Mark Washburn

Christmas greeting from your 1915 Observer carrier

Mary Pressly won the 1915 poetry contest to write an ode to the newsboy. She got a year’s free subscription to the newspaper.
Mary Pressly won the 1915 poetry contest to write an ode to the newsboy. She got a year’s free subscription to the newspaper.

Once upon a time, the nation’s newspaper industry had at the end of its production pipeline a young boy who took the finished product from distributor to customer.

They were called newsboys. They were an essential cog in the complicated web of events that began with the growing of a tree and ended with printed words plopping atop the doorstep.

A century ago, The Charlotte Observer held a contest to see who could come up with the best poem saluting the efforts of these wee merchants that could be printed on a card and given to subscribers, hopefully in anticipation of a tip.

(An aside: We used to run all kinds of contests. We gave away houses and trips and one even promised $20 in gold coins to the kid who sold the most subscriptions to neighbors. Those were the days.)

Miss Mary Pressly won the 1915 poetry contest. She got a year’s free subscription to the newspaper.

Miss Pressly’s ode might have been lost to history, except she kept it as a treasure. A former missionary who never married, she died in 1960 and left her possessions to her cousin.

Judy Godwin of Locust is the cousin’s daughter. After her mother’s death in 1987, she found a box of old ornate valentines and religious memorabilia inherited from cousin Mary. Among the items was a 1915 story from the Observer headlined: “Miss Pressly Wins Poets’ Contest.”

“Once a year from time immemorial, it has been customary for carrier boys to greet the patrons in whose homes they deliver the paper day in and day out, in winter’s cold and sleet and snow,” the story said. “It is customary also for the aforesaid patron to confer on the aforesaid carrier some honorarium as a tribute to his faithful service.”

Godwin, a third-generation resident of Locust and an Observer subscriber for 27 years, recently came across the collection again.

“I thought it would be an interesting story that it’s been 100 years since wishing readers a Merry Christmas,” said Godwin, owner of Godwin Realty on Locust’s Main Street.

And so it is.

Here from the past is Miss Pressly’s 1915 poem:

We’re a bunch of hustling fellows

That most folks don’t think much about,

for we work ’twixt dawn and daylight,

Ere the average chap is out.

We’re not prodigies nor angels,

Just hard-working, human boys

Earning bread and shoes and schooling,

Full of life and fun and noise.

We don’t stop because of the weather –

That is not the newsboys’ way;

Whether we feel good or grouchy,

“Daily” means just “every day.”

Still we never think of grumbling,

For we’re glad of work to do;

Glad we’re young and strong, and able

Thus to help ourselves and you.

So today we bring our greeting –

This one morning of the year;

Not the news of wars or weddings –

Just a word of Christmas Cheer.

“May your holidays be happy,

Full of peace and honest joy,”

Is our greeting with good wishes

From your friend,

Observer Boy.

Merry Christmas.