25 April 2010

Walked Under the Stars Bareheaded

This is part four of the 1919 interview of then 71-year-old Bridges Smith (1848-1930) entitled "BRIDGES SMITH, AFTER FIFTY YEARS OF NEWSPAPER WORK, INTERVIEWED FOR FIRST TIME BY GIRL REPORTER." Upon his death, Mr. Smith was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery...

Never Wrote a Better Story
Judge Smith reveled in the shock Senator Tillman received when he saw the story for, as he said, he knew he was only amazed and not hurt. He never wrote one thing about him that could have harmed him, he declared. This was the rule he followed during his newspaper life.

"I never hurt anyone intentionally in my writings," he earnestly said. "If I ever injured anybody's feelings I don't know it. I was always especially careful not to hurt a mother. The father did not make so much difference, but I used every precaution to keep from injuring a mother. Every night when I went home from the office, between 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning, I would remove my hat and walk under the stars bareheaded and go over everything I had written that day. I recalled everything I had said in each story and if there was anything in them that would injure unnecessarily a human being I would go back and smoothe that story over. On several occasions I had reached my gate before I thought of a hurt a certain story might do, but I went back to the office anyway and changed them."

The actors and actresses interviewed by this veteran reporter are legion. Edwin Forrest and Edwin Booth stand out in his memory clearer than any of the rest.

Broke in During Civil War

It was during the civil war that Bridges Smith first broke into print. He was not a regular reporter in those days, but a contributing reporter, being engaged during the war in making ammunition for the Confederate army. His contributions were printed in the "Daily Citizen," a little pioneer newspaper published in the exact place where the Telegraph is today. During that time newspapers had few facilities and were published under difficulties.

These years as a contributing reporter are not included when the Judge says that he has been in the newspaper game for half a century. During that half century he has been connected directly or indirectly with the Telegraph.

In 1778 [maybe should read '1878'] he came to the Telegraph as a local reporter and for ten years he filled that position of writing all the news that "broke" in and around Macon. It was the business of the one reporter to attend all weddings in town, funerals, shows, entertainments, and everything else that "turned up."

"In those days there was no such thing as a city editor," he declared with a reminiscent look on his face. "The one reporter was known as the local editor. I was that lone reporter and local editor for ten years. During those years I ran my life on a set schedule, leaving home at 9 o'clock in the morning and working until after midnight every night."

...Next up -- Bridges Smith Got Malaria at Wet Hanging.

24 April 2010

The One with the Large, Heavy-Set Man in a Big Straw Hat and Linen Duster

This is part three of the 1919 interview of then 71-year-old Bridges Smith (1848-1930) entitled "BRIDGES SMITH, AFTER FIFTY YEARS OF NEWSPAPER WORK, INTERVIEWED FOR FIRST TIME BY GIRL REPORTER." Upon his death, Mr. Smith was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery...

Can't Recall a Single Rebuff
President McKinley, according to Mr. Smith, was "just as nice as he could be." He treated him cordially and answered all the questions asked him. For one to be so cordial though, was not odd, as everybody treated Bridges Smith respectfully during his entire newspaper career.

"I can't recall a single rebuff I ever received," he declared. "Now, I might have got some, but if I did they were so slight I have forgotten them."

Of all the interviews Bridges Smith ever got he remembers with the greatest pleasure the one with the late Ben Tillman, Senator from South Carolina, who was not conscious of the fact that he had been interviewed until he read the story in the Telegraph the "morning after."

"I saw Tillman at the old station and talked to him for quite a while, but he did not know I was a reporter," Judge Smith said with a smile. "The way it happened was like this: Every morning I left home at 9 o'clock and always went to the station the first jump out of the box. I knew all the trainmasters and officials and they gave me some good stories. One morning I saw in the waiting room a large, heavy-set man in a big straw hat and linen duster. He looked like a big countryman, but I could feel that there was something about him different from other men. Though I did not recognize him as being Tillman, I knew he was a man of some importance. He asked me a question and we talked on the big topics of the day. In the course of the conversation I found out who he was. I have often imagined his amazement when he saw the next morning's paper and read his side of the conversation. I bet he spent some time trying to figure out when he had talked to a reporter."

...Next -- Bridges Smith Never Wrote a Better Story.

19 April 2010

Presidents, Senators, Governors, Preachers, Actors, Clowns & Undertakers

This is part two of the 1919 interview of then 71-year-old Bridges Smith (1848-1930) entitled "BRIDGES SMITH, AFTER FIFTY YEARS OF NEWSPAPER WORK, INTERVIEWED FOR FIRST TIME BY GIRL REPORTER." Upon his death, Mr. Smith was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery...

