Nov. 5 newspapers had history-making headlines

The lid of the heavy wooden chest groaned as it was lifted, and the smell of cedar filled the room.

Only the "most important things" went into our family’s cedar chest.

My mother’s wedding dress was inside, next to delicate doilies handmade by her mother.

There also was a small pile of old newspapers that were starting to yellow with age.

We carefully laid a crisp white newspaper on top of the pile, making sure the edges didn’t get wrinkled.


We did it without talking.

I was about to turn 6 and didn’t fully understand why the newspaper was going into the collection of important things, but I knew it must have been special, because the grown-ups had been acting strangely for the last few days. Like they were sad.

The large, black headline leaped from the front page of the newspaper as the cover of the cedar chest was lowered: "Kennedy dead."

The newspaper was dated Nov. 22, 1963.  

As a child, the smell of cedar meant something important was happening.

A reporter friend once told me that as journalists, our job is to record history as it happens. With few exceptions, we might not see what we do each day as preserving history, but all the events ever recorded in our history books have one thing in common: At one time, they were all current events.

As newspaper headlines attest, some of them simply rose to a level of importance that made them current events and history at the same time:

• The word "Terror" above a picture of smoke billowing from gaping holes in the towers of the World Trade Center.


• A grainy, black-and-white photo from more than a world away, beneath the headline "Man walks on moon."

• "King slain" above a picture of a youthful Martin Luther King Jr.

• A picture of the city of Austin, inundated by floodwaters.

I take those newspapers out of storage once in a while — not just to reread the dramatic headlines, but to put those stories in context through the everyday things found beneath the front page:

• The price of groceries, homes and gasoline.

• Want ads and weather.

• Movie listings and sports scores.

• Birth announcements and obituary notices.


Each is a snapshot of a moment in history. History isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

We’ve just put away another newspaper for safekeeping. The letters on the front page were three inches tall — I measured them.

It was elegant in its simplicity, and captured a moment in time, a moment in history. As they did 45 years ago this week, the letters leaped from the front page: "Obama."

The room still smells faintly of cedar.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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