PANAMA CITY – I had the opportunity last Friday to sort the old editions of the Panama City Pilot, Lynn Haven Free Press and St. Andrews Bay News in the collection of the Panama City Publishing Co. Museum.
The museum, located at 1134 Beck Ave., is preparing an exhibition of cartoons and comics as seen in these newspapers from the early decades of the 20th century. I was joined by Valerie Law, a local musician, pastry chef and versatile designer, and Alyssa Kimble, a student at Gulf Coast State College, under the watchful eye of Nancy Hudson with the Collections Management Committee.
The museum has recently explored and offered more exhibits on the newspapers printed by city founders George and Lillian West, and their influence on the development of Bay County and Panama City. The volunteers who manage the museum’s collection came up with the idea for this exhibit, and by offering variety, they hope to reach more people who might not have thought of visiting the museum.
“Exhibits are chosen by looking comprehensively throughout the year and trying to come up with a variety of topics,” Nancy explained in an email. “There are a few favorites that run more frequently, such as the Historic Village and St. Andrews Railroad each December-January, and” Lillian’s Letters, “from the collection of letters she wrote to George West during their courtship ritual.”
Lillian West published the Panama City Pilot, St. Andrews Bay News, and Lynn Haven Free Press until she sold the newspapers to the Panama City Herald in 1937. The newspapers were amalgamated and eventually became the Panama City News Herald .
The first American newspaper cartoons were political in nature. The first appeared in Ben Franklin’s journal, The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 9, 1754. It was part of a Franklin editorial commenting on “the present state of disunity in the British colonies.”
The Panama City Publishing Co. Museum will exhibit “newspaper cartoons from the early 1900s” from August 3 to September 4. The museum is open from 1 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, call 850-872-7208 or visit HistoricStAndrews.com.
The effort of choosing comics for the series opened my eyes in a way that I always treat.
On the one hand, the decades we looked at were primarily the 1920s-30s, which appear to have been a more polite and even modest age. But some of the visuals and information reminded me of why the 1920s “roared” and why war happened in the 1930s.
Headlines warned of tensions and preparations for war in Europe, as well as fears of a repeated flu epidemic, like the one that swept the globe in 1918. Cartoons showed the distance between the haves and the have-nots. destitute, living in what amounted to separate worlds.
In short, it looked a lot like the headlines in today’s newspapers.
“When we first watched the cartoons, we realized that some made no sense to us today, maybe just a vocabulary problem, but some then made us think that times don’t hadn’t changed that much at all, ”Nancy said. “Especially some of the editorial cartoons. Then the artwork is another aspect that makes them interesting.
Some objects were surprising, like a photograph of a woman in a bathtub which extolled the virtues of a good bath. While it might be considered tame, I wondered how readers of the time reacted to partial nudity.
And there was a photo in a newspaper that showed three children by a fireplace eating apples. The headline read “Goblins Can’t Get You”, which is never mentioned in the caption. We thought apples kept goblins at bay, rather than keeping medics away?
Among my favorite comics that appeared regularly on these pages was a one-panel series called “Just Humans”. It was often a piece of slapstick humor, sometimes obscure pieces of dialogue that probably made sense to readers at the time, and sometimes turned into pure melodrama.
One sign was quite dark and mysterious. It showed a baby crawling from the shadows into the light as a mother cat carried away a kitten and a second kitten followed her. The caption read “At the threshold”. I have no idea what the artist meant, and I keep thinking about the possibilities.
Almost a hundred years later.
And I wonder what people in a hundred years might do with us. I hope the issues have changed, but they can still concern us. After all, we are all “just humans”.
Tony Simmons is a writer and editor for The News Herald. His column appears most weeks in the Entererer.