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Charles Meredith: Newspaper blunders

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Dear Friends,

Good morning. A few weeks ago, the Village Improvement Association (VIA) celebrated its 125th anniversary. It owns and operates the Doylestown Hospital and I believe is the only hospital in America to be owned by a woman’s club. Brava, VIA!

The VIA is a fancy name for the Doylestown Women’s Club. My bet is that in 1895 when the club first organized, it didn’t choose a name like sister clubs in Perkasie and Quakertown. Those clubs chose simple names like the Perkasie Women’s Club and the Quakertown Women’s Club.

Speaking of the Perkasie and Quakertown Women’s Clubs, my mother and Mighty Betsy were presidents of the Quakertown Club. I remember a typo that appeared on the front page of the Quakertown Free Press which angered my mother almost to an explosion. It was in the 1950s and my father was the Free Press publisher.

Mother organized a joint meeting of the Quakertown and Perkasie women’s clubs. To make the gathering more friendly, mother chose a theme … have a combined clubs’ plant exchange. All members were to bring a nice plant in a pot and exchange it with a member from the opposite club.

The next day on the front page of the Free Press was a picture of my mother and the Perkasie Women’s Club president, beaming with delight. But under the picture was a caption with a glaring typo: “Women’s Clubs hold pant exchange.” The “L” in plant was missing. Alas, for my poor father!

Typos always give newspaper editors and publishers the fits. That’s why my late grandfather and father always stressed careful proof reading. There were two words that were especially critical. Quakertown had many shirt manufacturing companies. Obviously, one of those words was “shirt.” And the other was a common family name in Quakertown, “Fluck.”

“Be sure to include an “R” in shirt and an “L” in Fluck,” both grandfather and father warned the proofreaders.

My favorite newspaper error occurred in the Washington (Pa.) Observer in the late 1950s. Washington sits in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania. One of its major industries is poultry. Each year, the chicken and turkey farmers build a trough through the center of the town and fill it with Bar-B-Cue chicken and turkey. The entire region comes to town and has a huge, free feast.

As you’d expect, on the following Monday, the Washington Observer published a front page picture of the event … thousands of eager residents gorging themselves with the Bar-B-Cue. But on this particular weekend, a prominent citizen’s daughter was married. So important was the family, that the picture of the smiling bride also ran on page one of that Monday edition.

You guessed it. The captions under the two pictures were transposed. Here were the two photos side by side. And under the picture of the radiant bride in her wedding gown ran this text: “There’s plenty of white meat here!”

Before I bring this week’s column to a close, I recently received a letter from a reader. Aivars Straume is a Quakertown resident who is a Latvian American. He wrote about his experiences in the Latvian Journey book project. The book includes stories from nearly 40 families which tell about their immigration to America.

Aivars thanked me for encouraging him to write. He told his story about meeting someone at a Baltic Psychology Conference in Riga. “It was a pinnacle moment in my life, a validation of all that is kind and worthy in the human spirit,” he wrote.

As I read Aivars’ letter, I thought about my dear friend, the late Francis Ballard, who rowed with me for 40 years. In my office, I have an index card Francis gave me in 1973. On the card were words written by Alan Paton, the South African author and political leader whose powerful 1948 novel, “Cry, the Beloved Country” aroused many of his countrymen and much of the world against apartheid. Francis heard him speak these words at Yale University:

“By liberalism,” Paton wrote, “I don’t mean the creed of any party or century. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of men, a repugnance for authoritarianism, and a love of freedom.”

Would that liberalism were seen that way today.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith


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