Daniel came home at Christmas with a school project due. Daniel is in fifth grade, the Golden Age of School Projects. They are studying the Revolutionary War. He had a thick booklet full of ideas to pick from. He could write a daily diary. I knew that was out. Daniel’s a big fan of the “Wimpy Kid” series; even I know boys don’t write diaries, they write journals. He could build a fort. Considering Daniel’s room is full of building materials – from wood blocks to a set of plastic skyscraper girders – I figured this was a slam dunk. Nope. It turns out the fort had to be “historically accurate” and frankly forts weren’t all that exciting in Colonial times. Not a single laser cannon to be found. Instead Daniel wanted to write his own newspaper.
Daniel has reported on many events around the house and at school. He’s written a number of posts for his online blog. We looked over the directions and Daniel got to work… eventually (this was Winter Vacation after all). He finally came up with about a dozen articles, a few ads and even a letter to the editor saying the colonists should protest the tea tax by drinking more alcohol (signed “a tavern owner”). I typed it up in the computer and converted it to a three-column newspaper format. It looked pretty good, but – in my opinion – it wasn’t quite good enough. I helped Daniel find some pictures online of the cast of characters he wrote about. I had to veto the picture of Nigel Hawthorne playing King George III.
“But that’s the only picture that we can find,” said Daniel. “All the others are just drawings.” Following a short discussion of the history of photography, we found some suitable engravings and paintings from the era. It looked all the world like an antique copy of USA Today. Almost. It was still lacking a patina of age.
I remembered in my own Golden Age of School Projects, we made a treasure map look old by burning the edges of the paper over a candle. I printed out a copy of Daniel’s “Georgia Gazette” and tried it out on one of the little candles we keep in the guest bathroom. It helped. The edges were rough and yellowed, but the rest of the paper was pristine. Too pristine. I crinkled it up. That didn’t help. I soaked it in the sink. The text got a little softer, but the paper was as white as before.
Perhaps we could bake the paper in the oven. I lay a copy flat on the center rack. Our oven isn’t precise enough to read 451 degrees Fahrenheit, but I figured 475 was close enough. I flipped on the inside light and followed the progress through the thick glass window. Almost immediately the paper started smoking. I quickly opened the door and realized it wasn’t smoke, but steam. It was still wet from the sink experiment. As it dried, the paper flexed and bunched up like an 8½ x 11 piece of bacon. And while it did turn yellow – even brownish in a couple of places – it only looked old if you had a brand new piece of paper to compare it with.
Perhaps we could dye it with something. I rummaged around the kitchen for suitable solutions. To no one’s surprise, Diet Pepsi was first on my list. When that didn’t work, I tried soaking the paper in a cold pot of leftover coffee. That stuff is next to impossible to get out of the carpet, but the paper shrugged it off. Ironically, if you ever have the need to print up your own newspaper from Revolutionary times, you will get the best results with tea.