The Town Crier quietly marks its 65th anniversary this week with a random collection of memorable moments in the history of the paper.
For the first 32 years, now half of its life, the Town Crier called the North Wilmington railroad depot home. Capt. Larz Neilson rented the depot from the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1955, then purchased it five years later. It was a drafty building with high ceilings heated by a pot-bellied coal stove. Eventually a furnace was installed, with an overhead forced-air system.
Larz was a cigar smoker for many years and was careless with matches. He would light up, wave the match up once, and then down, into the waste paper box. Anyone telling him he should not do that would be shouted down. Late one night in the early 60s, working alone, he set the box afire. He carried the flaming box outside, saving the building but badly burning his hands.
Years later, in 1988, the furnace set the building afire. The worst damage was in a hair-dressing shop at the rear of the building, sparing much of the Town Crier office except for smoke and water damage. But the fire went through the roof and affected the wiring in the building. It was later torn down.
Employees and friends all pitched in and the office was quickly moved. The next issue of the paper had a great story to tell, and it came out on schedule.
Another memorable episode from the 80s was a $750,000 lawsuit. In 1985, the Town Crier reported that two brothers had been arrested on marijuana charges. The first names were confusing, as four males in the family all had the same initial. Police at first named the wrong brother, a respected employee of NASA, working in a southern state. That error was caught before the story was finished.
A picture caption, though, had used the first name a second time, and that error was not caught. That man sued, making five allegations, libel, invasion of privacy, and three other charges. He sought $50,000 on each count, multiplying that by three, suing the newspaper, the publishing company and the editor.
Then the Challenger disaster intervened. When the space shuttle exploded in January 1986, the plaintiff was unable to leave Huntsville, Alabama. When the Town Crier attorney, Joe Courtney, learned this, he sent a summons for a deposition, a standard procedure in any lawsuit. The lawsuit was dropped, as the man could not travel without resigning from his job.
In the late 1970s, a long-time oil dealer in Wilmington sold his business to an Arlington firm. The Arlington owner sent his son to manage the Wilmington business, and Junior proceeded to show that he had no idea what he was doing. Before long, the local driver quit and started his own business. The customers knew him well and changed their accounts.
Junior then decided to enter politics, attaching himself to the campaign of a local pol as the self-appointed department of dirty tricks. A brick was thrown through the windshield of a car parked in the Square with bumper stickers for Jim Miceli.
Junior paid a visit to the Town Crier office one evening, walking into the back room while the paper was in production. The next day, after it was printed, there were some key endorsements missing from an ad for Jim Miceli. Investigation showed that there was adhesive where the type had been pasted. The material not to be found anywhere.
Some time later, Junior admitted that he had tampered with the ad. He then attempted to buy a beer for the editor at a local club. No thanks, Junior.
His next trick was to run for a seat on the Wilmington Redevelopment Authority. He won but never showed up for any meetings.
A couple of years later, the governor appointed him to the Arlington Housing Authority. But after Junior was caught trying to break into a club to steal some beer, the governor denied knowing him. About the same time, the editor of the Arlington paper had a brick thrown though his windshield. Yes, there were political stickers on the car.
Where there are newspapers, there are typos. The grandaddy of all Town Crier typos could be called “The Case of the Missing B.” After a late-night session shooting pool at the Free Spirits motorcycle clubhouse on Wildwood Street, two women charged that two members of the club had beaten them and raped one of them. One simple typo, a missing letter, made the story quite outrageous.
Police Chief Paul Lynch called to say, “I’ll bet there are some red faces in your office this morning!”
Somehow, this error never showed up in any collection of classic typos.