BY LORAINE ANDERSON
TRAVERSE CITY —
For local builder Aaron Grenchik, old newspapers aren't something to toss out, particularly if they've lain flat under a Ninth Street house's floor boards for at least 70 years.
"They're so interesting and a hoot to read because of the writing style and the way people talked then," he said. "Each story in them could be an article in itself today."
That's why Grenchik, owner of Williamsburg Construction & Design Group, never discarded four 1920s Record-Eagles and five Detroit Free Press editions he found a decade ago while remodeling a local house.
Front page headlines from four 1928 Record-Eagle editions still lure:
"Boardman River Menacing Today"
"Beulah Awaits Annual Smelt Hordes in Creek."
"Easter Travel Tough"
"Reveals Gruesome Tale of Ku Klux Krimes: Rottenness related "¦ ."
The stories offer glimpses into the life, politics and vernacular of the 1920s, an era when cars and radio changed the face and speech patterns of America, when Prohibition, bootlegging and gangsters danced full swing, and people left farms for jobs in the nation's factory cities.
Saturday, April 7, 1928 was a busy news day for the Record-Eagle.
Heavy spring rainstorms stomped across the state, churning Michigan's gravel state highways into impassable Easter weekend mud bogs for drivers of cars and trucks built in Detroit.
In Traverse City, sand bags had been piled along the sides of the old Hannah Lay dam, now known as Union Street Dam.
—¦ (B)ut ever should the water overflow the parapet, it would do no immediate harm," the Record-Eagle told readers.
Silver treasure from Crystal Lake
In Beulah, about 355 people from many towns and cities as far away as Chicago, Dayton and Detroit gathered along Cold Creek on Friday night in a chilling downpour for the village's smelt run, already in its eighth day. About 10 p.m. someone turned on lights strung over Cold Creek and the public smelt dipping began, the Record-Eagle reported. In the morning, conservation officers divvied up about 1,400 pounds of the little silver fish to give to the faithful.
"A few thousand smelt will probably shiver past the ice floe at the mouth of the creek, but hundreds of thousands more may forego the nightly migration until assured of warmer water," the paper reported.
The Atlantic smelt was not native to Cold Creek. Smelt were introduced into the Great Lakes on April 6, 1912, when 16.4 million eggs were planted in Crystal Lake. The first run into Cold Creek occurred in 1918. By 1927, smelt enthusiasts "left $10,000 with Beulah businesses."
The second rise of the "100 percent American" Ku Klux Klan in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan during the early 1920s was losing steam, thanks to the 1928 Pulitzer prize-winning reporting of the Indianapolis Tribune.
The Klan was not dead, though. A grisly murder trial for one-time Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson still grabbed headlines.
Grenchik's five 1925 Detroit papers mirrored other signs of the times in 1920s Michigan.
"Is America becoming Woman Ruled?" a headline on a 1925 women's rights story asked. Women had won the right to vote in national and state elections only five years before.
Among Grenchik's collection is an almost perfectly preserved supplement advertising Graham-Paige cars. The company was founded in 1927 and was a competitor with Ford and other car producers. It ceased car production in 1940.
Love of history, items from the past
Grenchik learned about the Graham Brothers and their car company from a Michigan history book his parents kept on a living room table when he was young.
He attributed his interest in history — as well as tools and machines of the past — to that book and stories he heard as a boy from his grandparents, great-grandparents and neighbor Bud Lauterhahn, who died in 2000 at age 89.
Bud had played stand-up bass at the Park Place in Traverse City, Detroit, Grand Rapids and other places around the state. He knew Les Paul, the American jazz, country and blues guitarist/songwriter who invented the solid-body electric guitar, that made the sound of rock and roll possible. He had an old Victrola and records.
"I liked talking to him," Grenchik said. "He knew so much and I always learned a lot."
Grenchik stored the newspapers in his office for many years but now wants to preserve them, possibly by framing them, and also determine whether there is any outside interest in them.
He said he knew as soon as he saw them — packed away as insulation under sub flooring — that they were important.
"They easily could have ended up in the garbage," he said. "I'm thankful I found them and that someone put them there so carefully."
What has he learned from history?
"It puts things into perspective," Grenchik said. "Progress and evolution happened throughout the past and they're still happening today. So it doesn't hurt to be a dreamer. You're the one who makes the decisions today. The best thing to do is not to repeat the mistakes of the past."