Sullivan: A community must have a newspaper

As a young man, former Port City Mayor John Sullivan attempted to unionize The Palladium-Times’ paperboys, seen above in 1943, to mixed results.

Editor’s note: In the wake of the publication of The Palladium-Times’ 200 year celebratory edition earlier this month, former Port City Mayor John Sullivan was inspired to pen the following retrospective of his own.

The Oct. 18 bicentennial edition of The Palladium-Times was, for me, a walk down memory lane. I thought it might be appropriate to add some comments from a blue-collar perspective. My association with the Pall-Times has been lifelong: First, as the son of an employee, then as a newspaper delivery boy, later as a political office holder and now as a contributing columnist.

The Waterburys, Leightons and Morrisons were household names when I grew up, as my father was employed, for more than forty years, as a Linotype operator with the Pall. He worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a Linotype operator and then, for many years, operated a mail delivery route for as far away as Pulaski after his first workday ended.

I remember attending company picnics as a child at the octagonal shaped Waterbury summer home near Mexico Point and my father’s take on all his fellow workers. Edwin M. “Jiggs” Allen, the business manager for many years, was said to be the smartest guy my dad had ever met. Josie Pidgeon, the gossip columnist was one of his favorites.

In those days, the newspaper was located on West First Street in a three story building where a vacant lot stands just across from Murdock’s Bicycle store, formerly Markson’s furniture store. Dad worked on the second floor as a newspaper Linotype operator and in later years on the third floor in the commercial printing department. The building extended to West Second Street, where the press room was located.

Linotype machines were large typesetting machines that cast type out of molten metal, and discharged it in lead type slugs which were then set into blocks to form a page. There was a large pot of molten metal attached to each machine, and on occasion, it would malfunction and spew hot molten metal. That was scary, but other than that, the machines were largely safe. The Linotype operators at the Pall were organized into a union, the International Typographical Union (ITU), with headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. I used to read the monthly journal that came to our house, as my dad was president of the local union for many years and a strong union guy. The pressroom workers were also members of a strong national union. In those days, negotiations were conducted every few years and so my dad would meet regularly with management to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment, mostly wages. We were treated to many tales of the negotiating process over lunch and dinner. I remember the day he came home and slapped his pay envelope on the dinner table, proud as a peacock, when he announced he was now making $100 per week. In those days, employees were paid in cash and Thursdays were payday. $100 was a very princely sum.

One of my favorite stories from those days involved an encounter between my dad and Editor/ Publisher Clark Morrison III. As it turned out, Clark accidentally dropped his pay envelope on the stairs, and my dad, who was engaged in negotiations with him at the time, found it and returned it to him. Clark thanked my dad and quipped that it would have been hard on him to lose that week’s pay, as he had four children to house and feed on that pay. My dad responded by handing him his pay envelope, saying, “Clark, I have three children and I have to raise them on my pay.” They both knew, of course, that Morrison’s pay was four times what our family took home. That year dad got his biggest raise ever.

I remember the names of some of my dad’s co-workers: Anamae O’Toole, Bill Galloway, Andy Mazzoli, Leo “Cisco” Monette, Jimmy Losurdo, Beaky Clark and his foreman, Eddie Shea.

In those days a Linotype operator would set the type based on wire stories from the Associated Press and typewritten stories from the local staff writers who pounded them out on typewriters. The age of computers changed all of that, bypassing the need for the middleman Linotype operator. The job became obsolete in the late 1970s.

If you have never seen a Linotype machine, there was one on display in the main entrance foyer of the Syracuse newspaper for many years. The ITU as a union is no more.

My days as a paperboy were from 1958-62 and my route was the largest one in the city with 136 customers located in the majority of the First Ward, extending from West Fifth Street to the college, and from Cayuga Street north to Lake Ontario. On Thursdays, when most of the ad inserts ran, it was somewhat daunting to pack all those papers into my delivery bag. I would report to the press room at about 3:30 p.m. each day to pick up the papers, and walk through West Park to West Fifth and Seneca streets where I would sit on the perimeter stone wall and roll papers into a cylindrical shape that could be tossed onto front porches. In good weather months I would use my bicycle but in winter, it was slogging through snow on foot. It usually took about two and a half hours to complete the route.

As a newspaper boy, we were considered independent contractors rather than employees and we were paid 2 cents per paper, which was then sold at retail for $0.15. On average, I would make between $15-20 per week, depending on collections. At Christmas time we sold calendars and would get about a dollar or more with tips per calendar, making the last few weeks of the year very profitable.

