December 1949: Eagle office damaged in fire; families fall on hard times during strike


The Daily Mountain Eagle has reported on numerous fires in its nearly 150-year history and on a couple of occasions it has been the site of one.

A fire in the Eagle's mechanical department caused $50,000 in damages on Dec. 6, 1949. As a result of the fire, publisher E.H. Pierce temporarily dropping the Sunday issue from the publication schedule. At that time, the Mountain Eagle was being published on Thursdays and Sundays. 

The fire had been discovered around 9:40 p.m. by R.W. Boteler Jr., head of the mechanical department, and linotype operator Frank "Dodo" Gibson. Three other employees were also in the building: officer manager Fay O'Rear, editor W.W. Gunter and managing editor Mary Huffaker.

Gibson, a volunteer fireman, helped hook up the hose and "directed the first stream of water on the fire, avoiding more water damage than was necessary to machinery in the shop."

"Originating from wiring in the ceiling, the fire spread rapidly through paper stock and records housed in a balcony in the mechanical department. Heat and water caused extensive damage to the printing equipment, making the new press upon which the Eagle has been printed for the past few months unusable," the Eagle reported on Dec. 8, 1949. 

That day's edition had been printed on an old press that had been damaged in the fire and quickly repaired. 

Separate from the story, Pierce had a statement of appreciation printed on the front page.

Those mentioned included the volunteer firemen, the Union News for providing space to store equipment brought out of the building and for the use of a folding machine to fold the paper, John Hutto for tarps used to protect the linotype machines from water damage, the Ideal Cafe for storing other materials and WWWB for offering time to broadcast the news if the paper could not be printed on time.

It was a hard year for many families. "It's been a hard autumn and winter with the miners out of work and money scarce in many homes," the Eagle reported on Dec. 4.

Approximately 200 children were not attending school that winter because they lacked the proper clothes and shoes. Grace Musgrove, attendance supervisor of Walker County schools, and other members of the board of education were collecting clothes and shoes for students in need.

The community had also come together to establish a lunchroom and playground at the Walker County Training School. The Women's Culture Club of Jasper took on the lunchroom project after learning that the current one consisted of one third of a classroom that only had a working sink. 

After the Eagle publicized the need, an anonymous donor made arrangements for the school to receive a new refrigerator, and the Culture Club secured a coal stove that was being replaced at West Jasper School with an electric one. The Club also paid the balance on the sink that had been purchased by the school's PTO and bought a second sink as well as a dishwasher, dishes and silverware.

"Now with one paid worker and volunteers from among the senior girls, the lunchroom, which is kept spotlessly clean, gets federal aid and serves hot, balanced meals with milk every day. Approximately 85 students can be served the 20-cent lunches in the lunchroom each day, although the number has been smaller since the miners' strike has made money scarce," the Eagle reported.

Finally, an estimated 25,000 people filled the streets of Jasper in 1949 for a Christmas festival. I dedicated a column last November to coverage of the inaugural festival in 1948. 
The festival was presided over by King Jolly II (John Lantrip) and Queen Gay II (Sue Camp). A coronation ball was held for the royal couple and some said it was the biggest dance held at the city auditorium since some of the war bond rallies. 
The descriptions of the festival are so quaint that they almost sound like a script for a Hallmark movie: "Above the noise of the festival crowd during the day, bells jingled on the Santa Claus scene atop the courthouse and as dusk settled over the city, more than seven miles of Christmas lights were turned on to make a zig-zag trail of color through the downtown section."
Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.