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I love newspapers. I have read at least one daily newspaper since my high school days. Since my mother worked at the school I attended, we arrived on campus well before classes started. I made a deal with the school librarian to retrieve the Arkansas Gazette each morning from the roadside and bring it to the library -- if I could get first crack at reading it.

In the decades since discovering the joys of reading a daily newspaper, I have also spent a good deal of time doing research in old newspapers. Historian Michael B. Dougan titled his history of the Arkansas press Community Diaries for a reason -- newspapers have documented our history and culture in Arkansas for 199 years. Today I am sharing some of the fascinating discoveries to be found in a single issue of the Gazette -- 100 years ago today, Aug. 26, 1918.

As you would expect, the paper contained several stories on the war then raging in Europe. The front page alone carried three stories about the war, and more references to the conflict can be found on practically every page. News from the U.S. Army post in North Little Rock, Camp Pike, told of the impending graduation of some 1,200 from the Camp's officer training program. One long article reports on an athletic field meet held at Camp Pike: A Texas soldier won the high jump at 5 feet, 7 inches.

A front page story also told of 40 to 50 soldiers breaking out of a medical quarantine facility at Camp Pike -- where they were most likely being held because of the advent of the great flu epidemic of 1918. Two soldiers were shot during the escape; however, their condition was not reported. Most of the escapees were quickly captured.

Within a few days of the escape, some 7,600 soldiers at Camp Pike had the flu. On Oct. 3, Camp Pike was placed under a total quarantine -- with all public gatherings canceled. Still, the doughboys at Camp Pike continued to sicken and die. The army assigned nine embalmers to Owens Funeral Home in North Little Rock to help accommodate the growing numbers of dead.

The newspaper, which I accessed on microfilm at the Arkansas State Library in Little Rock, also carried a pithy little statement about the possibility that the baseball season would be canceled: "A thought for today: And soon baseball will be adjourned for the war also."

Crime stories have always been popular with newspaper readers. The edition discussed here contains reports on the theft of a mule ("a tall, black mule") as well as an automobile. Autos were still rare on the streets of Little Rock in 1918, so W.N. Brandon probably had a good chance of recovering his "Hudson Super-Six."

In 1918, the Gazette was still very much a hometown newspaper. A "Social and Personal" column reported on visits paid, vacations concluded and an upcoming dance. A surprising number of families were returning to Little Rock after vacationing in various healthful retreats -- Mount Nebo near Dardanelle being one.

Old newspapers are filled with interesting and sometimes surprising advertisements. The Gazette of Aug. 26, 1918, contained an advertisement for Hatcher's Pharmacies on Main Street in North Little Rock -- offering five bars of Ivory soap for 25 cents. Castile soap -- which was made with vegetable oil rather than animal fats -- was on sale, reduced from 15 cents per bar to 7 cents.

Advertisements for medicines could be found on almost every page of the newspaper. Holman Drug Store touted "Inhalatum" as "quick relief for hay fever." Sufferers of eczema were promised that Hunt's Salve would "stop and permanently cure that horrible itching." Women readers with "female problems" were urged to try Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound.

Lydia Pinkham (1819-1883) of Lynn, Mass., developed her patent medicine in the aftermath of the economic panic of 1873, when her family faced economic ruin. By the time of her death, Pinkham's medicine had made her a rich woman. By 1900, Pinkham's company had a yearly advertising budget of more than $1 million.

Pinkham's compound, which was sold in bottles bearing the likeness of an elderly but dignified Mrs. Pinkham, was composed of a variety of herbs, including pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa, an orange-flowering milkweed native plant). Alcohol accounted for 18 percent of the liquid medicine, not an unusual amount among patent medicines.

Lydia Pinkham's medicine is still sold today, though it now lacks alcohol and is labeled a "herbal tablet supplement." A bottle of 72 tablets can be purchased for $12.22 from the Walmart website.

Also prominently advertised in the Gazette was "Black and White Ointment," which was described as a "skin whitener; freckle and tan remover." The advertisement claimed that "many colored folks use it to bleach their skin."

Like many patent medicines, Black and White Ointment was promoted as a general cure-all. In addition to lightening the skin, the ointment "also cleans the skin of tan, freckles, pimples, blackheads, wrinkles, risings and bumps, giving anyone a clear, fair, clean, soft bright skin, with the evidence of lovely, white, healthy skin." All that for only 25 cents.

Skin bleaching products are still sold around the world, being especially popular in certain African cities, the Philippines and Japan. However, with more than 220 tons sold annually, India is today the largest market for skin lightening products.

Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at

NAN Profiles on 08/26/2018

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