Thompson Launches Project To Digitize Old Herald Issues
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WATER VALLEY – Local historian Grant Thompson has launched a multi-year project to digitize old editions of the North Mississippi Herald. The project will preserve 84 years of history recorded in pages of the Herald from 1930 through 2014 and make searching for specific topics much faster. The old editions of the Herald are currently viewable in bound volumes, or a big book from each year stored at the newspaper office.
The challenge for Thompson is that newspaper pages are much larger than typical documents that will fit on a scanner. Thompson constructed a stand that holds a camera over a table with a black background. Using a camera allows him to take pictures of any sized document including a newspaper page. He also added two light bars to the setup to illuminate the pages. The images are transferred to a computer and converted into a text readable file for each edition – meaning there will be almost 4,500 files or editions before the project is completed.
“This is great for the newspaper and community,” Herald Editor David Howell reported. “There is a trove of history in the old bound volumes and if anything happened, that history would be lost forever.”
Thompson plans to come to the newspaper office for an hour or two in the mornings most days when he is not working at the Batesville Fire Department. After starting the project last week, he estimates he will be able to do six weekly editions per morning.
The vast majority of the old newspaper editions are in good shape, but some were damaged during the 1984 flood when water was up several feet in the old newspaper office at 500 Main Street. Some of the oldest bound volumes have deteriorated over time. Thompson’s work will ensure that all of the old newspapers will be protected for future generations. Copies of the digital editions will be stored at multiple places including the newspaper office and accessible to the public.
“The amount of history that would be lost, and we are talking history that wasn’t recorded anywhere but the Herald,” Thompson explained about the importance of preserving the newspapers.
Thompson has already amassed a huge digital file of old pictures and home movies. He has scanned over a million pictures or documents and many include valuable history. He has digitized over 95 percent of the documents and pictures at the Casey Jones Railroad Museum.
“This is the last really big project that I can think of,” Grant said about the newspapers.
He noted that word-of-mouth history that has been passed for generations occasionally contradicts the facts..
“It was popular belief that the watermelon carnival stopped because of World War II,” Thompson cited as an example. “That is not the case, they tried to keep it going but it fizzled out.”
The outbreak of World War II was long cited as the reason the first 10-year span of Watermelon Carnivals came to an end in 1941. According to Herald archives, organizers could not get interest in the 1941 carnival and instead opted to have a harvest jubilee later that year.
“I can understand why, because it is so dag-gum hot,” Thompson noted about shifting the 1941 carnival to a fall festival.