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National Editorials & Columns

Find the fish

Strange request not uncommon in newspaper business

My business card says “communications and marketing.” I think it also should read “department of crazy requests” because every nut-job that calls the office gets routed to me.

I got a page from Lynne, the lady who answers our phones.

She said, “I’ve got a doozy for you on the line. I’m sending her to you now.” 

On the other end of the line was a woman from Pennsylvania who wanted help tracking down a newspaper article. We’re a press association; we represent newspapers in Illinois, so calling us was a logical step. It was, perhaps, the only logical thing to occur over the next 20 minutes.

Turns out, the lady already had a copy of the article. She just wanted a better copy of it. The article featured a picture of her late uncle holding up a trophy catfish that he had caught in Illinois. The fish was nearly as big as he was.

I asked the lady what newspaper the article was from and she said she didn’t know. The date and name of the paper had been cut.

She said she thought it might have come from a newspaper near Peoria because Peoria was mentioned in some other articles taped on other pages inside the scrapbook that she found while cleaning out her aunt’s estate.

She found an article with a folio line intact. Unfortunately, that paper had folded at least 20 years ago. I explained that the succeeding newspaper or local library might have the paper on microfilm.

I asked her if she could determine the approximate date for the article. “Well, he [her uncle] looks to be about 20 in the picture, and he would have been in his 70s now, so I’m guessing maybe 50 years ago.”

I was trying to think of something to say that didn’t sound like, “You’re a moron,” which gave her a chance to continue.

“Do you have someone there who can look up the article for me?”

I suggested that she call the Peoria public library and ask if they have microfilm of that newspaper.

“OK. Do you have their phone number?”

“No, ma’am, but if you do a search on the Internet, I’m sure you’ll find it.”

“Well, do you know the name of the library?”

“No, ma’am, I’m in Springfield. Peoria is over an hour away. ”

I then suggested that she take the article to a photo restoration business. They could scan the image and take the yellow out. They could also repair any tears or lines that might be in the picture.

I just don’t understand what kind of brain decides to call someone she doesn’t know three states away to see whether they can track down a 50-year-old photo that was taken on an unknown date and published in an unknown newspaper.

All I can say is that must be one heck of a good-looking fish to go to all that trouble.

• David Porter who can be reached at

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