I used to, and still do, kid my friend and Signal Editor Tim Whyte. Many of us who have written editorials sometimes hit both a wall of inspiration and a three-day weekend. That sometimes leads to what we call around The Mighty Signal as the “Drive Safe” op-ed piece.
It takes about 14 seconds to write. The boilerplate is to remind subscribers that a busy holiday is approaching and that many of us will be on the highways — as opposed to strip clubs and biker bars — with family. The editorial writer will hastily borrow from an ancient recipe — a few sobering statistics, well-duh common sense and a good-natured Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em and playful sock to the jaw reminder to enjoy Labor Day, Hanukkah or National Cheez Whiz Day — carefully.
I always envision a father frantically packing loved ones, luggage, dogs and beer into a minivan. Just before jumping behind the steering wheel to drive 97 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he remembers that he had forgotten to read The Signal’s editorial. Sprinting over to the porch, he sits, unwraps Your Community Newspaper Since 1919 and reads our position paper on Driving Safely.
A tear trickles. He takes a deep breath, looks fondly at his screaming brood, stands and proudly places a hand over his heart.
“Thank you, Signal, for reminding me to drive safe this holiday weekend for never in a million years would I have come up with that on my own.”
I’m not sure in the century-plus a few months, we’ve ever written an editorial that has changed anyone’s mind. People believe what they believe. Life happens. Unintended consequences blossom.
We have foretold of problems that would later come eerily true. Ed Brown, The Signal’s first owner and publisher, penned an editorial in 1919 that is gospel today. It started the long tradition of front-page editorials:
“Twenty-five years (1894!) ago, government was comparatively simple. We do know we are paying a lot more for needless office holders, and that despite the increase in wealth and population, taxes per capita are multiplied with every prospect of being multiplied more in the future.”
Over the past century, The Signal may not have always taken the higher road, but at least we’ve ovaled many a set of lips. And we did it with sometimes swashbuckling panache and sometimes with a buffoon’s hammer.
Death to traitors
The Signal was barely a year old on Feb. 27, 1920. That’s when our official stance called for the elimination of, if not the country of Turkey, then all the Turks. From that editorial:
“Not long ago aid was urged for the Armenians, on whom the Turks were threatening a massacre. Now news comes that the Turks are begging the Americans to save them from being massacred by the Armenians. The Turks may naturally fear extermination they had planned for their old-time victims, but all the rest of the world will admit that the loss of the Turks will be a distinct gain to human society at large.”
How about that?
We pen an op-ed piece on genocide and we’re for it.
In the 1950s, with the vengeance of a Shakespearean witch, Signal Editor Fred Trueblood went after a thief who stole the loose change from a March of Dimes glass jar on the counter of downtown Newhall’s Rod Roses Sweet Shop. Our editorial stance was rather draconian:
“We personally have no doubt that a few polio bugs are going to crawl into this louse’s spinal cord someday, and wither his legs and blast his body, and leave nothing but a miserable, shriveled pin head. The louse never had a heart.”
In the 1920s, The Signal came out in favor of the Ku Klux Klan, noting they would have to do until California actually formed a decent state police department. The Signal noted:
“If the Ku Klux Klan are going to make it their business to cope with the booze runners, kidnappers, white slave artists and others who work in the dark, we say, hop to it, Ku Klux Klan and maybe the legislature will wake up and give us a state police.” Again, unintended consequences. We did end up getting a state police.
The Signal has penned editorials praising Mussolini’s slaughter of thousands of Ethiopians prior to World War II. We’ve come out against Mahatma Gandhi and called for the deportation of Charlie Chaplin. Three separate editors panned Prohibition and called for the 18th Amendment to be nullified. When J.B. Ismay, owner of the Titanic, died in 1937, The Signal wrote an I’m Glad You’re Dead editorial, noting how the tycoon wouldn’t allow anyone save for a few strong men as rowers aboard his lifeboat. One 1920 op-ed carried the headline: “JAPS MUST LEAVE BALDWIN RANCH.” In an ironic juxtapositioning, next to the damning think piece, we ran a poem on tolerance and forgiveness.
There was Signal Editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher in the 1920s calling for the banning of teaching evolution in public schools.
And then there’s the lighter side
Part of a good editorial is the offering of solution. Back in 1939, Santa Clarita was wide open farmland and wilderness. Hunters by the thousands would visit, often leaving the valley in mess and mayhem. Water tanks would be filled with holes, game slaughtered and their carcasses left on people’s lawns and pets and livestock even shot. Editor Fred Trueblood had a solution. He suggested that a committee of righteous Newhallians should follow the hunters back to Los Angeles — and:
“ … shoot out the window lights of their apartments, fill their pet pooch full of bird shot, strew their 2-by-4 hallway with old tin cans, scare the daylights out of their wives and children, and build a good roaring fire in the middle of their living room.”