I attempted to organize a paper boys union during my second year in high school. We were demanding a greater percent of the retail collections. I remember Dave (Unkie) Crahan, the circulation manager telling me that the size of my route was being cut in half. So much for my unionizing. I then quit. Clark Morrison was then the publisher who made that decision. In my many dealings with Clark during my adult years, I never let him forget that. We did get a raise though, to four cents per paper, if memory serves, so my efforts were not in vain.

My relationship with Clark was complicated. He editorially supported me in most of my runs for public office and I supported his reappointment to the Board of Directors of the Port of Oswego Authority, when I was Oswego County Democratic Committee chairman.  I think, deep down, he respected my blue-collar bona fides, as I respected his persuasive writing skills.  I even wrote a forks in the road column about him, which is worthy of reprinting .(See below)

In sum, the Pall-Times newspaper has been a vital part of my life and my transformation from a 12 year old boy who delivered newspapers to 59 W. 5th St., the home of prominent and also blue-blooded wealthy Oswego businessman Stanley P. Emerick, to becoming the grown boy who, as a lawyer, was able to purchase that home from the Emerick Estate in 1979 and live there for 25 years, raising a family.  

It was a long and satisfying journey from the Forks in the Road to 59 W. 5th St.  My very success as a budding politician is traceable to my newspaper boy roots.  I ran and won a seat as an Oswego County Legislator in 1971 at the tender age of 23, in part because the vast majority of my constituents remembered me as their reliable paper boy who braved cold, wind, and snow to ensure daily delivery of their hometown paper.  It was a great blue-collar foundation for a career that has spanned many spectrums and my Pall Times roots are a big part of who I am, and continue to be to this day.  That’s why I write my monthly “Forks in the Road” column.  I am grateful that for 72 years out of its 200 year existence I have had that connection.  Though I remain blue collar not blue blood, Pall Times ink still flows through my veins, and I still consider myself part of the PT family.

Here is my column on Clark Morrison, reprinted from it’s original appearance in the paper in February of 2016:

CLARK MORRISON III

A community, to be a cohesive one, needs a good community newspaper. A good community newspaper needs a good editorial page. A good editorial page writer becomes the conscience of the community. It can be said with certainty that Clark Morrison III (1922-2006) was all of that, and then some!

"Clarkie" Morrison, as he was known to friend and foe alike, was a man who had an opinion and whose opinion mattered. Back in the day, when newspapers were newspapers, and you couldn't satisfy your itch for news by clicking on your smart phone, or watching one of any number of 24-hour cable news channels, the newspaper's editorial page was the first stop of many toward framing an informed judgment about the issues of the day. When Clark Morrison III was publisher and editor of The Palladium-Times, that was a role he filled with great relish and with a compelling command of persuasive, often poetic prose. Clark Morrison pontificated extremely well.

In those days, you glanced at the front page, and then went directly to the editorial page to see whose ox was being gored, or what matter mattered most. Clark delivered on a daily basis. As a result, he was both feared and respected, but most of all, what he wrote was read.

 I remember one editorial he wrote about a then-Superintendent of Oswego Schools, "Whoa, Dr. Carnal!" (and Dr. Carnal didn't last long after that!).

If "Clarkie" Morrison got on your case, you were toast. It was never a good idea to get in a fight with someone who ordered ink by the barrel, but occasionally, I did. I wrote letters to the editor to agree or disagree with him, and I know I gained his respect. Coming from Clark, compliments were rare, so you just accepted them with gratitude. He actually told me years ago, "You write well, young man!" I cherished that compliment, and today, as I write any number of columns on a variety of subjects, I always think: what would Clark have to say about this and how would he say it? My style of writing was greatly influenced by Mr. Morrison, a blue blooded, third generation scion of a great newspaper publishing family.

I remember the legacy of the Morrisons, the Leightons, and the Waterburys. Clark was the last lion of that bunch to roar, and his roar was indeed mighty.

When Clark sold the Pall-Times to the Thompson newspaper chain in 1967, I remember my father saying that the whole world changed at the Pall after that. He was right. Clark continued on as publisher and editor for 13 more years but it was never quite the same. He eventually became a lion in winter, his roar muffled by the need to increase the corporate bottom line.

He was a classic, in the true sense of the word. Deerfield Academy and Colgate College educated, tested by fire in the Navy in WWII, a par golfer and par excellence fisherman, writer, publisher, Port Authority board member and Rockefeller Republican all rolled into one. What a legacy he left for his four children and six grand kids who called him "Bompop.”

His wonderful wife Joan also left a legacy of community service when she passed on. The Morrisons enriched the life of their community and their spirit endures today in the many people whose lives they affected, and infected with a sense of civic duty and determination. Count me as one of their great admirers!

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