Upon their 70th wedding anniversary, a couple shared how their lives were entwined with a small-town community where “You knew everybody,” recalling stories that went back to a city’s early days and its first publication.
Robert Carson, raised by one of the first publishers of The Signal, and his wife, Genny Carson, celebrated the milestone Wednesday at their home, where they shared their story.
Robert and Genny Carson met in Newhall on Easter Sunday in 1950 and, within a few months would be married, in a Las Vegas ceremony held on Oct. 21.
Genny had attended William S. Hart High School, while Robert had attended San Fernando High School because, at the time of his entering high school, it was the only place for him to attend.
However, in Santa Clarita at the time, Genny was known to work at the Safeway on San Fernando Road — where Main Street is now — Robert was known as the grandson of A.B. Thatcher, who was also known as “Dad,” publisher and editor of The Signal.
“He always found something to write about,” said Carson, when asked how his grandfather managed to fill the paper every week in a small, rural town in the 1920s.
During his days as a kid growing up locally, Robert assisted his grandfather around the office, helping sweep up, or deliver newspapers. The paper was published once a week, on Thursdays, and his grandfather ensured that, when he bought the paper in 1925, it would be entertaining, yet informative to its readers.
Thatcher came to be the publisher of the paper after having served in the Nebraska state Senate, before deciding to move his family to the countryside 30 miles north of Los Angeles, Carson said.
“He did all the want ads and stuff like that,” said Carson, about his grandfather’s near-one man operation. “It was a one-day-a-week paper, so he had the rest of the week to get the paper ready because he had to get the printers (running).”
Thatcher revolutionized the way The Signal would be presented for the coming decades.
“In their place, O. Lawrence Hawthorne appeared under the masthead, complete with artwork. Page one carried news, society items, obituaries and, sometimes, sports,” reads the SCV History page detailing the impact Thatcher had once he took the helm. “Local news jumped to the back page. Inside pages were filled with wire reports, items on cooking, housekeeping, agricultural or historic features and serialized stories.”
The new publisher was even the first to introduce cartoons to the paper, starting the practice in 1926.
But the true test for both The Signal as the premiere news source for the Santa Clarita Valley and for Thatcher being the man in charge of that effort would come on March 12, 1928 — the day of the St. Francis Dam collapse.
One of the worst civil engineering disasters in U.S. history, the dam broke three minutes before midnight, sending a 180-foot wall of water crashing through the northeast end of the SCV and Fillmore. The water charged until it reached the Pacific Ocean, killing 470 people.
“The loss of life was appalling,” The Signal, under Thatcher, wrote in its first issue after the dam break. “Coming as it did, in the dead of night, few had any chance of escape. Those living in the canyon were most of them caught asleep, as the condition of the bodies show, all of them being in night clothes, or naked, the terrific rush tearing the clothes from them.”
The Masonic Clubhouse on Market Street and Railroad Avenue had to be turned into a temporary morgue by the Red Cross, in order to house all the bodies, according to the report. The Masons had to tear down the building, which hosted dances and parties during the Roaring ’20s. The survivors of the disaster decided to erect a new structure, after deciding to no longer hold social functions in the building that had housed the dead.
“My grandfather was the first newspaperman out there,” said Carson, in reference to the night of the dam break. “I remember the stories that he told.”
After the St. Francis Dam collapse, news subsided and the Great Depression came into full swing, the paper turning its attention to once again reassuring its readers while entertaining them.
“The Depression took its toll on the nation, but mentions of ‘hard times’ in The Signal of the early 1930s were scarce,” reads an SCV News article. “Rather, the paper reported that the times were hopeful and the people resourceful.”
Thatcher turned the paper toward news centered around home, church and family, even writing about the church where his grandson would meet his future wife. In 1938, Thatcher would retire from the paper, and “Church news would move to the back pages.”
The Carsons have lived off and on in the Santa Clarita Valley for the past seven decades, splitting time between here and the San Fernando Valley. However, the SCV has always beckoned them back, having lived in the Summit for a number of years before moving to Canyon Country, where they currently reside.
“I think it’s been home to us, in many ways, and his family was always here, and had roots,” said Genny when asked why they’ve stayed in Santa Clarita for so long. “We just liked it, you know?”
“You went into a restaurant or something, whether it was a dry cleaners or grocery store or whatever, and you knew everybody, so it was kind of our roots, too,” she added.
“It was like a big, big family,” her husband said.