Saving the paper

Elvis Papers

Yesterday I had some time to kill while my car was being worked on. The usual procedure is to go into their waiting room, get a cup of coffee, and flip through a magazine as the mechanics are working their magic. But yesterday was a bit different than that.

Around the corner from the car dealership is a resale shop, which is closer to a standing estate sale. I’m sure that their inventory comes directly from estate sales, where after the estate sale is closed and people have carted away what they want, a significant amount of  detritus still remains from the deceased person’s life. The things that a deceased person thought enough of to hold on to in life, but don’t have any similar meaning for those who are still left on the earth. Things that are probably going to end up in a dumpster, unless someone steps in and assumes ownership of them.

I went to this place, with the intention of filling up the time I had to wait for my car. As I moved through the items, looking for interesting items to pick up–or at least write about on my blog–the perfect item came to me. I didn’t buy it, but I’m more than happy to write a few words about it in this space.

The item was a copy of the Chicago Tribune from August 18, 1977. Elvis Presley had just died, and the paper was filled with stories about his life and career and impact on music and on American culture. And someone, all those years ago, did the same thing that I did whenever important events occurred: they saved the day’s newspaper.

In today’s world, nobody really does this anymore. We read about events online, and we watch television coverage of the event itself, but there’s no reason to save a newspaper when you don’t read newspapers to begin with. But the internet didn’t exist for most people back in 1977. If you wanted to learn about these events, and you wanted to help record the event for posterity, you grabbed whatever newspapers you could find and you put them away somewhere.

The paper from the day before Elvis died wound up in the trash, but the paper from the day after Elvis died was special, at least to this person. Throwing that paper away would have felt like a denial that his sudden passing was significant in some way. And so they held onto it instead, to prove that something important had happened, and that they were alive to see it.

When Barack Obama was elected back in 2004, and took the oath of office back in 2005, there was still a remnant of that left. I remember waiting in a line at the Chicago Sun-Times to buy a copy of that day’s paper. People would have, in an earlier time, just held on to the paper that was delivered to their house that morning. But home delivery of a newspaper isn’t so widespread anymore. People like myself, who were out of the newspaper-reading habit, had to make an effort to obtain a newspaper. It’s a sign of the times, really. As fewer and fewer people are familiar with reading a newspaper in a physical form, the act of saving a paper for posterity will become a thing of the past, if it isn’t already . That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something worth pointing out.

I walked out of the resale shop, without the newspaper or anything else. I walked back to the dealership, and my car was waiting for me when I arrived. And as I got into my car and drove off, I found myself whistling a few notes from “Heartbreak Hotel.” I suppose Elvis’ legacy goes beyond what you could find in an old newspaper, anyway.

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