IN THE EARLY early months of this year, Kate Askew and I were chatting in her Little Rock printshop, Yella Dog Press. While giving me a tour of the space, she opened a few cases of type (making me promise that I wouldn’t foul up the semantics of the type world—because they are cases, not drawers), and eventually showed me to a small room where she stored much of the blank paper she uses in the shop.
And then, among the unused paper, there was something different: Taped to the side of a tall pale-green cabinet, there were scans of vintage photographs: a retirement party in 1950, four guys holding a long string of fish in 1936, two young men on a hiking trip in 1926, group photos and vignettes snapped in print shops, all of them from decades before, all of them allowing glimpses into the life of Arkansas Gazette employees.
It was then that Kate told me the story about how, more than a decade before, she’d been tasked with clearing out the basement of the old Gazette building and had come across these photographs, and hundreds of others, that had been stored and presumably forgotten, until she’d found them. As we left the back room, she then pointed out a few other treasures from the basement that now occupied her printshop: a “type turtle,” a small wheeled table that had been used to move pages about the pressroom after they’d been laid out, and an exhaustive inventory of the pressroom and composing rooms from the 1890s.
It was a conversation that I mentally filed away for a later story—a potentially interesting angle on the Gazette’s 200th anniversary. I wondered what might have become of those old photographs.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do much digging.
When I reached back out a few months later, Kate told me that the photos had been recovered. As it turned out, in May, upon hearing about the photos, the committee (which Kate had a seat on) organizing the 200th-anniversary retrospective had mounted an expedition to a storage facility where the photos were found.
I tell this story for two reasons: in part, to give some sense of how the proverbial sausage is made, (you can read the resulting story here), but mostly because it reflects, in a small way, a larger truth regarding the way we talk about history. History, after all, can be expressed in many ways, from many perspectives—particularly when you’re dealing with such a longstanding institution as the Gazette. There are, for instance, the oral histories of former staffers collected by the Pryor Center. There’s the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Pages from the Past project, in which “one page a day from each of the 200 years since the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette appeared Nov. 20, 1819,” are being reprinted.
And this? This is just a brief story about a sliver of that broader history—but it’s still an important story to tell. It’s still a part of history worth remembering.