrates its 150th birthday in 2019.
Roy Ketner McDonald, Ruth Holmberg and Walter Hussman Jr. each owned, or in Hussman's case owns, a family-owned newspaper business, and the combination of the three have reported news and shaped public opinion for generations of residents of Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia.
"Each of these leaders made their own unique mark on the newspaper industry," said Alison Gerber, Times Free Press editor and director of content. "Their legacies are marked by a commitment to what they believe and the community they serve."
McDonald turned an advertising circular into the Chattanooga News Free Press in 1933 and was chairman of the board of the Chattanooga Publishing Company, a company formed when his newspaper and the Chattanooga Times entered a joint operating agreement in 1980. McDonald died at the age of 88 in 1990.
Holmberg was the longtime publisher of the Chattanooga Times and the granddaughter of Adolph Ochs, who is credited with publishing the first paper in Chattanooga. She died at the age of 96 in 2017.
Hussman is the chairman of the Board of WEHCO, a media company based in Arkansas and the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Hussman bought the News Free Press in 1998, the Times a year later and then merged the two papers into the Times Free Press. The first edition was published on Jan. 5, 1999, and Hussman's company continues to own the Times Free Press.
Here is what was happening on the day each was born, as reported in the local newspaper.
Roy Ketner McDonald: Nov. 25, 1901
The Monday morning front page had 26 stories across its eight columns. "THEY ALL PERISHED," recounting the death of nine miners in Bluefield, West Virginia. The lead paragraph of the story had 153 words in seven sentences. The day's front-page news also included the first test of a submarine and a report on a "Nor'easter" raging off the coast of New York, saying "the storm blew with great fury" and "a heavy sea raged."
The first advertising appears on page 2 and was from Third National Bank, the seventh bank organized in Chattanooga after the Civil War. There was also a Thanksgiving promotion by the Westside Grocery & Bakery and an ad for Women's Nature, the 1901 version of epidermal anesthesia. The ad describes the "ordeal through which the expectant mother must pass usually is so full of suffering, danger and fear that she looks forward to the critical hour with apprehension and dread."
The solution? "Mother's Friend, by its penetrating and soothing properties, allays nausea, nervousness, and all unpleasant feelings, and so prepares the system for the ordeal that she passes through the event safely and with but little suffering." A bottle of Mother's Friend cost $1. A clothier on Market Street had a sale on all wool men's suits, which were discounted from the retail price of $12.50 to $4.98 for a week.
Page 8 of the newspaper included a column of crime news featuring Police Chief Fred Hill, although the paper did not use his first name. Hill was appointed as police chief early in 1893, fired in April when the politics of the Police Commission changed, was hired again in August and went on to be what the City of Chattanooga website calls the first "professionally oriented police executive." Hill served until 1905 when he was fired again due to a shift in politics on the Police Commission.
The big crime news of the day was a letter Hill received from law enforcement in Birmingham about two "fake clairvoyants" now suspected of living in Chattanooga wanted on charges of larceny. The Birmingham police said that the couple hypnotized their victims before taking their money and valuables. "They are said to be artists at their work," the report says, "and are badly wanted in a number of places." The couple would move from town to town and open a storefront "usually numbering among its customers some of the best known and wealthiest people in the place."
Ruth Holmberg: March 12, 1921
The top story on the front page of the 14-page, Saturday morning newspaper concerned two Russian army generals putting bounties on each other's heads as Eastern Europe was dealing with fallout of World War I, along with 27 other national or international stories. Seven days of the paper cost 44 cents. In the middle of the 27 stories that appeared on the front page of the Saturday paper was a story headlined, "LEPERS EN ROUTE TO LOUISIANA COLONY." The one-paragraph report said 16 lepers boarded a hospital train for Garville, Louisiana, and included the fact "Richmond's only leper, Georgas Hogapolakis, a Greek, who was picked up on the streets of the city in 1915" was placed on the train, along with a "leper from Norfolk."
At the top of page 12 was a story about the reported case of a dog being put on trial in Cumberland, Kentucky, claiming it was the first case of its kind in the country. A reader objected and provided an account from Grundy County in which a dog named Sharp was put on trial. On the Kentucky claim, the writer said "This is a mistake. Tennessee, which always takes the lead, has the distinction of furnishing a case similar as far back as 1848."
A justice of the peace had awarded $10 to a family who said Sharp had killed their sheep. Sharp's owners appealed, the report says, and a jury trial with nine lawyers took a week. The defendant's counsel accused Sharp of "misdeeds and depredations" while the plaintiffs offered how the "picture of love describe the love of a man and children for the dog; how the dog was man's most faithful friend, ready to die for him if need be." The defendant's lawyer "vigorously attacked the character of Sharp, how he had destroyed the hopes of the family by killing their sheep and stealing milk, butter and eggs; he had entered the yard and blasted the hopes of the family income."
The judge bemoaned all the lawyers who took part in the trial. "Then each of these young attorneys took turns in giving vent to his building genius in flights of oratory, eloquence, pathos and pleading," the report says.
In the end, the judge charged the jury to decide after admitting that any "dog law" he knew from his years on the bench "has long passed away." The story ended with the judge's charge to the jury and no mention of Sharp's future.
Piggly Wiggly, whose mission included "teaching you how to be thrifty," was selling a bar of Ivory soap for 8 cents, a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes for 10 cents, a dozen oranges for 35 cents and a can of corn for 9 cents.
Walter Hussman Jr.: January 5, 1947
By 1947, the local Sunday paper had grown to four, eight-page sections and cost 35 cents a day and $18 for home delivery seven days a week. It included a full section of wedding announcements, two pages of sports and an eight-page comics section including "Blondie," a comic strip created in 1930 that can still be found inside today's paper.
The days of eight stories atop the front page had passed, and a three-column headline gave the news of an "ailing" Sen. Theodore Bilbo being seated as a member of the U.S. Senate, giving Republicans their first majority in 14 years. The story reported that the Senate had sent President Harry Truman word that it "was ready for business" and had "received his best wishes" in return. Bilbo died eight months later.
The top local story was a report on the effort to raise $2 million to build a 200-bed Memorial Hospital on Citico Avenue, which would offer an alternative to Baroness Erlanger Hospital. The campaign had been announced on Dec. 16, 1946. "HOSPITAL GIVEN $357,550; FUTURE BRIGHT" headlined a story outlining the campaign's progress.
"I feel safe in saying that if the prospects not yet solicited maintain the same high level of generosity as those that are already reported, the new hospital for our people will soon be a reality," said H. Clay Evans Johnson, president of the Hamilton County Memorial Hospital Association. "A great number of generous gifts to be made It means that every man and woman in Chattanooga, interested in public health and ample hospitalization, must give generously to this worthy project."
Memorial Hospital opened on Jan. 2, 1952, and the H. Clay Evans Cancer Center opened in 1988.
In the middle of the front page was the headline, "'SNOW MAYBE,' HE SAYS AGAIN." A second headline said, "Weatherman, Who's Already Had Three Swings, Sees Flurries Probable." The weatherman is never identified.
It is interesting to note that present-day weathermen in Chattanooga are calling for flurries on Tuesday.