More than anything else, a revolution in technology made the Tuesday edition of the Vineyard Gazette possible back in the summer of 1929. Ironically enough, it was another revolution in technology that rendered it more or less obsolete 84 years later.
To understand what motivated two young editors and a full-time staff of only five people to add a Tuesday paper to the regular Friday publishing schedule, and thereby double the amount of work they would have to do in the summer, it’s important to first understand what the Vineyard was like at the end of the 1920s.
Not since the most lucrative days of whaling in the 1840s had the Island known such a euphoric stretch of prosperity. With the exception of a few brief interludes — the feverish years immediately following the Civil War and another thrilling little boomlet lasting from the late 1880s to the early 1890s — what Martha’s Vineyard and especially Edgartown had known for most of the previous 80 years was a grinding sense of inertia and depression.
It was not until the early 1920s that the Vineyard managed finally to shake off the residual effects of the loss of its whaling industry and find its footing as an authentic, Islandwide summer resort. This was the period when mainlanders began to rent and build summer homes in respectable numbers around the Vineyard, hotels began to fill with regularly returning guests, and the automobile made the Island a place that a family could easily and pleasurably explore. Between 1923 and 1929, the New England Steamship Company built four steamboats to carry passengers and cars back and forth to the Islands; never before or since has a boat line built so many ferries for the Vineyard and Nantucket in so little time. To make things easier on the Model A Fordors and Chevrolet Six’s, up-Island officials were getting ready to hard-surface North Road, which until then had been a country lane that to down-Islanders felt as remote as a cart path in the Scottish highlands. In Oak Bluffs at the very end of the decade, they were looking at the harbor end of Circuit avenue and ordering up a traffic light, the first in all of southeastern New England.
“In the spring of 1929, a fair prospect lay before everyone,” wrote one of those two young editors, Henry Beetle Hough, looking back 50 years later. “The only trouble being high prices and the fact that you couldn’t get seasoned lumber any more. Shingle nails weren’t up to standard either. There was to be almost no rain in June, but even on Memorial Day we could foresee that.”
Mr. Hough grew up summers in a West Tisbury home called Fish Hook. His father, George A. Hough, editor of the New Bedford Standard, gave the Vineyard Gazette as a wedding present to his son and daughter in law, Elizabeth Bowie Hough, in the spring of 1920. First published in 1846, the Gazette in those days had an official circulation of about 600 copies — in reality it was considerably less — printed on a hand-cranked flywheel press.
Henry and Betty Hough were in their middle 20s when they took over the Gazette, and in a week’s time they reinvented the paper, sweeping away the patent medicine advertising and much of the dull old boilerplate prose, imported from the mainland, that filled many of its pages. They set off across the Island to report the stories that, they sensed, could only play out as they did on an offshore place such as Martha’s Vineyard.
They believed that no story was too incidental for the Gazette, and they always tried to tie whatever was happening to things that had happened before, adding contours and meaning to the present and past of the Vineyard. The breadth and detail of the reporting and writing gratified readers and attracted advertisers as the Vineyard prospered in the 1920s. In just six years, the Houghs bought the first typewriters for the office, invested in new presses twice, added Linotype machines and moved to a much larger office than the tiny, second-floor sanctum in which they had begun on Main street in Edgartown.
This brought the paper up to modern standards for the first time in its history. It was suddenly possible to do things mechanically and quickly that, until then, had been always done slowly and by hand. Seeing the paper well equipped for the future, and breathing in the intoxicating air of prosperity all around him, Mr. Hough — a reserved man generally — felt bullish about what was to come. “Unlimited!” he answered anyone who asked about the prospects of the Gazette in those days.
In that spirit, the Houghs went for broke as the wildly promising summer of 1929 began. On June 25 – “without increasing staff at all,” Mr. Hough wrote proudly in Country Editor, his memoir of those early days at the Gazette — the paper published a Tuesday edition to go with the Friday one. It was the first time in history that the Gazette had published twice in a single week.
The Gazette was the only official, written source of Island news in those days, but as Mr. Hough pointed out, initially more news was not necessarily good news to the Gazette readership.
