Appeal celebrates 150th anniversary; Blanton descendant speaks of ‘Country Editor”

PHOTO ABOVE: Becky Vanlandingham showing off a genuine May 25, 1946 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, the magazine that included Norman Rockwell’s “Norman Rockwell Visits a Country Editor.”

Sometimes when a small business has been around for decades, appreciation of its positive effects on community culture can fade. A current example of such is the Monroe County Appeal, an area newspaper that recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. Today, rival newspapers have nearly swept the longstanding business from existence. However, in the 1940s it was a complete opposite. The paper was one of the greatest in the country, and people came from near-and-far to see its successes.

The Pariscope sat down with Becky Vanlandingham, great-great-granddaughter of the Appeal’s founder, and got the scoop on why the paper became so prosperous – and his name was Mr. Jack Blanton.

The country editor

Even though the Monroe County Appeal was founded in 1873 by B.F. (Benjamin Franklin) Blanton, the real breadwinner of the Appeal was his son, H. J. Blanton, popularly known as Jack.

PHOTO ABOVE: Mr. Jack Blanton. Photo contributed.

According to Vanlandingham, under the direction of Jack, the Monroe County Appeal was the largest weekly in the state with 3,000 subscribers.

The University of Missouri once awarded Jack the prestigious Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, stating:

“For a career of outstanding work in the weekly newspaper field; for vitalizing his journalistic position in his State by an impressive personality of wisdom and originality; for vivifying his newspaper by effectively projecting his personality into it; for producing journalism which manifests intellectual versatility, exceptional local coverage, marked reader-interest, and his moral courage; for consistently producing an editorial page of far wider than community interest and significance — for providing the State of Missouri with a journalist of broad public service compounded of education, acumen, and practical idealism.”

Jack courteously thanked the organization and responded, “Nothing, I believe, pays larger dividends in the way of personal satisfaction than an editorial that is translated into a better school, or a better road, or a better attitude towards life, or a broader conception of the privileges, possibilities, and responsibilities of American citizenship.”

According to an October 2002 article from the Mexico Ledger, Jack served on the University of Missouri Board of Curators for 24 years and was a member of the Press Corps Committee in which he attended the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and met former-President Theodore Roosevelt.

Vanlandingham noted that he was a charter member and later president of the Missouri Press Association. He also helped to establish the Mark Twain State Park and Missouri Historical Society, and was appointed to the first parole board in 1913.

PHOTO ABOVE: Jack Blanton, later in life. Photo contributed.

In 1999, a brightly colored mural was commissioned for the City of Paris and much of it’s illustrations were based on passages from Jack’s published books – When I was a Boy (Volumes I & II).

A September 1954 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article stated that, “Time magazine sent a special correspondent to Paris for pictures and a story on Blanton, devoting two columns to his career.”

Jack died in 1955 at the age of 85, but was inducted into the Missouri Press Hall of Fame exactly forty years later.

But arguably, his most noteworthy name-to-fame happened in 1945.

Paris isn’t just known for the Eiffel Tower…

The Saturday Evening Post caught wind of the Appeal’s success and, in June 1945, sent famous painter Norman Rockwell to illustrate the happenings of a small, country newspaper. Rockwell spent three days sketching the Appeal employees and went back to his Vermont home to paint the final product. The painting was published in the May 25, 1946 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

PHOTO ABOVE: Norman Rockwell with three decades of Blanton men: H.J. “Jack” Blanton, Edgar P. Blanton, and Carter V. Blanton. Photo contributed.

The painting depicted the Appeal on a Thursday: print deadline. Blanton is shown typing out a last-minute editorial. Paul Nipps stands behind him whilst gaging the number of lines the piece will fill, while Malcom Higgins stands to the right managing subscriptions. On the left side of the painting sits Fernelle (Blondie) Wood and “the printer’s devil” Dickie Wyatt heading to the pressroom.

Rockwell chose to use some artistic discretion and added himself into the painting. He is coming through the Appeal doors, canvas in tow.