Works for me.
In 1929, Thatcher wrote an editorial on women’s legs. Can you imagine running the following prose in the politically correct climes of 2019?
“An experienced observer remarks that this short skirt fad is really not all it is supposed to be, for all women. Those with pipe stem legs or bow legs or other deformities have no protection whatever, for the long skirts are moreso mark of scorn than any unshapeliness.”
That was us.
In the 1920s, The Signal’s editorial board also took Albert Einstein to task:
“Dr. Einstein is coming to the United States to lecture on his theory of spatial relativity and the curves of so-called straight lines. He might learn something about curved straight lines by watching any competent baseball pitcher.”
I truly don’t know quite how to take that, but then, I’m not good at spatial relativity or curve balls.
In the 1960s, Fred Trueblood’s son, Fred Jr., painted, with dark humor, what the end result of the growing taxation on the American public might look like. He called government an “invasive monstrosity” and suggested that the “working stiff’s paycheck will become a weekly certificate of merit.”
More than once, we’ve used our blank canvas to go after hairstyles. Editor Thornton Doelle’s 1924 editorial went after the Santa Paula School Board. Why? For not allowing women teachers to “bob” their hair. The Signal called the Santa Paulian educators: “a bunch of human tombstones.
“The Signal feels that any bunch of trustees who would discharge a teacher for bobbing her hair ought to be taken out and ducked in a lily pond. It is just possible that the aforesaid trustees are all bald headed and so are not required to take care of a great excess of hair on their domes.”
The Signal came out against comic books.
In a 1954 official policy piece entitled “Unfunny Funnies, “The Signal wrote:
“Often (the comics’) principal ingredients are violence, horror, sex and sadism along with advertisements for such items as dueling swords, pistols, rifles and knives.” The article noted how a New York psychiatrist linked the reading of these magazines as a “contributing factor to juvenile delinquency.”
Then, our official position on the Opinion Page for Thanksgiving of 1949 was entitled: “SEX MORONS BELONG IN ASYLUMS.”
I’m guessing “ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAY BIRD” was a smidge too pedestrian.
You have to admit. “SEX MORONS” makes a great angry but bad garage band name.
Speaking of music, in 1929, Editor Thatcher came out against jazz.
“The big critics are claiming that degenerate music is making degenerate people. Yes, sir, we agree with them. We heard some degenerate justice over the radio every day, and we find ourselves becoming degenerate very rapidly. If we could only get at that singer, we know we’d be entirely degenerate, for we feel sure we’d kill him, or her, as the case may be.”
Wonder what Dad Thatcher would do today if we dragged him back to the future where he could listen to a few hours of gangsta rap?
And some not half-bad ideas
The Mighty Signal called for the formation of our city government — on March 24, 1924. Our editorial position led the charge for the formation of the city of Santa Clarita 64 years later.
Speaking of elections, one of my favorite Signal editorials appeared on Feb. 15, 1954. This newspaper questioned whether it was wise to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. We came up with the idea to raise the limit to 50.
I know some people 50 and older. They shouldn’t be voting, either, nor be allowed out on the streets.
Our editorial pages were the vanguard of the women’s movement. In 1919, Ed Brown wrote: “Out of the war there must follow a new and far-reaching redistribution of the opportunities to work and gain a livelihood for women.”
A year later, his wife, Blanche, wrote an official position piece, taking on Great Britain for trying to ban athletics for girls. Some of the Brits felt exercise was bad for the fairer gender because it led to child-birthing problems later in life. Blanche called this notion, “Buncombe.”
That’s another signature of Signal editorials: not allowing the vastness of the English language to perish. We try not to write down to our readers. To save you a trip to the dictionary, “buncombe” is talk that is empty, insincere or merely for effect.
We’ve written long editorials. Scott Newhall’s started on the front page and jumped, sometimes twice.
In the late 1960s, we came right to the point: “This valley could use a 3-minute carwash.”
That was the entire editorial.
Looking back at all the stances we’ve taken and examining history for the complexities and realities of its time, I think The Signal has done a pretty courageous job of representing this Santa Clarita Valley. Certainly one short op-ed piece, all the way back from 1922, summed it up. It was about the two kinds of people in life: “Lifters” and “Leaners.”
“The Lifters are people who shouldered the burdens of the world. The Leaners are the ones who leaned against a wall and watched the Lifters, all the while offering helpful hints.”
Nearly a century later, The Mighty Signal is still pro-Lifter and against Leaners.
Do come back next Saturday. We will be covering perhaps the greatest and certainly most flamboyant editorial writer of the 20th century, The Signal’s very own legend, Scott Newhall…
Starting in the 1960s, off-and-on, John Boston has worked for The Signal for nearly 40 years.