“At first there was a noticeable lack of interest in the innovation on the part of our readers, and we could see their point of view,” he wrote. “Progress usually had its disagreeable side, and we ourselves were often against what seemed to be progress. Our readers did not want the character of the paper changed, nor did they care to alter their old custom of getting the Gazette on Friday and reading the news of the entire week. As a matter of fact the paper did suffer because of its shorter production schedule, and it was some time before we managed to get back. But it seemed a pity to confine the Gazette to nine appearances in the short summer season when it could make twice that many. Our field was surrounded by salt water and this was about the only logical possibility of expanding the business. We could now keep abreast of the rushing summer, and gain as readers [those] people who before had come and gone in the interim between Fridays.”
It was a fateful moment to start a new enterprise such as the Tuesday paper. That fall the stock market crashed and, with the nation as a whole, the Vineyard fell back into the shadows of depression. By 1932, advertising had declined by a third in the Friday paper and as much as a half in the Tuesday paper. Still the Houghs held on, never missing an issue of the seasonal extra. With fewer art exhibits and other weekend events to cover than today, the editors tried to make the Tuesday paper look and feel as substantial as the Friday version — a younger sibling looking up to its big sister, hoping for respect.
This it did not always receive; many editors recalled that readers who submitted wedding announcements, obituaries and other items sometimes asked that the story appear in the Friday paper. This had nothing to do with content, really — in those days the Tuesday and Friday editions were equally likely to put on the front page a story headlined “Take Six Bass in an Exciting Two Hours” (Tuesday, July 17, 1951). It was just that midweek there were always fewer people on the Vineyard to read stories that contributors felt the greatest number of readers should see.
In fact, given that from 1929 through 1975 the Gazette published the Tuesday paper only from the first of July through the end of August, it broke an improbably large number of heavyweight stories, attesting its whole life to how eventful a Vineyard summer could be, especially on the weekends that were its main beat.
The Tuesday paper announced the establishment of that first traffic light at the foot of Circuit avenue before the paper closed out its first summer of publication. It gave a vivid account of the fatal crash of an amphibious airplane in Vineyard Haven harbor on August 23, 1940; heralded V-J Day on August 14, 1945; reported the frenzy of the press at the Edgartown courthouse after the accident at the Dike Bridge on July 22, 1969; and, in what must go down as the most remarkable passage of days in its history, offered the first all-Island bulletin of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Bob on August 21, 1991.
Except that this wasn’t actually a Tuesday paper. For the only time in the annals of the Gazette, the dateline said Wednesday. The hurricane was the first great tropical tempest to strike the Vineyard since Hurricane Edna in 1954, and it flared up off the Georgia coastline and raked over southern New England just 48 hours later, striking on Monday, August 19. The Gazette building on South Summer street, almost encircled by fallen trees and tangled wires, had no power Tuesday, and it faced the threat that for the first time ever, it would have to miss an edition. But under the direction of editor Richard Reston and business manager Mary Jo Reston, the staff reported the damage to towns, harbors, forests and farms and wrote on boxy, battery-powered laptops all day Monday and part of Tuesday. Photographers who had shot all through the storm took pictures of the repairs and cleanup. Meanwhile, the Restons secured the use of the presses of the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, whose power had come back on the day after the storm.
Trundling the stories in two laptops, along with incompletely designed pages and rolls of exposed black and white film, Dick and Jody Reston and a few staff members flew to Nantucket, took the last bits of copy by dictation from a team that stayed at home on the Vineyard, edited the stories, developed and printed the pictures and finally typeset and laid out the paper by hand at Yesterday’s Island, a tabloid paper. They then moved on to the Inquirer and Mirror for final production and printing.
The team flew back to the Vineyard on Wednesday morning with bundled papers carrying the accurate but unprecedented Wednesday, August 21 dateline. The entire run was snapped up in hours and the Gazette published a second edition of the same paper on Thursday, which also sold out. The total press run was more than 16,000 copies, by far a record for a Tuesday issue. The Gazette was later a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for that edition.
