We worked a bit on Daniel’s Cub Scout requirements to become a full-fledged Bear Saturday afternoon. It was cold and rainy, so we decided to do something indoors. He had to find out what had happened on the day he was born. I asked him how he might go about this.
“Can’t I just ask you what happened?” he asked. I shook my head. We ended up going to the Ida Public Library in Belvidere. To be honest, I didn’t know if they had a newspaper library there or not. I had never used it. It was downstairs in the basement, off to the left, away from the kids’ area in the room at the end of the hall. I think newspaper archives in every library are located there. Daniel noticed there weren’t any actual newspapers in the newspaper archive. The lady at the desk introduced him to the wonderful world of microfilm. He sat down at the machine and she strung up a reel of black plastic ribbon.
“It’s just like using a tape recorder,” she explained.
Blank look from Daniel.
“It’s like the buttons on the DVD player,” I amended. Daniel nodded and we scrolled through months and weeks at high speed, slowing every so often to check the date on the top of the page to get our bearings. We slowed down once we hit August and Daniel started getting excited.
“Only one more week to go!” he said. “Only two more days!” We finally took a look at what the local paper reported on his birthday. Sadly, not a lot was going on. A teachers strike in Rockford was averted and the top grossing movie for the week was The Sixth Sense. Despite the lack of results, we looked up some other days on microfilm. We found out on July 21, 1969, that Belvidere, like world, had watched the moon landing on television (this apparently the “local angle” of the historic event) and that “they came in pace for all mankind”. Apparently, we could put a man on the moon, but proofreading newspaper stories was still a bit beyond our grasp.
We raced through a century or more. I remembered when I was a kid, looking up famous dates on microfilm at the Schaumburg Public Library: the start of World War II, the sinking of the Titanic. Daniel and I ended up in 1897. Daniel was disappointed the newspaper didn’t mention the invention of the car, instead blithely advertising bicycles and horse carriages.
“But the car was important!” he cried. “Couldn’t they see?” I tried to explain that – in hindsight – the car was important, but back then they didn’t know. Daniel wasn’t impressed.
“I wish I had lived then,” he said wistfully. “I could have made millions.”