After fifty years of newspaper writing, jammed full of interviews with Presidents, Senators, Governors, preachers, actors, clowns and undertakers, Bridges Smith, now editor of the column, "Just 'Twixt Us" on The Telegraph and judge of the Juvenile Court, recalled only a few of the distinguished persons who have passed his way when he was interviewed yesterday for the first time during his life about his own experiences in chasing news.

Sitting in his office crowded with books, the majority of them enormous scrap books bulging with newspaper clippings on every subject from Fort Hawkins to the Georgia State Fair, he received the question, "Who are some of the great men you have interviewed?" with a wrinkling of the brow and a thoughtful expression. He leaned forward in his swivel chair and tapped with his fingers on the desk for several minutes.

To interview "greater lights" was all in a week's work with Bridges Smith when he began handing in copy in the seventies' so he did not bother cluttering up his brain remembering the names of them. After administering two dozen taps on the desk he leaned back and with a little resigned wave of the hand said: "Why, yes, I interviewed up to twenty years ago every man of note who visited Macon since '78, but I can't remember all of them just off-hand like this."

Asked About Jeff Davis' Health.

After a few more minutes of wrinkled brow he continued: "I interviewed President Wilson when he came to Macon, also Jefferson Davis on one of his visits here. Mr. Davis made several trips to Macon, but when I talked to him it was in '85, when he came here to attend the reunion. It was, I remember, on the balcony of the old union station just before he made a speech. I don't know what I asked him, but I suppose I inquired about his health."

As the smile which ventured forth on the face of his hearer at the thought of interviewing so famous a personage on the condition of his health, Judge Smith said: "You must remember interviewing was not an art in those days like it is today. I interviewed all important visitors, but it was not the big part of my work."

"When William McKinley came here, I interviewed him on some current topic of the day. In honor of his visit, an arch made of cotton bales was built over Poplar street. While here, he also made a speech which I covered."

...Next up -- Bridges Smith Can't Recall a Single Rebuff.

18 April 2010

The First of Many About Bridges Smith

Bridges Smith
Beneath this simple, nondescript gravestone rest the mortal remains of Bridges Smith. He worked in the Confederate States Arsenal at Macon, GA during the Civil War, and he was a newspaper man. He was mayor of the city of Macon, and he was a clerk for the City Council. He was also a juvenile court judge. One might think the tombstone memorializing him would be much more ornate. Without doing the research, most would probably walk right by his grave in the Eglantine Square section of Rose Hill Cemetery without giving it a second look or thought.

Bridges Smith was born in North Carolina to James H. and Mary L. Smith. James, a painter, brought his family to Macon, GA in the year 1858.

Bridges, as Mayor of the City, and his second wife Katrina (she was also laid to rest in Rose Hill) were living at 855 Second Street in Macon during the year 1900. This would be his address for the remainder of his life. By 1920, Bridges was married to a third wife (her names was Margaret) and was a juvenile court judge. Margaret, too, was buried in Rose Hill upon her death in 1928.

In 1919, Bridges Smith was interviewed for an article in the Macon Telegraph. I will post excerpts from that article over the next several days. Here it begins with Bridges writing the opening himself, answering the question of how he likes being interviewed.

Macon Telegraph
10 October 1919


Recalls Inquiring About Jefferson Davis' Health and Quizzing Ben Tillman Unawares.

Never Wrote a Line That Would Hurt a Human Being -- Is Author of Poems and Opera.

How do I like being interviewed? Oh, well, so far as that's concerned, I'm used to it. Time was, when I was worth it and knew lots, to be interviewed was a part of my daily duties; and there was also a time when interviewing others was my daily task. But this thing of being interviewed by a pretty girl reporter is something else, something new.

Just a plain man reporter simply holds you up, and whether you know or think anything you must stand and deliver. You've just simply got to know something, and if you don't know it he'll know it for you and sometimes better than you do. You spend an hour, more or less, in mortal dread, fearing he'll ask about something you wouldn't have him know for worlds; then after he is gone you spend another miserable hour fearing he'll ball up what you did tell him.

Now, being interviewed by a pretty girl -- well, that's another thing. You get interested in her, her methods being so gentle, and you forget about being afraid of letting cats out of bags by telling state secrets. She has such a sweet winning way of drawing you out, and, like the goose you are, you would tell her the secrets of your very soul were she to ask for them. You find yourself talking unguardedly, saying things that after she is gone, leaving the fragrance of her smile to linger long with you, you wished you had put in better shape.

After she is gone you seem to wake up as if from a dream and wondering what the dream was about. And some how you feel all the better for her lending her presence. It was like sunshine let into a sick room, and her leaving as though the shades were pulled down and the sunlight shut out. And now I'm wondering what she'll say in print. Though why should I care? A man who can't trust his words to a pretty girl reporter deserves the worst she can write about him."
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