Under the editorial and business direction of the Restons, the Gazette in 1976 expanded the publication of the Tuesday paper to include all of June, September and October up to Columbus weekend. In part this move was meant to bookend two newspapers that published only once a week all year long, first the Grapevine and later the Martha’s Vineyard Times. But mostly it was because the Vineyard was again living through a period of super-heated prosperity and development, and the news warranted it.
To review the Tuesday paper in this era is to see it in its glory. Only a year before, publishers James B. and Sally Fulton Reston had converted the Gazette from hot lead to cold type. It was a new beginning for composition and production; once again it was possible for the whole staff to do more in every department. And still the Gazette was the main way Vineyarders and visitors alike got the news of the week all across the Island.
And got it they did: The editors sent writers and photographers everywhere. Reporters who covered contentious meetings between town planners and ambitious developers during the week — young men and women often in the promising first years of their careers, among them Joseph B. White and Hollis B. Engley, David Corr and Hilary Stout, Elaine Lembo and Yvonne Guzman, Michael F. Bamberger and Amy Callahan — would then report a new art exhibit, dance program or author interview with the same breaking-news eagerness and attention to detail over a weekend.
While the Friday paper often looked and sometimes felt rather stately, the new methods of production allowed the Tuesday paper to spread itself. Photographers such as Alison Shaw, Mark Lovewell, Peter Simon, Michael Zide and Mark Lennihan returned to the office each week with inventive, crisp, beautifully framed black and white images that the Tuesday paper could now publish vividly and in full — ocean racers captured from their heeling waterlines to canted mast tops, bronze workers bending over white hot forges, competitors pounding along during the Chilmark Road Race, firemen firing off arcs of water during a muster, tours of visiting cruise ships.
But for all this initiative and liveliness, the Tuesday paper was always burdened by certain intractable problems: there was the perception that fewer people read it. Advertisers felt it cut in half the value of their Friday advertising dollars during the peak of the summer season. And if anything came along that could tell readers before Tuesday what they wanted to know about the arts or other weekend events on the Vineyard, its main purpose in life would be put to a continual test.
“A paper which many have loved is not likely to grow less, unless a corporation gets it, or unless its community dies away,” wrote Mr. Hough in Country Editor. He had always spoken up for the individual and the value of his singular viewpoint, so it is hard to say how he would have felt in general about the internet, blogging, tweeting, Facebook and Instagram. But to the degree that these immediate venues of communication could one day come to substitute for a deeply reported, insightfully written and carefully produced record of the week’s news of the Vineyard, he would have loathed them — particularly the desecration of grammar, spelling and punctuation.
As the newspaper business reeled and contracted under the unpredictable but relentless advance of electronic communications, the Gazette in places reeled and contracted with it. As readership and revenues fell in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Tuesday paper began to retreat from the ground it had long fought for and claimed. In 2003 it ended publication in October. In 2009 it gave up on September. In 2011 it yielded the first two weeks of June, so that two years ago it was back to publishing on nearly the same schedule as it was in 1929.
Without ceremony, or anyone on the paper quite knowing it at the time, the last Tuesday Gazette was printed August 28, 2012. It had been the custom to close out the run of these summer papers with an editorial almost invariably headlined “Tuesday Will Be Different,” borrowing a line from a letter in an eponymous book written by Mr. Hough in 1971. Instead the last edition reprinted one by Mr. Hough entitled Summer Symbolism, which came from Singing in the Morning, a book of his essays published in 1951.
So as of this summer, Tuesday always will be just a bit different. Stories are going online every day, and an electronic newsletter, looking back over weekend events and forward to the Friday paper, will take the place of the Tuesday edition of the Vineyard Gazette. The old editors of the Gazette would regret the loss of anything built up so carefully and tirelessly over so many years. But they would also approve of any innovation that serves the expectations of present-day readers of this newspaper.
“Yet it is a little sad, all this notwithstanding,” wrote Mr. Hough as the seasonal papers of 1954 came to an end, “to close down the series of Tuesday appointments, and we will not do so without saying some words of appreciation to friends and readers. Summer life on the Vineyard has the quality of a good tonic, and we hope everyone has enjoyed a bracing effect. We are glad to have been, to a certain extent, one with so goodly a company.”