New Hampshire has a long and proud newspaper history. The Portsmouth Gazette is the oldest newspaper in the country. It has been around since 1756. The Keene Sentinel isn’t far behind. It began in 1799, making it fifth in longevity. My hometown paper, the Claremont Daily Eagle, was first published in 1914 (unless you count the weekly, which goes back to 1834).
The Eagle closed its doors recently, joining the Albuquerque Tribune, the Baltimore Examiner, the Cincinnati Post, and the Rocky Mountain News, among others. You can find the whole list on a website with the graphic name “newspaperdeathwatch.com.” Some groups you’d rather not be part of.
The recent announcement – “Hill family pulls the plug” said the headline – brought back memories from my early years. My father was a newspaper addict, and so am I. Maybe it’s a genetic trait. When I was a kid growing up in Claremont, we got two newspapers – the Eagle and the Boston Record. We definitely did not get the Boston Globe – too liberal for my conservative father, I suspect – and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the New York Times. Just to keep the record straight, we didn’t get the Union-Leader either.
Six days a week the Eagle told us nearly everything we needed to know – who showed up in local court to face Judge Leahy (you didn’t want to be in that group either); what was playing at the movies; who was born, got married or died; what they were serving for lunch at school; and who made the honor roll. I was lucky enough to be in that last group from time to time. I hoped for the day when my name would appear in the sports section, preferably as the second baseman for the Stevens High School Cardinals. That day, alas, did not come.
ohn McLane Clark bought the Eagle in 1948. He was an extraordinary man – tall, handsome, intelligent. People said he would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and one day become New Hampshire’s Governor. As publisher and editor of the newspaper, he took his time getting to know the town and its people. Despite his patrician private school upbringing and Dartmouth College degree, he became very much a part of our blue collar town. My parents knew Mr. Clark, and so did I, the way a young child “knows” an adult. My father saw him regularly at Rotary Club luncheons.
A few days before Thanksgiving in 1950, Mr. Clark’s life was cut short at 39. He drowned in an accident while canoeing with three of his children on the swollen Sugar River. He left a wife and five children. The older ones were around my age, and we joined the community mourning this tragic loss.
Mrs. Clark, the former Rhoda Shaw from Manchester (and New Boston), took over the responsibility of raising the children alone, and ownership of the Eagle as well. At a time when women rarely did such things, she picked up where her husband left off and became the paper’s publisher, a position she held for many years. During that time, the Clarks moved from Broad Street to Edgewood and became our next door neighbors. Through good times and bad, Mrs. Clark lived her life with dignity and purpose and resolve. Like her husband, she helped make Claremont a better place.
Maybe the newspaper industry will survive, but the Eagle has fallen, and that’s a shame. How ironic that the it should shut down just when Claremont is opening up its mill redevelopment project, hoping for a return to its former glory. And what of Rhoda Shaw Clark? She has outlived the newspaper she rescued and nurtured through those difficult years. She lives in New Boston and turned 98 on September 2.