PHOTO ABOVE: “A Country Editor” was first released in the Saturday Evening Post on May 25, 1946, as shown above. 

However, the Saturday Evening Post article never mentioned the names of the people faced away in the painting. Only community word-of-mouth has kept the names of the painting’s bystanders alive.  According to Vanlandingham, the couple at the subscription desk was none other than Blondie’s parents: Mr. & Mrs. Ed Wood. While it was Higgins who later posed in the wicker chair for Rockwell to sketch, the chair’s originator is rumored to be Carl Harley – the owner of Harley Electric (now closed). Supposedly, when Harley had heard Rockwell would be in town, he left his business and sat in the wicker chair to wait for Rockwell…even when he was asked to leave. Harley only left after he shook hands with the painter himself.

On the next page of the magazine is a multitude of black and white sketches of other scenes Rockwell witnessed on his three day trip to Paris. The sketches included other community members – Miss. Ruth Owens, Farmer Melvin Eichor, and Mrs. Blanton. Noted in the magazine as a poet, Ruth Owens was the owner of the Paris Bookstore, located in the same building as the Main Street Salon today.

PHOTO ABOVE: Black and white sketches of Appeal employees by Rockwell, located on the next page of The Saturday Evening Post.

To view the article published in 1946 by the Monroe County Appeal covering this painting, click here. To view more photographs of the original Saturday Evening Post magazine and Blanton family, also click here.

In 2002, a copy of the “Country Editor” was presented by the Missouri Press Association to Monroe County, and now resides permanently on the first floor of the county courthouse.

The painting sold in 2015 for nearly $11.6 million at Christie’s Auction.

Not your granddaughter’s printing press

If the sheer quality of Blanton’s work was not impressive enough, the tedious mechanical process of completing the paper should be. Unlike today’s all-digital process, it took a team of skilled craftsmen to operate the Linotype machine and printing press.

Well into the 1800s, type was set by hand – metal letter by letter. The tray in which they dropped the letters was called a “stick.” A quicker process of lettering was adopted after the Appeal bought its first linotype machine. Linotype machines “worked by casting hot lead into a line of type with the assistance of an operator who typed in the copy on a keyboard,” wrote Individual lines of type were then placed by hand onto a page form until the page was complete. It is important to note that this process didn’t have a ‘backspace’ option. If the operator made a spelling or grammatical mistake, it wasn’t uncommon to completely start over from scratch.

PHOTO ABOVE: Rockwell’s sketch depicting Paul Nipps operating the Linotype machine.

The completed page would then be translated into a curved metal plate to be placed on the printing press. Even though the Linotype machine was cumbersome in size, it greatly increased the efficiency of placing lettering.

Author’s note: For someone who is very much a visual learner, I needed to see first-hand what this process looked like. I couldn’t get my hands on an actual Linotype machine, but I found several short Youtube videos. If you would like to watch them, you can find them here, here, and here

Janice Hamilton Carmen, longtime community member, worked at the Monroe County Appeal from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. It was her job to help operate the Linotype machine. “After I made the full-page negative, they would lay those on these plates and put them in this machine…wherever there was a white space on the negative, it burned it into the plate and that would pick up the ink in the press to lay it down on the paper,” she recalled.

Vanlandingham laughed as she pointed to Rockwell’s sketch of the printing press. She said most people wouldn’t notice, but Rockwell sketched the press in its “off” phase. During Thursday’s visit, the Appeal was too busy to sketch that particular scene. The painter had to return the next day and the employees had to re-assemble the press for an accurate drawing. However, they forgot to set it up the way it would actually run during press day.

It’s incredible to think about the amount of passion that went into a single edition of the newspaper. Jack Blanton’s legacy will live on through the work of Norman Rockwell, and hopefully the gratitude of the community citizens.

“It’s important for local history to be told,” said Vanlandingham. “It’s the foundation of who we are as a community.”