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Ghosts of Reflector past remain in memory and heart

By Debbie Leffler • Dec 7, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Halloween is over. I am teaching my students the play Hamlet, and in the opening act, a ghost appears — the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Do you believe in ghosts?

One of the dictionary definitions of “ghost” is “a mere shadow or semblance; a trace.”

I suppose the question is, whether things or people from the past can still appear to remind us or haunt us.

Now this is starting to get creepy, so I’d better stop. But when I took my newspaper class for a tour of the Norwalk Reflector last week, I was sure the ghosts of the past were there.

I used to work at the Reflector on a daily basis. New employees and people who work there every day probably do not see the ghosts I see. But since I visit infrequently, I notice things from the past that were missing, and their traces remain for me.

The sound of the great printing press in the back room still lingers in the air. Every day just past deadline, it would start rolling the paper threaded through its parts, printing the day’s edition with its unmistakable sound. The giant machine itself is still there, but it is silent — no longer used. The Norwalk newspaper is printed at the Sandusky Register.

In the newsroom, a wall exists where once there was a revolving door that led to the darkroom. In the old days, before digital photography, reporters used actual film that was threaded through a camera. A reporter could only take as many pictures as he or she had rolls of film, which came in rolls of 12, 24 or 36, I believe. Then the reporter would take the film back to the Reflector, where it would be soaked in chemicals and developed in the darkroom. The door was revolving because no light could enter the darkroom, or the film would be ruined.

Then there were the ghosts of the slanted light table that is no longer there, where pages were literally “pasted up” or put together. The printed words would come out on long strips of paper, which were stuck onto large pieces of paper with blue lines as guides, according to a “map” drawn by an editor that would indicate where those stories should go.

A computer does that now. Stories are arranged on a screen, not on a slanted light board.

And the headlines? They came out of a headline machine — another ghost. First, the editor had to decide what size the headline should be, and count how many letters and spaces could fit to go across the number of columns. Some letters only counted for half a space, like lower case “i” and “l,” and some counted for a space and a half, like an “m.”

Headlines today are just typed into a computer, and the font size can be adjusted easily on the screen — no counting required. Before, if the editor miscounted and the headline didn’t fit, a whole new strip of paper had to be printed.

The waxing machine was gone, too. That machine made the columns of print and the headlines sticky so that they would stick to the large paper on the slanted light table. It would coat them with a thin layer of a waxy substance to make them stick.

The chug, chug sound of the teletype machine was missing, too. Now that is a ghost from ages ago. When I first started as a reporter, the news from the wire service (Associated Press or United Press International) would come from a machine that made a chunking noise for each letter as it printed out each incoming news story from places far away. Now, of course, the stories arrive through the Internet on a computer screen.

I haven’t even started to mention the ghosts of people who once worked at the Reflector — managing editors who preceded Joe Centers such as Kevin Tanzillo, Doug Koerner, Bette Pearce and Jay Thwaite … and the reporters who came and went … and the people who worked in circulation, advertising, the press room…and of course Jack Brown, the publisher for many years. All people who played roles at the Reflector and in my life as I worked there. I like to think their spirits, or ghosts, or whatever you want to call them, are still there now. I know they still exist in my memory and in my heart.


Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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