A Researcher's Reflections on Local Newspapers
by Susie Van Kirk
Part 1: The Authors
A favorite is George Waldner, editor and publisher of the Enterprise. He and a partner purchased the paper sometime in the 1930s and in time, Waldner and his wife, Hazel, became the sole proprietors. George was a man of intense curiosity, well-read, and a promoter of Ferndale and its surrounding community. But he was not dogmatic. He raised questions when needed and displayed himself as a thoughtful, opened-mined editor of a small, rural newspaper. He was definitely a special person.
His column "Random Thoughts" was headed with a little caricature of a man pounding on his typewriter and below were the words "By WALDNER." Sometimes he wrote about happenings in Ferndale's neighborhoods or about good fishing or somebody's success with getting the first buck of the season, but more often he wrote more thoughtful, informative columns. He commented on pieces he read elsewhere, he spoke with gratitude about the beauty and generosity of northern California's land and water, and when dams were proposed for Eel River, he questioned the wisdom of such projects.
Mabel Nitsche wrote for the Advocate, covering the Klamath-Trinity section to include Somes Bar, Orleans, Weitchpec and Hoopa. Daughter of Jane Wilder, Mabel was a member of the Somes community. Beginning in February 1945 under the heading of "News Stories from Orleans, Somes Bar, and Along Klamath," Mabel's columns appeared on the front page of the Advocate until January 1968. The format changed at some point to better identify the communities about which she reported, but the style never changed. She wrote about the people who lived on the Klamath, Salmon and Trinity rivers from Happy Camp and Forks of Salmon to Weitchpec and up the Trinity to Hoopa. Her knowledge of families and relationships was nothing short of phenomenal. She reported on birth, deaths, and marriages; who was visiting, in the military, or ill; where the forest fires were; who killed a rattlesnake; when the eels were running; and how the fishing and hunting seasons were progressing. She wrote with a level of dispassion that was truly incredible, reporting on knifings and horrible car wrecks along the rivers with a factual distance, even though she knew all of the participants. She kept her descriptive words to a minimum and there was no hint of judgment. This researcher recalls only one occasion when Mabel's feelings were apparent in her writing. She reported about a severely wounded WWII vet from the river who had been jailed in Eureka. Her back was up over what she felt was an injustice.
Mabel Nitsche's columns are invaluable. She reported on events and activities up and down the Klamath, Salmon and Trinity rivers, but the real treasure in Mabel's columns is her knowledge of family histories that she dutifully reported for twenty-three years on the front page of the Blue Lake Advocate.
Chet Schwarzkopf of the New Jersey Schwarzkopfs came to Eureka in 1933, where he worked as an engineer for the Humboldt Brewing Company. A prodigious writer and outdoorsman, he authored pieces in Colliers and Saturday Evening Post and wrote Heart of the Wild and Fur, Feather and Fin.
His "Fisherman's Luck" column that first appeared in the Humboldt Standard (Aug. 29, 1938 to Dec. 12, 1941) and after his war service, in the Humboldt Times (April 20, 1947 to Aug. 21, 1949) are significant sources of information about the local fisheries. It was a sportsman-type column about who was fishing, where they were fishing, and what they were catching and that is exactly why they are valuable-fifty-to-sixty-year-old fisheries data on Humboldt County streams.
Beginning in the fall of 1948, the Times carried a weekly feature on places throughout Humboldt County. The first pieces were written by Herb Holland, Ernest Snowberger or Dick Ryan but with the Oct. 17, 1948 article, Chet began writing the feature that continued for almost a year. During that time he wrote almost sixty articles about every community in the County replete with photographs and covering at least a full page and sometimes spilling over to another page. These place-focused articles are important contributions to the history database by providing a look at Humboldt communities as they were in the late 1940s.
Andy Genzoli began his newspaper career when he was still in high school in Ferndale and contributed local news to the Standard. After a stint at newspaper work elsewhere and military service, Andy returned to Humboldt County and began a more-than-thirty-year affiliation with the Times. He wrote feature pieces on local history and local industries, excerpted quotes from old newspapers under a "Lines from the Times" heading, and may have instituted such weekly features as "Log and Saw" and "Sea and the Seashore." These are valuable sources of information on the post-war logging boom, mills, and shipping. Andy's well-known column "RFD" first appeared on August 12, 1949 and was still under that caption in 1960, but at some point it became "Redwood Country."
Andy was first and foremost a newspaper man who happened to enjoy local history. He knew how to write a good story that attracted and kept the reader's interest. He became well-known as a historian, taught history classes at College of the Redwoods, and edited the Historical Society's publication, The Humboldt Historian. His students and readers furnished him with material and photographs which he developed and incorporated into his columns, books, and feature articles. When Andy died in 1984, he had fifty years of journalism to his credit-cub reporter, feature writer, editor, published author, and teacher.
Susie Baker Fountain is a name synonymous with Humboldt County history. A math graduate of the University of Nebraska, she came to Blue Lake with her family. She married Dr. Eugene Fountain in 1915 and they became the parents of five children, June, Dorothy, Eugene, and twins Leon and Mathew. Photographs of Susie always show a smiling, motherly woman, but her life had more than it share of tragedies, including the death of eleven-year-old Leon in 1929.
Sometime in the late 1940s after her family was pretty well launched, Susie began visiting the Blue Lake Advocate office, reading old issues of the newspaper. In the summer of 1948, the Advocate began a series "Blue Lake in Years Gone By" that Susie prepared with quotes from early issues of the paper. Her interest piqued, Susie's inquiring mind was soon absorbed with historic research. She began writing articles for the Advocate. "The Story of Blue Lake" first appeared in the Feb. 3, 1955 issue and continued under that name until Nov. 1, 1956, when it became "Early Days of Humboldt," indicating that Susie's research was now taking her far beyond the Blue Lake community. In September 1957, Susie and the Advocate were recognized for this series with a bronze medal at the California State Fair and Exposition. In the meantime, she wrote a series about Arcata buildings that appeared on an 1857 Kuchel and Dressel lithograph. These articles appeared in the Arcata Union beginning April 27 and ending Sept. 21, 1956.
In the summer of 1958, Susie took a vacation from writing. In announcing Susie's leave of absence, the Advocate noted that she was recognized by the California Historical Society, the College of the Pacific's Library of Western Americana, and the Huntington Library as an outstanding researcher and writer. In January 1960, Susie began another column in the Advocate called "Out of the Shadows," which ran under her byline through Jan. 14, 1961. A new series took up at this point entitled "Pioneers of the Past" by Howard Melendy. In January 1964, Susie's manuscript "The Settlement of the Humboldt Bay Region in 1850" began to run as a series. The last installment appeared on June 9, 1964.
In 1966 in preparation for their move to the Bay area to be near their children, Susie donated her research materials to the Humboldt State University Library. Her notebooks were index some years ago and the bound volumes are located on the third floor of the Library. Susie's extensive writing and her hand-written notebooks are invaluable contributions to our present knowledge of Humboldt County history. She was a gatherer of facts and when she wrote, she wanted to include every fact, even tangential ones, regardless of how relevant they were to the story at hand. She understood that when those little gems of information are stumbled upon, they have to go into the public domain for those who follow. Susie was a remarkable person who left Humboldt County with a priceless legacy. She died on the 18th of June 1969 in Berkeley.
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The Northwestern California Newspaper Project is managed by the Humboldt Room located in the Humboldt State University Library