Memories under glass: Chicago boy remembers history through old newspapers

By Harold Witkov, Special to Chicago Jewish News

I lost my mother in 2015; dad died in 2018. I thought my brother and I had uncovered everything worth holding onto of theirs, but I was mistaken. I forgot about the filled plastic bag tucked away in my garage.

Recently, I read a biography about Bill Mauldin, the famous World War II cartoonist who eventually came to work for the Chicago Sun-Times. As many Baby Boomers might recall, Mauldin was the one who drew the cartoon of the of the grieving Abraham Lincoln Memorial statue at the time of the JFK assassination. Inspired by Mauldin’s biography, I recalled that my mother once gave me a large plastic bag of saved old newspapers. I also recalled that I unceremoniously stuck them away in my garage. 

Wondering if the Lincoln cartoon was in the bag, I located the bag, brought it into the house, and opened it. Eureka! There it was on top of the stack, but in disappointingly degraded condition. Still, I had goosebumps as my mind became flooded with memories and feelings of the time of the death of President Kennedy. I was in sixth grade and home sick from school that Friday morning. I was watching TV when there was a broadcasting interruption with the news. Of all my school classmates, I was no doubt the first to know!

There were other newspaper Kennedy related treasures. There was a full page photo of three year-old JFK Jr. saluting his father’s casket. Back then, everyone referred to him  as “John John,” as if he was a part of every American family. There was a Sunday Tribune (November 24, 1963) with the headline “TIE DEATH GUN TO OSWALD” too. This paper contained a color photo of the new First Family, the Johnson’s. Amazingly, this paper was in perfect condition.

There was also a Chicago Daily News (June 20, 1967) with the headline: “The Israeli-Arab War,” and a photo of celebrating Israeli soldiers. Only Jewish parents would save a newspaper from the Six-Day War! Only Jewish parents would feel the pride – as did I. So much for the myth that Jews can’t fight.

Then there was a Chicago Today (December 26, 1972) with the headline: “Truman dies.” Initially, I was surprised that my parents would save this one. But then it occurred to me that for them Truman was special; he was their war president. Farewell President Truman, and, by the way, farewell Chicago Today and Chicago Daily News as well.

My dilemma eventually became what to do with all these great keepsakes and then I had an idea. I measured an empty tabletop and ordered a cut piece of glass. The glass sheet was destined to sit upon the newspapers I mentioned, plus one I have yet to write about. It was a Chicago Sun-Times (July 13, 1969) special section with the title “Touchdown on the moon,” and it featured, by illustration, the soon-to-be moon landing and walk by Neil Armstrong. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Armstrong. As I recall, it was also one giant PR leap for America over Russia too!

My parents had Flash Gordon and I had Star Trek, and then, in 1969, my family was able to share the real thing. Happy moon landing 50th anniversary everyone!

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