Well, the 2018 Old Timers in Magdalena is now a part of history. People are taking a breath and things are quieter in town, and from all appearances it was quite the success, despite a scheduling mishap on Friday and monsoon rainstorms. Actually, as this is being written there are thunder-boomers going off like it was the Battle of the Bulge. Not that I was around then, it’s just what I’ve heard from the old-timers, those who would call me a “young-un.”
No, from a personal perspective the battle of the bulge has more to do with my waistline and getting a larger size of Wranglers. Especially after Old Timers last weekend when everybody chowed down on the abundance comfort foods – including yours truly. We’re talking Navajo burgers, buttered corn on a stick and ribbon fries.
Speaking of history, a fellow who was passing through Socorro and gave the name of Phil dropped by the newspaper office a few weeks looking for his grandfather. Not literally but figuratively. He wanted to search through our archival issues of The Chieftain from the 1940s when he said his grandfather, a Mr. Dabney, was editor/publisher of the paper.
I don’t know if you’ve checked them out, but past issues of the Chieftain are bound together in big volumes that go back as far as 1937, but yet older issues have been preserved on microfilm, which we also have at the office. There’s a lot of Socorro history in those old Chieftains, and I’m talking about going back to the very first issue in May of 1884.
Getting back to Phil and his grandfather, we found that Thomas Ewing Dabney was indeed Chieftain editor in 1945. And was so the week of the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb, which was 73 years ago as of last Monday.
You know the story. It was July 16, 1945, a Monday. While Socorro County slept, the assembled scientists at the former McDonald Ranch house were putting on their welder’s goggles and passing around suntan lotion while Enrico Fermi was taking bets on whether the atmosphere would ignite and destroy just the state of New Mexico, or perhaps the entire planet.
The Chieftain reported the explosion on its next issue’s front page in a brief 156 word story under the headline: SOCORRO LIGHTED AND SHAKEN WHEN ALAMOGORDO MAGAZINE EXPLODES – NO ONE INJURED.
The article goes on to say:
An explosives magazine at the Alamogordo air base blew up Monday morning, and the flash, sound and and [sic] shock were seen, heard, and felt in Socorro, more than 100 miles away, as well as Magdalena, Datil and Reserve.
The Associated Press said the explosion rattled windows in Gallup, 235 miles away.
The time was 5:35 a.m. according to Mrs. Leona Cope who looked at a clock when she saw the flash. The sound did not reach her until several minutes had passed.
The flash was intensely white and seemed to fill the entire world. It was followed by a large crimson glow. The flash lasted only a second or so. It was so bright that Miss Georgia Green of Socorro, blind student at the University of New Mexico, being driven to Albuquerque by her brother-in-law, Lieutenant Joe Wills, asked, “What’s that?”
No one was injured by the explosion. Cause of the explosion is not indicated.
And that was all that was said about it. But now we know it wasn’t an ammo dump. The thing is, as editor of the Chieftain, all Mr. Dabney had to go on was what the government told him.
Like I say, there’s a lot of history in those old issues, and when you think about it, in the far future people will be reading what you’re reading in The Chieftain this week.
And last week. And next week. It just occurred to me that people in the far flung future can even be reading the little musings in this here column, and that…is a scary thought.
I’m thinking that if the grid goes out and every one of the digital articles on the internet are no longer retrievable all we’ll have to get our news is the newspaper. I mean, a-hem, the news “paper.”
While we’re waxing nostalgic maybe we should bring back the bicycle-riding paperboys, too, like when I was 14 and flinging the Paducah Sun-Democrat onto doorsteps and lawns and bushes around the neighborhood. If I recall, my weekly earnings for delivering the daily newspaper was around $8, which was enough to buy the newest record by The Beatles and go to the movies. And still have enough for a hotdog and coke at the drug store.
But I digress.
When it comes to reporting local news and getting it right, I’m reminded of a sign seen in a Colorado bar in the 1880s: “Don’t shoot the piano player. He is doing his best.”