EDITORS NOTE: The Telegraph is celebrating its 185th birthday Tuesday. Macons oldest business began operating Nov. 1, 1826. In honor of the anniversary, Telegraph columnist Ed Grisamore has compiled some nuggets about the newspaper -- from the people who have worked here to the events that have shaped our history and legacy. The six-part series concludes Sunday.
The Telegraph was indirectly responsible for Machine Gun Ronnie Thompsons famous nickname. After a sniper fired at police officers at a south Macon housing project in July 1971, Thompson, the mayor of Macon at the time, grabbed a police carbine and shot back. A Telegraph reporter embellished the story by implying that the gun-toting mayor was carrying a Thompson brand, or Tommy, submachine gun. Thompson seized on the publicity. A jeweler by trade, he began selling gold machine-gun tie clasps to finance his future political campaigns. He later sold T-shirts with the caricature of a duck firing a machine gun with the slogan: Keep on Duckin
Thompson, who served as mayor from 1967-75, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1972 and governor in 1974. After he stepped out of the political arena, he became a columnist for The Macon News in 1981.
There were live radio broadcasts from The Telegraph during the late 1930s. Among the radio announcers was C. Cloud Morgan, a Mercer University student who went on to become a Bibb County Superior Court judge.
The Telegraph is now on radio and television every weekday morning. Editorial page editor Charles Richardson joins veteran radio personality Kenny Burgamy to co-host the top talk show in the market. News Talk Central airs Monday through Friday from 6 to 7 a.m. on ABC 16 and from 6 to 9 a.m. on 940 AM, Fox 24 and www.macon.com.
Billy Watson was a native of the tiny town of Pitts, in Wilcox County. He graduated with a degree in journalism in 1960 and worked for the Cordele Dispatch and Wilcox County Chronicle before joining the Telegraph in 1963. Watson wore many hats, from the Atlanta bureau chief to Sunday editor, managing editor, editor, executive editor and general manager. He became publisher of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in 1987. He died of a heart attack at age 56 in 1995.
In 1999, right around the corner from the newspaper offices where Watson worked for 24 years, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame dedicated its new childrens wing and called it the Billy Watson Music Factory. Watson loved to play the five-string banjo. Among those attending Watsons funeral was Gov. Zell Miller, who was influential in bringing the museum to Macon. Little Roy Lewis, the famous bluegrass musician, played two of Watsons favorites, Over in Glory Land and Amazing Grace. Little Roy had performed at a funeral only one other time -- for legendary picker Lester Flatt.
In 1869, The Telegraph purchased the Journal and Messenger, its chief competitor. The merger boosted the Telegraphs circulation to 8,000, making it the largest newspaper in the state.
Acquiring the Journal and Messenger marked the latest in a string of other Macon newspaper names the Telegraph had acquired over the years, including the Courier, the Citizen, the Republic and the Confederate.
By the late 1980s, The Telegraph was using 33 tons of newsprint to publish its Sunday editions and 2,169 gallons of ink each month. It employed 380 people (not including some 250 contracted carriers) and was the seventh-largest employer in Bibb County.
The Telegraph published its first crossword puzzle in 1925 in what would become a newspaper tradition for many readers.
In 1961, microfilm issues from The Telegraph dated from 1861-65 were selected for inclusion in the Civil War Centennial. The Telegraph has been recognized as having one of most complete sets of issues for that time period.
This past April, in observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial, Virginia Tech launched the American Civil War Newspapers website (https://dcr.emd.vt.edu). The new website was started with an index to just one newspaper -- The Macon Daily Telegraph. William C. Davis, a Virginia Tech history professor and director of programs at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, assigned graduate students to index the Telegraph for the period July 1860 to June 1865.
Bridges Smith started selling papers on the street as a newsboy in 1859. He worked for 70 years and became a city editor and columnist. He wrote a column of local observations he called Just Twixt Us from 1917-30 and was twice elected mayor of Macon. Another popular columnist during that era was Johnny Spencer, whose humorous More Otherwise Than Wise appeared daily under the masthead from 1915-40.
Bill Drinnon started working for The Macon News when he was 15 years old and became the assistant city circulation director in 1928. He was in circulation for the next eight years when he opened the newspapers first photo-engraving plant, called Drinnon Photo Engraving. He operated the company for about 34 years until Drinnon Inc. (along with The Telegraph) was purchased by Knight-Ridder. In the days when The Telegraph was on Cherry Street, Drinnon used to laugh and claim the engraving room was about 10 feet square. Drinnon Inc. moved its offices to Broadway in 1947 and moved into The Telegraph offices in 1970.
In 1908, the Telegraph moved to the corner of Second and Cherry streets. That building was destroyed by fire on Nov. 3, 1910. A printer, C.R. Clay, was killed in the blaze, and many files and records were lost. The only things salvaged were a few typewriters. The Telegraph had to borrow the printing press of its rival, The Macon News, until it got back up and running at its new offices on 582 Cherry St. When it moved into that fireproof and steel building, more than 10,000 people came to the open house. On Aug. 16, 1911, The Telegraph hailed its rise from the ashes with a special housewarming issue -- no pun intended.
