I was looking for an obituary a few days ago that I knew would be somewhere in late August of 1941. Maybe early September, if the paper was slow getting the news. But here’s the thing about searching through the microfilm of old newspapers: you can’t not read the headlines.
And this was late 1941, but before December 7th. It was a time that I can barely even imagine, and it was absolutely surreal to see the headlines about what to do with Japanese-American citizens that lived in Hawaii. I think we all know what happened to them after the Japanese attack that occurred on Hawaiian soil just a few months later. It’s a part of American history that many Americans try to avoid; I didn’t even know that there were interment camps in the U.S. until I was in high school. Or perhaps I should say until I was high school aged, because I certainly didn’t learn about them in school.
Manzanar War Relocation Center in Manzanar, California. July 2, 1942.
Every paper featured a political cartoon mocking the Führer or showing Germany and Italy freezing in the Russian wastelands. Yet everything still seemed pretty far away for America, so news of the war was very detached. Almost lighthearted. I tried to imagine a pre-war America, finally beginning to see hope after the Great Depression, not believing that it was even possible that the war could travel to American soil.
But it did.
I did finally find the obituary I was looking for. The headline “Frank Grattan dies here today” was the second largest headline on the front page. A generous man dying of old age was still big news in August. Maybe I’ll go back soon and look at some of the papers from 1942. I wonder if an old man would make the front page then?