The original Printers Toast reportedly first appeared in The Telegraph on Jan. 1, 1835. It read: The subscriber who always pays in advance -- may he live a thousand years and never need a pair of spectacles.
Once called the quintessential newspaperman, Bill Ott rose through the ranks at The Telegraph from a reporter to managing editor to editor. A tireless civic leader when he worked for the Macon papers from 1950-71, he went on to newspapers stops in Akron, Ohio, and Miami before becoming publisher of the San Jose Mercury-News.
The merger of the News with the larger Telegraph in 1983 was part of a nationwide trend of declining readership of afternoon newspapers. The News had tried everything to stop the bleeding, but not even the popular CASHWORD puzzle game could save it. Its circulation had tumbled from 22,000 in 1969 to 16,000 during its final year.
The last issue of the News was published Friday, Sept. 2, 1983. Had there been an obituary, it might have said the News, founded in 1884, did not live to see its 100th birthday. After 99 years, the paper with the slogan Our Beat Is the Heart of Georgia no longer had a singular heartbeat. FINAL EDITION was splashed in bold letters across the masthead. There was a story on the front page about a man named Frank Wrye, who had been a loyal News reader for 66 years. He said it losing the paper was like another marker were throwing on the side of the road.
The Telegraphs annual Reindeer Gang is an initiative every November and December that identifies the needs of individuals and families during the holidays. Readers are encouraged to help out the less fortunate through donations. The Reindeer Gang was formerly known as Macon Miracles.
Eugene Patterson, the former editor of the St. Petersburg Times and one of the most respected newspapermen in the South, worked for The Telegraph as a cub reporter in the late 1940s. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1967 when he was an editor with the Atlanta Constitution. He also spent three years as managing editor of the Washington Post, was vice chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from 1964-68 and chairman of the Poynter Institute, a journalism resources institute in St. Petersburg, Fla..
Another Telegraph and News alumnus, Jack Tarver, was a 1938 graduate of Mercers journalism school. His first job was with the Vidalia Advance, then he started his own weekly paper called the Toombs County Democrat. It was published in Lyons. Tarver called it only the second newspaper ever attempted in a one-dentist town. He went on to become an associate editor with The Macon News, then was hired by Ralph McGill as associate editor of the Atlanta Constitution in 1943. McGill, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Editorial Writing in 1959, credited Tarver with providing a steady soap box for him to stand on.
From April 1991 until April 1996, The Telegraph ran a Traffic Line column complied by Larry D. Wilder, giving weekly updates on road closings and street improvement projects.
In 1958, the Telegraph & News established a Warner Robins office. It continues to operate in Houston County, one of The Telegraphs primary circulation growth areas.
The Telegraph opened its Washington, D.C., bureau on Jan. 1, 1965. Its first bureau chief was Roulhac Hamilton, a 32-year newspaper veteran. The bureau was established to report on Georgia senators and legislators, as well as legislation, the Supreme Court and federal and government agencies.
Columnist and newspaper historian Ed Corson didnt come to Macon to work for the newspaper where he would become an editor and one of its most capable historians. He arrived as an assistant professor of English and the director of chapel services at Mercer. Corson had a background in the ministry, having graduated with a masters of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. While in North Carolina, he wrote part time for the Raleigh Times. He also studied at Yale Divinity School. Corson, who died in August, started out at the News doing drama reviews. He was hired full time in 1977 and worked his way up the ladder as associate editor, managing editor, editor and editorial page editor.
Blythe McKay was society editor of the Telegraph and News for more than 40 years. She was one of the founding members of the Macon Little Theatre in 1932. She was a founding member of the Middle Georgia Historical Society and the Ocmulgee chapter of the National Audubon Society. She also held the longest record of membership at First Presbyterian Church, where she was a member from 1919 until her death in 2001.
At the end of the Civil War, Jane Hardeman inaugurated a plan to remove the remains of the soldiers from graves scattered at Confederate hospitals in Bibb County and bury them at both Rose Hill Cemetery and the old city cemetery at Seventh and Cherry streets. Wooden grave markers were placed at each burial plot, along with each soldiers name, company, regiment and date of death. The full list of 575 names was published in the Macon Daily Telegraph on April 26, 1866. The updated list now includes 27 additional names.
Longtime sports writer Jimmy Jones spent 20 years working on a biography of Macons legendary boxer W.L. Young Stribling, called King of the Canebrakes. Jones was sports editor of the Telegraph from 1929-31, during the prime of Striblings career. (Stribling was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1933.) Jones went on to work as a sports writer at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch and Louisville Courier-Journal. Jones was also an expert on military history, especially the Marine Corps, and was an adviser on the making of the movie The Sands of Iwo Jima.
When Knight-Ridder purchased the Telegraph and News from owner Peyton Anderson in March 1969, the sale included the Milledgeville Union-Recorder and Drinnons commercial photo studio, which was located just one block from the Telegraph on Riverside Drive.